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.)

6 thoughts on “The “God is Simple” Argument

      • Bob,

        Aquinus made no statement about cosmology. He was stating his understanding of the nature of God, and you quoted him accurately as such. Your application of that statement to cosmology is where you, not he, make an error. And Karl’s point about a 13th century thinker is valid. You can’t dismiss his analysis simply because of the date on which the analysis appeared. It can be falsified only by showing where it is wrong.

        Your blog makes these points:
        1) Complexity is a reason to doubt existence because it makes the complex thing improbable. By this measure, every machine ever made would be improbable and by extension of your logic concerning God, it would therefore not exist. But complexity does not point to lack of existence, it infers a complex creator instead. This is where Dawkins (assuming you quoted him accurately and in context) errs in his statement above.
        2) The “god” you claim doesn’t exist must be complex, not simple, therefore he is unlikely to exist. (No quarrel with the premise that God is complex, only the conclusion you draw from that premise.) Even you acknowledge that every example of a created thing that we know of has a more complex creator than the thing itself. Even the snowflakes you love to use as evidence have far more complexity in the makeup of the molecules and the geometric shapes from which they derive their nature. They are, after all, molecules and atoms that are more complex than we fully understand. We are building atom smashers to try to figure out that allegedly simple structure. Not so simple after all.
        3) Since the “god” that you think doesn’t exist is not simple, those who claim he is simple are wrong. What difference would it make if those claiming an elephant was pink were wrong? Elephants are what they are regardless of what others claim about them.
        4) No one can make a “god” like the one you think doesn’t exist. (This is a patently absurd argument to repeat, and hard to believe you actually suggested it as some form of supposedly cogent evidence. But whatever.)
        5) Since those making the claim of simplicity are wrong, and since they can’t make “god” themselves, it is unlikely “god” exists. By this logic, anything I can’t produce a blueprint for or actually build—really doesn’t exist. And for the isolated Aborigine, the entire Western world is simply imaginary? Because some one can’t imagine something doesn’t make it non-existent. It makes the person who can’t do it limited in imagination or creativity.

        A logical syllogism rises or falls based on both its structure and on the falsifiability of its component arguments. Based on the points you made, you cannot possibly conclude logically what you do. You would be laughed out of any undergraduate philosophy classroom if you presented this case or worse yet, if you submitted it for homework. (That would also apply to high schools, if any high schools teach logic and philosophy any more.)

        I will refrain from grading this homework assignment. But I am uncomfortable leaving your statements unchallenged where they may pass as legitimate expressions of truth to those who are sincerely seeking it.


      • Rick T:

        Aquinus made no statement about cosmology.

        I’m glad we agree. Let’s tell Plantinga that pulling Aquinas into the cosmology conversation makes no sense.

        You can’t dismiss his analysis simply because of the date on which the analysis appeared. It can be falsified only by showing where it is wrong.

        If Aquinas made a valid observation about cosmology, it was as accidental as a coin flip. He has no credibility. I’m not saying he’s wrong; I’m saying that he’s no authority in this domain.

        every machine ever made …

        Dawkins’ quote refers only to agents, not inanimate things.

        No quarrel with the premise that God is complex…

        Ah–another point of agreement. The goal of this post is only to refute Plantinga and Craig’s claim that God is simple.

        4) No one can make a “god” like the one you think doesn’t exist. (This is a patently absurd argument to repeat, and hard to believe you actually suggested it as some form of supposedly cogent evidence. But whatever.)

        Obviously no one can make a god. Don’t blame me for the absurdity–it was Craig who suggested that God must be simple because he has no moving parts. Yes there’s absurdity here, but don’t blame the messenger!

        5) Since those making the claim of simplicity are wrong, and since they can’t make “god” themselves, it is unlikely “god” exists.

        If you’ll reread the post, you’ll see that this isn’t what I said. I simply said that the Plantinga/Craig argument that God must be simple falls away, leaving Dawkins’ original claim still standing.

        Based on the points you made, you cannot possibly conclude logically what you do.

        The “points” and “conclusion” you list aren’t mine. Go complain to wherever you got them from; it wasn’t me.

  1. Thoughts do not have mass. They produce ideas. Like the chair you’re sitting on. God is only a thought. You cannot create or destroy/reconstruct God, because no one knows what God is. Further more, if we don’t know what God is, what is the inebitable proof of something happening that can be attributed to (a) God doing it?
    “I don’t know what God is. I don’t know where he resides. Not sure if it’s a he or she or something else, but God exists because I think he does.”
    My favorite reply “Hey, prove god doesn’t exist.”

    I almost feel embarassed for those who walk around with old traditional thought, centuries removed from the common era to still believe in things they cannot answer. Adults who have had jesus and god slammed down their throats in their youth but never told how to defend it. You can’t. You were never taught how. So when someone says there is no such thing as gods, the ignorance response is has the disbeliever do the work. No! That’s the point. You can’t delclare gods or anything exists unless you’ve used the scientific method to prove it. Which obvioulsy all Christians Catholics and dumbasses have already done. You say God, and I say show me.
    You don’t punish people for challenging truths, you show it to them.
    All anyone can do is show the truth and let others interpret it. What Aquinas failed to do is start with what god was. God is real is not science. It’s a claim.

    Don’t stop at believing. That’s just a small step in the process of truth.
    Research God over and over then show him or her or it to us all, and we all shut up. That is if you’re a real Christian or Catholic. Too many of you are now fake. You don’t do what the bible tells you and you make up life as you see fit.
    And that prohibits you to study God like those before you did. So you can’t even prove god exists because you can’t prove you’re a Bible Christian/Catholic. You’ve broken the rules. You’re modern-day christians. What the f is that anyways? Sex before marriage? Sin sin sin. And then God forgives you? No wonder. You had to change God because get ready for it, you f’ing evolved. You realized God did not kill or send you to hell for giving into urges while you stood infront of his presence and declared your love for the tenth woman you’ve had sex with. Right. God sent you on a path that involved the holiest of pleasures, sex, only to let you do it over and over without punishment until what made it right was asking for a hand in marriage with last person you decide to have sex with? Rediculous.

    Which is further proof that gods do not exist. None of us would change the rules of the bible if we feared someone punishing us for doing so. Obvious you aren’t being punished.

    Let’s remember people, these are proofs based on why you should BELIEVE in god. Mathematical proofs can be easily experimented and proven correct.
    I can’t experiment Aquinas’ proofs. No one can. Because thoughts have no mass. To conduct experiments on a proof of god would be freezing/stopping a thought in someone’s brain and examining it. But that’s impossible since thoughts have…… NO MASS! THERFORE GOD HAS NO MASS. GOD DOES NOT EXIST!

    I was never taught at any level of education that if I believed something existed I should do the lazy thing and make everyone else my bitch by simply stating “prove to me it doesn’t exist.”
    That’s dumb. And horribly unproductive.
    “Hey I walked on water once. And I can prove it. But don’t bother asking me because even though you weren’t there to witness it you have to believe it because apparently some god gave me the power to do it. And deargod, don’t ask to proof of this god who gave me the powers, that’s absurd. God works in mysterious ways, so don’t be skeptical about mysteries. They only come from him, somewhow. God breaks all physical properties. He is neither there or here, but everywhere, but I really don’t know any of this because God works on levels beyond human comprehension. But I know something about God because I believe in him. You know nothing about God because you simply don’t believe.”
    Now who sounds stupid……

    Star Wars:
    “Who’s the fool? The fool or the fool who follows?”
    God was a fool, thus we……….

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