Been There, Done That; Creating the Anthropocentric Relatable God

The essay that follows is from a collection of writings I’ve been working on since the summer of 2021. The collection is entitled Schrodinger’s God and nearly all the essays deal with paradoxes, contradictions, inconsistencies, and just plain old absurdities with regard to concepts of God or gods that I have come across. Like the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment that was conceived to illustrate what Erwin Schrodinger felt was an untenable implication of the superposition principle, Schrodinger’s God is my attempt to illustrate untenable implications of certain claims, beliefs, tenets, and principles concerning god concepts, particularly omni-god concepts.

There is a scene in the 2015 movie Avengers: Age of Ultron in which Tony Stark in his Iron Man armor is chasing after Ultron after the fight on the ship that Ulysses Klaue was using to store his weapons and vibranium stock. Finally cornering Ultron against one of the ships, Ultron says, “Ah, the vibranium is getting away.” Stark responds, “And you’re not going anywhere!” To which Ultron quips, “Of course not. I’m already there. You’ll catch on.”

I particularly like that brief exchange because it illustrates, for me, that even in worlds with overt gods, people with incredible powers, and highly intelligent robots, humans – even supposedly really smart humans – tend to think very linearly and temporally. I am particularly impressed that the Avengers writers came up with that nugget because for the most part our understanding and depictions of how other entities must operate and behave tends to be informed by, and limited by, our own abilities within the world. As such, when we imagine other entities – elves, vulcans, cylons, terminators, predators, xenomorphs, androids, and yes, even gods – they tend to have an awful lot of similarities to us humans. In many cases, they look like us except for some minor physical distinguishing characteristic: ridges on their foreheads, a single eye, pointy ears, furry feet, a dog-like muzzle, slight height advantage, and so forth. Part of this, of course, is that in visual media such as television and movies, it’s easier and cheaper to have your “others” look human-ish because it’s a heck of lot more expensive using high-end technological special effects rather than human actors with rubber foreheads. But even back in ancient times before TV and movies, this was how most people thought of non-human heroes, enemies, and gods, right? Look at the depictions of Zeus, Athena, Anubis, Poseidon, Buddha, Vishnu, Izanagi, and so forth. All are very human in appearance and they all are depicted in writings as having rather human-esque physical and mental limitations. Sure, they are described as being able to do some pretty amazing things relative to humans, but they are all still relatable in terms of their actions, perspectives, and most of all, appearance. None of them come across as alien or incomprehensible in any sense. I submit, they are all reflections of a very human perspective and a desire for gods and creators that are, on most levels, relatable and comprehensible and above all, human-centric. Even depictions of the Christian God reflect this treatment. Check out the paintings by Jacob Herreyns, Fra Bartollomeo, Pietre De Grebber, and the somewhat more famous Michelangelo and his work on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

It makes sense that most folk throughout history would envision gods and other powerful beings in mostly familiar human forms. The fact is, most stories and depictions of such entities were created for the expressed purpose of a) telling stories about humans, and thus present the gods and other such entities as a human-focused supporting cast, b)  providing people a sense of importance and, specifically, demonstrating that humans were closer in design and authority to gods than to the other animals and other aspects of creation, and c) to provide powerful and iconic, but relatable and comprehensible, fictionalized characters for humans to elevate heroic, tragic, dramatic, and magical stories above the mundane elements of human existence that would then better highlight morals, ideals, and lessons the authors wished to get across.

For the most part this is ok if your gods are simply super-humans with super abilities for specific jobs. I mean, if you’re going to present a story about the virtues of war culture and warriors, having a God of War who exhibits all the qualities of what was considered the finest combat prowess, who looks like a big human, and who is depicted curb stomping those considered your enemies, well that’s just a pretty good rallying idea. It’s very relatable and inspiring. Going for the abstract has a tendency cause your audience’s eyes to glaze over. If you’re trying to depict the concept of love and fertility among your followers, having something called “the Goddess of Love” depicted as a beautiful young human female makes sense. If the Goddess of Love were depicted to look like a squid or catbrier, people might be a little turned off. So yes, having your super-human entities look human makes sense.

