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Showing posts with label universe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label universe. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Unhinging the Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence Mantra

As it is Easter season, skeptic Michael Shermer has an article in appearing in Scientific American entitled, "What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?" Shermer writes that as a skeptic, there are propositions he can accept as true, such as the number of pages in a magazine, the extinction of the dinosaurs, and the origin of the universe by a big bang. Unsurprisingly however, Shermer can think of nothing that would count as enough evidence for the resurrection for that particular proposition to be considered true. He claims this is due to the "principle of proportionality," something that "demands extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find." 1

So, Shermer has fallen back to the old canard that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. But what does he mean "extraordinary evidence?" The phrase sounds good, but is truly fuzzy when one thinks about it. As I've stated before, evidence is either strong or weak; categories like extraordinary don't really fit here. But it isn't as though we have no evidence. Shermer himself brings up eyewitness testimony, quickly dismissing them as possibly being superstitious or seeing "what they wanted to see." But what evidence has Shermer offered for those motivations? He's offered nothing except the claims "The principle of proportionality also means we should prefer the more probable explanation over less probable ones, which these alternatives surely are."2

Extraordinary claims don't only deal with miracles

One problem with Shermer's use of the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" trope is he is inconsistent in using it himself. Remember I said that Shermer holds to the universe as having a beginning. But ask him who was ultimately responsible for that beginning, and Shermer dismisses the idea of God out of hand. In a previous article, he wrote, "For millennia humans simply said, ‘God did it': a creator existed before the universe and brought it into existence out of nothing. But this just begs the question of what created God—and if God does not need a creator, logic dictates that neither does the universe."3

Here Shermer makes an obvious category error, one that has been brought to his attention several times in debates with Christians. Yet, he persists in believing the universe (or possibly some kind of universe-generating machine) has come into existence from nothing. But isn't this an equally extraordinary claim? If his statement "Of the approximately 100 billion people who have lived before us, all have died and none have returned, so the claim that one (or more) of them rose from the dead is about as extraordinary as one will ever find" is the criteria for an extraordinary claim, then the universe beginning from nothing is surely even more extraordinary. In all of human history, there has never even once been anyone who has observed something coming into existence from nothing at all. Not once. Even quantum fluctuation/quantum foam is not nothing, for it has specific attributes and potentials. None of those 100 billion people Shermer points to will bolster his claim for an uncaused universe. Yet, he isn't skeptical about that proposition. In fact, he prefers it.

If the principle of proportionality were to be applied consistently, Shermer would have to admit that the evidence for a personal cause for the origin of the universe is much more probable than an uncaused universe popping into existence out of nothing. Is Shermer guilty of what he claims about the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus? Is he only seeing what he wants to see or perhaps superstitious or credulous? I don't think he would admit to any of these. But if Shermer's principle of proportionality fails here, then perhaps it isn't the last word on how to discern the truth for events like the resurrection, either.


1. Shermer, Michael. "What Would It Take to Prove the Resurrection?" Scientific American. Scientific American, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.
2. Shermer, 2017.
3. Shermer, Michael. "Much Ado about Nothing." Michael Shermer. Michael Shermer, May 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Atheists: Thor is not a Rational Substitute for God

Yesterday, I responded to a common atheist claim that one cannot prove a universal negative. But can one really prove that something does not exist, especially when that thing is mystical or other-worldly? For example, one atheist responded to the idea that a personal God was the best explanation for the beginning of the universe with "I think Thor is the best explanation. My claim isn't falsifiable." He seems to think that by invoking the name of a Norse god instead of the Christian God he has made an equally valid claim, but he hasn't. Of course the claim that Thor is responsible for the creation of the universe is falsifiable. Let's see how.

The Properties and Attributes of Thor

How do you identify a person? If you send your spouse to pick up your old friend at the airport, whom they've never met, you will describe that person to them. You may say, "My friend's name is Dan. He's 5'9", dark hair, mustache, and will be wearing a black coat carrying a green suitcase. These attributes help identify Dan. Certainly, they aren't exhaustive, but by providing a description to your spouse, you are helping your spouse eliminate a great number of other individuals coming out of the airport. The right person to place in your car must have at least these attributes.

