General Question

shrubbery's avatar

Infinite Regression or Levitating Super Turtle?

Asked by shrubbery (9791 points ) July 2nd, 2008

Ok, so a guy whose name I forget was giving a lecture about the earth and such, and a woman stands up and says “I know that the earth is flat and is supported by four elephants standing on the back of a turtle.” So the guy asks “But what is the turtle standing on?” And the woman replies, “Ah, you can’t trick me, it’s turtles all the way down!”

The Design argument says that things in the world are so complex that they must have been created by a Designer. But the response to this is well to create something complex the designer himself must be complex, therefore by your argument the designer must have had a designer, and so on and so forth- an infinite regression of designers. The response to this is then well no you stop at God, he is the ultimate designer without having been designed. So then the response is why stop at God? Why can’t we just stop at the universe?

The first cause argument says that everything is caused by something that came before it. My parents caused me, their parents caused them, and so on and so forth all the way back to god. But what caused God? Is he the uncaused cause?

Atheists say that the universe happened by chance, that matter happened to spring into being. Scientists say “before” the big bang there were only the Laws of physics. But then who put those laws there? Scientists say we must accept them as “brute fact”, but isn’t that contradicting all other Science? That we can’t just accept things as “brute fact”? If this is so then why can’t we just accept God as “brute fact”?

Both Atheism and Theism are positions of Faith. Neither can be proven. The Levitating Super Turtle is both God and the Brute Facts. So the question boils down to “Which assumption makes the most sense of the world and one’s place in it? Which is a “better” response to the world? Flutherites, what do you think?

Disclaimer: I wrote this late at night on a break from studying for a differential calculus test, it’s rushed and taken from scraps of my notes from school and episodes of Compass we watched. Feel free to pick and tear at anything I’ve said, I’m just looking for an open discussion :)

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30 Answers

flameboi's avatar

We are here for mere causality, no design, no nothing, things just happened I guess

tekn0lust's avatar

There is no universal answer to your question of which makes more sense, because everyone is going to apply different criteria based upon belief.

As a student of advanced calculus you should know that some problems cannot be solved without first “assuming” starting variables. Thus is true at the current time in trying to understand the universe. Some variables are unknown and must be assumed. It’s not contradictory to science to assume variables.

For me the idea that makes the most sense is that a supreme being(s) does not exist. People created their god(s) so that they would not have to live with so many unanswered questions. For many “some” explanation, no matter how far fetched, is better than no explanation.

playthebanjo's avatar

we are brains in jars of liquid, all we experience is a result of electric currents jolting through us.

robmandu's avatar

From a Judeo-Christian perspective, God exists beyond any concept of reality we can perceive. He’s outside of time. He always existed and will always exist, but even that doesn’t work in explanation as “always” is a measurement of time.

From a scientific perspective, which has no room for God as such a thing is unprovable, all matter is traced back to the Big Bang. Once the point of that singularity is reached, our mathematical models (a.k.a. any concept of reality we can perceive) breaks down. So, the Big Bang is not the Ultimate Beginning itself. It’s just as far back as current scientific method can quantify and hence the beginning of what we call reality/existence/physical matter.

Note that both God and Science concepts rely on acknowledging that there are things beyond our ability to perceive and understand.

shrubbery's avatar

That’s exactly what I’m saying robmandu, you’re just better at saying it than I. What I’m actually asking is which one do you lean to more and why? Which one do you feel is the ‘better’ one?

Great answer tekn0lust, thanks

robmandu's avatar

I don’t know that either is better, just that they’re different.

It’s a bête noire of mine where Science is used in the pursuit to prove/disprove things which are unknowable as they exist outside what is measurable and definable… by any side, for any reason.

For me to answer beyond that would be to spell out my personal belief system in the context that it’s better. I’m not falling in that trap here. ;-D

shrubbery's avatar

Ok, sorry, forget the ‘better’. If you don’t mind sharing, what do you believe?

nikipedia's avatar

It looks like you are borrowing from the inimitable Dr. Hawking, who deals with this very nicely in a A Brief History of Time. If you’re lucky, another flutherer (say that three times fast) who has read it more thoroughly or recently than I might be able to summarize.

shrubbery's avatar

Aha! Thanks niki, I’m pretty sure my teacher told us to read his work, so I guess that’s where he got it from. I’ll have to get my hands on it!

soundedfury's avatar

A history and analysis of the anecdote can be found here if you are interested.

Science and religion are not necessarily at odds, although many of the peculiar American religions are at odds with, well, everything. Modern cosmology breaks down at the Big Bang, which is why many religions find no conflict. Religion answers the first mover questions – what put the laws of the universe in motion? Science is only concerned with determining those laws. Of course, science does kind of assume Spinoza’s god – a being that set everything into motion but then has stepped back and does not intercede.

I think one of the most beautiful images of creation comes from 13th century kabbalah (not the modern Hollywood corruption). In the beginning the was nothingness (Ayin) and that nothing was God. Out of that nothingness, God carved room for something, and, by that act, creation sprang into being. The idea that a god would be make room for something other than himself it captivating to me.

