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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

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Andrew Brown, Marxist critic who works for the Guardian, major left wing newspaper.

New atheism is a political movement and not an Intellectual one:

Brown's blog on the Guardian site
In part this is difficult because the new atheism is largely a political and social rather than an intellectual movement. In some ways it can be understood as the canary in the coalmine of American power and exceptionalism.
this guy is an expert in ideology. This guy knows ideology when he sees it. He distills an idea for New Atheism (which proves one of my major assertions). His method for piecing together the ideology is to find the communality in the works of the major leaders of their movement, the major New Atheist writers.

The ideas I claim are distinctive of the new atheists have been collected from Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Jerry Coyne, the American physicist Robert L. Park, and a couple of blogging biologists, P Z Myers and Larry Moran. They have two things in common. They are none of them philosophers and, though most are scientists, none study psychology, history, the sociology of religion, or any other discipline which might cast light on the objects of their execration. All of them make claims about religion and about believers which go far beyond the mere disbelief in God which I take to be the distinguishing mark of an atheist.

These are the ideas:


There is something called "Faith" which can be defined as unjustified belief held in the teeth of the evidence. Faith is primarily a matter of false propositional belief.
The cure for faith is science: The existence of God is a scientific question: either he exists or he doesn't. "Science is the only way of knowing – everything else is just superstition" [Robert L. Park]
Science is the opposite of religion, and will lead people into the clear sunlit uplands of reason. "The real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition" [Jerry Coyne] "I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented." [Dawkins]
In this great struggle, religion is doomed. Enlightened common sense is gradually triumphing and at the end of the process, humanity will assume a new and better character, free from the shackles of religion. Without faith, we would be better as well as wiser. Conflict is primarily a result of misunderstanding, of which Faith is the paradigm. (Looking for links, I just came across a lovely example of this in the endnotes to the Selfish Gene, where lawyers are dismissed as "solving man-made problems that should never have existed in the first place".)
Religion exists. It is essentially something like American fundamentalist protestantism, or Islam. More moderate forms are false and treacherous: if anything even more dangerous, because they conceal the raging, homicidal lunacy that is religion's true nature. [Sam Harris]
Faith, as defined above, is the most dangerous and wicked force on earth today and the struggle against it and especially against Islam will define the future of humanity. [Everyone]
All of these propositions will be found in the authors I have cited as well as in the comments to religious articles here. I sometimes think that only the last two are unique to the new atheists: you can certainly find the others in earlier authors. But those are the six doctrines which I would reject when saying rude things about the new atheists.
let's take them one at a time:

There is something called "Faith" which can be defined as unjustified belief held in the teeth of the evidence. Faith is primarily a matter of false propositional belief.
This is nothing more than the message board atheist fallacy about the nature of faith. The Faith article in Westminster Dictionary of Theology is like two huge pages of small type. It's much too complex to just pack into this loaded self serving ideological propaganda slogan. "unjustified bleief" no believer accepts that faith is unjustified and thus this is not a definition but a slogan. The Westminster article show that faith means as much "faithfulness" or commitment as it does placing confidence in an hypothesis. Faith is placing confidence in a hypothesis toward the end of making a commitment and remaining faithful to the placing of such confidence.

The cure for faith is science: The existence of God is a scientific question: either he exists or he doesn't. "Science is the only way of knowing – everything else is just superstition" [Robert L. Park]
Of course we only need a cure if there's an illness. There is no such illness because faith is not a negative. Of course the existence of God is not a scientific question. I've disproved this and written about why it's not many times.

the phrase in that point science is the only way of knowing is the atheist fortress of facts concept that I've talked about many times. Everytime I've brought it up on CARM they deny it then go on to prove I'm right by embracing it. So they deny it with one breath and embrace it with the next. Anyone who really knows much about history and Philosophy of scinece knows this is BS.

