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The Ghost in The Universe God in Light of Modern Science


Is there any spiritual reality beyond nature? Is this a ... A generic metaphysical God which dominates the conversation among philosophers of religion. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Ghost in The Universe God in Light of Modern Science

The Ghost in The Universe God in Light of Modern
  • Taner Edis
  • Truman State University

  • Is there a God? Is there any spiritual reality
    beyond nature?
  • Is this a philosophical question? A matter of
  • What do our sciences have to say?
  • Another book by a physicist with God in the

My Approach
  • Im not happy with the traditional philosophical
    debate about God. Too armchair. Does
    libertarian free will require theism sort of
  • Religions make fact claims! Creation,
    revelation, miracles, a purpose to the universe.
    Spiritual realities are supposed to help explain
    the world.

What sort of world is this?
  • Even liberal religions imagine reality
    anthropomorphically claiming realities beyond
    nature. Down deep, reality is supposed to be
    somewhat mind-like.
  • So, lets rely on science. In a broad sense,
    including not only natural science but history,
    philosophy, psychology and so on. Lets see what
    sort of world we live in...

What kind of claims?
The God of the Philosophers
  • The classical proofs
  • Gods nonexistence is inconceivable.
  • The universe requires God as a cause.
  • Complex order indicates a designer-God.
  • A generic metaphysical God which dominates the
    conversation among philosophers of religion.

Philosophers Criticisms
  • The proofs fail
  • God might not exist.
  • The universe might be a brute fact.
  • Complex order might arise naturally.
  • But the best explanation of the world as we find
    it may well be a religious theory, where a God
    takes on a central role.

Order by Design
  • Religions envision a top-down, mind-first
  • reality. Order must result from design.
  • Conservatives Reject naturalistic explanations.
    Deny Darwinian evolution, promote Intelligent
  • Liberals God can work through natural
    processes. Guided, progressive evolution
    evolution as Gods way of creation.

Darwinian Creativity
  • But all creativity is Darwinian, bottom-up.
  • Evolution is unguided progress is only due to
    starting out simple. Order arises from random
    variation and selection. Attaching a God is
  • Our own creative intelligence depends on
    Darwinian processes in the brain. We know of no
    non-Darwinian design.

Theistic Cosmology
  • Physical constants fine-tuned for intelligent
    life to exist.
  • The big bang is an event of creation. The
    universe began it requires a God as a cause.
  • Quantum mechanics indicates consciousness is the
    fundamental reality.
  • The elegant symmetries of physical laws point to
    a supreme intelligence.

Physical Cosmology
  • Physical constraints or multiple universes.
    Theistic explanation itself fine-tuned.
  • Big bang begins space and time. Random
    uncaused. Or, no true boundary.
  • Quantum mechanics does not require consciousness.
    Just weird, not magical.
  • Symmetric laws are frameworks for accidents
    like coin flipping.

Sacred History
  • Jewish History Pattern of disobedience and
    divine punishment.
  • Christianity Jesus life and Resurrection.
  • Islam Revelation as described in orthodox
    history. Miracle of Quran.
  • Revelation as radical novelty breaking into
    history. Religious experience related in

Critical History
  • Sacred histories are not trustworthy accounts but
    origin myths of communities.
  • Founding persons and events can be understood in
    ordinary historical terms e.g. Jesus as a failed
    apocalyptic prophet.
  • Religions do not stand apart from ordinary
    naturalistic history. There is no need for a God
    to explain religious events.

Signs and Wonders
  • Levitating saints, bleeding statues, raising the
    dead, …
  • ESP, mind-over-matter, precognition,
    spoon-bending, ...
  • Near-death and out-of-body experiences, UFO
    abductions, past-life memories, …
  • Signs that there is a spiritual reality beyond
    mere matter?

ESP Error Some Place
  • Miracles in the wild are likely perceptual
    mistakes, trickery, etc.
  • Laboratory parapsychology produces inconsistent,
    marginal results. Nothing stands out from among
  • NDE, OBE best addressed by neuroscience.
  • No free-floating spirits or minds beyond brains.

