Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Moral Uselessness of the 10 Commandments

Christians are always telling us how necessary their god is for morality, as if man needed an invisible magic being to tell him what's right and what's wrong. For this, they love the 10 commandments found in the 20th chapter of the book of Exodus. According to believers, the 10 commandments formulate the bedrock of the ultimate standard in morality. Like them, we are expected to assume that the content of the 10 commandments was not developed by human beings and subsequently attributed to their god. On the contrary, we are supposed to believe that they were delivered to us just as the storybook tells us: from the divine creator of the universe itself to the rest of humanity by way of a man named Moses who encountered this supernatural being in the form of a talking tumbleweed on the summit of Mt. Sinai some 3500 ago, give or take a few centuries.

The 10 commandments are predominantly prohibitive in nature. They dwell on telling us what not to do, not what we should do. Debates over the appropriateness or sufficiency of the 10 commandments are waged from internet chatrooms to the chambers of the US Supreme Court. It seems, however, that many of these debates often miss the point of morality to begin with. Many people, including Christians, seem to view morality as a punitive restraint, a penalty which man is obliged to bear for being man. So it is natural that they would endorse a standard informed by prohibitions backed by personal threats and psychological sanctions.

Contrary to this punitive conception of morality is the conception which I have adopted, a view of morality which never loses sight of the facts underlying man's objective need for morality. Man needs morality because he faces a fundamental alternative, and because of this he needs values in order to live. Since man does not automatically know what is of value to his life or which course of action will enable him to achieve and/or protect those values, he needs a code of values which guides his choices and actions. "The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." (Atlas Shrugged) Essentially, according to my worldview, morality is the application of reason to the task of living, a rational code which takes account of man's profound need for values. A morality suitable for man needs therefore to be useful to man, but this is precisely where the 10 commandments fail as a standard of morality fit for my life.

To understand this, let's take a look at them:

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
10. Thou shalt not covet.

Regarding the first commandment, I have no gods before me whatsoever, since I have no god-belief. So the prohibition of other gods is morally useless for me.

Regarding the second commandment, I don’t worship graven images in the first place, such as little statues of Mary or Jesus on a cross. So this prohibition is morally useless for me.

What of the third commandment? Since I have no god-belief, I obviously cannot take the name of my god in vain, since I have no god. This commandment is thus morally useless to me.

The fourth commandment demands that I set “the Sabbath day” aside for rest. (Originally this was Saturday, but for Christians this is typically Sunday.) It is essentially a prohibition against working on that day. In other words, it is a prohibition against producing values on a specific day of the week, which is utterly arbitrary. In fact, this is completely contrary to morality, for morality is all about achieving and protecting values. This commandment is thus morally useless to me.

The fifth commandment is at best superfluous, and it misses the point to boot. I honor my parents because of the honor they have earned, not because I’m commanded to. Moreover, like love, genuine honor is not subject to commands; it has to be earned to be real. This commandment is thus morally useless to me.

The sixth commandment prohibits killing. Ostensibly this means killing other human beings (some Christians say it means premeditated murder or homicide outside of dire self-defense). But since I have no desire or intention to kill another human being, this commandment is morally useless to me.

The seventh commandment prohibits adultery. But since I have no intention of cheating on my wife, this commandment is morally useless to me.

The eighth commandment prohibits stealing. But again, I have no intention of stealing anything from anyone since I neither pursue nor accept the unearned, either in values or in spirit. This commandment is therefore morally useless to me.

The ninth commandment prohibits lying. But since I have no intention of faking reality, either to myself or to others, then this commandment is also morally useless to me.

The tenth commandment prohibits coveting, which I find to be the most curious of all the commandments. One online dictionary defines ‘covet’ as “to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.” But since I recognize each individual’s fundamental rights, I do not take actions in social contexts “wrongly, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others.” And again, since I do not pursue the unearned, a command prohibiting wrongful and inordinate desires is of no moral use to me. Even more, I do not see how simply desiring something can pose a threat to the rights of others. So long as I am not taking action which violates another’s individual rights, what exactly is the problem here? It appears to be an arbitrary restriction, perhaps the foothold of a slippery slope argument. ("If you covet, then you're going to... and... and..." etc.) So this commandment is also morally useless to me; it does not guide the choices that I do need to make in order to live, but instead worries fallaciously about what appears to be a non-existent harm.

A rational individual clearly needs something better than all this. The commandments only tell us how not to live; they do not tell us how to live, which is what a moral code should do. They say nothing about values, neither man's need for them nor the proper way of achieving them, and apparently takes values completely for granted. Several of the prohibitions could be summarized by an injunction against the infringement of individual rights, a fundamental principle which would also prohibit involuntary servitude. But from what I can tell, the bible does not lay out a theory of individual rights to begin with. Then again, theists are often prone to confusing morality with social theory; morality focuses on the individual and the choices he makes for his life, while a suitable social theory applies moral principles in defining the limits of one's actions in the context of interpersonal relationships.

A list of prohibitions is not a substitute for one's need of a code of values which will guide the choices and actions he will make, and a list of prohibitions against choices he has no desire to make in the first place will not compensate for the omission of the former. Moreover, a rational individual by definition is one who guides his choices and actions according to rational principles, as opposed to threats from imaginary supernatural beings. He has no need for a list of injunctions telling him what an invisible magic being doesn't want him to do. The 10 commandments do not tell us what we should do or why, so in the final analysis they are morally useless.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Monday, May 21, 2007

A Succinct Summary of My Worldview

A visitor named Robert recently stopped by my blog and asked me to provide a "succint statement of what [I] hold to be true and how [I] measure truth." Below I am posting the same response I gave to Robert in my combox.

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I don’t think a single statement would ever be sufficient to encapsulate what I hold to be true. But here are some basic pointers in terms of the four basic branches of philosophy:

1) Metaphysics: Objective reality. Three axioms establish this: existence exists, consciousness is consciousness of something, A is A. These are the axioms of existence, consciousness and identity. The initial guiding principle of philosophy is the primacy of existence principle. It is the recognition that reality exists independent of consciousness. Reality is not the product of conscious intentions, nor does it conform to consciousness. Hence I reject the religious view of the world, which essentially holds that a form of consciousness created the universe – i.e., all existence extraneous to itself - and/or directs the events which take place within it. This is a form of metaphysical subjectivism – the view that the subject holds metaphysical primacy over its objects.

2) Epistemology: Reason. Reason is the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by his senses. Rationality is the commitment to reason as one’s only means of knowledge of reality and his guide to action. The form in which he initially identifies and integrates the objects of his awareness is conceptual in nature, which is a volitional process, and the method by which he integrates what he perceives and identifies into affirmations is logic, which is the art of non-contradictory identification. Reason functions in accordance with the primacy of existence principle, enabling man to distinguish between fact and fiction, the real and the unreal, the actual and the imaginary. Reason is the faculty by which man discovers and validates truths about reality, and is thus the standard of measurement of truth.

3) Morality: Rational self-interest. This is the morality of values, the application of reason to the task of living and man’s need to act in order to live. Value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep in the interest of living and enjoying life. The morality of rational self-interest is developed on the recognition that man faces a fundamental alternative – to live or die, and on the basis of a fundamental choice: to live. It requires that one recognize that the needs man has for living are not automatically provided for, that he needs to identify those values which he needs to live and those actions which make acquiring and/or preserving those values possible. “The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.” (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged)

4) Politics/social theory: Individual rights. An objective social theory is one which recognizes that each individual human being has the right to exist for his own sake. “A ‘right’ is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context.” (Ayn Rand, “Man’s Rights,” The Virtue of Selfishness) Accordingly, since life is an end in itself, no individual has an obligation to sacrifice his values, his mind or his life to another person, whether real or imagined. As a corollary, a religious believer has the right to worship whichever god he chooses, just as a non-believer has the right not to worship any gods.

I’m hoping these points inspire new questions as much as they are intended to address your initial question. If so, please feel free to probe some more. I always enjoy sharing my views.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Answering Ecualegacy, Pt. 4

Below I offer some more thoughts in response to statements made by Ecualegacy in the comment section of Aaron Kinney's blog Pat Tillman and Christian Bigotry.

Readers should also note that Ecualegacy has erected a new blog. It can be found here:
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Ecualegacy:

What kind of proof do you want?

It’s not about what I want. It’s about what the Christian says his god wants. What does it want, and what is it willing to do to get what it wants? If it wants my allegiance, it knows what to do, since according to the Christian’s worldview it created me and is omniscient. So what does it do? It sends internet apologists like Ecualegacy (not to mention others). What is he? Ecualegacy is just a man. And what does he offer? More evasions, just as I would expect if his god were not real.