When our atheist invokes the name Thor instead of God, what does he mean? Is he pointing to the same being under a different name? No, because the Thor and Yahweh, the God of the Bible, have different attributes. For one thing, Thor is not eternal. He is the son of Odin and Jord, other Norse gods.1 Norse gods can and do die and Thor is capable of dying. Thor also must experience the passage of time.  As Tolkien states, "In Norse, at any rate, the gods are within Time, doomed with their allies to death. Their battle is with the monsters and the outer darkness. They gather heroes for the last defence."2  Notably, Thor isn't all powerful. In "The Lay of Thrym" from the Poetic Edda, Thor loses his hammer to the lord of the giants who has hidden it from him and Thor is forced to pretend to be a bride in order to retrieve it.3 In the poem, Thor is presented as an exaggerated human, who eats and drinks, but is a material entity.

The God of the Bible holds none of those limitations. He is eternal and everlasting, sitting outside of time. He is all powerful. He cannot be killed and he cannot be forced to do something or have a foe who overpowers him. Yahweh is definitely not Thor.

Why Thor cannot create the universe

While it's clear that Yahweh and Thor are different beings, it is also because of Thor's limitations that we can falsify the claim that Thor is responsible for creating the universe. When we seek to answer the question of the universe's beginning, we are trying to explain the origin of all material existence, of space itself, and of time. Why there is space-time and matter are what needs explaining. However, Thor cannot be the explanation for all matter space and time since Thor himself is material, is subject to time, and has a beginning. He sits within a spacial dimension, as the loss of his hammer (hidden "eight leagues deep in the earth") indicates. Therefore, Thor cannot be the explanation of the universe for Thor, if he exists, is part of the universe that needs explaining! The atheist's claim is clearly falsifiable using the basic rules of logic. Any attempt to change Thor's attributes b the atheist would mean that we are no longer talking about Thor, just as any attempt by my spouse to look for a clean-shaven man who is 5'11" would mean she's no longer searching for my friend.

It is reasonable to ask the questions "Why is there something rather than nothing?" It is reasonable to ask "How did all this get here?" It is not reasonable to think invoking Thor is an equally viable explanation to the Christian God. To answer such questions with "Thor" is clearly to not answer them at all and those who wish to be taken seriously should think a little harder before doing so.


1. "Thor." Encyclopedia Mythica. 2017. Encyclopedia Mythica Online. 08 Feb. 2017
2. Tolkien, J. R. R. Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. Folcroft, PA: Folcroft Library Editions, 1936. Print. 26.
3. "The Lay of Thrym." translated by D. L. Ashliman. Professor D. L. Ashliman. University of Pittsburgh, 2009. Web. 08 Feb. 2017.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Cause of the Universe Must Be Intentional

We know the universe began to exist. That fact is agreed upon by the majority of theists and atheists alike. But what else can we know from that fact? By conceding that the universe has a beginning, does that give us proof of the Christian God? Not really, but it gets us closer than you may initially realize.

The first thing one can infer is whatever it is that caused the universe to exist (I will refer to this as the Cause with a capital C) must itself exist prior to the universe and its created parts. This means that the since the Cause created all matter, it must itself not be made of matter. If the Cause is made of matter, then it isn't an explanation of the universe, it is part of the universe. The cause of the universe must be immaterial.

Yesterday, I wrote about the fact that since time is also a part of the created universe, the cause of the universe's existence must be at least initially timeless. It must exist in a state of timelessness prior to any creative act. However, this conclusion adds additional facts to the picture. As I said yesterday, one can define time as a change in states or a succession of events. If there is a before and after, there must be time involved. Therefore, at the creation event time begins because there is a change in states. The Cause was not creating in its timeless state and it now is.

Such a description is fine when one is thinking about time beginning, but it begs a question: what makes the Cause start creating at all? If the Cause (whatever it is) is timeless, then why all of a sudden start creating? Here is where we need to differentiate how different causes work, and it leads to some interesting conclusions.

Two Types of Causes

There are two types of causes that we have observed through all of history. The first are causes that are the result of a certain set of circumstances. The 35th domino in a line of dominoes falling will cause the 36th domino to fall. In the same way, vinegar will cause a cup of baking soda to react and ultimately cause carbon dioxide gas to be released. Similarly, heat will cause fuel and oxygen to ignite into fire. All these causes (the domino, the vinegar, and the heat) create an effect that follows inevitably from the laws of nature. They are what I would call mechanical and they are contingent upon the universe being the way it is. Given the chemical properties of baking soda and vinegar the effect must occur if the causal conditions are met.

