God is Simple

Another phrase used to describe the nature of God is that He is “completely simple and unchangeable” (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic faith from Vatican I).

At first glance, the idea that God is “simple” seems to be counterintuitive.  How can the all-powerful, all-knowing God be simple?

I think part of the problem is that the word “simple” can have many meanings.  It’s helpful to me to look at one of its opposites, which is the word “complex.”  Merriam-Webster defines complex as “a whole made up of complicated or interrelated parts.”  God in contrast is a completely simple and unchangeable being.

Why is this topic that important?  At first glance, this is not one of the most well known attributes of God professed by Christians, and in general not one that is contested.  Perhaps that’s because people just don’t think about it.

But when challenged by those who don’t believe in God, I’ve found it to be quite important.  One of the arguments for the existence of God believers often propose is that the complexity, majesty, energy and marvel of the universe points to the need for an intelligent Creator.  This is especially true when you consider how finely tuned the universe is to support life.  From a scientific perspective, the odds are astronomical that all the constants needed to create a universe to support life would be perfectly set to what they are.  If any one of them was off even by a minute fraction, life would not exist.  Using this logic, it is therefore more reasonable to believe in an intelligent Creator than such a random defiance of the odds.

Some in the scientific world have tried to counter that argument with the multiverse hypothesis.  Simply stated, if the odds are a million to one that a universe would have all the necessary constants set so specifically to support life, and if there are a million universes, then of course in one of them that would randomly happen.  Richard Dawkins is a prominent evolutionary biologist who is also one of the world’s most outspoken and famous atheists.  He has referred to the origin of life as a “happy chemical accident.”  The prominent physicist Stephen Hawking supported the idea of multiple universes and said he felt “fortunate” to be living in the rare one that supported life.  However, there is no scientific evidence to support the multiverse hypothesis, nor is there really a known way to test it.  This has led to other well known scientists like physicist Paul Davies to describe it as religion disguised as science, requiring the same leap of faith as believing in a creator.

Richard Dawkins is also on record as stating it is unreasonable to believe that the universe needs an intelligent Creator because “A designer God cannot be used to explain organized complexity, because any God capable of designing anything would have to be complex enough to demand the same kind of explanation in his own right.”  This argument is often accepted without question and repeated by non-believers.

But this argument contains a foundational premise, a “given” that Dawkins relies on — the idea that intelligence and power have a direct correlational to complexity.  But is that true?  I can find no scientific evidence that this premise has ever even been tested.  We all recognize that within the universe there is great complexity, but there is also scant native intelligence.  Nobody thinks a comet makes up its own mind to go streaking through space for example.  Humans have spent a better part of our existence wondering if we are the only intelligent life here.

For what it’s worth, the most genetically complex creature ever studied is the see-through water flea.  It has about 25 percent more genes than humans.  So what evidence does Dawkins have that supports his premise that intelligence and power have a direct correlation to complexity?  I don’t think there is any at all.

Because Dawkins relies on this anecdotal, scientifically untested and unproven idea that intelligence and power require complexity, he then makes another argument.  He states that however the universe started, it is unreasonable to assume an intelligent Creator because that would already be something “very complicated,” which would require its own explanation for existence.  He argues that the beginnings of the universe by necessity have to be from something very “simple.”

Enter St. Augustine 1600 years ago, who knew this truth that the Catholic Church has professed these many centuries – “God is truly and absolutely simple.”  Perhaps if Dawkins had a better understanding of Christian theology, he would recognize that his argument that the origin of the universe requires a very simple beginning is a very old idea indeed, and one that perfectly aligns with the belief in an intelligent Creator.

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