If the apologist wants to pursue the question – “what kind of proof do you want?” – I would say that a demonstration of the power Christians claim their god possesses would be a good place to start. Something concrete is needed to elevate the content of what they want others to believe from the level of a mere claim – such as “God created the earth and the heaven” – to a demonstration which we can witness firsthand and which unequivocally points to their god as opposed to a rival deity, an as-of-yet unexplained scientific phenomenon, or simply a misidentification of reality. This is essentially what I pointed out to Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry when I interacted with his essay I don’t see any convincing evidence for the existence of God. In my response to Slick, I wrote:

What the theist will then want to say is that this being which he calls god, possesses a consciousness powerful enough to create planets, enable men to walk on unfrozen water, turn water into wine, and make A into non-A (i.e., make contradictions exist) at will. In other words, the theist is claiming that there exists a being with the power to make reality conform to its will. "Then what kind of evidence would be acceptable?" Well, obviously, given the nature of such a claim, the only evidence for such a claim which could at all be acceptable would be a demonstration of such power.

My position has not changed, and the fact that I have never witnessed a demonstration of what Christian believers claim on behalf of their god has also not changed. Immutability seems to be one of the characteristics they attribute to their god, and indeed, a non-existent being does not change. Consistent with this, I have already pointed to the precedent of biblical example in the book of Acts and the conversion of Saul. According to the story, Saul was an active persecutor of the early Christian church; he initiated the use of force against individuals who peaceably sought to worship their god. And the Jesus of the gospels saw fit to come down and show himself to Saul firsthand. Certainly the Christian god is no respecter of persons (cf. Acts 10:34), is it? And if this procedure worked for Saul, why wouldn’t it work for anyone else? Does the Christian god truly think that sending evangelizing internet apologists like Ecualegecy will be more effective than what it allegedly did for Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus? Or, is this just a legend blown out of proportion by people who want the Christian story to be true?

Ecualegacy then listed some options and gave a reason for shooting them down:

Pillars of fire? Parting seas? Manna from heaven? Booming voices? The Israelites had all that and more AND THEY STILL DIDN'T BELIEVE!

According to the stories in the storybook, that’s right: they (all?) still didn’t believe. Apparently pillars of fire, parting seas, manna from heaven and booming voices are not enough for some people. Of course, I have never witnessed these pillars of fire, parting seas, manna from heaven or booming voices. And so far as I can tell, neither did the ancient Jews. The stories say they did, but what reason does Ecualegacy or any other apologist offer that I should not just dismiss these as fictional accounts? For many people, such as myself, who are more discriminating about what they accept as truth, mere stories such as the ones Ecualegacy cites are certainly not going to be enough. That’s not my problem. Is there more that his god can do? If not, then it must not be a very impressive god. If it can, then let’s see it. Or, is there going to be some excuse for why it doesn’t? It’s Ecualegacy’s god. He can decide.

Ecualegacy then admitted that evidence and proof have nothing to do with it. He wrote:

Your problem isn't a sufficiency of proof. It's pride!

Whose problem is this? Pride is a moral virtue in my book. Observe:

Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value and, like all of man's values, it has to be earned-that of any achievements open to you, the one that makes all others possible is the creation of your own character-that your character, your actions, your desires, your emotions are the products of the premises held by your mind-that as man must produce the physical values he needs to sustain his life, so he must acquire the values of character that make his life worth sustaining-that as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul-that to live requires a sense of self-value, but man, who has no automatic values, has no automatic sense of self-esteem and must earn it by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man, the rational being he is born able to create, but must create by choice-that the first precondition of self-esteem is that radiant selfishness of soul which desires the best in all things, in values of matter and spirit, a soul that seeks above all else to achieve its own moral perfection, valuing nothing higher than itself-and that the proof of an achieved self-esteem is your soul's shudder of contempt and rebellion against the role of a sacrificial animal, against the vile impertinence of any creed that proposes to immolate the irreplaceable value which is your consciousness and the incomparable glory which is your existence to the blind evasions and the stagnant decay of others. (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged)

Since pride is a virtue in my book, this is not a point of deficiency on my behalf. But the fact that the apologist finds a man’s pride to be a barrier to god-belief is telling in itself. It means he secretly realizes that acceptance of god-belief claims is not likely so long as one values himself, and that one must surrender the moral character he has already earned in order prostrate himself before those who seek to hold him captive. To be a Christian, one must enshrine his vices as his moral norm and sacrifice the virtues he has earned which make him a moral human being. This is why Ecualegacy refers to my pride as a “problem.” It keeps me from swimming into the fisher's nets, and this frustrates him.

Ecualegacy asks:

How hard is it to get down on one knee, say to God, "Okay, I've got your book and I'm going to commit my life to following it?"

The question is not “how hard is it to get down on one knee” and pledge allegiance to an invisible magic being which refuses to show itself to me in a manner which I can perceive, but Why would I do this? In order to do this, I would have to be dishonest to myself. Ecualegacy offers no reason why I should choose to be dishonest to myself. If he decides to present a reason why I should be dishonest to myself, would it be for a selfish, or selfless reason? We’ll have to wait and see until he does provide a reason.

Consider: if I were to do what Ecualegacy suggests, who would benefit? He has already pointed out that, to commit my life to his god, I would have to surrender my pride, the virtue which makes benefit possible for me in the first place. Does he think his god would somehow benefit? His god is already perfect and lacks nothing; it is an indestructible, immortal and eternal being according to what Christianity teaches. Nothing could harm it, and nothing could improve it. It needs nothing to exist, certainly not my worship. I on the other hand am neither indestructible, immortal nor eternal, and my existence depends on my choices and actions. I do need things to exist – namely values. And virtues like my pride – virtues which Ecualegacy’s god requires us to surrender – are what I need in order to be capable of achieving and protecting those values which my life requires, for they make my life worth the effort required to live. It is my life, mind and morality which Christianity seeks to undermine. Most believers do not recognize this because they compartmentalize their beliefs, living a double mental life, with one foot in their religion, and the other foot in the real world. Also, they typically do not have a very intellectual understanding of moral values in the first place. They get their morality from a storybook. Indeed, where does Jesus speak of values anyway? They are taken completely for granted in the speeches which the bible attributes to him.

Ecualegacy asks:

Exactly what has God gotten wrong in his moral guidance I'd like to know?

First, Ecualegacy should identify what he thinks his god has gotten right when it comes to moral guidance. Most likely he rests on the presupposition that every statement attributed to his god in regard to morality is perfectly right because, as he claims, his god is “an all-knowing, all-powerful being in authority telling you what to do.” Ecualegacy is certainly free to believe such things. And I am free to point out that they are delusional premises informed by an imagination which rejects the fundamental principles which are necessary to keep a mind grounded in reality.

But let’s explore this a little more clinically. Here are a few questions for Ecualegacy and other believers to consider before we can work our way towards an informed understanding about morality. Since Ecualegacy advocates the Christian bible as the authoritative source for his views on morality, I would expect him to cite the bible to support his responses to these questions:

a) What is your working definition of ‘morality’?

b) What is the purpose of morality?

c) Does man need morality? Yes or no?

d) If you think man does need morality, why do you think he needs it?

e) By what means does man come into awareness of moral knowledge?

f) Who or what should be the primary beneficiary of moral action? The one who takes the moral action, or someone else?

These questions will get the conversation started by clarifying from the beginning some basics of each side’s position. I have answers to these questions, but I would like to find any Christian who will be willing to answer these questions in a straightforward manner and stick to his answers. So far I have found none who are willing to do this.

Ecualegacy asks:

Where is he asking something impossible or even harmful from Christians?

For one, the Christian religion demands – as Ecualegacy’s own statements indicate – that I as a human being surrender my pride, one of my cardinal virtues. Another cardinal virtue which it demands that I sacrifice on the altar of god-belief is my honesty. But as I have explained elsewhere, I am too honest to be a Christian.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Answering Ecualegacy, Pt. 3

We continue now with my response to Ecualegacy's comments.

I wrote:

Sending other human beings to represent it will always be insufficient

Ecualegacy replied:

He could have just created us with a certainty of His existence in our minds. But I think I beat the dead horse enough about that line of atheistic objection.

Saul of Tarsus was not “just created... with certainty of [Jesus’] existence” already in his mind; at least the story implicitly assumes that he was not, since he is first introduced to us as a persecutor of Christians, not a committed believer. So why does Ecualegacy think he needs to take the discussion in this direction?

Over and over again, he continues to avoid my point, even though it is exemplified in the book of Acts. In order to manifest its reality to Saul of Tarsus, the god named Jesus appeared before him as he was traveling to Damascus to persecute early Christian believers. That’s the story we read in the book of Acts. That’s the model that the New Testament gives us. Why is it wrong for me to point to this model as an example? Christians believe it actually happened as it is reported in the book of Acts, do they not? St. Paul comes across as quite confident in what he claims in his letters. Do Christians think that Jesus was violating Saul’s free will by appearing to him?

In fact, many apologists claim that the Christian god did create us with certain knowledge of its existence already implanted in our minds, or at any rate made this knowledge in man somehow inescapable. They go on to claim that non-believers are actively and willfully “suppressing” that knowledge. They cite passages from the first chapter of Romans to substantiate these assertions. For instance, Greg Bahnsen writes:

With respect to the revelation of God in nature, Paul categorically declares that those who do not believe it are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20 – etymologically, “without an apologetic”!). After all, they do not merely have some vague and uncertain evidence for the living and true God, but actually “know” the truth about Him (vv. 19, 21). It would be an unwarranted misreading of Scripture to understand the kind of “certainty” that it claims for the truth and believability of the Christian message to be a “practical” or “moral” certainty of dedicated conviction – and not at the same time an intellectual or rational certainty. (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 71)

Christian believers do this so that they can feel better about believing in their imaginary god by vilifying non-believers as dishonest suppressors of “the truth.” And yet not one of them can prove his god’s existence.

