Freethinking Atheists are Oxymorons



(The FreeThinking Theist)


July 13, 2015

Atheists like to label themselves as “freethinkers.” However, if they happen to be right, about the non-existence of God, it follows that it is highly implausible that the immaterial aspect of humanity called a “soul” exists. This has led me to the conclusion that it is impossible for an atheist to really be a “free thinker!” Sure, they can join the club and call themselves “freethinkers,” but if they happen to be right about the non-existence of God, atheists cannot freely think anything. No one could.

This is because if God and soul do not exist, it is hard to see how anyone could ever freely think about good evidence and argumentation and choose to think rationally to come to the most logical conclusions. Consider an argument I crafted called, “Tim Stratton’s Freethinking Argument Against Naturalism” (FAAN):

1- If naturalism is true, the immaterial human soul does not exist.

2- If the soul does not exist, libertarian free will does not exist.

3- If libertarian free will does not exist, rationality and knowledge do not exist.

4- Rationality and knowledge exist.

5- Therefore, libertarian free will exists.

6- Therefore, the soul exists.

7- Therefore, naturalism is false.

8- The best explanation for the existence of the soul is God.

For my fellow logic geeks out there, here is my syllogism in symbolic form to demonstrate that the Freethinking Argument Against Naturalism is “mathematically” valid:

Tim by the Biola Fountain1. N → ¬ S

2. ¬ S → ¬ LFW

3. ¬ LFW → ¬ R & ¬ K

4.     R & K

5. R & K → LFW

6. LFW → S

7. S → ¬ N

Since the argument is valid, conclusions (5-7) must be true as they are deductive. So the only question remaining is if premises (1-4) are true. If they are, naturalism must be false. Throughout the remainder of this article, I will briefly discuss and defend each of the steps in this argument. I am convinced that this is a sound argument, which should give atheists pause before labeling themselves “freethinkers.” In fact, by the conclusion of this article, atheists should see that they could only be “freethinkers” if they are wrong about God’s existence! Begin by considering the first premise:

1- If naturalism is true, the immaterial human soul does not exist.

By far, the most common worldview of the atheist persuasion is that of naturalism (that nature is all there is). If one holds that things outside of nature exist, one would be admitting that naturalism is false, and in effect, agreeing with the theist that not only does nature exist, but so does the “supernatural” (things other than nature). This is a move the committed atheist does not want to make because God, if He exists, falls into the supernatural category. By admitting the supernatural exists, one tacitly affirms the possibility of God’s existence.

Like the Biblical view of God, the human soul, by definition is not a physical or material type of thing. It is an immaterial aspect of our existence, which if it does exist, leads to some tremendous conclusions. However, if the soul does not exist, that leads us to our second premise.

2- If the soul does not exist, libertarian free will does not exist.

This premise is virtually synonymous with the statement: “If all is nature, then all is determined by the laws of nature.” This premise actually does not need much defending as far as I am concerned, because many atheistic naturalists have already made this case for me. Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Sam Harris, etc., have made this case loud and clear! Let’s examine the defense of premise (2) in the words of these “new atheists.”

Richard Dawkins was once reading from his book The God Delusion. A dialogue ensued regarding his view of scientific determinism. Dawkins believes that we are all determined to our actions and our beliefs. He was talking about justice and morality and he said, “None of us ever as a matter of fact say, “Oh well, he couldn’t help doing it; he was determined by his molecules…. Maybe we should.[1]

When asked if he thought his views were inconsistent with atheism and naturalism, Dawkins replied, “I sort of do. Yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with, otherwise life would be intolerable.”[2] Richard Dawkins admits that to live happily as an atheist you have to believe a “noble lie”[3] and in a state of self-delusion!

Stephen Hawking agrees and writes, “It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.”[4] Hawking concludes that “human behavior is indeed determined by the laws of nature” and our actions are “as determined as the orbits of the planets.”[5]

The famous new atheist philosopher, neuroscientist, and best selling author, Sam Harris agrees. In his book entitled, Free Will, Harris writes:

“Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have. Free will is actually more than an illusion (or less), in that it cannot be made conceptually coherent. Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them.”[6]

It’s comforting to see the consistency of some of the world’s most famous atheists when it comes to the denial of free will; however, I do not think they have taken their beliefs to their logical conclusions. This leads us to the critical third premise of this argument.

