Saturday, August 15, 2020

Accepting One Theory, Rejecting Another, Hitting A Brick Wall

When a Christian says they accept the big bang as the best explanation for the origin of the universe, but then reject the theory of evolution, it then leads to the question:

What has God been doing for so long?

The universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old. This is beyond reasonable doubt.
Also beyond reasonable doubt is that various species of hominid primates have existed for anywhere up to 2.5 million years, but in order to be as generous as I can to the Christian argument, I will put the figure of human existence on earth as 5000 years.

This means that a Christian who accepts the Big Bang as the accepted beginnings of the universe, then has a theology that says that after creating the universe, God sat around for 
13'699'995'000 years waiting for...what exactly?

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Evidence For Jesus Is Gone With The Wind...

The point I want to make:

An historical document is not a recounting of history simply because it gets some historical details correct. Thus, apologists cannot claim that the canonical gospels are strong evidence for the existence of Jesus on the basis that the canonical gospels get some details correct.



One of the cases I make against assumption of the historicity of Jesus by excitable Christians is by comparing the gospels with the story of Gone With The Wind. The reason for this is because I believe there are a number of similarities between the two that highlight how we should look at the gospels, things that should impact our assessment of the historicity question.


Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, details the story of Scarlett O'Hara, a teenage girl who grows up in the shadow of the Civil War.


One of the most striking similarities between the two is, just like the four gospels, Gone With The Wind makes references to actual people, locations, events and situations. The tale of GWTW initially takes place on a fictional plantation named Tara situated near Jonesboro, Georgia in the US. Abraham Lincoln is mentioned numerous times. Part of the story references Gen. Sherman's March To The Sea. Chattel slavery is also part of the story.


So we have no doubt that the author went to great lengths to create a believable story. Long story short - anyone who reads GWTW will have enough reference points to gain an understanding of how life was like in America of the late 1800's.


Now, let us look at the gospels:


The gospels recount the later stages of the life of an itinerant Jewish miracle-working preacher with a small following who was proclaimed by some of the population to be the Messiah, a figure in Jewish belief who will rescue the Jewish people from their oppression and herald a new epoch of freedom and liberty.


The bulk of the story takes place in Israel (then known as Judea) and references a number of historical figures such Pontius Pilate, Herod Antipas, Herod The Great, Augustus Caesar, etc., as we as referencing a number of known locations such as Jerusalem, Galilee, Nazareth, Bethlehem, the Temple and its marketplace, and more.

Furthermore, the gospels also recount the hatred of the people towards both paying tax and the tax collectors themselves, the general divides between men and women, between Jews and those of other ethnicities, and the fine line that the Jewish leadership of the time walked between wanting independence, but avoiding all-out war with Rome (again).

So anyone who reads the gospels will have enough reference points to gain an understanding of life in Judea two millennia ago.


So we can say with some surety that both the canonical gospels and Gone With The Wind are a reflection of their times. But now I want to bring a hypothetical scenario to you to help highlight some points I want to make:


In the year 2520, five hundred years from now, a group of archaeologists dig through what used to be a library and find a copy of Mitchell's book. 


This archaeological team then read through the pages, maybe after it has been translated from English in to whatever language has taken precedence in the possible scenario that English is no longer the lingua franca, and they see that this book references Jonesboro, Georgia. Well, hold on, we know where that was! The book references plantations - plantations existed, and so did the chattel slavery that took place at those plantations, but even if they can't find the particular one that Gone With The Wind takes place in, we know not every building lasts the test of time.


This research team also then looks up a list of Presidents of the United States of America, and right there is President Abraham Lincoln - the very same one GWTW mentions. They then talk to another research team that specialises in military history, and hey presto, there was indeed a large-scale war that took place between 1861 to 1865 that split the country in two, that there indeed a General William T. Sherman, and that he indeed led a destructive march through the state of Georgia.


We also see that Scarlett O'Hara had siblings, had domestic help in the form of an African-American slave, she gets married, becomes widowed, has children and runs a business. None of these are at all beyond the realm of historical probability.


So the question arises: are the people of the year 2520 justified in thinking Scarlett O'Hara was actually a real person? The answer depends on your standard of evidence.


And when we consider the level of detail in the gospels, does it give us reason to believe that Jesus Christ was an historical person? The answer, again, depends on your standard of evidence.


But now, let me add two more factoids to this hypothetical scenario to make the analysis interesting:

1) Five hundred years after our archaeologists undertake their discovery and tasks in the year 2520, a group of people in the year 3020 form a society whose core belief (rightly or wrongly) is that in light of the fact that GWTW was an historically accurate narrative, Scarlett O'Hara was a real person.

2) In the five hundred year time gap between the time the archaeologists make their findings in 2520 and our hypothetical society forms in 3020, this society has gained documentary control and has come to actively resist any notion of GWTW being simply fictional, up to and including source redaction, persecution of heretics, well-produced refutations, weekly seminars (complete with elaborate buildings dedicated to the purpose), travelling groups of O'Hara apologists, and more.


So now, let us compare:


If your standard of evidence is that the document in question simply gets a lot of historical details correct, then belief in the historical Scarlett O'Hara is actually logically justified right now - no need to wait for our hypothetical society to enforce an orthodoxy.


If your standard of evidence is that the document is ancient and a lot of people have read that document, then in a thousand years time belief in the historical Scarlett O'Hara will be just as logically justified as what belief in the historical Jesus is right now.


If your standard of evidence is that not only is the document ancient, not only have a lot of people read that document, but also an influential group of people believe and advocate in the historicity of the main character, then, again, in a thousand years time, belief in the historical Scarlett O'Hara will be just as logically justified as what belief in the historical Jesus is right now.


If your standard of evidence is that lots of people who lived in the era when the document was produced said lots of things about the main character of the document, then unfortunately, both Christians and O'Hara-ites have a problem - while the M.O. of our hypothetical society accounts for the fact that they went to great lengths to control the documentary narrative about Scarlett O'Hara, the unescapable fact is that nobody in Jesus' time immediately contemporary to him ever mentioned him or produced anything to this day that we can study to verify his historicity. There were no statues or coins produced, no birth or death records, no tax documents and no trial transcripts of Jesus, despite the fact that he is recorded as having being tried before the highest Jewish authorities as well as two separate Roman authorities. The earliest verified and undisputed mentions of Jesus we get from the historical record from independent sources that explicitly mentions Jesus by name and are not simply mentioning Christians or the Christian faith in general, and is not considered to be either an outright forgery, an interpolation, an addition of a margin note, a redaction by later scribes, or any other known modification that happens to documents of antiquity, is nothing at all.