Again, one can make any claim he wants about something that does not exist in the first place. All he needs to do is imagine it, and if the distinction between reality and imagination is unclear to him in the first place, then he may very well think he’s talking the truth when he tells us about his imaginary deity.

Now it’s true, Bahnsen and his bible are not very clear on this point. Is it saying that man was “born” with this knowledge already implanted in his mind? Well, such a supposition would make one believe that such knowledge is universally inescapable. There’s some suggestion of this in what is being claimed here, for it is used to hold every human being liable to such knowledge. On such a view, knowledge is automatic, not the product of mental effort. How is this possible for minds that we are constantly being reminded are fallible, finite, inferior, incapable of anything on its own? The other alternative is that this “knowledge of God” is thought to be inferred from nature somehow. But what specifically in nature is the focal point where this alleged inference begins is not stated, nor does the claim identify the steps one needs to make in the chain of inference to go from “nature” to “God.” They say the devil is in the details, and that’s probably why Bahnsen never points them out. To make matters worse for Bahnsen, if the “knowledge of God” so claimed is thought to be inferred from nature, who is doing the inferring if not the fallible, finite minds which Christianity condemns as worthless to begin with? Again we’re back to men as the origin and medium of god-belief claims. The objects I observe in the natural world do not come with a label or stamp indicating “Made by God” or “Made in Heaven.” If I accepted the rudimentary error that the world was created by an act of consciousness to begin with, what would lead me to suppose that it was the Christian god as opposed to some other invisible magic being which did the creating? The Lahu tribesmen tell me that Geusha is the world’s creator. Geusha is not the Christian god; for instance, Geusha did not send a son to be crucified by Roman authority. What makes the Christian claim true but the Lahu claim false? Both the Christian god and Geusha are equally indistinguishable from what people may merely be imagining. So to go with Christianity, we have to arbitrarily special-plead the case. An honest man would not do this.

I wrote:

for human beings can be deluded, they can lie, they can be sincerely mistaken.

Ecualegacy responded:

Here we have some classic objections to Biblical authenticity. Were the NT Scriptures:

A) products of an early 1st Millennium JK Rowling?
B) products of a prolific, but deluded band of apostles?
C) products of sincerely mistaken apostles (Hey Thomas, I could have sworn I saw Jesus at the Bizzare [sic] yesterday!)?
D) the true and accurate Word of God?

I'm never going to be able to prove to you that A) is absolutely false, so I won't bother trying.

It is good that Ecualegacy admits this in regard to his point A) above. So long as the possibility that portions of the bible are fictitious cannot be ruled out, it must be reckoned with. Christianity views human beings as innately depraved creatures which can produce no good of their own. And yet human beings are the only medium through which this omniscient and omnipotent deity chooses to reach human beings? This makes as much sense as trying to dig a hole with a shovel whose handle is made of rope.

Ecualegacy writes:

At the same time, I'm not going to waste time trying to argue that Homer wrote the Illiad, that Caesar wrote the Gallic Wars, or that Plato wrote The Republic.

Good call. Neither will I. I don’t base my life on those writings, either. In fact, it wouldn’t change my life one iota if the texts Ecualegacy mentions turned out to be pseudonymous. For all I know, they very well could be. I’m just being consistent here. Unlike Ecualegacy, I have no confessional investment in who the authors of any ancient texts might have been.

Ecualegacy writes:

Not exactly the same league or importance as the Bible, I'll admit, but we have copies of the New Testament BY FAR closer to the autograph date than for any of the other ancient major writings I've listed (or are in existence so far as I can tell...unless it was scratched on a slab of marble or dug straight from the ground).

It’s never been very clear to me why believers are so anxious to put stock in the amount of “copies of the New Testament” there are throughout history, or in how much closer they are in time to the purported “autograph date” than other ancient writings. A copy of a fiction is still a fiction, even if it were penned a month after the original, and Ecualegacy has already admitted that he cannot rule out the possibility that the bible is fictitious.
Ecualegacy wrote: If, however, you allow for the possibility that the NT was written when traditional NT scholars think, then you have some uncomfortable questions to answer (uncomfortable for the unbeliever that is).

The documents which have been assembled into the New Testament had to be written sometime. The dates that various scholars have attributed to the elements comprising the New Testament have never impressed me very much. And scholars are far from unanimous on when anything in the NT was first written down. Naturally those who want the content of the New Testament’s writings to be true, will push for early dates on all or most of the documents, to allow less time for legendary material to creep into the narratives. Some apologists even seem to think that legends or simple invention could not wind up in documents purporting to record events which happened some 10 years earlier, for instance. In fact, however, it only takes a few sessions of writing to pack a narrative with invented details.

But even this common apologetic move is premised on circular reasoning, for it is clearly assumed in such efforts that what the stories relate actually happened, and that they actually happened when the stories purport to have taken place, which is at best loosely figured according, for instance, to known reigns of rulers mentioned in some of these documents. To claim that the gospel of Mark, for instance, was written only 35 or 40 years after the events it records, is to assume that the events it records actually happened in the first place. But that’s precisely what the believer is called to prove. So he begs the question by playing the dating game. Had he something more secure than appeals to human scholars and their estimations about when such-and-such document was written, we would have most likely seen it by now.

Ecualegacy continued:

How in the world would the early church community accept any of the NT Scriptures as true when they PRESUPPOSED that the very people they were addressed to could heal, prophecy, and speak in tongues. Not that glossolalia trick, but genuine, "Hola, yo puedo hablar espanol perfecto sin un dia de escuela" kind of tongues. Too bad I can't speak spanish without studying it. I've been married to a lovely latin wife for 5 1/2 years and still am not yet fluent.

Is this supposed to be one of the “uncomfortable questions”? I can already see a couple problematic assumptions which Ecualegacy has apparently accepted without much critical reflection. For instance, the way he phrases his question suggests that he believes that there was only one “early church community,” when in fact it is most likely the case that there were many different communities constituting the budding church. Different communities no doubt had different teachers, and different teachings as well. The various gospels are thought by many critical scholars to reflect competing views of Jesus among different communities which were at best only loosely connected. Keep in mind that there were no Zondervan bibles in circulation at this time, so not everyone in church was in possession of the rarefied canon we have today. They were lucky to even have a copy of one or two letters in the beginning, assuming there were any in existence to begin with.

Another problematic assumption lies in a similar vein. Ecualegacy seems to think that groups of people presuppose things in unison, as if they truly were of one mind. We are not in a position today to know the intimate details of what each member of the various ancient Christian communities that existed back then may have been presupposing. Some may have presupposed, as Ecualegacy suggests, that “the very people [the books of the New Testament] were addressed to could heal, prophecy, and speak in tongues.” But to affirm this of the members of the early church is anachronistic. Are we to suppose that every community had a copy of I Corinthians, the letter in which St. Paul itemizes the various “spiritual gifts” they can expect to be distributed among those who believe? Even the members of today’s churches, with the benefit of mass-produced bibles, complete with center references, concordances and commentaries, do not all presuppose that all believers (the ones to whom the bible is addressed) are running around possessing one or more of the spiritual gifts that we find listed in I Cor. 12. I remember when I was a Christian, how I was taught to suppose that the reason we did not see these gifts manifested among the church membership was because of the presence of sin, or lack of faith, or simply because “the Spirit” didn’t want to show off. The believing mind can invent all kinds of “reasons” why one should not be surprised when “the fruits of the spirit” manifest themselves in ways that are indistinct from what would be the case if there were no “Spirit” to begin with.

But in spite of these corrections, Ecualegacy might still wonder why anyone in the early church community would accept the New Testament texts as truth if he “presupposed” that the people to whom they were addressed “could heal, prophecy, and speak in tongues.” The implication behind Ecualegacy’s question is that he acknowledges that these things weren’t really taking place. So why believe they were taking place?

And though it’s most likely the case that the average believer did not “presuppose” that the gifts we read about in I Cor. 12, for instance, were being manifested in the lives of fellow members (the average believer most likely learned about these “gifts” well after conversion anyway, after making the initial downpayment of a life-altering confessional investment), anyone who did could have still believed that the NT texts with which he may have been familiar were true for any number of reasons. For instance, he may have listened to embellished testimony from fellow believers in which they claimed to have performed healings, or prophesied, or spoke in tongues (even “that glossolalia trick” that Ecualegacy mentions can be convincing enough to someone who wants to believe). I myself have heard many Christians claim that they had performed healings or other miraculous stunts. Unfortunately no one was looking at the time, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, right? The desire to believe religious teachings quite often fosters an underlying context of fantasy and denial. The believer is taught to accept claims from fellow believers uncritically and to fear doubts, so he actively seeks to squelch them.

