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Simplicity, divine

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K094-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 16, 2024, from

Article Summary

To be complex is to have many parts. To be simple is to have few. Theists of all religious traditions have asserted that God is completely simple – that is, has no parts of any sort. A contemporary statement of this doctrine of divine simplicity would add that God is identical with each of his intrinsic attributes. Thus if God is omnipotent and omniscient, for example, then he is identical with omnipotence and omniscience (and so these attributes are also identical). The doctrine’s popularity across traditions may rest on theists’ shared convictions that God is the ultimate reality, perfect, and creator of all that is not himself, and on the fact that many theists have thought that each of these claims entails the doctrine of divine simplicity. It may also rest on strands of mystical experience common to many traditions.

The doctrine has played an important part in ontological arguments for the existence of God because of its assertion of the identity of God with God’s nature (if the latter in some sense exists, so must the former). Indeed, divine simplicity is near the conceptual core of classical theism; it is one chief reason classical theists think God immutable, impassible, timeless and wholly distinct from the universe. Many who oppose divine simplicity do so because of these other doctrines it entails. Other recent critics have charged that divine simplicity makes God a mere abstract entity or requires him to have all his attributes necessarily or all contingently.

Citing this article:
Leftow, Brian. Simplicity, divine, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K094-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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