Yes, this is controversial. But if take a sober look at the data, we see that while a number of mentions of Christians are made in the first and second century historical literature, anything that relates to Christ himself either does not come until much later, is not independent, or has been shown to be at best an interpolation, possibly a misinterpretation, or at worst an outright forgery.


But if your standard of evidence is that it is simply ridiculous to think that either Jesus or Scarlett O'Hara never existed because firstly, no documents exist that question their historicity, and secondly, lots of people believe that either of Jesus or Scarlett O'Hara existed and belief in their respective historicity even gives those people comfort, then you have fallen in to the very trap that those who controlled the documentary corpus wanted you to fall in to.

It is well understood in the scholarship of antiquity that rival canons and sects were formed in the first two centuries after Christianity's beginning - including sects who believed in a non-historical and/or non-physical Jesus - but that the sectarian war was won by those who endorsed the Jesus-as-historical-man theology - the very same concept that our fictional society of O'Hara-ites have pushed.


Something to think about...

Sunday, August 2, 2020

15 Reasons To Take Genesis As Myth

I was recently sent a video by Mark, one of my Creationist friends, who responded to a question I had about why would anyone take Genesis as history when I think it reads so much better as myth. The video was from Creation Ministries International and just happens to look a bit like the one below:

I honestly feel bad for covering so much of Creation Ministries International's material that it almost comes across as if I'm targeting them specifically. I can tell you that isn't the case, but there are two reasons why I typically respond specifically to CMI more than anyone else:

1. CMI produce so much material that anyone who wants to look up Christian arguments inevitably comes across something from them. A lot of their material comes up in Google searches on search strings that question Christian doctrines, and they have a lot of answers for a lot of things.

2. They are one of the most-published Creationist organisation in Australia, and guess who lives in Australia...

So anyway, I have always wanted to write up a response to their 15 Reasons material since I first came across the book of the same name some time back at a seminar one of their lecturers was giving, and now that my mate Mark sent it to me, I may as well write it up.

I do agree with the general point that people from ancient Semitic cultures all the way up to Victorian times overwhelmingly read Genesis as history and worked their hardest to interpret everything they saw around them to fit in to that paradigm. But to me, this is simply because they didn't know any better because they didn't have a way of knowing any better - they didn't have access to the same body of knowledge and the refined methods of inquiry, especially that driven by technology, that we do today. So we in modern times are much better positioned to confirm or refute the historicity of the Bible, and in particular Genesis.

So, here are my responses to Creation Ministries International's article, "15 Reasons To Take Genesis As History", point by point.


1. Jesus Understood The Old Testament As History.

It's not so much that Jesus understood the OT was historical - it's more that Jesus has been reported as understanding that it was historical. The problem here is that Jesus never wrote anything personally himself so we simply don't have his direct opinion on the matter, and for all we know, the gospel writers could be putting words in Jesus' mouth.

Also, the gospels were written anonymously, which has to be taken as a mark against the gospels-as-history hypothesis - rarely is history written anonymously.

The best-case scenario is that the gospel writers (especially for the gospel attributed to Mark) were heavily employing tropes of myth and storytelling to make their points and then re-writing each other as per The Synoptic Problem (making the gospels unreliable as history because at least three of the four accounts are really just the one account re-written), or at worst, they were writing with such skewed theological and political slants as to make the four separate accounts of Jesus fairly disparate (again, making the gospels unrealiable as history).

And this is if we completely put aside the question of if Jesus existed in the first place which, offensive and grating as it may be, can't be hand-waved away.

2. Jesus Regarded Adam, Eve and Noah As Historical People.

This is just a re-hash of the previous argument which fails on the same point - everything attributed to Jesus was written in documents that employed heavy use of mythology and allegory, thus making them unreliable in terms of history.

The other problem we encounter with this point is that the weight of scholarship is actually against Adam, Eve and Noah as historical people - no-one but dyed-in-the-wool Biblical Triumphalists would try argue a case that anyone mentioned in Genesis actually existed as they are mentioned, or that anything mentioned in Genesis actually happened as it was recorded.

3. Genesis Was Written As History.

The problem? So were texts like The Book of Mormon. But no-one aside from adherents of those fringe religious movements consider texts like The Book Of Mormon or Scientology: A History Of Man to be historical or to be accurately reporting history.

CMI also seem to forget that there is an entire genre called Historical Fiction that a text can be categorised as, alongside those of history and outright mythology - it's not a black-and-white one or the other. As an example, Gone With The Wind writes with frequent nods to history as it references real people, real events and real locations, yet no-one would consider Scarlett O'Hara to have been an historical person.

Or as another example, Betty Crocker was said to have been born in 1921 and had a career where she signed letters, had a radio show,  produced cookbooks and she even has a street named after her - all things we know can and do happen to historical people - yet she never existed as a real person, only as a fictionalised corporate mascot.

Just because words are written down on a page and the words don't come with the disclaimer "any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental" doesn't automatically qualify it as history. We have to have a way of determining history from myth that is more nuanced than what gives you comfort in your salvation. 

We have to remember that ancient societies were not so much concerned with recording matter-of-fact history as they were with preserving social structure, and it is a lot easier to enforce structure if you can create an air of legitemacy about your central texts, the most effective of which is to enforce the belief that the events actually happened as recorded.

4. The Rest Of The Old Testament Takes Genesis As History.

Which is no surprise, really. Firstly, the people who wrote the latter books of the Old Testament had no way of knowing if the events documented in Genesis ever really happened as they would have been compelled to believe in Genesis as history because of tradition and religious inculcation.

And second, the people who compiled the Old Testament weren't in a position to know if the events of Genesis did or didn't happen - they just wanted to preserve tradition and enforce social norms.

Thirdly, mythosymbolic interpretations of historical fiction tend to attract the wrath of people who aren't interested in nuanced debate. What Biblical Inerrantists and Triumphalists overlook was that numerous theological battles were fought over the history-vs-allegory meanings of the texts in the backdrop of an openly pagan society, so much so that competing sects formed and rival canons produced, the battle getting so heated to the point that St. Augustine, the highly venerated father of the church, endorsed torture in his book City Of God as a way of bringing heretics in to line.

