August 27, 2009

The sense that there is a "third man" — a ghostly companion giving support in difficult times.

"The theories for explaining the third-man experience vary widely. Ron DiFrancesco, the 9/11 survivor who walked out of the South Tower, is convinced that a divine being was by his side, and indeed a spiritual interpretation is common. Scientists, by contrast, have discovered how to evoke the sensation of a shared presence by stimulating the brain with electricity. [One mountaineer who had the experience] leans toward the idea that the third-man phenomenon is a survival strategy hard-wired into the brain. 'The body is inventing ways to provide company,' he says."

Think of why this sense that someone is with you would have had survival value in human evolution. Think too of how the someone who seems to accompany survivors of extreme ordeals might also accompany those who die and never tell their stories. Don't assume the "third man," if you ever see him, will save you. He may comfort you as you give up the fight to stay alive. On the up side, you will probably feel quite wonderful.
"Imagine the impact on our lives if we could learn to access this feeling at will," [says John Geiger, author of "The Third Man Factor."] "There could be no loneliness with so constant a companion. There could be no stress in life that we would ever again have to confront alone."
Response #1: Religious people have learned to access that feeling at will. Response #2: It's not a "learned" "feeling," it really is God/Jesus/your guardian angel. Response #3: We need the feeling of loneliness to get us out of the house and connecting with other people, without which there will be no survival of the species, so therefore — if the scientific evolutionary theory is the true one — then the "third man" phenomenon must remain a sometime thing. Response #4: If #3 is correct, then how can religion have survived? Response #5: Therefore, there is a God. Response #6: No, therefore religions require rules that ban or limit masturbation and push believers into marriage and procreation.

92 comments:

traditionalguy said...

The Christian tradition of the Trinity celebrates a "third man ghost" comforting and leading us and asserts that He is the eternal breath of God who, together with the Father and his Son, is God. He is sometimes represented in scripture as an Anointing Oil and is usually called the revealer of truth to us when speaking thru the Hebrew Prophets (and perhaps scientists?).

Bissage said...

I have actually seen my third man and he looks remarkably like Orson Welles.

Paddy O. said...

In Christian tradition, at least, those who are often the most advanced, who would be expected to have really gotten hold of Response #1 or #2, talk about spiritual isolation and loneliness. A distinct absence of the Other, sometimes terming this "a dark night of the soul."

The Christian tradition, at least, also is not primarily dependent on the mystical 'sense' of spiritual guidance. It is, rather, dependent on those who say they witnessed the actual resurrected Christ--could touch, hear, smell, see him.

The Christian religion, at least, does not primarily respond to loneliness by insisting on marriage or controlling sexual behavior. The primary response is to insist on community interaction, ideally daily even, with shared meals and other 'regular' sharing of normal life. Celibacy and community were often tied together. Hermits are not-always-sanctioned exceptions to the norm.

This all being the case, I think it's not necessarily an either...or.. situation with this. An evolutionary trait might very well coincide with a religious reality--sometimes these may interact, or sometimes they may function entirely independent of each other.

WV: redapody

Maybe that's the right term for what people conjure up if they could conjure up a buddy at will.

traditionalguy said...

Pogo...I would suggest that a corollary rule concerning the religious use of spirits is that a Spirit/Ghost that one can conjure up and use is never the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit is God and no one uses God.

Lem said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pct said...

Anyone understand why the phenomonon is called the Third Man? Who is the second?

Lem said...

..then the "third man" phenomenon must remain a sometime thing.

Sir Archy is living proof that #3 is correct.

wv - diummi - oh my god.

Lem said...

Who is the second?

what's on first.. who is on second .. Idon’t know is on third.

I'm not repeating that.

madawaskan said...

Imagine the impact on our lives if we could learn to access this feeling at will," [says John Geiger, author of "The Third Man Factor."] "There could be no loneliness with so constant a companion.

Or you could get diagnosed with-

Dissociative identity disorder.

garage mahal said...

You have to be pretty stuck on yourself to believe God picked you and escorted you personally out of the building and let 3000+ others die engulfed in flames.

Paddy O. said...

"is never the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit is God and no one uses God."

Ah, but people sure think they do. A good many religious traditions, Christian and otherwise, are filled with all kinds of "God is just like me" conjurations.

This is precisely why the early church, especially the early monastics, made a really big deal about "discerning the spirits". They were quite aware that spirits could easily be self, evil, or good. This was considered a really big danger for hermits--who having no companions to help them discern often fell into really big distortions, thinking they were following the Spirit of God.

Paddy O. said...

The texts of the desert fathers are filled with stories of various apparitions, more often than not the stories are warning against trusting them.

traditionalguy said...

Sorry for calling you Pogo, Paddy O. I must need new glasses. The directions given by Paul to the Church were to always test the spirit being used by a prophet by the discernment of two or three other Prophets. Counterfeits are in circulation today and starting many cults according to Crack Emcee's reporting.

rhhardin said...

Paul Schmidt, in a philosophy of religion course, said that it had been found that certain drugs can produce a religious experience.

Not entirely the same, though. The drug religious experience also produced a hangover.

This saved religious experience from the principle of non-vacuous contrast.

Ralph L said...

Marriage being a guard against fornication is actually in the Anglican marriage service, or it was before the recent wackos got to it.

If you have a Third Man in fornication, someone's going to be left out.

SteveR said...

Speaking of Sir Archy and other third men, I've not been around as much as normal. Where are: Palladian, Titus, Simon and Trooper York?

Sorry OT.

DADvocate said...

Religious people have learned to access that feeling at will.

I don't think religioius people have learned to access the feeling at will. They realize the feeling, or third man, exists and have faith that the third man will be there to help them through their difficulties.