Science is the opposite of religion, and will lead people into the clear sunlit uplands of reason. "The real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition" [Jerry Coyne] "I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented." [Dawkins]
The identification of reilgion with superstition belies all the talk about reason. When we actaully get around to apply some reason we see their argument is merely circular reasoning. They will say "theology is stupidity" but demand that they quote some theologian to prove its' superstition they say "I have not read theology, I don't to read it because I know it's stupid." That sort of anti-intellectual clap trap is a higher crime against reason. Reason is the last these jokers really believe in. The Dawkins statment at the end is the most anti-intellectual piece of crap ever uttered.

They are making the assumption that scienc eis reason but it's actually oppossed to reason because that concept contradicts what is said above about scinece being the only from of knowledge. Atheist disparage logic as a means of understanding the world. They deny that there is any other form of knowledge. Logic is a from of reason. Reason is not empircal observation. So therefore they are actually contradicting because reason is a competeing form of knowledge to empirical science.


In this great struggle, religion is doomed. Enlightened common sense is gradually triumphing and at the end of the process, humanity will assume a new and better character, free from the shackles of religion. Without faith, we would be better as well as wiser. Conflict is primarily a result of misunderstanding, of which Faith is the paradigm. (Looking for links, I just came across a lovely example of this in the endnotes to the Selfish Gene, where lawyers are dismissed as "solving man-made problems that should never have existed in the first place".)
Here we have one of the most interesting. It's not only working from the myth of progress that modernity loves define itself by (thus demonstrated that it's an outmoded way of thinking--disproved by Postmodernism) but it also reads like an eschatology. This marks it as a true aspect of ideology. All ideologies have an eschatology, an end times, a end point toward which the great struggle of the ideological vanguard resolves itself in their victory. Check out past versions:


Christianity: Return of Christ in the end times

Marxism: Worker's paradise

Black Muslims: Black Supremacy

Feminism: Gynarchy (matriarchy)


there the new atheists have the scientific post religious society. this more than anything proves it's an ideology. The rest of the points are just rehashes. They have all the aspects of an ideology:

a exigence, a villain, a vanguard, a audience, a great struggle, an eschatology


Marxism:

exigence: exploitation of the working class.
villain: Capitalism
Vanguard: communist party
audience: workers
great struggle: class warfare
eschatology: worker's paradise.

Works with any ideology one cares to name.

Nation of Islam:

exigence: exploitation of the black race
Villain: White race
Vanguard: Fruit of Islam (black Muslims)
Audience: Black people
great struggle: racism
eschatology: Black society becomes dominate society.

new Atheism:

existence: faith prominent in society
Villain: religion
Vanguard: new atheists
Audience. people who hate religion
great struggle: to destroy religion
eschatology: scientific society post religious.

Having an ideology doesn't' necessary make people wrong. Both Marxists and Black Muslims have their salient points. New atheists, however, are totally afraid to admit they have an ideology. They will never admit it. Even the loyal opponent Hermit is still avidly denying that there is one. Which is odd becuase they seem to think they are the only valid view point there is.

On carm just before Christmas an atheist called "1337" argues:


I contend that the theistic version of god doesn't exist. Why do I say this? Because the assertion that there is a personal god seems to be baseless. In fact, it is christian apologists that eroded my faith away. They continue to make qualifications about why it seems that god does nothing, until eventually the view that god exists is no different from the view that he doesn't exist.

People assert that god makes a difference in their lives. My question to you is, what would the world look like if that god didn't exist? What differences would we notice?

(NOTE: If anyone responds by saying "without god the world couldn't exist at all" I'll just ignore it, that's not the point of the discussion)

In the discussion that ensued this turned into a reverse design argument. Its' reversal because he's saying basically that Chrsitians can show anything that would actually be different if there wasn't a God.

I made two criticisms. They have booth gone unanswered.

(1) It's the same mistake the design argument makes, it doesn't have another universe to compare to.

(2) It treats belief in God as though it's just adding a fact to the universe in tread of a whole other universe. Belief in God entails a totally different universe than the one atheists believe in.

The Second issue is the one I will focus upon: the "reverse design argument."

The reverse design argument does exactly what the design argument does, which is probably reason enough to disregard it; it reasons form the apparent state of the world to the probable non existence of God. If it is illogical to reason form the world to God, it is equally illogical to reason from the world to not God. For this reason I swore off design arguments years ago. I have violated that oath twice, but for good reason (I'll get to those in a minute). In any case, there is a great deal wrong with this argument, and in figuring up all the many problems I see it I began to think of two things:

(1) Perhaps it would be instructive to delineate the cases under which one can argue from the state of the world to the existence of God.

