Foundations of Science

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 403–422 | Cite as

Beyond Physics? On the Prospects of Finding a Meaningful Oracle

  • Taner EdisEmail author
  • Maarten Boudry


Certain enterprises at the fringes of science, such as intelligent design creationism, claim to identify phenomena that go beyond not just our present physics but any possible physical explanation. Asking what it would take for such a claim to succeed, we introduce a version of physicalism that formulates the proposition that all available data sets are best explained by combinations of “chance and necessity”—algorithmic rules and randomness. Physicalism would then be violated by the existence of oracles that produce certain kinds of noncomputable functions. Examining how a candidate for such an oracle would be evaluated leads to questions that do not admit an easy resolution. Since we lack any plausible candidate for any such oracle, however, chance-and-necessity physicalism appears very likely to be correct.


Physicalism Chance and necessity Computability  Supernaturalism Intelligent design Hypercomputation  Randomness 



The authors would like to thank Peter Verdée for sharing his expertise on computability and oracles, and Yon Fishman as well as two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. The research of the second author was supported by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO).


  1. Atran, S. (2002). In gods we trust: The evolutionary landscape of religion. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Atran, S., & Henrich, J. (2010). The evolution of religion: How cognitive by-products, adaptive learning heuristics, ritual displays, and group competition generate deep commitments to prosocial religions. Biological Theory, 5(1), 18–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Banks, I. M. (2004). The algebraist. London: Orbit.Google Scholar
  4. Barnes, L. (2011). The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. arXiv:1112.464v1 [physics.hist-ph]. Accessed 8 Nov 2013.
  5. Behe, M. J. (1996). Darwin’s black box: The biochemical challenge to evolution. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  6. Behe, M. J. (2007). The edge of evolution: The search for the limits of Darwinism. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  7. Boudry, M., Blancke, S., & Braeckman, J. (2010). How not to attack intelligent design creationism: Philosophical misconceptions about methodological naturalism. Foundations of Science, 15(3), 227–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Boudry, M., & Leuridan, B. (2011). Where the design argument goes wrong: Auxiliary assumptions and unification. Philosophy of Science, 78(4), 558–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Boyer, P. (2001). Religion explained: The evolutionary origins of religious thought. New York: Basic.Google Scholar
  10. Büchner, L. (1884). Force and matter, or, principles of the natural order of the universe. With a system of morality based thereupon. Translated from the 15th German edition; 4th English edition. London: Asher and Co.Google Scholar
  11. Chaitin, G. J. (1987). Algorithmic information theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chaitin, G. J. (2001). Exploring randomness. London: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Churchland, P. S. (2002). Brain-wise: Studies in neurophilosophy. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  14. Clark, A. (1993). Sensory qualities. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  15. Damasio, A. R. (2010). Self comes to mind: Constructing the conscious brain. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  16. Davis, M. (2004). The myth of hypercomputation. In C. Teuscher (Ed.), Alan Turing: Life and legacy of a great thinker (pp. 195–212). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  17. Dembski, W. A. (1998). The design inference: Eliminating chance through small probabilities. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dembski, W. A. (1999). Intelligent design: The bridge between science and theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.Google Scholar
  19. Dembski, W. A. (2002). No free lunch: Why specified complexity cannot be purchased without intelligence. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  20. Dembski, W. A. (2004). The design revolution: Answering the toughest questions about intelligent design. Downers Grove: IVP Books.Google Scholar
  21. Dennett, D. C. (1991). Consciousness explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.Google Scholar
  22. Dennett, D. C. (1995). Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  23. Edelman, G. M. (2004). Wider than the sky: The phenomenal gift of consciousness. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Edis, T. (1998). How Gödel’s theorem supports the possibility of machine intelligence. Minds and Machines, 8, 251–262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Edis, T. (2001). Darwin in mind: ‘intelligent design’ meets artificial intelligence. The Skeptical Inquirer, 25(2), 35–39.Google Scholar
  26. Edis, T. (2002). The Ghost in the universe: God in light of modern science. Amherst: Prometheus.Google Scholar
  27. Edis, T. (2004a). Grand themes, narrow constituency. In M. Young, & T. Edis (Eds.), Why intelligent design fails: A scientific critique of the new creationism (pp. 9–19). New Brunswick: Rutgers University PressGoogle Scholar
  28. Edis, T. (2004b). Chance and necessity—and intelligent design? In M. Young, & T. Edis (Eds.), Why intelligent design fails: A scientific critique of the new creationism (pp. 139–152). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Edis, T. (2006). Science and nonbelief. Westport: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  30. Elsberry, W., & Shallit, J. (2004). Playing games with probability: Dembski’s complex specified information. In Young, & Edis (pp. 121–138).Google Scholar