But what about Ultimate Creator gods? What about monotheistic omni-gods? As noted, there are depictions of the Christian God as an old, white-haired, human king type person, but does this depiction make sense?

First, let’s tackle what I mean by “omni-god”. A little history is in order to appreciate the concept. That history starts with the recognition that the Earth can be a pretty scary place at times. Back in ancient times when humans huddled together in small nomadic bands and tribal groups and didn’t have much understanding about the properties and characteristics of things like wind, fire, water, electricity, storms, the sun, earthquakes, volcanoes, snow, seasons, and all manner of other phenomena, people in those groups tried their best to make sense of the phenomena and come up with explanations for them. Those people’s imaginations ran wild and they came up with all sorts of concepts: wind being the breath of ancestors or demons or the result of the flapping of wings of giant invisible bird-like creatures; earthquakes being the stomping of giant beasts or the sound of fights between giant humans; the sun being carried across the sky by a great human herald in a boat, and so forth. In other words, to make sense of these strange activities, the people tried to relate them to activities they did understand. In many cases, the activities these people most related to were human activities, so a lot of explanations for the unknown were associated with human actions. And since the explanations were associated with human actions, in many cases the beings they imagined as the actors in those explanations were imagined to be similar to humans in appearance and behavior. Over time, the human-like entities and spirits that were used to explain specific activities and events were expanded in scope into beings responsible for a wider range of activities. So, the gods and spirits of the fields or the rivers became gods of all flora and gods of all the waters. Later, these entities and their stories were reimagined and revamped again, with the god of all flora becoming the god of all life and the god of all waters becoming the god of all elements. And the more responsibility these gods and entities were given, the more powers they were given and more powerful in general they became. Of interest, as they gained more power and became more powerful, they were also depicted as larger in size and physical strength. Some of the names of the Hebrew gods of the Old Testament such Ail, Shaddai (the plural of Shad), and Elohim all include “mighty” and “powerful” as part of their meaning. Eventually folks started bundling the various god concepts or simply absorbing the characteristics of other cultures’ entities into few very powerful, multitasking entities. These depictions ultimately gave rise to the monotheistic omni-god concepts of Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, and Judaism.

So what do I mean by “omni-god”? Well, an omni-god is a god with omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence. In other words, an omni-god is a god that is all powerful, is or can be everywhere at once, and knows or is aware of everything and anything that can be known.

Here’s the thing though: although adherents have a tendency to treat their omni-gods as pretty much superpowered specialized human-esque entities, the conditions and characteristics that would be inherent in the “omni” aspect of omni-gods would include or at least imply consequential parameters and boundaries in terms of the entities’ manifestations and their ability to relate to and interact with the world and the universe in general. And I submit that such entities not only would not look at all human, but could not even remotely resemble anything living we could relate to. An omni-entity that could create a universe – the universe we can see and experience to some limited extent – likely could not have a physical form at all and certainly could not exist, in any physical sense, within that universe It created. An entity that could create the universe we can experience would have to be completely beyond human comprehension. As a very weak analogy, it would like a person who creates a massive, football field sized HO scale railroad model and accompanying towns and other details trying to live in that model. That person just could not do so based on physical (and likely mental and emotional and all sorts of other) constraints. From a logical standpoint, an omni-god existing within its own creation is simply an inconsistency. More so, trying to imagine such an entity in a relatable physical form creates an inherent contradiction; a conceptually All Powerful, limitless entity cannot have physical form because, by definition, “physical form” is a definitive limit.

This, of course, is very specifically what I mean by the term “Schrodinger’s God”. Concepts of God or gods that include these types of inconsistencies and inherent contradictions are concepts I cannot accept as valid. The essays to follow go into more details on some of contradictions, paradoxes, and inconsistencies I’ve come across and why I find them untenable.