(2) In pondering this question, I began to think about perhaps what might be the ultimate God argument.


If you think about it almost all probabilistic arguments are really arguing from the state of the world to the probable existence of God. But somehow this seem less drastic in some cases than others. I know there are those who just turn off at any kind of God argument. But for us Connoisseurs of God arguments, this should be a thorny issue. After all, what's the real difference between arguing form the contingency of the world, and arguing from the design of the world? Well, off hand the real difference is that one can be compared to something, the other can't. That's one of the major problems with this atheist argument, which was advanced at one point by Richard Carrier. We do not have a designed universe to compare ours to, so we don't know what we are observing, design or random development?

The argument says if we were to consider a random universe that came about by accident, you couldn't do better than our own. It really looks accidental. Life is precarious and rare, the universe is very hostile to it. It's vast, far more vast than it has to be. On the one tiny oasis we know of where life took root it blossomed into something as glorious as Richard Carrier's ego, we have no really obvious clue that God exists. If we were to consider what a purposeful logical creator would do we should expect sign posts to his existence everywhere, right? Well, maybe. maybe not. That's the problem the argument is nothing more than begging the question. It assumes we know what God would do, and after constructing a straw man God who behaves the way we want him to, we just assume we know what he would do and than access the tragic fact that it hasn't been done. So by golly, there must not be a God, because this non God doesn't' follow my advice! Of course the model for his straw God is fundamentalism. Atheists are so afraid to take on liberal theology honestly, but it's because they are all secretly fundamentalists. What I mean by that is they are the "tails" to the fundies "heads." Like communist and anti-communists, they are both parts of the same thing.

The difference in this argument and one that actually has something to compare, a base line from which to work, should be obvious. The atheist who argues for Carrier's idea must forge his own base line by setting up a straw man (um, God) and then privileging his assumptions about the nature of religion in such a way that he just nixes the possibly of any other kind of theology. That's not a real comparison. The fine tuning argument can compare fine tuning to lack thereof, compare target levels to the actual mark that is hit. The contingency arguments (quantum and other forms of cosmology) can compare contingency to necessity. Religious experience arguments are drawn from the results of experience, they compare experience to non experience. The two instances in which I do use design arguments are those in which comparisons can be made between the nature of the world and state of existence known to lack that attribute as known non designed reality; the use of the "God Pod" as evoking innate ideas. We can compare reactions to God talk to other kinds of talk and see that our brains only react to God talk in the way that they do. Thus we can compare the innate ideas of God to reactions to other ideas. The other instance is the fine tuning argument,which has already been explained. But the Carrier reverse design argument has nothing to compare except Ricard's idea of what he thinks God should do. With that as the standard for assumptions, we have no basis upon which to draw conclusions about the nature of God from the state of the universe.

This argument does have one other troubling application. It could be a "possible defeater" for proper basically. To be properly basic an idea must be logically apprehended as it is, with no possible alternative explanations, or "defeaters." The argument is a possible defeater only if we understand it to be indicative of the kind of universe God would not make. But we can't make that assumption because we can't pretend to know all the things God would do. Once can find many alternative theological explanations that involve both Evangelical views of God and non Evangelical views. The most obvious non Evangelical view is that of process theology. The atheist can only think of God as a big man upstairs. This is the basic image they rebel against. The will of the father is their Kryptonite. They foresee a big man on a throne who decides and deliberates such a potentate wants to be served, they reason, and thus must make a universe in which he is known commonly to all. So we should expect the universe to be smaller, easier to navigate, easier to understand, filled with sign posts of God. No disease, no problems and everyone automatically given tons of faith so the world would be a paradise. If some serpent spoiled it, it should be put right immediately so that we can go on in our little heavens, where no doubt we get to listen to Richard Dawkins directing the chores of angels.

