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What's the difference between a typical religious view of God versus a skeptical view in which there is nothing to the universe but matter and the laws of physics?

Answer: personality

The religious view is that God has a personality of sorts, albeit one that is often unfathomable. And that means God has some sort of intentions, ambitions, goals, or whatever the God version of those impulses might be. If God had none of those impulses, he would just float in space doing nothing.

The problem with the idea that God has a human-like personality is that human personalities are nothing but weaknesses and defects that we romanticize. For example, I might be kind to others because I want them to be nice to me, or perhaps I simply feel guilty when I'm not nice. God wouldn't have feelings of guilt and he wouldn't need a strategy just to be loved. He would have everything he needed all the time. Logically, God couldn't have a personality in the sense that humans do because our personalities are expressions of our defects and our DNA and our neediness.

For example, if you're ambitious, that's a romantic way of saying you're afraid of failure, or you're greedy, or you want to impress someone. God would not need any of that. Pick any human personality trait and it is either trivial or it is based on some sort of human limitation.

Even your sense of humor is based on a brain limitation. As a professional humorist, I make my living by writing thoughts that the normal human brain can't process without a hiccup that triggers a laugh response. God wouldn't have a sense of humor because he always knows how the joke ends, and no idea gives him a hiccup when processing a thought.

You can pick any personality trait and find the human defect that is behind it. Are you a highly social person? It probably means you have a fear of being alone, or you're so needy that you have to have the approval of others to feel right. Would the creator of universe have social needs? It seems unlikely.

If you agree that God wouldn't have a human-like personality and human-like needs and ambitions, you end up with a God who is indistinguishable from the sum of the laws of physics.

Language is part of the problem. Did God personally dictate every word in the holy books, or did the laws of physics guarantee that the particles in the universe would bump around until those books were written by someone? If you take away the human personality from God - because it makes no sense that he would have one - then God can still be the "author" of the holy books because he is the sum of all physical laws in the universe. The only difference between a religious and a skeptical interpretation is the choice of words.

My question of the day is this: If you believe in a traditional God, what personality traits do you think he or she possesses that are not based on defects?

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My new book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, will be released October 22nd but you can preorder on Amazon.

 




 
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+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 10, 2013
The difference between a religious view of God and the skeptical view is not only personality, but first of all a consciousnessness. The fact that all these laws of physics are the doing of a conscious being. The question if this being has some kind of personality comes second.
I respect that you're trying to bring together the religious and the non-religuous, but you're skipping a step.

[Why would a God need human-like consciousness? My computer operates perfectly without consciousness. Consciousness seems like something that puny humans find important but a God would not. -- Scott]
 
 
Oct 10, 2013
Scott, I only disagree with you on one point. Namely you say that our personality traits are expressions of our defects.
It seems more logical to me, that our personality traits are evolutionary adaptations for survival in the original hunter-gatherer environment.
Ambition => more food => more mates => more offspring => more humans with the ambition gene
Sociability => more friends => more help when you're in trouble & more alliances => more mates => more offspring


On this topic I highly recommend the book:
"The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology " by Robert Wright
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2013
Maye be God's personality, if at all, involves love and total absence of other emotions?

[Love in humans is just a chemical reaction that keeps us together for procreation. It's little more than the exotic cousin of horniness. I can't see God needing any of that. -- Scott]
 
 
Oct 9, 2013
If there is one thing that the story of my life proves, it's that God has a sense of humor.

Or you could point to the platapus.
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2013
If God = logos = reason then I think that a lot of "personality" traits attributed to him (especially in religious texts) are simply consequences of logic (and by extrapolation all creation as all creation is logic-based): "anger" and "jealousy" and "wrath" and "justice" etc. Take, for example, midwestern pastors blaming tsunamis and volcanoes on the wrath of God for people being idiots: people are/have been/can be idiots, and tsunamis and volcanoes exist because of the way the natural world works -- those things are true, but not necessarily sequential to each other on the whole cause-and-effect chain.