I don't believe this related to loneliness at all but to a feeling that a greater power is there helping you. Believing that that greater power is there gives you psychological strength and helps you endure hardship and danger you couldn't endure otherwise.

NKVD said...

I hear zithers.

WV - suritspu - but that's liberals for you.

Lem said...

...therefore religions require rules that ban or limit masturbation and push believers into marriage and procreation.

Someone to love (1989).

wv - obation = Orson Wells

(uncanny)

tim maguire said...

As always, garage mahal indulges his nasty little mind instead of taking something in the spirit it's given. garage, christians believe god has a plan for everyone, those who die today no less than those who die another day.

I'd never heard of this third man thing before, but I wonder if it isn't an artifact of what is theorized in "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind." (Of which I read only a part.)

The author, Julian Jaynes, theorized that the two halves of the brain only started working together in a conscious way about three thousand years ago. Previously, the part of the brain that controls the body took orders from the thinking part of the brain without understanding that they were two parts of a greater whole, the impression on the individual was of receiving orders from some mysterious source.

He further theorized that gods (his examples were mostly the greek gods) were primitive man's attempt to explain the origins of these commands. You didn't do something because you wanted to, you did it because god told you to.

Every religion looks back to an earlier time when god and man interacted more directly, an age of miracles, but at some point this age ended and humans became much more alone in the world, with gods acting only sporadically, symbolically, indirectly--because we developed true consciousness and lost the mysterious commander, having now recognized that commander as a part of ourselves.

The connection here being that the third man may be an evolutionary remnant of this pre-conscious god-voice.

Just a thought.

Paddy O. said...

No worries, tradguy, it's a respectable name to be called in these parts.

And you're absolutely right.

The comments have gotten me to think more. The prohibitions against masturbation and fornication were primarily about seeking falsely satisfying ways of alleviating loneliness. In other words, the human soul craves deep connection, and to short change this by stimulating a temporary relief often end up exacerbating the loneliness. Instead of alleviating the burn through ultimately ineffective ways, men and women were called to participate in and commit to truly fruitful interactions that allowed for deep and persistent connection.

And this is also, I think, why there's not a big emphasis on visions, or mystical partners found in isolation. The Christian call, at least, is to love your neighbor and this means being in relationship, seeking out the others, contributing to their lives as they contribute to yours. The Spirit is not given, according to Christian theology, as an individual interaction but insists on, from the very earliest days, communal conversation. The body of Christ isn't something someone sees by themselves but experiences when gathered with others, as all these others are able to express their gifts, passions, thoughts, etc. It's a communal Spirit that binds the church in unity through diversity.

That's not to say, however, that in emergencies or crises the Spirit, or the third man, or the wee folk, or your dead grandmother might not appear to show up to comfort or aid, tapping into a part of the unafraid, more clear-thinking, subconscious.

WV: panic.

Yeah, it really is "panic".

The first rule of hitchhiking through the universe is, of course, Don't Panic.

rhhardin said...

Bicameral pulls fillings out of your teeth, is my experience.

Stick with M&Ms.

Lem said...

Where are: Palladian, Titus, Simon and Trooper York?

Palladian, Titus and Simon were out in NY drinking one night and got pulled over by Trooper.

Trooper didint know who they were and arrested them.

They were heard yelling “YA, I'LL SPEAK WITH YOUR MAMA ALTHOUSE OUTSIDE!”

garage mahal said...

As always, garage mahal indulges his nasty little mind instead of taking something in the spirit it's given. garage, christians believe god has a plan for everyone, those who die today no less than those who die another day.

And I disagree and think that's rubbish. If this earth is part of some plan, it has a diabolical plot, and the creator should be shunned instead of worshiped.

rhhardin said...

Thylias Moss:

I don't believe in him; he's just a comfortable
acquaintance, a close associate with whom I can
be myself. To believe in him would place him in
the center of the universe when he's more secure
in the fringes, the farthest corner so that he
doesn't have to look over his shoulder to nab the
backstabbers who want promotions but are tired of
waiting for him to die and set in motion the natural
evolution. God doesn't want to evolve. Has been
against evolution from its creation. He doesn't
figure many possibilities are open to him. I think
he's just wise to bide his time although he pales in the
moonlight to just a glow, just the warmth of hot
chocolate spreading through the body like a subcutaneous
halo. But to trust him implicitly would
be a mistake for he then would not have to maintain
his worthiness to be God. Even the thinnest,
flyweight modicum of doubt gives God the necessity
to prove he's worthy of the implicit trust I can
never give because I protect him from corruption,
from the complacence that rises within him sometimes,
a shadowy ever-descending brother.

raf said...

Perhaps the Third Man is responsible for generating WVs.

troustas. Something like hot pants?

Balfegor said...

Anyone understand why the phenomonon is called the Third Man? Who is the second?

I thought the phenomenon was something that happened when two people walked together, and imagined the presence of a third man:

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you
?

It looks like it may just have come up first in a case with two men in a dinghy imagining, somehow, a third:

Geiger emphasises that he is laying no claims to discovering the “third man factor”. British neurologist MacDonald Critchley, for example, had alluded to the concept in his 1955 essay The Idea of a Presence, which drew on the scientist’s 1943 study of 279 shipwrecked sailors and airmen. It included statements from a pilot and his observer who had both kept imagining a third person adrift with them in their rubber dinghy in the North Atlantic.

Or perhaps it's intended to communicated the sense that the extra presence is other -- not part of a duo or a dyad, but a third party intervening from somewhere outside.

Revenant said...

Two observations:

(1): Humans have a sense of the presence of other people.

(2): All human senses can be made to yield false information -- optical illusions, "hot flashes", etc. This particularly happens in stressful situations or under conditions of sensory deprivation.

