Is a creator god necessarily complex?

In 'The God Delusion’ Richard Dawkins says that positing a god to explain the universe backfires because a god who could create and manage a universe must be very complex indeed. The existence of such a god would leave us with even more explaining to do than we had before.

Some theists don’t accept this conclusion, and insist that their god is simple.

God is not composed or divisible by any physical or metaphysical means. Simplicity of God refers to the fact that he has no parts. The simplicity teaching extends to the entire nature of God.

Is this a legitimate reply to the 747 gambit?

Posted: January 25th 2008

Russell Blackford www

Whenever we look at something that has actually been designed, as opposed to something that has evolved over millions of years by natural selection, we always find that the designer is an incredibly complex being. We know of nothing in the Universe that packs more complexity than the human brain, and we know of no process more complex than the brain’s functioning as it moves from one massively internally-connected physical state to another. We simply have no experience of anything that is known to have been designed except by a highly complex designer.

Thus, if by analogy with objects such as watches and telescopes, we inferred that the Universe itself is designed, we would also infer that the designer is something incredibly complex. To make any other assumption would be arbitrary.

Once we reach this point, we must ask where the incredibly complex designer came from. The only ways that we have ever observed by which massive complexity comes about are by design or by the simple iterative process of natural selection over vast spans of time (and needing vast volumes of space for there to be conditions amenable for it to happen).

Hence, it is highly likely that the designer of the Universe, if there is one, was either itself designed by something else OR something that evolved. It is inconceivable that such a thing just sprang into existence.

However, both of the possibilities are incompatible with the supposed nature of the Abrahamic God. It follows that all the evidence available to us leads us inexorably to the following (very) likely conclusion: either the Universe is not the product of a designer (in which case the Abrahamic God does not exist, because this being is said to be the designer of the universe) OR the Universe was designed by something that does not match the description of the Abrahamic God (in which case, again, the Abrahamic God, as per theological descriptions, does not exist).

Therefore, it is probable that the Abrahamic God does not exist.

Abrahamic theists are likely to reply that their God is not only the designer and creator of the Universe but also a being that is simple, e.g. with no moving parts, internal linkages, or changing states.

This does seem to be a logically possible state of affairs. However, we have never encountered any entity remotely like this. E.g., we have not encountered the “spirits” that some Abrahamic theists talk about. To claim that God is like something that, in turn, is of a kind we’ve never actually experienced is a desperate move.

Once again, if we had some independent basis to believe in the existence of such things as spirits, then we’d have a basis to infer that the designer of the Universe might be a being like that. But as we’ve come to know more and more about the Universe, and have failed to encounter disembodied, simple intelligences such as spirits, we find ourselves in a position where we have no basis at all to conclude that the Universe as a whole was designed by something like that.

Note that this argument is only probabilistic. It does not say that there cannot be a God like the Abrahamic one – that it is just impossible.

The argument is “merely” that if we could think about the idea of design, without being prejudiced by our familiarity with religious concepts, and if in doing so we relied on our actual experience of the world around us, we would reach the conclusion that the Abrahamic God probably does not exist. If we could think about it clearly, with minds free of prejudice from familiarity with religious ideas, we would conclude that the probability of this being’s existence is actually extremely low.

In short, the existence of something like the Abrahamic God is a bare theoretical possibility that’s contrary to all the data that we have so far from our actual experience.

Posted: March 13th 2008

See all questions answered by Russell Blackford


I looked at the page, but philosophy class was a long time ago, so I’m having trouble decoding it.

I am struck by a couple of things…

First, it’s just proof by assertion – we start with “good is not composed or divisible by any physical or metaphysical means”, and end up with the conclusion that god is simple and a pure spirit.

If one can pick the axioms one uses to start with, one can logically arrive at different conclusions (putting aside, for the moment, that the arguments strike me as philosophical ones rather than logical ones), but whether the axioms are in line with reality is another matter.

If you’ve already decided that god exists and is simple, then yeah, he exists and is simple.

Second, I think that Dawkins argument is a restatement of the creationist (or ID, if you prefer) assertion that complex things need a designer that is more complex than they are (ie complex forms do not arrive through evolution), but applying that same argument not the origin of species but to the creation of the universe.

If, on the other hand, you think that god is simple – ie that complexity is not required to create a universe – then why can’t the universe come about from some other simple, non-theistic source?

Posted: January 30th 2008

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

SmartLX www

The materialistic view is that a god must be more complex than the universe itself in order to create and fully control it. This is simply because the god has to have contained all the information in the universe within itself before it started, and track all information in the current universe (omniscience requires this).

Of course, if a god is immaterial this may not be required of it, and it could very well be simple. We don’t know anything about immaterial beings, not even whether there are any.

In order to be an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent creator and interventionist, either
1. a god must be the most complex thing there is, or
2. a god must be immaterial AND immaterial beings must be able to contain information while being less complex than that information.

Number 2 is essentially the loophole in the “ultimate 747 gambit”. However it requires something which as far as we know is not just unlikely, but impossible.

Basically, if God has a tough task to tackle in order to exist, any required quality or ability may be ascribed to Him until He is capable of the task. But how honest is it to describe God in arbitrary ways merely to defeat the argument at hand?

Posted: January 28th 2008

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Stefan www

God is simple if you see him as a concept, an abstract idea. Like a magical facade that you can never hope to look behind. Obviously a scientist like Dawkins won’t stop there. I think in the same way so I can completely understand Dawkins’ reasoning – in our universe intelligence comes from a large quantity of negative entropy stored in a complex computer, like our brain for example. We don’t know any other kind of intelligence. But I can also understand the other side: You can imagine God any way you want, so you can easily say that he’s simple despite creating complex things.

Recap: With scientific reasoning God has to be complex, because he needs negative entropy to be intelligent. From a purely religious/dogmatic standpoint, he could very well be simple.

So if both positions are valid why did I choose the scientists’? Well, the religious position doesn’t lead anywhere. You can imagine God any way you want. Nobody’s version is better or worse than anybody else’s. They are all just guesses. Science offers a way where you can test claims: There can still be a dispute over who’s right, but once enough evidence is collected they can determine the correct answer, shake hands and go have a beer together. Religion has come up with two ways to resolve disputes: 1. Go to war, survivor is right. 2. Ignore the dispute. You’re both right – in a way. (known as “tolerance”) The result is that religion really hasn’t changed that much in two thousand years and won’t change much in another two thousand while science is constantly building up more and more knowledge. And that’s why I prefer scientific thinking.

Posted: January 26th 2008

See all questions answered by Stefan


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