I think a rather candid statement from John Frame answers much of Ecualegacy’s question here. Frame writes that

a person with a wish to be fulfilled is often on the road to belief. (Apologetics to the Glory of God, p. 37)

Look around. Even today people believe all kinds of things that they’re told to believe. We see people today and in the recent past believing the most bizarre claims, and in fact acting on those claims as if their eternal souls’ livelihood depended on them. Look at the Jim Jones cult-massacre. Look at the Heaven’s Gate drop-outs. Look at the Branch Davidians and their spectacular cookout. We have people today going on mainstream Christian television broadcasts claiming to be able to heal and prophesy and do all these other neat tricks. Even though they never produce the real McCoy, there are still people out there who put their faith in such claims, even after they’ve been exposed as charlatans. The NT promises that believers will display these abilities, and many have claimed to have possessed them. But even Ecualegacy cannot speak Spanish without torturous effort. He’s just as mundane as the rest of us.

As Ecualegacy points out, the New Testament makes a number of very tall claims about various abilities which believers can expect to acquire as a result of becoming “new creatures in Christ.” One of those abilities is referred to as the gift of tongues. Ecualegacy says it’s “too bad” that he cannot speak Spanish “without studying it,” which suggests to me that he did not receive “the gift of tongues.” If it were all a fiction, I would expect that he would have to acquire skills in a foreign language just as anyone else does: by firsthand effort.

Ecualegacy writes:

Add to that the incredible claims of the scriptures which people could go and investigate for themselves.

Oh, the claims are there alright. But how could they be investigated? And how do we know that they weren’t investigated and the results of those investigations ignored or even repressed? Are we to expect that committed believers would record and broadcast the findings of investigators who determined that St. Paul, for instance, was telling a few tall ones in order to solidify the churches he founded? I have already written about this topic in my blog Five Hundred Anonymous Witnesses. To date, no Christian has addressed the points I raise in that piece.

Ecualegacy:

Add to that the perfect moral teachings of the apostles and the profound testimony of their selfless lives.

Far from perfect in my book of morals, that’s for sure. That they called for selflessness is itself an indication that what they were peddling was a foul-smelling fiction. I have already written about morality in the following blogs:

Christianity vs. Objective Morality

Do I Borrow My Morality from the Christian Worldview?

Rational Morality vs. Presuppositional Apologetics

Calvindude’s Defense of Christian Moral Bankruptcy

Hitler vs. Mother Theresa: Antithesis or Symbiosis?

Common Ground Part 5: Ethics

I’ve not seen any Christians offer much in way of response to these posts, either.

Ecualegacy writes:

You simply can't pay charlatans enough to do what the Apostles did.

Ecualegacy has already ejected his points from the broader context he earlier admitted as a real possibility. If the stories in the bible are fictional (above he admitted that he was “never going to be able to prove” that they are not fictional), such as legends which grew with each retelling until they were finally written down (there is ample evidence for this throughout the New Testament itself), then there’s no need to take the stories of “what the Apostles did” as anything other than fiction, or at best as embellished storytelling. So Ecualegacy is simply begging the question here.

But let’s grant Ecualegacy’s point and consider how much the apostles should have charged for their “selfless lives.” On the same token, how much do you suppose Marshall Applewhite of the Heaven’s Gate cult was paid for his beamed-out antics? How much was Jim Jones paid for his suicidal crusade? How much was David Koresh paid for his Texan compound cookout in 1993? These people were sold on the idea that their rewards would be coming in “the next life,” not in the form of financial reimbursements that they could take to the bank in this life.

Ecualegacy writes:

If it were one guy, you might dismiss him as a freak. But 12 and more? That's stretching the odds. Nor can we hope they were simply deluded. That's too any
people making too many mistakes.

Again Ecualegacy is begging the question by assuming the truth of what he has been called to defend. The story does indeed mention 12 immediate disciples of Jesus (one of which betrayed him, so it’s now down to 11; even St. Paul forgot this at one point in his letters). But if it’s just a story, then there’s no need to take these numbers seriously. And even if we did, is “12 and more” really so impressive? Over 900 individuals died at Jonestown in 1978 for a religious cause; most of these deaths were suicides – for what they believed. “You simply can’t pay charlatans enough to do what the [People’s Temple members] did.” By Ecualegacy’s measuring stick, Jim Jones’ message must have had some truth to it. If a mere 12 is “stretching the odds,” how much more is 900 plus “stretching the odds”?

Ecualegacy writes:

Besides, suppose I had "better" or "irrefutable" evidence that the Bible is true. Something like the OT describing the evolutionary process like a modern text book or predicting the exact date a spectacular comet would swing by? What would you really do with that knowledge?

The facts of the evolutionary process was available to thinkers 2000 years ago just as they are to us today. Granted, the technology we have today makes the relevant data much more readily available. And our understanding of how to integrate the facts we gather from the world is also far superior. But in fact, some ancient thinkers did suspect a common descent to the variety of flora and fauna they observed in the world. See for instance the 6th century Greek philosopher Anaximander, considered by many today as “evolution’s most ancient proponent.” So if a mere human being with no connection to the Christian deity could recognize at least on a primitive level the commonality in the origin of species, then would the presence of such a recognition in the bible suggest divine authorship or inspiration? I don’t think so.

As for comets, their itineraries are not impossible for men who study the nighttime sky to project. So this would not be very impressive either. Nope, the omnipotent, omniscient, infallible and perfect creator of the universe would have to do something that men could not by any measure come close to matching.

Ecualegacy writes:

Would you "like" God any more than you do now?

It’s not about me liking Ecualegacy’s god or about his god doing something for me. After all, it is his god that is the one desiring worship and sacrifice, not I. I’m simply pointing out that, if this god were real and it truly wanted to make its existence known to me, it would know what it needs to do. Sending apologists whose arms are loaded with the cheapest forms of argument is certainly not going to impress me. I already know too much to be taken in by it all. But there was a time when I did not know so much, and at that point in my life I was a Christian. Now the cat is out of the bag. I’ve grown up.

Would it help if I invent my own god in my imagination and confess that I worship it? By calling it “God,” would Ecualegacy approve of my worldview, choices and actions any more than he does now, even though I openly admit that I’m just imagining? Or, would that not be enough? Would he need to make sure the god I invent in my imagination is commensurable in some way to the one he has imagined in his mind? Well?

Ecualegacy writes:

Would you be any more inclined to do what he has told you to do? You'd still be coming at him with the same prideful arguments you are now I suspect. But only you can answer that question for yourself.

Since Ecualegacy’s god is merely imaginary and does not actually exist, it will never be able to answer my arguments. Nor will Ecualegacy himself. He can deflect, evade and spin the issues, but he will not be able to meet my arguments on their own ground. He can chalk this up to pride, but citing my pride is not an argument. He does this so that he can settle in his mind that he is right and I am wrong, given his aversion to pride. But it does nothing to affect my position. At that point he’s simply trying to quell his own nagging doubts.

I wrote:

You can cite Holding and Miller and any other apologist all you want, but at the end of the day these are just other human beings, and they too fail to provide a method by which we can distinguish between what they call “God” and what they may merely be imagining. What they do provide is an example of how one can settle confusions and contradictions which arise as a result of their desire to protect a delusion in their minds.

Ecualegacy responded:

"Delusion in their minds" is a conclusion I think you've reached prematurely.

The conclusion is sound, as this argument demonstrates:

Premise: Any worldview which affirms, depends on or reduces to the primacy of consciousness metaphysics is delusional.

Premise: Christianity is a worldview which affirms, depends on or reduces to the primacy of consciousness metaphysics.

Conclusion: Therefore, Christianity is delusional.

For support of this argument’s premises, see my blog.

Ecualegacy writes:

And if this post weren't already 2500+ words long, I'd spend another 500 or 1000 more taking you through the steps.

Steps to what? Please, don’t hold back on my account. If you’ve got something, it’s no use telling us you have it and then withhold it. Bring it on.

Ecualegacy writes:

But you really ought to do some homework for yourself and go look up the experts.

But I am an expert.

Ecualegacy writes:

Besides, your objection sounds suspiciously like Carl Sagan's famous line about wanting somthing like a flaming cross orbiting the earth to prove God's existence.

This, too, is not an argument. Nor does it answer the question on the table: How can I distinguish between what Ecualegacy as a Christian believer calls “God” from what he may merely be imagining? Is Ecualegacy saying, in roundabout manner, that it is wrong for me to ask this question? Or, can he recognize that this is a legitimate concern (since there is a difference between the real and the unreal, the actual and the imaginary) and address this problem in the case of his god-belief?

Ecualegacy writes:

For crying out loud, people landed on the moon and the average man on the street is starting to believe the conspiracy theorists who say man didn't!

Again, this is not an argument. Perhaps Ecualegacy doesn’t have any to begin with? Let’s wait for my next installment in this series, and see what more he has to say.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Answering Ecualegacy, Pt. 2

Recall that Aaron had asked Ecualegacy who created evil, if the god which allegedly created the universe did not create it. Ecualegacy's answer was:

The short answer to this question is, "We did!" (and Satan too).

Then Ecualegacy followed this declaration with the following accusation:

I believe you're taking "God's will is always done" to a literal absurdity.

