“Soft” Determinism

The term “soft determinism” can be misleading. It allows its adherents to appear better than they should.

“Soft” determinism is used in contrast with “hard” determinism. Using these terms, the popular Reformed or Calvinistic position, which is compatibilism, would be called “soft” determinism, whereas my position would be called “hard” determinism. The former is “softer” regarding the control that God exercises over his creation, whereas “hard” determinism is absolute, affirming that God exercises complete control over everything.

This means that “soft” determinism is really partial determinism – God’s control is not complete either in quality or quantity, or both. And if what God does not absolutely determine can still happen, then this means that there is another determining power in the universe. When we are speaking of God’s relation to man, attributing partial determinism to God implies attributing partial determinism to man also. This becomes a version of dualism.

One who believes that God absolutely determines everything is a full determinist, since he believes that God fully determines everything, in terms of both quality and quantity, and in terms of both the extent and the amount of control exercised. Anything less than this is not full; therefore, it is partial.

Since “soft” determinism really means partial determinism, this also means that it is partial indeterminism (partial non-determinism). Since Calvinists usually attribute greater determining power to God than to man, this indeterminism is a “soft” indeterminism, but it is still partial indeterminism.

It becomes a matter of how one wishes to say it. So the term “soft determinism” can be misleading. To some people, it may sound kinder and less extreme, when it is in fact partial determinism, weak determinism, incomplete determinism, or even “soft” indeterminism. And, at least by implication, the heresy of dualism.

On the other hand, since “hard determinism” is in fact just “determinism,” there is no need to qualify it if not for a contrast with a partial version. There is no need to say that I am a full human unless I am in a discussion involving partial humans – I am just human. So in the context of a contrast, what I affirm is full determinism, not “hard” determinism, and when it comes to God’s power over his creation, I reject indeterminism.