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?


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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-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 29, 2013
"Most Christians believe that it is impossible for a human to truly do good without selfish motive. Only God can. (See Pelagius and the doctrine of free will )."

Except that God gave humans free will in order that we could *choose* to love him. He was insecure about having followers that were forced into it.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 20, 2013
I'm pretty sure God has a sense of humor. Actually, I'm pretty sure that's all God has.... that and a knack for Science.
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 14, 2013
I think the believe in god as a human-like figure or personality is simply a result of stunning arrogance of mankind. We are only one of millions of creatures to have roamed this world, yet we see ourselves as the only one that matters, the ultimate one, and even the one that mirrors a god. We are just a blip in the geological timeline that will pass. Our supposed superior intelligence is just an evolved defense mechanism for self preservation. One that is quite self destructive and unstable, after which evolution will write it off as a failed experiment and the next species can try again. Even if we maximize our self destruction capabilities and launch all our nuclear power, it will barely scratch the surface of the planet. The planet's been through far worse. Give it a few 100k years and all will be good again for the next species.

Our arrogance that somehow this planet and even the universe evolves around us insignificant flees doesn't even end at religion, it even prevails in science. Where we keep the universe and its rules accountable to our limited set of logic.

Einstein was right, there really is no end to the stupidity and arrogance of men.
Oct 12, 2013
Exactly which Hindu God are we talking about here. It is common knowledge In India that the Hindus have 360 million Gods, each with a very unique personality. :-)
Oct 11, 2013
in Hindu scriptures god has been exactly like that. He is describe as "Nirguna" (meaning one without any positive or negative qualities).
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 10, 2013
If you ascribe love to chemical interactions within your brain then you do not understand love. You understand physical longing and chemical dependence; things that God would not have for us.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 10, 2013
The book of Hebrews says Jesus is the exact representation of God. He had personality.
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 10, 2013
arunv_inc said, "Imagine God creates a genuine amnesia for himself. Would he ever recover from it?"

I think you are on to something that no one else so far has touched upon. Its more like a Hindu way of looking at things. And yes, when there are 1 billion plus Hindus on the planet, and arguably practitioners of the oldest surviving religion of today, you can call it belief in a traditional God.

Go read this: http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/mistic/mistic_04.htm

It's taken from Allan Watts, who in my opinion, was a much better philosotainer than Scott.
It's a little lengthy, so I'll summarize for those who just want the punch line:

Some people think of the universe as being created by God (Christian/Muslim/Jew/etc.).

Others think it's all just a bunch of stuff (e.g., Big Bang, laws of physics, etc.), and randomly we appeared. (I think Scott roughly fits into this category).

Or there is a third way. The universe is a drama and God is playing all the parts. Only He plays it so well that He forgets He is the actor. Eventually, He is just you and me, sitting in front of this keyboard, typing away.

My favorite quote from the link:

"Jesus knew he was God.

Wake up and find out eventually who you really are. In our culture, of course, they'll say you're crazy or you're blasphemous, and they'll either put you in jail or in the nut house (which is the same thing).

But if you wake up in India and tell your friends and relations,
"My goodness, I've just discovered that I'm God," they'll laugh and say, "Oh, congratulations, at last you found out."

+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 10, 2013
Although most of the commentary here has been mild mannered, I'd like to share a beautifully sarcastic disclaimer from Barry Ritholtz's blog. Something about it seems appropriate whenever I read Scott's postings of the DMD variety :

"Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous."
Oct 10, 2013
"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

There is a semantic problem in that we use a single word "love" to describe a wide variety of emotions and behaviors that have very different purposes and 'chemical reaction' causes. Luckily we do have other words to more properly classify all the things we call love.

The one Scott describes above lets call 'affinity'. This is pretty basic. Not only do nearly all living things exhibit some sort of affinity, but most forms of matter. I'd say that God exhibits affinity as well, but if so it probably can be attributed to some universal law, rather than a 'personality trait'.

Another type of love we can call 'empathy', which not every person has. It is the ability to experience joy and misery vicariously. I'd say that it is a virtue, rather than a flaw, to be able to anticipate the needs of other people, and be motivated to meet those needs by something other than guilt (which is a flaw). Most Christians believe that God has perfect empathy for all his creations, which is why we would expect him to get pretty angry when people do things that cause pain. If God does have empathy, then the real mystery is why he would create anything even capable of feeling pain.