The God of process theology, on the other hand, is more like the Hegeian dialectic, or like some organizing principle. This is not a God deliberates and decides. this is a God who is potential in one realm, and who micro manages (literally) creation in the other; almost a law of physics, changing with creation, bringing subatomic particles into being and ushering them out of being. This is more of a stage director in the play of the universe (and in other bipolar structure stage director and producer) than a big king on a throne. Such a God would start the process of life and allow it go where it will, then embrace (to whatever extent possible) any beings that evolve sufficiently to come up to its level.

Another version would be my own idea of God as being itself (Tillich's idea--). This version of God is much like the process God, but I fell that God is too sacred a mystery to pin down to bipolar structures or to analyze all of "his" ("her," "its") doings. God is the great wholly (Holy) other. WE cannot know except through mystical union what God is doing. But such a God is the basis upon which being proceeds into concrescence and the basic reality of the Platonic forms. Such a God does not design or make plans, but the whole of creation is a non deliberating plan in the sense of being an expression of God's charter indwell; yet not necessity the result of raciocentination. Thus God starts a principle of life emerging from the nature of being, because that's what being does it spreads the beings, it "let's be" (John Mcquarrie). The evolutionary course that is followed may be assisted in an automatic sort of way, not as a plan, not as a deliberate gesture, but as the result of a nature that has to manifest itself creatively. This being doesn't' say "I will make men, and men will serve me." But men evolve out of the storm and the wastes of the abyss and they naturally come to find God because that's the nature of being, it is there to be found in the sense of the numinous. When humanity reaches a point where it comprehends the numinous, it seeks God and finds God.

Humanity finds God in a million different places. It finds God in flowers and trees, in brooks (and in books), in grass, in each other. It finds God in storms and scary things, and in the night. It finds God in the sky and the stars in the darkness of a vast and endless expanse. It reaches out for what is there because it has been put into it to do so; not because God sat and said "I will make men and men will seek me" but because God provided for the reality of the Imago Dei to evolve and develop in whatever species reached the point where humanity has come to. God did this automatically as an aspect of self expression, as an outgrowth of consciousness. This kind of God would make a universe of the type we see around us. This type of God would also place in that universe hints so that whatever species reaches that level that God's manifestation would be waiting to show them God's solidarity with them. God would plant a thousand clues, not as a matter of deliberation like one plants Easter eggs, but as the result of being what God is--self communicating and creative. Thus we have design arguments and fine tuning arguments, and contingencies and necessities and the lot. We can find the God Pod in our heads that lights up when it hears God ideas. We can do studies and determine that our religious experiences are better for us than unbelief, because the clues are endless because the universe bears the marks of its creator.

Yet these marks are sublet for a reason. This is where the Evangelical view of God can also be a sophisticated view. The Evangelical God can also be the God of Tillich and the God of process, after all, these are all derived from the same tradition and the Evangelicals have as much right to escape anthropomorphism as anyone. The Evangelical God seeks a moral universe. This God wants believers who have internalized the values of the good. We do not internalize that which we are forced to acknowledge. Thus God knows that a search in the heart is better to internalizing values than is a rational formally logical argument, or a scientific proof. Thus we have a soteriological drama in which we can't tell if there is or is not a God just by looking at the nature of nature. That must remain neutral and must enlighten us because it is not given to us to have direct and absolute knowledge of God. Knowledge of God is a privilege. We must seek it through the heart, that's where it is to be found. It's a privilege but faith is a gift.

