Saturday, September 15, 2001

God's Debris: God's Motivation

This particular chapter, from Scott Adams' God's Debris is worth reading and thinking about.  In my readings of various Stoic philosophers, this thought experiment is useful to have in the back of your mind.  And, if you have the time, I would highly recommend reading the book or listening to it on audio book.


“If you were God,” he said, “what would you want?”

“I don’t know. I barely know what I want, much less what God wants.”

“Imagine that you are omnipotent. You can do anything, create anything, be anything. As soon as you decide you want something, it becomes reality.”

I waited, knowing there was more.

He continued. “Does it make sense to think of God as wanting anything? A God would have no emotions, no fears, no desires, no curiosity, no hunger. Those are human shortcomings, not something that would be found in an omnipotent God. What then would motivate God?”

“Maybe it’s the challenge, the intellectual stimulation of creating things,” I offered.

“Omnipotence means that nothing is a challenge. And what could stimulate the mind of someone who knows everything?”

“You make it sound almost boring to be God. But I guess you’ll say boredom is a human feeling.”

“Everything that motivates living creatures is based on some weakness or flaw. Hunger motivates animals. Lust motivates animals. Fear and pain motivate animals. A God would have none of those impulses. Humans are driven by all of our animal passions plus loftier-sounding things like self-actualization and creativity and freedom and love. But God would care nothing for those things, or if he cared would already have them in unlimited quantities. None of them would be motivating.”

“So what motivates God?” I asked. “Do you have the answer to that question, or are you just yanking my chain?”

“I can conceive of only one challenge for an omnipotent being—the challenge of destroying himself.”

“You think God would want to commit suicide?” I asked.

“I’m not saying he wants anything. I’m saying it’s the only challenge.”

“I think God would prefer to exist than to not exist.”

“That’s thinking like a human, not like a God. You have a fear of death so you assume God would share your preference. But God would have no fears. Existing would be a choice. And there would be no pain of death, nor feelings of guilt or remorse or loss. Those are human feelings, not God feelings. God could simply choose to discontinue existence.”

“There’s a logical problem here, according to your way of thinking,” I said. “If God knows the future, he already knows if he will choose to end his existence, and he knows if he will succeed at it, so  here’s no challenge there, either.”

“Your thinking is getting clearer,” he said. “Yes, he will know the future of his own existence under normal conditions. But would his omnipotence include knowing what happens after he loses his omnipotence, or would his knowledge of the future end at that point?”

“That sounds like a thoroughly unanswerable question.  I think you’ve hit a dead end,” I said.

“Maybe. But consider this. A God who knew the answer to that question would indeed know  everything and have everything. For that reason he would be unmotivated to do anything or create anything. There would be no purpose to act in any way whatsoever. But a God who had one nagging question—what happens if I cease to exist?—might be motivated to find the answer in order to  complete his knowledge. And having no fear and no reason to continue existing, he might try it.”

“How would we know either way?”

“We have the answer. It is our existence. The fact that we exist is proof that God is motivated to act in some way. And since only the challenge of self-destruction could interest an omnipotent God, it stands to reason that we . . .”

I interrupted the old man in midsentence and stood straight up from the rocker. It felt as if a pulse of energy ran up my spine, compressing my lungs, electrifying my skin, bringing the hairs on the back of my neck to full alert. I moved closer to the fireplace, unable to absorb its heat.  “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” My brain was taking on too much knowledge. There was overflow
and I needed to shake off the excess.

The old man looked at nothing and said, “We are God’s debris.”