But such causes require other things to already be in existence. The 35th domino wouldn't have fallen had the 34th domino not fallen. The force of gravity must exist (lining up dominos in the International Space Station is much harder to do and won't give you the same effect.) Molecules must be able to share electrons in a certain way before the vinegar can react with the baking soda. There is therefore no mechanical cause that can jump start the whole process.

The other type of cause is a personal cause. Personal causes can happen spontaneously. If I have a desire to raise my arm, I simply raise it. There needs to be no preceding event that makes me want to raise my arm. The cause is created in my mind. While some desires or intentions may stem from external stimuli (such as wanting to raise my arm because it is tired, it aches, or I want to answer a question the teacher posed), such a prior cause is not required. I'm not compelled to answer a question the teacher posed, I may simply want to contribute to the discussion. I may simply have a desire to answer and I then intend to answer by causing the effect of putting up my hand.

Desired from Eternity Past

Of the two types of causes we know, which would be better at explaining the cause of the universe? The first one can't do so because it requires something to exist already. Some try to argue about the laws of gravity creating the universe, but such arguments fail to take into account what's required before any law, including gravity, can work. These kinds of causes don't answer the question of beginnings, they simply push it back a step and imagine a universe-making machine. The obvious question is "what made the machine?"

The second kind of cause makes more sense. But intentions and desires don't exist on their own; they are the products of a mind. A mind is not a physical thing, like a brain. It is fundamentally different and because thoughts, intentions, and desires are themselves immaterial, they can be present in an immaterial mind.

So, we have a Cause that is immaterial, timeless, and shows desire to create. That means the cause is personal; it has a mind. You may at this point say, "But wait! How can a timeless mind have a desire? If there is a change in the Cause where a desire is created, that means such a Cause is not timeless." This is true. However, it isn't necessary that a desire come into being. Some intentions or desires can always be there. Think about the desire to survive, for example. All humans have it, even if they never have to exercise it. The desire for life exists since birth, but only when we are threatened do we act upon it.

It is reasonable, then, to have a timeless, immaterial, personal Cause for the universe that desired to create (and create us) from the eternal past. While that doesn't specifically argue for the Christian God, it comes pretty close and excludes a whole lot of other contenders.

Image courtesy Jessica Mullen and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Difference Between God Being Understandable and Illogical

I recently received a question from a Ethan, who had read my article answering the question "Who Created God?" Ethan wasn't satisfied with my answer that God is a being who is eternal; he has no beginning. He wrote:
How can you say that it is reasonable that something has existed for eternity? Existence for eternity is incomprehensible; just as incomprehensible as something coming from nothing.
What Ethan failed to understand is that there's a difference between something being fully understandable, such as an eternally existing being, and something being logically incoherent, such as something coming from nothing. There are a lot of things we don't fully understand yet we accept as true. For example, there are certain properties of quantum mechanics that just don't seem to make sense to us, but when we use the calculations based on those principles, they produces very accurate results. Because we don't know all there is to know about quantum laws, it is understandable that we would find things mysterious, yet we trust the results because they are reliable.

The second class of ideas, those that are logically incoherent, are completely different. These are things that are not simply misunderstood, but impossible to ever achieve because they violate the laws of logic. For example, if I were to ask if the number two smells worse than the number four, you would immediately tell me that such a question is preposterous. Numbers are abstract object, they aren't physical and scent is a physical characteristic. To try to compare physical characteristics of non-physical entities is simply silly. It cannot work. This is known as a category error in logic.

Similarly, to say a something came from a nothing is to endow the nothingness with the power of creation. But, just like the numbers issue, you have a problem. Nothing by definition has zero properties. IT cannot create because it doesn't have the property of creative ability. Nothing simply means "no thing". That's why the idea of "out of nothing nothing comes" has been recognized as true as long as it has.

Since we as human beings have always existed inside time and we all have a beginning, the idea of an eternal being is definitely a hard one to wrap one's mind around. But an eternal being isn't any more incoherent than the numbers two and four being eternally even. There we never a time where two or four could ever be considered indivisible by two. God's eternal existence isn't a contradiction, it simply is a bigger idea than we can fully comprehend.

