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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Is There a Doctor in the Text? -- Medical Terminology and the Gospel of Luke

Elsewhere I questioned why there was so much skepticism in some scholarly circles about the authorship of Acts by a companion of Paul. I focused on the “we passages” as an indication that the author participated in some of the events narrated and noted the failure of alternative explanations to account for them. Though I have not discussed it here, I also believe that the external evidence of Marcion, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, the Papyrus Bodmer, Clement of Alexandria, the Muratorian Fragment, and the Anti-Marcionite Prologue of Luke, add considerable weight to such authorship.

Another line of argument for Lukan authorship developed in the late 19th century. In 1882, W.K. Hobart published The Medical Language of St. Luke, in which he provided extensive linguistic evidence that the vocabulary of Luke was paralleled by the language of Greek medical writings. This seemed strong evidence of authorship by a physician, such as Luke. However, in 1920 H.J. Cadbury published a study demonstrating that the language Hobart had relied on was not unique to medical writings, but in most cases was simply the language of educated Greeks. As a result, it is now widely accepted that Hobart’s correlations cannot bear the weight they were intended to. All that can be said of the state of the question is that the "medical terminology" points to a Greek man of high learning and culture. Though this is consistent with a physician, it is also consistent with just about anyone in a position to write what he did for a patron such as Theophilus.

Nevertheless, there remains internal evidence -- thought not as determinative as Hobart’s study initially suggested -- that points to authorship by a physician. Here I will discuss two examples.

The first example is the narrative of the bleeding woman who sought healing from Jesus. It is found in all of the synoptic gospels. In his narrative, Mark emphasizes that doctors had been unable to do anything for the woman despite her having paid them all of her money. The woman “had endured much at the hands of many physicians” and had “spent all that she had” on them but had received no help at all. Mark 5:24-34. Mark also suggests that the treatments by the physicians were not pleasant.

Luke, on the other hand, redacts out the rather negative presentation of doctors. He does not mention that the woman had spent all of her money attempting to get healed. Nor does he mention that “physicians” had not been able to help her or that the treatments were unpleasant. He simplifies all of this by merely noting that she “could not be healed by anyone.” Luke 8:43-47.

Matthew -– in line with his tendency to shorten Mark’s miracle stories -- simplifies the story so much that he does not mention any of the women’s attempts to be healed. Matthew 9:20-22. Unlike Matthew, however, Luke is not simply shortening the story. Rather, he generalized a small part of the text and eliminated the less-than-flattering depiction of physicians. Thus, the explanation for Luke’s redaction is not obvious, unless we take the idea of Lukan authorship seriously.

The second example is the synoptic accounts of Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. When writing about Peter’s sick mother-in-law, the Gospel of Luke adds a medical term to specify the severity of the fever involved. Here are the relevant passages:

Now Simon's mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.

Mark 1:30-31.

The Gospel of Matthew follows closely the Markan text.

When Jesus came into Peter's home, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick in bed with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her; and she got up and waited on Him.

Matthew 8:13-15.

Both Mark and Matthew chose to indicate the severity of the fever by indicating that Peter’s mother-in-law was bedridden. But the Gospel of Luke takes a different tact:

Then He got up and left the synagogue, and entered Simon's home. Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Him to help her. And standing over her, He rebuked the fever, and it left her; and she immediately got up and waited on them.

Luke 4:38-39.

The Greek term translated “high” is an “ancient medical term [] for a high-grade fever that might have included dysentery.” Darrell Bock, Luke 1:1-9:50, page 436. The distinction, as noted by Cadbury, made by physicians was between “great” or “high” fevers and “small” ones. JBL 45 (1926) 194-95, as cited by John Nolland, Luke 1:1-9:20, page 211. Other commentators believe Luke was simply emphasizing the greatness of Jesus’ miracle. This strikes me as oversimplistic if meant to rebut the notion that Luke’s concern here is with the appropriate medical terminology because all of the synoptic gospels emphasize that the fever was a bad one. Only Luke chose to do so by using more sophisticated medical language.

Remember, Mark leaves no doubt that the fever is a significant one as the mother-in-law was bedridden by her sickness. So too with Matthew. The fact that Luke was the only one who chose to use a medical term to emphasize the degree of sickness –- note that he leaves out the reference to her “lying sick in bed” –- is still a notable distinction indicating a greater awareness of, or at least concern for, the medical arts. In any event, the fact remains that whatever his motive, Luke is aware of the appropriateness of the more precise description.

Although it can no longer be argued that the Gospel of Luke is full of precise medical terminology that only a physician would have written, it can still be argued that there is textual evidence -- though not as compelling -- that this Gospel was written with someone familiar with and concerned about the medical arts.

Presupposition versus Precommitment and the Hypocritical Demonization of Creationism

Last night I was listening to Air America radio (for those of you outside the United States, Air America is the liberal radio network), and I was struck by a call from Dave of New Mexico (I am sure it was Dave Thomas, President of the propagandist New Mexicans for Science and Reason) wherein he re-iterated his tired claim that Intelligent Design is creationism in disguise. Of course the host, being a typical secular humanist host on that station, couldn't agree fast enough. There was, of course, no counter-balancing opinion to stand up for ID as a science, and so the unlearned assertions went unchallenged.

Of course, I have heard it before: the nearly-unanimous belief among non-Christians that the theory of Intelligent Design (ID) is creationism in disguise. This shows a misunderstanding of ID.

Creationism approaches science with a pre-commitment to a literal understanding of the creation accounts in the Book of Genesis, and seeks to understand or characterize scientific discoveries consistent with that pre-commitment. ID, on the other hand, begins with the scientific evidence and using accepted scientific principles established in such fields as archaeology and cryptography asks the questions: is what we see solely the result of natural processes? When the evidence presents complexity that cannot be reconciled with random selection and mutation, shouldn’t a scientist be able to consider the possibility of design?

The ID opponents attempt to demonize creationism for its pre-commitment without recognizing or acknowledging their own. Darwinian evolution begins with a pre-supposition that all biological diversity is the result of purely naturalistic processes. This presupposition, which cannot be proven by scientific tests, has become a pre-commitment to naturalistic origins. It is this pre-commitment that ID challenges when it argues that the complexity found in biological systems cannot be the result of purely naturalistic processes. Rather, the evidence, when viewed without this pre-commitment, points to a designer, the "who or what" of which is not within the scope of science.

You see, the real question in this debate is the following: in their understandable effort to find naturalistic answers to scientific questions, should scientists preemptively exclude the possibility of non-naturalistic explanations even if those explanations have scientific support? In other words, should we insist on naturalistic explanations at the possible expense of the truth?

Those in the anti-ID camp who engage in the informal logical fallacy of guilt by association by grouping ID with creationism do so without recognizing their own pre-commitment. You see, if what those who advocate creationism do is considered not scientific because of their pre-commitment to creation, then how is evolution any more scientific when it has a pre-commitment to philosophical naturalism?

ID is not a "God of the gaps" theory, and a growing number of respected scientists believe that ID raises real questions about evolution—a theory which almost thirty scientist with Ph.D.s recently called "a theory in crisis" in a friend of the court brief filed in the Cobb County textbook sticker case.

Like it or not, the debate is being joined. The efforts by certain people to prevent ID’s arguments from being heard constitute obstructionism, pure and simple.

The Parable of The Foolish Ichthyologist

I came across an interesting analogy about science and knowledge given by Sir Arthur Eddington, taken from The Philosophy of Physical Science, Ann Arbor Paperbacks, The University of Michigan Press, 1958, p 16.

"Let us suppose that an ichthyologist (the branch of zoology that deals with the study of fishes) is exploring the life of the ocean. He casts a net into the water and brings up a fishy assortment. Surveying his catch, he proceeds in the usual manner of a scientist to systematise what it reveals. He arrives at two generalisations: (1) No sea-creature is less than two inches long.(2) All sea-creatures have gills. These are both true of his catch, and he assumes tentatively that they will remain true however often he repeats it.

In applying this analogy, the catch stands for the body of knowledge which constitutes physical science, and the net for the sensory and intellectual equipment which we use in obtaining it. The casting of the net corresponds to observation; for knowledge which has not been or could not be obtained by observation is not admitted into physical science. An onlooker may object that the first generalisation is wrong. "There are plenty of sea-creatures under two inches long, only your net is not adapted to catch them." The icthyologist dismisses this objection contemptuously. "Anything uncatchable by my net is ipso facto outside the scope of icthyological knowledge. In short, "what my net can't catch isn't fish." Or--to translate the analogy--"If you are not simply guessing, you are claiming a knowledge of the physical universe discovered in some other way than by the methods of physical science, and admittedly unverifiable by such methods. You are a metaphysician. Bah!"

The point of Sir Eddington's little parable? Be sure you go fishing with the right net when you are looking for truth. If your net simply won't allow for things, like inferences to design for example, then your inquiry is no more likely to discover truth than the poor ichthyologist who was convinced that no sea creatures are less than two inches long.

