A Three-Punch Combo for Freedom



(The FreeThinking Theist)


January 1, 2019


Dear Tim,

I recently watched a short interview where you were asked for the “main indicator” of libertarian free will. You mentioned that you had several reasons to think humans possess this kind of freedom but you only elaborated on one of them. Can you please describe exactly what libertarian freedom is, provide more reasons to think we possess this kind of freedom, and also explain why you believe it is so important?

Also, can you please keep it as simple as possible?

– Steve

Tim’s Response

Thank you for your question, Steve! I would be happy to answer it and I will do my best to keep it short and simple. After all, I have heard it said that if one cannot explain something simply, then one does not understand it well enough in the first place.

Let us begin by defining what we seek to understand.

What Is Libertarian Freedom? 

Libertarian freedom can be most simply defined as the conjunction of a rejection of compatibilism along with the claim that humans (at least occasionally) possess free will. That is to say that the advocate of libertarian freedom affirms that we possess “freedom of moral and rational responsibility” and “that the freedom necessary for responsible action is not compatible with determinism” (Craig & Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview).

To keep it simple: it is vital to grasp the fact that libertarian freedom sometimes refers to an ability to do or think otherwise, but it always refers to source agency and “no external causes.” With that said, I typically like to argue for a stronger model of libertarian freedom. That is to say, most of the time, when I refer to libertarian freedom, I simply mean what most people probably think of when they use the term “free will.” Simply put:

Libertarian freedom is the opportunity to exercise one’s ability to choose between or among a range of alternative options, each of which is consistent or compatible with one’s nature, in a specific circumstance, at the moment of choice.

The Importance of Libertarian Freedom

I have argued that libertarian freedom is necessary for three things most of us would consider “important.” Consider this a “three-punch combo for freedom” from a libertarian freedom fighter!

Left Jab: Morality

The ability to choose between “falling into temptation” or “taking the way of escape” God promises to provide in 1 Corinthians 10:13 is an example. Here, at least Christians possess libertarian freedom to choose between alternatives that are both consistent with their regenerated nature. Since we have good reason to believe Christianity is true and that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we also have good reason to believe we have libertarian freedom when it comes to making moral choices. At the very least, Christians should believe we have libertarian freedom in this sense.

Moreover, even the unregenerate seem to have a limited libertarian freedom to choose between sinful options. That is to say, although they may not be able to choose to love and follow Jesus, they can choose (for example) between robbing the bank, robbing the liquor store, or simply choosing to sit on the couch and think about committing these different sins.

Contrary to popular and uninformed opinion, these are examples of libertarian freedom. Libertarian freedom is a “limited power” and it does not imply or entail the ability to do something that is simply against one’s nature. We are discussing the ability to choose between alternatives that are BOTH consistent with one’s nature.

Right Cross: Rationality

There is much ink I have previously spilled on this topic, but to make it as simple as possible I like to show that rationality requires libertarian freedom by asking one simple question:

Do you possess the ability to reject incoherent thoughts and beliefs in favor of coherent thoughts and beliefs? Yes or No?

If you answer “yes,” then you simultaneously affirm libertarian freedom as you affirm your ability to choose between options consistent with your nature. However, if you answer “no,” then several problems arise:

1- Why trust your answer?
2- Why should anyone listen to your opinions about anything (including those on this topic)?
3- Libertarian freedom exists anyway, if you affirmed your ability to reject “yes” (in favor of “no”), and thus, you tacitly affirm “yes.”

As Calvinist — and libertarian — Greg Koukl points out:

“The problem with [determinism] is that without freedom, rationality would have no room to operate. Arguments would not matter, since no one would be able to base beliefs on adequate reasons. One could never judge between a good idea and a bad one. One would only hold beliefs because he had been predetermined to do so. . . . Although it is theoretically possible that determinism is true — there is no internal contradiction, as far as I can tell — no one could ever know it if it were. Every one of our thoughts, dispositions, and opinions would have been decided for us by factors completely out of our control. Therefore, in practice, arguments for determinism are self-defeating” (Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions; 2009;128-29).

Koukl is exactly right. It is self-defeating to argue for determinism.

The respected philosopher John Searle is clear: Rationality only makes a difference if irrationality is possible. This means that one must possess the ability to ultimately choose (directly or indirectly) to be rational or irrational — and both of these options are a genuine possibility, and thus compatible with a rational person’s nature.

As I noted in the interview you mentioned, a thought experiment forcefully illustrates the necessity of libertarian freedom when it comes to rationality:

Suppose a mad scientist exhaustively controls (causally determines) all of your thoughts and beliefs all the time. This includes exactly what you think of and about and exactly how you think of and about it. All of your thoughts about your beliefs and all of your beliefs about your thoughts are caused and determined by the mad scientist. This also includes the next words that will come out of your mouth.

Question: How can YOU (not the mad scientist) rationally affirm the current beliefs in your head as good, bad, better, the best, true, or probably true without begging the question?

Good luck with that!

Left Hook: True Love

To keep it simple — and for the sake of starting the conversation — I simply point out that it is both intuitively obvious and recognized by the law that love requires libertarian freedom.

Our justice system is clear that all a woman must do is say or imply “no” or “stop” to a man’s advances. If this minimal resistance is offered, and the man continues to advance anyway, then he is ultimately raping her. If her ability to resist is taken away by drugs or other methods, then it is rape. This is not an instance of love! It is EVIL.

Legally, the woman does not have to say “yes” to a man’s advances, but if any resistance is offered — even a little bit — then the man must stop. Why is this the law? Because it is intuitively obvious that the libertarian ability to resist — or not to resist — is minimally required for a true love relationship. Anything less than this is rape.

Since an ability to resist–or not to resist–is essential for true love (and this fact is recognized by the law) we have another reason to think humans possess libertarian freedom.


More strikes can be added to this three-punch combo for freedom (I did not include my Roundhouse Kick to the Face for Freedom for the sake of brevity). Be that as it may, this combination provides a dangerous threat to any deterministic dictator opposed to liberty.

Libertarian freedom is simply the ability to choose between alternatives that are both/each compatible with one’s nature. If humans do not possess this ability, then morality, rationality, and true love are all illusory.

Live Free or Die (Galatians 5:13),

Tim Stratton


About the Author



(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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