God is in the details

Some say “The devil is in the details,” meaning solutions break down when you examine them closely enough. Some say “God is in the details,” meaning opportunities for discovery and creativity come from digging into the details. Both are true, but the latter is more interesting.

I posted something along these lines a few weeks ago, Six quotes on digging deep. In that post I quote Richard Feynman

… nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough …

I thought about this again last night when I ran across a post by Andrew Gelman entitled God is in every leaf of every tree. He has a similar quote from Feynman.

No problem is too small or too trivial if we really do something about it.

From there he links to a post where he describes what he calls the paradox of importance. Sometimes we can do our most creative work on the least important problems. The important problems often demand quick solutions, so we fall back on familiar methods.

Everything in this post applies equally well to creativity in other fields: graphic design, music composition, literature, etc.  However, Gelman is talking about creativity specifically in the context of statistics. Statistics is a prime example of something that appears dull from the outside but becomes fascinating in the details. A course in statistics can be mind-numbingly dull when the emphasis is on rote application of black-box procedures. Looking inside the boxes is more interesting, and designing the boxes is most interesting.

Related post: Simple legacy

15 thoughts on “God is in the details

  1. I came across your post while searching for the origin of the phrase “God is in the details.” As an applied mathematician, I hope you can appreciate another article that explores that phrase from a statistical point of view. I found it on the New York Times web site NYT

  2. “God is in the details” also means that if you search deep enough, then you will be able to discover an aspect of perfection. Everyone strives for perfection, but no one can ever achieve it. So, the only way you can get a sense of what it is, is to search deep enough through all the details of life. At least that’s what I think.

  3. I am writing a novel and I recently read another novel which said “God is in the details” which I took to heart and realised that it is the details of a novel which draws people in and makes them feel as though they know the people in the story as the details make everything become more real. Details are very important…but then I heard a song by Placebo called “devil in the details”, so I got confused with regard to which one is right, but since reading about the two phrases I have come to realise that they compliment each other very well. The Devil in the details is when small things are over looked, but when God is in the details nothing is overlooked. So, I am going to write my novel with God in the details and when it is finished I will let the Devil check it. ;)

  4. Stacey,,, very wise words. God is in the Details…every day we see the signs. The Devil may be in them…but only if that’s who we choose. I believe everything is better when we allow God to be.

  5. Our human frailty and our might (such opposites) truly limit us from fully looking into all the details. Alas – our frailty is lessened – in that our weakness become strengths and what we as man call might becomes weak when we believe and allow God to manifest in the details of our life.

  6. I would say that God is in the details, while Evil is hidden in them. That would make more sense to me. Alessandro

  7. “The devil is in the details” is often used by lawyers, politicians and political commentators. If someone writing a law or contract wants to hide mischief they bury it in complex details of twisted legalese. Evil intent can be hidden in the fine print. But if you want to create something that is beautiful, elegant, or just plain works, every detail must be addressed with care. Goodness of a final product is established in the details. That why I’ve heard “God is in the details” used by architects, artists, or engineers, like myself. The first time I heard the phrase was in a radio interview where the composer Stephen Sondheim was giving advice to young composers.

  8. If God is in the details, how come religious people are opposed to facts and education?

  9. Pedro, I don’t believe “religious people” are any less intellectually rigorous than irreligious people. I’m a Christian and I don’t believe I’m opposed to facts or education.

  10. Dear Pedro & John, please stay on track…that’s a conversation for another thread. re previous comments, you are all talking about the same process of examination of details I think. You are justing looking at it from different perspectives. If you are a suicide bomber planning a martydom , you look at the finest details to ensure your plan suceeds (the smallest details will help you to suceed in reaching god (paradise) i.e. god is in the details) or if you are MI5 or CIA etc trying to stop said terrorist act, you concentrate on the details of the evidence you have so as to uncover the identity of said terrorist and thereby preventing it before it occurs (i.e. the details will lead you to the root of the evil (the devil)). So, the very same details will be viewed as containing god or the devil depending upon one’s own point of view. In the example I gave there is an equally valid interpretation if you view it the other way around i.e. the suicide bomber scrutinizes the details so as to attack the devil (i.e. whatever he views as the target for the martyrdom) and MI5 or CIA examines the details to save the lives of the general public (i.e. finding god will lead to salvation). Either way guys, I am an athiest and deal in legal speak, so I would prefer the term “answers are in the details” and I think that covers all the bases. Not very philosophical though is it?

