Why I am an atheist – Infinity

My journey to atheism was not long or difficult. I was raised in a Reform Jewish home that was not particularly religious. I grew up in a city where there was a fairly large Jewish population in the suburbs, but there were very few other Jews within the city. My sister, two teachers, and I were the only Jewish people in my high school of 1,000 students. At the same time, I did not identify with anyone my age at the synagogue because I attended a city school. Hence, my Jewish identity always had more to do with not being Christian than it did with actually being Jewish (I should point out that despite my minority status in school, I never experienced anything beyond glancing anti-Semitism).

As a teen and in my twenties, I came to the conclusion that no religion should be taken literally, but I still hung onto the idea of an unknowable god. In later twenties, I became increasingly uncomfortable as I realized that if there was a god, it must be extremely cruel. Then, in the fall of 2008, I had my epiphany moment while mowing the lawn. Not long before then, a friend had recommended the Radio Lab podcast and upon first listen, I was hooked. That day, I was listening to the episode titled “The (Multi) Universe(s),” which is an extended interview of Brian Green by Robert Krulwich. It begins with a discussion of infinity: In an infinite universe, all patterns, no matter how complex, will repeat. My pulse literally quickened as began to mull this over. For lack of a better description, it was like a religious revelation but ironically, it was the final step in my rejection of the guiding hand. Although it wasn’t expressly discussed in the podcast, my brain made the logical leap. In an infinite universe, all patterns, no matter how complex will not just repeat; all patterns will be attempted. Suddenly, evolution made sense to me in a way it never had before.

As someone who claims an affinity for logic, I felt silly for never having thought about it before. After all, I’d heard the old joke about infinite monkeys producing Shakespeare, but had never thought to apply the concept beyond the joke. But now that I was thinking about it, I realized that on an infinite scale, if something is even remotely possible, it is a certainty that it will happen somewhere. If you consider only the Earth, without looking beyond it, then the odds of all the variables lining up the way they did so as to give rise to life are infinitesimal. At that scale, the idea that a guiding hand was necessary is understandable. But in an infinite universe, it was not only possible, but inevitable that somewhere and sometime, a planet exactly like ours would happen. All you need is randomness and time, not god.

Since that day, I’ve read and heard much more and I confesses that I have only the most superficial understanding the various multiverse theories. I now appreciate that whether or not there is an infinite amount of the matter necessary for life as we know it is an open question. But the idea still holds, and I will not go back. On a large enough scale, life happening was just a matter of time, not divinity. Now, if I am asked, “What do you believe in if you don’t believe in God?” I respond, “I believe the Universe is very, very big.”

United States


  1. Scientismist says

    Thank you. I learn a lot from reading these “Why I am an atheist” stories, even when I disagree. The “infinite monkeys” idea, I think, misses Darwin’s insight, that it is both the “chance” of hereditary change and the “necessity” of natural selection that build order in the living world. But I see you are now seeing the “infinite” part as an open question.

    But I wonder if it is not just that thought, that a naturalistic view leads to the “infinite monkeys” scenario, that may be part of the aversion many have to evolution; and even the aversion that some evolutionists have for taking randomness seriously as a crucial part of evolution. Hard to see “Grandeur” in pure randomness, just hammering away.

  2. joey says

    Infinity claims to have an affinity for logic, so why does he/she base his/her de-conversion off of a completely unproven premise?

  3. Dhorvath, OM says

    Joey, are you saying the universe isn’t really, really, big? A step back from infinity happened in that last paragraph, an acknowledgment even that the premise is not supported.

    As for the OP, Fuckin’ A! I am so there for this line of thought.

  4. johnscanlon says

    Even if this universe weren’t really, really big, it’s only one point in a space of All Possible Universes (which we have no reason to think aren’t just as Real), which is probably big enough to sustain the argument.

  5. joey says


    it’s only one point in a space of All Possible Universes (which we have no reason to think aren’t just as Real)…

    What do you mean we have “no reason to think [All Possible Universes] aren’t just as real”? We can’t observe them, so how can one conclude they’re just as real?

    The belief in multiverses takes just as much faith as the belief in any god.

  6. Rich Woods says

    @jJoey #5:

    The belief in multiverses takes just as much faith as the belief in any god.