3- If libertarian free will does not exist, rationality and knowledge do not exist.

Simply stated: “If free will does not exist, freethinking does not exist.” Given the naturalist’s view of scientific determinism, how could anyone ever freely choose to be rational and know they are? If everything is determined by “cause and effect,” including our thoughts and beliefs, and our thoughts and beliefs about our thoughts and beliefs, then, the choice to follow the laws of logic and to think rationally would only be an illusion. The naturalist who holds to determinism did not come to that conclusion based on their intelligence, and by choosing to examine the evidence to infer the best explanation. They were simply determined by physics and chemistry to be determinists. It has nothing to do with knowledge, logic, or rationality. If naturalism is true, “There is no free will involved either in assessing whether one thought is better than another.”[7] William Lane Craig makes this point loud and clear:

“There is a sort of dizzying, self-defeating character to determinism. For if one comes to believe that determinism is true, one has to believe that the reason he has come to believe it is simply that he was determined to do so. One has not in fact been able to weigh the arguments pro and con and freely make up one’s mind on that basis. The difference between the person who weighs the arguments for determinism and rejects them and the person who weighs them and accepts them is wholly that one was determined by causal factors outside himself to believe and the other not to believe. When you come to realize that your decision to believe in determinism was itself determined and that even your present realization of that fact right now is likewise determined, a sort of vertigo sets in, for everything that you think, even this very thought itself, is outside your control. Determinism could be true; but it is very hard to see how it could ever be rationally affirmed, since its affirmation undermines the rationality of its affirmation.”[8]

The process of rationality leading to warranted or justified true belief (knowledge) entails the properties of being able to think of and about competing hypotheses, deliberate between them, and the ability to infer and affirm the best explanation via the laws of logic. Therefore, a rational entity must also possess at least two other attributes: intentionality and libertarian free will.[9]

This step of the argument is typically attacked by atheists who are blindly committed to their presuppositions rather than to truth. After all, if this premise is true, then, this becomes an inarguable argument, because to argue against it, one must appeal to rationality. That argument would affirm the very point I am making. Moreover, any objection to this premise can be countered with this: “If all your thoughts are determined, then how do you KNOW your determined thought is any good, let alone true?” All the naturalist can do is presuppose their determined beliefs are correct, but this does not qualify as a knowledge claim as it is utterly void of any justification. It is only a question-begging assumption (a logical fallacy), and any argument based on a logical fallacy is no argument at all.

It is intuitively obvious that we all know we are free, and make real choices (at least occasionally). To deny this, is to reject rationality and knowledge altogether. Therefore, a naturalist has no grounds to state, “Naturalism is true.” In fact, it is an utterly irrational statement (if naturalism is true or not). If the atheist happens to be correct about naturalism, it is impossible for free will to exist, and it logically follows that rationality (not to mention morality)[10] is illusory. It seems to me, however, that we are using logic and rationality to come to these conclusions. Is naturalism a self-refuting position?[11] Let’s examine the fourth premise.

4- Rationality and knowledge exist.

This premise seems to be self-evident. After all, if one is going to argue against premise (4), they must appeal to rational argumentation to do so. This would affirm the very point they are rejecting. The strength of this argument hinges upon premise (4), and makes this premise (and perhaps this entire argument) inarguable. Some arguments seem to be more rational than others, and if we choose to subscribe to the arguments that are in line with the laws of logic and the rules of reason, then we are appealing to the objective reality of rationality.

Moreover, for the atheistic “freethinker” to disagree with this premise would be to admit irrationality. If that’s the case, why should anyone bother to listen to his irrational ideas? The atheist would lose all rights to argue against Christianity on intellectual grounds. Rationality obviously does exist; therefore, the rest of this argument builds tremendous speed and power. This is the case because if a person can freely choose to be rational, the next premise logically follows.

5- Therefore, libertarian free will exists.

As I demonstrated in premise (3), if libertarian free will does not exist, rationality does not exist either. The inverse is logically true as well, if rationality does exist; free will must exist. To argue this premise, one must demonstrate how one does not need the use of free will to choose to think things through rationally. Good luck with that!