I responded:

This isn’t Aaron’s fault; the very idea of a god is itself already a literal absurdity. Aaron is simply trying to interact with someone who has committed his life to believing a literal absurdity.

Ecualegacy now states:

That is an opinion. And coming from such a finite being, a very weakly positioned one indeed. I'd ask for specifics, but I know where to look on atheist websites and what they argue.

It’s statements like this which indicate to me that the believer is always ready to confuse himself with the god he claims to worship. Ecualegacy wants to dismiss my point on the basis that it is “an opinion” which comes “from... a finite being.” I claim to be nothing other than a finite being. The problem for Ecualegacy is the fact that I exist, while the god he imagines does not. Unlike the god he imagines, he cannot control what I think and affirm. So the motivation to dismiss my views as mere “opinion” is clear enough. But we should bear in mind that calling my statement an opinion is not an argument, and it does nothing to refute the content of my statement. Nor does the fact that I am a finite being undermine my position. According to my worldview, the actual is always finite.

Unfortunately, Ecualegacy’s dismissal works against his position just as effectively as it works against mine. He has offered his opinions. If position statements and affirmations are dismissible on the mere basis that they are opinions, then Ecualegacy’s opinions can be brushed aside just as easily as he brushes aside mine. Also, Ecualegacy himself is a finite being, just like me. He may pose as the spokesman for an allegedly infinite being, but this does not overcome the fact that he is just as finite as they come. And if being finite is supposed to indicate fallibility in some way, Ecualegacy is just as fallible as I am. He could be wrong about his claims about the existence of an infinite being. But he does not seem willing to acknowledge this fact.
Ecualegacy had written:

The way I understand it, God wanted to create beings that could genuinely love him. This meant giving them a real choice to accept or reject him...to do good or to do wickedness.

I responded:

To accomplish this, the god you speak of should have at minimum provided its sentient creatures a means by which they could distinguish “God” from imagination.

Ecualegacy now responds:

I believe that God accomplished this spectacularly with the Bible.

Pointing to the bible only makes my point for me. The bible provides a vast collection of stories. When we read a story, our imagination makes the story we read come alive in our minds, envisioning the characters and their actions from the details that are supplied, and supplying many details of its own that are not provided in the story itself. We imagine what a story describes. Relying on story-telling is an invitation to relying on subjective invention.

For instance, in the story of Jesus coming to one of Jerusalem’s gates (cf. Lk. 7:12f), we imagine what the story describes. We concoct in our minds an image of what he looked like, what he was wearing, who else was there, the time of day, the slope of the road he was traveling on, the packs on his donkey, his companions, the guards at the gate, the people attending the dead man being carried out of the city, etc., etc., etc. Our imagination gives life to the story as we read it and consider it in our minds. The same is the case when we read any story, whether fiction or non-fiction. When we read news stories, we use our imagination to picture what is described, and when we read Harry Potter stories, we do the same thing. Relying on a written source gives us no alternative but to carry what we read over into our imagination.

Ecualegacy has not answered my challenged. But he did continue:

I'm not saying you can "prove" the veracity of the Scripture like heliocentricity or men landing on the moon. But I do think you can narrow the options down to Christianity as the most likely choice. I've written elsewhere about this on my own blog at http://ravizacharias.blogspot.com/ so I won't repeat myself here. This post is already long enough.

Ecualegacy acknowledges that "the veracity of the Scriptures" is not provable "like heliocentricity or men landing on the moon." This is an important admission. Essentially what he is saying is that there is nothing scientifically truthful in the bible's god-belief claims. Proof requires measurability, and the supernatural is "beyond measure." The supernatural is, according to Bahnsen, "whatever surpasses the limits of nature" (Always Ready, p. 177). Whatever "the supernatural" might be, it must be so unlimited that it is beyond any means of measurement. This already puts it outside the realm of rational knowledge, for it violates a basic principle of concept-formation, namely that the measurements belonging to units integrated into a concept "must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity" (ITOE, p. 12). So whatever it is that theists call "supernatural," it cannot be integrated into the sum of human knowledge (since by its very description it defies a fundamental rule of knowledge integration), and yet we are expected to accept it as knowledge.

In spite of tragic oversights of this nature, Ecualegacy still thinks that we "can narrow the options down to Christianity as the most likely choice." If he thinks Christianity is "the most likely choice," what alternatives has he considered? And if he thinks it's merely a matter of choice - such as "Well, I choose that Christianity is the true worldview" - then he has already long departed from the principle of objectivity.

He says that he has written about this on his blog, but at this time there are only two brief entries to his blog (dated April 11 and April 12, 2007), and neither of them speak to any issue under the present discussion. And yet he says in response to the issue that I raise that he will not bother repeating himself, apparently because he thinks he’s already dealt with it. Not that I can see.

I had written:

the way it is now, we field claims about “God” from other human beings, but we have no way of distinguishing what they call “God” from what they may merely be imagining.

Ecualegacy complained:

You're just full of simply false arguments today. No way of distinguishing between real God and false god? Tell me I don't have to get neck deep in epistomology and cult detection with you to explain this.

I offered two observations, and Ecualegacy refers to them as “false arguments,” but even then he does not show where any of my statements are false, nor does he offer any counter arguments. I stated that "we field claims about 'God' from other human beings." Ecualegacy is just one of many examples. Is Ecualegacy not a human being? I'm willing to grant that he is, and yet he accuses me of being "full of simply false arguments." Does he realize what he is saying?
I also pointed out that "we have no way of distinguishing what they call “God” from what they may merely be imagining." And as I would expect, Ecualegacy has not identified any procedure by which I can distinguish between what he calls "God" and what he may merely be imagining. In fact, Ecualegacy has apparently missed the challenge that I have posed to him. I did not say “distinguishing between real God and false god,” but between what he calls "God" (his “real God”) and what he may merely be imagining. Notice that Ecualegacy offers nothing to help us do this. If he wants “to get neck deep in epistomology” [sic], I invite him to bring it on. Let’s review the epistemological process by which one gets from “this world” to the “supernatural world.” I have already indicated some reasons why this project is doomed from the get-go. See for instance my blog Is Human Experience Evidence of the Christian God?

But my overall point here should be clear. It may not be clear to Ecualegacy, but it’s clear to myself and probably to many of my readers. We learn about the Christian god from other human beings, not from the god itself. A collection of writings is not a supernatural person. Books are inanimate and non-conscious, and persons are animate and conscious. Men claim ancient texts were written by a deity, but their claiming this to be the case does not make it so. Everything I have ever learned about the Christian god has in one way or another been delivered to me by another human being or group of human beings. No deity has ever come and appeared before me. I can assure Ecualegacy and anyone else who believes Christianity’s claims, no deity has ever come to me and made its existence known to me personally. Chiding that I’m arrogant for expecting it to do this does not change this fact (indeed, I do not expect the non-existent to do anything). Moreover, my pointing out that no deity has done this does not make on arrogant, unless pointing out facts entails arrogance to begin with.

I wrote:

The bible itself, in Acts chapters 9 and 22 for instance, provides examples of this god personally revealing itself to a doubter and persecutor of believers. The way it is now, these are just stories that we read, very much on the par of a Harry Potter or other storybook.

Ecualegacy responded:

Speaking of absurdities! You're comparing apples with carrots here (or is it ducks with Hippogriffs?). Harry Potter and the Bible don't even belong in the same class of literature! JK Rowling, who we know is the author, doesn't claim her works to be Scripture inspired by God.

Ecualegacy does what he did above: he focuses on a small detail in order to distract attention from a more compelling issue. In my statement above, I allude to the story of a man named by the New Testament as Saul of Tarsus. According to the story that we read in the book of Acts, Saul was a persecutor of the early Christian church. In Saul’s pursuit of Christians in Damascus, as the story goes, he was stopped by a visit of the very Jesus he was purportedly persecuting. According to Acts, the two dialogued, there were witnesses to the event, and the event was profoundly real enough to the character of the story that it turned him around 180 degrees in his thinking and he became one of history’s leading spokesmen for the Christian religion. Assuming this story is true (which is what Christians want us to do), this man Saul had a personal encounter with the Christian deity. Assuming this story is historically accurate, then, this man Saul had a firsthand basis upon which he could distinguish what he would come to call “Lord” from what he may have merely been imagining. Unfortunately, a story in a book does not accomplish this for its readers. On the contrary, it leaves its readers stranded in an invented realm of the imagination, giving no objective basis for credibility. Nothing Ecualegacy says even comes close to acknowledging this hindrance to belief, let alone settling the matter in favor of Christianity.

As Ecualegacy points out, we know who the author of Harry Potter books is. By contrast, we do not know who the authors of the gospel stories in the New Testament were. This is not my fault as a non-believer, but I am frequently vilified for pointing this fact out. Such reactions indicate that Christians seem to be on the wrong side of facts.

Ecualegacy:

You'll have to do better than this Dawson if you expect to be taken seriously as an accuser against the Living God.

