Why do we need God? Why can’t we have an infinite regress of universes?

Physicists such as Lee Smolin, Bryce DeWitt, and John A. Wheeler believe that the universe may have been created inside a black hole, that when black holes form, they smear some of the stolen information into a new region of space, which we observe as a universe, and that every time a black hole does so, it results in a new Big Bang for a universe with slightly different constants.

In this way, black holes create universes with “mutations” that are prone to creating more universes with more black holes and so on. To borrow an analogy from Richard Dawkins, every universe is therefore a machine for propagating black holes. As universes get more prone to creating black holes, they must be more likely to create stars, which thus increases the possibility for life.

It seems to me that if this is true, it must rely on an infinite regression of universes with no beginning, for this idea cannot explain the first universe. What are the problems with an infinite regression?

Stephen Hawking explored this option and seemed to think that it was unworkable.  Let’s suppose, however, that there is no empirical data to make this impossible from a scientific perspective.

It would still be a logically impossible theory because, as you have pointed out, it would rely on an infinite regression.  There are several problems with such a scenario.

First, it is impossible to have an actually infinite collection of things.  This would lead to absurd results.  Consider, for example, if we were to number all these universes from 1 to infinity.  Now suppose we were to annihilate all the odd universes.  How many would be left over?  An infinite number.  So, infinity minus infinity equals infinity.  Suppose instead we annihilated all the universes numbered 3 or greater.  How many universes would be annihilated?  An infinite number.  And how many would be left over?  3 would be left over.  So, infinity minus infinity equals 3.  In fact, you can manipulate the scenario to get infinity minus infinity to equally any natural number.  These sorts of absurdities work as a “reductio ad absurdem” argument against the existence of an actually infinite collection of things.  Since such a scenario would entail absurd results, the scenario seems absurd.

Second, it is impossible to reach infinity by successive addition.  Suppose someone were counting all the universes that went before us.  Let all negative numbers (negative 1 through negative infinity) be assigned to each of these universes.  Could this person ever count down to 0?  It would be impossible for them to do so, for no matter how many universes they counted they could never have counted them all.  Thus, if there is an infinite regress of universes before ours then it could never come to be our universe.  But we are in our universe!  Thus, there cannot have been an infinite number of universes prior to ours.

Finally, each of these universes exist contingently rather than necessarily.  That is to say that they do not have an independent existence but rather are dependent on the universe that came before (more specifically on whatever black hole is meant to have created them).  In this way, all the universes are contingent in their existence no matter how many universes are added to the stack.  Let’s use an analogy to imagine the problem this creates:

Suppose you were creating a fire and you kept adding kindling.  Kindling has the property of potentially catching fire, but it is contingent on some external cause in order to ignite it.  Let this be analogous to our universes having the potential to come into existence but relying on a prior universe to “ignite” it through a black hole.  No matter how much kindling you add to the pile, you will never get a fire.  You could add an infinite amount of kindling and still you would not get any fire.  In order to start the fire, you cannot just go on adding kindling forever.  You cannot have an infinite regress of kindling.  You must come to some first cause of the fire that itself is not dependent on a prior fire.  In the same way, no matter how many contingent universes one might add you must get to a first cause that itself is not contingent on anything else.  You cannot have an infinite regress of universes.

Matt Bilyeu
Chapter Director, Reasonable Faith
Master of Arts in Apologetics,
Luther Rice University and Seminary

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