Divine Tinkerology

People imagine their god(s) intervening in the world to different degrees. The diagram above illustrates these different “tinkerologies”.  Below is a chart gives examples of believers for each type:

Degree of
Nickname Type of
Never Absentee Atheist, Agnostic
Once Watch Maker Deists,
Monkey-Religion Theists
Occasionally Tinkerer Cat-Religion Theists
Constantly Marionette Calvinist Christians

Theist can add some sophistication to these simple tinkerological positions.   Some, for instance, say God acted once but it is the same as constantly since he planned all the results of his one act.  Some will say that there is never any difference between the supernatural and the natural so God is not really intervening at all since he does not break his own laws. I never understood that model.

Questions for Readers:

  • What corrections or additions would you make to my diagram or chart?
  • How do you imagine any of these views is potentially harmful to a believer?
  • If you are a theist, where does your green arrow point?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

25 responses to “Divine Tinkerology

  1. You really have a gift with diagrams, Sabio! Great work!

    I can’t think of any corrections or additions at this time.

    As far as being harmful to the believer, that is a pretty big topic to explore in comments. 😉 But I think in the Marionette category, a prominent example of harm to logic and tolerance in our times is the homosexual issue.

    If God is designing everybody, and God thinks homosexuality is an abomination, then it does not make sense for God to make someone homosexual, and therefore most such believers just blindly reason that sexual orientation is strictly a choice, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

    The Marionette believers who do allow for God to have implanted that homosexual orientation in a person simply marginalize it as just another temptation which they should be capable of resisting.

  2. I do think the idea of a God who intervenes occassionaly or constantly in human affairs would be harmful to believers. First, it creates frustration and disappointment because of the theodicy problem. If God can intervene at any time, why didn’t God intervene to prevent all those bad things in the world from happening?

    I never heard about cat religion versus monkey religion, but I like the analogy.

  3. @ Wise Fool:
    Thank you. You are right — that was too big to explore the harm items in the comments. And I think your one analysis was spot on.

    I wanted to keep the post short, but here is what I was considering:

    (a) In a sense, I think we all have an inner theist and I think our tinkometer for him fluxes depending on our situation. The inner Theist may be quiet or loud depending on our situtations, I think even atheists have this.

    (b) I would imagine the inner theist benefits us. But I can also imagine how, used incorrectly, he/she could harm the user.

  4. @ Ahab:
    I agree and feel the harms you mention are very real. Glad you liked the animal analogy — I thought it was cool when I heard it too,

  5. I would add the position you “never understood” of there “is never any difference between the supernatural and the natural so God is not really intervening at all since he does not break his own laws. ”

    I would put this under “constantly” and I would call it the Jedi Model (All pervasive force in and through all of nature). This would be the stance of UU’s and Progressive/Emergent Christians. The Armenian response to the Calvinistic model.

  6. yeah, that is one of the versions i don’t understand.

  7. Understandable. Still think it should be on the tinkerology, however you want to describe it. It’s a vast and historical choice IMHO which runs from much of Orthodox theology to Armenian theology and the newer Process stuff.

  8. @ Luke:
    Lots of other “old” and “vast” choices exist in many traditions. “Old” is not a virtue, and I don’t know what “vast” means and why it should be persuasive.

    Almost every Christian I talk to feels that miracles are acts that happen outside the laws of nature. Only some theologians try to stir up enough words to muddy the waters.

    When I say I don’t understand it, I meant because it does not seem to make sense.

  9. If you assume I meant “old” as a virtue meaning “good and worthy” and in that respect, I didn’t. I mean old in the sense that it should be considered to be added to the chart, logic not withstanding.

  10. So, in the “Type of Believers” column, in the “Constantly” row, what would you have me write?

  11. @ Luke
    You said:

    This would be the stance of UU’s and Progressive/Emergent Christians. The Armenian response to the Calvinistic model.

    Do you mean that all these folks think God is constantly acting?
    If so, why pray?

  12. @Sabio
    It could be fun to write a few posts with your conjectures of how these views help, no?

    RE: Luke
    I think my step-father holds a belief similar to what Luke is suggesting. If I have the interpretation right, it should perhaps be another notch on the dial. In its most pure and abstract form, the dial position would perhaps read “Inherently” or “Is”. Nickname, well, maybe you should use “The Force” as Luke suggests. (Pun intended.)

    The way I’ve heard it described which is the most simple to understand is that God is energy. Given the scientific law of conservation of energy, everything which was and is created is quite literally created from God. Inherently, God is in everything and everyone. Whatever is, is God. So it’s not that God tinkers in the affairs of men, but rather God is in the affairs of men because God is in man.

