It is enough of itself, with religion being the greatest promoter of the concept of free will, to be suspicious that this hypothesis is not as clear-cut as it may superficially appear to be.

The survival of religion depends largely on humanity having total free will choice when it comes to the dual notion of good and evil. However, have we?

The extreme examples portrayed in existing cultural differences throughout the world show very conclusively that free will parallels the norms, mores and laws of any particular place. Location plays a very large role in adult outcomes. If the people that flew the planes into the Twin Towers were brought up in a country with less extreme religious doctrines maybe they would end up being accountants or whatever. This also works in reverse.

It therefore is irrefutably conclusive that free will is not an absolute quality.

If we then go into one culture, especially our own, we can immediately recognise how diverse and at odds different groups are. Certain groups can hold exactly opposite views to others. Some glaring examples are on abortion, Voluntary Euthanasia, the role of women, the death penalty and such like. Neither side can change to the other in the short term and do not really have a choice in the matter. Both sides are very lucky in that they used free will in choosing the correct ideological side. Both cannot be right.

It has to be accepted that parental situation, religion, ethnicity, schooling, peer group intensity, wealth or lack thereof, intelligence, health, appearance, education, genes, area and so on and so forth, has huge statistical bias effect on the end product, an adult. Other circumstances sometimes allow a few to break from their traditions, leaving the majority thinking that they are making free will decisions in not doing so. They may only be following situational pre-determined routs. It could be argued that they think they are using free will in making important choices in life.

By calling a certain stance in life a ‘free will choice’, is not proof that it is. It is the sum of endless pre determiners, manufactured from within and externally. These can often be faulty in critical areas of thinking. Where is the free will if you end up thinking the same as your group demands? Many groups on the planet are obviously wrong. They are human, we are human, and we are all equal in a broad biological sense. The incontrovertible conclusion is that we then are also capable of being wrong without recognising it.

Free will is not as simple and absolute as it has been represented by the religious. We may possess a good deal of free will or we could have none. The truth may fall between those two extremes.

It has also to be seriously considered that along with every other life form; we owe our present position to evolutionary forces. Evolution is not the result of deterministic or random happening. It is the survival of the fittest. Even the way we think is the result of evolution and it therefore follows that free will choices are produced by the survival of the fittest idea at an individual level. At any given moment, our thinking is controlled by genetic make-up and outside influences working together in unison for the best outcome for personal survival.

With our genes dictating how we think and our immediate environment influencing those thoughts, it is not too difficult to comprehend that free will choices may indeed be an illusion created by evolution alone.

In any event, the crux of the matter is that it is a form of manipulative control to promote the idea that one can profit or lose, in this life and/or the next, depending only on the free will choices of good over evil. The choice is seldom clear-cut and is dependent on an assessment of the particular situation.

The very idea of free will carries with it the added weight of wisdom in conforming to a set of supernaturally originated ideals that are irrefutably correct. To offer the “choice”, of follow-the-line, or suffer eternal consequences, is not providing an alternative; instead, it is a dastardly threat. It is the greatest threat that can be levied against an ignorant and fearful society.

Once the above is recognised as the true position, we can choose between a world controlled by fixed rules (and therefore choiceless), or one which allows reason to decide. History has endlessly shown that old rules have a habit of creating mayhem in societies whereas reason has only ever produced greater safety and equality.

The complexities of thinking about free will expand exponentially the more it is considered until a point is reached where the confusion finally wins. It may never be totally unravelled. The course of action with the most promise for a successful civilisation is not to blindly follow our perceived “free will” choices, but to make sure they are based on the solid foundations of reason and not just culture and circumstance.

It is more than interesting, and somewhat ironic, that those suffering under the certainty of a god-given free will capacity are the most likely to be unable to utilise it.

By David Nicholls