So many atheist attacks on the Christian faith proceed from the standpoint of litterlizing their negative image of God, which is based upon the OT version of God, that I used to always been telling them "you are making God into the big man in the sky." Now Atheists on CARM have started telling me that I'm making God into the Big man in the sky when I assume that God is conscious or that he loves us. The fact is that many of them assume that even slightest hint of consciousnesses in God and it's anthropomorphizing. They just have hold of the wrong end of the stick. God is not modeled after big man in sky just by being assumed conscious, but when we assume attitudes and behaviors caught up in the same assumptions that men make. My thesis here today is that it's only the big man in sky when it echos the personality hangups of big man. The nature of consciousness is such that this in and of itself need not be taken as anthropomorphic. The Christian concept of God as developed by the Platonic thinkers of the early centuries is about a universal mind that can relate to humans but works on a higher level so much so that we might not even understand it as consciousness or as "personal." That higher level can't be devoid of love, thus love is not anthropomorphic but a quality of God.
....The aspect of physical body is not the issue. I personally doubt that God has a body, since that would mean he is localized and limited specially, but not having a body but being a mind would only make him a "jumped up" big man if he still made the assumptions of a human. Although one of the major things I have had in mind when I used that phrase "big man in sky" is a Zeus figure sitting on throne with a white beard. The somewhat more sophisticated disembodied mind is only just a step up, especially if God is construed to have the same kinds of attitudes. The kind of attitude indicative of big man is the limited understanding, emotions of anger, rage, personality hand ups. Examples of this are found all over the OT. "You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and ." (Exodus 20:5).
"The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their ... He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it." (Genesis 18:16-33).
....When I was self identified as an evangelical I used to defend these things by saying "O that was to teach Abraham, to get him to look for the righteous men to emphasis to him that there were none." Surely really know there were no righteous men around. I never occurred to me until latter that the very act of teaching Abram in such away is in itself evidence of big monism, or the attitude of a man. That attitude is more likely to have come from the redactor. It's a fine literary device, it leads the reader to put himself in Abram's shoes, what would I do if I looked for the righteous men and couldn't find one? Did God have to actually commission authors/redactors who would write that? Or did he just know that in using human authors they would "get around" to using good literary devices? So it is with all the big man statements such as anger and jealousy and so forth. These are personifications that are aimed at enabling us to relate to God. We can't relate to some higher thing that is so far above us we can't even recognize it as personal. We relate to father and mother, thus God is reflected as having attributes of both throughout the bible. Surely doesn't have to be planned to be influenced by experiences of God.
....First we should distinguish between consciousness and the personal. There was a time there that I tried to avoid using the term "personal" in relation to God. The Bible never speaks of God as "personal." That implies personality and personality implies hang-ups. God can't have hang-ups.  Consciousness is an aspect of personality but it's not synonymous with personality per se. Consciousnesses is the basic self awareness and the ability to distinguish bewteen self and others. I am me, I am not my brother. I am individual I am who I am that sets me apart form others. Consciousness is our medium of exchange with the world. We know the world through out consciousness awareness. We begin to think that our kind of consciousnesses i the only kind there is. Yet a good reason to assume that consciousness per se is not anthropomorphic is that we are not he only being that are conscious. We know for example that dogs and dolphins are conscious. So consciousness is also dogpomporhic. Some thinkers speculate that conscoiusness is "ground up." In other words there's a bit of consciousness at the lowest levels of life and it become more sohpisticated as life before more complex. For example we know know that amoebas persue complex behavior such as hunting.

Collin Barris
New Scientist
oct 29, 2008

This year, Toshiyuki Nakagaki at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan, won an Ig Nobel prize for his work on amoeba intelligence after his team found further evidence of the amoeba memory effect. They exposed Physarum amoeba to temperatures fluctuating regularly between cold and warm. It was already known that the cells become sluggish during cold snaps, but Nakagaki's team found that the amoeba slowed down in anticipation of cold conditions, even when the temperature changes had stopped (Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.100.018101).

 Science Daily
Oct 2008

 The amoeba Dictyostelium finds bacteria by scent and moves toward its meal by assembling a molecular motor on its leading edge. The active form of a protein called Ras sets off a cascade of signals to start up that motor, but what controlled Ras was unknown.

