Turtles All the Way Down

In some ways blogging is an exercise in vanity. You are tossing out you own perspective which, because of the free nature of the medium, you alone have deemed to be worthy of attention. This post is a little more an exercise in vanity than the rest. I recently read G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy and if at all times I did not agree with his arguments or methods it was fun to read. As a writer he was a big man with swagger, throwing arguments back in your face as paradoxes, treating serious subjects as some kind of high and holy joke. For this reason I feel the need to mimic him, at least in one post. Here it goes.

You may have heard the legend of the world being balanced on the back of a turtle (The legend is probably apocryphal but I think Chesterton would have felt comfortable using it). If you asked what this turtle was standing on you would get the answer that it was standing on another turtle. This turtle is itself standing on a turtle and that on another turtle. Keep asking the question and you will find that the world is resting on an infinite stack of turtles. This was of course held by a group of people for which strict reason and especially the scientific method were not as important. The answer to what the turtles were ultimately standing on had no answer; neither did they consider finding an answer important.

Modern scientists consider themselves to have progressed far beyond such primitive beliefs. They have been unable to observe a large turtle beneath the Earth and therefore have concluded the explanation to be untrue. Rather the Earth orbits the Sun through gravity, suspended in the vacuum of space. The modern scientist has applied this same scientific method to the origins of the universe. Most agree that the Universe and everything inside of it were the result of the Big Bang. The Big Bang came from a sort of cosmic egg, small as an atom, in which everything now in the universe was compressed. The origins of this cosmic egg are debatable though not much debated. Some attribute the source to hydrogen, others dark matter. When asked where these came from the fallback is on an even murkier unknown source. The answer might as well be that it was laid by a turtle. We are confronted with the problem of the turtles stretching in a long infinite stack. The question of what the turtles are standing is not answered and neither does it seem to be important. The enlightened modern scientist is then little different from “primitive” people who considered the question prior to them. They are still clinging to their simple superstitious beliefs, millennia old, if only in a new guise.

Let me present a more intelligent and reasoned view. In this world everything has a cause. Something must get the ball rolling. You have to have something outside of this universe to set it in motion, a hand to strike the match and light the fuse of the Big Bang. As this something is outside of our world it need not follow the same rules that our world follows. In that world it may be possible for something to exist which has no cause, for something to exist from eternity with no beginning and no end.

This is where the monsters in our imaginations come from, the idea that something we had no role in creating can step in whenever and wherever it felt like it and impose its will on us. This is also where we must make a leap of faith and no one is exempt, atheist and religious person both must jump. This something could be a mindless blob which in sudden spasms set off a universe creating chain of events; such could be the rules of such a place. It could be an impersonal black monolith, with a will or program of its own as in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It could also be an intelligent being which we might as well call God. The second two are much more likely if we think this universe starting thing has made a habit of intruding into our world. It is a little bit of a guessing game, using what we know from this world to make accurate or inaccurate guesses about the identity of this uncaused cause.

As a Christian I have made the bet (for the way you guess could presumably have serious consequences) that this being has taken the guess work away by choosing to reveal himself. He chose to create a universe and enter into it in the flesh. It is like Shakespeare writing himself into the play Hamlet as a character and introducing himself to the ill-fated prince. I find this much easier to believe then the turtle story and more reasonable. It is the Christians then who are reasonable and scientifically minded, not the modern atheistic scientist. He or she is the one making up wild stories around the fire, stuck in the past. Like an ostrich, hoping that by hiding its head in the sand it will avoid the question which is roaring to devour it.


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