The Pope Lashes Out

While I know that many people who read this blog (including several in the CADRE) disagree with my assessment on the issue of homosexuality, I do think it important to note that Pope John Paul II has written a new book which condemns homosexuality and abortion. Here is the CNN Report on the book:

Homosexual marriages are part of "a new ideology of evil" that is insidiously threatening society, Pope John Paul says in his newly published book.

In "Memory and Identity," the Pope also calls abortion a "legal extermination" comparable to attempts to wipe out Jews and other groups in the 20th century.

* * *

The 84-year-old Pontiff's book, a highly philosophical and intricate work on the nature of good and evil, is based on conversations with philosopher friends in 1993 and later with some of his aides.

In one section about the role of lawmakers, the Pope takes another swipe at gay marriages when he refers to "pressures" on the European Parliament to allow them.

"It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man," he writes.

* * *

In at least two sections of the book, the Pope talks about the Nazi attempt to exterminate Jews and the wholesale slaughter of political opponents by Communist regimes after World War Two.

In following paragraphs he says that legally elected parliaments in formerly totalitarian countries were today allowing what he called new forms of evil and new exterminations.

"There is still, however a legal extermination of human beings who have been conceived but not yet born," he writes.

"And this time we are talking about an extermination which has been allowed by nothing less than democratically elected parliaments where one normally hears appeals for the civil progress of society and all humanity," he writes.

In Germany, a leader of the country's Central Council of Jews called the comparison unacceptable.

At a news conference presenting the book, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's top doctrinal official, dismissed the Jewish charges.

Ratzinger said the Pope "was not trying to put the Holocaust and abortion on the same plane" but only warning that evil lurked everywhere, "even in liberal political systems."

I am not a Roman Catholic, but I have great respect for those in the Roman Catholic faith. I believe that the opinions of Pope John Paul II, while not infallible, are worthy of serious consideration since he is the leader of the largest active Christian church and his opinions are generally well considered.

I, for one, will look forward to an opportunity to read through his arguments more carefully than I expect that CNN has done for this story. But in the meantime, it is interesting to note that Pope John Paul II's words were not too subtle. He apparently has arrived at the conclusion that both the advancement of homosexual rights and the continued practice of abortion are immoral. Not that these assertions are new, but the strength of the language used is, to my recollection, new. He must really feel strongly about this.

They Looked the Other Way

I wonder if this has any impact on the evolutionary support for the evolution of man?

A flamboyant anthropology professor, whose work had been cited as evidence Neanderthal man once lived in Northern Europe, has resigned after a German university panel ruled he fabricated data and plagiarized the works of his colleagues.

Reiner Protsch von Zieten, a Frankfurt university panel ruled, lied about the age of human skulls, dating them tens of thousands of years old, even though they were much younger, reports Deutsche Welle.

"The commission finds that Prof. Protsch has forged and manipulated scientific facts over the past 30 years," the university said of the widely recognized expert in carbon data in a prepared statement.

* * *

Among their findings was an age of only 3,300 years for the female "Bischof-Speyer" skeleton, found with unusually good teeth in Northern Germany, that Protsch dated to 21,300 years.

Another dating error was identified for a skull found near Paderborn, Germany, that Protsch dated at 27,400 years old. It was believed to be the oldest human remain found in the region until the Oxford investigations indicated it belonged to an elderly man who died in 1750.

* * *

Chris Stringer, a Stone Age specialist and head of human origins at London's Natural History Museum, said: "What was considered a major piece of evidence showing that the Neanderthals once lived in northern Europe has fallen by the wayside. We are having to rewrite prehistory."

"Anthropology now has to revise its picture of modern man between 40,000 and 10,000 B.C.," added Thomas Terberger, an archaeologist at the University of Greifswald.

Frankfurt University's president, Rudolf Steinberg, apologized for the university's failure to curb Protsch's misconduct for decades. "A lot of people looked the other way," he said.

Did Paul Become a More Careful Letter Writer?

I have been reading an excellent book by E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing. The author makes a compelling opening case about the importance of learning about the process of ancient letter writing is to understanding the majority of books in the New Testament. As intended, Richards' book goes a long way towards remedying that ignorance. He describes the materials involved in drafting letters, the procedure of letter writing, the time involved, the use of secretaries, the detection of interpolations, the use of letter carriers, and the distances and means of travel of those carriers. Paul and First Century Letter Writing draws on a vast amount of first-century writings, including many non-Christian letters from the ancient Mediterranean.

One of the phenomenon’s Richards notes is the pattern of Paul’s use of letter carriers. Ancient letter writers often had options in who carried their letters to the destination. They could use people who happened to be heading in that direction. Such carriers were little more than carrier pigeons. But sometimes writers would send the letters via a more informed carrier who was expected to supplement or clarify the situation of the letter writer or the letter itself. The carrier as well as the letter was supposed to pass on information.

Paul’s earliest letters – Galatians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians – make no mention of the letter carrier. But in his later letters – 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, and Colossians – the letter carrier is mentioned and “endorsed as a reliable source of information about Paul.” Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing, page 206. Richards explain the possible significance of this shift:

Initially Paul did not consider any role for a letter carrier beyond that of transporting the letters. His early letters were sent by unnamed, presumably trusted, individuals who were traveling that way.....

Paul’s first letter to Corinth, the so-called previous letter, was probably sent the same way, by a trustworthy, happenstance carrier. I suggest, however, that Paul learned from this experience. This previous letter to Corinth had been misunderstood: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons–not at all meaning the immoral of this world" (1 Cor. 5:9-10). This is the type of misunderstanding that an informed letter carrier should have been able to immediately clarify. It should not have developed into such a problem that needed to be readdressed in a subsequent letter. For this reason, I suggest that when Paul sent the next letter, 1 Corinthians, he used an informed carrier, Timothy. Interestingly, Paul’s first four letters (Galatians, 1-2 Thessalonians and the “previous letter”) are commonly thought by scholars to have been misunderstood in some way by each receiving church.

From 1 Corinthians onward, Paul’s letters were carried by named, private letter carriers, who bore Paul’s endorsement and whom Paul said had authority to elaborate his meaning (Co. 4:7-9)....

I am suggesting that Paul, from experience, learned to use his letter carriers more wisely. Progressing from unnamed and uninformed carriers early in his ministry to named, endorsed and informed carriers in his later ministry. Paul’s later carriers were team members who could explain his meaning to avoid problems like that seen in his ‘previous letters’ to Corinth.

Ibid., page 207-08.

Richards also suggests that this phenomenon may help explain why Paul's letters became more "theologically complex" -- the presence of more informed letter carriers gave him greater liberty in writing more complex letters, knowing that the colleague delivering the letter would help explain its contents.

It has long been argued that Paul's letters, from 1 Corinthians onward, became more theologically complex and difficult. Did Paul's theology develop or did he begin to feel more comfortable writing complex letters as he developed team members capable of carrying and explaining the ideas? In other words, what developed, Paul's theology or his team? I suggest Paul's theology did not develop as dramatically as some imply. Paul did not grow more skilled at writing complex theology, but rather was able to more more complex theology as his carriers became more able to explain it.

Ibid., pages 208-09.

This latter point seems to have more completing explanations. Perhaps as these Christian communities grew so too did their theological questions and needs. Perhaps because the earlier letters faced misunderstanding, Paul felt compelled to explain his beliefs in more detail. Perhaps Paul begin to focus more on church building rather than church planting. Perhaps the true explanation draws on many factors, including these.

Although I have not yet finished Richards' book, I have learned a great deal already. I highly recommend it.

New Archeological Findings Contradict the "Minimialists"

From the Jerusalem Post:

Just-published evidence from a US-directed archeological dig in Jordan further authenticates the Bible's descriptions of the existence of the ancient nation of Edom during the eras of King David and his son, King Solomon.....

The new study, headed by archeology Prof. Thomas Levy of University of California, San Diego, contradicts much contemporary scholarship claiming – on the basis of no physical evidence – that no Edomite state existed before the 8th Century BCE. Until the new discovery, many scholars said the Bible's numerous references to ancient Israel's interactions with Edom could not be valid.

(Via the blog, Biblical Theology).

This discovery does not necessarily confirm David or Solomon's interaction with Edom, but it removes one of the basis for doubting it. Some Scholars used to say such interaction was impossible because there was no Edom at that time. Now it appears there was.

Galatians 1:4 -- How great is the harm from sin?

I may be beating this to death, but I think it is important. Galatians 1: 3-5 reads:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father,to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.

How great is the harm from sin? As part of an earlier series (which I intend to wrap up on Thursday, God willing), I wrote short essays on "What is Sin?" and "Against Whom Do We Sin?" Understanding these ideas are absolutely essential from an apologetics point of view because one of the biggest problems with our message to society is that people don't understand that they have sinned. Sin in equated in their minds with committing evil that can be punished under the law. To paraphrase Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason, somewhere we have gotten the idea that all we need to do to get into heaven is be cordial to our neighbors. We think that if we are friendly (we waive at them as we go out to get the morning paper) and don't directly harm them we are being basically good people who deserve to get into heaven.