So when you have a whole bunch of people who firmly believed (or firmly wanted people to believe) in the scripture as an historic text, is it any surprise that they chose books that reflected the narrative they wanted people to believe?

But again, just because someone important believes a text is historic doesn't make it an accurate recording of history.

5. The New Testament Takes Genesis 1-11 As History.

This isn't a new argument, and again, runs in to the same problems as before - when you have a particular group of people actively filtering documents in line with a theological pre-conception, it's no surprise that the documents produced line up with the particular viewpoint they were aiming for.

Oh? You didn't know that the early church actively suppressed filtered selected the documents to weed out heretical doctrine bring their version of God's chosen message to the world? Yikes. 

6. Genesis' History Is Consistent With God's Nature.

Has anyone interviewed God to get his take on Genesis, since God himself didn't actually write it?

For all we know, Genesis could completely misrepresent God because some easily excitable theists couldn't fathom the concept that while God may indeed exist, Genesis gets his nature completely wrong.

But let's look at what happens in Genesis to see what we can tell about God's nature:

God kills every man, woman and child (Noah's flood).
God actively works against human progress and achievements (destruction of the Tower of Babel).
God inflicts diseases on a man because another man deceived him (Genesis 12:10-20).
God wipes out two towns of people because he hates homosexuality (Sodom and Gomorrah).

If Genesis is consistent with God's nature, then God indeed acts in a manner equivalent to that of a war criminal.

7. Genesis As History Explains The Origins Of Death And Suffering.

Not really. As I discussed in one of my previous posts, if we look at the mere existence of flesh-eating bacteria from a literal Creationist perspective, the only person to blame is God and God alone - no Fall needed.

And I wouldn't say that Genesis explains the origins of death and suffering any more than piecemeal detail. It's more the case that Christians latched on to a handful of disparate verses and then extrapolated those out to try blame all the evil in the world on the very people who were set up to fail by the very god who knew they would fail.

How about we take away Genesis - nay, the whole Bible - and then work back and see if the origin of death and suffering can be traced back to two people eating an apple. That would make a convincing case!

8. The Gospel Presupposes The Historical Events Of Genesis.

I agree it does. But again, it comes down to the fact that the authors and the compilers of the gospels didn't have a way of knowing any better, and that any theological deviation from a literal interpretation was met with charges of heresy, which in religiously inculcated communities, was enough to raise alarm with the theological police of the day.

9. A Consistent Christian Worldview Depends On Genesis As History.

This, I feel, is an instance of Creationists getting judgemental towards Christians of other beliefs.  Creationists seemingly have a hard time accepting Christians who deviate from strict Creationist paradigms and accept Genesis as allegory instead of absolute literal history, to the point where I've experienced Creationists accusing Genesis-as-myth Christian of not being a real Christians, but instead of being a Christian who is friends with the world, or a secular Christian.

By using this argument, CMI are hinting that a Christian who doesn't accept Genesis as literal history, despite the mountain of evidence and scholarship against that case, is not really a Christian.

10. Denying The History Of Genesis Disconnects Christianity From The Real World.

There's plenty of things to disconnect Christianity from the real world aside from discarding Gensis as history. Speaking magical words in order to affect material reality? Believing that your real life only starts when your current one ends? The fact that bad things happen, despite there being an omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient God who controls everything and loves everyone? An Jewish itinerant preacher who was the most revolutinary person in history, yet left very little evidence of his existence?

But on the converse, by taking Genesis as history, you actually do disconnect yourself from the real world - The Flood never happened. There was no talking snake in the garden. The Tower of Babel was not responsible for the creation of new languages. God didn't need men to have a piece of their penis cut off for him to accept them.

11. The Early Church Leaders Accepted The Timeframe And Global Flood Of Genesis.

All this says is that some people accepted Genesis as history. Good for them. Those people had no way of verifying the facts of Genesis in order to make their acceptance of Genesis based on anything other than theological bias. It's not like their method of documenting history was anything like the Romans came up with.

Considering that these same early church leaders seemingly didn't have a problem launching persecution campaigns against heretics (i.e. anyone whose theology they didn't approve of), Papias wrote that Judas didn't commit suicide, but instead his genitals oozed pus and his body became larger than a cart - and that during the time of the early church fathers, approximately 40 non-canonical gospels were produced (including one that details Jesus' life as a child where he cursed another child), I'm not too sure I'd trust anything the early church fathers said simply because they were the early church fathers.

12. The Reformers Understood Genesis As History.

Yet again, these people weren't very big on research, but very big on ensuring people had the correct theology.

It's funny - when people are big on Biblically literal theology, they aren't big on research, and when they are big on research, they aren't big on Biblically literal theology.

It's almost like researching history through the lens of rational enquiry with an agnostic view leads you to not believe that Genesis is an accurate recording of history.

13. Atheism Requires Naturalism.

No. Atheism is simply not accepting the positive claims that any gods exist. 

But what we do find is that when people have their theological blinkers removed, they then find that the cases presented for the existence of gods falls apart under scrutiny and that naturalism presents the best and most honest explanations of reality and history.

The bigger question is - why do CMI feel the need to defend Genesis by attacking atheism? If Genesis is able to stand as history on its own two feet, you don't need to talk about atheism - the evidence will speak volumes for itself.

14. Abandoning Genesis As History Leads To Heresy And Apostasy.

Again, this plays the "sure, you may call yourself a Christian, but you're not a true Christian if you don't accept the Bible literally" card.

This, as an example, is how they attack Dr. Francis Collins when he says that evolution is certainly correct and that it presents no problem with the Christian faith - they don't question his scientific credentials or method, they question his theology.

15. Why Not Take Genesis As History?

Because, in short, taking Genesis as history requires you to invent a large number of ad hoc rationalisations to make a literal interpretation of Genesis fit with reality and history (talking snakes, anyone?). Whereas, and this comes back to the original point, Genesis reads a lot better as myth than as history.

I, in my opinion, would classify a document or story of antiquity as being myth instead of history when it meets a number (if not all) of the following criteria:

1. We don't know for certain who the author/s of the document were, or the names were attached to the document post-hoc by later authorities.

2. The document is written in a style that does not line up with how we know history is recorded.

3.  The story in question is comprised of either highly improbable events and/or of events whose historicity cannot be verified objectively or independently.