Put the two together, and you get the "third man" effect. The brain is an interesting thing. :)

traditionalguy said...

Tim Mcguire...The theory of Julian James is attractive, but why 3000 years ago? Does he postulate that the 1000 BC history shows a sudden change? The human practice of spiritual divination has continued right up until today. The Greek Oracles speaking for gods also continued until 300 AD or so. The Mexica people conquered by Spanish gold seekers in the mid 1400's AD had a great interest in, to the tune of continual daily human sacrifice, learning to hear from their gods. So mental development could not have been happening everywhere at once about 1000 BC.

former law student said...

Sounds like a cross between one's Guardian Angel and an imaginary friend.

http://www.allnatural.net/pd/images/victorian-angels/VictAnglGuard_lg.jpg

John Power's first grade nun would tell the class to sit on one side of their seats so that their Guardian Angels would have room to sit down.

Balfegor said...

And this is also, I think, why there's not a big emphasis on visions, or mystical partners found in isolation.

In Christianity? I thought isolated holy hermits experiencing ecstatic visions were actually a pretty big part of Christianity -- at least in its original tradition. Like that fellow who lived his life on the top of a column. There are a bunch of those desert fathers and hermits. Put in this "third man" context, you kind of wonder whether they were starving themselves so they could access this otherworldly "third man" presence.

Paddy O. said...

"I thought isolated holy hermits experiencing ecstatic visions were actually a pretty big part of Christianity"

Well, yes and no. Going hermitting was often seen as a suspect venture, one that was really only for the especially spiritually mature, which is why a lot of men and women sought to do it--out of pride. And they ran into all kinds of predictable problems--including suicide or going insane. St. Anthony, the first really famous hermit, was said to have a lot of supernatural encounters, but a whole lot of these were not at all good or pleasant. Or to be trusted.

Plus, a lot of hermits weren't really all that isolated, but would live in loose communities where they'd have their cave for six days, then venture together for a common meal on Sundays. So, it's more like "community for introverts".

Benedict's rule listed types of monks (quoting also from wikipedia here):

(1) Cenobites, those "in a monastery, where they serve under a rule and an abbot";

(2) Anchorites, or hermits, who, after long successful training in a monastery, are now coping single-handedly, with only God for their help;

(3) Sarabaites, living by twos and threes together or even alone, with no experience, rule and superior, and thus a law unto themselves;

4) Gyrovagues, wandering from one monastery to another, slaves to their own wills and appetites. It is for the first of these kinds of monks, the cenobites, as the "strongest kind" (fortissimum genus; arguably "numerically stronger", cf. Fry, RB 1980, p. 171), that the Rule is written.

Balfegor said...

You have to be pretty stuck on yourself to believe God picked you and escorted you personally out of the building and let 3000+ others die engulfed in flames.

Not necessarily. As I understand it, believers do not believe in their god as a kind of super-powerful human whose purposes are entirely accessible to human reason. There's that whole problem of evil, after all. It's possible that a god may save some of his believers, and allow others to die and join him (It?) in heaven --

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take
.

As the children's prayer goes.

Pogo said...

Many ways we are called, but infinite are the ways we decline.

Science is by far the greatest trickster, by which we come to explain everything as nothing at all.

Balfegor said...

St. Anthony, the first really famous hermit, was said to have a lot of supernatural encounters, but a whole lot of these were not at all good or pleasant. Or to be trusted.

Wasn't that partly the point? Jesus being tempted by Satan in the desert, and all that? I thought it was supposed to be a purer, more direct experience of the spiritual -- both for good and evil -- and hugely influential in developing the Christian understanding of spirituality.

Paddy O. said...

Put in this "third man" context, you kind of wonder whether they were starving themselves so they could access this otherworldly "third man" presence.

I think this is certainly part of it. But again, this wasn't always something to trust. We can look as early as the Gospels for this. Jesus fasted for forty days, then encountered a "third man" of sorts, only it wasn't helpful. The Gospels say it was Satan, and the encounter was temptations--which could be matched to the basic temptations of the human condition.

Fasting was seen, and still is, as a way to heighten spiritual awareness and focus, but mostly in monasticism it was taught as a way of overcoming the passions. Fasting builds willpower. And Benedict, at least, taught it should be in moderation, not extreme.

The heightened spiritual awareness gives susceptibility to spiritual influence, as does dreams. But both were seen not as inherently good, and trusting these often led to a major collapse into something really bad.

tim maguire said...

traditionalguy, I don't know the theory nearly well enough to defend it (I read about 100 pages of an 800 page book), but it mostly arises from analysis of ancient texts, stories created under an oral, pre-literate tradition that were recorded much later (especially The Iliad and The Odessey).

He thinks he's identified a shift in the tone of the narrative consistent across stories, with older parts showing much more direct godly involvement, of humans acting under the explicit direction of the gods.

Angels actually hang out with old testament figures, the gods pick sides and fight in the Trojan War, Hindu gods lived on lotus leaves in India and so on. And then, apparently around 1000 BC, they take a step back from the everyday world.

Anyway, for explanation, that's the best I can do. I'm not sufficiently familiar with the theory to really spell it out.

Sofa King said...

If this earth is part of some plan, it has a diabolical plot, and the creator should be shunned instead

Hmmm...the Earth, as we experience it, is largely a human creation. Of course, you wouldn't be the first lefty misanthropist...

Paddy O. said...

"hugely influential"

Yeah, as my similarly timed post just now brings up. But, not normative.

Meaning, these were expressions of what was already established or taught from more trustworthy sources.

We also see visions and "third man" experiences at times in Acts. There's also, to be sure, the visitation to Mary, and later Joseph, about Christ's birth. Big, very key events that essentially affect the received interpretation of what happened to a young, unmarried pregnant woman.

