Cambridge University Press (forthcoming, 2024)

The Problem of Divine Personality

Andrew M. Bailey and Bradley Rettler


Abstract

The main question of this study is whether God has a personality. We show what the question means, why it matters, and that good sense can be made of an affirmative answer to it. A God with personality — complete with particular, sometimes peculiar, and even seemingly unexplainable druthers — is not at war with maximal perfection, nor is the idea irredeemably anthropomorphic. And the hypothesis of divine personality is fruitful, with substantive consequences that span philosophical theology. But problems arise here too, and new perspectives on inquiry itself. Our cosmos is blessed with weirdness aplenty. To come to know it is nothing less than to encounter a strange and untamed God.

Contents

We first introduce our central question: does God have a personality? We explain what the question means and distinguish it from other nearby questions concerning whether God is personal or is a person. In our hands, to ask whether God has a personality is to broadly ask whether God has, in sufficient quantity and strength, any of various candidate traits that concern aesthetic sense, attraction, introversion, risk function, tolerance, communication style, sense of self, or sense of humor. While some specifications of divine personality can plausibly be ruled out – they are internally inconsistent or at odds with orthodox theology – others, we say, are live possibilities.

We next remove abstract objections to the hypothesis of divine personality, as follows: In Section 2, we consider the objection that the divine personality hypothesis makes God all too much like us. For the traits in view are imperfections, or fail to properly contribute to perfection as a well-behaved divine attribute must. We respond that a God with a personality is a character, for sure. Taste and see – the Lord is weird. But a weird God can also be the God of Abrahamic monotheism, and the God of the philosophers. We reconcile perfect rationality with robust personality, in Section 3, by showing how God’s traits can and should figure into the explanation of all other things, and that positing them is not in conflict with the conviction that everything can be explained. We argue, in Section 4, that the divine personality hypothesis is consistent with the views that God is without parts and does not change. Indeed, we suggest that the divine personality hypothesis can aid the proponent of divine simplicity in articulating and defending her own views. Even the most strict and demanding of classical theists may affirm the meaningfulness and truth of divine personality.

Then we switch gears. In Sections 5 and 6 we show how the divine personality hypothesis connects to arguments for and against the existence of God. God may have traits, we say, that enhance certain responses to the argument from evil and the argument from hiddenness, and God’s traits themselves may serve as responses to an argument from unanswered prayer. God’s traits may furthermore support premises in several lesser-known arguments for the existence of God, like the argument from play and enjoyment, the argument from contingency, the fine-tuning argument, the argument from order and beauty and structure, and the Mozart argument. We trace, finally, paths from theism to the hypothesis of divine personality. God’s own perfection may require a creative personality, even if not any creative personality in particular.

We conclude in Section 7 with a meditation on the limits of our study and how they are to be overcome. Armchair philosophy, unaided by tradition or scripture or experience, can take us only so far. But one needn’t stop there, and we provide a case study of how deeper inquiry into divine personality might take form within a particular tradition, and a suggestion that science — study of the cosmos — can itself bring us into acquaintance with a strange and untamed God.