4. Precious few details are given of the main characters in the recording, or they are presented in broad brush strokes that tend to play in to known mythological tropes.

5. The names of the characters are typically, though not always, functional (i.e. are a description of their character or function in the story) instead of being neutral to the story being told.

6. The document is written in a way that transmits values, particularly cultural and social ones, instead of a neutral observation of history.

Truth be told, we simply do not know who wrote Genesis. The format and content of Genesis don't line up with any bona fide historical records. Genesis describes events that are at best improbable, or at worst impossible. Very few concrete details are given of the characters or locations involved, to the point that we don't know where critical parts of the documented events take place. A large amount of the names of the main characters coincidentally describe their role in the story - for example, Adam means 'the ground', Eve means 'living', Joseph means 'God will increase', and even though Moses isn't in Genesis, his name funnily enough means 'drawn from water'. And finally, the story of Genesis isn't to tell a dispassionate story of a fledgling nation - it is to transmit religio-cultural values to Semitic peoples as tradition to pass on to future generations.

So by these markers, the probability of Genesis being myth is a lot stronger than Genesis as history. For Genesis


But also of note is how CMI haven't presented any serious scholarship to back up or prove an objective case for the historicity of Genesis. Their strongest arguments for Genesis as history aren't based on the research of historians or scholars, but instead on the limp arguments that the Bible is self-interpreting, that lots of other Christians accept Genesis as history, and that you're not the right kind of Christian if you don't accept Genesis as history as well.

This is not how you convince people who are agnostic of your claims that your claims are concordant with reality - this is how you keep people from straying from the approved theological line.


Stay safe and rational!

- Damien

Friday, July 24, 2020

Geeky Christians Questions For Atheists

Continuing with my current theme of responding to questions for atheists, I came across this set from Geeky Christian. And it comes around full-circle in that the questions on this site/page came from Norman Geisler, co-author of I Don't Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, the book that inspired the title for this blog!


1. Are you absolutely sure there is no God? If not, then is it not possible that there is a God? And if it is possible that God exists, then can you think of any reason that would keep you from wanting to look at the evidence?

This is three questions in one!

a) I'm not sure there is no God, but I do find both the concept and the evidence that God exists to not withstand rational scrutiny, in much the same way that the evidence for Zeus does not withstand rational scrutiny. And if it the evidence doesn't withstand rational and objective scrutiny, then it doesn't warrant belief.

b) It is possible there is a god/God, but without better data, that possibility will never be anything more than statistically insignificant. 

c) It's not that I refuse to believe in God because I simply don't want to look at the evidence lest my worldview be turned around - ten years ago I was a Fundamentalist Christian, until I became an atheist because I looked at the evidence with an open mind. I found the arguments for God either did not stand up to scientific scrutiny, or were philosophical rather than scientific.

2. Would you agree that intelligently designed things call for an intelligent designer of them? If so, then would you agree that evidence for intelligent design in the universe would be evidence for a designer of the universe?

Another multi-part question.

a) Design is more to do with origin rather than complexity. For example, a plastic shopping bag is not complex, but we know who designed them and where they are manufactured, whereas something complex like a bacteria we know is formed as a result of natural processes - bacteria and other life forms seemingly need no designer nor a manufacturer to exist.

b) It really depends on what you consider evidence of intelligent design, and if that evidence makes better sense in an intelligent design hypothesis or a methodological naturalist hypothesis. So far, all the evidence listed as evidence for design is actually better explained with naturalism, and this highlights the beauty of science against the vague 'God-did-it' scenario - science looks at mechanisms and probable causes, and in the field of the naturalistic sciences, you have to prove your case among numerous people are actively competing to prove you either right or wrong. However, under the Creationist 'God-did-it' scenario, sure, it's complex and it looks pretty, but that's simply the end of the matter.

3. Would you agree that nothing cannot produce something? If so, then if the universe did not exist but then came to exist, wouldn’t this be evidence of a cause beyond the universe?

a) I would agree on this point because we have never seen something come out of nothing and cannot find a reasonable science-based explanation for how something could come from nothing.

b) I do not know if the universe existed before time existed, so I can't answer that part in the affirmative. It is possible there was a cause beyond our universe for the existence of this universe, but we then have no way of determining what that cause is if it lies outside of our universe. But from what I've read, some of the best minds that have looked in to the topic don't seem to find the need to shoehorn an intelligent or sentient cause into the equation.

4. Would you agree with me that just because we cannot see something with our eyes—such as our mind, gravity, magnetism, the wind—that does not mean it doesn’t exist?

I would happily agree with you.

But where we may differ is that in my opinion, even though we don't see that something, what we do see are its effects on our world, and from that we can determine why and how that something operates. And in a lot of instances, we can use that something to our benefit.

For example, magnets are used all the time in electronics, the wind is used in farming, and gravity is great for distributing water.

5. Would you also agree that just because we cannot see God with our eyes does not necessarily mean He doesn’t exist?

Finally, a simple, single-sentence question!

I would agree - just because we can't see God doesn't count as evidence against his existence.

6. In the light of the big bang evidence for the origin of the universe, is it more reasonable to believe that no one created something out of nothing or someone created something out of nothing?

This is a misunderstanding of the concept of the big bang hypothesis. It's not that everything suddenly existed ex-nihilo - it is that all the energy and matter in the initial state of the universe was condensed in to a singularity which then expanded. The universe went from a hot and dense state to a sparse and cool state over the course of billions of years.

But it's ironic that some Christians consider the big bang as proof for God, whereas some Christians vehemently reject the big bang as a conspiracy by scientists to push an anti-Christian doctrine in the schools. 

And to me, this is a failing of the Bible - the God that created the universe should be able to clearly tell us how and by what mechanism he did so, and it should be clear enough in order to put either Big Bang-proponents or Steady State-theorists or whoever else in their place.

Otherwise, it becomes a case of humans needing to teach God science so he can tell us how he created the universe.

7. Would you agree that something presently exists? If something presently exists, and something cannot come from nothing, then would you also agree that something must have always existed?

a) Yes. Something presently exists.

b) Something may have always existed, but that something can have existed in various other states, or even existed merely as separate constituent components, before it became the state that we observe it in.

8. If it takes an intelligent being to produce an encyclopedia, then would it not also take an intelligent being to produce the equivalent of 1000 sets of an encyclopedia full of information in the first one-celled animal?