 ....It's expalined through physical theory and it's more like an automatic reflex than a planned thought out behavior. I'm sure there are no amoeba coffee shops where dissident amoeba sing folk songs about their society. Yet we could think of these things as "consciousness" on a certain level. We think about the difference between an Amoeba, a slough a sea snail, a butterfly, a rat, a dog, a dolphin, ordinary humans, Noam Chomsky, and extra terrestrial life, why can't we posit the idea of that there's an off scale consciousness that keeps going until it's limitless, and infinite, that's God's level. Just as we can relate to lower levels, with varying degrees of success, the lower it gets the less success we can speculate that God can bend down and relate to us. Why is just being self aware only for humans and to posit that for God is to make God into the big man in the sky? The big man in the sky does not have complex motivations. God's motivations are beyond our underestimating so it's easy for us to stick with attributing our own to him.
....The Christian thinkers of the early centuries, around the time of Pseudo-Dionysus (500AD) understood God in terms of a universal mind. This is not a mind that is limited to one perspective like our own but that takes par tin all consciousness, becasue all consciousness is stemming from that mind. As the great Translator of Dionysus, Edwin Rolt said:
 The basis of their teaching is the doctrine of the Super-Essential Godhead (ὑπερούσιος θεαρχία). We must, therefore, at the very outset fix the meaning of this term. Now the word “Essence” or “Being” (οὐσία) means almost invariably an individual existence; more especially a person, since such is the highest type that individual existence can in this world assume. And, in fact, like the English word “Being,” it may without qualification be used to mean an angel. Since, then, the highest connotation of the term “Essence” or “Being” is a person, it follows that by “Super-Essence” is intended “Supra-Personality.” And hence the doctrine of the Super-Essential Godhead simply means that God is, in His ultimate Nature, Supra-Personal.
Now an individual person is one who distinguishes himself from the rest of the world. I am a person because I can say: “I am I and I am not you.” Personality thus consists in the faculty of knowing oneself to be one individual among others. And thus, by its very nature, Personality is (on one side of its being, at least) a finite thing. The very essence of my personal state lies in the fact that I am not the whole universe but a member thereof.
God, on the other hand, is Supra-Personal because He is infinite. He is not one Being among others, but in His ultimate nature dwells on a plane where there is nothing whatever beside Himself. The only kind of consciousness we may attribute to Him is what can but be described as an Universal Consciousness. He does not distinguish Himself from us; for were we caught up on to that level we should be wholly transformed into Him. And yet we distinguish between ourselves and Him because from our lower plane of finite Being we look up and see that ultimate level beyond us. The Super-Essential Godhead is, in fact, precisely that which modern philosophy describes as the Absolute. Behind the diversities of this world there must be an Ultimate Unity. And this Ultimate Unity must contain in an undifferentiated condition all the riches of consciousness, life, and existence which are dispersed in broken fragments throughout the world. Yet It is not a particular Consciousness or a particular Existence. It is certainly not Unconscious, Dead or, in the ordinary sense, non-Existent, for all these terms imply something below instead of above the states to which they are opposed.[1]

Thus God can understand us better than we can understand ourselves. He can relate to us from a view point that is as much a part of our own subjectivity as we are ourselves. As St. Augustine said "God is more near than my in most being." This is not Pantheism. It doesn't reduce God to the level of synonymy with all things. It recognizes the distinction between God and creation, between being and the beings. It also recognizes the ability of God to comprehend his creation.
....The one way we can relate to God and understand that which is beyond our understanding is through experiencing the love of God. Love does not require the kind of intellectual understanding that we can't have in relation to God's nature or being. All it requires is that it be answered with more love. God's love (agape) is the will to the good of the other, that puts us in a parent-child relationship with God. We can't really imagine needing to care about the good of the other in relation to God but we can experience his loving care and provision in caring about our good. We can't imagine needing to save God because God never needs saving, just as infants we don't think about our parents needing saving. When we literalize the metaphor and make God out to be the big man in the sky we attribute our own needs to God then then love becomes manipulation because we are manipulative creatures. As we have seen in the last installment God's love is experienced by all mystics in all traditions, if we are open to it we will find it.
....As for the OT writers, they were not idiots. They knew God knew how man righteous men there were. They knew God was beyond there understanding. Next time I'll open up some aspects of the OT view of God and we'll look at some aspects people miss about the transcendent nature of God.



 [1] Dionysius the Areopagite: on Divine names and the Mystical Theology, trans. Clearance Edwin Rolt , New York, New York: Cosmio 2007, from original 1920 publication.  see also online versionChristian Classics Ethereal Library, on line version, The Author and his Influence, trans by, 1920  website URL:  by http://www.ccel.org/ccel/rolt/dionysius.iii.i.html
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