One last point. Since we know that something cannot come from nothing, and the universe is a something that indeed have a beginning, then that should tell you at the very minimum there has to be something else out there and that something needs to be eternal. Whatever begins to exist must have some type of cause for its existence. So, if an eternally exiting thing is impossible, then the universe itself can not have existed from eternity past. Therefore, Ethan is now faced with a real dilemma: where did the universe come from?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Robin Collins' Fine-Tuning Argument

Robin Collins is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. He has done some extensive work on the fine-tuning of the universe and why the features we see point to the existence of God. Below is the core of his argument, taken from a shortened article he has made available on his web site. For more information and resources, visit him online at

The Fine-Tuning Argument

Premise 1. The existence of the fine-tuning is not improbable under theism.

Premise 2. The existence of the fine-tuning is very improbable under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.2

Conclusion: From premises (1) and (2) and the prime principle of confirmation, it follows that the fine-tuning data provides strong evidence to favor of the design hypothesis over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.

At this point, we should pause to note two features of this argument. First, the argument does not say that the fine-tuning evidence proves that the universe was designed, or even that it is likely that the universe was designed. In order to justify these sorts of claims, we would have to look at the full range of evidence both for and against the design hypothesis, something we are not doing in this chapter. Rather, the argument merely concludes that the fine-tuning strongly supports theism over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.

In this way, the evidence of fine-tuning argument is much like fingerprints found on the gun: although they can provide strong evidence that the defendant committed the murder, one could not conclude merely from them alone that the defendant is guilty; one would also have to look at all the other evidence offered. Perhaps, for instance, ten reliable witnesses claimed to see the defendant at a party at the time of the shooting. In this case, the fingerprints would still count as significant evidence of guilt, but this evidence would be counterbalanced by the testimony of the witnesses. Similarly the evidence of fine-tuning strongly supports theism over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis, though it does not itself show that everything considered theism is the most plausible explanation of the world. Nonetheless, as I argue in the conclusion of this chapter, the evidence of fine-tuning provides a much stronger and more objective argument for theism (over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis) than the strongest atheistic argument does against theism.

The second feature of the argument we should note is that, given the truth of the prime principle of confirmation, the conclusion of the argument follows from the premises. Specifically, if the premises of the argument are true, then we are guaranteed that the conclusion is true: that is, the argument is what philosophers call valid. Thus, insofar as we can show that the premises of the argument are true, we will have shown that the conclusion is true. Our next task, therefore, is to attempt to show that the premises are true, or at least that we have strong reasons to believe them.

Support for the Premises

Support for Premise (1).

Premise (1) is easy to support and fairly uncontroversial. The argument in support of it can be simply stated as follows: since God is an all good being, and it is good for intelligent, conscious beings to exist, it not surprising or improbable that God would create a world that could support intelligent life. Thus, the fine-tuning is not improbable under theism, as premise (1) asserts.

Support for Premise (2).

Upon looking at the data, many people find it very obvious that the fine-tuning is highly improbable under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis. And it is easy to see why when we think of the fine-tuning in terms of the analogies offered earlier. In the dart-board analogy, for example, the initial conditions of the universe and the fundamental parameters of physics are thought of as a dart- board that fills the whole galaxy, and the conditions necessary for life to exist as a small one-foot wide target. Accordingly, from this analogy it seems obvious that it would be highly improbable for the fine-tuning to occur under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis--that is, for the dart to hit the board by chance.

Typically, advocates the fine-tuning argument are satisfied with resting the justification of premise (2), or something like it, on this sort of analogy. Many atheists and theists, however, question the legitimacy of this sort of analogy, and thus find the argument unconvincing. For these people, the Appendix to this chapter offers a rigorous and objective justification of premise (2) using standard principles of probabilistic reasoning. Among other things, in the process of rigorously justifying premise (2), we effectively answer the common objection to the fine-tuning argument that because the universe is a unique, unrepeatable event, we cannot meaningfully assign a probability to its being fine-tuned.2


1.For an expanded view that deals with the many-universes hypotheses, see Dr. Collins' article here. 2. Collins, Robin. "The Fine-Tuning Design Argument". Home Page of Robin Collins. Accessed 4/10/2014.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Can You Get a Something from a Nothing?