This line of thought doesn't quite resonate for a number of ways:

Firstly, the first one-celled animal is not an animal. An animal is defined as a multicellular organism with an internal digestive tract, so calling the first one-celled animal an animal does not make it an animal.

Secondly, saying that something has the equivalent of 1000 sets of encyclopedias is not saying that someone wrote 1000 sets of encyclopedias then inserted that in to the first one-celled animal. Its's just saying that something is incredibly complex, which I agree - genetics is something that only a handful of people will ever fully comprehend.

Thirdly, just because you call it 'information' does not mean it actually is information as we would use the word in common parlance as if we were reading a technical manual. The letters we use to represent the genetic code, T, G, A and C, are representative of the chemical chains of the constituent proteins. It describes what we see - not prescribes.

If we look at a CD, the pits on a CD track form the prescriptive 1's and 0's which are the encoding that the CD laser reads of the information that becomes the sound you hear. But in a genetic code, the TGAC we see are simply chemical reactions. The TGAC aren't pits in a CD track put there by a designer - they're descriptive of the chemical interactions we observe and we use TGAC as a simplified way to describe those relationships. If there was a designer producing babies with TGACs like record companies produce CDs, then the design analogy stacks up. But it doesn't because we know babies aren't mass-produced in a factory according to a template.

9. If an effect cannot be greater than its cause (since you can’t give what you do not have to give), then does it not make more sense that mind produced matter than that matter produced mind, as atheists say?

This is where I feel the arguments for Christianity retreat to philosophy and word salad, rather than hard data and the scientific method.

Firstly, the only minds we know of are in material brains (and simulated by computers). 

Secondly, minds are made of the same matter that is part of this universe.

So to say that a separate mind created the matter that our own minds are made of is to beg the question two ways:
Either you believe in a magical disembodied mind (which means in something that goes against all rationality), or that the mind that created this matter was itself the result of other matter that itself was created.

10. Is there anything wrong anywhere? If so, how can we know unless there is a moral law?

We don't have moral law. We have morals and we have morality, but what theists would call moral law basically boils down to a mixture of legislation and culture in order to enforce our ideals. So there definitely isn't a moral law so to speak, but more an ideal of how we should govern ourselves to increase cohesion and reduce suffering in our societies.

11. If every law needs a lawgiver, does it not make sense to say a moral law needs a Moral Lawgiver?

No, it does not make sense.

Acts of parliament that we call law needs lawgivers, so the analogy holds up here. But things like the laws of nature that we observe in science, or moral laws that we observe in culture, are more descriptive rather than prescriptive. They are simplifications of already-existing concepts, rather than something created by parliament to be enforced in a courtroom.

Besides, every time period in history has had a different understanding of morality - the Israelites owned and used slaves without any compunction, the Romans sent people and animals to die against gladiators for entertainment, and Catholic Germany persecuted Jews for hundreds of years because they believed it was their duty as a result of deicide. Does this then mean that this hypothetical moral lawgiver changes their mind every couple of hundred years and gives a different moral law in different countries?

12. Would you agree that if it took intelligence to make a model universe in a science lab, then it took super-intelligence to make the real universe?

A model universe, as in a Grade 6 science project, is just a replica of what already exists. It isn't creating anything new.

But let's say someone created a new universe in a science lab - then they're just using natural processes to make something that continues the chain of natural processes.

Or are you then confirming that the hypothetical Grade 6 kid in science class is now a super-intelligence (euphemism for God)?

13. Would you agree that it takes a cause to make a small glass ball found in the woods? And would you agree that making the ball larger does not eliminate the need for a cause? If so, then doesn’t the biggest ball of all (the whole universe) need a cause?

a) Yes, I would agree that if I found a glass ball in a forest, it had a cause. For example, if I found a ball of obsidian, then because we know how obsidian forms, I would say it is the result of natural processes (especially if the forest is in the vicinity of a volcano). If I found a clear crystal ball that looks like a fortune teller's, I would presume someone dropped it after they bought it from a shop.

b) Depends on the glass, and what effect making the ball larger has.

c) The universe has different shapes depending on the density, so calling it simply a ball is somewhat ignorant of the reality. Brian Cox says the universe is actually flat!

d) This ball we call the universe is 99.99999% empty, radiation-filled space. If it was created, it was created incredibly inefficiently.

14. If there is a cause beyond the whole finite (limited) universe, would not this cause have to be beyond the finite, namely, non-finite or infinite?

Not necessarily. The best of our understanding is that the formation of our universe was the result of natural processes that while we aren't certain of the details, not many (if any at all) degree-qualified experts on the subject give any credence to the idea a universe-creating being, and only a few more give any credence to a multiverse theory.

15. In the light of the anthropic principle (that the universe was fine-tuned for the emergence of life from its very inception), wouldn’t it make sense to say there was an intelligent being who preplanned human life?

Looking at the earth, our position in space and the vastness of space, it is a stretch of credulity to say that the universe was designed for life, especially human life.

Firstly, we have to consider that humans themselves are neither the tallest, heaviest, fastest or strongest organisms, nor do we live the longest. We are, however, the most intelligent, so we at least have one thing going for us.

Secondly, for a universe designed for humans, the humans it was designed for are strictly confined strictly to the surface of just one rocky ball adjacent to a minor star in one far-off part of the universe. This is hardly the epitome of anthropic design.

Thirdly, anthropists forget that the humans that the universe was designed for need a specialised suit to survive in anything above the lower parts of earth's atmosphere, and this is before we even consider outer space. Furthermore, even on this one solitary rocky ball, we can only inhabit the surface because the interior gets hotter and more poisonous the further in you get, and even on the surface we can inhabit at most 30% of that surface because the other 70% is covered in water (the humans the universe was designed for can't talk or breathe in the most abundant chemical in the universe). Further still, the 30% that isn't water, some parts are simply inhospitable due to it being either too close to the poles, too low relative to sea level, too high relative to sea level, or some other factor that is inconducive to human life.

Let's just say that if there was an intelligence that pre-planned human life according to divine design, that designer is woefully inefficient.


There you are - Geeky Christian's Questions For Atheists answered.

I hope these answers give you good reason to pause for thought.


