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#183 Attributes of God

October 18, 2010

Dear Dr. Craig,

I've been using "On Guard" to facilitate our adult Sunday School class. This is the second question that's come up as I read and study the book. In the chapter on Fine-Tuning, you make the statement, "... God is a remarkably simple entity." And, further, "a divine mind is startlingly simple." I have to admit I've never thought of God as being "simple." And the concept seems to be at odds with how I've always interpreted Scripture, where we read, for example, Paul's rhetorical question in I Corinthians and Romans (quoting Isaiah), "Who has known the mind of God?"

I wonder if describing God as a "simple entity" isn't perhaps an unnecessary attempt to align the steps of the Design or Cosmological arguments with Occam's razor. At any rate, if you could shed any additional light on this, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks!


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Dr. craig’s response


Attributes of God

After last week’s brobdingnagian[1] question, I hope I’ll be excused for taking a question of more lilliputian proportions this week!

The problem here, I’m sure, is that the word “simple” in English can mean “easy” or even “dumb,” so that to call God simple sounds rather like an insult. But “simple” can also mean “non-composite,” that is to say, not composed of parts, and this is the relevant sense here. An electron, for example, is a simple particle, whereas a proton is not, the latter being composed of quarks. The degree to which an entity is simple is the degree to which it is made up of potentially separable parts.

Far from being a misguided attempt to save the cosmological and design arguments, simplicity is one of the classic attributes of God! For example, the very first attribute of God which is discussed by Thomas Aquinas following his five proofs of God’s existence is God’s simplicity (Summa theologica pt. 1, ques. 3).

Attributes of God – An immaterial Mind is a simple being

Thomas upholds an extraordinarily strong doctrine of divine simplicity, arguing that God is utterly without composition of any sort. In my discussion of this divine attribute in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP, 2003), I reject Thomas’ very strong view in favor of a weaker form of divine simplicity. I see no reason, for example, to think that God’s essence and existence are the same.

Still, 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!

If you doubt this, then I invite you to explain the sense in which a pure mind is complex. What Richard Dawkins does is to confuse the mind itself with a mind’s thoughts. Certainly a mind’s thoughts can be complex, but a mind’s thoughts are not the mind itself (for a mind can cease to think its complex thoughts and contemplate something else instead).

So even if we accept the (erroneous) principle that an explanation, in order to be a good one, must be simpler than the thing to be explained, postulating a mind behind the universe, with all its variegated and contingent constants and quantities, does represent an advance in simplicity.

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    [1] Look it up in the dictionary—what a great word!

- William Lane Craig