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.)

How Science Works (and How Christianity Thinks it Wins)

Christian apologists like to imagine that science's errors give them an advantageThis argument was made at the Creationism conference that I recently attended: science isn’t trustworthy because every time you turn around, it’s changing its mind.

  • The sun goes around the earth … no, wait a minute—it’s the other way around.
  • Here’s the fossil of an early human … no, hold on—that one’s a hoax.
  • Living things hold a special energy or force—an élan vital—that animates them … nope, that’s passé.
  • Every wave needs a medium, so space must be filled with “ether” for light to propagate through … oops, wrong again.

An early theory of the formation of the moon said that the fast-spinning early earth flung out the moon and that the big circular Pacific Ocean basin is where it came from.  The question of origin of the moon has been an active area of research, and the flung-out idea is just another discarded scientific theory—this was one of the areas of research that was lampooned at this conference.

The Creationist argues that when you turn from changeable Science to Christianity’s unchanging God and an unchanging Bible, you have something solid that you can trust.

Science does change, but let’s notice that the size of any change tends to decrease for a single theory.  When the door is first opened to a new field of inquiry—say by Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of single-celled organisms or Galileo’s use of the telescope—new theories based on insufficient evidence try to organize the chaos.  One theory might quickly supersede another, but as theories become better at explaining more, changes becomes smaller.  Here are some examples.

  • Geocentrism to heliocentrism was an enormous change for the model of the solar system.  Our understanding of the solar system continues to change (new theories about why Uranus is tipped on its side or reclassification of Pluto as a dwarf planet, for example), but these are comparatively minor.
  • Evolution revolutionized biology, and the changes in biology today are merely refinements to this theory.
  • The intuitive flat earth model was replaced by a spherical earth, and the observation that it’s actually not spherical but slightly flattened at the poles is a small change.
  • Quantum physics continues to change, but new discoveries are not likely to say that matter is not made up of atoms, which are themselves not made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons.

Christians eager to paint the Bible as an unchanging rock in a sea of chaos don’t seem to understand that they point to science’s strength.  Science realizes that new discoveries may obsolete old theories, and every scientific statement is provisional.  And, remarkably, science is self-correcting.  It finds its own errors.

Science changes, and that’s its strength.  The Bible never changes, and that’s its weakness.

Related posts:

Stephen Hawking Speaks

Here’s an excellent video (43:39) inspired by Hawking’s latest book, The Grand Design. It’s quite approachable, but it does get into some apologetics-relevant topics like, Does the Big Bang demand a Creator? and Can something come from nothing?

Hawking says that it doesn’t and it can.

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John Lennox Responds to Stephen Hawking

John LennoxDr. John Lennox, a math professor at the University of Oxford, visited Seattle recently to respond to Stephen Hawking’s recent The Grand Design (co-written with Leonard Mlodinow).  I’ll give a brief summary of the main points Lennox made with a few comments.

In his book, Hawking says:

Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

Christian apologists like to focus on the beginning of the universe, sensing a weakness in the naturalistic model. When asked about what came before the Big Bang, Science simply says, “I don’t know.” This is neither a weakness nor a reason for embarrassment. Instead, it points to those areas in science where more work needs to be done. But this statement by Hawking gives at least one resolution to the question.

Lennox spent much of the lecture criticizing this one claim.  Continue reading