Until next time, stay safe and rational.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

21 Facts That Evolutionists Can't Answer - Answered

And yet more anti-evolutionist and anti-atheist hilarity. Some time ago (though I only came across it recently) a video was produced titled 21 Facts That Evolutionists Can't Answer, but carded as 21 Facts Stupid Scientists & Atheists Can't Answer.

This video has the logo of The Discovery Institute, and purports to be from them, but I seriously doubt it was produced by or was affiliated with them in any way, firstly by the tone of the video not matching anything that TDI produces, and there's nothing on the TDI website to indicate this was ever released by them. But if this was indeed produced by them, then this is a poor way to engage those on the other side. 

But regardless of who made the video, the questions are still out there, so I am going to answer the questions so that my responses can be read and evaluated as part of the wider religious/atheist dialogue.


1. Why are the planets round?

Of course an evolutionist can't answer this question - it has everything to do with physics and nothing to do with biology.

But why are the planets round? Because nature has a propensity to make round things, especially in a vacuum - the sun, the moon, the other stars, comets (being roughly round), etc.

2. Go to the zoo and tell me, why doesn’t a chimpanzee give birth to a man?

Do I have to go to a zoo? Why can't I do it from home?

Because every living thing belongs to its parent clade - in short, you can't outgrow your lineage. Chimpanzees are of the genus Pan, whereas humans are of the genus Homo - they're not in the same genus.

If a chimpanzee actually did give birth to an actual verified human, this would destroy evolution as we know it.

3. Have you ever seen a mountain form?

No. But again, this has nothing to do with evolution. If you want to know how mountains form, ask a geologist.

But regardless, we don't need to see mountains form directly on camera to know how they form.

4. Why doesn’t new life show up in a jar of peanut butter?

Because peanut butter doesn't have the correct chemicals in the correct balance to create the chemical combinations for new self-replicating cells to form.

5.  If the big bang started as a singularity…who held up the singularity?

Why does it have to be a someone, and not a something

Plus, the singularity didn't hold together - it expanded to become the observable universe we exist in today. If it held together, the universe wouldn't have expanded and we wouldn't have existed.

6. A painting had a painter…therefore the Universe had a maker.

This is correct on the first part - paintings don't occur in nature, so therefore any painting you see had a painter. But in regards to the universe, there is only one universe we can study and we are inside of it, so attempting to study its origins requires some advanced technology and understanding. And some of the most brilliant minds around have studied the question of the beginning of our observable universe and they almost universally rule out any intelligent or sentient cause behind the formation of the universe.

The problem here is that science doesn't care what you personally find reasonable or think is common-sense. For example, if you went back in time and told someone in ancient Greece that both good and bad germs exist, Jupiter has 79 moons, or by using sound waves we can see babies before they are born, they would be just as dismissive as what anti-evolutionists are now because it would go against their common-sense. But we know both good and bad germs exist, that Jupiter indeed has 79 moons, and anyone who has had a baby knows what an ultrasound is, so when science tells us all life forms are inter-related via inherited genetic mechanisms or that the observable universe came out of a singularity, yes, it goes against common-sense - but I would much rather have the facts about reality determined by knowledge rather than personal opinion.

7. If a monkey gave birth to a man, who would he (or she) mate with?

Great question. If this actually ever happened, it would put a massive hole in our current understanding of genetics and evolution, especially as the resulting offspring (if it was fertile) would break the definition of species.

But it may be best to wait for it to happen so we can study the how, rather than get ourselves tangled in a weird hypothetical.

8.  How can you explain gravity?

Again, not a question that relates to evolution.

Gravity seems to be the result of the conditions that formed particles in the big bang. To me, the answer to this question is very similar to how electricity, the strong nuclear and the weak nuclear forces are explained.

9. If we came from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

We didn't come from monkeys. Humans and monkeys are cousins in the biological tree of life, not ancestors.

10. If the world is “millions of years old”, why is it only 2008?

Yet again, not related to evolution.

But we base the year off of the Gregorian calendar, which was based off of the Julian calendar. But in other calendar systems, it is different years - in the Assyrian calendar it is 6770, in the Chinese calendar it is 4718, and in the Islamic calendar it is 1441.

The short answer is yes, the world is thousands of millions of years old, but we only just started counting recently to keep a track of relative time.

11. If I throw dirt up in the air, what are the odds it will fall into the formation of a living man?

Zero. Unless you threw the dirt over a mannequin, or over an actual living man for the dirt to fall in to the formation of a living man.

12. Can you see electricity?

Yes. That's what lightning is.

13. Science changes.  The book of Genesis is perfect.

Yes, science changes, and this is the beauty of it - when we find something we thought was right was actually wrong or incomplete, we correct or add to what we got wrong. Science is a process.

But to say Genesis is perfect is more a reflexive position rather than a considered evaluation of the evidence.

14. The holy Bible is the truth because the Bible says it’s the truth.

Again, this is more of a defensively reflexive response to an accusation, rather than a considered evaluation.

But believing the book is the truth because the book tells you it is the truth does not prove to us the book is the truth. Besides, given the numerous pronouncements of genocide and slavery (1 Samuel 15, Numbers 31, Exodus 21), you're confirming that the authority behind the Bible was complicit in the commission of war crimes and human rights abuses.

15. Evolution is a religion, and science leads to killing people.

Is evolution a religion? No. Evolution imparts no moral values, has no prescribed texts, has no mandated meetings, ceremonies or rituals, and has no notion of the afterlife or the supernatural. Furthermore, evolution has a replete body of scholarship backing up the claims made.

The line 'science leads you to killing people' reminds me of something very similar Ben Stein said in an interview. However, from what I've seen of him on various media, I'm not sure I'd be taking lectures on either morality or on science from Mr. Stein.

But does science lead you to kill people? No. While I haven't seen the complete body of research, I am quite confident no criminologist or forensic psychiatrist has listed 'science education' as a causative factor behind homicidal behaviour.
Plus, people were killing people well before the scientific method was established.

16.  Scientists around the world are all jointly involved in a conspiracy against god!

Aren't the Discovery Institute themselves a religious (if not explicitly Christian) organisation? If this video did come from them, this is one of the strangest claims I have ever seen them make.

But even on the face of it, no, there is no worldwide conspiracy amongst scientists to hide the evidence for God. Especially when you consider that a large number of Nobel Prize have been been Catholic, Protestant or Jewish!

