We assume that a tossed coin will have a 50% / 50% of landing heads side up. In actuality, itís fate is 100% decided. If we could measure the weight, density and aerodynamic properties of the coin, and the air pressure factors, and the force and angle at which the coin is tossed to a set measured height into the air, and calculate the level of bounce and roll involved in the coinís landing, we would see that there is no element of chance involved. Itís fate is determined for it, by physical, scientific laws. Are our lives, and our moral decision making processes similarly determined? Do we actually have no free will whatsoever? Your presense here was determined by various factors. You have come to recognise yourselves as Humanists. Your rejection of religion is a key factor. All sorts of aspects of your lives in the past could be drawn upon as determining factors in the making of this moment for you.

Free will is an illusion. We have many restrictions on our will power. Our need to eat, sleep and drink slows us down. We canít defy certain laws of physics and walk to China. We need money to do certain things. My next choice of action is totally dependent on where I am at any given time. Any journey I undertake begins with the next move. Causes, conditions and contexts surround me, and then there are other people to consider, not to mention my own inherited genetic nature. We donít choose to be male or female. Our hair, eye colouring, etc are picked for us by nature. We donít pick our own parents. In the first five years of our life, we lack event he illusion of free will. We are totally dependent on the actions of the environment (including itís people) around us, as babies. Our first use of the illusory free will, is in demanding parental attention. We learn to cry to get Mummy running. She comes or doesnít come, and that affects our behaviour. If she comes too often, we get spoilt. If she never comes, we feel neglected. Our personality and our likelihood to develop into a particular kind of personality is affected by this. In Chess there are about a billion moves you can make. In life, the combinations of experiences, sensations, feelings, thoughts, and environmental effects bombarding us, even in the non-atomic environment is virtually infinite. Whether we like it or not, we are shaped and made by forces surrounding us. Those forces are not aware of what they are doing. There is no preordained, divine motive behind the light that dazzles us because we are too close to a sunlit window. We can be determined without God having a role in our lives. We learn from what works for us. Sometimes, a tantrum gets Mummy to buy an ice cream to shut us up. Other times, she refuses. Thatís when we learn to gain by flattery of the ĎI love you Mummyí variety, or to do without Ice cream. Is there free will? Yes. But itís an abstraction. It involves reasoned thinking. You are not only determined upon by the veritable changing climate of forces that act upon you and within your own biochemistry; you are also a determining agent. That is to say, you have the power to influence others. The parents among you will have shaped your childrenís personalities through your love, your book readings, your denial of a third ice cream, and grounding them for pinching the biscuits or whatever. If you can take a course of reasoned action in how you influence the lives of others, then you can logically make choices for yourself too. Advertising and peer group pressure urges us to smoke cigarettes. Warnings of cancer and heart disease warn us off. By reasoning, we can pick the choice of influences to follow. Our very thinking process; our exercise of thought, reason and will, can be a determining factor in itself. The trick is to know more of the tricks of the trade. If you know what is determining upon you and why, you can decide how to, or even whether or not to go along with that influence. Because we are educated people, we know that there are cases for and against various actions and beliefs. We can therefore talk ourselves into, or out of a given course of action. Of all the interacting forces in the toss, the coin had the least resistance to its fate. We on the other hand, are human. We can say, no, Iíd rather do this instead of that. Free will is simply controlled self-determination.

Arthur Chappell