In my debate against Richard Carrier, I argued that the beginning of the universe pointed toward the existence of God. I had said, "The most fundamental law of science is 'Out of nothing, nothing comes.' We simply do not see things popping into existence for no reason. Every parent understands this axiom when they find crayon marks on the wall or mud scraped across the floor. A child's response of 'no one did it, it just appeared' would be rightly rejected as silly."

This seems pretty common-sensical to me. One cannot get a something from a nothing. In fact, the word "nothing" can be broken apart to show that it means "no-thing." But Carrier replied to my point with this statement:
Oh yes, "out of nothing, nothing comes" is another one. If there is absolutely nothing, then there are no rules governing what will happen. So the idea that "only nothing can come from nothing" is a rule. That's something; that's not nothing. If you really have absolutely nothing then anything can happen. Nothing governs what's going to happen. If we start with nothing, we have no idea what could occur. As physicists will tell you, like Victor J. Stenger in The Fallacy of Fine Tuning, nothing is inherently unstable. So if we did start the universe with nothing, we could actually expect something to come out of it because the probability of nothing remaining nothing is rather low and because there is nothing governing what will happen.
There are a lot of problems here. First, let's look at what we mean when we use the word "nothing." When I say the universe began to exist, I mean that all matter, energy, space, and time came into being where they had previously not existed at all. In fact, when philosophers talk about the concept of nothing, it is generally understood to mean a state that is devoid of all properties. If there is nothing, then there are no physical things that can act and there are no laws of nature by which the non-existent entities would be able to act.

But Carrier seems confused on this. He first states, "The idea that 'only nothing can come from nothing' is a rule. That's something; that's not nothing." Well, that's not really accurate. The idea isn't a rule, but a description. It is another way of saying there are no laws and nothing upon which actions could even take place. But then, he goes on to say, "If there is absolutely nothing, then there are no rules governing what will happen… If you have absolutely nothing, then anything can happen!" Well, using Richard's own criteria, that would be a rule. That means you haven't started with nothing!

The idea that nothing is inherently unstable is a real science-stopper. Imagine people saying, "Well, I we had nothing and now we have this new chemical because anything can happen!" or "We don't know how that came into existence. It must've simply popped into existence because nothing can produce anything!" This is not a reasonable answer. It sounds more like magic than anything else.

So, I find this response problematic on several levels. First, Carrier argues that nothing is a great way to get something. I think that is a terrible answer and he needs to explain why we should accept it for the beginning of the universe then turn around and reject it for any other scientific question. Secondly, if "out of nothing, nothing comes" is considered something, then 'If you have absolutely nothing, then anything can happen" should also be considered something. As such, Carrier hasn't started with nothing and he needs to explain how his "rule" came into existence.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Big Bang is Not the Enemy of Theology

The Big Bang is a term that's very familiar to most people, but many Christians seem to be afraid to hold to such a concept. However, the idea of a Big Bang is really not the enemy of theology. See, nobody can explain what the Big Bang actually is. The main idea of the Big Bang is simple: at some point in the past, the universe was created. It didn't exist and then it did. Exactly when it happened is a separate question and the answers have changed as scientists find out more. But the concept of the Big Bang—that the universe came into existence at a point in time that we can number—is really a ground shaking idea in science.

We're Running Down the Clock (The universe can't be infinitely old)

It makes sense that the universe cannot be infinitely old. You see, what Russell did without knowing it is he substituted his own line of turtles for the old lady's. If the universe is infinitely old, then we'd have a never-ending chain of events going back, back, back without a beginning. Now think about that for a minute. If the universe is infinitely old, that means that it had to start an infinite amount of time ago, right? But if the universe started an infinite amount of time ago, that means that it would take an infinite amount of time to get to where we are today. But we're here, so how did we cross infinity and get to its end if infinity has no end? Since we're here, we know that the universe had to have started less than an infinite amount of time ago. Otherwise, it's like turtles all the way back, as opposed to turtles all the way down because it uses an infinite regress of time. Since the universe is experienced inside of time, then it must have a starting point, a beginning some finite amount of time ago.

