Is God ‘simple’?
Published: 10 December 2011 (GMT+10)
Everything in our experience is composed of parts. Is God also composed of parts?
Dear Mr H.
Thank you for your feedback. My comments are interspersed below.
I was reading this article tonight and was in agreement with you until you got to the part about God being a ‘simple entity’, at that point you lost me. It seems as though you are arguing that the Creator is less complex than His creation. How does the fact that God is spirit lead to the conclusion that He is ‘simple’? To the best of my knowledge we have no idea what spirit is, or how it might work. Why should we therefore assume that spirit is less complex in internal nature than matter? Your comments remind me somewhat of Darwin concluding that cells were small blobs of simple jelly because he was ignorant of what they were made of or how they work. We might just as easily assume that spirit is more complex than matter as it is responsible for things beyond the ability of matter i.e. the creation of matter from nothing.
When we say that God is simple, we mean that He is not composed of parts, not that He is easy to understand. God has no parts—He is a whole, unified and indivisible being. So God is not made up of x amount of ‘spirit stuff’, and He is not something that we can dissect (physically or otherwise) so as to find out how He works. What that would actually do is ground God’s being in something other than Himself; i.e. the ‘spirit stuff’ that He is supposedly made up of. If God is truly the self-existent one (Exodus 3:14), then what He is composed of cannot be distinguished from Himself. In sum—God is what He is, and that cannot change.
God’s simplicity is usually used as a way of talking about God’s attributes. According to the principle of divine simplicity, God is not merely the sum of His attributes, nor are they additions to His being. The reality to which “the power of God” and “the wisdom of God” refer is no different—they both refer to God, God as a whole and nothing but God. They are different linguistic paths of referring to the same reality, like both “the double of two” and “the square of two” refer to the same number: four. As such, all of God’s attributes hold true for his entire being, which means that every attribute of God also qualifies every other attribute.
In addition we know that God created strictly spiritual beings (angels), and since God is different from His creation it suggests strongly that spirit is not all the same; otherwise the difference between God and the angels would be limited to the amount of spirit they possess.
Very true. This tells us that the word ‘spiritual’ typically refers to something we cannot usually perceive with our physical senses (even if spiritual beings can manifest in a way that we can physically interact with them). But our inability to physically perceive these beings tells us nothing of their metaphysical composition. Therefore, the word ‘spiritual’ tells us nothing about the metaphysical composition of either God or the angels.
Furthermore God was able to create a universe of information from nothing, which suggests that He already possessed all the necessary information in Himself in some form, before actualizing it. And since God is unchanging it therefore follows that God must always have had a complexity greater than that of the universe. Which is not ‘simple’.
This is ambiguous, and I found myself wondering if you were conceiving of the information to create the universe as some ‘part’ of God which he used, thus actualizing the universe. This seems to be the case when you conclude that God has this complexity within himself because the universe has it. However, this commits the fallacy of reification, which treats abstract concepts as physical realities. You seem to have given the information within God a tangible existence it cannot have because information is a conceptual reality, like justice or love. It can have concrete consequences (i.e. the information coded on DNA configures the system that enables the cell to operate), but information is itself intangible. The information may be difficult to understand, but that has nothing to do with the metaphysical composition of information.
Reifying information makes it a part of what God is composed of. If that is the case, then God would have to have other parts, the sum of which explains God’s metaphysical composition. However, that means that God’s essence is grounded in the parts that He is composed of (one such part being the information to make the universe), and not in Himself. If that is the case, then God is not an independent being because He has to then rely on these parts for His existence. This obviously means He is not self-existent either. Neither is He necessary because the parts that make God up can exist by themselves without coming together to make God. In other words, if God is not what He is, then He is not God at all.
However, if you simply mean to say that because God has more information (since He is omniscient) than a finite universe that He is harder to fully comprehend (i.e. more complex) than the universe, then I agree. But note that that has nothing to do with what God is composed of because ‘omniscient’ is just a way to describe God’s whole being with respect to the concept of knowledge.
You wrap up with the idea that God being simple helps to explain how He could be self-existent, but I fail to see how that addresses the issue at all. It seems rather similar to the way that atheists attempt to explain how something could come out of nothing; as if a simple something emerging from nothing is easier to explain than a complex something coming out of nothing; this misses the point that they are two completely different states of being: being and non-being. I understand that you are not saying God came from nothing, but I fail to see how it is easier to be self-existent if you are simple rather than self-existent and complex.
Since God’s existence and essence are indistinguishable (a principle of divine simplicity—no attribute is distinguishable from another regarding God’s being), God just is—his being has no potential for non-existence, and nothing caused him to exist. That is why divine simplicity explains God’s self-existence. However, the same can’t be said for angels, who can potentially be non-existent, evidenced by the fact they have a cause: God.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
I hope this helps,
Writer and Editor
Creation Ministries International
David M. from the United States writes: in response to article Clergy Letter Project a circus:
I presume you won’t publish this, which would expose your dogmatic attachment to an ideology which detests the search for the kind of truth which science can provide. Oh Well. Here goes.
For centuries theology was the Queen of Sciences. She still is, but has lost her way by demanding that she be both Queen and King. Too bad! The King, scientific method, is being smothered by false courtiers of the Queen who think they should do the King’s business. Too bad! That forces the King, in defensive posture, to attempt to do the Queen’s business, which is none of his business. Meaning, purpose, right and wrong, these are the Queens’ business, and no scientist worth the name traffics there in her/his role as scientist. As persons, yes, but not in the laboratory.
So. Get off it. Let science do its proper thing, which is not theology, which is finding out HOW things work, not WHY. And, religious folk, you badly mess up the King’s business when you fake being scientific. Stick with the WHY where science qua science cannot venture. AMEN
CMI’s Dr Tas Walker replies:
As I understand your intriguing email, you say that science is King in the laboratory. There are some important philosophical issues that are relevant here, but mostly we would have no quarrel with you. We call the sort of science that is done in the laboratory ‘experimental science’, where scientists make observations on experiments in the present—experiments that can be repeated.
However, what we are discussing on this site are beliefs about the past. Creationists agree with everything that is actually observed in the present, such as minerals, fossils, isotopes and strata. But we disagree with the stories that evolutionists make up about the past—stories about things that they have not observed.
Your accusation applies to evolutionists in this case because they have a dogmatic attachment to their ideology and are not prepared to look at alternative explanations.
You will find this article explains this in more detail: ‘It’s not science’.
Your distinction between HOW and WHY was also proposed by evolutionist Stephen J. Gould. He called it NOMA. That concept is an inaccurate way of describing this debate. Please see Stephen Jay Gould and NOMA for why this is the case.
All the best,
Scientist, writer, speaker
Creation Ministries International, Australia