Yeah, certainly there are these big events. The key, I'm trying to get at is these aren't at the root of the faith, and they can be pretty well cut out, for the most part, without any kind of loss of any significant teaching (well, the visitation to Mary being cut out might affect a "proof" of the virgin birth). But, for the most part these aren't vital, and there are many places where visions and dreams and such are warned against.

The only really key expressionof this might be the encounter with Jesus after the resurrection, which was precisely why the earliest church went to a lot of lengths to emphasize he wasn't a vision at all but a real, touchable, man.

Pogo said...

Now The Thin Man, there was a film.




VW handbath: Pilates, circa 33 AD.

traditionalguy said...

Paddy O... In your opinion does the encounter of Paul with the ascended Christ on the Damascus road, and later Paul's report that he recieved "his Gospel" directly in heaven from the ascended Christ, qualify as Third Man experiences?

garage mahal said...

Of course, you wouldn't be the first lefty misanthropist....

By plan, what kind of god would design a birth that involved leukemia, or say missing a brain? I wouldn't, so I think you have it backwards. God is the misanthropist.

Pogo said...

"God is the misanthropist".

Although there is plenty in man to dislike, God's failure to behave as you would prefer only exposes our painfully limited view of things.

Revenant said...

God's failure to behave as you would prefer only exposes our painfully limited view of things.

In the sense that a child molester's failure to behave as his daughter would prefer only exposes the daughter's painfully limited view of things.

Pogo said...

A strange conceit, that rape of a young child is equivalent to permitting man to have free will in a natural world, knowing that he will suffer.

Scott M said...

@garage

By plan, what kind of god would design a birth that involved leukemia, or say missing a brain? I wouldn't, so I think you have it backwards. God is the misanthropist.

By definition, you would not be able to comprehend it. Just pause for a sec and try to conceive of an intelligence that both allows for free will, but also knows exactly what's going to happen at every point to everyone.

As our collection of grey matter is woefully unable to do so, it's impossible to guess at God's motives.

Reading down through this thread, one clear facet of your thinking became clear. To use your example of the WTC, you assume that the one survivor is somehow better off. What you neglect to acknowledge is that, if one accepts the existence of God, Heaven, etc, those 3000+ are now MUCH better off than the survivor that's still grasping to that mortal coil.

Same with the leukemia child. If the payoff (in human thinking) is that you get to go to another plane of existence that makes this one look like permanently having a car battery clip to your nips. The child that dies of leukemia gets there quicker.

Who's better off? That child's soul in an incomprehensible paradise or you sitting there in your bathrobe blogging about shitty deities?

WV ortics - blood-sucking arachnids that can see the future.

Sofa King said...

God is the misanthropist.


So you condemn God for the misery of his creation. But suppose for a moment there is in fact no god. Is the misery any less? It wouldn't seem that it rationally could be. So why do you continue to suffer it?

garage mahal said...

Same with the leukemia child. If the payoff (in human thinking) is that you get to go to another plane of existence that makes this one look like permanently having a car battery clip to your nips. The child that dies of leukemia gets there quicker

There are millions that live long, painful miserable lives [by Design], and the fact that is was by Design makes me mistrust that the next world will be any better. It could much worse. I think Mencken had it right when he said this world was likely created by a lesser, or juvenile god, and once realized how bad it was he abandoned us and moved on to better things.

Pogo said...

Reduced further, garage, it means that our existence being imperfect at all can only mean creation by a malign force.

For example, when we fall and our mother does not pick us up, or when we fail and she does not fix it for us, or she does not attend to our every desire, however small and bad for us, well certainly that must perforce mean she is evil, and nothing less.

Scott M said...

Well said, Pogo.

@garage

There are millions that live long, painful miserable lives [by Design], and the fact that is was by Design makes me mistrust that the next world will be any better

You've just circular-argued yourself out of being taken seriously on this thread. If the afterlife were so much worse, than the, by comparison, suffering in this world would be the vacation and we should be thankful for it.

Honestly...it's like you're behind a grain of sand on the beach and trying to tell us you know exactly how many other grains of sand there are in existence.

Good luck with that.

WV scubot - an underwater robot is too easy...how about a dog-walking robot equipped with shovel?

Revenant said...

A strange conceit, that rape of a young child is equivalent to permitting man to have free will in a natural world, knowing that he will suffer.

Garage's examples were anencephaly and childhood leukemia. Please explain the reasoning by which either condition is related to free will. I would be particularly interested to hear how a child born with no cerebral cortex -- and thus no capacity for thought -- is somehow counterbalanced by that child having "free will".

Revenant said...

Reduced further, garage, it means that our existence being imperfect at all can only mean creation by a malign force.

Not necessarily. "Incompetent", "indifferent", and "inadequately powerful" are also options.

For example, when I'm playing Civilization 4, horrible things often happen to the little virtual humans I'm charged with managing. This is because I have a limited attention span and don't especially care if, e.g., a city gets sacked by barbarians. I have no hostile intent towards the little virtual people; they just don't matter much to me.

Pogo said...

"Please explain the reasoning by which either condition is related to free will."
There is no free will absent a real world, where we are subject to the wind and rain, to DNA and our own appetites, to imperfection and desire.


"Not necessarily. "Incompetent", "indifferent", and "inadequately powerful" are also options."
Interesting.
Then I am baffled as to why you chose to compare God to a child rapist? For effect?
Indifference can be more reasonably inferred, and we could fight about that, I suppose, but the yield would be small, I'm sure you'd agree.

bagoh20 said...