By making statements like this, Ecualegacy is posing as one who would seriously entertain a case against his god-belief if it met certain benchmarks, which of course he nowhere specifies. But since he’s already fully accepted his religion’s premises as truthful, this is merely a pose. To corroborate this, notice that he does not interact with the points of criticism that I have raised, and in fact has repeatedly attempted to divert attention away from them - either by shifting focus or by simply dismissing them as opinions from a finite being, etc.

I wrote:

If your god is the same god as the one written about in the book of Acts, and it wants us to believe it is real, it knows what to do.

Ecualegacy responded:

Another fallacious argument.

I pointed to the biblical precedent, as given in Acts chapters 9 and 22, to support my point that, if the Christian god were real and truly wanted me to believe in it, it would know what to do. Jesus’ appearance to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus was enough to convince an active persecutor of the early church. How much more would a personal visit from an almighty deity to someone like me, turn me around from what believers want to characterize as “evil ways”?

But given Ecualegacy’s reaction (he calls my citation of Acts 9 and 22 a “fallacious argument,” even though he does not identify any fallacy which my citation allegedly commits), he apparently must think that his god does not know what to do. So we would have to infer from this roundabout admission that his god is not omniscient after all.

Ecualegacy:

God does not merely want you to believe he is real. Ref to James 2:19 "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder." The point is not intellectual belief in God as though he were a fact to read about in a book. The point is to have a relationship with him built on faith and love. Besides, having irrefutable proof of God does not evidentially produce a deeper love for God. Otherwise, we'd have expected that the Israelites would have had a better run.

Again Ecualegacy shifts the issue in order to avoid dealing with the real issue. We were discussing belief, and when I point out that all Ecualegacy’s god would need to do to get someone like myself to believe it is real, would be to show itself, just as the New Testament book of Acts says happened to Saul of Tarsus. Instead of acknowledging that this would be an effective approach (according to the storybook, it was certainly effective in the case of Saul of Tarsus), he calls this a “fallacious argument” and now tells us that mere belief is not enough. There’s always going to be something more demanded of the initiate once he’s bitten the bait. Christian discipleship is always a game of “But wait, there’s more.” So of course, merely believing isn’t enough: Christianity wants the believer to surrender his will in full, like a payment he didn’t realize he was committing himself to make. But before this can happen, he must first believe, and that is the issue before us, the issue which Ecualegacy wants to move beyond before the ploy has been exposed. Or, does one first surrender his will, and then he will believe? Perhaps Ecualegacy would like to admit this, but lacks the courage to do so.

Ecualegacy speaks of having “a relationship” with Jesus, one “built on faith and love.” But even before one can attempt to have an actual relationship with Jesus, it seems he would first have to at least believe that Jesus is actual and not merely imaginary. But if Ecualegacy’s god is imaginary, if Jesus is simply a mood, he is doing precisely what I would expect him to do: move around from issue to issue without settling any of them. The intention is to not let the discussion stop long enough for the opposing party to realize that our leg is being pulled.

What Ecualegacy needs to understand is that I have no desire to form a relationship with his Jesus. Why would I want a relationship with a god which requires its worshippers to be willing to kill their own children, just as it demanded of Abraham?

So the issue of belief needs to be explored before we can entertain the idea of willfully entering into a relationship with this invisible Jesus, and that is what I inquired on. The point that I was making to Ecualegacy above in fact has the benefit of biblical precedent, namely the story found in Acts of Jesus paying Saul a personal visit. To believe something is the case rationally, one must first have awareness of it in some manner which provides for distinguishing between reality and imagination. When I see a tree, for instance, I can imagine the tree pulling itself out of the ground and casting itself into the sea (sound familiar?). But when I look back at the tree again, I can see that it is not doing what I have imagined. It remains a tree right where it always was, completely unaffected by my imagination. I can distinguish reality from imagination by comparing what I perceive with what I imagine. Christianity denies the believer this ability when it comes to his god-beliefs.

So what Ecualegacy must be advocating, is a relationship with an imaginary friend. Even adults have been known to indulge in fantasy relationships with imaginary friends. In fact, the Virginia Tech shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, is said to have a fantasy relationship with an imaginary friend. According to one source, Cho had

an imaginary girlfriend by the name of "Jelly," a supermodel who lived in outer space and who called Cho by the name "Spanky" and traveled by spaceship.
Christians need to provide something better than their flimsy apologetic arguments to distinguish their Jesus from simply a more developed version of an imaginary friend.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Answering Ecualegacy, Pt. 1

In the comments section of Aaron Kinney's April 26 blog Pat Tillman and Christian Bigotry, an exchange developed between Aaron, myself and a Christian apologist who calls himself Ecualegacy. Ecualegacy devoted some time and effort responding to some of the comments that I directed to him, and now that I am back from a business trip I took earlier this month, I am able to start posting my response to Ecualegacy. Since it is rather long, I have decided to roll it out in a series of installments.

* * *
Aaron asked:

Wouldnt the argument that God didnt create evil only raise the question "who did?"

Ecualegacy responded:

The short answer to this question is, "We did!" (and Satan too).

Ecualegacy’s response to a straightforward question about who or what created evil is all too typical. His answer to this question is “We did!” Who’s this “we” that he has in mind here? Is he accusing a specific group of individuals for creating evil? No one specific is mentioned, other than “Satan too,” who comes along as a parenthetical afterthought. No, the intention here is to accuse all human beings collectively. According to this view, all human beings are guilty of creating evil. The implication here is that the evil which the world witnessed 3,000 years ago was just as much Ecualegacy’s fault as it was the fault of those men who executed the evil.

So let’s get this straight. We are expected to believe that:

a) God created everything in the universe,
b) Evil exists in the universe, and
c) God didn’t create evil.

Seriously?

That evil exists in the universe and yet was not created by the Christian god, must mean that it exists independent of the Christian god. So why suppose that the Christian god can control it? We’re constantly being told that “God created everything” and that “God controls whatsoever comes to pass.” And yet what Christians spout is something like:

“Whoa, there! He didn’t create evil! Nope! No, we did that! We created evil!”

And yet we’re so impotent that we can’t do anything on our own. We can’t even think on our own according to many apologists; according to them, we need to “think our thoughts after Him.” And yet, we are capable of this stunning feat of creating evil in the perfect creation of a perfect creator? Tell me another one.

Clearly there is contamination present. In a laboratory, a contaminated sample would indicate a failure to observe proper procedures and be discarded. But at the same time we’re told that this god is incapable of failing. But a god incapable of failing surely sounds like a robot to me; its successes are guaranteed – they could not be the result of choices, since an inability to fail means that it has no choice in the matter. No failing alternative is available for it to choose. Even more, it wouldn’t have to try to succeed, for whatever it does will be deemed a success no matter what. The list of absurdities grows longer and longer as one tries to sort out the original mess.

In response to Ecualegacy’s statement above, I had inquired about what responsibility Christians are willing to chalk up to their god, since it allegedly created man (the creation which they say created evil). Writing in the comments box, I said:

I quote from my blog Christian Reaction to Virginia Tech:

Clearly they think their god is calling the shots. But whenever they speak of “responsibility,” they never tell us what responsibility their god has. Indeed, they want to say that their god made everything the way it is and dictated every event that ever occurs in the world.

Ecualegacy responded:

This is a strawman. The Bible claims no such thing about God "dictating every event."

Now, notice something here. I was making the point that believers never seem willing to lay any responsibility on their god, even though they claim their god created the whole universe in the first place. I am not surprised that Ecualegacy does not want to deal with this issue. Instead of dealing with it, he nitpicks one of my lesser statements, hoping to create a subordinate debate on a more trivial matter so that the original issue is kept safely out of mind. Once he’s started a fire elsewhere, he’ll be able to come back just slightly enough to pretend that a little squirt on his original fire will be sufficient to douse its flames. This is all part of the apologetic game: keep shifting the issue by readjusting the focus of the lens. If the non-believer is not sharp enough to see this, he’ll never detect the apologist’s evasions. But either way, it’s clear: Ecualegacy does not want his god to take responsibility for the mess it created.

So, given Ecualegacy’s response, when Van Til says that “God controls whatsoever comes to pass,” he apparently disagrees with the dearly departed master. So here we uncover an internal dispute. I’m confident that both Ecualegacy and Van Til could cite passages from the bible to “prove” their respective and yet contrary positions.

Ecualegacy:

Nothing happens without God's permission; that is true. This is not the same thing as making sure things happen exactly his way and no other as your statement seems to imply.

So, according to Ecualegacy’s Christianity, there are things that happen in his god’s universe (its “creation”) which it did not plan to happen, did not want to happen, or did not expect to happen. So it does not have total control, which can only mean: its creation has gone out of its control. Okay. Van Til believed in a sovereign god, while Ecualegacy does not. Got it.

I wrote:

but then act as if their god has no responsibility whatsoever. It can do just whatever it wants, but man ends up being “responsible” for all its blunders.

Ecualegacy:

You have it almost right actually.

Of course I have it right. On the Christian view, man, who is not omnipotent and who did not create the universe to begin with, is somehow supposed to be responsible for the blunders of an omnipotent being which does whatever it wants and created the universe ex nihilo. Christianity uses the cover of a fantasy to hide the believer’s hatred of mankind from himself. This hatred for mankind began as hatred of oneself. A poor self-esteem is a ticket to mystical delusion.

Ecualegacy:
God must be true to his good nature.

When “God” is imaginary, how does one test the claim that it must be true to its nature? Even rocks are “true to their nature.” Then again, anything can be claimed about something that remains in one's imagination.

Ecualegacy:

That responsiblity [sic] extends to being a just judge of our choices in life.

Thus the Christian god's only responsibility is to be a condemner of its own creation. In the beginning, according to the storybook, this same god said of its creation that "it was good." Later it changed its mind. That's fine as far as it goes, but it does not address my question. Ecualegacy needs to step back a bit and look at the larger picture.
By trying to refocus the spotlight (again) from his god and from my original question about any responsibility it my have, given the claim that it created everything in the universe to begin with, and trying to shine it back onto man (the creation), Ecualegacy misses the point. The issue does not have to do with "our choices in life" (especially if these were predetermined without our input "before the foundations of the world" – I Pet. 1:20). Ecualegacy seems to think my question has to do with what responsibility his god as to its creation, while in fact my question is asking what responsibility Christians are willing allow their god to have for creating it in the first place as well as for what it created.

Christians might say their god is free to create what it wants, but again, this does not answer the question, particularly when at the same time they want to say their god is the standard of morality. Moral responsibility involves taking ownership for one's choices and actions. Since, as Christians tell us, their god did not have to create the universe, they apparently believe it did so completely voluntarily. It chose to create the universe, and it chose to create what it allegedly created. The product of its choices and actions is, on their view, precisely what it wanted it to be. Man had no involvement in its choice-making, its act of creation, it assignment of identity to and distribution of the creatures it created. Man cannot be responsible for any of this, for he had no input on the decisions, the planning, the designing, the execution, etc. Since man was not even around to have a say in any of it, there is no way that man could have any ultimate responsibility at all. After all, apologists are constantly telling us that man is not "the ultimate reference point." Nor, given what their religion claims, could man be the ultimate responsible party.

It appears that, like other Christians, Ecualegacy is content to excuse his god from any responsibility for what it created, even though he wants to claim that it created everything that exists, is omniscient (and therefore knows everything about anything that it created, including its future actions), is omnipotent (and therefore has the means and the power to ensure its creation will do what it wants), and is all-good (and therefore would act to ensure that whatever happens in its creation is in fact also good), etc. Christians are always telling us that their god created the universe and that it created man in its own image, giving him his intellect and the capacity to use it. But again we must ask: what responsibility are Christians willing to acknowledge on the part of the deity they said put all of this into reality in the first place? The position that "God is not responsible" constitutes the most egregious of moral evasions that one could possibly conceive, especially given the context informed by their grandiose claims about their god's nature, abilities and talents.

Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t think the imaginary is responsible for anything in reality. So when Christians affirm, either openly or evasively, that their god is not responsible for the way things are in the world, they in fact agree with my ultimate position on the matter. But they do not agree for the objective reasons which underlie my position. I recognize that their god is not responsible because I recognize that their god is imaginary, and the imaginary is not responsible for anything in reality. But they want to have their cake and to eat it, too, insisting that their god is real, that it created everything that exists and – in some cases, anyway – “controls whatever comes to pass,” but also that it does not have any responsibility for its choices and actions.

Ecualegacy:

He doesn't owe us anything beyond this.

My point about the Christian god’s responsibility has nothing to do with it “owing” us anything. Someone can be held responsible for his own actions without owing us anything in particular. Ecualegacy is again mixing issues in order to distract us from, rather than deal with, the original issue. Nothing he provides in his response suggests that there’s any reason why he does this other than that he has no answer to the original matter.

Ecualegacy:

Despite your visceral revulsion to the notion, God owns us.

This is just another red herring that Ecualegacy hopes will buy him enough time to cover his tracks. But while we're at it, I'll respond to it.

I don't think I would have any “visceral revulsion to the notion” of being owned by Ecualegacy’s god, if in my belief in such a being I privately realized or even subconsciously sensed that this being was merely imaginary. But since I openly recognize that Ecualegacy’s god is imaginary, I can firmly confess that I am not viscerally repulsed by the idea at all.

However, if I actually believed it were true, that an invisible magic being “owned” me, I would be repulsed. But that is because I still have an intact spirit. My spirit is not for sale, and I am not willing to sacrifice it for the sake of believing in any invisible magic beings. The idea of being owned, however, would in itself be rather innocuous, if the owner were merely a concoction of my imagination, unless it were taken seriously. In such a case, the imaginer really owns what is being imagined. When taken seriously, it can lead to profound psychosis. Psychologically, this is what is happening, in various degrees, in the mind of a believer: he might claim to be owned by his god, but since his god is a figment of his imagination, he really owns it rather than it owning him. Ecualegacy is comfortable with the notion of being owned by his god, because on a deeper level he implicitly knows that his god is simply something he imagines. But he wants others to be repulsed by this, because he wants them to fear being owned by his god. Their revulsion would be an outward sign of taking it seriously, which is what he wants others to do. So naturally he’s frustrated when he encounters individuals who are not afraid of his imaginary deity.

Ecualegacy:

He owes us nothing. Fortunately for us, He's inclined to be merciful and oving. He wants a relationship with us and to give us good things. But we have to obey the laws of justice that are bound up in his nature.

Consider the character of a man who finds that his most important personal relationship is with an imaginary being. He cannot have any real discussion with this being; he can only imagine what its responses might be. He cannot ask its opinion, for either its opinion is attributed to it from some pre-existing, inanimate source (like a storybook), or it’s given to it by the imaginer. (“If I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”) For the Christian, it is a combination of both.

Unfortunately for the believer, when this imaginary being is modeled after the imagery we find in the bible, we find that it is not something to be reasoned with in the first place. This is what we discover when we look at the story of Abraham and his instruction to go and sacrifice his beloved son. Does the story model Abraham even wincing at this, asking why he should do this, or trying to protect his values? No, it does not. The story portrays Abraham going right along with the instruction unquestioningly. What would have happened if Abraham simply questioned his god's instructions, let alone defy them? The bible gives us enough cues to imagine what its god's reaction would be. And it is here, in the believer's imagine, that a holy terror starts to grow once its chimeras are taken seriously.

So what kind of character must a man have to want a relationship with such a being? We have already seen indications that a poor self-esteem is a vital pre-requisite. He must have a character which “denies himself” (Mt. 16:24), hates his family members (Lk. 14:26), and presents himself as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1). In essence, he must be a person who does not value himself at all. This is the ideal portrayed in Christ on the cross.

Ecualegacy then wrote:

You could try to argue against this, but that requires a moral framework that presumes to measure God. Good luck finding one outside of Himself. Note that if you should try I will not be accepting whiny 'God should serve my every whim' arguments.

I have no argument for the conclusion that an invisible magic being “should serve my every whim,” for I do not expect invisible magic beings to serve my whims in the first place. But various promises in the bible could easily lead someone who takes them seriously to believe that the Christian god will indulge those who present it with their desires. For instance:

”Ask, and it shall be given you” – Mt. 7:7

“For every one that asketh receiveth” – Mt. 7:8

“...if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven” – Mt. 18:19

“And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” – Mt. 21:22

“whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” – Jn. 14:13

“If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” – Jn. 14:14

“If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” – Jn. 15:7

“whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” – Jn. 15:16

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” – Jn. 16:23

These verses suggest to me that Jesus has the power to grant men’s wishes. What believer would deny that his Jesus has such power? And what believer would deny that his Jesus is faithful to its promises? But there’s always some reason why the omnipotent and faithful god of Christianity never comes through. The typical course of evasion is to somehow put the blame on the non-believer, as if it were his fault for the Christian god’s lack of follow-through.

I wrote:

The believer’s capacity for delusion is seconded only by his ability to compartmentalize.

Ecualegacy responded:

Fortunately, I'm not impressed by opinionated attempts to shame my belief system: as if they could possibly affect me once I've passed into oblivion (assuming the atheist is right about there being nothing after death)!

Nothing’s going to affect the believer once he’s “passed into oblivion.” I’m addressing someone who has not yet made this crossing. So Ecualegacy’s chosen standard – whatever can affect him after he’s “passed into oblivion” – is a safety measure he throws in place in order to evade the shame which he senses in his own belief system, once it’s been exposed.

by Dawson Bethrick

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Jet's Flimsy Denials

The apologist named “JET” is still sulking after I responded to his objections to my blog Virginia Tech. In particular, he resents the cartoon universe premise of Christianity being exposed.

Jet writes:

Bethrick simply assumes, rather than argues for, exactly what people like myself, Greg Bahnsen and John Frame straightforwardly deny: That God’s sovereignty renders humans puppets on a string.

Why would I need to argue this? It’s emphatically affirmed in statements like “God controls whatsoever comes to pass” (Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 160) and “God controls all events and outcomes (even those that come about by human choice and activity)” (Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 489n.44). Since “human choice and activity” themselves could only qualify as “events and outcomes,” they would fall in the category of things that “God controls” on this view. Otherwise statements like “God controls whatsoever comes to pass” would be patently false, and the Christian god would be ruling over something it does not control. Christians want to claim total sovereignty for their god, but when this becomes problematic, they run behind “No, no! That’s not what we mean!”

Of course, theists are going to try to weasel out of the implications of such declarations, but this is to be expected given their worldview-wide habit of evasion. The theist needs to come clean on what he believes: either he believes that “God controls whatsoever comes to pass,” which could only mean human beings are analogous to characters in a cartoon acting precisely as the cartoonist intends (indeed, as cogs in a massive “plan” which was set in motion long before we even came to be), or he doesn’t (in which case his god is simply another entity among all the others of the universe, having no more significance than a rock). These are not my problems.

Jet writes:

This is a typical objection to a high view of God’s controlling of the world, and it’s been responded to again and again.

Sure. I’m quite familiar with all the “responses” that theists have presented in response to my points. I’ve already shown why they fail (see here, here, here, here and here for instance).

Jet writes:

Bethrick seems to have no desire to even acknowledge, let alone attempt to refute, the scores of responses to such an oversimplification and misrepresentation of the Bible’s stance on this issue.

“...scores of responses...,” none of which Jet reproduces for consideration. Jet alludes to what we’re apparently supposed to fear: endless volumes of proofs and refutations all confirming the reality of the god he worships while he keeps them hidden in his back pocket. He really wants to believe this stuff, so he wants to create a scare crow in our minds by claiming it’s looming overhead. I’m reminded of Butler’s fitting quotation of Kant:

If, therefore, we observe the dogmatist coming forward with ten proofs, we can be quite sure that he really has none. For had he one that yielded... apodictic proof, what need would he have of the others? (“The Transcendental Argument for God’s Existence,” The Standard-Bearer, p. 65)

So long as what specifically he has in mind (assuming he has something specific in mind) remains out of sight, he can take comfort in the belief that it’s not been “refuted.” But enough with all the qualifications, dichotomies, reservations and nuances; either Jet’s god “controls whatsoever comes to pass,” or it doesn’t. Choose a position and stick with it come hell or high water. Perhaps Jet has been in the fishers’ hands so long he forgot how to swim, so he’s trying to avoid the latter.

Jet writes:

Once again, to repeat something said in part 1 of this response, if you’re going to address Presuppositionalism, then address the presuppositionalist’s view of divine sovereignty, not a strawman.

If it is a strawman, why do presuppositionalists like John Frame (whom Jet mentions) and Vern Poythress stress the importance of analogies that are very close to the cartoon universe analogy that I have proposed?

John Frame confirms the appropriateness of the cartoon universe analogy when describing the relationship between his god and the universe as he likes to imagine it:

Perhaps the best illustration... is this: In a well-crafted novel, the author creates a world in which events take place in meaningful causal relationships to one another. Each event has an intelligible cause within the world of the novel. But of course each event also has a higher cause, in the author's mind. Normally, such an author will try to maintain the orderly causal structure of his created universe. He may, of course, also work "without, above, and against" that causal order when he is pleased to do so. (Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, p. 82)

Frame explicitly likens the “created universe” to a novel written by an author, referring to this as “perhaps the best illustration.” I’ll give Frame one thing: he’s close. The author of a novel chooses every detail that characterizes the universe he wants to create in his novel. He creates the characters which populate it, and he chooses what parts they will play and what actions they will perform. Nothing in the novel appears or happens unless the author wants it and puts it there. This is especially true in the case of a skilled author. The characters do not make their own choices, the events in which they participate do not happen by themselves, and the outcomes are not a result of their intentions. Everything throughout the novel, from the first page to the last page, is precisely what the author intends. There is no exception to this, for the characters have no will of their own. Frame is right on, but behind the times. With the invention of cartoons, we now have an even stronger analogy for illustrating the relationship between the Christian god and the universe, as Christianity affirms it.

Then there's Poythress:

Dorothy Sayers acutely observes that the experience of a human author writing a book contains profound analogies to the Trinitarian character of God. An author’s act of creation in writing imitates the action of God in creating the world. (Why Scientists Must Believe in God: Divine Attributes of Scientific Law)

Like Frame, Poythress finds the analogy of story-writing quite illustrative of the relationship between his god and the universe he thinks it created. But a cartoon has the advantage of supplying details which the reader needs to supply in his own imagination as he reads a novel. So a cartoon delivers what the cartoonist has in mind on a perceptual level, where a novel still leaves much detail to the reader’s own inventions. Also, a cartoon proceeds at its own pace, not the reader’s. The reader of a novel can put the novel down at any time. But once a cartoon starts, it goes until the end, barring technical difficulties, loss of power or atheological review (which will bring the fantasy to a jarring halt – those atheistic spoilsports!).
Jet writes:

Man is not a mere puppet, he is a fallen creature created in God’s image

Of course man is not a puppet. But this is not because “he is a fallen creature created in God’s image” (which is a double absurdity), but because he is man and there are no invisible magic beings which are controlling his choices and actions.

Jet writes:

God does not work fresh evil in man’s heart, nor were any of those who fastened Christ to the cross innocent victims whose arms God twisted. No Christian believes this. To fairly represent those with whom he disagrees, Bethrick should not concoct or imply positions that nobody holds.

So, Van Til does not hold that his god “controls whatsoever comes to pass”? Bahnsen does not hold that his god “controls all events and outcomes”? If one affirms these statements, he can only hold man responsible for anything by secretly contradicting them. Just as the god of the universe chose that I would be born in the western hemisphere with two arms, a nose, blond hair and ten fingers and ten toes, so it is with anything else about man, on this view, including his actions – actions which he could not choose any more than where he was born. It’s “the accident of birth,” as Van Til would put it in his pamphlet Why I Believe in God.

Jet writes:

Second, if Bethrick is himself an atheist, the picture of reality that he proposes we adopt is truly silly. We are to believe that apart from the cartoonist, trees (that came about by undirected “happy” accidents) magically became paper (once again with no outside direction) and pencils also mysteriously formed out of primordial slop. Then this pencil began -through small micro-mutational adjustments-to pick itself up and draw a wonderfully harmonious world and likewise wrote and designed characters (without the help of a conscious mind directing it, now mind you) all with the same moral intuitions,
capacities for logical reasoning and verbal communication.

Jet attributes to me a view which, bearing the description he chooses for it, is quite absurd indeed. Does Jet cite even one statement by my hand to justify his attribution of such a view to me? No, he does not. His worldview is so intertwined in the cartoon universe premise of theism that he cannot disentangle himself from it even to catch a glimpse of what a non-theistic view of the universe is like. Jet’s problem is that he does not realize that there is an alternative to the metaphysical subjectivism which Christianity inherently assumes. I have already written on this in the following blogs:

Metaphysical Subjectivism and Christianity’s Cartoon Universe, Pt. 1

Metaphysical Subjectivism and Christianity’s Cartoon Universe, Pt. 2

Theism and Subjective Metaphysics

Does my view propose that “trees... magically became paper”? No, men produce paper from wood pulp through a causal process which he discovered and understands by means of reason. Does my view propose that “pencils... mysteriously formed out of primordial slop”? No, men produce pencils from materials they find on the earth. Does my view propose that the world was drawn by a pencil which picked itself up and started drawing spontaneously? No, existence exists, and only existence exists. The alternative to my worldview’s starting point is to start with non-existence as one’s fundamental primary (for only then would it be necessary to “explain” the fact that existence exists; see for instance Basic Contra-Theism). Theism attempts to broker a compromise between its starting point of consciousness conscious only of itself (a patent contradiction) and beginning with non-existence as such (for apologetic purposes). Why not simply start with existence, and move on from there?

Jet gets after me for critiquing a position which he claims no Christian affirms, even though I can cite numerous sources from the Christian camp which affirm precisely what I am critiquing. But then he critiques a position he attributes to me but which I have nowhere affirmed. He does not even go to the trouble – as I have in the case of what I have critiqued – of citing statements to authenticate his attribution of said positions to me.

Jet also wrote:

So, life came from non-life, logic from the irrational, morality from the amoral, and meaning from non-meaning.

In a single sentence, Jet displays his penchant for Tape-Loop Apologetics. If you follow the implications of what Jet presents here just a little further, it won’t belong until you find something along these lines:

Presupposer: "How can your chance-bound, relative-only materialistic worldview account for immaterial entities?"

Non-Believer: "I'm not sure what you're asking. But please, tell me, how does your Christian worldview account for the 'immaterial'?"

Presupposer: "By the self-attesting sovereignty of the Triune God of Christian theism."

Non-Beleiver: "Is this god material or immaterial?"

Presupposer: "God is wholly immaterial."

Non-Believer: "So let me get this straight: you 'account for' that which is 'immaterial' by appealing to that which you say is 'immaterial'? How does that explain anything?"

Presupposer: [blank out]

Jet will want to know where life came from according to my view. The answer is simple: life came from existence. Does my view hold that “logic [comes] from the irrational”? No, and Jet nowhere presents any quotation from something that I have written which affirms that as my position. Like life, logic, morality and meaning all come from existence. In Jet’s view, they come from an invisible magic being which he enshrines in his imagination.

by Dawson Bethrick

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