“It’s Turtles all the way down!”

Turtles all the way down

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!”

This story is often used to mock religious believers who argue for the existence of God, but it also makes the same point about purely scientific beliefs.

Atheists use this to mock the religious belief in an eternal God who was never created. “How can something come from nothing?,” they ask. But the same problem lies with a purely material explanation for our existence.

Some scientists originally argued against the big Bang theory because the notion that there was a moment of creation implied that there was a Creator. (Even Einstein favored a “steady-state” universe that has always existed.) Now that the Big Bang (originally a pejorative name) looks more likely to be true, it’s sometimes used against the notion of a Creator. But the problem noted above with the existence of God also applies to a completely natural creation of the Universe. Where’d everything come from? How could something come from nothing?

It’s occasionally posited that perhaps our universe was created from the remnants of another universe, that is, our Big Bang was the followup to another, preceding universe’s “Big Crunch,” so to speak. Others have suggested that perhaps we’re merely one of any number of universes that exist all at once, and our Big Bang was the creation of a white hole related to a black hole in another universe. Both of these theories evade the question of the ultimate source of all creation. While each new universe coming as a result of a prior universe in some way may meet the inductive step of a traditional proof by induction, this fails to prove the base case required for a proper proof by induction.

The fact is that just as no one claims to know how God came into being, we also don’t know how the universe came into being. Before mocking religious believers for believing in God, who we don’t know how He came to be, they need to remember the exact same mockery can be directed at them for their belief in the natural creation of our universe.


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