I have this feeling all the time when alone and it appears most often when I'm really enjoying myself like when hiking in the wilderness alone or hang gliding high above and far from civilization. Happily, my "third man" is usually a woman. Probably because it is what I miss most when alone in times of wonder or joy.

When in crisis I feel quite alone and the necessity of self reliance becomes all too clear. I become keenly aware of the absence rather presence of any helpful entity.

Clearly the appearance of a third man during masturbation would be disturbing although less disturbing than the initial appearance of the second one, who I assume precedes him.

garage mahal said...

You've just circular-argued yourself out of being taken seriously on this thread. If the afterlife were so much worse, than the, by comparison, suffering in this world would be the vacation and we should be thankful for it..

Why design a world with suffering to begin with? Why am I supposed to be thankful for that?

Pogo said...

"Why design a world with suffering to begin with? Why am I supposed to be thankful for that?"

The most important question of all, the start of all useful inquiry.

Revenant and Paddy O. have very different answers.
The onus for decision is yours.

Pogo said...

I'm serious. Great question, one I have my own answer for. My answer is less than satisfactory for some, to be sure.

tim maguire said...

Revenant, when musing on the value/validity of god, it is necessary to be a little more specific concerning which god you mean. Most here are christian. The God they believe in makes available the opportunity for eternal happiness in heaven.

When you talk about the implications that suffering on earth has for the godliness of god, the existance/nonexistance of heaven is THE pivotal consideration.

Absent a heaven, god would be quite a jerk for making us suffer on earth. But if heaven exists, then that conclusion is turned around. The pain of suffering vanishes in insignificance, whereas the enlightenment brought on by suffering, the opportunity for each of us to learn, to grow, to reveal our true selves, whether good or bad, is of paramount importance.

You can grant the implications of heaven without granting the existance of heaven. Grant, for the sake of this argument, that heaven exists and your objections become childish. Decline to recognize the point of view from which your opponents argue and you yourself become childish.

Revenant said...

"Please explain the reasoning by which either condition is related to free will."

There is no free will absent a real world

Interesting claim. Prove it.

where we are subject to the wind and rain, to DNA and our own appetites, to imperfection and desire.

Even if that were true your argument would still make no sense. For example, we know that polio is not necessary for free will, because we've eradicated polio and yet our will is as free as it ever was. You can vaccinate a person against polio without preventing them from enjoying free will.

So even if it were true that the existence of a natural world in which polio would arise was somehow necessary to free will, that doesn't explain why God let people be killed or crippled by polio. He could have vaccinated us; he could have done so thousands of years before we even figured out how to vaccinate ourselves. But no vaccinations happen. No chickenshit "free will" hypothesis can explain that. The explanation needs to be something else.

Balfegor said...

Why design a world with suffering to begin with?

Why? Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.

THAT IS WHY.

Joking aside, you might as well ask why the Christian God designed a world to be redeemed by his son getting slowly tortured to death. I suppose it has something to do with man's first disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste brought death into the world. Free will is meaningless without consequence, although the consequences, I guess, do not run solely from the malefactor, as we would understand it, but extend to all his descendants.

Revenant said...

Absent a heaven, god would be quite a jerk for making us suffer on earth. But if heaven exists, then that conclusion is turned around.

Um, no. You've got it exactly backwards.

Absent a Heaven, one could always attempt to argue that extenuating circumstances and/or natural limitations prevent God from giving us a perfect and wonderful world to live in.

But if Heaven exists then it necessarily follows that God has the power to give us a wonderful environment to live in, forever and ever. That would make him an even bigger asshole for making a certain percentage of humanity live horrific existences followed by painful, screaming deaths PRIOR to moving on to Heaven.

Balfegor said...

So even if it were true that the existence of a natural world in which polio would arise was somehow necessary to free will, that doesn't explain why God let people be killed or crippled by polio. He could have vaccinated us; he could have done so thousands of years before we even figured out how to vaccinate ourselves.

Conceive of the Christians' god as an entity vastly more powerful than mankind, who will grant men eternal life if they will only worship him/be good/whatever. To a first approximation, does it matter whether man suffers because of wild beasts or starvation or polio? First, the god's frame of reference is impossibly vaster than ordinary human suffering - if the fact of suffering emerges naturally from a divine decision to grant us free will, why would he concern himself necessarily with the particulars of human suffering, to the point of giving vaccines or eliminating harmful diseases and ravening wild beasts? Second, when compared against eternity, any kind of physical suffering endured in life is only a blip in time. The more problematic question, I think -- not for free will, but for god's mercy -- is the problem of Hell.

NKVD said...

Ok, but why are there mimes, that's the real question.

WV - tuater - past tense of twitter.

bagoh20 said...

While there is certainly plenty of suffering in the world, why do all these type discussions virtually ignore the joys of our existence. Furthermore it seem that these discussion always take place among those of us who suffer least in this world.

A Tutsi woman just seeing her family killed before her and preparing to be gang raped may rightly have such myopia, but we should have more gratitude and maybe ask what have we done to deserve the richness and beauty we experience.

Just look at our hostess and her recent experience and you can see an immediate example of how much beauty and joy there is in our lives. I wasn't there, but I saw the pictures.

I think some of the "unfairness" of our existence is just poor eyesight. Perhaps it is exactly fair in totality.

Revenant said...

To a first approximation, does it matter whether man suffers because of wild beasts or starvation or polio?

I agree that it is possible to conceive of gods whose view is at a level where individual, transient human suffering just doesn't matter. But that's not the Christian God. The God described by Jesus is one knows when the sparrow falls, not one whose view is too vast to worry about the small stuff. Like I said above, you can reconcile with universe with a god who is indifferent to human suffering, but Jesus preached of a God who did.

Revenant said...

