Scott Christensen has written a book, "What about free will?" published 1995, in which two Christian positions are examined. They are, page 238, Libertarian Beliefs and Compatabilist Beliefs. However, "Hard Determinism" does not appear in the index.

If we say there was an absolute relationship between how Adam was made and what he was, and, an absolute relationship between what he was and how he behaved then we can see the start of a hard determinist position. If we add to that the idea of God having a holy motive for creating that which disobeyed His Law e.g. the Ten Commandments, that Jesus alone might fulfil that role of obeying, then we have Christian Hard determinism. But this position is not mentioned in this book even as something to reject. So what is going on here?

  • Scott Christensen who ? Which book ? Dec 22, 2018 at 19:21
  • The only text I can trace by Scott Christensen on Christianity & free will is : What about Free Will?: Reconciling Our Choices with God's Sovereignty, Christensen, Scott. Published by P & R Publishing 2/29/2016 (2016) ISBN 10: 1629951862 ISBN 13: 9781629951867. Is this the book you have in mind ?
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 22, 2018 at 19:54
  • What about Free Will?: Reconciling Our Choices with God's Sovereignty has Appendix I, 'Comparing Libertarian and Compatibilist Beliefs on Free Agency', p.238. So is this the book you mean ?
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 22, 2018 at 19:59
  • Free will is a point of doctrine in Christianity, so a position that dismisses it out of hand would be a non-starter. However, many compatibilist positions are, for most intents and purposes, hard determinist, except they find a way to talk about something, essentially illusionary, that they can call "free will". It is akin to the providential fatalism of some Christian thinkers, such as Calvin.
    – Conifold
    Dec 24, 2018 at 23:36
  • @Geoffrey Thomas. Yes this is the book.
    – C. Stroud
    Apr 5, 2019 at 15:28

1 Answer 1


Hard deterninism

“Physical determinism” (hereinafter “determinism” [or 'hard determinism' - GT]) is a partial and unprovable hypothesis about the history, present state, and future of physical bodies and force fields in the universe, including the physical aspects of mental states. The hypothesis is that every physical state of affairs at any point in time is the causal product of two things: (1) an immediately prior physical state of affairs and (2) the laws of nature. “[D]eterminism” is the thesis that “a complete physical description of the world at a given time, together with a complete description of the laws of nature, entails every truth as to the state of the physical world at later times” - or earlier times, for that matter. If determinism is valid, it means that with sufficient information about the world and sufficient knowledge of the laws of nature, one can both predict the future and derive the past because every physical state of affairs that once existed, now exists or will exist in the future is inexorably dictated by what precedes it. (Peter Westen, 'Getting the Fly out of the Bottle: The False Problem of Free Will and Determinism', Buffalo Criminal Law Review , Vol. 8, No. 2 (January 2005), pp. 599-652: 603-4.

Free will - Christian style

“Strong free will” is an ancient and popular hypothesis about the causal origin of purposeful choices on the part of persons. Purposeful choices can take the form of objective conduct observable by third parties (e.g., purposeful actions and omissions) as well as subjective events that can only be experienced on a first-person basis (e.g., mental efforts and mental vows). In either event, “free will” is the hypothesis that purposeful choices are a feature of an individual’s will, and that an individual’s will itself is not caused by anything but itself. This is not to say that the free-will hypothesis denies the existence of conditions of, and influences upon, choice. A dinner guest, for example, who chooses to accept a second serving can do so only if he is alive and conscious, and only if he is offered a second serving; and his choice may well be influenced by hunger, taste, and affection for his host. But free will hypothesizes that regardless of whether the person ultimately chooses to accept the second serving, he could have chosen otherwise—that is, he would have chosen otherwise if he had wanted to, and he could have wanted other than what he actually wanted. As Robert Kane puts it,

[Free will is the assumption that] (a) it is “up to us” what we choose from an array of alternative possibilities, and (b) the origin or source of our choices and actions is in us and not in anyone or anything else over which we have no control. (Peter Westen, 'Getting the Fly out of the Bottle: The False Problem of Free Will and Determinism', Buffalo Criminal Law Review , Vol. 8, No. 2 (January 2005), pp. 599-652: 605-6; Robert Kane, Introduction to Oxford Handbook, supra note 13, at 3, 10. )

The Clash

Of course, there is no canonical, consensual definition or understanding of the terms 'hard determinism' and 'free will'. But I don't think I need this in order to answer your question. If hard determinism is (taken to be) the position defined above, then it has nothing to offer Christian free will as this has also been defined.

If every choice or action is 'inexorably dictated by what precedes it', then 'it is not “up to us” what we choose from an array of alternative possibilities, and (b) the origin or source of our choices and actions is not in us [but is in someone or something] over which we have no control. Our choices and actions are the products of inexorable antecedents stretching back indefinitely and certainly before we even came into existence as agents.

Predestination might live comfortably with such a view but I think for the majority of Christians we sin and it is in an important sense 'up to us' that we do so. It is problematic to harmonise this with hard determinism - difficult to see what fruitful dialogue there could be between free will Christians and hard determinists.


I am not pointlessly, dogmatically and incredibly trying to lay down the law about the essential nature of hard determinism or of free will. My point is simply to suggest that it is this kind of picture that in your terms 'puts Christians off hard determinism'.

I confine myself to that limited question. Nothing in my answer reflects my own religious views.

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    And if you take the definition of hard physical determinism you've quoted here, it's a complete non-starter for any theists who allow for the possibility of miracles (God acting in some way outside the laws of nature). Dec 26, 2018 at 3:19
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    @Geoffrey Thomas It appears to me that there could be fruitful dialogue between free will Christians and hard determinists. e.g. the h.d. might say that God is the only first cause and the freewiller have to do some hard thinking to make reply.
    – C. Stroud
    Dec 28, 2018 at 22:30
  • Interesting idea, thank you. I will mull it over. Best - Geoffrey
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Dec 29, 2018 at 10:55

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