The “God is Simple” Argument

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins said, “God, or any intelligent, decision-making calculating agent, is complex, which is another way of saying improbable.”  But is God complex?  Philosopher Alvin Plantinga argued that he is not:

According to much classical theology (Thomas Aquinas, for example) God is simple, and simple in a very strong sense.…  So first, according to classical theology, God is simple, not complex.

Seriously?  We’re consulting a 13th century scholar to understand modern cosmology?  Modern science takes us to the Big Bang, and we need Thomas Aquinas to figure out the remaining riddles?

Here’s philosopher William Lane Craig’s input:

As a mind without a body, God is amazingly simple.  Being immaterial, He has no physical parts.  Therefore to postulate a pure Mind as the explanation of fine-tuning is the height of simplicity!

So anything that isn’t physical is simple?  Sure—something that isn’t physical is maximally simple physically because it doesn’t exist physically.  But that doesn’t help us with immaterial things, whatever they are.  I don’t know what it means to be an immaterial mind, so I have no way of evaluating its complexity.  Incredibly, neither apologist gives any evidence of the claim that God is simple.  They seem to have no way of evaluating its complexity either and propose we just take their word for it.

Of course, science has shown that complex can come from simple.  For example, we see this in the formation of snowflakes, in erosion, or in evolution.  From a handful of natural rules comes complexity—no intelligence required.

But we’re talking about something quite different—an intelligent creator.  And in every creative instance we know of (the creation of a car, the creation of a bee hive, the creation of a bird’s nest), the creator is more complex than the creation.  Plantinga’s God would be the most stupendous counterexample to the axiom that, in the case of designed things, simple comes from complex, and yet we’re supposed to take this claim on faith.

But there’s a way to cut through all this.  Is God as simple as Plantinga or Craig imagine?  Then demonstrate this—make us one.  Humanity can make complex things like a microprocessor, the worldwide telephone system, and a 747, so making this “amazingly simple” thing shouldn’t be hard.  Or, if we don’t have the materials, they can at least give us the blueprints.

Surely they will fail in this challenge and admit that they have no clue how to build a God.  In that case, how can they critique the simplicity of such a being?  Now that their argument that God is simple has evaporated, we’re back to Dawkins’ argument that a complex God is improbable.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Related links:

  • Alvin Plantinga, “The Dawkins Confusion (A Review of Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion),” Christianity Today, March 2007.
  • William Lane Craig, “Dawkins’ Delusion,” Reasonable Faith, 2009.
  • “Divine Simplicity,” Wikipedia.  (Note: neither Craig nor Plantinga accept this view.)

3 thoughts on “The “God is Simple” Argument

  1. As to the “fine tuning” argument (the latest iteration of the “god of the gaps” blather from the apologists), we can thank Victor J. Stenger for his fine recent work “The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning: Why the Universe Is Not Designed for Us”. Unlike Plantinga, the density of whose prose springs from obscure philosophical concepts and neologisms, Stenger’s work is a challenge to anyone who doesn’t have a solid grounding in college-level physics and calculus — IOW, not for the faint of heart or mind — but at least his general reasoning and conclusions are spelled out in accessible prose, unlike Plantinga.

  2. My wife had arrived through the South, so I was at good hands.
    The breaking-in of young wild steers to operate inside team seemed somewhat cruel.
    Neighbours were few in number, there were only three other women living in the neighbourhood – all lived in a choice of bark huts or tents using young children.

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