    Except that there’s no evidence for any god, yet there is evidence which supports the theory of some types of universe in a deducible multiverse. The more difficult suggestions may boil down to mathematics and even philosophy, but even so that carries more weight than an idea whose starting point is based on what desert nomads believed three millenia ago (or any preferred Xenu/Khoresh/Moroni equivalent).

  7. joey says

    Rich Woods:
    The “evidence” for the multiverse theory is just as tangible/concrete as evidence for gods. If you can’t support the theory with hard observations or experimental data, then it’s simply not science…just conjecture.

    I suggest you read the Paul Davies quote in that wiki article.

  8. says

    If there were an infinite universe, or an infinite number of multiverse bubbles, saying that a thing that is possible must certainly happen is only part of the situation. If there is boundless regions for stuff to happen, then not just multiple differing universes would happen, but the same instance of a single universe would be repeated an infinite number of times as well. There would also be an infinite number of slightly different iterations for every single decision in your life. It sounds messy and bizarre but that’s infinity for you.

    I know a lot of physicists and astronomers who work on cosmogony are skeptical about being able to empirically study such a proposition, but looking back at the number of things that were considered possible that we are now doing, I don’t discount a possibility that some scientists in a grossly distant future may have the capability to prove or disprove it. It certainly isn’t empirical science at present, but if curiosity is going to be appeased, it can’t be removed from the ‘to do’ list either.

  9. Chris says

    My personal intuition is just as bizarre and then some. I believe that there are probably an infinite number of possible universes, which repeat ad infinitum. I also believe that time itself is an epiphenomenon of the conscious brain. I suspect that in reality, all events occur in simultaneity. I have considered the conundrum of time as follows: I did not exist for an eternity prior to my birth. I will not exist for an eternity following my death. At which discreet point in eternity can I be said to have existed, when time is without end? I understand the statement in nonsensical, and yet it appears to be technically true. What if instead the universe were a disc with all possible data written in perpetuity, and consciousness were the laser corresponding to randomly coherent patterns in the data stream. That would make us effectively eternal. Also, I may have just forgotten to take my meds. :)

  10. meandmine says

    Lets get something clarified here. Do you mean to say that learning about theories of an infinite multiverse helped you to accept evolution? It should not. Not in any way. While the idea of an infinite number of universes says a lot about the probability that there could be a universe among them with the kinds of physics that our universe has, it should in no way add or subtract from the probability that evolution will happen in the universe that we have. Our universe is big, but it is not infinite. There is a finite amount of matter in our universe. I’m talking about this universe with these specific physical laws. In this universe it is very likely that life will occur. You don’t need infinite possibilities to make that happen, it is a direct result of the physics. If quantum mechanics teaches us anything it is the meaning of the world “impossible”. A group of monkeys large enough to be described by the prefix “Giga” banging on type writers will never even produce Hamlet within the lifetime of the matter in this universe.

  11. says


    I just looked up the ‘Infinite Monkey Theorem’ on wiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_monkey_theorem). Since it uses the word infinite, the lifetime of the universe doesn’t apply to the original supposition as it was worded. What I did find interesting was the section on primate behavior. Their responses to the typewriter included defecating on it, which is what I think some authors actually do…say Deepak Chopra, or Jackie Collins.

    What it didn’t mention was evolution. Those primates, if given enough time, are going to become a species that writes all the great themes anyway. And probably this blog and its comments section. Ook-ook!

  12. leonpeyre says

    In an infinite universe, all patterns, no matter how complex will not just repeat; all patterns will be attempted.

    Not just that, but all patterns, no matter how improbable, will repeat infinitely in an infinite universe. That realization blew me away the first time I read it.

  13. michaelpowers says

    Oddly enough, my atheism was confirmed by the realization the universe is neither infinite nor perfect. I was, however, only considering this universe. I imagine perfection as being a static, sterile state. It’s what (didn’t) exist before the big bang. Nothingness in the absolute. An absence of both darkness and light. The same with infinity. It’s fun for me to speculate about, but I know that speculation is all that it is.

    To me, it seems that the closer we get to discovering the true nature of things, the more metaphysical they seem.

    Probably because my 3 dimensional brain can’t think 11-dimensional thoughts.