17.  Bananas are perfectly designed for the human hand.

This one is ironically true. The yellow Cavendish banana that is the most common variety available today does indeed fit the primate hand - but that is because that variety was artificially bred (cultivated) to be the size and shape it is after a disease wiped out the Gros Michel variety.

But if we look at other types of bananas, we see the idea of design for the human hand breaks down. Plantains are typically longer than the Cavdendish and can't be eaten straight - they have to be cooked before consumption because they're so high in starch.

18. Millions of years for a monkey to turn into a man? Monkeys don’t live that long.

Monkeys don't live millions of years? Genius observation right there. That will surely rattle the foundations of biological science.

But this gets the theory of evolution completely wrong in a couple of ways - no animal turns in to another species in its lifetime, and evolution happens to populations, not individuals.

19. Why would a man want to have sex with a monkey?

You would have to ask a behavioural psychologist that one.

20. Archaeologists always remove the human remains first when they find a dinosaur so they can continue the LIE.

Including the Christian archaeologists? 

Or is it that, due to superposition, human bones are always in the strata above dinosaur bones, so you will find human bones before you find dinosaur bones if you're digging through relatively undisturbed strata.

21. Can you speak monkey? Didn’t think so…

And this is a mark against evolution in what way exactly?


21 questions answered. Done.


Stay safe, wear your mask, stop the spread!!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

31 Questions For Atheists

The other day, I was going through The Amazing Atheist's YouTube channel, and I have to thank him for leading me to 31 Questions For Atheists from the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM).

Here are my 31 responses to 31 questions:

1. How would you define atheism?

Not accepting the affirmative claims that supernatural entities that we call gods exist.

Some atheists also do not accept affirmative claims of the existence of the supernatural as a basis for not accepting claims that supernatural gods exist, but at its very core, atheism is not accepting the claims that gods exist.

2. Do you act according to what you believe in or what you lack belief in?

Not quite. I act according to what I believe creates good/positive/beneficial outcomes for the situation I am in that comes with as little risk as reasonable. It's not so much what I believe in, but what I believe is reasonable and does not harm.

In terms of theism, theistic and atheistic considerations do not factor in to any decision making. I don't decide "I am going to drink a dangerously large cup of coffee because God doesn't exist".

3. Do you think it is inconsistent for someone who "lacks belief" in God to work against God's existence by attempting to show that God doesn't exist?

Atheists/antitheists don't work against God's existence - they already don't think God (or gods) exist, and no atheist I know of can make God disappear. 

What atheists/antitheists try to do is show that belief in God/gods is not warranted because it goes against the best-available evidence, does not always lead to increased human well-being, and in some extreme cases, is used as justification for ethical abuses.

4. Why are you an atheist?

Because I can't prove God exists outside of my head.

And also, the best arguments for God/gods are philosophical, not scientific, and to me, a God who can only be justified in philosophy is no greater than whatever imaginary god I create for myself.

5. How sure are you that atheism is proper position to hold?

I'm fairly sure because atheism (not simply my atheism) is the most logically justifiable position to hold scientifically, morally and rationally, based on the evidence we have at hand.

But I am happy to declare that if the existence of gods could be proven, I would no longer be an atheist.

6. On a scale from 1 to 5, one is weak, 5 is strong, how sure are you that God does not exist?

4, or maybe 4.5. Mathematically speaking, there exists the slim (though infintesimal) possibility that God does exists, but I am yet to come across a situation where a supernatural/theistic explanation has warranted, or had enough explanatory power, to replace a naturalistic explanation for a particular observed phenomenon.

7. Why do you believe your atheism is a justifiable position to hold?

Because the Null Hypothesis is the most honest and reliable starting point when testing a positive claim. It is one of the foundational aspects of research, as well as in the judicial system. When applied theologically, the claim that God exists or that any gods exist is assumed false until it can be proven beyond reasonable doubt.

God has not been proven beyond reasonable doubt. Though there are refined and well-thought out proofs for a God-like being philosophically, there are none that stand up to scrutiny scientifically

Therefore, the Null Hypothesis remains intact and God is not guilty of existing.

8. Do you affirm or deny that atheism is a worldview? A Worldview is a set of unproven beliefs and/or assumptions that a person uses when interpreting the world around him.

Atheism is not a worldview, though some atheists as well as some Christians take the meaning of atheism too far to mean something that it shouldn't.

Atheism, at its most basic, is not accepting the claims that gods, plural or singular, exist, let alone have any affect in earthly matters.

9. What is your opinion of the Bible?

The Bible is made up of mythosymbolic texts for the purpose of transmitting cultural values, mixed in with liberal doses of historical fiction.

I believe there are some morally beneficial teachings in the Bible, as well as some morally reprehensible ones.

But I am not convinced that something is good or beyond criticism just because it is stated in the Bible.

10. What is your opinion of Jesus?

I'm not convinced that the Jesus of the Bible existed as the Bible portrays him, and especially not simply because the Bible tells us so.

I accept there could well have been an ordinary man around whom grew legend, and I believe it is possible that there never was an earthly Jesus at all, though the best data we have at hand is sketchy.

11. What is your opinion of the concept of the God of the Bible?

At best, inconsistent and an overly-sensitive manipulator.

At worst, a homicidal, genocidal, racist, sexist and infanticidal bigot.

12. What is your opinion of the Christian concept of hell

I'd like it if there was an actual accepted definition of hell. Some preachers say it is the fire-and-brimstone place of torture, some preachers say it is just a place of misery and separation from God. Some say it is something else altogether.

I'd like to know which Christian concept of hell you are presenting before I give an opinion of it.

But if we're referring to any form of eternal punishment for finite transgressions, that is immoral.

13. What is your opinion of Evolution?

I'm not too sure why evolution is capitalised as a proper noun here.

But the theory of evolution is one of the most scientifically accepted and documented theories of the observations we have of the natural world, especially because it explains a lot of the data we have.

14. How would you define what truth is?

A statement, judgement or proposition that is concordant with reality.

15. Do you affirm that the physical universe is all there is and that all things can be explained in terms of motion, matter, chemical reaction, etc.?

No. But the physical universe is the only thing we can verify exists, and we can only study and observe what we can study and observe.

Until someone can come up with a way to verify the supernatural - aside from the asinine definition that the supernatural is just what the natural hasn't explained yet - we should not accept supernatural explanations for material reality.