That said I think there are reasons why "good" (pleasant? pleasing?) things happen when we act certain ways and "bad" (unpleasant, unpleasing?) things happen when we ask others. I.e. getting stabbed (act of violence) hurts. But also stubbing your toe (act of neutrality) hurts. Maybe violence is just personal science. God's impartiality and impersonality just implies a different kind of person.

My hope is that the human tendency of attributing personality to God is/was our way of trying to know/learn/find out more about bigger things -- projecting; using our empathy and imagination as best we can in our ever-not-educated-enough, self-centered ways. I can see why that has been dangerous in religious circles because it means we imagine ourselves as (our ideas of) God before we imagine God as ourselves: what would I do if I, an emotional being, could wield and navigate those emotions in completely reasonable ways? It's easier for me to imagine what it's like for people who are more like me. And if I am a small finite emotionally-broiling thing, and God is a big infinite impersonal thing, then of course God is probably the last thing I can possibly relate to. Can a small emotional creature like myself act as rationally as the logos of the universe? This sounds like a question Star Trek can answer.

Empathy and imagination are good tools, only they become limited when self-centered instead of others-centered. "What would Jesus do" was a good start, except we forgot that if Jesus was really God was really the logos (i.e. John 1:1), that simple little tagline should lead us to much bigger questions.

A question I have: what about beauty? There is some element of excess and frivolity that I might be inclined to call personality. Fashion, decor, art, taste in physical things -- even these really are ultimately tools, springing out of emotional defects; the need for difference is a tool for growth itself (I am thinking of things like flowers and tropical bird mating rituals as well as things like eyeliner, high heels, and even art for cultural change). Maybe God's personality is whatever's behind that concept of difference and frivolity -- because there's something fun to it.

A question to that point: is all fun ultimately the same personality? Is there a point (if/when we are all past our emotional defects) where fun becomes objective?

A nostalgic question: will beauty always be valuable/important and if so, why? or will our ideas of beauty simply change or disappear? Has the sun always been lovely? Our experience of it has been -- move the earth a little closer and it is suddenly our enemy. Even when that's the case, is something else at another distance still beautiful?
 
 
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2013
Got one more - seems I'm in hairsplitting mode this night.
Scott: "You can pick any personality trait and find the human defect that is behind it."
Not really. I think the reasonable statement is "You can pick any personality trait and think of a defect that might be causing it if it (the defect) exists in the person being tested."

Or: "You can pick any personality trait of an individual and think of a defect it might be worth testing him for."

But I don't think you have proven an "if trait x exists, defect y must exist as well" statement.

Still, if, in your last paragraph, you had asked for a trait that cannot possibly be caused by a flaw, I'm too cynical to think of one. But that still doesn't mean that every trait is necessarily caused by a flaw.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2013
Stovetop159: "For each trait there could be the corresponding "true" trait that doesn't need to compensate a flaw."

Ok, the state of the discussion as far as I understand it is then thus:
Scott appears to postulate that each personality trait is based on some sort of flaw ("human personalities are nothing but weaknesses and defects that we romanticize". He gives some examples of flaws that could cause personality traits but no logical proof that each trait is always caused by a flaw.

You state that it could be different and explain this by an example, using the term "orientation" in place of "trait".

So, we have personality traits, one stated set of reasons "flaws", but no proof that these are the only possible reasons. And a differing opinion. Yours.

An issue I have is with Scott's "The problem with the idea that God has a human-like personality" is that I'm missing a quantifier there. How human-like? I mean, this thing, being almighty, clearly causes each human to die. And most other living beings as well. How human-like is a killer of that class? How little empathy is there? And empathy is a common human trait. So, I'd say there is at least one huge inhuman trait in this god as well.

Also, I feel that Scott, having made the comparison, reduces god to the human-personality part and goes on talking only about those bits. There is no proof that god doesn't have other parts as well. For instance, those parts that we perceive as "human-like" could be human-like only because we don't get the full picture. Just like a baby perceives daddy beating mommy as unconditonally bad due to some simple voice triggers, while an adult would possibly see the illness (daddy being drunk due to alcoholism) and pity the father as well.