While there is certainly plenty of suffering in the world, why do all these type discussions virtually ignore the joys of our existence.

Because theories are tested by attempting to disprove them.

The beauty of the world is consistent with the idea of a loving God, or an indifferent God with an eye for beauty, or a pantheon of Gods, or with no God at all. To test the theory "there is a loving God", we look for situations that theory CAN'T account for.

Its a bit like if you formulated a theory that x is always equal to x*x. There isn't much point in discussing the fact that it holds true for 0 and 1; the discussion will instead focus on the infinite set of values that disprove your theory. :)

daubiere said...

"
Then I am baffled as to why you chose to compare God to a child rapist? For effect?"

atheists often feel the need to say inflammatory and hyperbolic things during discussions of a religious nature. its the only ecstatic experience available to them, it seems. that and masturbation.

traditionalguy said...

No one has all the answers yet, because life seems designed to be a long learning course that requires passing earlier tests to get into the better material later. The only analogy presented in scriptures is to hostages of a terrible slave master and killer, who can fight their way out of his dominion when given the plan and the weapons to overcome him. Simple faith in the "lamb slain before the foundation of the world " is the weapon and the promises made by Him in the scriptures are the plan of action that only requires that they be believed in the heart and spoken out loud in faith in public. How hard can that be? That leaves a lot of your questions unanswered by the sovreign God, but who would want a God that is so weak that He takes your orders.

Balfegor said...

The God described by Jesus is one knows when the sparrow falls, not one whose view is too vast to worry about the small stuff. Like I said above, you can reconcile with universe with a god who is indifferent to human suffering, but Jesus preached of a God who did.

Did he? There's a difference between omniscience -- something the Christian god clearly has -- and finding every category of experience to be imbued with the same significance. That is to say, he may be keenly aware of suffering in each individual instance, but perhaps it's just like a child getting a shot and wailing in agony. Even after the worst mortal excruciation and death, the real essence of the person will survive blissfully in heaven, or endure torments unimaginably worse for an eternity in Hell.

At the same time, though, I suppose the brutality of the crucifixion -- and its theological centrality ("But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." as it goes in Isaiah) -- suggests that the Christian god has imbued pain and suffering with a sacrificial significance of some sort. I'm not a theologian, and -- as an atheist with pagan tendencies -- I'm really not well positioned to represent what Christians believe on this subject, when we've got a bunch of Christians handy to expound their theology themselves.

daubiere said...

the movie "the Shining" is interesting related to this discussion. it puts the core unit of civilization, mother father and child in isolation in the "desert". the father cannot commune with his family, his son talks to a "third man" in the absence of his father and the mother has realized that she cannot turn to her husband for strength any longer. the father meets many entities in the "desert" of isolation, and true to paddyo's words, they are not trustworthy or good and lead him into the maze of his own isolation, into madness and death in the desert. the mother and son assisted by the "third man", in this case the cook who loses his life trying to save them, escape in the vehicle he left.

bagoh20 said...

"To test the theory "there is a loving God", we look for situations that theory CAN'T account for."

Like why does Daddy not give me an unlimited credit card. I'm pretty dumb, but even I understand that.

But seriously, there is an assumption that this life is, in it's totality, primarily one of suffering and unfairness. I think that is debated much less than the question "why it is unfair?", which assumes it is.

I think that is due to a perceived sophistication that the unhappy claim. It's all part of that angst thing, where you have to be poor to sing the blues well and all that.

The joys of life are unappreciated and at least half the story. Gratitude is the only honesty way to appreciate misfortune.

If something is not worth appreciating when you have it, then it is no great loss to lose it.

I just wish that the ranks of the intelligent sophisticated, educated and fortunate were better examples. Then maybe we would be more generous knowing how much we have to give.

Revenant said...

But seriously, there is an assumption that this life is, in it's totality, primarily one of suffering and unfairness.

Really? Nobody here has said that.

Besides, what does it matter? Say you're trying to determine if a person is a good and loving person. You examine his life and find that he has donated millions of dollars to fight famine in Africa, saving thousands of lives and improving tens of thousands more. You find that he has raised three children in a loving environment, that he has been unfailingly kind and loyal to his wife, and that occasionally he likes to pick up a random six-year-old girl from a playground, slit her throat and dump the body in a ditch.

In a discussion of whether this was a good man or a bad, how seriously would you take the people who said "oh, but look at all his charity work"?

We generally only give evil deeds a pass if there were extenuating circumstances ("I had to steal to feed my kids"), or if it was necessary to avoid a still greater evil (the bombing of Hiroshima). So when discussing the existence of, e.g., child leukemia, it doesn't make much sense to say "well sure, God lets some kids die of cancer, but a LARGER number of kids have happy childhoods". The relevant question is why is an ostensibly all-loving, all-powerful God letting ANY kids die of leukemia. Either he isn't all-loving, or he isn't all-powerful, or there are extenuating circumstances that make the evil of child leukemia necessary (such as Pogo's "somehow it is necessary for free will" argument, above). Those are the possibilities that get discussed. Focusing on the many happy children in the world would be asinine.

Revenant said...

There's a difference between omniscience -- something the Christian god clearly has -- and finding every category of experience to be imbued with the same significance.

The "sparrow" line from Matthew that I was referencing claims not only that God is aware when a sparrow falls, but that it doesn't happen without his will. The Christian God is very much a micromanager. :)

bagoh20 said...

"The relevant question is why is an ostensibly all-loving, all-powerful God letting ANY kids die of leukemia."

Consider the alternative, across the board on all bad things like disease.

The question of why, has an obvious answer to me; because it must be to fit in a universe which I, for one, cannot possibly imagine operating differently.

"Focusing on the many happy children in the world would be asinine."