16. If you were at one time a believer in the Christian God, what caused you to deny His existence?

I wouldn't say 'deny his existence' as much as I would say 'stopped accepting the claims that he exists as an assertion that shouldn't be tested or criticised'.

And again, I stopped accepting the claims of God's existence when I could not prove God existed outside of my mind.

17. Do you believe the world would be better off without religion?

To me, it actually more depends on how we get to a world that doesn't have religion in it in the first place rather than the world not having religion per se.

If religion were banned or outlawed and religious people were thrown in jail solely on the basis of their religion, I would not accept that and would see it as a horrible thing.

However, if we came to a world without religion because science education became so ingrained in our cultural psyche that supernatural explanations of reality were no longer accepted due to the sheer ridiculousness of them, I would embrace that.

18. Do you believe the world would be better off without Christianity?

This, I don't know and don't have a simple yes-or-no answer to. Christianity has both helped and harmed society throughout history, and some of my best friends are theists.

19. If you oppose Christianity, which of the following options best fits your reason: Christianity is morally wrong, dangerous, oppressive, or I don't oppose Christianity

I don't oppose Christianity per se, it is more that I oppose the bad reasoning that Biblical Literalism espouses. And the biggest reason for me that I oppose this ultra-conservative Christianity is because it is oppressive, especially in terms of science education and mental health care.

Numerous Christians, under the umbrella of Creationism, are actively teaching unscientific notions of biology, cosmology and geology. I also know of some Creationists who are lobbying to get the theory of evolution removed from school textbooks. This, to me, is abjectly wrong. We should be teaching more science, not less science.

Regarding mental health issues, they were (and still are by some Fundamentalists) considered to be the result of supernatural causation whose treatment of such also lies in the supernatural. This leads to both delayed diagnosis and ineffective treatment (as my own personal struggles will testify), increasing or prolonging the suffering.

So I don't oppose Christianity - I oppose those who take their religion too seriously.

20. Do you believe that faith in a God or gods is a mental disorder?

No, especially because some of the most intelligent and revolutionary people have been people who believe in God.

The closest I will say that I do believe that a large number of people are much more prone to phenomena like hallucination, cognitive dissonance and agency overdetection when they embrace and immerse themselves in the concept of immaterial beings affecting material reality.

21. Must we be able to demonstrate God’s existence through the scientific method?

Only if we are comfortable with being treated for sickness and diseases, driving cars, flying in planes or walking in to buildings that were done people who haven't studied or understood the results of the scientific method.

What I am trying to say is that we use the scientific method to benefit so many areas of our lives (cars, healthcare, transport, engineering, manufacturing, etc.), yet for the most important question we could possibly ask - does God exist - for some reason we have to put the number one tool we have for filtering data aside and instead rely on vague feelings, logical fallacies and ancient texts?

22. Is it a category mistake to require material evidence via the scientific method for an immaterial God?

I think you've defeated your own argument in that one sentence - if God is immaterial, then God is not material.

To counter some theistic arguments for why we don't detect God, if God supposedly exists outside of time and space, then that means he does not exist inside time and space, and if something does not exist in time and space, it simply does not exist.

Besides, if God does materially affect our reality, then there should be some way of determining when and how God does that. When and how that is determined, then I will look at theistic claims seriously.

23. Where does morality come from?

Morality comes from both the surrounding culture, as well as our understanding of how our decisions affect both ourselves and those around us.

24. Are there moral absolutes?

If we take absolute morality to mean moral principles that are applicable in every possible situation, regardless of who, what, when, where or why, then no, there are no moral absolutes - morality is subjective. But I do believe that there are universal moral values.

Moral values such as prohibitions against murder, against theft and against deception are universal to most if not all cultures, but there can be cases made where murder, theft and deception can be morally justified (murder in self-defence, stealing a gun from a bank robber to disarm them, or lying to get someone the help they need when ordinary channels have failed, are all justified instances of murder, theft and deception). In a morality system that had firm and cast-iron absolutes, this should not be, thus lending weight to my notion of universal - but not absolute - morality.

25. Is the following statement true or false? “It is always wrong for everyone to torture babies to death merely for one’s personal pleasure.”

True. This is because we know torture is harmful, and that the pleasure gained by the torture is temporary compared to the damage the baby is likely to suffer both physically and psychologically.

This makes torture morally wrong.

26. Should morality be based on reducing unnecessary harm?

Morality should be focused on both reducing unneccessary harm as well as increasing well-being.

27. What would it take for you to believe in God?

A video or photo of God would be a great start - in this time where our recording equipment is the most advanced it has ever been, where we have been able to video a single electron, yet we can't record, let alone interview, God?

Also, an argument that is based on empirical data and not philosophy would go a long way to convincing me God exists.

28. Do you think that a society that is run by Christians or atheists would be safer? Why?

An atheistic society is more likely to be safer. Various statistical analysis of various societies shows that demographics with high religious affiliation (Christianity included) have lower Human Development Index scores.

Further to this, the top 5 countries with the highest intentional homicide rates are all countries that have over 70% combined Catholic/Protestant affiliation.

29. Do you believe in free will? (free will being the ability to make choices without coercion).

I believe that while free will may neurologically be an illusion, our brains and thinking processes simulate it pretty well.

Let's just say that no-one has been acquitted of a crime because they successfully argued that no-one has free will.

30. If you believe in free will, do you see any problem with defending the idea that the physical brain, which is limited and subject to the neuro-chemical laws of the brain, can still produce free will choices?

I don't see a problem. Our brains are the hardware that runs the free will software.

Yes, our brains are limited, but not useless. 

31. If you affirm evolution and that the universe will continue to expand forever, then that would require an infinite number of evolutionary possibilities. In an infinite number of such possibilities, do you affirm that life forms would then evolve to the point of exceeding mere physical limitations and become free of the physical and temporal, and thereby become "deity" and not be restricted by space and time?

I don't affirm the universe will expand forever. It is possible, but not something I necessarily accept without studying it further. The universe is expanding, but it may not do so forever.

Evolution and cosmology have nothing to do with each other, so this question is malformed.

Furthermore, in evolution, nothing can outgrow its phylogeny. If something could, this would actually be a proof against evolution.


There you have it. 31 questions answered.

CARM then put two further questions, one of which seems to be an ad hominem against Matt Dillahunty, and the other asks for personal opinions on Matt Slick himself.

These, I am not interested in.


Stay safe, warm, and coronavirus-free!


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