56 thoughts on “Been There, Done That; Creating the Anthropocentric Relatable God

  1. Kantian Naturalist: CharlieM: And one of the Egyptian Myths that came to the fore is the Osiris, Isis, Horus myth. An Egyptian Holy Trinity.

    Kantian Naturalist: Yeah, that’s what the Christians copied it from.

    How could you think otherwise? If you do not believe in the reality of Christ you are hardly going to accept any validity concerning the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And you are unlikely to regard myths as carrying a deeper meaning foretelling how world events will unfold.

    Steiner’s book, Christianity As Mystical Fact lays out an argument that the “Mystery of Golgotha” was an actual world event which was pre-empted in the rituals of ancient mystery cults.

    These procedures allowed for a select few to be initiated, but they were a closely guarded secret and it was forbidden to reveal them to the masses. But certain truths could be disseminated in the form of myth.

    The Mysteries by Andrew Welburn, is a guide to Steiner’s writings and lectures on this subject.

    In his ordinary life of thought, based on the senses and what may be inferred from them, man worships gods of his own making, or-when he finds this out-is driven to disclaim them. The mystai, however, are aware of their god-making; and they understand the reasons why they do so. They have won through, as we should say, to the underlying laws which govern the process of making gods…

    Where they (the initiates) found the figure of some divinity worshipped by the people, or a myth being told, they looked for a higher truth.

    The myth tellers were all drinking from the same fountain.

    In the events at the beginning of Christianity what was once a closely guarded secret was thought to have been betrayed, and made available for all.

  2. “There’s a distinction between merely negating a determinate concept and affirming a logically incompatible but also fully determinate concept. The concept of “immateriality” is just “not material”. It tells what this kind of existence isn’t, not what it is.”

    That is the beauty of it. The immaterial can only be understood as the negation of the material. It cannot be understood as a thing as opposed to another thing. How does the concept of immateriality arise in a mind that is supposedly only material? Unless perhaps because there is a part of a person that is immaterial.

    There’s nothing in evolutionary theory which entails that organisms couldn’t evolve that can master negation as a logical operator and apply it to concepts that they use to cope with their environments.

    There seems to be only one organism that supposedly has a need to master negation as a logical operator in order to cope with its environment. Out of curiosity, just how does negation as a logical operator impact this organism’s ability to cope with its environment?

    Rather it seems negation as a logical operator speaks to quality of life, not life or death. Aah, talking about quality. It brings back memories of reading Persig’s story of going insane because he couldn’t grasp the thing of Quality. Is this perhaps what happens when we try to think of God as a thing and fail so we drop the idea altogether in order to avoid going insane?

    Imagination in conjunction with planning behavior is widely seen in lots of animals. The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul is very good on this. It doesn’t answer all the questions but it advances our understanding considerably.

    I haven’t read the book. But experience tells me that Jablonka like any other evolutionary theorist will not explain the origins of any cognitive capability without reference to evolutionary pressure, which is storytelling masquerading as science. Evolutionists have always needed to anthropomorphize evolution to sell it to the masses and this volume is most likely no different. But to be sure, any comparative study between any animal to Man will always result in the realization that our capabilities far exceed any perceived need to survive or (when moving the goalposts) adjust to our environment.

    What happens to the distinction between fiction and fact, on this view? Is Middle Earth true because Tolkien imagined it?

    Jesus alluded to this. “If you had the faith of a mustard seed you could say to the mountain “Go into the sea” and it would obey you.” Without doubt a skeptic will scoff at this notion as fiction, a power created in the imagination that has no connection to reality. Until it does.

    Your question is a good one, though. So the follow up to that would be to ask what criteria is necessary for a concept that is considered fiction to be transformed into reality and when will some fiction always be fiction.