We're Running out of Steam (The universe is losing functional energy)

There's another interesting thing that we notice about the universe. It's like a wound-up clock that is continually running down. We see this all the time in our lives. If I pour myself a hot cup of coffee, I would want to drink it within a reasonable amount of time from when I poured it. Why do I say that? Because my coffee's going to get cold. How can I tell whether a coffee cup has been sitting for five minutes or over an hour? I simply touch it and see if it's still hot. Coffee can't stay hot on its own, since it loses its heat energy to its surroundings. This is called entropy, which states that all things in our universe are radiating away their energy. Every battery you have will eventually run out of juice whether you use it or not. Every coffee cup will eventually run out of steam. Even our sun and our earth, anything that holds heat, will eventually turn cold and dark to a point where everything in the universe is equal. There will be no functional motion at all. So if everything is running down, it follows that everything was wound up to some point in the beginning, and the clock's moving forward in a certain direction.

We're Running Away from Everything Else (The effects of the Big Bang are still seen)

There are more reasons, however, than just the winding-down of the universe for knowing that it had a beginning. Scientific discoveries made in the 20th century have been so astounding, they have pretty much put Russell's assertion of "no reason to assert the world has a beginning" to rest. The first was when famed astronomer Edwin Hubble calculated the speeds at which all of the galaxies in the universe are moving. He found that they are moving away from each other, and they separate faster the farther apart they are from each other. This was just the kind of motion one would see in the aftermath of an explosion; everything that exploded would be moving away from each other to greater distances. Since all the galaxies were acting this way (and it didn't matter where in the universe you looked), Hubble came to the conclusion that they were all together at one point and there was some kind of an explosion, and that's what's causing everything to separate as it does. It validates the Big Bang.

One of the most definitive discoveries happened in 1965, when two scientists who were listening to the sounds of space heard a distinct type of noise found throughout the universe. What they heard was background radiation which is a kind of the noise that would accompany the Big Bang. It was the confirmation everyone was looking for to prove that the universe did indeed originate with a bang. After their discovery was published, even scientists who still held out against the concept were forced to accept the Big Bang as the origin of the universe. This is a huge development because it means that scientists were in all in agreement in that the universe began to exist at some point in the past. NASA astronomer Robert Jastrow put it this way:
"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers (Toronto: George J. McLeod, 2000)107.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Is a Necessary Being Really Necessary?

One of the things that thinkers have used to separate God from everything else is the fact that He is what you would call a necessary being. He is the necessary start to a chain of events that we see in existence today. Physicist Stephen Hawking describes an exchange that underlines why a beginning point is important in his book A Brief History of Time:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever", said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"1
As you can see, the little old lady never really gave an answer that would explain anything. The line of turtles must stop somewhere, since they need to sit atop something to be held up themselves. Another example is the idea of origins. If I were to ask how it was that you came to be, you might respond by explaining how your parents met, were married and conceived you. " But," I may continue, " That’s just one link tin the chain. They had to come from somewhere — where did THEY come from?" " From their parents," you counter. "But what about them?" You can see how this quickly devolves into meaninglessness. Such responses to questions about the universe (and our own existence) are known as an infinite regress. When you try to explain the origin of something by adding one more link to the end, it doesn't help much, since you've merely moved the question back to "but where did that come from?"

We somehow need a necessary condition to begin our understanding of everything. We need a floor for our turtles to start piling up on, if you will.2 This is what we mean when we talk of a necessary being. If there is a God, we would find that He is the beginning of the effects which we see around us. If there is not a God, then something else must be the initial condition — the start of this whole universe and its attributes. Whatever the initial condition is, it must have some very specific qualities. That means that whatever answer someone offers, they must show that such an answer is capable of meeting these conditions.

Below is a short video where I note that the beginning of the universe must be either caused by God or by nothing at all. Of the two, I think God makes infinitely more sense.


1. Hawking, Stephen W. A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (New York: Bantam Books, 1988) 1.
2. I use this phrase only for its illustrative purposes. If there is a floor, it is of course obvious that the turtles in the above example are unnecessary. To extend the analogy, the Earth could merely be resting on the floor with no turtles or possibly one turtle walking across that floor giving it movement. The main idea is that since a floor is required in all cases, the turtles can be removed and none of the explanatory power is lost, which demonstrates how the stack of turtles really are no help in explaining anything.
Image courtesy Design Alex Mittelmann, Coldcreation. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
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