As we saw in premise (2), if free will exists, it must be based on something that is not a part of the machinery of this material cause and effect universe. If humanity can truly think logically, and make rational arguments which lead to the inference to the best explanation, then, humanity must have free will. If humanity has free will, we must be more than just our material bodies and brains. For human free will to exist, we must possess an immaterial aspect of our existence which can freely choose to “override” the laws of nature. This leads to the following premise:

6- Therefore, the human soul exists.

If this rational argument holds, then the immaterial aspect of humanity called “the soul” must exist. This has been most theist’s view of humanity for thousands of years. Only until empiricism became the view of the “enlightened,” did people begin to dismiss the view of anything that could not be tested scientifically in the material world. The case for rationality seems to debunk the notion that nature is all that exists.

If the human soul does exist, it is something that, like God, cannot be directly discovered by science. The scientific method only is applicable to things in the natural universe, and science is impotent to test things such as the laws of logic, mathematics, self-introspection, objective morality, the order of science itself, and anything outside of the universe (supernatural)![12] This logical argument is a good piece of evidence that the soul does exist.

7- Therefore, naturalism is false.

This argument effectively demonstrates that not all that exists is material. If the immaterial soul exists that makes rationality possible, then the idea that “all that exists is nature,” is clearly wrong. This argument from rationality completely disproves the worldview of naturalism because it’s obvious that the immaterial soul does, in fact, exist!

So where in the world does the soul come from? Perhaps this question is logically incoherent, as the soul (the immaterial aspect of humanity and essence), is not the type of thing that could come from this material world. After all, how could naturalistic evolution produce an immaterial thing from material things? We need a better explanation.

What is the best explanation for the obvious existence of the soul? The strict naturalist cannot even enter into this discussion, as the existence of the soul is disproof that nature is all that exists. This leads us to the final abductive conclusion of this argument:

8- The best explanation for the existence of the soul is God.

It seems that only an immaterial being, like the Biblical view of God, could account for humanity possessing an immaterial soul that could “override” our physical molecules. In fact, when one considers that the Bible claims that we are, “created in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27), this concept makes perfect sense not only logically, but theologically as well.

This argument does not “prove” that God exists, like it deductively proves libertarian free will exists or that naturalism is false; however, because of our libertarian free will, we can inductively conclude that the Biblical view of God is the best explanation for the existence of the soul. Therefore, Christians are justified and rational in concluding that atheism is incoherent, and that Christianity is probably true.

If a determinist disagrees with this inference, it is simply because they were determined to do so; it has nothing to do with reason!


Returning to the original question, how can an atheistic naturalist (if he’s right) truly be a “freethinker?” If God, and, therefore, the human soul, does not exist, people are nothing more than a material mechanism bound by the laws of chemistry and physics. To put it bluntly, human beings would be nothing more than “bags of chemicals on bones!” If this is all we are, we do not possess genuine free will and life is ultimately meaningless. If humanity has no free will, then we are not free to think anything.

Therefore, if naturalism is true, knowledge, rationality, and morality are illusory. We would not be free to choose to be reasonable, or to engage in logical argumentation, or even to freely choose to follow evidence wherever it leads. If God does not exist we are not free to choose anything, and that includes what we are going to choose to believe or think. All naturalists are left with is question-begging presuppositions.

A naturalistic atheist has no right to call himself a “freethinker.” I think a better name for the freethinkers would be the “determined determinists!” Given naturalism, there’s no freedom to think otherwise. Bottom line: The Supernatural must exist for the naturalistic atheist to “freely think” that it doesn’t.

Stay reasonable,

Tim Stratton


[1]Logan Gage, “Who Wrote Richard Dawkins’s New Book?” , October 28, 2006, found at

[2] Ibid.

[3]William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 2008), quoting Loyal D. Rue, “The Saving grace of Noble Lies,” address to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, February 1991. Page 85

[4] Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design, (Bantam Books, New York, 2010). Page 32

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sam Harris, Free Will, (Free Press, New York, 2012), Page 5

[7] Scott Smith, summarizing Chapter six in his book, Ethics and the Search for Moral Knowledge, (InterVarsity Press)

[8] William Lane Craig, “Molinism vs. Calvinism: Troubled by Calvinists” Found at: , (accessed 8-12-12)

[9] Stratton, The Self-Refuting Nature of Naturalism,

[10] Stratton “An Ought From An Is.”

[11] Stratton, The Self-refuting Nature of Naturalism.

[12] William Lane Craig in debate vs. Peter Atkins, (Accessed 9-11-12)


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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