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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Atran, S. (2002). In gods we trust: The evolutionary landscape of religion. New York: Oxford University Press.
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.
Banks, I. M. (2004). The algebraist. London: Orbit.
Barnes, L. (2011). The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. arXiv:1112.464v1 [physics.hist-ph]. Accessed 8 Nov 2013.
Behe, M. J. (1996). Darwin’s black box: The biochemical challenge to evolution. New York: Free Press.
Behe, M. J. (2007). The edge of evolution: The search for the limits of Darwinism. New York: Free Press.
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.
Boudry, M., & Leuridan, B. (2011). Where the design argument goes wrong: Auxiliary assumptions and unification. Philosophy of Science, 78(4), 558–578.
Boyer, P. (2001). Religion explained: The evolutionary origins of religious thought. New York: Basic.
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.
Chaitin, G. J. (1987). Algorithmic information theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Chaitin, G. J. (2001). Exploring randomness. London: Springer.
Churchland, P. S. (2002). Brain-wise: Studies in neurophilosophy. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Clark, A. (1993). Sensory qualities. Oxford: Clarendon.
Damasio, A. R. (2010). Self comes to mind: Constructing the conscious brain. New York: Pantheon Books.
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.
Dembski, W. A. (1998). The design inference: Eliminating chance through small probabilities. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Dembski, W. A. (1999). Intelligent design: The bridge between science and theology. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Dembski, W. A. (2002). No free lunch: Why specified complexity cannot be purchased without intelligence. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Dembski, W. A. (2004). The design revolution: Answering the toughest questions about intelligent design. Downers Grove: IVP Books.
Dennett, D. C. (1991). Consciousness explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
Dennett, D. C. (1995). Darwin’s dangerous idea: Evolution and the meanings of life. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Edelman, G. M. (2004). Wider than the sky: The phenomenal gift of consciousness. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Edis, T. (1998). How Gödel’s theorem supports the possibility of machine intelligence. Minds and Machines, 8, 251–262.
Edis, T. (2001). Darwin in mind: ‘intelligent design’ meets artificial intelligence. The Skeptical Inquirer, 25(2), 35–39.
Edis, T. (2002). The Ghost in the universe: God in light of modern science. Amherst: Prometheus.
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 Press
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.
Edis, T. (2006). Science and nonbelief. Westport: Greenwood Press.
Elsberry, W., & Shallit, J. (2004). Playing games with probability: Dembski’s complex specified information. In Young, & Edis (pp. 121–138).
Elsberry, W., & Shallit, J. (2011). Information theory, evolutionary computation, and Dembski’s ‘complex specified information’. Synthese, 178, 237–270.
Etesi, G., & Nemeti, I. (2002). Non-Turing computations via Malament–Hogarth space-times. International Journal of Theoretical Physics, 41, 341–370.
Feynman, R. (1982). Simulating physics with computers. International Journal of Theoretical Physics, 21(6/7), 467–488.
Fishman, Y. I. (2009). Can science test supernatural worldviews? Science & Education, 18, 813–837.
Forrest, B., & Gross, P. R. (2007). Creationism’s Trojan horse: The wedge of intelligent design (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
France, A. (1895). Le Jardin d’Epicure. Paris: Calmann Lévy.
Gaspard, P. (1992). Diffusion, effusion, and chaotic scattering: An exactly solvable liouvillian dynamics. Journal of Statistical Physics, 68, 673–747.
Gonzalez, G., & Richards, J. W. (2004). The privileged planet: How our place in the cosmos is designed for discovery. Washington: Regnery.
Goswami, A. (2001). Physics of the soul: The quantum book of living, dying, reincarnation and immortality. Charlottesville: Hampton Roads.
Häggström, O. (2007). Intelligent design and the NFL theorems. Biology and Philosophy, 22(2), 217–230.
Hameroff, S., & Penrose, R. (1996). Conscious events as orchestrated space-time selections. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 3(1), 36–53.
Hamkins, J. D., & Lewis, A. (2000). Infinite time Turing machines. Journal of Symbolic Logic, 65(2), 567–604.
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.
Johnson, P. E. (2000). The wedge of truth: Splitting the foundations of naturalism. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Kolmogorov, A. N. (1965). Three approaches to the quantitative definition of information. Problems Information Transmission, 1, 1–7.
Lem, S. (1983). His master’s voice. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Lem, S. (1999). A perfect vacuum. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Lucas, J. R. (1961). Minds, machines, and Gödel. Philosophy, 36, 112–127.
Melnyk, A. (2003). A physicalist manifesto: Thoroughly modern materialism. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Mermin, N. D. (2007). Quantum computer science: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Meyer, S. C. (2009). Signature in the Cell: DNA and the evidence for intelligent design. New York: HarperOne.
Monod, J. (1971). Chance and necessity: An essay on the natural philosophy of modern biology. New York: Knopf.
Nasr, S. H. (1989). Knowledge and the sacred. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Penrose, R. (1994). Shadows of the mind: A search for the missing science of consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Perakh, M. (2004). Unintelligent design. Amherst: Prometheus.
Pour-El, M. B., & Richards, I. (1979). A computable ordinary differential equation which possesses no computable solution. Annals of Mathematical Logic, 17, 61–90.
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.
Pour-El, M. B., & Richards, J. I. (1989). Computability in analysis and physics. Berlin: Springer.
Radin, D. (1997). The conscious universe: The scientific truth of psychic phenomena. New York: HarperEdge.
Rhine, J. B. (1953). New world of the mind. New York: William Sloane.
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.
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.
Stenger, V. J. (2011). The fallacy of fine-tuning: Why the universe is not designed for us. Amherst: Prometheus Books.
Stenger, V. J. (2012). Defending the fallacy of fine-tuning. arXiv:1202.4359 [physics.pop-ph]. Accessed 8 November 2013.
Stoljar, D. (2009). Physicalism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/. Accessed 8 November 2013.
Swinburne, R. (1996). Is there a god?. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Young, M., & Edis, T. (Eds.). (2004). Why intelligent design fails: A scientific critique of the new creationism. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
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).
About this article
Cite this article
Edis, T., Boudry, M. Beyond Physics? On the Prospects of Finding a Meaningful Oracle. Found Sci 19, 403–422 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10699-014-9349-z
- Chance and necessity
- Intelligent design