It also strikes me that it fits perfectly with the cosmology of the Big Bang.

soundedfury's avatar

Oh, I should also make a correction, @shrubbery. When you said ”[s]cientists say “before” the big bang there were only the Laws of physics,” this isn’t accurate. Science isn’t concerned with the before the Big Bang, because our laws of physics break down at that point. There were no laws before the Big Bang, because the fabric of the universe hadn’t been created. There are no physical laws without the universe.

shrubbery's avatar

Ok, my bad, thanks for that soundedfury :)

tekn0lust's avatar

@soundedfury: I must disagree. Just because science doesn’t currently posses the math or data to explain what happened 1 time unit before t=0 doesn’t mean that science isn’t concerned with what came before the Big Bang. There isn’t a scientist on earth who wouldn’t study pre Big Bang should an epiphany strike or the math be discovered.

Be careful not to confuse “the” universe with “this” universe, semantic or otherwise.

Trance24's avatar

You can pick at this as much as you please, but really I think the “beginning” of everything is to complex for any of us to ever understand. We are not equipped to have a complete understanding of it all. Even if the answer was God I don’t think anyone would every be able to completely comprehend such a complex being. Or in science we can only explain it so far because we are just not able to carry it further. We stop at the end of our knowing and what we can understand.

soundedfury's avatar

@tekn0lust – I’ll disagree with you. Right now, cosmology says the natural laws were set into motion at the Big Bang. If we encounter some breakthrough that allows us to see before the Big Bang, of course we’ll study it. However, all that does is push back the first mover to some earlier event. We’ll have new laws, but it is, by definition, impossible to understand what came before physical laws, since we cannot test and verify it.

Science will constantly look to push that first mover event back and back, but by definition it won’t be concerned with what came before the laws that govern from that event onward. We’ll always push back as far as we can in our understanding, but good science cuts out making pronouncements on things it can’t verify and test.

ebenezer's avatar

circles are strange but pleasing.

shockvalue's avatar

Oh, I thought this was a question about which super power I’d rather have.

I’m going for levitating super turtle powers! Imagine the possibilities!

i like turtles

robmandu's avatar

Just stumbled across this

In 1955 Richard Feynman gave an address to the National Academy of Sciences…

We have been led to imagine all sorts of things infinitely more marvelous than the imaginings of poets and dreamers of the past. It shows that the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man. For instance, how much more remarkable it is for us all to be stuck — half of us upside down — by a mysterious attraction to a spinning ball that has been swinging in space for billions of years than to be carried on the back of an elephant supported on a tortoise swimming in a bottomless sea.

Poser's avatar

I wonder if Einstein stumbled on God’s secret of omnipotence with relativity. If time slows down as one approaches the speed of light, perhaps God is just really, really fast. Makes sense to me that if you go fast enough time would eventually slow, stop and cease to mean anything, thus allowing one to be in all times at once. Perhaps, then, we can’t understand the very beginnings of our universe because God is, as we speak, “creating the Heavens and the Earth,” in a manner which we can only observe as the Big Bang.

I mean, if our knowledge is so minute, why can’t it be both? Or neither? I feel like I’m peering into the Total Perspective Vortex. “If anything is going to function coherently in this universe, one thing it can not afford to have is a sense of proportion.”

Jack79's avatar

The Great A’Tuin does not stand on other turtles, he (or possibly she) flies through space. And apparently there are more such space turtles. And they even lay space turtle eggs, which can become planets.

TjHare's avatar

That’s alot of turtle feces hurling through space randomly. Does that make a black hole the cosmic bathroom for Space turtles?

efritz's avatar

To answer this question, we need understanding beyond our comprehension of everything. So, I don’t know.

Might as well go with the turtle.

I’ve also heard we’re all part of a computer program . . . 42 anyone?

CMaz's avatar

“There is no universal answer to your question of which makes more sense, because everyone is going to apply different criteria based upon belief.” I totally agree with that. What tweaks my noodle is the something from nothing thing. Which implies there is another logic then that which hold us currently together.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

@efritz What’s the question?

Fred931's avatar


Yetanotheruser's avatar

It would have to be infinite regression of levitating super turtles.

WolfFang's avatar

Intelligent design makes a hell of alot more sense to me…but then again, who said we only have Two choices?

TheOnlyException's avatar

Fantastic question @shrubbery
Very nicely put. I like that turtle story, will keep that in mind.
It has always been a question I guess, a similar one to, at the edge of the universe, what is beyond the edge?
We cannot answer it. Nor should we need to. I think it is irrelevant, and unimportant. We should focus on what we know and serve to improve life and being as we know it rather than spending far too much time pondering just why we are here, and wasting our wonderful existence of questionable origin.
Sure it is interesting and boggles the mind, but a bit of blind faith now and then won’t do any harm ;)

timtrueman's avatar

I’d say neither makes much sense because they both make assumptions. Proper scientists will say “we don’t know”, come up with some theories and then test them. (Probably) nobody else possesses supernatural powers that I don’t and I don’t have the answers so how could anyone else? Skepticism is good and healthy. We may never know the real answers and that’s OK!

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