But God didn't see the sins that we incurred so lightly. In fact, God saw sin as so serious that, as Galatians 1: 3-5 reports, he gave Himself to rescue us. This verse also shows that God viewed sin as a debt which we humans could not pay. This was no small thing. As stated by Martin Luther:

This sentence [Galatians 1: 3-5] also defines our sins as great, so great, in fact, that the whole world could not make amends for a single sin. The greatness of the ransom, Christ, the Son of God, indicates this. The vicious character of sin is brought out by the words "who gave himself for our sins." So vicious is sin that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for sin.

As my friend John says of this commentary: "Could this be any clearer? Here is Luther, (not Melanchthon or any of the post-reformation apologists) in what he himself considered to be his greatest treatise, the very epitome of his teaching. * * * If it is true that Luther’s teaching on Christ’s death did not emphasize that Jesus paid a debt that we owed, why in this passage does Luther specifically emphasize this?"

The sin model is not the only model for the atonement, but it does give an analogy that explains that sin is considered more serious than a mere social faux-pas. It explains that sin is not just a harm to other people but also to God. It explains why Jesus had to be born part God and live the sinless life and die on the cross to have the spiritual credit to pay the sins of others.

Let's not shy away from the teaching of sin. Let's not allow society to tell us that being "cordial folk" is sufficient to get into heaven. If we buy into those ideas, I would be inclined to agree that there is no reason to become Christian.

Is the Moon's Size and Position Signs of a Designer?

I am presently reading The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel. It provides a solid overview of six areas where some scientists claim that there is existing and growing evidence of design. These areas identify evidence for design in cosmology, physics, astronomy, biochemistry, biological information and consciousness. In the chapter on astronomy, there is a section sub-titled "Our Life Supporting Moon" which points to the possible uniqueness of planet earth as a life supporting planet results from the size and distance of our moon.

In this subpart, Guillermo Gonzales, Ph.D., makes a very interesting series of observations:

  • The moon stabilizes the tilt of the earth's axis which, in turn, stabilizes our climate.
  • The moon helps to increase our tides which, in turn, flush nutrients from the continents to the oceans which keeps them more nutrient rich than they otherwise would be.
  • Lunar tides also help keep large-scale ocean circulation going which, in turn, keeps the temperatures of the higher latitudes relatively mild.
  • If the moon were more massive, the tides would be too strong.
  • If the moon were more massive, it would slow down the earth's rotation which, in turn, would result in longer, hotter days, and longer, colder nights.
  • The moon appears to have been formed as the result of a rare collision between earth and a Mars-sized body which makes a moon/planet combination like earth's rare (not that other planets don't have moons, but the size and distance of our planet with a moon may be very, very rare).

  • The website Evidence for God from Science points out how the formation of the moon led to a slowing of the earth's rotation that made life possible.

    Soon after the formation of the moon, the Earth was rotating on its axis every eight hours. Such a rapid rotational period led to winds in excess of 500 mph. The moon, which was less than 10,000 miles from the Earth at the time, exerted large gravitational forces that slowed the rotation of the Earth to its current 24 hours. Likewise, the gravity of the Earth slowed the moon's rotation so that it now matches its revolution around the earth (29 days). It the moon did not exist, the Earth's rotational rate would still be too rapid, which would lead to high winds and conditions that were unsuitable for advanced life forms.

    Interestingly, Dave Waltham, Ph.D., of Royal Holloway University in London, a geologist who specializes in all aspects of mathematical and computer modeling in geology and geophysics [in particular, research has concentrated upon forward modeling of seismic waves, forward modeling of sedimentary processes and forward modeling of tectonic processes], has recently published a paper in Astrobiology entitled "Anthropic Selection for the Moon's Mass" wherein he discusses how the moon seems designed to support life on the Earth. Here is the abstract from the publisher's website:

    This paper investigates whether anthropic selection explains the unusually large size of our Moon. It is shown that obliquity stability of the Earth is possible across a wide range of different starting conditions for the EarthMoon system. However, the lunar mass and angular momentum from the actual EarthMoon system are remarkable in that they very nearly produce an unstable obliquity. This may be because the particular properties of our EarthMoon system simultaneously allow a stable obliquity and a slow rotation rate. A slow rotation rate may have been anthropically selected because it minimizes the equatorpole temperature difference, thus minimizing climatic fluctuations. The great merit of this idea is that it can be tested using extrasolar planet search programs planned for the near future. If correct, such anthropic selection predicts that most extrasolar planetary systems will have significantly larger perturbation frequencies than our own Solar System. Astrobiology 4, 460468.

    So, here is a Ph.D. who has noted the design (anthropic) qualities of the moon, and who is proposing an idea that he claims can be tested. Interesting.

    Thanks to Reasons to Believe for finding this article. For more on-line information on the anthropic principle, I recommend reading Reason to Believe's "Design and the Anthropic Principle" by Dr. Hugh Ross.

    Movie Review: Constantine

    I saw Constantine last night. I enjoyed it, but caution Christians that it’s not a “Christian movie,” as there is a lot of violence (most of it demonic CGI), hard drinking, and some profanity.

    Constantine is a damned good paranormal troubleshooter. “Damned” because he committed suicide as a teenager and knows the hell that awaits him – having spent two minutes there (which “is a lifetime” in hell) while the doctors revived him. Constantine has been told that because suicide is unforgivable, he is doomed to return. “Good” because he actually has sent many, many of Satan’s minions back to hell. By doing so much good, Constantine hopes that God will have no choice but to let him into heaven. Compounding his problems is that he is dying of lung cancer and has only months to live. He can literally smell the sulpher.

    The tools of his trade are holy water, crucifixes, various holy relics, and a healthy dose of Latin. He performs exorcisms, smites “half-breed” demons with holy brass knuckles, and sends Satan’s minions back to hell with a rather massive crucifix hand gun with a cross for its targeting hairs.

    According to Constantine, God and Satan made a pact to compete for the souls of man by using influence rather than direct intervention (The Son of God -- Jesus -- is an unexplained exception). Angels and demons are forbidden to do anything other than influence. It’s kind of a cold war between the “two original super powers.” Not quite the biblical balance of power of Christian orthodoxy. To Constantine, this makes God no more than “a kid with an ant farm.” God's restraint becomes all the more troubling because Constantine begins to encounter evidence that the demons are not living up to their end of the bargain (imagine that).

    The angel Gabriel, however, does not share Constantine's cynicism towards God. Gabriel acts as a kind of spiritual advisor for Constantine. As Gabriel sees it, God has given mankind the two greatest gifts possible: free will and -- when we mess up -- the ability to obtain forgiveness by just asking for it. It becomes clear as the movie progresses that Gabriel does not think that humanity is really worthy of God’s gifts.

    In one of the more memorable dialogues, Gabriel tells Constantine that all his good deeds are not enough, that he must believe in God. When Constantine says he does believe in God, Gabriel corrects him: “No, you know there is a God. You do not believe in Him.”

    I can say without giving too much away that Constantine moves more towards Gabriel’s view of God. But will it be enough to save the day? Or himself?

    The acting is pretty good. This is one of those roles for which Keanu is well suited. Rachel Weisz is surprisingly effective as a tough but out of her element cop. Tilda Swinton as a somewhat-feminine Gabriel is particularly effective. I wish Gabriel had more screen time because Gabriel's theology, if not attitude, is more God-centric. Interestingly, she plays the White Witch in the upcoming adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

    The villains are largely computer generated or not all that memorable – except for an interesting characterization of Satan near the end of the movie. The plot is more thoughtful than I expected, and the action a little less. I appreciated the evolution of Constantine’s attitude towards God, as well as the strong suicide-is-abhorrent-to-God theme. For those seeking to get a friend or family member to stop smoking, bring them. The prominent cancer-sticks and vivid depictions of hell should be some good motivation.

    It’s not Sunday school, but it is more thoughtful than expected. An enjoyable flick.

    A Movie/DVD Review: The Mission

    I just penned a review for Amazon of The Mission (with Robert DeNiro, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, and Aidan Quinn), but considering its subject matter I thought I'd also post it here:

    There is a historical and sorrowful story about how colonial imperialism and a church more concerned with its political power than its charge to protect its new native converts, lead to the destruction of a South American Indian tribe. This movie captures that story powerfully through an excellent mixture of dramatization and historical faithfulness.

    It is to the credit of the film that it avoids coming off as moralistic, judgmental, or naively black and white. This is not to say that this is not a clash of good and evil, it is. Slavery is evil. The church's shift from offering true sanctuary to the hunted natives to abandoning those sanctuaries is evil. The political struggle between Spain and Portugal that creates the opening for the slavers to resume their trade is evil. But would it not also be evil if the intercession of the church resulted in the destruction of its ability to do any good elsewhere? The film avoids characterizing this latter concern as of no consequence, but its narrative shows that the wrong decision was made.

    Another moral issue that arises is the choices two Jesuits make when they decide to resist the church's decision to abandon the Indian sanctuaries. One, a former slaver and mercenary, chooses to lead the natives in battle. The other, to whom the maxim "God is love" is the foundation of his worldview, chooses to lead the natives in prayer. Here again, however, the film does not treat the correctness of either choice as a foregone conclusion. You feel sympathy and understanding for both paths.

    A closing dialogue captures one of the movies' messages. A governor is consoling a Bishop who is not sure he made the right decision about the native sancutaries:

    Governor: "Your emminence, thus is the world"

    Bishop: "No, thus have we made the world."

    The acting is superb, the cinementography is truly beautiful, and the message is conveyed through the narrative rather than through preachy dialogue. This set also includes welcome features, including a full-length director's commentary and a documentary that visits the South American location and the plight of the natives there.

    Long-necks from Short-necks?

    As I was checking out some links in an e-mail update I received from the ABR, I came across an article entitled "Should Evolution be Immune from Critical Analysis?" by David Buckna on a website entitled Revolution Against Evolution. In this article, I found the following statement that I found rather interesting:

    One popular biology textbook used in public schools is "Inquiry Into Life" by Sylvia Mader, published by McGraw-Hill Ryerson. On page 529 (eighth edition) are diagrams of giraffes which compare Lamarck's theory and Darwin's theory. According to Darwin, "Early giraffes probably had necks of various lengths. Natural selection due to competition led to survival of the longer-necked giraffes and their offspring. Eventually, only long-necked giraffes survived the competition."

    Regarding giraffes, shouldn't students be taught to distinguish between fact and speculation? No fossil evidence has ever been unearthed showing giraffes with shorter necks.

    Even ardent evolutionists such as Gould have commented on the "indefensible" and "entirely speculative" use of the giraffe to show students how Darwin's theory is better than Lamarck's earlier view. "No data from giraffes then existed to support one theory of causes over another, and none exist now, " said Gould. "...the spotty evidence gives no insight into how the long-necked modern species arose. ... The standard story, in fact, is both fatuous and unsupported" (Stephen Jay Gould, May 1996, "The Tallest Tale," Natural History, Vol. 105 No. 5, pp. 18-23, 54-57).

    Critical thinkers should be asking, "Why are these diagrams included in Mader's book, if the empirical evidence doesn't support a Lamarckian or Darwinian view of giraffes? Is this good science?"

    The claim of evolutionists that there are fossil *ancestors* for giraffes is story telling. There's not a single transitional form between the so-called short-necked "giraffe" and the modern long-necked giraffe. For example, calling the fossil Palaeotragus a "giraffe" certainly doesn't make it a "giraffe" or the ancestor of giraffes, any more than calling Hyracotherium a "horse" makes it a "horse" or the ancestor of horses. Of course, evolutionists maintain the okapi is a "living example" of one of these short-necked "giraffes".

    I've not read all the literature on giraffes, but what I've found in my brief search is that Colbert and Morales (5th edition) devote two paragraphs to giraffes, Robert Carroll -- one paragraph, Romer -- two paragraphs, and Barbara Stahl -- one paragraph.

    Concerning the okapi, Stahl writes: "The only other extant giraffe is the rare okapi. This lone form, in which the lengthening of the neck and forelegs is far less pronounced than in Giraffa, seems to be a relic derived with little change from Palaeotragus or a close ally". She repeats an often-told error--that the forelimbs of the giraffe are longer than the hind limbs. As Gould points out in his article on giraffes (Natural History May 1990, p. 22) both pairs of legs of the giraffe are equally tall. It would seem that if some ancient "giraffes" evolved into the modern giraffes, evolutionists would have more than a paragraph or two to tell about this incredible transition, and could give examples of fossils showing the transition of the short necks into the long necks of modern giraffes.

    It's certainly easy enough for evolutionists to pick out something and call it a "giraffe" and thus generate an ancestor for giraffes. Carroll illustrates a marvelous example of how other ancestors are generated: He suggested that the wolf-like Mesonychus (which he believes was the terrestrial ancestor of whales) should be placed in the Order Cetacea. Since the Order Cetacea is reserved for whales, presto! Mesonychids are whales!

    But with regard to the evolution of giraffes, what is required is a compelling gradual series of intermediate-length neck giraffes in the sedimentary rocks -- 10 to 20 would do nicely. But where are they?

    It seems to me that if the giraffe is used as an example of evolution, there should be some evidence that the giraffe actually evolved from a shorter necked creature to a longer necked creature in the form of some medium-necked giraffes (or proto-giraffes), shouldn't there? After all, if there isn't then what we really have here is an assumption that giraffes evolved (without any real evidence) from a precommitment to evolutionary theory which is being used to prove evolution. (And Christians are accused of using circular arguments?)

    Before I go any farther, I think that the first question that needs to be answered is whether the giraffe is still being used as an illustration for evolution. Fear not, a quick Internet search found a couple examples by the peddlers of evolutionary theory that giraffes are an excellent example of evolution. For example, on a page called "Evolution Happens" there is a photograph of giraffes with the following caption: "The long neck of the giraffe contains only the seven vertebrae typical of most mammals. This is an excellent example of how the evolutionary process tends to modify existing structures, rather than creating new ones." (Emphasis in the original).

    Okay, so if the evolution of giraffes is still being cited as a good example of evolution, what does the fossil record show? The best on-line description of the evolution of the giraffe is found in one paragraph of an article found on entitled "Transitional Vertebrate Fossils FAQ: Part 2C", which reads:

    Giraffes: Branched off from the deer just after Eumeryx. The first giraffids were Climacoceras (very earliest Miocene) and then Canthumeryx (also very early Miocene), then Paleomeryx (early Miocene), then Palaeotragus (early Miocene) a short-necked giraffid complete with short skin-covered horns. From here the giraffe lineage goes through Samotherium (late Miocene), another short-necked giraffe, and then split into Okapia (one species is still alive, the okapi, essentially a living Miocene short-necked giraffe), and Giraffa (Pliocene), the modern long-necked giraffe.

    Now, I am no expert here, but let's assume for a moment that this is the correct description of the present line of descent. Notice the progression:

    a. Eumeryx to
    b. Climacoceras (short-necked) to
    c. Canthumeryx (no illustration available) to
    d. Paleomeryx (short-necked) to
    e. Palaeotragus (short-necked) to
    f. Samotherium (short-necked) to
    g. Okapia (short-necked) and Giraffa (long-necked).

    Okay, so the best that we have is a series of short necked "giraffes" that remain short-necked until the appearance of the modern giraffe which is suddenly long-necked. So, where is the fossil record for the lengthening of the neck? Each of these proto-giraffes are described by the author of the talkorigins article as short-necked. If this progression is to be believed, there is no slow lengthening of the neck occuring over time. Rather, all of the animals are short-necked (including the sole surviving relative of the line -- the okapi) until the long-necked modern giraffe. Could it be that there is no medium necked transitional form?

    The standard reason for the evolution of the giraffe's elongated neck (that it helped the giraffe to feed from tall trees) has been questioned as well. Consider the following from the The Neck of the Giraffe from Access Research Network:

    In their article, "Winning by a Neck," zoologists Robert Simmons (Uppsala University) and Lue Scheepers (Ministry of Environment, Namibia) agree with Gould that the standard account "may be no more than a tall story" (784). According to the competition hypothesis, giraffes use their long necks to advantage during dry seasons, when food is scarce; but, in fact, the opposite is observed in the field. "In the Serengeti," Simmons and Scheepers note, "giraffe spend almost all of the dry season feeding from low Grewia bushes, while only in the wet season do they turn to tall Acacia tortillis trees, when new leaves are ...plentiful ...and no competition is expected. This behavior is contrary to the prediction that giraffe should use their feeding height to advantage at times of food scarcity" (775; emphasis added). Moreover, they report, "females spend over 50% of their time feeding with their necks horizontal [a behavior so common it is used to determine the sex of animals at a distance]" and "both sexes feed faster and most often with their necks bent" (771). These observations, they conclude, suggest "that long necks did not evolve specifically for feeding at higher levels."

    Simmons and Scheepers thus reject the competition hypothesis in favor of their own sexual selection scenario. Male giraffes "fight for dominance and access to females in a unique way: by clubbing opponents with well-armored heads on long necks" (771), and thus "the extraordinary length of the giraffe's neck arises from its use as a weapon during intrasexual combat" between males. Responding to the obvious objection that this scenario does not explain female long necks, Simmons and Scheepers suggest that female necks "arose as neutral by-products of genetic correlation between the sexes" (783). While allowing that this by-product explanation "is often treated as one of 'last resort' and unsatisfactory," they argue that other species exhibit similar correlations between sexes.

    So, it appears that the assumption that giraffes grew longer necks to reach higher food sources is problematic to the scientists. Of course, the idea that the neck should evolve to reach higher and higher food sources has its own problems. For example, Dr. Robert W. Brehme, Professor Emeritus of Physics at Wake Forest University, in a whimsical piece entitled "The Giraffe's Long Neck" raises a question that I have always wondered about the typical explanation:

    My biology teacher told me long ago (and I think biology teachers are saying just about the same thing today), that the neck of the giraffe grew longer and longer over many generations because to do so was an advantage in obtaining food from the tops of trees. It was an example of "survival of the fittest" and evolution through "natural selection." Even my child's brain wondered if such were so, why all leaf eating animals didn't have long necks. And, since there are still a lot of herbivores around with short necks, why are there not giraffes with short necks? After all, it is obvious that it is not so much the survival of the fittest as it is the survival of the fit. Even a lot of unfit creatures manage to struggle along, reproducing their own just in time and in just enough numbers to avoid extinction, but only barely so. Along that line, have you ever seen a giraffe drink from a stream? Talk about leg splits. So ungainly. I'd hardly call that an advantage. It seems to me that it's far more likely that giraffe has to eat leaves from the tops of trees because its neck is so long, rather than its neck grew long just so that it could eat from the tops of trees.

    This is a question that I have always wondered, too. If something is an evolutionary advantage, why doesn't every creature develop the advantage? Birds supposedly evolved into flight as an evolutionary advantage, so why among all of the other non-insect species is the only other non-bird flyer a bat? Why don't we have flying dogs and cats and frogs and salamanders? And why are so few birds still flightless? After all, if it was such a disadvantage to remain on the ground, how come there are any ground animals left at all?

    Oh well, guess these are all questions that will just have to remain unanswered while they dream up the answers. In the meantime, I suggest that evolutionists stop using the giraffe as an example of evolution until we find at least one transitional fossil of a medium-necked giraffe, otherwise they are assuming that the giraffe evolved and then using that assumption as proof of evolution.

    Perhaps the evolutionists have had a few long-necks too many.

    Giving a Whole New Meaning to the Phrase "Spiritual Warfare"

    Keanu Reeves' new movie, Constantine, has him playing an exorcist trying to prove himself worthy of heaven. Seems he spent a little time in hell -- Dante's version -- and is not keen on the prospect of returning. I hope to see it this weekend, but while reading this review found the description of Keanu's spiritual arsenal particularly innovative:

    "After all, theological orthodoxy plays second fiddle to really cool brass knuckles with engraved crosses and a Gatling gun made from a crucifix that is used to send Satan's minions back to the fiery pits of hell. The Latin inscriptions on the gun read: a cruce salus, "from the cross comes salvation"; decus it tutamen, "an adornment and a means of salvation"; and dei gratia, "by the grace of God.""

    I'm not endorsing the film's theological content -- sure to be right up there with Fallen and End of Days --, but I do hope to see it this weekend.

    UPDATE: Michael Medved gives Constantine 3 and 1/2 stars. Said Keanu was "very good," the movie "stunning," but cautioned that it was very violent.

    More Evidence for Earth being a Privileged Planet

    "Now, pull all of this together -- the inner region of the galaxy is much more dangerous from radiation and other threats; the outer part of the galaxy isn't going to be able to form Earth-like planets because the heavy elemetns are not abundant enough; and I haven't even mentioned how the thin disk of our galaxy helps our sun stay in its desirable circular orbit. A very eccentric orbit could cause it to cross spiral arms and visit the dangerous inner regions of the galaxy, but being circular it remains in the safe zone.

    "All of this," he said, his voice sounding a bit triumphant, "works together to create a narrow safe zone where life-sustaining planets are possible."
    The Case for a Creator, pp. 169-170, quoting Guillermo Gonzalez, Ph.D., Iowa State University.

    The burdgeoning science of Intelligent Design has spread into many fields. One of these fields is astronomy where more and more scientists are beginning to realize that, contrary to the expectations of as little as twenty years ago, the likelihood that there are millions of planets that contain life is probably greatly overstated. Science if finding more and more that most stars lie in areas of galaxies that are completely inhospitable to life arising or even planets forming that are capable of sustaining life. The likelihood that a planet can support life even if it is the right size diminishes if it doesn't orbit the right type of star at the right distance with the right orbit. The orbits of neighboring planets, the number of astroids and comets, and the regularity of the planet's tilt on its axis and strength of its magnetic field can all impact the ability of that planet to support life. Not just human life, but any feasible type of life.

    The earth, being in just the right place in the galaxy, being just the right distance from the sun, having a mostly circular orbit, having the right type of neighbors to deflect comets and astroids while not swinging so wide in their own orbits as to interfere with Earth, having a moon that stabalizes the tilt of the Earth's axis, having the right type of tectonic activity, seems more and more to be a rarety -- if not unique -- among our heavenly neighbors. Recent reports keep adding more weight to the increasing evidence of our planet's uniqueness.

    For example, it appears that Earth's circular orbit may be the result of a nearby supernova that kept our solar system from having really odd orbits as so many other observable planetary systems do. According to "A Different 'Big Bang' May Have Saved Earth from RedNova news:

    An exploding star in our solar system's infancy may have saved Earth from extinction.

    Astronomers studying the planet-forming disks of dust that orbit young, distant stars are hoping to solve the mystery of our own solar system's youth. Why is our system so different in form and function from others they can see?

    It's a difference that may have saved Earth, because the scientists suspect that Jupiter and Saturn would have collided with the planet -- or slung it out of the solar system like a slingshot -- if the disk surrounding our young sun hadn't been so damaged.

    * * *

    Glances at nearby disks, and some leftover clues, are telling researchers how things began for our sun. And it looks like we may inhabit a solar system that's something of a runt because of the damage from an exploding star.

    * * *

    The supernova that blasted our solar system may explain some of its other peculiarities:

    * Planets in our solar system follow nearly circular orbits far from the sun. Most planets detected orbiting other, nearby stars follow either highly elongated orbits or circle incredibly close to their stars. Scientists suspect that a stellar explosion could have stopped these developments in our solar system.

    * Dust disks seen orbiting nearby stars typically contain much more material, sometimes 100 times more, than our solar system. A Spitzer Space Telescope survey of 26 nearby sun-like stars known to have planets found evidence that six of them have comet belts. But all appear filled with about 100 times more comets than our own.

    ''There's good evidence the solar system had a stunted formation when the (supernova) injection happened,'' Desch says. And that may have been very good for Earth.

    Many astronomers believe that Jupiter and Saturn formed deep in space, far beyond Pluto's orbit, and spiraled into the solar system. Why they stopped a safe distance from the sun and left Earth undisturbed -- unlike the history of many other solar systems seen nearby -- is the final mystery that disk studies may help answer."

    The article has more to say, and I would quote the whole thing if I wasn't concerned about violating copyright laws. I encourage everyone to read the whole article.

    But what is the import of this? Well, it adds evidence to the fact that the earth is uncharacteristic of what we expect to find as far as planets go. It notes that most planets have odd orbits that would take them outside the zone where life is likely to flourish either because it will become too hot or too cold to support life, or it will take the planet into zones where other dangers could result (such as excess radiation zones or astroid belts) that would make the planet less likely to support life. The article also points out that we have a much smaller astroid belt than the other planetary systems we have observed thus far. These differences, which make life much more possible, appear (according to the article) to be the result of the good luck of having a supernova occur within a short distance of earth which actually stunted our solar system's development. If this supernova hadn't done its job, the scientists involved believe that there may have been no life on earth.

    Do the words "divine providence" have any application here?

    (Edited to correct two misspellings and some poor grammer in the first publication)

    Tactics: "No True Scotsman Fallacy" fallacy

    Time to talk some X's and O's. Ever run into this kind of argument?

    Skeptic: "I reject Christianity because of the evil things Christians have done in the name of God."

    If you respond with something to the effect, "those were not true Christians who did that" ... be prepared to be accused of committing a logical fallacy. The ostensible fallacy is called the "No True Scotsman Fallacy" (NTS). I have never personally had this term used on me ... but I have faced variations of the underlying argument. As far as I know, this is a contrived fallacy that does not exist in any logic textbooks ... it just floats around on the web. It gets its name from this formulation of the purported fallacy.

    "No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge".

    Countered with:
    "My friend Angus is a Scotsman and likes sugar with his porridge".

    The following rejoinder to this exception is:
    "Ah yes, but no TRUE Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge".

    In other words, the definition of a Scotsman is twisted to mean whatever you want it to. Likewise, the argument goes, we Christians are guilty of shifting the definition of Christian around to avoid the embarrassment of the crusades, inquisitions, and witch trials.

    What is really going on here? Is this really a fallacy? How would you respond?

    Sound off in the comments. I will add my $0.02 there.

    My New Amazon Lists

    In a previous post I provided a list of all the "Listmania Lists" I had done at I had gotten a lot of out such lists by others, so I started doing them myself. I add new lists from time to time and revise existing ones. The last time I posted the lists I had done there were 18. I have since added another 6:

    19. Did Jesus Exist? Resources for Refuting the Jesus Myth.

    20. A List of Alternative History/Fantasy.

    21. Studying the "Historical" Jesus.

    22. Studying the Apostle Paul's Letters.

    23. The Best Space Battles: Science Fiction Space Opera.

    24. Studying the Miracles of Jesus.

    Or you can access my Amazon bio and full list of lists (as well as all my book reviews) here.

    As you can see, some of the lists are not really related to the study of early Christianity or apologetics. I plead guilty to having other interersts.

    If you like what you read, don't forget to vote so.

    The Extent of Punishment and Belief, Part V: Spiritual Bankruptcy

    Picking up where we left off in Part III: Sin, Debt and the Hopeless Situation, I hope that I have made a case for the idea that too often we misidentify sin with criminality. That is not the case. Sin merely means departing from the path that recognizes God as the source of all good and righteousness. In fact, if you do a Bible search for the word "righteous" you will find that "righteousness" is only applied to people who are following God. As stated by the notes in my NIV study Bible with respect to the use of the word "righteous" in Psalm 1:5:

    righteous -- One of several terms in the OT for God’s people; it presents them as those who honor God and order their lives in all things according to his will. In every human relationship they fulfill the obligations that the relationship entails, remembering that power and authority (or whatever sort: domestic, social, political, economic, religious, intellectual) are to be used to bless, not to exploit.

    The failure to follow God, because He is the embodiment of the perfectly good, the perfectly just and the perfectly right, results necessarily in doing less than the optimal good, just, and right. Thus, even if your act is not “evil” but simply failing to follow God, you are being less good, right and just than you could be by following God and you are thereby sinning.

    But I think it important to remember that sinning is what separates us from God. We sin because we don’t want to follow God. No matter what our stated intentions of goodness, lovingness and kindness, any act which does not follow God is ultimately intended to make us our own god, following the lie of our self in place of the truth of God.

    How many thefts does it take before you are a thief? How many murders does it take before you are a murderer? How many lies does it take before you are a liar? How many sins does it take before you are a sinner? The answer to all of these questions is "one." It is no answer to say, "on balance, I was good." It only takes one sin to have told God that you are not interested in following Him and to make you not good enough, not righteous enough, and not just enough to enter into His holy presence.

    Thus, as I pointed out at the end of Part III, we are left there in debtors’ prison holding a debt that we have incurred that we cannot pay of our own volition. None of our friends or family can pay the debt for us, so we are destined to spend eternity in debtors’ prison because we can never, ever pay the debt.

    If you think that isn’t fair, fear not – no one does. The government decided it wasn’t fair and abolished debtors’ prisons. The government reasoned that the better approach was to have a system of bankruptcy. And you know what? That’s exactly the same system that God has used with respect to our spiritual debt.

    You see, we are all hopelessly bankrupt. We have a debt that we cannot pay, and the creditor (God) is knocking at the door. We can try to hide not answering our phones, but someday we are going to die and the debt will either be paid or not paid. God, in His mercy, has paid the debt for us. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, as the payer of the debt. He lived a sinless life, and thus he did not have a debt to pay. Since the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23), when Jesus died sinless He had a credit to his account that He could use to pay for the debt of others. Moreover, because He was also God, His death gave Him an infinite amount of credit that could be used to pay for the debts of every single sinful human being on the face of planet earth. That means that His death was sufficient to pay for the debts of everyone.

    So why do some people go to hell, anyway? Well, the system that God developed is very much like the system used in the American bankruptcy courts. You can get forgiveness of your debts and a fresh start, but in order to do so, you have to acknowledge that you have debts that you cannot pay and sign on the dotted line saying you accept the forgiveness that the government offers through bankruptcy. Many people who are in debt are too proud to accept this option, and spend the rest of their lives running from their creditors hoping that the debt never catches up to them.

    God’s system is much the same way. He calls on us to recognize our spiritual bankruptcy (that we are all sinners) and to sign on the dotted line for debt relief by acknowledging that the only way we are going to pay off the debt is through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This gift of forgiveness of debt gives us a "fresh start," i.e., we are born again. And since our debt has been paid for all time, we are now able to enter heaven with the balanced books that we need – all because Jesus did everything necessary for us to enter heaven. However, some people either refuse to acknowledge the debt, they think that they are going to be able to work it out on their own, and/or they don’t acknowledge either God or that they need God’s help. These are the people who refuse to accept the forgiveness offered, and God will honor their choice to let them continue to work it out forever in the spiritual debtors’ prison called hell. In a world of free will, God cannot force people to accept his offer of forgiveness.

    This model of forgiveness explains several things. It explains that we are sinners, it explains why God is offended, it explains why there is a hell, and it explains why Jesus needed to die on the cross. What I have not yet discussed is how punishment works into the equation. I intend to discuss that point in Part VI.

    Part I: What is Sin?
    Part II: Against Whom do we Sin?
    Part III: Sin, Debt and the Hopeless Situation
    Part IV: The Optimal Life

    Does Exodus 21 Teach That Unborn Children have Less Value Than Born Children?

    On Saturday night, I watched a highly spirited debate between Scott Klusendorf, formerly of Stand to Reason, and Peggy Loonan, President of Life and Liberty for Women, on Faith Under Fire on the subject "Is God Pro-Choice?" I have heard Mr. Klusendorf debate about abortion on many occasions, and I believe that he is one of the best pro-life advocates in the country. Thus, I was rather interested in how Peggy Loonan would respond to his arguments.

    Ms. Loonan's response was to claim that one of the myriad of laws found in Exodus 21 makes the point that God considers life in the womb to be less valuable than life out of the womb. Thus, she argued, God has made a clear distinction between human beings who have been born and those that have not. I looked up the verse that she discussed, and recognized it as an old stand-by of pro-choice Christians. Here is what an article entitled "The Case For the Morality of Legal Abortion and Against Biblical Condemnation" (Be warned, a graphic picture is included in this presentation) posted on the Life and Liberty for Women website has to say about this issue in the debate:

    In Exodus 21: 22-25, reading from the Revised Standard Version, God said: "When men strive together and hurt a woman with a child, so that there is a miscarriage and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her- (speaking of the woman) - shall be fined, according as the woman's husband shall lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine." Verse 23 then says, "If any harm follows, then you shall give eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, and life for life."

    Let me be clear here: These verses did not speak to the justification or condemnation of elective abortion - but they do speak to God's view of the relationship between the born human being, the woman, and the unborn human being, the fetus, and that is critical to understanding why God never spoke of elective abortion let alone condemning it or declaring it an objective moral wrong.

    * * *

    The verses in Exodus are clear. A woman is hurt when two men are fighting. This woman is pregnant. If she miscarries as a result of this violence, but she does not suffer any other harm or death, those men will be punished by a fine for causing the miscarriage or death of the fetus. However, if any harm to the woman follows, that is if the woman is injured beyond the miscarriage or is killed as a result of this violence, then that deed is to be punished by an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth or a life for a life.

    The argument turns on the idea that the Hebrew phrase of Exodus 21:22 that is translated by the RSV as "miscarries" is, in fact, referencing a miscarriage where the baby is not living at the end of the miscarriage. But there is strong reason to believe that this translation is not accurate. According to the Blue Letter Bible, the phrase being translated as "miscarries" is "yeled yatsa'" which is the Blue Letter Bible translates as "the fruit departs." "Yeled" means "child or offspring" and "yatsa'" means "to go out, come out, exit, go forth."

    Now, while it is certainly possible that this could include a miscarriage where the baby is stillborn, does the language necessarily mean that? There are actually two questions here: does the word "miscarries" require the child to be stillborn, and does the Hebrew wording require that the child be stillborn? The answer to both is "no." "Miscarriage", according to Merriam-Webster's On-line Dictionary, means "spontaneous expulsion of a human fetus before it is viable and especially between the 12th and 28th weeks of gestation." Note, that there is nothing in miscarriage that requires that the child die. That is a implication that we read into the word because many miscarriages do result in the death of the unborn child. But it is not a necessary component of a miscarriage.

    With respect to the Hebrew wording, Greg Koukl, President of Stand to Reason, has investigated this issue in an article entitled "What Exodus 21:22 Says About Abortion" where he notes:

    [I]t’s common for yasa to describe the 'coming forth' of something living, frequently a child. There is only one time yasa is clearly used for a dead child. Numbers 12:12 says, 'Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb!'

    Note here, that we don’t infer the child’s death from the word yasa, but from explicit statements in the context. This is a still-birth, not a miscarriage. The child is dead before the birth (“whose flesh is half eaten away”), and doesn’t die as a result of the untimely delivery, as in a miscarriage.

    Yasa is used 1,061 times in the Hebrew Bible. It is never translated “miscarriage” in any other case. Why should the Exodus passage be any different?

    The answer is that there is no reason to understand the Hebrew phrase in the verse to require that the child come out dead. Rather, it simply says that if the woman is struck and the child comes out, then there will be consequences -- some more severe than others depending upon the outcome of the "coming out" of the child.

    Let's read Exodus 21:22-25 from the NRSV, this time substituting the phrase "the child comes out" for the words "there is a miscarriage" and see if it makes a difference:

    When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that the child comes out, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman's husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

    Obviously, this makes a great deal of difference. The verse now seems to be saying that if the child "only comes out" and "no further harm follows" then there will be a particular penalty (fining the perpetrator shat the husband demands and the judge determines). This can be read as "if there is no further harm to the mother or to the child who comes out alive and healthy, without any defects from the injury to his mother. . . ." But, the verse continues, "if any harm follows . . . ." Who might the other harm be to? Ms. Loonan thinks it is the woman only that the verse references because in her reading, the child is necessarily dead having been stillborn in the act of the miscarriage. But verse 23 may include not only the woman but the "child who came out" as well. Thus, these verses can certainly be read to say "if the child comes out and any further harm follows to the mother or the child, including death, then the penalty will be life for life, eye for eye, etc."

    Consider further the earlier-mentioned article by Greg Koukl,

    The text seems to require a fine for the premature birth, but injury to either of the parties involved incurs a more severe punishment.[8] Millard Erickson notes that "there is no specification as to who must be harmed for the lex talionis [life for life] to come into effect. Whether the mother or the child, the principle applies."[9]

    Gleason Archer, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, concludes:

    "There is no ambiguity here, whatever. What is required is that if there should be an injury either to the mother or to her children, the injury shall be avenged by a like injury to the assailant. If it involves the life (nepes) of the premature baby, then the assailant shall pay for it with his life. There is no second-class status attached to the fetus under this rule; he is avenged just as if he were a normally delivered child or an older person: life for life. Or if the injury is less, but not serious enough to involve inflicting a like injury on the offender, then he may offer compensation in monetary damages..."[10]
    Please refer to Mr. Koukl's article for the footnotes.

    In sum, it appears that Ms. Loonan is depending upon a Bible verse that, at minimum, is ambiguous, and at maximum, is directly at odds with her understanding. Given the strength of the entire Biblical commitment to human life being made in the image of God, and the commitment that each life is valuable as shown by the fact that Jesus died for everyone, and given the fact that Ms. Loonan agrees that unborn babies (in her vernacular, "fetuses") are human beings, it seems to me that she is staking way too much on this verse.

    Papias Mentions Mark and Matthew, but What about Luke and John?

    When friends ask (as only a circle of apologists would) what ancient document would I like to see found in a new archeological discovery, I always say Papias’ Exposition on the Oracles of the Lord. Papias was a kind of human vacuum cleaner for oral traditions about Jesus. He pestered everyone he ran across about what they had learned from the disciples of Jesus, and he wrote down those traditions in the five volumes of his Exposition. Writing early in the second century, and with a ministry stretching back deep into the first, those five volumes must have been full of valuable traditions about the historical Jesus and the early Christian movement.

    Unfortunately, those five volumes are lost to us. Only a few "fragments" have been left. But not even these fragments survive in their own manuscripts. Rather, they survive in the writings of Eusebius -- the prolific Bishop historian of the fourth century. Eusebius records two of Papias' traditions, about the Gospels of Mark and Matthew respectively:

    Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord's sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements.


    Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.

    Eusebius also mentions that Papias makes use of 1 John and 1 Peter.

    The significance of these traditions have been much debated by scholars and laypersons. But setting aside the worth of these traditions, let us deal with the fact that Eusebius does not recount any tradition from Papias about the Gospels of Luke and John. Most scholars agree that these gospels were written by then. Had Papias simply not heard of them? Did he make no statement about them – for whatever reason? Are most scholars simply wrong?

    The answer to all these questions is that we cannot infer from the information we have whether Papias wrote about the Gospels Luke and John. As noted above, we are entirely dependent on Eusebius for what traditions Papias recounts about the gospels. And we have good reason to believe that Eusebius did not provide a complete catalogue of the traditions recorded in the earlier Christian writers. A prime example of this is what Eusebius tells us about Iranaeus. Though Eusebius accurately records what Iranaeus writes about the gospels, Revelation, 1 John, and 1 Peter, from his account we would not think that Iranaeus knew anything about the Acts of the Apostles or any of Paul’s letters. That is because Eusebius mentions nothing about any writing by Iranaeus that refers or alludes to any of those writings.

    Fortunately, many of Iranaeus’ writings have survived and we know from them that Iranaeus was well aware of the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters. So why did not Eusebius tell us about those references? Afterall, he goes out of his way to tell us what Iranaeus wrote about the gospels.

    The answer is that Eusebius never intended to recount all of the traditions about all of the orthodox Christian writings from the first century. F.F. Bruce, with some help from Bishop Lightoot, remarks:

    If none of Irenaeus’s writings had survived, one could imagine some readers of this passage in Eusebius arguing from it that Irenaeus did not receive as scripture either the Acts of the Apostles or the letters of Paul. Such an argument could overlook what Bishop Lightfoot, in another connexion, called ‘the silence of Eusebius’. To those who argued in his day that Papias said nothing about the gospels apart from what is said in the few extracts from his work that Eusebius reproduces, Lightfoot pointed out that Eusebius is concerned to quote the testimony borne by earlier writers to the ‘disputed’ books; as for the acknowledged books, he takes them for granted, pausing only to mention any anecdotes or other points of interest occurring in those writers’ treatment of them. So here, Eusebius says nothing of Irenaeus’s well attested use of Acts and the Pauline letters, but thinks his remarks on the origins of the four gospels sufficiently interesting to quote.

    F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture, page174.

    Perhaps Papias wrote that the Gospel of Luke was written by Luke the physician, a companion of Paul. Because that information was common knowledge and may not have added anything to widely accepted tradition, Eusebius may have seen no benefit in rewriting it as he saw no benefit in rewriting what Iranaeus had to say about the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters. In the end, however, all we can say about what Eusebius does not tell us about which early Christian writings Papias wrote about, is that we do now know what he does not tell us.

    Updated: I corrected a "them" that should have been a "then." I did not mean to say that most scholars believed that Luke and John wrote the Gospels of Luke and John. What I mean to say is that most scholars believe those two gospels were written by the time Papias wrote his Exposition.

    I Never Thought I'd Live to See It -- A Television Show that Discusses Issues of Apologetics

    As discussions of faith take center stage across America, PAX TV presents a talk/debate show beginning this fall that accelerates the conversation to a whole new level.

    "Faith Under Fire," the bold and edgy hour-long series is a forum for all points of view, is a provocative program that takes an unflinching look at the most controversial issues involving religion and spiritual beliefs.

    Hosted by former Chicago Tribune legal expert and renowned author Lee Strobel, “Faith Under Fire” puts the topic of faith to the test, in a fast-paced and entertaining face-off format. Whether it’s a discussion involving Islam, atheism, Buddhism, Christianity or humanism, "Faith Under Fire" draws guests from the worlds of current events, pop culture, academia and the arts and sciences. While the public profile of guests might vary, each will be selected for their fascinating insights and passion for the topic. The panel tackles the toughest faith-related questions, creating fervent exchanges and igniting strong debates: Do faith and politics mix? When it is moral to wage war? When is it OK to lie? Is there only one way to God? Can reincarnation be proven? What causes religious barbarism? Why does God allow evil? Does religion subjugate women?

    Shining a spotlight on standard talk subject matter through a lens of faith, topics like health, money, crime, culture, sex, politics and celebrity are explored. "No topic is off-limits," Strobel says. "We take faith seriously enough to put it to the test and see which viewpoint is the most credible."

    From "Faith is the Focus in New Talk/Debate Show on PAX"

    I happened to be channel surfing last weekend and came across this show on a channel that I seldom watch. The debate was about Hollywood and its portrayal of faith, and one of the guests was Michael Medved. The discussion was interesting, and Stobel did a good job of making sure the subject didn't get bogged down. Future episodes look good, too. Here is a description of this Saturday's episode from the Faith Under Fire website:

    SHOW #104 -- Why Evangelize Jews, Is Prayer Dangerous? and Is God Pro-Choice?
    (AIRING FEBRUARY 12, 2005)

    Tovia Singer, an orthodox Jewish talk show host in New York who calls himself an "anti-missionary," considers evangelism efforts targeting Jews anti-Semitic. He debates Tuvya Zaretsky, from the evangelizing group Jews for Jesus, AND Rabbi David Rosenberg, leader of the Messianic (Jews who recognize Jesus as the Jewish Messiah) synagogue Shuvah Yisrael.

    A spirited debate between Dr. Richard Sloan, Director of Behavioral Medicine at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, who says prayer is dangerous ethically, practically and spiritually, and Dr. W. David Hager, who frequently and unapologetically prays with patients.

    Peggy Loonan, President of Life and Liberty for Women, believes God is pro-choice and that the right of a woman to end the life of her fetus is supported by both Jesus and the Bible. She will be challenged by Scott Klusendorf, Director of Bio-Ethics for Stand to Reason (a Christian apologetics organization), who argues that God is and always has been pro-life.

    The description of episodes 105 through 113 are also available at the Faith Under Fire website. Transcripts of every episode are also available for $10.00. The website also features a list of questions related to each segment of each episode. For example, for the episode to air on Feb. 19, there will be a segment with Hank Hanagraff and Dr. Robert Price (Layman, are you listening?) on "Is the Bible Bogus?" Here are the questions listed on the site for that episode.

    With Hank Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute and the host of the “Bible Answer Man” national radio program; and Dr. Robert Price, a professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute in Buffalo, New York.
    1. What do you remember hearing or believing about the Bible as you were growing up? Were you an “easy sell” or were you skeptical about its contents? Explain your answer.

    2. What do you believe about the Bible now? Do you believe the Bible is a book that is reliable and trustworthy? Why or why not?

    3. To what extent do you believe that God has communicated to humans through the
    Bible? Explain your response.

    4. Hank Hanegraaff suggests there is more than enough evidence to support the credibility of the Bible. This evidence includes eyewitness accounts, numerous ancient manuscripts, archeological findings, and accurate predictions. He says that all points to the Bible’s divine origin. Do you agree with this line of reasoning? Explain.

    5. Robert Price claims that the evidence suggests that the Bible has errors and inaccuracies. Do you agree with that? Why or why not? What specific errors, contradictions, or inaccuracies have you found in the Bible?

    6. Price also suggests the Bible has great value even though it is filled with inaccuracies. Do you agree or disagree with Price’s conclusion? Explain.

    7. What would it take for you to place complete confidence in the Bible being truth from God and the supreme written guide for your life?

    8. What difference would it make in your everyday experience to believe that the Bible is God’s Word?

    I would encourage everyone who reads this blog in the United States and who has cable or a dish that gets PAX television to support this program since it appears to be a quality effort to bring issues important to those of the Christian faith into the spotlight. And where else are you going to get a debate on whether God is pro-choice?

    The Extent of Punishment and Belief, Part IV: The Optimal Life

    At the end of Part III, we were left with a rather bleak view of our ultimate destination. We had arrived at the conclusion that we are all sinners because we had all fallen short of the commandments that God has given us. As such, we found ourselves in a situation where we owed a debt to God that we had no capital to pay and we were looking at the probability that we were about to spend eternity trapped in a celestial debtors’ prison forever owing a debt that we could not repay.

    Before continuing, an e-mailer told me that he didn’t think I had explained very well why it was that we could not pay for our sins. Let me try to be clearer. First, let’s start with the assumption that God is good. The Bible teaches that He is good (e.g. Psalm 34:8) and He does not take pleasure in evil. (Psalm 5:4) Thus, until we have reason to believe otherwise, let’s start with the belief that the Bible accurately describes Him as good. Starting with this presupposition, we can further conclude that if God has set forth in his role as the ultimate benevolence certain commandments for us to follow, those are also both good in and of themselves, and for our own good, too.

    During the exodus from Egypt, the Bible reports that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20) These commandments have generally been divided into two groupings: our obligations towards God (you shall have no other gods before God, you shall not make graven images, you shall not misuse the name of God, and remember the Sabbath), and our obligations towards each other (honor your mother and father, don’t murder, commit adultery, steal, swear false witness or covet). This is why it was so easy for the Commandments to be boiled down to the two commandments endorsed by Jesus (loving the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself). These laws were given to us not because of some tyrannical desire of God to suppress who we are, but because they are good for us. (Deut. 6:1-3)

    Now a lot of people assume that God is some sort of megalomaniac because He says “You shall have no other Gods before me.” They say things like “Is God so insecure that He will damn us to hell because we don’t worship Him?” While I am somewhat sympathetic to this position, it really is a question that arises in ignorance because the questioner greatly misunderstands the point of this commandment. If God is the ultimate good, then putting anything before God is putting something less good (evil, even) before ultimate good. At best, it is taking something that, at best, may be good (we don’t have the ability to see the full ramifications of everything we do so we cannot say for certain, as God can, what is good and what is evil) and placing it ahead of God, and making it more important than God in your life.

    If you were going to have brain surgery, you wouldn’t ask a plumber to do it for you, would you? Of course not. Even if the plumber was a very good plumber and a really nice guy, you wouldn’t want anything but the best to make sure that you are have the greatest chance for living a long and healthy life. The same is true here: if you are going to try to live the optimal life, then why would you settle for the moral rules set by imperfect people (including yourself) to live by? Why wouldn’t you follow the rules of the ultimate perfect good, i.e., God?

    Now, God has set forth these rules as commands. I don’t think He did so because He wanted to trap us – that would contradict the presupposition that He is good. No, He did so for two reasons: first, He wanted to make it clear that following His rules and His precepts are not optional if you want to live the optimal life. Second, because of His character, it takes someone who perfectly lives the optimal life to get into heaven. If you sin – just once – you have “missed the mark” making you unclean and unworthy of entry into God’s presence.

    What does this mean in light of the question? It means that God’s laws are good and anything that is contrary to or less than God’s law is, at minimum, not as good. It may even be downright evil even if the actor does not see how it could be evil. God has commanded us (as the minimum requirement to enter heaven) to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Anytime you do less than that, you are failing to keep God’s law and therefore “missing the mark” or sinning. When you do follow those commands, you are keeping God’s law which is the minimum requirement to enter His presence upon death.

    So, what does this mean for earning capital to pay off the sin debt? It means that if you do anything less than love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength or if you do anything less than love your neighbor as much as yourself, you are already sinning. If you do both of those things fully, then you are only doing what God already requires as a minimum to get into heaven. What more can you do to earn “credit” with God that will pay off the debt? Nothing. Not a thing. You are already required to give God your all -- all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. Anything less than all is not following the command, and you cannot give more than all.

    Hopefully, I have made my case a little bit clearer. Next time I will return to answering the question of how God gets us out of debtors’ prison.

    Part I: What is Sin?
    Part II: Against Whom do we Sin?
    Part III: Sin, Debt and the Hopeless Situation

    Judge OKs Wrongful Death Suit Over Test-Tube Embryo

    This is a fascinating story from the Boston Globe:

    All Alison Miller and Todd Parrish wanted was to become parents. But when a fertility clinic did not preserve a healthy embryo they had hoped would one day become their child, they sued for wrongful death.

    A judge refused to dismiss their case, ruling in effect that a test-tube embryo is a human being and that the suit can go forward.

    Though most legal specialists believe the ruling will be overturned, some in the fertility business worry it could have a chilling effect, threatening everything from in vitro fertilization to abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research.

    "If the decision stands, it could essentially end in vitro fertilization," said Dr. Robert Schenken, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Few doctors would risk offering the procedure if any accident that harmed the embryo could result in a wrongful death lawsuit, said Schenken, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas in San Antonio.

    A couple of things: first, I think the judge was absolutely right in his decision. I have argued before that it can be scientifically established that the "fetus" is a living human being. Macht, our friend at Prothesis Blogspot in an entry dated Wednesday Feb. 2, 2005, entitled "When Does Human Life Begin" located a webpage that lists textbooks that support the idea that life begins at conception. Consider the following:

    The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology:

    "Zygote: this cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo). Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm ... unites with a female gamete or oocyte ... to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual."

    Human Embryology:

    In this text, we begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual. ... Fertilization takes place in the oviduct [not the uterus]... resulting in the formation of a zygote containing a single diploid nucleus. Embryonic development is considered to begin at this point. (p. 1); ... "These pronuclei fuse with each other to produce the single, diploid, 2N nucleus of the fertilized zygote. This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development. (p. 17).

    Human Embryology & Teratology:

    Fertilization is an important landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed. (p. 5); ... Fertilization is the procession of events that begins when a spermatozoon makes contact with a secondary oocyte or its investments ... (p. 19); ... The zygote ... is a unicellular embryo. (p. 19); ... Thus the diploid number [in the zygote] is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity. (p. 20); ... ... The embryo enters the uterine cavity after half a week, when probably at least 8-12 cells are present. (p. 23); ... The embryonic period proper ... occupies the first 8 postovulatory weeks (i.e., timed from the last ovulation) ... The fetal period extends from 8 weeks to birth. (p. 55)

    It only makes sense. The product of the coupling of two human beings can only be (absent some strange mutation) another human being. The embryo or fetus (whichever you want to call it -- I prefer baby) is alive from the moment the sperm and egg meet, and in most cases (absent interference by us or a failure to attach to the uterus), the embryo/fetus/baby will grow to be a post-natal baby. The mother is not making it grow -- it grows on its own because it is alive. Thus, if you are being honest, there is no way around the truth that the embryo/fetus/baby is a living human being.

    Second, I do think the decision will be overturned for two reasons. First, the decision by the judge seems to undermine the reasoning of Roe v. Wade about viability. Justice Blackman, the author of Roe, reasoned that since academics and scientists could not agree when life began, the court would not take up that argument and simply look to "viability" as the starting point for legal protection, i.e., when can the embryo/fetus/baby survive on its own outside of the womb? By deciding that the embryo is a living human being who can be the victim in a wrongful death suit, this judge seems to have decided contrary to Justice Blackman that we can adjudicate when life begins.

    Second, and more importantly politically, the decision by this judge if affirmed would threaten the abortion industry, the in vitro fertilization industry, and the budding embryonic stem cell research industry. That's several billions of dollars of money being generated that could be severly impacted if the embryo/fetus/baby is actually provided the rights of a living human being that we ought to be providing to it. I would bet that judges (who by and large appear to support these industries) will not allow this decision to slow up the wheels of "progress."

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