Divine Simplity and OkCupid Complexity
If I’ve gotten my zero dollars’ worth from my OkCupid membership, it’s for the data more than the dates. (My scientist uncle suggests that five dates would be an adequate sample. I’ve been on two and am having trouble bringing myself to try a third.) The site seems aware of this bit of consolation; their official blog, OkTrends, is entirely devoted to statistical analysis of the poor, single suckers who posture and divulge whatever we think it will take to make someone want to care for us. Trolling over hundreds of profiles, I’ve learned quite a lot about—if not what women want, which would be useful—what women imagine that men want. I hate to say it, Second-Wave Feminism, but there are a lot of ’em just dying to bake cookies for Mr. Right. I don’t even like cookies that much. And, disconcertingly, there is far less stated interest in cleaning up afterward.
What brings me to OkCupid now, though, is a theological question: is God simple? It’s an oldie but goodie, an issue taken up in detail by Muslims (through the concept of tawhid, or “unity”), Christians (most famously in Aquinas’ Summa Theologica), and Jews (especially with Maimonides, also a major source for Aquinas). Now the matter has returned with special urgency, since simplicity is the crux of Richard Dawkins’ argument against God’s existence in his bestselling The God Delusion. He calls it “the ultimate Boeing 747.” Basically, the idea is that if somebody could do all the crazy things God does (creating the world and its inhabitants, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, etc.), God must be really, really complicated. To use God to explain complexity in the world, then, is nuts—God is the truly complex one, so God would require an explanation even more than the world does.
The philosophers and theologians who let themselves be bothered by Dawkins are up in arms. We’ve been saying all along that God is simple! If you’d bothered to actually read all the books we’ve been writing about this for hundreds of years, you’d know that the answer is, well, in a sophisticated and intricately-argued sort of way, simple. Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting recently reiterated this complaint over at The New York Times‘ excellent philosophy soapbox, The Stone.
So here’s where that otherwise useless dating site comes in. (Almost.) The idea that such a busy God could in fact, all along, be simple often rests on an analogy with people. Remember, God is traditionally thought of and portrayed as personal, and human persons are made in God’s image. The “I,” the “me,” am/is capable of lots of things, the argument goes, but at bottom it is unitary and singular. Neuroscience may suggest that personhood emerges out from complex biological systems, but some argue that the direction of emergence can be reversed: just as simple God orchestrates complex nature, a simple person orchestrates a complex nervous system. If we people can be simple, then it is all the more plausible that God could be too. Ask yourself: are you simple? Are we?
OkCupid has a pretty useful feature for taking a straw poll on this matter. The first question on the standard profile is “My Self-Summary,” and it provokes often-contorted responses as people try to squeeze all the wonders that they are into something quick and arresting. Crafting these is an art, really, as much an art as any theology. I’m interesting, you’ve got to say, but not so interesting as to be high-maintenance or as that I’ll talk too much or too little—but don’t get the wrong idea even about that because really, deep down, beneath all the accomplishments and boundless vivacity, I’m really just little old me.
Here—you’ve been very patient—are a few unscientific excerpts from the collective wisdom of women that the site’s marvelous algorithms think I should be interested in:
First can I say that summing up my life in a paragraph is much more difficult than I thought it would be
Lets see… Well, I’m a bit of a hybrid
I like people who know who they are and what makes them tick. I certainly do.
I am looking for someone who knows what they want and isn’t afraid to ask for it.
I think that it is incredibly difficult to describe yourself – but I will try my hardest.
These self-summarys tend to be redundant and often times rather inaccurate, but I’m very open to getting to know people! I am quixotic, bubbly, and complex
Hair dye and makeup bring me more joy than just about anything. Oh, the possibilities. 😉
hey! Armenian Jersey Girl here!!
My only two obsessions are The West Wing & the BBC Miniseries of Pride & Predjuice. Those might sum me up: I’m a realist & a romantic; an intellectual & a dreamer.
The pictures speak for themselves, no? 😉
God help me.
Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.