The last type of love Christians call 'charity', and regard it as the highest virtue and one of the principle characteristics of God. The reason why it is so noble is that it is completely unselfish in its nature. People don't exhibit charity to avoid guilt or even vicarious pain. They do it because they are motivated by the good of someone else.

There are people in this world who exhibit real charity. If you want to know the personality of God, it would be worthwhile getting to know some of them.
Oct 10, 2013
"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"

What's Scott's position on consciousness, again?

"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"

What? That's romantic love. The kind usually attributed to go is more like ... valuing their feelings or something. Love they neighbour as thyself and all that.

"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"

The religious position is that, in fact, it all works out in the end. For example, there's an afterlife.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 10, 2013
If God has no social needs then why does he demand we worship him?
Oct 10, 2013
I think the logical flaw in your argument is that you are conflating God being a "higher" being with God being a "perfect" being.

What if the proper analogy is that God is like a teenage boy and we are like mice in his aquarium? As mice, we don't understand much beyond the urge to eat, excrete and procreate. So, when the teenager pokes us with a pencil eraser, we have trouble fitting that behavior into the three urges we know about. The pencil poking teenager has power over our lives, and operates on a higher cognitive plane than we understand, but he is far from being defect-free.
Oct 10, 2013
[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]

So Scott, you don't believe in God, but somehow you're still an expert on what He might find important?
Oct 10, 2013
[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.) ]

I think we agree to a point. That's why I said in my first post that it was a zero sum argument. If God exists He wouldn't be explainable in human terms. If God isn't explainable in human terms, then no description of Him is an argument for His existence.

One can hypothesize the personality of God just as one can hypothesize the personality of unicorns. Neither will reach a very good argument for or against their existence.
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 10, 2013
If there is a God, he's probably laughing his butt off over all these "believers" who think they understand/know him. Good, funny chain of comments. Thanks, Scott.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 10, 2013

"Vanity, vanity, all is vanity" was written by the psalmist many centuries ago. Thanks Scott for recognizing and commenting on that.

Oct 10, 2013
Assuming monotheism, God cannot have a personality, since a personality is only defined relative to some "norm", i.e. some kind of average behaviour. If there is only one God, there is nothing to compare him to, so he cannot have a personality.

By giving him a personality, in general we're comparing him to ourselves, which seems somewhat presumptuous.

Greek or Roman gods on the other hand, could have personalities because there were quite a few of them - though from what I've read, they were basically just people with super powers. This places the Christian god in rather a shaky middle ground between Roman / Greek style anthropomorphic gods, and an abstract, god-as-laws-of-physics. One foot in either camp (if God has feet, that is)
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 10, 2013
Wow, someone clearly went out of there way to downvote GovBert's simple answer to the question down to -666 :) (FYI the number of the beast from revelations is actually 616, 666 was a mistranslation - or so QI tells me anyway).

I think it is interesting that Scott didn't address "Love" in his post since it is the trait most commonly attributed to God (from the religious side anyway).

Assuming God does exist - in the Judeo-Christian model - then He is Omnipotent and Omniscient and the creator of everything. Including Personality, Physics, Reason etc... so trying to find proof within those spheres is pointless. Take another of Scott's regular theories - We are all in a computer simulation. Now assuming the simulation is very well written - even perfectly written. Would we be able to find any evidence of the simulation? Surely any evidence of the simulation would be a bug. So a perfect simulation would be undetectable from the inside. Therefore a perfect Deity is undetectable from the inside. Now said Deity may choose to make Itself known in the simulation. run Salvation(). But depending on the nature of this program the outcome may still not be determinable.

+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 10, 2013
Scott, it shouldn't come as a surprise that if you apply human concepts to a non-human entity that you end up with a contradiction.

Any personality trait God might have would be non-human, and therefore fail your assumption that it must come with a defect.
And we wouldn't be able to identify such a personality trait, because it is beyond our comprehension.

I'm not actually religious, but I know that such logic is considered fair game for those that are.
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