    I’ve never quite seen this presented in its pure and abstract form, though. I’ve only seen it like an East-meets-West Christianized theology, where such logic is used to become open to the idea that other religions also guide people to God. Their mantra is “In my Father’s house, there are many mansions.”

  13. “So, in the “Type of Believers” column, in the “Constantly” row, what would you have me write?” -Sabio
    -Armenian, Progressive Christians

    “Do you mean that all these folks think God is constantly acting?
    If so, why pray?”-Sabio
    -Yes, God is constantly acting but not so much tinkering but influencing. Praying is then getting in tune with that influence.

    Wise Fool’s description is on the mark here. The Force is the best metaphor for this idea, but instead of the Jedi tapping into and manipulating the energy, it taps into the Jedi and uses that person.

  14. Thanx to “The Wise Fool” for making a bit more clear what Luke was trying to say.

    Still, many issues with this:

    Monkey-Religion gods are always active (like the force) and the believer jumps on board to get some energy. But the Monkey-Religion god does not act in the world, but only inspire their followers and nourish them. So, those sorts of gods are either NOT acting, or Deist type. Most monkey-gods at least allow those gods to also be creators, so I put it where I did.

    So, interms of “intervention”, there is NO intervention at a different level than is always happening. Thus NO intervention. People should not be praying for these gods to act.

    Luke, do you pray for your god to act. Do you encourage your parishioners to pray for god to act on things more than just attitude adjustments or happiness or peace? If not, you might be a monkey-god worshipper.

    Also, my personal experience is that no matter what the theologians say, believers pray for concrete interventions, so I can not put Armenians in that category nor progressive Christians. Even Progressive Christians pray in fox holes and when their kids are very sick and they pray for intervention.

  15. “Almost every Christian I talk to feels that miracles are acts that happen outside the laws of nature.”

    Is this a sampling-size issue?

    I’m not saying you are wrong. I think most Christians probably don’t really have a sophisticated theology, or a maybe even a logical one. But we’re talking about religions here. Generalizations about how a group thinks kind of begs for bickering.

    It is quite possible for some faith followers to see no difference between asking for a deity’s “interference” and asking for an “attitude adjustment”. Therapy can take many forms. Many therapies involve playing things out until the person feels ready to come to terms with their dissonance.

    Just as possible, some may see no distinction whatsoever between the “supernatural” and more simply “what is not known”.

    Some (small minority of) Christians may even brand miracles as revealing deeper natural laws or levels of being or whatever that are not yet understood.

    All that being said, I think your diagram is fine and shows a useful spectrum.

  16. @ Andrew,
    Indeed, it is an empirical claim. I have not rigorous data — only anecdotal data. But I still think I am right. I would love to have someone research this.

    You made an unbacked empirical claim too:

    “I think most Christians probably don’t really have a sophisticated theology, or a maybe even a logical one.”

    But I happen to agree with you — again, with nothing but personal experience and some reasoning.

    It is for this exact reason that I say:

    “Almost every Christian I talk to feels that miracles are acts that happen outside the laws of nature.”

    It is only the sophisticated knot-twisting of theology that thinks of a god as otherwise that breaking the rules. Simple thinking has gods change weather, protect from accidents. Simple thinking is, well, simple.

    Theology’s main goal is to protect the deity.

    Of course some believers may have sophisticated models, but they are, in my experience, a miniscule minority — thus I said “Almost every Christian I talk to” — perhaps I should have said : “Almost every Christian I talk to, WHO has not trained in a seminary or graduated a religion/theology/bible major.”

    JS Allen & I argued about this once (btw, his website disappeared and he does not answer e-mails). After our discussion, he conceded that he may be wrong. During our days of debate, I surveyed a large number of my acquaintances (mostly at work — about 20 people) and they all, without hesitation, said miracles were interferences that broke the rules of nature.

    But I agree, it is an empirical claim albeit it fuzzy since I only said, “almost every”. Let me find if you ever see someone testing it.
    It would be fun to examine what percentage people put to fuzzy expressions like:
    almost every
    the vast majority
    nearly all

    I wager, it depends on if they want a claim to be true or false, the move that percentage in their head. This would make two people miss each other in a conversation meaninglessly.

  17. @S
    JSA is awol? That sucks. I’ve been laying low for about a month and didn’t realize. I still have some articles from his site in my reader and liked his writing. He seemed willing to wrestle with his understanding on things like confirmation bias and divine dissonance. If that argument was here on an earlier post, I might have read that. It sounds familiar.