Contact with the Ultimate
  • God, the spiritual foundation of reality, must be
    directly experienced. Mystical and religious
    experience is the key.
  • This ultimate reality is ineffable, beyond
    description, beyond the bounds of reason.
  • Platonic mysticism Human reason goes beyond
    machines, making contact with the truly Real.

All machine, no ghost
  • Mystical experience is conditioned by religious
    traditions. Too many flavors of ultimate
    reality, including nontheistic.
  • The experience appears to be explainable without
    going beyond the brain.
  • Explaining and capturing are not the same.
  • Darwin machines, like our brains, rely on
    randomness to do non-Platonic reasoning.

Back to Philosophy?
  • Postmodernism Science has no privilege over
    other ways of knowing. Or, need to invoke a
    rational God to resolve the crisis of reason and
    guarantee that science works.
  • Objective, prescriptive moral truths cannot be
    grounded in mere material nature. Our moral
    behavior, recognizing the authority of morality,
    is rooted in a spiritual reality.

Back to Science!
  • Science works, and this fact is best explained
    from within science. We need no uncriticizable
    presuppositions to ground our knowledge about the
  • Our stable interests, and morality as a social
    enterprise, are best understood through our
    sciences. Good and evil is neither fully
    objective nor completely subjective.

Why accept any of this?
  • These are ambitious claims. They cut against
    common sense, and run counter to some
    sophisticated intellectual positions.
  • They need a long argument in support. Thats the
    books job.
  • But I should give a taste of how the arguments

Is it all an accident?
  • Common sense, as well as common theistic
    intuition, rebels against the notion that the
    universe is a mere accident.
  • But for naturalists, at some level, it must be.
  • Is calling something an accident just covering up
    an ignorance of real causes?
  • This is also a question for scientists there is
    plenty of randomness in modern physics.

Playing dice with the world
  • Fundamental physics is full of randomness
  • Quantum mechanics e.g. pair creation.
  • Singularities of General Relativity (black holes,
    big bang).
  • Even everyday physics
  • The existence of heat due to disorder and

The dice
  • Elegant fundamental laws say very little about
    our world. That comes through low-energy laws,
    frozen accidents, randomly realized through
    symmetry breaking. The most basic laws only tell
    what sort of dice generated our history.
  • Randomness is fundamental in physics. This is no

Hidden causes?
  • But is not randomness again just a label for
  • Common theistic move God directs seeming
    accidents of evolution and history. God selects
    the universe coming out of the Big Bang. A
    hidden, nonphysical cause.
  • Causal determinism still attracts physicists.
    E.g. Bohmian quantum mechanics.

What is randomness?
  • Mathematically, a random infinite sequence is one
    which lacks any pattern.

. . .
Alternating pattern of heads and tails
. . .
Patternless, random sequence
Where explanation ends
1011101 0001011 1100100
  • Cant predict next coin in random sequence.
    Cant find a theory giving the pattern.
  • Cant do our usual pattern recognition and find a
    place in a network of causes.
  • We call something random when theres no pattern
    and no good prospect of finding one. When we
    have to say its a brute fact.
  • All sequences are partly random.

Randomness is basic!
  • In fundamental theories of physics, where
    explanation ends, we have randomness. The laws
    are random, simple, framing accidents. The
    dynamics are also random.
  • Everyday cause and effect are, in fact, not
    fundamental. They emerge, like the arrow of
    time, from a microscopic substrate where things
    just happen randomly.

An accidental world
  • Two reasons there is no God or spirit
  • No legitimate way to infer a God from a universe
    which is fundamentally random. Completely
    arbitrary, uninformative.
  • Our very minds are products of this accidental,
    material world, relying on this randomness for
    creativity. The analogy to our minds cannot even

In Short
  • Our sciences, in a broad sense, are the best
    tools to bring to the debate over God.
  • Religious theories have been massive failures
    liberal reinterpretations are merely evasive.
  • We have an alternative view of the world
    Naturalistic, random in the end, which does a
    much better job explaining things.

The Book
  • The Ghost in the Universe, by Taner Edis,
    published by Prometheus Books, 2002.
  • Available in larger bookstores,, etc.

My web site
  • Contains all sorts of articles, including the
    slides of this talk, and the introductory chapter
    of The Ghost in the Universe.
  • My e-mail is

Thanks for listening!
  • Any questions?