1. What does "surely not?" mean here?

  2. Does "the Mind of God" mean:

    a. our thought about god


    b. God's intelligence (the intelligence that belongs to god, what is going on in god's mind)


some scientists think there’s a good chance they will be able to declare a Grand Unified Theory of Everything in the World, the Solar System, the Universe, and – surely not? – the Mind of God, or at least our construction of it, all the way from the evolution of the trilobite through to the death of stars in distant galaxies, from the rules governing the emergence of ‘human nature’ to the origins and purpose of art.

(Art and Science by Sian Ede)

  • 1
    The Mind of God is God's mind -- not merely His intelligence, but His knowledge, His vision and imagination, His purposes as well. Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 7:30
  • I suppose. If you believed in an omniscient god. Does Ede? What makes you think this isn't an extended metaphor for "rules of the universe"? If you're right, is "surely not?" a reaction to what surely is blasphemy?
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 17:14

3 Answers 3


About 1), the meaning-carrying element here are definitely the question mark and the dashes.

"Surely not" alone is just a reinforced negation. Put between dashes and followed by a question mark, it introduces the shocked amazement of the author at the claim of the scientists: "They can't really mean it, can they?"


  • Could you supply some evidence that this is the intended meaning? Suppose in describing my experience ordering a deluxe ice cream sundae, I told you, "The waitress approached with my dessert -- chocolate sauce, sprinkles, and -- surely not? -- a cherry on top." Would you think that I didn't really mean it or that I was expressing delighted surprise?
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 8:03
  • 2
    Evidence? No, as you cannot for the interpretation of your example, except for the context: Delighted incredulity appears more appropriate for a sundae than for a surmise about the future ability of science to construct a theory to explain God, among other things. This said, I admit I should have probably got informed about the religious opinions of Sian Ede (i.e. whether he is more inclined to be horrified rather than delighted by such a claim) before venturing an interpretation.
    – Althea
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 13:15
  • Of course I can provide evidence for my example. I can give you my personal testimony. You are free to believe me or not, but that course isn't available to you with Siân Ede (who's a she, by the way). For me, delighted incredulity seems more appropriate for expanding science than for ice cream, as much as I love the latter. But "seems" is all we're left with because the language is essentially meaningless, which is why nothing she writes could tell you about her religious opinions.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 17:08

I read "surely not" as an interpolated remark that refers obliquely to a viewpoint other than that of the main stream of the text. In this case the writer is admitting that some readers will have a viewpoint that regards the Mind of God as beyond the scope of any Grand Unified Theory, despite the assertions of the original authors ("some scientists").

As to what the Mind of God might be, I suggest that the discussion of religious definitions is beyond the scope of this site and is definitely off-piste.

  • Can I replace it with "and why not" or "and even"? For example in the case of this context: some scientists think there’s a good chance they will be able to declare a Grand Unified Theory of Everything in the World, the Solar System, the Universe, and – why not – the Mind of God, and....
    – user127733
    Commented Jul 19, 2015 at 13:31
  • Yes, in my own view, you can indeed make those replacements as interpolated reflections on the main theme. Some may think you could put a question mark after the why not.
    – Anton
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 11:54

"The Mind of God" has no meaning discernible from the text. The power of God is beyond the knowing of mortals, so we unable to comprehend His mind, let alone "construct" it. It doesn't really matter, since no scientists think what Ede claims some scientists do. Science cannot investigate the supernatural because its methods aren't up to the task.

Perhaps, "the Mind of God" is some metaphorical construction referring to ultimate knowledge of the universe, but there's nothing in the text to give you a clue. Even were that so, it's clear that Ede believes that the scientific theory of evolution encompasses processes of life ("the evolution of the trilobite") and astronomical objects ("the death of stars"). But this isn't true either and is based on a failure to understand that biology has nothing to do with stellar life cycles, although both fields of study use the word "evolution."

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