    “You made an unbacked empirical claim too”
    Oh yes. I admit that very little of what I say is backed. 🙂 I change my views on things almost daily. I didn’t mean to pick on that point in particular (since I pretty much agree). And I also agree that an examination on how people translate fuzzy expressions into more quantitative language would be revealing.

    I grew up with parents that were quite clear about not asking god for any favours and not expecting explanations from god either, so I admit I’m biased and ignorant and in the minority when it comes to miracles.

    “some believers may have sophisticated models, but they are, in my experience, a miniscule minority”
    Miniscule? I don’t know. My numbers are, I admit, not rigorous and out of my fuzzy memory. But I’ve seen surveys that say up to 10% of church-goers admit to being atheists, and even 20% rejecting the sky-daddy traditional deity idea completely. Their thinking of God is closer to what could be called a projection. There might be regional influences in this too, of course. The +/- might be as large as the %s. I can hunt this down if need be.

    But if 10-20% of christians can admit to not really knowing the nature of their god… well it’s a healthy start in reducing the “potential harm”, right?

  18. *

    My mother is not a superstitious person. She worked as a tax consultant and a book keeper until she retired. She was primarily interested in financial matters. Several years ago she told me a story. She said,
    I heard this clatter in the basement. I went downstairs and I found the pool cues which we always keep on the cue holder on the wall all laid out in a circle around the pool table. I ran back up stairs and got your father.
    He went downstairs with a baseball bat and looked around. The basement door and all of the windows were locked. No one was in the basement. It was the middle of winter and there were no tracks in the back yard.
    Is this an untrue story? Could the pool cues have actually flew off the wall and arrainged themselves in a circle around the pool table in my parents basement?
    Many Mulsims would attribute such an event to Jinn, some in Christian countries to ghosts. Is this an example of possible tinkering in our world?

  19. The Force is always active. Always influencing, putting in synchronicity and serendipity, still speaking and such. So the concrete intervention is there, like the Calvinists, and so is the “send good vibes” like the monkey god, but the interventionist part is a departure from the monkey god and how the intervention happens is different from the puppet strings, no free-will of the Calvinist model. Thus a separate category.

  20. @ Luke:
    Let’s keep it simple and do this in small steps:
    Do you pray for your god to heal sick people or keep people safe on trips?

  21. Already answered: Yes.

  22. @ Luke,
    Sorry, I missed the “yes”.
    I don’t get the difference between “influencing” and “tinkering”. But instead of telling me, let me ask another directed concrete question:

    If you pray to a god, or encourage your parishioners to pray to a god, which of the following prayers is closest to your healing-prayer?

    (a) Dear God, please heal Mrs. Smith’s cancer.

    (b) Dear God, please help the doctors to cure Mrs. Smith’s cancer.

    (c) Dear God, please help me/us to accept your will concerning Mrs. Smith’s cancer.

    (d) Dear God, please give me the strength to be your servant in serving Mrs. Smith during her bout with cancer.

    (e) Dear God, please give Mrs. Smith the strength to feel your presence even as she suffers her death.

    (f) Dear God, please give Mrs. Smith’s family your support through her bout with Cancer.

    And for any you choose (as you may choose many), tell me why that is not Tinkering. For if the god would not do it without the request, then the prayer is supposedly changing how events would happen otherwise. And the change is either due to God changing his actions (Tinkering) or the person working on their own attitude by speaking to their own subconscious where no god is needed at all, though the person uses god images to pull that off.

    I am sure you are well aware of all these questions, but it matters in the above model where you are contending where there is a category that is “Constant Influencing without tinkering” — but with prayers asking for effects, I think that makes no sense.

  23. “I don’t get the difference between “influencing” and “tinkering”.
    -Define tinkering, I’ll define influencing. If by tinkering you mean (by way of your evangelical background) breaking through the ‘natural’ with supernatural acts, then no. That is one way to define it. Tinkering as in being active, relational, and involved in creation, then yes, albeit this model is different from the fated Calvinistic model.

    As to your questions on prayer: All of the above when appropriate.

  24. tinkering means changing things.
    a god which you can supplicate to change things to be different than they would have been with out his intervention (using whatever means) is a TINKERER.

    If all those prayers work for you, you believe in an “Occasionally”/Tinkerer in this diagram. Whether your god has some mystic emanating power keeps the world running matters not, if your prayers get him to alter things, it is tinkering god.

    I see no new categories.

  25. Then yes, it is a tinkerer in the always model. Yet our limited and finite view cannot see all the changes. And of course you don’t see this, loyalties always at play.

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