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Logic and rhetoric
“”Big fleas have little fleas,
Upon their backs to bite 'em,
|—The Siphonaptera nursery rhyme|
An infinite regress is when an argument relies on a series of never-ending propositions, where the validity of one proposition depends on the validity of the one which follows and/or precedes it.
One example of a viciously infinite regression arises in intelligent design creationism, which states that there are problems in the theory of Darwinian evolution by natural selection which can only be resolved by invoking a designer or first cause without proposing a solution to the immediate question "who designed the designer?" Despite that, the response to this is an example of special pleading: creationists assert that every being needs a cause, but God is an eternal presence which did not need a cause. No evidence for this has ever been presented for peer review, or critical analysis of any kind.
The "Turtles all the way down" anecdote illustrates a popular example of infinite regress:
“”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!
|—Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time|
- See the Wikipedia article on Infinite regress.
- HOMUNCULUS FALLACY, Logically Fallacious
- The "Fallacy" of Infinite Regress, Michigan Secular Students Alliance
- And so on, in a looping infinite regress.