Is Freewill a Fantasy?

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The reality, or otherwise, of freewill has long been a matter of debate amongst scientists, philosophers, theologians – and the more thoughtfully-inclined (or just plain argumentative) of the general population. I cannot remember when the subject first came to my attention: but it was during my undergraduate years at university that, for me, the subject came to the fore from a combination of three sources.

I was near the start of my final year of an honours degree in ‘Liberal Studies in Science’ – a very broad-based course covering many branches of modern science, as well as its history, philosophy and sociology, and my tutor was pressing me to settle upon my thesis topic. Knowing my interest in both biology and spirituality, he suggested that I tackle the nature of the mind: but I wanted my work to contribute something useful to the subject, and this seemed to me too broad and speculative a topic to offer much prospect of reaching any useful conclusions within such a short space of time.

At the same time, this issue of freewill was brought sharply to my attention from two separate sources. The first was a series of articles and correspondence, particularly one in the New Scientist magazine under the title, ‘Shadow of the Mind.’ These debated whether our increasing understanding of the brain meant our thoughts were no more than the inevitable, and ultimately predictable, outcome of natural physical laws and our feeling of being free to choose no more than an illusory sensation. The second was a threatened split in the university Christian Union over the conflicting doctrines of Calvinism (which emphasises the absolute control of God) and Armenianism (which emphasises man’s freedom to choose his destiny). Could these seeming opposites be reconciled, or was this a classic example of the Bible contradicting itself?

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