When a theist posits that there might have been some sort of mind, wisdom, or telos prior to matter at the beginning of the universe, are there any pieces of evidence that invisible entities even exist?
Actually, there are. They’re called minds. Minds exist. And they exist in profusion. Billions of them. Minds with free will. And minds that apparently have no physical extension in either space or time. They cannot be isolated or located in any part of the brain, and yet they are an epiphenomenon in the physical universe.
Why mindless matter should generate (or exist alongside of) mind is a total mystery. Scientists know minds exist. Yet they do not have a clue how (or if) physics and chemistry can give a materialist account for their origins or existence. There is correspondence between human brains and human minds, but correspondence is not causation. It may be that minds are not completely reducible to physics and chemistry. It may be that you can know every movement of the atoms in your brain and not account for how the arrangement of those atoms generates consciousness, specific mental states, or choice.
As an agnostic I’m not saying that science might not, someday, account for consciousness and mental states. As an agnostic I’m saying that science has not, and that there is an enigma there that may resist solution precisely because minds are wholly other from the material, and not, strictly speaking, reducible to the material. I don’t know this. I am saying that nobody knows this, and it is a huge metaphysical leap to presume that minds are completely reducible to matter. There is a difference between having confidence in a material solution and actually achieving such a reductive solution.
Furthermore, it is quite apparent that quantum physics leaves room for mental states to impact physical states. Indeed, the paradoxes of quantum physics all rest upon the problematics of consciousness “contaminating” physical experiments. If you look at the results of a quantum experiment at different moments in the process of the experiment, or if you ask certain questions—and not others—of an experiment, you literally impact the results of the experiment. Physicists have little more than guesses as to how mental states—that is states that have no physical properties—can nevertheless affect quantum physical states, but they do. Of course, every time you choose to crook your elbow, it appears that your mental state—your decision—has literally changed the course of physical properties (chemical and atomic) down the length of your arm. Unless you are a strict materialist and determinist who believes that free will is an illusion—another leap of faith—then you must believe that your free will exists—and it influences the physical world when you exercise it.
The atheist who treats the enigmas of mind, free will, and existence glibly is not, in my view, thinking very hard. I am saying that humility in the face of uncertainties is better than competing confidences. Neither the atheist nor the theist—in my view—gives proper weight to the vast amount that we do not know. They are expressing forms of confidence about areas where confidence is not warranted.
Oh, and has anybody noticed this: Some physicists posit that matter and energy came into existence 13.7 billion years ago via a quantum fluctuation. In other words, they posit that the laws of physics—that is, ideas, something completely abstract—existed prior to the existence of space, matter, and time. They posit the quantum as iterating in a virtual (that is, a nonexistent) time and space, and operating as something wholly other, non-material, and as responsible for evoking the material realm of time and space that we inhabit. If that doesn’t sound like a disembodied, invisible entity akin to God, with necessary traits, behaviors, wisdom, information, or mind influencing matter and prior to matter, then I don’t know what does.
Here’s a quote from the early 20th century mathematician, Sir James Jeans (from his 1931 book, The Mysterious Universe ):
“To-day there is a wide measure of agreement, which on the physical side of science approaches almost to unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality. The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter . . .” (p. 137)
Sir James Jeans’s view has had a furious intellectual revival in 21st century physics, and if you’re an atheist it wouldn’t hurt to exercise some humility about what you think you know. Concerning the impossibility of the presence of law, telos, or mind prior to matter, you might well be not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong.