Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Why Should an Atheist Care About the Problem of Evil?

I am an atheist. What does that mean? It means that I have never seen any evidence that supernatural beings exist. I don't think the devil exists, I don't think that Zeus exists, or Thor, or Gitche Manitou. I don't believe that the god of the Bible exists.

There are thousands of gods that I don't believe in. Some of them have imaginary reputations of cruelty, some of them are supposed to be kind, and some of them are indifferent. It doesn't matter to me because the one thing they all have in common is that they don't exist.

I'm told that some people believe in gods who are supposed to be kind. Those people have trouble understanding why the world is evil. It's a problem that has spawned an entire discipline called theodicy. Bully for them. It's their problem, not mine. I don't accept their premise.

For reasons that seem incomprehensible to me, there are some atheists who really like to talk about the problem of evil as though it were a real problem. Jason Rosenhouse is one of them. You can read his latest at: The Only Reasonable Reply to the Problem of Evil. Jerry Coyne is another. See his post from yesterday at: More Sophisticated Theology: The world’s worst theodicy.


54 comments :

  1. Thank you. I find "evil" boring. I suspect those atheists that still write about such stuff are attracted to the pornography of it all. They thought experiment that IF this was a problem, how would you approach it.
    They don't seem to realize that enough time has been spent on that already and that newer more interesting thought experiments are available in the reality based variants of philosophy.

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  2. "...there are some atheists who really like to talk about the problem of evil as though it were a real problem." - This seems to miss the point: it's not supposed to be a problem for atheists, it's supposed to be a problem for theists. Rosenhouse states his reason for talking about it quite clearly: "The problem of evil is the most obvious and serious challenge to belief in God".

    Why should atheists not talk about something they consider a serious challenge to belief in God?

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    1. I can see why evil might be a problem for some kinds of theists.

      It's should be of no concern to atheists because we don't believe in any god in the first place. The "problem" of evil is not a serious challenge to the existence of supernatural beings because those beings might be evil or indifferent.

      Let's assume that an atheist wins the argument over the problem of evil. All that's happenedi is that some particular kinds of gods aren't possible. Does that mean that other kinds of gods ARE possible?

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    2. I agree that it doesn't rule out all gods - it only rules out the ones that theists actually believe in.

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    3. Many evangelical Christians believe in a kind, loving, omnipotent, God who commits mass genocide. The "problem" of evil does not rule out such a God otherwise they would have abandoned him centuries ago.

      Atheists have nothing to contribute to the debate about the behavior and personality of imaginary gods. Since they're imaginary, the believers can make up whatever traist they want. It's like arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. (The answer is "none," because angels don't exist.)

      There are much more serious problems to worry about. For example, if there are so many superheros then how come the world is full of bad guys?

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    4. First off, you and Jesus consistently misspell "the idiocy".

      Second, it can be of value to point out the logical inconsistency of religion. A kind, loving god who commits mass genocide is logically inconsistent, right? Anyone who doesn't abandon YHWH on that account is being silly, so the intellectual equivalents of pointing and laughing are appropriate behaviors.

      As for the superhero question, you could easily model that by setting a few parameters. You need a superhero origination rate, a supervillain origination rate, and superhero and supervillain encounter parameters: sometimes the superhero wins, resulting in some percentage of supervillain extinction, but more generally in temporary incarceration, some percentage of superhero extinction, and some percentage of mutual survival. You also need parameters for extinction independently of interaction. I would suspect that under realistic parameters we would get an equilibrium.

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  3. konrad, I agree. I thought both of the posts that were linked to were interesting, well argued and entertaining.

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  4. Agreed. It's only a problem for believers, whose real problem could be summed up like this: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=461311977220602&l=1adaa6c4bb

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  5. There are thousands of gods that I don't believe in.

    Do you not believe in biology because there are thousands of things that have been believed by biologists?

    I haven't been following Rosenhouse recently but Coyne's recent posts on this topic would lead a reasonable person to think he really doesn't believe there is any such thing as evil.

    How does a materialist assign anything to the classification of "evil" or "good", for that matter? Presumably everything that happens, happens according to the workings out of material existence so anything that happens can have no other character than that. What happens in the universe that isn't the product of matter and energy acting according to physical laws? Where does that come from, unless it's some imaginary category, some artifact of material causation that has no more real existence than Zeus or Zoanon?

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    1. All due respect, but you are not well situated to know what a reasonable person would think.

      How does a non-materialist assign anything to the classification of "evil" or "good"? Would this be a good time to bring up the Euthyphro dilemma?

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    2. I'm assuming you are deliberately conflating belief based on faith with belief based on evidence and rationality as one of a continuing series of exercises in rhetorical masturbation.

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    3. John Harshman, you seem to assume I was expecting you to tell me what a reasonable person would think. Or, indeed, that I thought materialists were reasonable people.

      I notice you don't answer my questions. Neither does oberski who doesn't seem to understand that logical positivism is as dead as an intellectual position, though it will do as a pose with those who don't know any better. It was always a cowardly dodge, even before the early 30s.

      There is no room in materialism for a belief in evil or good, you can't hold either of those concepts without sneaking out of materialism. There, I've given you two statements to refute. Tell me where those concepts are found in materialism. I'll also state that you can't do it. Floor me with a display of reason.

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    4. There is no room in materialism for a belief in evil or good, you can't hold either of those concepts without sneaking out of materialism.

      I live in a society. I like being secure, safe, and comfortable. If something threatens those goals then it's wrong and I oppose it. If something enhances or reinforces those goals then it's good and I support it.

      All other things being equal, I'd like everyone in my society to be happy as long as they don't interfere with the happiness of others. Happy is good.

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    5. I like being secure, save and comfortable.

      So, good and evil are determined by your security, safety and comfort? Then anything painful that happens to someone else isn't objectively evil, by that standard. All of the pain in the world that doesn't impinge on your security, safety and comfort doesn't fall within that part of your subjective experience that determines the moral nature of things. I will say that's the actual practice of huge swaths of humanity, including those who profess something higher.

      I'd like everyone in my society to be happy as long as they don't interfere with the happiness of others.

      Well, what if other people like for other people to be unhappy? Aren't they just playing out the program of their physical constituents and circumstances? What makes your preference good and theirs evil? Presumably both are just the products of chemical reactions that can't be anything but the fulfillment of physical law. Where does good and evil enter into that?

      You haven't squared this concept of good and evil with materialism, you've just stated subjective preference. As can be seen in people around the world, not everyone agrees. There is no more objective truth to your declarations than there is to the assertion that God commands that people not do to others that which they would not want done to themselves. Only that statement is internally consistent whereas your declaration can't be made consistent with materialism and it can't be protected from the most vulgar level of atheist debunkery.

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    6. No matter what you might believe, it's always the collective, subjective, views of the society you live in that determine what's right and what's wrong. That's why there's so many differences between societies. For example, some societies think it's evil to execute criminals while others think it's morally justified. Many societies are comfortable allowing abortion while others think it's evil.

      The distinction between good and evil isn't even consistent within Christianity.

      There's no reason to pretend that good and evil are objective truths and there's no reason to "square" them with materialism. It's part of culture and culture is determined by human behavior, which is far from rational. Does that shock you?

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    7. No matter what you might believe, it's always the collective, subjective, views of the society you live in that determine what's right and what's wrong.

      Then there was nothing wrong with parents sacrificing their children in societies that permitted that, there was and is nothing wrong with societies that keep women in a collective, veiled absolute dictatorship under men, who can determine even the most intimate aspects of their physical bodies in societies where that is determined to be right, there is nothing wrong with Iran hanging gay teenagers as a public spectacle... I'd think there are a number of good reasons to see those as objectively evil practices, reasons like a right to personal existence, personal freedom. Of course, you have to see equality and freedom as objectively good to come to conclusions like those. Without those taken as real, you can't even sustain your own moral positions.

      There's no reason to pretend that good and evil are objective truths

      Is there a reason to believe that democracy is objectively better than dictatorship? On what basis?

      The distinction between good and evil isn't even consistent within Christianity.

      Well, you can start by considering that Jesus didn't seem to know the concept of Christianity I can't recall him being recorded as using the term which, rather clearly, came into use after him. He did predict that there would be people who used his name but who didn't follow his teaching, so he seems to have taken that fact of human behavior into account in what he told his followers. That doesn't mean there aren't people who do a better job of trying to follow his teachings than others. Having been brought up as a Catholic, we were taught that none of us would measure up so discrepancies don't throw me entirely off balance now.

      This, of course, gets us back to my question to you about diversity of opinion in biology and whether or not that impeaches the entirety of the effort. How about cosmology, which veers towards ultimate diversities? If you can impeach all of religious belief on that basis, if that kind of disparity is a valid refutation of something then scientists can't escape having it applied to science. Which is something of an annoyance to Rosenhouse, Coyne and yourself, from what I gather. What objective reason can you cite that allows the apple of your eye to escape your own method of debunkery? One that someone who disagrees with you will be compelled to accept contrary to their preference?

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    8. You haven't demonstrated that good and evil are greater problems for materialism, or are solved by anti-materialism (which in this case means believing in spooks.)

      There are many concepts which are not strictly material, but nevertheless useful. Abstract concepts like numbers, mathematics, statistics etc. are not material but they are useful in forming scientific theories that make predictions about observable phenomena.

      Subjective experiences like love, hate, happy, sad are not material but nevertheless they are a part of human experience; but being subjective they are less useful in forming inferences that make predictions about observable phenomena.

      We speak of our "relationships" with fellow human beings, and the "relationships" between parts in a system. A relationship is not a material object, but it is useful in describing our interactions with others or interactions of parts in a system.

      Likewise, "good" and "evil" are useful in describing our interactions with others or interactions between parts in a system. The fact that they are not material does not prove spooks exist. The number seven is not material; that does not prove it can sponsor an episode of Sesame Street.

      The usefulness or reality of non-material subjective qualia is not proof that spooks objectively exist. Hypothesizing spooks exist does not assist forming inferences that make testable predictions about observable phenomena.

      Moreover, by hypothesizing the existence of spooks, you are certainly not solving the problem you claim to have solved. You have simply hypothesized that a spook-based solution to the problem of evil exists, somewhere, perhaps in a parallel universe of some sort, probably in the mind of a spook or spooks.

      You have no access to that spook-based solution, so we have no reason to believe your assertion that the problem has been solved by anyone, man nor spook.

      To invoke divine-command theology--"It is good because God tells us it's good, bad because God tells us it's bad"-- has so many logical contradictions it's hard to know where to begin.

      1. You haven't solved the problem, you simply asserted that a spook solved the problem, but you can't prove either a.) the spook exists nor b.) that the spook solved the problem.

      2. You can't access the spook's alleged solution, because you cannot conjure the spook, nor more generally, can you form a theory about the spook's hidden knowledge that makes testable predictions. Your only knowledge about the spook derives from a human tradition created mostly by genocidal mass murderers. It is unclear why your human tradition should be privileged over other human traditions likewise created by genocidal mass murderers.

      3. You are invoking argument by convenience. It would be convenient if a simple solution existed that does not require much thinking and can be understood even by stupid people. Therefore a simple solution exists, that does not require much thinking and can be understood even by stupid people.

      The convenient solution you have chosen is to assert that, as a source of knowledge about spooks, your human tradition (which was created by genocidal mass murderers) should be privileged over other human traditions likewise created by genocidal mass murderers. Convenient? Yes, for religious conservatives. True? Certainly not proven.

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    9. 4. Christian morality is not absolute, it is relative. Biblical morality keeps changing, depending on the culture. It used to be mandatory to stone homosexuals to death and kill your own daughter if she's not a virgin on her wedding night, etc. etc. Now I guess it's not anymore.

      Even Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis says that incest was OK before the Book of Leviticus outlawed it (Adam's sons married their sisters, Abraham married his half-sister, etc.)

      5. There are many moral systems in Christianity. Besides the multiple moral systems listed above, God has a completely different definition of "good" and "evil" unrelated to human "good" and "evil", in which it's OK for God to kill babies and commit genocide, and he orders Moses to order the Israelites to rape the Midianite virgins and kill the non-virgins [Num. 31] So far we've got 3 or 4 definitions of "good" and "evil" going.

      6. The fact that you haven't solved the problem is obvious from the fact that conservative Christians historically supported every kind of genocide and mass murder of Native Americans, Cathars, Tasmanians, Bushmen, Jews, accused witches, East Timorese, etc. etc. So it seems their source of super-knowledge is not so super.

      5. Asserting that a solution to the problem exists, but it is in the mind of an inaccessible spook, does not assist us with any of the moral problems we face today.

      Let's say you're a doctor, a disaster brings to your hospital 100 patients, wounded and dying, of various ages, genders, education levels, professions, etc. If you help one, the others will die. Whom do you help?

      This is a real moral problem, of the kind faced by many people in the real world. Your reply is to simply assert that the knowledge of good and evil exists in the mind of an inaccessible spook, thus you have solved the problem.

      If you had solved the problem, you would be useful, but you are in fact, useless.

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    10. You haven't demonstrated that good and evil are greater problems for materialism, or are solved by anti-materialism (which in this case means believing in spooks.)

      There is no requirement in religious assertion of good or evil to account for it as an aspect of physical reality or to explain how those could arise as material entities, materialism requires that anything be a material entity in order to exist. Religion has no such restriction on reality and can accommodate the idea that evil and good are non-material. Unless you can come up with a material demonstration of good and evil, that remains an insurmountable problem.

      "Spook", how unimpressive an intellectual position atheism is, considering its pretenses of intellectual superiority. Other people can make their own decisions but if you want me to take you seriously, talk like an adult.

      The history of atheists with political power is impressive for its body count. In virtually every single case it has been bloody and has been, uniformly, despotic.

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    11. materialism requires that anything be a material entity in order to exist.

      Absurd. Straw man attack. Materialism does not insist that the number seven be a material entity. Abstract concepts like mathematics are not material, but they are useful in making testable predictions about observable quantities.

      The fact that abstract quantities like mathematics are useful in describing nature, does not mean that spooks exist which cannot be mathematically described.

      Religion has no such restriction on reality and can accommodate the idea that evil and good are non-material.

      Religion permits anything and everything, including genocide, infanticide and the rape of the Midianites, slavery, selling your daughters into slavery, etc. Accommodating everything, it predicts nothing.

      The question is: what problems do religion's hypothesized entities, specifically, solve?

      Unless you can come up with a material demonstration of good and evil, that remains an insurmountable problem.

      Absurd. Materialism does not mean that there are no abstracts that are useful in describing the world. It means spooks do not influence human events.

      Terms like "good" and "evil" are descriptors of human relationships, they don't need to be material any more than mathematical correlations need to be made of matter.

      Supernaturalism means that spooks exist and influence human events. You have not demonstrated that the only possible solution to the problem necessarily involves the existence of spooks and their influence on human events. For supernaturalism, that remains an insurmountable problem.

      "Spook", how unimpressive an intellectual position atheism is

      You're just accustomed to unearned privilege; I'm supposed to call other people's spooks "spooks" but I'm supposed to show respect and treat your spooks respectfully like they're better.

      If somebody points out that your spooks are no better than the spooks of African witch doctors, you have no recourse except the ad hominem of saying I'm stupid.

      You're intellectually superior? OK genius, if you're so smart, prove your spooks are different from, and better supported by evidence than, Muslim djinn or the spooks of Daoists or African witch doctors.

      Just because abstract concepts are useful in describing the world, does not mean your spooks exist. That is exactly the crux of your logical leap.

      if you want me to take you seriously, talk like an adult.

      I am talking like an adult, the way an adult talks to an exorcist, witch doctor, medium or parlor psychic. You're a conceited charlatan who expects to be treated with respect when he's shown to be full of bull.

      But by "talk like an adult", I think you mean I have to use a polite language in which your religion is treated as more exalted and intellectual than that of an African witch doctor. That I will not. You and witch doctors both believe in spooks. The only difference is you don't have a bone through your nose, so you think you're better.

      The history of atheists with political power is impressive for its body count. In virtually every single case it has been bloody and has been, uniformly, despotic.

      Yeah right, 75% atheists in Japan, lotta crime there. Or Sweden, total chaos in Sweden. Would you rather live in Guatemala or El Salvador with 95%+ Christians or Japan? Can you name even one country that is more than 95% Christian and is not a hell-hole?

      Every fascist movement was explicitly Christian (unless you count the Baath who were Muslim). All the fascist movements around Germany were based on Catholicism, usually explicitly. Nazism itself pretended to be above the Catholic-Protestant divide but was in fact pro-Protestantism, and there's no real distinction between Nazi anti-Semitism, jargon and language and that used by the most respected Christian theologians of their era.

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    12. Your percentages of majority atheist populations in Japan and Sweden are based on what?

      In 2000, 82.9%[3] of Swedes belonged to the Church of Sweden. By the end of 2009, this figure was 71.3%.[1] The percentage of Swedes belonging to the Church of Sweden is decreasing yearly by more than one per cent. Wikipedia (I'd usually look for another source but I'm pressed for time.)

      I believe this covers the period during which mandatory support for the CoS was limited to members, providing a financial disincentive to maintain membership.

      I looked at the Wiki article, Religion in Japan, which seems to be a mix of assertions, ranging from 83% of the population belonging to Shintoism to your assertion that looks suspiciously like ideologically atheist "editing", as is so often the case with Wikipedia. I wouldn't bet the ant farm on any of it.

      and there's no real distinction between Nazi anti-Semitism, jargon and language and that used by the most respected Christian theologians of their era.

      Let's see, Barth, Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer, ... you might impress an atheist who doesn't know his Barth from his elbow but, really, what a ludicrous thing to say. Or who exactly are you talking about? Quotes?

      Show me how fascism can be consistent with the teachings of Jesus as found in the four gospels. I can show ways in which genocidal, atheist, anti-religious dictatorships of the 20th century are inconsistent with some of Marx's ideas, I can't tell you how they violated physical law or materialism, something they just about all pretended supported them.

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    13. Thought Criminal:

      John Harshman, you seem to assume I was expecting you to tell me what a reasonable person would think.

      Nope. I'm assuming you were expecting all your readers to gasp in amazement at your erudition and bow down before you. It should be obvious that won't happen.

      I notice you don't answer my questions.

      Good catch. I used the rhetorical device of turning your question around. If materialism presents no objective basis for good and evil, is there in fact any place we can find such a basis? Presumably, you claim to find it in God. But how? Hence my reference to Euthyphro. Which I, being equally observant, also notice that you have dodged. Since I've never seen a good answer to the Euthyphro dilemma, I'd be very interested to know how you deal with it.

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    14. John Harshman, you didn't answer the questions because you can't. And now you're covering up that inability as frantically as Mitt Romney is trying to avoid releasing his tax returns.

      You bringing Plato into the discussion is pretty odd, it in no way refutes what I said about materialism being at far more of a disadvantage to religion in a discussion of evil, if anything it supports my point. The assertion that God is the origin of moral law means that religion can account for the reality of the moral characteristics, good and evil. Materialism can't do that. Any particular assertion of religion about what is good and what is evil might be wrong but it is possible within religion, it's not possible within materialism. Any atheist who claims to be a materialist has to temporarily abandon his pretended adherence to materialism to make any kind of moral assertion. Just as they have to abandon their materialism to assert that their preferred ideas can transcend mere physical causality in order to produce a true representation of truth or an objective representation of the universe.

      I wouldn't look too closely to Plato for moral discernment, the guy was about as morally obtuse as it was possible to be, he thought Sparta was just swell, even as it would have expelled him if not killed him for practicing philosophy. I've never understood why anyone who believes in democracy, equality, etc. would have any use for him. Socrates, as presented by Plato, was pretty much a dolt and a snob.

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    15. You don't seem to understand Plato's point. It isn't that god is the origin of moral law. It's that there is a contradiction in the idea that god is the origin of moral law. Thanks for the ad hominem argument about Plato, but I hope you realize that it's a logical fallacy. But how about dealing with the argument itself? Here, let me help with a paraphrase:

      Is it moral because god says so, or does god say so because it's moral? If the former, then what if god said that killing Egyptian babies was the highest morality? Would you agree? You may respond that god wouldn't say that, but then you're supposing there is an independent moral standard by which we can judge what god would or would not say. In the former case, morality is arbitrary, based on the whim of a deity; in the latter case, there is a moral standard, but it isn't god. Which do you choose?

      There are possible objective standards available to a materialist, but they do rely on a basic assumption or two about goals. I'd go with a basic assumption of empathy, that other people are in some way equivalent to me. Morality can also arise simply through evolution; monkeys have notions of fairness, for example. These need not be universal truths, only human ones.

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    16. @Thought Criminal:

      Let's see, Barth, Niebuhr, Bonhoeffer, ... you might impress an atheist who doesn't know his Barth from his elbow

      No sir, the average atheist knows more about religion than the average religious believer. You cannot claim that atheists are ignorant of religion or its history, as you insinuate here.

      Your counter-examples fail, except for Bonhoeffer. Niebuhr was American. Barth was Swiss and was not recognized as German; the Nazis considered the Swiss a degenerate offshoot of the Aryan race.

      Bonhoeffer is a real counter-example, so that's one. He behaved quite courageously after 1939 (before 1939, his response to Nazi anti-Semitism was pathetic). But even then, he had to do so outside of his church. He conspired against Hitler with a secular mish-mash of opponents who did not share his religious beliefs.

      I have no doubt Bonhoeffer's motivations were religious, but the secular mish-mash that made up opposition to Hitler (however small) was at best an argument that courage and morality transcend doctrinal divides.

      Or who exactly are you talking about? Quotes?

      The Christian Churches in Germany generally supported Nazism, with some exceptions. The Confessing Church was pro-Nazi; 85% of BK [Confessing] pastors swore loyalty to Hitler and Bishop Hans Meiser's supporters sang the Horst Wessel song.

      The BK didn't oppose the Nazis, they opposed the Deutsche Christen [DC] who were pro-Nazi; not the same thing. The DC had the annoying habit of winning church elections, and the BK's raison d'etre and goal was to claim they were the legitimate representatives of Protestantism.

      After the war, the history was re-written with a new-minted mythology about the Confessing Church resisting Nazism!

      If you want some names of theologians, we can start with Walter Kunneth. He was in the BK and a theologian of Schopfungsglaube, which literally means creation-belief, and in English is called Orders of Creation theology. This is the theology that God created humanity as "orders" like male/female, family, nation, Volk, race, etc. so moral principles must preserve the orders of creation.

      In other words, humans were created by God as different races/genders and the racial/sex boundaries must be preserved. Orders of Creation obviously survived the war in a variety of forms. It turned into Apartheid Theology in South Africa which was promoted by Dooyeweerd, a prominent creationist, and Stoker.

      In the USA it survives in racist forms among the Kinists (racist followers of Rushdoony) and in non-racist forms among opponents of gays. (The phrase "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" is a dumbed-down version of Orders of Creation Theology.)

      The founder of ID, Phillip Johnson, believed in a sexist, non-racist version of Orders of Creation.

      Here is Hermann Goering citing some Schopfungsglaube:

      "When the churches assert that first come they, and then the Volk, then we must say that God did not create the German person as Catholic or Protestant: He gave him his soul in a German body with German blood." [Steigmann-Gall, "Holy Reich", p. 120]

      Kunneth had a debate in 1931 with powerful Nazi Hans Schemm, during which Kunneth and Schemm agreed on many points. The main disagreement: Schemm wanted to ditch the Jewish Old Testament, Kunneth wanted to keep it; but they agreed about the Jews, nationalism and racism. During this debate Schemm denounced Darwinism as the foundation of Marxism. They both used Schopfungsglaube language [Steigmann-Gall, p.35]

      Other Schopfungsglaube theologians were Paul Althaus and Emanuel Hirsch. A lot of them were students of Karl Holl, who in World War I developed a theology of nationalism that could naturally evolve into a theology of race and gender.

      There are a bunch of other theologians worse than these, I'll write more when I get a chance.

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    17. I will continue on the topic of Schopfungsglaube theology.

      As I said, in a 1931 debate, Nazis Hans Schemm and theologian Walter Kunneth agreed on many points.

      Schemm famously said "Nazism is applied biology" and denounced Darwinism, and said "Our religion is Christ, our politics Fatherland" and other slogans.

      Steigmann-Gall describes the 1931 debate: 'As the counterpoint to [Hans] Schemm, the Protestant side was represented by Walter Künneth, the Berlin University lecturer and Schöpfungsglaube theologian. Like other confessional Lutherans of a conservative theology, he criticized the Nazis' violent political practices and doctrinal positions, particularly attacks on the Old Testament. However, he believed that from the point of view of the gospel one could say a "joyful yes" to Nazism specifically on the point of volkisch nationalism: "Because we are Christians, we know that God created us as a particular race, as a particular Volk... racial commitment is not coincidence, but divinely ordained destiny."

      The Allgemeine evangelisch-lutherische Kirchenzeitung (AELKZ) [Common Protestant-Lutheran Church-Newspaper], the most widely circulated Protestant church periodical in Germany, reported on the meeting, stating that Künneth's lecture had been received with "unanimous approval."' [Steigmann-Gall, "Holy Reich", p.36]

      Hans Schemm said: "We want to preserve, not subvert, what God has created, just as the oak tree and the fir tree retain their difference in a forest. We are accused of wanting to deify the idea of race. But since race is willed by God, we want nothing else but to keep the race pure, in order to fulfill God's law."

      Theologian Paul Althaus, a few years later, said: "God has given me out of the wellspring of my Volk: the inheritance of blood, the corporeality, the soul, the spirit. God has determined my life from its outermost to its innermost elements through my Volk, through its blood, through its spiritual style. As a creation of God, the Volk is a law of our life." [Steigmann-Gall, "Holy Reich", p.35]

      Althaus again: "Among the factors which determine and make up a Volk, the community of blood or race has become decisively important for us Germans. ...It has to do with a specific, closed, blood relationship. Race is not already Volk, the biological unity is not already historical unity. But the unity of race in a significant sense and its protection is an essential condition for the formation and preservation of the Volk."

      Althaus: "It does not have to do with Jewish hatred-- one can reach an agreement directly with serious Jews on this point; it does not have to do with blood or with the religious beliefs of Judaism. But it does involve the threat of a quite specific disintegrated and demoralizing urban spirituality, whose representative now is primarily the Jewish Volk." [Robert Ericksen and Susannah Heschel, "Betrayal", p.25]

      This language of "disintegrating", "dissolving", "corrosive", "reductionist" etc. was universally used against the Jews by most Christian theologians and all Nazis.

      One must note that creationists and ID proponents use the same language against evolutionary scientists today-- that their "worldview" is "disintegrating", "dissolving", "reductionist" etc.

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    18. After World War I, in German theology there was a so-called "Luther Renaissance" that was a reaction against the liberal theology of the 19th. century, which involved some of the most prominent Protestant theologians of the day, including Paul Althaus, Werner Elert and Walter Künneth. Althaus and Künneth promoted Schopfungsglaube.

      Many of them were students of prewar theologian Karl Holl, who, as I mentioned before, led the development of a theology of nationalism.

      Enough for today; I will post more on theologians when I get a chance.

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    19. diogenes wrote: "Yeah right, 75% atheists in Japan"

      I agree with the point of your post diogenes, but this is just to let you know that while a lot of Japanese might answer in questionnaires that they "don't believe in God," they are probably thinking of the Western concept. I live in Japan and can assure you that the vast majority of Japanese are routinely religiously observant. The thing is that the religion and everyday culture are so entwined here that it is not always obvious.

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  6. "The "problem" of evil is not a serious challenge to the existence of supernatural beings because those beings might be evil or indifferent."

    Yes, but it's a serious challenge to the existence of supernatural beings defined as infinitely good. And that's interesting for atheists since we don't need evidence to disprove the existence of something that is logically impossible, like a squared circle or an infinitely good god that do evil things.

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    1. Yes, but it's a serious challenge to the existence of supernatural beings defined as infinitely good.

      Not my problem.

      And that's interesting for atheists since we don't need evidence to disprove the existence of something that is logically impossible, ...

      As I said above, Christians have come up with all kinds of explanations to resolve the problem of evil. They simply modify the personality of their god so that there's no logical impossibility. That kind of god seems silly to atheists but no more silly than any other imaginary being.

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    2. But isn't that kind of what Jason is saying in the linked post, He says the only reasonable reply to the problem of evil from theist should be that it is a problem they can't solve, in stead of trying to torture reason to try to save their omnibenevolent gods?

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  7. theist should be that it is a problem they can't solve, in stead of trying to torture reason to try to save their omnibenevolent gods?

    I got through decades of being raised in religion, of reading religion and discussing religion without once encountering the term "omnibenevolent". I sense that it's a term that is rarely if ever used in Catholic Christianity. I don't recall ever seeing it in Orthodox texts either. Just what do you propose it to mean?

    It's a lot easier to square God with the concepts of good and evil than to find them with materialism. Atheism, when it finds its a-theology on materialism would be a-benevolent, if it is to remain logically consistent with its pretenses, that is. If "theism" has a problem of evil, atheism has a problem of good and evil, which it can't accommodate in its most common form.

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    2. I agree with Larry Moran here, in that atheism doesn't have a problem of good and evil, because atheism is not in fact an 'ism'. So it just becomes a way for each person to speak for himself. What that means is that some atheists, such as Ayn Rand, will argue that nothing whatsoever is owed to another human being, for any reason. Others, following deSade, will go further to argue that people are free to act according to their own nature, even if that includes a taste for torture and murder. And other atheists can then say, 'yeah, but I personally don't feel that way! Furthermore, I want to live in a world with less and less people like that. Hopefully, acting in the best interests of our species, we can work together to eliminate ideas such as those, through education, medical advances, etc.' If any atheist ever attempts to argue that there IS some sort of inherent morality in atheism, they have some 'splainin' to do. But if they simply argue, as Larry does, that it's 'not my problem', they are on solid ground.

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    3. You'll notice I only made assertions about atheism that claims materialism as its basis. Arguing about evil from an ideological position that can't produce an identification of something as really being evil or good is far from ideal, as a logically consistent activity. If religious folk have a hard time coming to a consensus or inducing those which profess belief in moral positions acting in accord with them, the problem of materialist atheism even getting that far is real and, in light of those you mention and many other atheists, an important defect in atheism. The habits of thought that atheists use against a belief in God also work on any assertion of morality. Utilitarianism, one of the more sophisticated attempts to come up with a substitute, is a flop since it can't even define what "happiness" means and why it should determine what is good. Someone, I can't recall who, appallingly said that if the Nazis could have ensured the perfect happiness of the survivors by killing all of the Jews it would have been justified. If you start out with the program of utilitarianism, I can't see how you can escape coming up with ideas like that, eventually.

      I'd rather take my chances of Christians imperfectly acting in accord with the teachings of Jesus than I would utilitarians successfully applying their methods in the world. I've come to the conclusion that the thin margin of good that makes democracy generally better than the alternatives is the product of that kind of religious belief. I don't think it can survive long in a society where strict materialism dominates.

      Just declaring something as "not my problem" is a lot like declaring ideas and questions to be "meaningless" by fiat, it doesn't really get you out of having to account for what you say in light of other things you say.

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    4. @Thought Criminal: I'd rather take my chances of Christians imperfectly acting in accord with the teachings of Jesus

      Which gave us the extermination of the Cathars, witch trials, slavery, racism, Cortez, Pizarro, giving infected blankets to the Indians, the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the Irish famine, extermination of Tasmanians, extermination of Bushmen by Boer Commandos, Battle of Blood River, Apartheid, Nazism and the Holocaust, and "anti-Communist" exterminations including the illegal carpet bombing of Cambodia and American-financed genocide in East Timor and Indonesia.

      I guess that's what you mean by acting imperfectly...?

      In every one of the massacres I listed above, the alleged moral depravity of the victims was used as a charge against them, and in every case the moral standard used to judge them inferior and worthy of slaughter, was Christian morality. (Also the fact that they were living on valuable real estate.)

      (That includes the Holocaust. Please don't waste our time with the "Hitler was an atheist" canard, we're a little better educated now about German history and aren't falling for that one again.)

      In none of the events I listed did Christianity present any significant obstacle to the brutality. In each case the brutalities were carried off like a machine, and Christianity served as a most useful part of that machine. (From 1800 onward, capitalist free market theory also contributed significantly.) On rare occasions you get a guy like Bonhoeffer who fights the power-- and has to do it outside of his church, because his church is useless.

      Of course, many Christian Americans have never heard of the above events (East Timor? Who's he?) and would regard them as irrelevant and unimportant because they do not identify with the massacred people killed in the name of their moral inferiority-- their moral inferiority being judged by: 1. Not Christian, or not right kind of Christian; and 2. Living on valuable real estate.

      Many "Christian Nation" types seem to believe Christianity keeps us "safe." To this I must ask: who's "we"? Does "we" include Incas? Native Americans? Tasmanians? Timorese? Bushmen? Jews? When people think Christianity keeps "us" safe, they've got a damn narrow definition of "us." "Us" are alive, by defintion; so by the same definition, all those dead people are not part of "us."

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    5. In every case you list, when Christians kill people THEY ARE VIOLATING THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS, they are acting against the teachings of a man they claim is divine and who speaks with the authority of God. That they can kill large numbers of people while professing a belief in the teachings of Jesus doesn't mean that it follows that people who believe that there is no reason to believe that those standards of behavior constitute absolute law will behave better.

      History shows that atheists with power don't behave better.

      As to Hitler and religion, I didn't mention Hitler. I'm always so grateful when atheists attribute statements to me that, somehow, I didn't make. But, then, I have seen that kind of thing is a common practice of atheists and others who don't have a leg to stand on.

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  8. I am an atheist. What does that mean? It means that I have never seen any evidence that supernatural beings exist.

    In the entirety of history, human and otherwise, no one has even defined "supernatural" with sufficient precision to determine what the word means unless it is taken to mean "nonexistent." "Supernatural beings" is either a nonsense phrase like "muffilokopopo tunimaphlatagaministico," or evidence for its referent is by definition entirely lacking.

    Theism isn't merely wrong; it's entirely incoherent.

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    1. In the entirety of history, human and otherwise, no one has even defined "supernatural" with sufficient precision to determine what the word means

      Oh, brother. Is the concept of gravity entirely incoherent? How about the concept of time? How about the concept of existence?

      It's too bad that people aren't required to take enough courses in philosophy so they can encounter the fact that even some of the most basic tools of human culture, even those used at every point in science, lack definition and are the subject of huge difference of opinion. There is no problem of things that people can't define with "sufficient precision to determine what a word means" existing. People and their inabilities aren't the determination of non-existence.

      As pointed out above, logical positivism was thoroughly trashed as a philosophical concept about eighty years ago in the most stringent terms of human intellectual culture, proof. Atheism, which lives in a perpetually lost past, in a pretense of the possibility of that kind of formalist certainty, doesn't seem to have emotionally coped with that fact.

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    2. The fact that people might disagree on definitions is a matter of preference having nothing to do with whether or not the thing being defined is in fact well-defined. I can define X to be an integer between 5 and 7, and you may disagree and say X ought to be something else, but that doesn't mean X isn't well defined as I've stipulated. On the other hand, if I say X is an odd integer between 5 and 7, it doesn't matter if we all agree that that's what X is, it's still poorly defined.

      It's worse than that for "supernatural." "Supernatural" doesn't have a basic working definition that isn't incoherent or substance-free, let alone possessing "sufficient precision."

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    3. Al, before you or your friends forget, I didn't try to define the number "6" as being something other than the integer between 5 and 7. Have you got an example of someone who actually did what you assert in your example? I've never know of someone to do that. Have you? If it wasn't so hot and humid here I'd go to the bother of drawing the parallel to several examples of the false equivalence fallacy that are so popular in atheist polemics these days.

      As pointed out above, the limits of human definition don't determine whether or not something exists. One of the problems of human thought is that it is largely dependent on rather concrete reference to physical experience. The idea that a definition of the supernatural could be anything other than "substance-free" is kind of funny, considering what the supernatural is assumed to be.

      Can you define existence in a way that isn't problematic? Even in physical terms?

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  9. Here's a couple good definitions right here, just off Google 30 seconds of searching. Neither one means 'nonexistent'.

    1: of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
    2: departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature

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  10. So, Thought Criminal: You appear to believe there's an objective basis for determining right and wrong. What is it? Just curious.

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  11. J.H. I strongly suspect that you wouldn't agree with me about what constitutes an objective basis for determining right and wrong. I would say that, based in human history and experience, the idea that you should not do to other people what you would not have done to you is about as objective a moral standard as could possibly exist. I think history and experience provide the best means of judging those questions through rigorously excluding self-interest from the consideration.

    I would generally not talk about morality in terms of objectivity. The demand of objectivity is far more characteristic of atheism than it is of religious belief. As I pointed out, you would have to have a material demonstration of good and evil in order to overcome the typical atheist method of debunkery that it uses to deride a belief in God. Unless you had that, any desired moral standard would tend to fall whenever an atheist wanted to do something, the only restraint, in that case, being what they figured they could get away with. I've seen enough of that among some of those who profess religious belief, even among those who claim to believe they will be punished for violating moral laws, to have any faith that those who don't believe in the reality of moral laws will behave better. I think history shows there is no reason to believe atheists will.

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  12. T. C.: That was seriously garbled, and it didn't answer the question either. You both do and do not have an objective basis for morality. The Golden Rule is objective, but apparently atheists, being objective and all, can't be expected to follow it. Go figure. Apparently a belief in god is necessary for morality, but only because it generates a fear of punishment. Do you pay any attention to what you say?

    I, atheist that I am, don't think fear of punishment is a good basis for morality; it certainly isn't a very moral one. But I'm certainly glad that you believe in god, if that's the only thing holding you back from a murderous rampage. There are those of us who think it would be a bad thing to do, quite aside from any punishment. But you appear not to be one of those people.

    I presume there's a "not" missing from your second to last sentence, because taken literally it claims that those who don't believe will indeed behave better. Inserting the "not", you don't seem to have any argument other than the claim that religious folks are more moral than the non-religious, without presenting any justification for that claim.

    And you're still dodging the Euthyphro dilemma. Why?

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  13. If you want to go over the Euthyphro dialogue, maybe you should state what it is you want to discuss in the silly thing - which I've just re-read in the Jowett translation. Like all of the Plato dialogues, it's a total set-up job that leaves out huge parts of reality.

    I was discussing the total inability of materialism to produce the categories of evil or good. The typical atheist citation of "the problem of evil" asserts that because religious people can't account for the existence of evil in a universe created by a God that is all good. Which is a thorny problem but, as most atheists these days are materialists, they lack the ability to bring up the question from their own ideological foundations, which can't produce a material definition of "evil" or assert that it has any reality that stands up to their own methods of debunkery. They have to leave materialism to even raise the question as anything but a rhetorical tactic.

    As Dawkins put it:

    In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.

    "No evil, no good". You have to exit materialism in order to hold that those categories have any more reality than you hold God to have. In his case, his neo-Malthusian add-on argues against its reality in something he clearly believes to be natural law. Materialism always tends to moral nihilism. There, I said it.

    As I pointed out, Christians who commit murder, who commit genocide are acting against the teachings left by Jesus and those who knew him. You can't say that materialists, in their rather breathtakingly extensive record of murder and genocide over the past two centuries, are violating any rules of materialism. It's hard enough to get Christians to live up to their claimed belief in prohibitions on murder and oppression, when there's no prohibition on those taken as having any more than a merely contractual basis there isn't any reason to expect better behavior.

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  14. Make that, "The typical atheist citation of "the problem of evil" asserts that because religious people can't account for the existence of evil in a universe created by a God that is all good, therefore, no God".

    Which doesn't follow since it could be that people don't have a complete understanding of God or God's intentions, something that has been discussed since the earliest sections of the Jewish scriptures. People don't have an entire knowledge of any aspect of the universe, including the most elementary aspects of arithmetic and the most fundamental of particles, yet those exist. Their existence isn't dependent on complete or even adequate human understanding. You can't require that religious people have a complete understanding of God before they are permitted to believe in God anymore than atomic science is required to have a complete understanding of matter at that level before it is permitted to believe in atomic science. Never mind the tiny fraction of evolution which science has managed to reveal. Though, people being what they are, they'll always try to rig the rules in favor of their own POV, something Plato was rather skilled in doing. Doesn't make it any more honest an endeavor.

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  15. Your tendency to ignore everything I say and instead pontificate on a tangential subject annoys me enough that I will resist the urge to reply again.

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  16. John Harshman, you're the one who wanted to discuss Euthyphro and who charged me with dodging you on it. If you want to discuss it, tell me what in the long and involved dialogue you want to discuss. I assume you have read it and aren't relying on some neo-atheist dictionary entry of that name to dodge the point I made. What is the "dilemma" you want to discuss, because the entire thing is problematic from start to finish.

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  17. Since you asked so politely, I will resist the urge not to reply. No, I don't want to discuss Euthyphro (the dialogue). I want to discuss the Euthyprho dilemma, first stated in the dialogue of that name. And I paraphrased the dilemma so as to inform you just what I meant. How could that possibly be difficult to get? Do you even read what you claim to be responding to?

    Your point is irrelevant to my point. Your claim is that an atheist has no basis for morality. My claim is that whatever the truth of your claim (and I do dispute it), a theist has no better basis. And so to Euthyphro. Your turn.

    Oh, and all attempted theodicies fall flat, including the one that God moves in mysterious ways, we're not smart enough to tell what's really going on, and this truly is the best of all possible worlds.

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  18. Harshman, the Euthyphro dialogue doesn't do what you want it to, it deals with notions of piety, not morality in the sense I'm discussing, of duties to fathers and the state, not to the gods. Not universal obligations owed to all people. It has nothing to do with the Jewish conception of God, which was probably unknown to Plato, who had an extremely bizarre concept of both piety and morality. I wish you boys would find out what the term ad hominem means. In this discussion, in your own terms, discussing Plato's moral discernment is ENTIRELY RELEVANT to the point, discussing his moral discernment, as exposed in his own writings and the activities of himself, his pack of aristocratic thugs and the loud-mouthed old snob that egged them on through two bloody, brutal, anti-democratic putsches and a third conspiracy, with the connivance of Sparta. Plato had no leg to stand on in discussing the nature of morality or its possible origin. Socrates, a la Plato, as I.F. Stone pointed out, had absolutely no concern for the brutally slaughtered thes, whose death led to the court case brought by Euthyphro against his father. He was not concerned with the morality or the injustice done to him on the basis of his class standing. Euthyphro's action in bringing a charge of manslaughter against his father was criticized by Socrates because he had no regard for the rights of the "servant" to due process. Stone gives quite a good analysis of the story, its unstated aspects - which wouldn't serve the class and ideological purposes of both Plato and his Socrates - and in the context of contemporary events surrounding the two putsches which would have brought that level of justice to the free servant and middle classes of Athens.

    I'm not all that impressed with Plato and have no use for Socrates who probably couldn't hold his own in a real argument that wasn't stacked in his favor. He certainly doesn't seem to have impressed the jury during his trial who clearly had enough of his anti-democratic agitation and his boys, just about all of whom were involved in the two fascist dictatorships they'd suffered under. I'm against capital punishment but the old snob was asking for it.

    As I pointed out, your contention supports what I said about materialists being unable to account for the reality of good and evil and why doing evil is truly wrong. Atheists who want to bring up "the problem of evil" against religious believers are hypocrites because they've got an even bigger problem of evil, in that they can't account for it being real and, most importantly, why an atheist can't merely declare moral prohibitions against evil to be the equivalent of "unicorns, fairies, celestial teapots...." that they don't have to observe if they figure they can get away with it.

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  19. OK, so I'll resist the urge to reply again, since you ignore everything I said in favor or your irrelevant diatribe. Let me know if you ever want to respond to my comment, which you can do by responding to my comment.

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  20. John Harshman, I don't believe you were familiar with the Euthyphro dialogue before you brought it up. You don't seem to be prepared to discuss it, despite your repeatedly hectoring me to do so. You might want to actually read it and some of the commentary on it. I'd recommend what I.F. Stone said in The Trial of Socrates for insightful, somewhat unorthodox criticism of it.

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