What purpose would God have for creating so many happy children? That is at least an equally important question, and I think a tougher one, but it rarely gets asked. That's my point.

Balfegor said...

But seriously, there is an assumption that this life is, in it's totality, primarily one of suffering and unfairness.

Really? Nobody here has said that
.

Pah! "Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

Re: the sparrow, the fact that a divine will animates the act does not seem, to me, to be of especial significance, because everything is moving according to a divine will, no? One might as well find a special providence in a rock rolling down a hill. If it's the equivalent of a shot -- painful but temporary, affecting as it does, the limited span of mortal life -- it may be the case that the Christian god, in his love, etc. etc. may be moved to sympathy, or may be moved to wrath, but is not necessarily moved to correct every single wrong that may arise in a fallen world. Or maybe he just made a bet with Satan or something.

bagoh20 said...

Which parent is closer to all-knowing and all-loving. The one who coddles his children and assures they have no difficulties or the one who let's them find their way even with the consequences. When you incorporate the difference in scale it makes sense to me that terrible things would happen in the universe regularly with a loving god.

OR, you could be an atheist and the horrors need no justification but love and altruism seem a little out of place.

Unless God reads Rand and the good stuff is incidental.

I'm agnostic, but have less problems with a God. Without one I would expect more of a Lord of the Flies world than the one we have. Of course I live in America in 2009 so I was born with rose-colored glasses.

Revenant said...

Consider the alternative, across the board on all bad things like disease.

The alternative would be a universe in which there is no childhood leukemia. Like I noted above, we've already pretty much eliminated polio. We've eliminated smallpox. Turns out there's no need for these things to exist in the same environment as humans -- their eradication is, to us, nothing but good.

The question of why, has an obvious answer to me; because it must be to fit in a universe which I, for one, cannot possibly imagine operating differently.

That is known as the argumentum ad ignorantiam fallacy. You can't imagine the universe being otherwise, ergo it must be this way. Invalid reasoning, I'm afraid.

What purpose would God have for creating so many happy children?

You're getting ahead of yourself. We've established that the world has happy children in it, not that God has anything to do with their being happy. It could be that there is no God. It could be that God exists but is indifferent to our happiness, and those children which are happy achieve happiness without outside help. It could be that God hates us and wants us to suffer, but has limited power and thus is only able to inflict misery on a subset of the population. It could be that God loves us but has limited power and etc, etc. There are lots of possible explanations.

That is at least an equally important question, and I think a tougher one, but it rarely gets asked. That's my point.

It is neither of equal importance nor tough to answer. The Christian God is purportedly all-loving and all-powerful. Ergo the existence of happy children is no mystery. What IS a mystery, given those supposed traits of God, is why some children live lives of pain and misery.

Revenant said...

Or maybe he just made a bet with Satan or something.

Or maybe he's just too busy playing with his giant cow.

Revenant said...

Which parent is closer to all-knowing and all-loving. The one who coddles his children and assures they have no difficulties or the one who let's them find their way even with the consequences.

That's not a valid question to ask, since the "parent" in this example -- God -- is responsible for the creation of the difficulties and consequences. You obviously can't say "I needed to toughen you up for life's travails" when you're responsible for the travails. That's like beating a child to toughen him up for later beatings. It is insane reasoning.

Besides, what "way" does a brain tumor let a child "find"? The way to die horribly through no fault of their own? I'm sure they appreciate the life lesson, or at least they would if they weren't dead.

bagoh20 said...

Revenant,
You are completely missing my point in every case.

You are looking at the small
picture, at specifics like polio, or leukemia. Those are tiny little horrors in the scheme of things where entire galaxies are destroyed around us. Even if we or God cured ever disease known, there would still be plenty that could go wrong, including, overpopulation (still a very small scale).

If all we think of as evil which you believe to be unnecessary evil were to be reversed, the universe would not exist as it does. I'm simply saying that we cannot know if a better one is possible considering that every mess cleaned up creates a bag of garbage to be hidden somewhere.

bagoh20 said...

All this criticism of God assumes that this life is not already perfect or at least perfectly harmonious on a universal scale. You really can't tell if the symphony sounds right if you live in the tympani.

The argument here seems to me to be about how well things are going in the timpani. I understand that's all we know, but I have "faith" the symphony is going right. Faith or not, I know I'm no Mozart.

Revenant said...

If all we think of as evil which you believe to be unnecessary evil were to be reversed, the universe would not exist as it does.

I understood your point. As I pointed out, it is a logical fallacy. You're assuming that this must be the best universe because you can't imagine a better one.

I'm simply saying that we cannot know if a better one is possible considering that every mess cleaned up creates a bag of garbage to be hidden somewhere.

Yes, theodicists have been making the "we can't know if a better world is possible" argument for centuries. The obvious problem with it is that humans keep making a better world. For example, a theodicist of 1900 could argue "smallpox SEEMS bad, but this is the best we can hope for". Then humans eliminated smallpox and the world got better. Oops.

The list of ostensibly-insurmountable evils of the world keeps getting shorter and shorter, and the list of "problems solved by humans" keeps getting longer and longer. It can't sensibly be argued that the world couldn't be better because it keeps GETTING better. I suppose you could say "oh sure, the last 250 years of people saying things can't be better were wrong, but we're right NOW". But I'm afraid you've used up all of the benefit of the doubt on that one. :)

Revenant said...

All this criticism of God assumes that this life is not already perfect or at least perfectly harmonious on a universal scale. You really can't tell if the symphony sounds right if you live in the tympani.

That argument is fine, if you believe that humans are just one small part of creation of no special significance compared to rocks, trees, stars and viruses. But Christians, Jews and Muslims don't believe that.

