Debate Magazine

Infinite Regress of Turtles

By Cris

In this post on the overconfidence of evangelical atheism, we saw a physicist-philosopher taking serious issue with Lawrence Krauss’ triumphal tome which purports to explain how the universe came from nothing, and why there is something rather than nothing. It turns out that Krauss’ nothing is something and he really hasn’t explained everything. Faced with several sharp critiques, Krauss recently responded and had this to say about not getting to the bottom of things:

I tried to be really clear that you can keep asking “Why?” forever. At some level there might be ultimate questions that we can’t answer, but if we can answer the “How?” questions, we should, because those are the questions that matter. And it may just be an infinite set of questions, but what I point out at the end of the book is that the multiverse may resolve all of those questions. From Aristotle’s prime mover to the Catholic Church’s first cause, we’re always driven to the idea of something eternal.

If the multiverse really exists, then you could have an infinite object—infinite in time and space as opposed to our universe, which is finite. That may beg the question as to where the multiverse came from, but if it’s infinite, it’s infinite. You might not be able to answer that final question, and I try to be honest about that in the book. But if you can show how a set of physical mechanisms can bring about our universe, that itself is an amazing thing and it’s worth celebrating.

I don’t ever claim to resolve that infinite regress of why-why-why-why-why; as far as I’m concerned it’s turtles all the way down. The multiverse could explain it by being eternal, in the same way that God explains it by being eternal, but there’s a huge difference: the multiverse is well motivated and God is just an invention of lazy minds.

Here Krauss betrays his metaphysical game and tells us that, in his opinion, why questions are less important than how questions. There may be some or considerable justification for thinking this, but it is an ought preference rather than an is reality. I certainly prefer how questions and think they shed much light on why questions, but this is my own preference and acknowledge it as such.

Krauss also shows that he isn’t bound to data and isn’t averse to speculation. When he starts talking about the unobservable possibility of multiverses, he has ventured beyond the empirical-evidentiary reservation. As Claude Levi-Strauss might say, such things may be good to think but we don’t know if they are real.

Krauss is on a mission not just to rid the world of religion, but also of philosophy. This is the kind of thing that sometimes happens when you don’t understand what philosophy is or what it does. On that score, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci settled some with this post on Krauss.

Infinite Regress of Turtles

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