Skip to main content

Beyond Physics? On the Prospects of Finding a Meaningful Oracle

Abstract

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.

References

  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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Boudry, M., & Leuridan, B. (2011). Where the design argument goes wrong: Auxiliary assumptions and unification. Philosophy of Science, 78(4), 558–578.

    Article  Google 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.

  11. Chaitin, G. J. (1987). Algorithmic information theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  12. Chaitin, G. J. (2001). Exploring randomness. London: Springer.

    Book  Google 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.

    Book  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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 Press

  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.

  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).

  31. Elsberry, W., & Shallit, J. (2011). Information theory, evolutionary computation, and Dembski’s ‘complex specified information’. Synthese, 178, 237–270.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Etesi, G., & Nemeti, I. (2002). Non-Turing computations via Malament–Hogarth space-times. International Journal of Theoretical Physics, 41, 341–370.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Feynman, R. (1982). Simulating physics with computers. International Journal of Theoretical Physics, 21(6/7), 467–488.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Fishman, Y. I. (2009). Can science test supernatural worldviews? Science & Education, 18, 813–837.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

  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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Melnyk, A. (2003). A physicalist manifesto: Thoroughly modern materialism. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  50. Mermin, N. D. (2007). Quantum computer science: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google 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.

    Article  Google 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.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Pour-El, M. B., & Richards, J. I. (1989). Computability in analysis and physics. Berlin: Springer.

    Book  Google 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.

    Chapter  Google 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. plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/. Accessed 8 November 2013.

  66. Swinburne, R. (1996). Is there a god?. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google 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 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Taner Edis.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • Physicalism
  • Chance and necessity
  • Computability
  • Supernaturalism
  • Intelligent design
  • Hypercomputation
  • Randomness