God’s Debris, William Blatty, Loneliness, Depression, and the Evolution of Morals

God’s Debris, a novella by Scott Adams – who is better known for being the creator of Dilbert – is sort of a little gem that discusses some philosophical ideas and musings, one of which relates to the origin of the universe and the existence of God. Specifically, Scott Adams playfully suggests that perhaps God once existed, and being all powerful and so on, thought to himself that the only thing he couldn’t do would be to destroy himself. And so he does, which gives way to the big bang. Adams then continues this line of thought by saying that evolution is God’s consciousness attempting to recreate itself. It’s a very fun thought experiment, in my opinion. I was recently reminded about it when I came upon William Blatty’s novels and films: The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration, and Legion (or Exorcist III, in movie form). Most people only view the Exorcist as that horror movie with the puke, the turning head, and/or the masturbating with a crucifix scenes. However, that movie, together with the other two in the trilogy, represent Blatty’s thoughts on God’s existence, together with the problem of the existence of evil and the mystery of goodness. In the Exorcist, the one priest loses his faith because he can’t understand how a God could exist if there was so much evil in the world.

The Ninth Configuration (or Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane as it was originally titled), is considered by Blatty to be the proper sequel to The Exorcist ( and prequel to Legion / Exorcist III), even though it doesn’t contain any characters from those two movies, except perhaps the astronaut from one of the early scenes in the Exorcist. Specifically, when Regan (the girl who gets possessed) comes downstairs while her mother is hosting a party (in which one of the hosts is an astronaut), she tells the astronaut “You’re going to die up there”, and then proceeds to pee on the floor. In the Ninth Configuration, this astronaut is one of the main characters, a patient in an insane asylum, who lost his mind just before being launched into space. The main theme of The Ninth Configuration is the opposite of The Exorcist. In one scene, where the astronaut (Cutshaw) is arguing with the psychiatrist (Kane), they sum up the theme:

Colonel Kane: You’re convinced that God is dead because there’s evil in the world.
Captain Cutshaw: Correct.
Colonel Kane: Then why don’t you think He’s alive because of the goodness in the world?

Finally, the conclusion to these ideas are formulated in Blatty’s Legion, where the main character describes a similar thought experiment as that of God’s Debris:

Kinderman explains to Atkins his thoughts and musings of the whole case and how it relates to his problem of the concept of evil. Kinderman ends by concluding that he believes the Big Bang was Lucifer falling from heaven, and that the entire Universe, including humanity, are the broken parts of Lucifer, and that evolution is the process of Lucifer putting himself together back into an angel.

The Ninth Configuration is a fantastic movie, and I’m surprised I’d never heard of it until recently. There’s a scene where the astronaut is asked by the psychiatrist what made him afraid of space, to which he replies:

I tried, sir. See the stars? So cold, so far. And so very lonely. Oh so lonely. All that space, just empty space. And so far from home. I’ve circled round and round this house, orbit after orbit. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like never to stop, and circle alone up there. Forever. And what if I got there—got to the moon—and couldn’t get back? Sure, everyone dies, but I’m afraid to die alone. So far from home. And if there’s no God, then that’s really—really—alone.

I find this scene and this man’s thoughts to be so profoundly moving. This ultimately reminded me of an idea I heard from a talk about an evolutionary psychology theory of why depression would have evolved. The theory comes from studies looking at monkeys and apes. These social groups, in which one alpha male will often reproduce with a harem of females, preventing other males from reproducing, creates a system where some males will fight with the alpha male, risking being killed or maimed, while others may become submissive to the alpha male, thereby preventing damage and at least continuing to be part of the group. This theory is called Rank Theory, and further suggests that modern day depression in humans evolved as a way of deterring a person from continually attempting to attain an unreachable goal; that is, it motivates them to stop trying. (There are other theories about depression from evolutionary psychology, as well: le click.)

Finally, I just wanted to say, about Blatty’s ‘problem of the existence of evil’ and ‘mystery of the good’. Certainly, without a God, there is no cosmic judge who would make sure justice was maintained on earth, and prevented evil things from happening to good people. As an atheist, I do see that bad things happen to good people, and that certainly sucks. As for the problem of good, or how is it that, without God, we evolved to be good?, I will direct people to the video below by Patricia Chruchland, or any number of books that deal with this issue (The God Delusion, The Selfish Gene (both by Dawkins), or  The Origins of Virtue, by Matt Ridley (the latter of which I haven’t read)). I feel like the grab-bag theory behind the whole thing can be summed up in ‘kin-selection’, prisoners dilemma, and tit-for-tat cooperation.

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About dontdontoperate

28 year old originally from Barrie, Ontario, Canada. H.B.Sc. from UofT with a major in chemistry and a double minor in philosophy and math. M.Sc. from UofT in physiology and neuroscience. Finished my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at McMaster in the fall of 2013.
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