  3. Steve: That is the beauty of it. The immaterial can only be understood as the negation of the material. It cannot be understood as a thing as opposed to another thing. How does the concept of immateriality arise in a mind that is supposedly only material? Unless perhaps because there is a part of a person that is immaterial.

    “Nothing” is immaterial, is it not?

  4. Kantian Naturalist:
    CharlieM: They certainly would have had a greater connection with nature than the average Westerner of today. How many people today would be able to distinguish between a filed of wheat and a field of oats or even know where the bread they pick up from the supermarket came from? We are becoming more and more detached from nature.

    Kantian Naturalist: Well, the complexity of the global economy makes it almost impossible to know the answer to “where does our bread come from?” — is it made from wheat grown in the Ukraine? Or Canada? Or somewhere that most Americans can’t even find on a map?

    I’m not talking about particular sack of wheat, I am talking about the process in general of getting from seed planting to the loaf on the shelf. Where do the ingredients come from? What purpose do the seeds serve apart from their role in bread production? That sort of thing.

    CharlieM: But apart from having such shared practical knowledge, in times long past the lives and customs of the people were determined by the tribe or clan to which they belonged. Very few people would have had literal skills but they would have had a more direct wisdom.

    Kantian Naturalist: I don’t see how the second sentence is supposed to follow from the first.

    It doesn’t have to follow. These are just two aspects of the life of humans in ancient times.

    CharlieM: We have to be very careful in transplanting the minds of modern people into the minds of ancient peoples. The way they thought would have been very different from our way of thinking.

    Kantian Naturalist: How do know this? What’s your evidence that their “way of thinking” was different just because they didn’t have our level of technological development?

    Because the way we live our lives affects how we think. Literacy would be a factor. Our gradual disconnection from nature which is more exponential than linear affects the way we think.

    CharlieM: To equate things you must first see them as separate. Such separation was meaningless to the people who used these words.

    Kantian Naturalist: How do you know this?

    By the way the words themselves were used. They made no distinction between these processes and so there was no need to use separate words.

    CharlieM: These modern skills are purely for human comfort and benefit. Even if they are designed for the benefit of one section of society over another. So far little thought has gone into concern for the planet as a whole. It is a fact that our modern culture treats the earth as a dead lump of matter whilst draining the life out of it.

    Kantian Naturalist: Yep, that’s what capitalism does.

    That is what a one-sided capitalism does, for sure. There is nothing wrong with letting the entrepreneurs who are adept at making profit make that profit, as long as this profit is recycled for the benefit of the whole community and not allowed to accumulate as the sole property of those who are making the profit.

    Steiner had the idea of basing money on perishables rather than things such as gold which can just sit in vaults doing nothing for as long as the owner wishes.

    When someone’s wealth is based on perishables they use it or lose it.

  5. Food provenance. Easy enough to put such information on a label. The EU has been increasingly strict on that.

  6. CharlieM: Because the way we live our lives affects how we think. Literacy would be a factor. Our gradual disconnection from nature which is more exponential than linear affects the way we think.

    How do you know that literacy has had this effect? What about other possible causes of the same effect?

    By the way the words themselves were used. They made no distinction between these processes and so there was no need to use separate words.

    From the fact that they didn’t distinguish between words that we think are distinguishable, it doesn’t follow that they didn’t distinguish the processes that we distinguish by the words that we use. For all we know, they could have used whole phrases to distinguish between aspects of their experience that we keep distinct by using single words. I mean, I think Jaynes and Snell are just basically mistaken about how language works: the meaning of a word consists in the inferences that it’s used in, not in what aspects of the world it is used to label.

    That is what a one-sided capitalism does, for sure. There is nothing wrong with letting the entrepreneurs who are adept at making profit make that profit, as long as this profit is recycled for the benefit of the whole community and not allowed to accumulate as the sole property of those who are making the profit.

    Profit that is recycled back into the community and not accumulated as private property is simply not profit. What you asking for is a sheer contradiction in terms.

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