Summary: Nothing convincing yet on each side, just two hypotheses that are possible. (Assuming the base hypothesis that this thing called "god" actually exists in some religious sense.)
 
 
Oct 9, 2013
While it is certainly paradoxical:
The greatest perfection is imperfection.
 
 
Oct 9, 2013
[If you believe in a traditional God, what personality traits do you think he or she possesses that are not based on defects?]

Justice, Mercy, Grace

[God clearly doesn't have a human concept of justice because he lets good people suffer all the time. Humans need justice to protect the weak from the strong. God has no need for justice. Nor does the natural universe.

Nor does God demonstrate mercy in any way that one could say is consistent with how a human would display mercy. The word doesn't seem to apply.

Grace is by definition anything God does, so that doesn't count. -- Scott]
 
 
Oct 9, 2013
I'm just waiting for some celebrity (Jon Stewart?) to be accepting an award (Emmy, etc), whip out a bowl of spaghetti/meatballs and say: "& thanks to Him in whom all things are possible!"
 
 
Oct 9, 2013
I'm not sure if my belief in God is 'traditional', but here goes.

First I have to define 'god', with a small 'g', as any entity possessing free will. That is, a god is anything that can change even a small part of reality by exerting some willful action on it. Humans are gods.

Secondly God, with a big 'G', is that entity by whose willful action all lesser gods came to exist, or at least came to have free will.

As for the personality traits of God, it is tough to say from a limited perspective what that might mean. What is apparent though that He likes to create things, or bring order to things.

This is distinguishable from the known laws of physics, since there is no known process by which total entropy can be reduced. There is, however, a human desire to try anyway. This is our most godly attribute in my opinion; rage against the death of the universe.

 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2013
Booooo!

This is a bad post.

Maybe Scott should have asked, "If Noam Chomsky and Yoda were in a bar fight, who would solve the U.S. budget crisis first?"

Answer: blue

Just sayin'
 
 
Oct 9, 2013
God (in whom you don't believe), I so love it when you, an atheist, try to 'explain' to believers what God is. It's so much fun to see you flail around with your never-ending false syllogisms. Some people think your tedious return to topics that amount to brain flatulence are boring, but I think they're just a load of fun.

Let's examine this convoluted statement: "If you agree that God wouldn't have a human-like personality and human-like needs and ambitions, you end up with a God who is indistinguishable from the sum of the laws of physics."

Really? Which law of physics explains creation? Is there one I missed?

Entropy? Nope. Quantum mechanics? Nope. Why a watched pot never boils? Nope.

Darn. That pesky missing component is all that stands between you and your Nirvana - to wit, a totally meaningless existence. I cannot wait until you finally unveil your master explanation, and reveal how the universe created itself, created the laws of physics, and then created you: nothingness' most perfect not-really-there creature.

Give it up, Scott. The only thing more boring than this topic is meat robots. Let me help you out here, because I like you. Your entire argument, ad nauseum, is simply this:

"I, Scott Adams, do not believe in God."

Ta-daa!

Now that we've cleared that up and boiled it down to its most inessential, you can now leave this topic forever. You now can move on to something that might be a lot more fun to beat to death. So pick a different topic, and have at it.

Please.

 
 
Oct 9, 2013
Imagine God creates a genuine amnesia for himself. Would he ever recover from it?

 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2013
interesting. applying human traits to God. why would you do that? who is to say that, for the 'traditional God' you reference, when He made us in his own image that He didn't make us as RNA or DNA strands? or that He isn't still making us, through a process he invented called evolution, because he loves us and wants us to grow and change?

all of your trivial observations are meaningless. while my knowledge of God is limited, I rejoice in the knowledge that His love for us is limitless!

you need to ask yourself, Scott, why so many devoutly religious people, of so many different faiths, throughout the millenniums, have dedicated themselves to science. the obvious answer, is that they wanted to better understand the mind of God and His divine plan. the laws of physics are only a tiny portion of His totality. things you think of as separate, like time and thought and energy, are merely each another orthogonal axis of His being.