    Deus ex Machina – God We Make

  11. As a musician I take this expression to mean that through hard (and often unseen) work the human experience can be lifted to a higher level. I don’t necessarily see it as a religous statement. Some say they can see “God” through art but they don’t always understand or appreciate the discipline it takes for a piece of music, or painting, architecture, etc, that may seem effortless to create from outside point of view, to be created.

  12. Buon giorno!

    Per ogni cosa c’è il suo Momento, il suo Tempo per ogni faccenda sotto il Cielo.

    C’è un Tempo per nascere e un Tempo per morire,
    Un Tempo per piantare e un Tempo per sradicare le piante.
    Un Tempo per uccidere e un Tempo per guarire,
    Un Tempo per demolire e un Tempo per costruire.
    Un Tempo per piangere e un Tempo per ridere,
    Un Tempo per gemere e un Tempo per ballare.
    Un Tempo per gettare sassi e un Tempo per raccoglierli,
    Un Tempo per abbracciare e un Tempo per astenersi dagli abbracci.

    Un Tempo per cercare e un Tempo per perdere,
    Un Tempo per serbare e un Tempo per buttar via.
    Un Tempo per stacciare e un Tempo per cucire.
    Un Tempo per tacere e un Tempo per parlare.
    Un Tempo per amare e un Tempo per odiare,
    Un Tempo per la guerra e un Tempo per la Pace.

    Che vantaggio ha chi si dà da fare con fatica?
    Ho considerato l’occupazione che Dio ha dato agli uomini, perché si occupino in essa. Egli ha fatto bella ogni cosa a suo tempo, ma egli ha messo la nozione dell’eternità nel loro cuore, senza però che gli uomini possano capire l’Opera compiuta da Dio dal principio alla fine.

    Ho concluso che non c’è nulla di meglio per essi, che godere e agire bene nella loro vita; ma che un Uomo mangi, beva e goda del Suo lavoro è un Dono di Dio.

    Riconosco che qualunque cosa il Creatore fa è immutabile; non c’è nulla da aggiungere, nulla da togliere. Il Creatore agisce così perché si abbia timore di Lui. Ciò che è, già è stato; ciò che sarà, già è; Lui ricerca ciò che è già passato.

    Ma ho anche notato che sotto il Sole al posto del diritto c’è l’iniquità e al posto della giustizia c’è l’empietà. Ho pensato: Dio giudicherà il giusto e l’empio, perché c’è un Tempo per ogni cosa e per ogni azione.

    Poi riguardo ai figli dell’Uomo mi son detto: Il Creatore vuol provarli e mostrare che essi di per sé sono come bestie. Infatti la sorte degli Uomini e quella delle bestie è la stessa; come muoiono queste muoiono quelli; c’è un solo soffio vitale per Tutti.

    Non esiste superiorità dell’Uomo rispetto alle bestie, perché tutto e vanità.
    Tutti sono diretti verso la medesima dimora:
    “Tutto è venuto dalla polvere e tutto ritorna nella polvere.”

    Chi sa se il soffio vitale dell’Uomo salga in alto e se quello della bestia scende in basso nella terra?

    Mi sono accorto che nulla c’è di meglio per l’Uomo che godere delle Suo opere, perché questa e la Sua sorte.

    Chi potrà infatti condurlo a vedere ciò che avverrà dopo di lui?


  13. I believe cultures attribute God to anything they cannot explain, that God is a human construct and cannot exist, and I believe this is why we have left Earth and gone into the clouds and found no God. This has not erased our concept of God, only pushed it back into the remaining unknown. God is in the details. Once you can explain all the details, you have no reason to believe in God.

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