  31. Elsberry, W., & Shallit, J. (2011). Information theory, evolutionary computation, and Dembski’s ‘complex specified information’. Synthese, 178, 237–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Etesi, G., & Nemeti, I. (2002). Non-Turing computations via Malament–Hogarth space-times. International Journal of Theoretical Physics, 41, 341–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Feynman, R. (1982). Simulating physics with computers. International Journal of Theoretical Physics, 21(6/7), 467–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Fishman, Y. I. (2009). Can science test supernatural worldviews? Science & Education, 18, 813–837.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Forrest, B., & Gross, P. R. (2007). Creationism’s Trojan horse: The wedge of intelligent design (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  36. France, A. (1895). Le Jardin d’Epicure. Paris: Calmann Lévy.Google Scholar
  37. Gaspard, P. (1992). Diffusion, effusion, and chaotic scattering: An exactly solvable liouvillian dynamics. Journal of Statistical Physics, 68, 673–747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gonzalez, G., & Richards, J. W. (2004). The privileged planet: How our place in the cosmos is designed for discovery. Washington: Regnery.Google Scholar
  39. Goswami, A. (2001). Physics of the soul: The quantum book of living, dying, reincarnation and immortality. Charlottesville: Hampton Roads.Google Scholar
  40. Häggström, O. (2007). Intelligent design and the NFL theorems. Biology and Philosophy, 22(2), 217–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hameroff, S., & Penrose, R. (1996). Conscious events as orchestrated space-time selections. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3(1), 36–53.Google Scholar
  42. Hamkins, J. D., & Lewis, A. (2000). Infinite time Turing machines. Journal of Symbolic Logic, 65(2), 567–604.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hempel, C. (1969). Reduction: Ontological and linguistic facets. In S. Morgenbesser, et al. (Eds.), Essays in honor of Ernest Nagel (pp. 179–199). New York: St Martin’s Press.Google Scholar
  44. Johnson, P. E. (2000). The wedge of truth: Splitting the foundations of naturalism. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.Google Scholar
  45. Kolmogorov, A. N. (1965). Three approaches to the quantitative definition of information. Problems Information Transmission, 1, 1–7.Google Scholar
  46. Lem, S. (1983). His master’s voice. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.Google Scholar
  47. Lem, S. (1999). A perfect vacuum. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Lucas, J. R. (1961). Minds, machines, and Gödel. Philosophy, 36, 112–127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Melnyk, A. (2003). A physicalist manifesto: Thoroughly modern materialism. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mermin, N. D. (2007). Quantum computer science: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Meyer, S. C. (2009). Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for intelligent design. New York: HarperOne.Google Scholar
  52. Monod, J. (1971). Chance and necessity: An essay on the natural philosophy of modern biology. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  53. Nasr, S. H. (1989). Knowledge and the sacred. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  54. Penrose, R. (1994). Shadows of the mind: A search for the missing science of consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Perakh, M. (2004). Unintelligent design. Amherst: Prometheus.Google Scholar
  56. Pour-El, M. B., & Richards, I. (1979). A computable ordinary differential equation which possesses no computable solution. Annals of Mathematical Logic, 17, 61–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Pour-El, M. B., & Richards, I. (1981). The wave equation with computable initial data such that its unique solutions is not computable. Advances in Mathematics, 39, 215–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Pour-El, M. B., & Richards, J. I. (1989). Computability in analysis and physics. Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Radin, D. (1997). The conscious universe: The scientific truth of psychic phenomena. New York: HarperEdge.Google Scholar
  60. Rhine, J. B. (1953). New world of the mind. New York: William Sloane.Google Scholar
  61. Sober, E. (1994). Let’s razor Ockham’s Razor. In E. Sober (Ed.), From a biological point of view: Essays in evolutionary philosophy (pp. 136–157). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Solomonoff, R. (1964). A formal theory of inductive inference, part I. Information and Control, 7(1), 1–22; A formal theory of inductive inference, part II. Information and Control, 7(2), 224–254.Google Scholar
  63. Stenger, V. J. (2011). The fallacy of fine-tuning: Why the universe is not designed for us. Amherst: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  64. Stenger, V. J. (2012). Defending the fallacy of fine-tuning. arXiv:1202.4359 [physics.pop-ph]. Accessed 8 November 2013.
  65. Stoljar, D. (2009). Physicalism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed 8 November 2013.Google Scholar
  66. Swinburne, R. (1996). Is there a god?. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Young, M., & Edis, T. (Eds.). (2004). Why intelligent design fails: A scientific critique of the new creationism. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhysicsTruman State UniversityKirksvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy and Moral SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Konrad Lorenz InstituteViennaAustria

Personalised recommendations