Michael Dowd on the personification of reality

Michael Dowd is one of the few people with the title of “Reverend” whose views on reality I find interesting.  His motto is, “reality is my God, evidence is my scripture.”

The other day, I did a post asking what religion is, and wondering whether science wasn’t itself a religion.  It’s hard to listen to Dowd and not conclude that science is in fact his religion.  He doesn’t say it explicitly in this video, but he’s written elsewhere that he regards scientists as modern day prophets, seeing the warnings of climatologists about global warming as essentially the same as the warnings from Old Testament prophets that disaster loomed if people didn’t clean up their act.

His views remind me, to some extent, of the views of early scientists during the scientific revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries, who viewed the Bible as the Book of Scripture, and the external world as the Book of Nature.  For these early scientists, scientific investigation was essentially working to read the Book of Nature.  Dowd’s religious view seems to be to regard the two books as one and the same, looking upon the books we have historically regarded as scripture to be simply older understandings of the Book of Nature.

I do think Dowd is right about how belief in God, gods, and spirits developed, but I’m not convinced that his personification understanding is the one ancient believers had by the time the religious stories and narratives we have today developed.  The actions of the gods in most of those stories are far too anthropomorphic to be only personifications of nature, even if that was how they started.

Still, while I don’t personally find the language that compelling, this is a version of religious belief whose view of reality I can say that I agree with.  If someone wants to refer to that reality as God, and evidence as their scripture, the only real drawback I can see is confusion with the more traditional meanings of those words.  However, there are many conceptions of “God” out there, and Dowd’s version has been around, more or less, since at least the time of Spinoza, so it’s hard to call it invalid.

The real question for me is whether religious people find this view compelling.  Dowd doesn’t talk about an afterlife or providence.  This makes his descriptive view of reality similar to, if not identical with, that of humanists, atheists, and agnostics.  Once someone gives up on concepts like heaven and prayer, I wonder how much emotional appeal remains for using religious language to refer to natural concepts.

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14 Responses to Michael Dowd on the personification of reality

  1. Your post was superb. I watched the video and I concur with your assessment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. libraues says:

    Reblogged this on Lev Janashvili and commented:
    Very compelling ideas. Worth studying closely. Reality is my “God” too, and I don’t believe in God.

    Like

  3. amanimal says:

    I 2nd ‘N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ’ appraisal. I always enjoyed Dowd on HuffPost in that if this non-believer were to ever decide to join a congregation it would likely have to be his. It’s unfortunate that his message may have the limited appeal you question as evidenced by the growth and spread of more fundamentalist orientations.

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    • Thanks amanimal. I agree. I wouldn’t mind if Dowd’s outlook prevailed, but from a pure marketing perspective, I think it suffers from not having the emotional satisfaction of more traditional religious outlooks, or the bracing intellectual clarity of straight up non-belief.

      It’s like the old store chains that weren’t the highest end boutiques, but also weren’t as discounted as Walmart; some people preferred those mid-price stores, but most gravitated toward the extremes, and the mid-price stores suffered. Markets, be they retail or religious, seem to reward the extremes.

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      • amanimal says:

        Yes, I would think that God-as-entity is simply a better fit cognitively, thus the emotional appeal, than God-as-reality, which like Tillich’s “ground of being” is more than a bit on the amorphous side. Pascal Boyer would likely describe it as not setting off our innate inference systems as effectively or as abundantly as more orthodox envisionings do.

        I’m reading, as we speak/type, a summary of Harvey Whitehouse’s ‘Modes of Religiosity’ where he says that the repetitive nature of the dissemination of the orthodox/traditional puts any variation at a huge disadvantage as well – section 1.5 page 8.

        ‘Modes of Religiosity’ – summary, Whitehouse 2002
        https://www.icea.ox.ac.uk/fileadmin/ICEA/ICEA_publication_pdfs/HW_2002_Modes_of_Rel__cognitive_explanation.pdf

        Who knows though, stranger things have come to pass.

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  4. James Pailly says:

    This makes a lot of sense to me. I think my understanding of God is that He is a personification of the entire universe. Then again, I am by no means representative of religious people, as one of my Christian fundamentalist friends rather sternly explained to me a few months ago.

    I enjoyed the part about interpretive personification in terms of whenever we’re told “God says this” or “God did that.” I will keep this in mind the next time I read the Bible. There are a great many biblical passages that kind of frustrate me, but perhaps if I keep this concept of personification in mind, the difficult parts of the Bible will make a little more sense.

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  5. Michael Dowd says:

    fyi… for those interested, I go more deeply into “personification” here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-michael-dowd/god-is-a-personification-_b_2866764.html

    Liked by 2 people

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