Rocks in Socks: The Art of Asking Clever Questions



(The FreeThinking Theist)


June 21, 2021

Since publishing Human Freedom, Divine Knowledge, and Mere Molinism in October of 2020, almost every day I have dialoged with determinists. They are either theological determinists (typically Calvinists) who are seemingly committed to exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) or they are scientific determinists (typically naturalists/atheists) who believe that all things about humanity are ultimately causally determined by the laws and events of nature. These folks seem determined to destroy freedom (in a libertarian sense).

I provide logically valid deductive syllogisms, defend the premises to show the soundness of my arguments, and support my case with thoughtful thought experiments. But I have found that the art of asking good questions might be the best way (at least with some folks) to encourage one to think carefully on these matters.

“Questions Aren’t Arguments”

I recently had a conversation with a fellow Christian who claimed (apart from argument) that the FreeThinking Argument was faulty. In order to support my case and the syllogism I began to ask him a few well-crafted questions. However, instead of providing answers to my questions (which spoke quite loudly) he countered with “Questions aren’t arguments.” I agree, but as Greg Koukl has demonstrated in his book, Tactics, a good question can expose faulty thinking – and depending upon how the question is answered, it can set up further arguments.

A significant section of my book demonstrates how well-crafted questions can eventually lead a Five-Point Calvinist who previously opposed Molinism to see that he ought to affirm Mere Molinism (252-254). Moreover, another example of clever questions leading to conclusions can be found here: Assurance of Salvation. Sure, questions are not arguments, but well-crafted questions can imply arguments which can be fleshed out after one’s interlocutor provides his or her answers.

In a recent debate with an ardent EDD-Calvinist, after showing him that his commitments led to a “low view of God” as AW Tozer would say, I provided undercutting defeaters against his low view of God, and finally explained why — according to his view — he could not infer better or true beliefs over false ones and rationally affirm knowledge claims. Nevertheless, he remained steadfast and would not budge despite being confronted with logic-based arguments. I felt as if I was banging my head against a brick wall.

It finally occurred to me that perhaps I should follow Greg Koukl’s lead and drop the syllogisms in favor of carefully constructed questions. It started with one simple query:

1- Is it possible that you are wrong?

Initially this determinist was reluctant to answer the question. He was so convinced he was right that he seemed ready to affirm the logical impossibility of him being incorrect. Finally, however, he reluctantly affirmed that he was not infallible, and thus, it was at least possible that I was right and that he was wrong. This led to three statements followed with three true/false question:

2- If you are wrong, it is either because you are being causally determined to affirm a false belief or you are simply not being careful with your thoughts. True or False?

He answered in the affirmative: “True!” This provided a nice transition to my next question:

3- If you are causally determined to affirm a false belief you are not responsible in a desert sense. That is to say, you have a great excuse for affirming a false belief since something or someone else causally determined you to think and believe incorrectly. Thus, you do not deserve to be blamed. True or False?

My interlocutor agreed with me that if a “deity of deception” (like Loki) causally determined him to think and believe incorrectly, then he should not be blamed for the nonsense that is causally determined by Loki to be formed in his head and to be spewed forth from him mouth. Loki is to blame. This determinist answered in the affirmative: “True!”

This set up my last question:

4- If you are simply not being careful with your thoughts, then you are responsible in a desert sense and can be appropriately blamed (since you could have been careful but failed to take thoughts captive to obey reality). True or False?

Again, this determinist agreed with me that if he actually possessed an opportunity to take his thoughts captive to obey reality, but failed to seize this available opportunity, then he was blameworthy for missing the mark and failing to think correctly. Again, he answered in the affirmative: “True!”

Columbo, a Wager, and Rocks in Socks

I thanked him for the conversation and began to walk out the door. Then I paused and remembered what Koukl refers to as the “Columbo Tactic.” I turned around and said, “Sorry, I just have one last question.”[1]

5- Don’t ya think it would be prudent to reject exhaustive divine determinism (EDD) and affirm limited libertarian freedom? I mean, if you affirm EDD and you are wrong about EDD (which you admit is possible), then you are guilty and deserve blame. If you affirm the libertarian freedom to think, and you are wrong about libertarian freedom, then you are not blameworthy. Do you see that the wise man — if he wants to avoid blameworthiness — should reject EDD? 

These carefully crafted questions make it clear that the one who affirms libertarian freedom is either right or not to be blamed for being wrong. The exhaustive divine determinist, on the other hand, is either causally determined to think correctly – but not praiseworthy — or is guilty and blameworthy for being wrong. Although my interlocutor remained silent it was clear that I definitely “put a stone is his shoe” (as Koukl likes to say) or some “rocks in his socks” (as I like to put it when I am training MAVEN students). He will be forced to think about these agitating questions (stones/rocks) with every step he takes until we meet again. I am looking forward to our next conversation.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18) and take thoughts captive (2 Cor 10:5) before they take you (Col 2:8),

Dr. Tim Stratton


[1] To give credit where credit is due, I first heard the final question (a “Pascal’s Wager for Freedom”) from my colleague Leighton Flowers. 

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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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