"I believe in one God, the father the almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Of all that is seen and unseen." for many, that is a clear and concise viewpoint of their belief in God. It has no personality in it whatsoever.

"Matter can neither be created nor destroyed."
"Energy is equal to mass times the square of the speed of light."
So where did it all come from? for purposes of your answer, use the definition of time as "that which keeps everything from happening all at once." unless you've evolved past the need for that construct.
 
 
Oct 9, 2013
@EMU

You are correctly focusing on what was admittedly sloppy, unclear, poor word choice on my part.

God would not have "a point" as in a means to our end. Otherwise we would necessitate His existence, not vice versa.

[And what does this "complete" "love" accomplish? I mean, how does it makes gods existence more "pointful"?]

Nothing necessary. That's the point I was trying to make. If God exists and has a personality it would be *pure* in the sense that it Is a desire to act in a way NOT founded in a need for something.
Hypothetically, grant Scott's premise that all our personality traits are based on flaws, (I don't agree btw.):

For each trait there could be the corresponding "true" trait that doesn't need to compensate a flaw.

As example: Scott's highly social trait is a compensation for fear of being alone. Then "true"-highly social trait would be an orientation toward social behaviour without the fear. So you wouldn't be diminishing a weakness (fear), but instead only reaping the pure benefits of social behaviour. And thus it would also follow that God would only have the personality traits that evoke *pure* benefits, which would then result in the Christian truism that God is good.

So that's the point I was trying to make. Like I said, you can call it all hogwash. But I don't really agree with Scott's premise anyway, so that's just my hypothetical rambling.
 
 
Oct 9, 2013

In the greater scheme of things there are no faults, no defects.
God comprises both, what we deem good and what we deem bad.

"We can no more halve things and get the sensual good, by itself, that we can get an inside that shall have no outside, or a light without a shadow."

"An inevitable dualism bisects nature.... Every sweet hath its sour; every evil its good.... A certain compensation balances every gift and every defect.... For every thing you have missed, you have gained something else; and for every thing you gain, you lose something.... As no man had ever a point of pride that was not injurious to him, so no man had ever a defect that was not somewhere useful to him.... Every man in his lifetime needs to thank his faults..."

"The true doctrine of omnipresence is, that God reappears with all his parts in every moss and cobweb..... If the good is there, so is the evil; if the affinity, so the repulsion; if the force, so the limitation.... A perfect equity adjusts its balance in all parts of life..."

From 'Compensation' - An essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unfortunately, this has little to do with traditional religion or traditional God.
 
 
Oct 9, 2013
Eons ago, I got an unintended laugh in a philosophy class when I suggested what we regard as irreducible principles are, in fact, arbitrary expressions of God's personal taste. That would make it pretty hard to discern God's personality, as we'd need to measure it against the universes he chose not to create.

What if the communicative property of addition (2 1=1 2) only works because God found that kind of symmetry attractive? Or gravity was a totally arbitrary tweak to an otherwise tidy universe because God wanted to arrange a few things in relation to each other? It's easy to say any alternatives are inconceivable with or without God, but that can easily be dismissed as a limitation of our own minds.

Point being, if God does have a personality as we use the term, it would be invisible to us because it's the default mode of the universe as we're able to comprehend it. Would the speed of light be different if God, say, had a more whimsical sense of humor?
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 9, 2013
Stovetop156: "the whole point of God is exactly that He loves *completely*"
This is an interesting statement.
What exactly do you mean by "the point of god"? Like, do you assume that the reason for gods existence is that he loves you? Like a sex robot you purchased by converting to some particular religion?
And what does this "complete" "love" accomplish? I mean, how does it makes gods existence more "pointful"?
 
 
Oct 9, 2013
brian_e

How is being *good* a "personality defect"?

craig1f

You, ah ... you don't have much practical experience of "religious people", I take it?
 
 
 
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