It also amounts to a concession that God isn't "all-loving", at least so far as individual humans are concerned. He's a big-picture guy, and if the big picture means that humans suffer then tough cookies for the humans. That's fine. Heck, it might even be true. It just isn't love. For example, I feel great affection for my house, but I really could give a shit about any particular nail in the framing. Should a nail cult form and begin worshiping me based on the assumption that I love nails, they'd be barking up the wrong tree. I use nails for my own purposes; I care about them to the extent that they are useful.

bagoh20 said...

Revenant,
You are still stuck in the timpani. Apparently, they have college there, but it's still all in the same drum.

Worldwide death from disease is about 4 times what it was in 1900. Progress is a tricky thing.

And I started this discussion as the happy fool. Now look what you did.

Have a great night, thanks.

Theo Boehm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Revenant said...

Worldwide death from disease is about 4 times what it was in 1900.

The world's population is over four times what it was in 1900.

Furthermore, the deaths that do occur due to disease are occurring much later in life. In 1900, the average human lifespan was 31. Today it is 67. That's why (for example) we now get more people dying of cancer, which is largely a disease of the elderly -- in earlier times, some other disease would kill them before cancer got a chance to.

Progress is a tricky thing.

Not really. There is no aspect of human existence that is not superior, today, to what it was a century ago.

Balfegor said...

Not really. There is no aspect of human existence that is not superior, today, to what it was a century ago.

Well, we've lost some real freedoms, even if on paper, we are more "free":

Individual freedom of thought and action, and also individual freedom of movement, were greater throughout much of Europe just before 1914 than ever since. Thereafter, they were to be curtailed by wars and the effects of wars, by growing bureaucracies created both in war and peace not only by totalitarian but also by democratic governments. The Edwardian sense of personal freedom -- at least for those with sufficient means to enjoy it -- has been long remembered. William Beveridge, himself one of the foremost twentieth-century bureaucrats, was to recollect sadly in the 1950s how the old world was 'a world of many personal liberties now denied or diminished.' There was freedom to travel without passports or currency restrictions, 'to build a house or start a business or place a lorry on the road if one so desired without a permit.' It was also a world 'in which peace rather than war and preparation for war appeared the normal state.'

And our trains -- "our," here, specifically being America's -- are slower than they were 90 years ago.

Revenant said...

Well, we've lost some real freedoms, even if on paper, we are more "free":

I think a good case could be made that, in the United States and portions of Europe, white men are less free than they were a century ago. But I don't think that case can really be made for women, non-whites, or residents of Asia and Africa. Humanity has, on the whole, taken a big step in a pro-freedom direction over the last century.

Even in the case of American white men it isn't so clear. Wealth increases and improvements in science and technology have placed capabilities in the hands of *poor* Americans that even a middle-class American of a century ago couldn't practically achieve. On paper, an American of 1909 might enjoy more freedom of speech and movement than an American of today. But in reality an American of today can easily disseminate his thoughts and words across the planet at essentially no cost, and afford to travel practically anywhere on the planet within a day. So while theoretical freedom of speech and movement may have decreased, actual freedom of speech and movement have never been greater.

Meade said...

SteveR said...
"Speaking of Sir Archy and other third men, I've not been around as much as normal. Where are: Palladian, Titus, Simon and Trooper York?"

Has anybody here seen my old friend Trooper?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He ripped a lot on Althouse,
Took his ball, and then went home
I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen my old friend Titus?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He freaked a lot of people,
But his hog now goes unsung.
I just looked around and he's gone.

Anybody here seen that old Palladian?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
He pissed off all the trolly trolls,
His wit, oh how it stung.
I just looked around, now he's gone.

Didn't you love their irksome comments?
Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?
Where can they be?
Soon... it's gotta be one day ...

Anybody here seen that old Crack Emcee?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him wander off over the hill,
With Trooper, Titus, and Palladian.

Jeremy said...

I, for one, am perfectly comfortable with the idea that God would be "indifferent to our happiness." Our happiness, or happiness in gnereal, does not seem to be the point of creation.

-The Other Jeremy

bagoh20 said...

So then my question is: Is it better if 1 billion die of disease or 4 billion? If we reduce the population to 1 million then we reduce the suffering by 4000 times, right? All those suffering deaths eliminated.

Or maybe we need to accept that suffering and death are not the measure of the rightness of the universe or the measure of God's love, if you are a believer.

Revenant said...

So then my question is: Is it better if 1 billion die of disease or 4 billion?

That's a dumb question to ask. Everybody dies of something, eventually. What is relevant is length and quality of life prior to death. We want to move people from the "suffering" column to the "not suffering" column. You're talking about moving people from the "suffering" column to the "nonexistent" column. People who don't exist are neither suffering nor free of suffering, because they aren't even people at all.

The huge advances we've made in eliminating diseases are significant not because they magically rendered people immortal, but because people who would otherwise have died from smallpox or malaria at age two or age twenty now get to live another fifty, sixty, or seventy years. You yourself have repeatedly claimed that the world is, on balance, a beautiful and wonderful place. The strides humans have made, and which gods either couldn't or wouldn't, have allowed us to enjoy more of that beautiful and wonderful place for a lot longer. Over twice as long as we could a hundred years ago, on average.

Or maybe we need to accept that suffering and death are not the measure of the rightness of the universe or the measure of God's love

Suffering is a valid measure of the love of any being which is capable of preventing that suffering. Christians not only claim that God is capable of preventing suffering, but that he has and does (see, e.g., the miracles of Jesus and the anecdotes of healing through prayer).

The simple truth is that the Christian God, if he exists, behaves in a manner that would be considered profoundly evil in humans. Unless you believe that morality is a subjective thing determined by the personal power of the actor, you can't give God a pass for that.