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.)
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  • Luís Brandão Almeida Almeida

    Atom smashers are build to understand atoms and molecules, not because they are extremely complex, but because they are extremely small, which makes the observation of their properties impossible you utter moron. Just wanna point that out…

  • Maybe we could find a measure for complexity. If we forget that we are discussing God for a moment, we could count how many bits or bytes are required for a description. A picture that takes 4 kB on my hard disc is simpler than one that takes 15 MB (if the last cannot be indestructibly compressed). The same seems to be true for other types of data too. But God, how many bytes are required to describe him/her/it fully? It is said that God is omniscient. The omniscience is seldom fully specified. It is not said if the knowledge is finite (e.g. everything to know about a finite Universe), if it is infinite (e.g. all decimals of pi plus some additional knowledge) or if it is complete (about every Universe that could and could not exist and more). But anyway, the knowledge of God is huge. It could be a huge stored memory, or a huge computational power. With both these alternatives we end up with a very complex God, if we measure it by the bytes count.
    This kind of argument probably rise the same kind of feelings in a theist as if someone asks “Could God create a rock so heavy He could not lift it?”, but for me it is difficult to see why it is not legitimate.

    • I like where you’re going with this, but you see the kind of dodge that WLC likes to use. He handwaves that God is maximally simple (meaning simply in the physical world, because he has no physical parts). No apologist would agree with you. (I think it breaks the Magician’s Code or something.)

    • The maximally simple entity in the physical world we of course know, and that is the non-existent entity. I do not know what comes next, maybe a photon or a graviton. My preference is the first alternative, but I guess a theist is not completely satisfied with that.
      Related to this question, there is a question about the information carrier. When we humans handle information, there is always a physical carrier of the information, it could be sound waves or electromagnetic waves, synapses in the brain, computer memory, ink on paper or something else. But a omniscient god should either store, receive or process information, or all of these. What information carrier does it use? Also in the magic realm?