Professors, Psychotherapy, & the Emotional Crutch of Determinism



(The FreeThinking Theist)


April 1, 2019

I have had the privilege and honor to have studied under many brilliant professors over the past several years. This includes learning from professors in an official capacity in the classroom at Biola University, or learning in an unofficial capacity from many more professors (locally and from around the world) who have befriended me and taken me under their proverbial wings. I am blessed to be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1)!

Recently, one of these professors sent me an email containing some valuable insights based on experiences he has had with students in the classroom. I asked him if I could share his thoughts for all to consider. Although he approved, due to the nature of a couple of the quotes below, he asked me not to reference him by name. To honor his wish I will simply refer to him as “the professor.” Additionally, some of the details have been obscured to protect student confidentiality.

After arguing with many determinist students over the years the professor concluded:

“the major reason many cling to determinism isn’t because determinism has the winning argument but because they need to feel like their past mistakes and even sins are at least, to a degree, not their fault.”

Of course, many determinists will be determined to disagree. Be that as it may, this emotional response is often the “reason” for affirming a deterministic worldview. This was clarified when one student told the professor that “if determinism isn’t true then that would mean you’re better than me!”

Knowing this professor, I can attest that this would never have entered his mind!

Another student told the professor that when his son died that God assured him that determinism was true. Of course, if determinism is true then a parent does not have to do any soul searching to examine whether they could have done something differently to save the child. While heartbreaking, one can see how a blind faith in determinism can at times be oddly comforting. Emotional comfort, however, is not a good reason to think a thing to actually be true.

Speaking of “comfort,” the professor often challenges students who affirm determinism by pointing out that “it must be comforting to know that you can look at pornography for four hours and that you couldn’t have done otherwise.” To this point, no divine determinist has disagreed with him.

After considering this anecdotal evidence, consider the thoughts of Irvin Yalom, a Stanford professor of psychiatry (now emeritus).[1]

“The concept of responsibility is crucial to psychotherapy—and it is pragmatically true, it ‘works’: acceptance of it enables the individual to achieve autonomy and his or her full potential.”

However, writes Yalom, many therapists are “secretly… environmental determinists” and that this determinism “leaks out” and is damaging to the patient. Yalom says that for the psychotherapist ­­­­­­­“to work effectively, they must be libertarian….”[2]

I want to thank the professor for being a fellow libertarian freedom fighter and encourage him to keep up the good fight against determinism in the classroom and beyond (you know who you are).

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton


[1] Irvin D. Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy (New York: Basic Books, 1980), 268-269.

[2] Ibid.


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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