"There's Probably No God"

  (23 October 08)
  by Greg Spearritt

The Age tells us that the ever-controversial Richard Dawkins has supported an advertising campaign by atheists in the UK which declares: “There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." The slogan will appear, amongst other places, on buses.


Dawkins justifies his support (financial and otherwise) for the campaign in this way:


Religion is accustomed to getting a free ride — automatic tax breaks, unearned 'respect' and the right not to be 'offended', the right to brainwash children. Even on the buses, nobody thinks twice when they see a religious slogan plastered across the side. This campaign to put alternative slogans on London buses will make people think — and thinking is anathema to religion.


Aside from the last statement – some of the most thoughtful people I know are religious – I quite agree. It’s high time atheism took its place alongside religious belief as a legitimate and respectable option.


And it’s important that it happen at the level of bus advertising: only when atheism and agnosticism become a part of everyday life will the underlying assumption that there’s something sacrosanct about organised religion as an underpinning for our society be questioned.


I look forward to the day when the Humanist Society (or some such) gets the same space in the local rag as the pastor of the local evangelical church.


David Miller received the following email from Kristian Bengtsson on 13th November 2008

Hello David , My name is Kristian Bengtsson. I have attended 3 meetings at the atheist society in the last 6 months so you would probably recognise me if you saw me, an opportunity to introduce myself seemed to allude me! Anyhow, let me get down to business as to the reason for this correspondence. I am a bible believing Christian, and I am also an aspiring writer currently in the conceptual stage of composing a book on the topic of Christian apologetics at an introductory level. Therefore in order to not misrepresent your position, and to prevent “strawman” arguments, it would be handy to have some feedback from an atheist/ secular humanist. Your articles that I have read suggest you are intelligent, articulate and argue a point well, and as far as I can perceive from my very limited experience you come across as a very congenial fellow. All of these qualities make you a very suitable candidate for the proposition I have in mind.

You may be asking yourself, why should you assist me when I represent an enemy cause? I can think of 4 good reasons. 1. This can be an opportunity to voice your opinion to people who may otherwise never hear it. 2. You can correct any misconception I have/ you think I have. 3. It can never hurt to have an increased understanding of what makes our adversaries tick, and 4. I suspect that like myself , you actually enjoy a good argument/debate.

I shall explain the type of dialogue I have in mind, following the natural progression of the book itself, each correspondence will deal with the topic that is pertinent to it. The book itself is meant to be a defence of the Christian world view and it’s doctrines, and will deal mainly with its chief rival for cultural ascendency in western society, namely secular humanism. In our correspondence we will both have the opportunity to ask questions, rebut and respond to rebuttals and generally cross examine each other. The general subject of debate I shall posit in the form of the assertion; That Christianity represents the objective truth of the universe, that individual salvation and personal fulfilment and for peace, justice, liberty and prosperity to prevail in society requires adherence to Christian principals! It is incumbent upon me to demonstrate this claim, and for you to disprove it, and put forward a superior alternative.

If you choose to exercise your prerogative and accept this challenge, then I shall begin the ball rolling by asking you a few questions

Q. 1. What are your motives for being an atheist?

Q. 2. Why do believe it is important to promote that world view?

Yours sincerely,
Kristian Bengtsson

Posted by David Miller

David Miller's response, 15th November 2008

Hello Kristian,
Yes, I am willing to enter into dialogue with you.
Firstly, if I were to conflate your two questions into one, I would simply answer that I have ascertained what it is that I believe, and am acting upon it.

Secondly, to answer them singly, I would start by stating that I believe there are no gods. To cast the net wider - I believe there are no supernatural entities. This is my Atheism.
However, although I ‘believe’ there are no supernatural entities, I do not ‘know’ that there are no supernatural entities. Consequently, although I ‘believe’ there are no (supernatural) gods, I do not ‘know’ that there are no gods. This is why I also label myself as an Agnostic.

It is my Agnosticism that is militant, rather than my Atheism. But do I want to promote my viewpoint as a worldview? (Your second question). Well, although I am often to be found expressing my viewpoint, I like to think that my answer would be, “No: Let people believe as they wish.”

Posted by David Miller

Kristian's email response to David, 18 November 2008

Hello David
As stated in my first post, I will now answer the two questions I asked of you.
Q.1What are my motives for being a Christian
A. First of all, let me define what I believe a Christian is. I believe a Christian is someone who holds the personal conviction that the bible is the inspired inerrant word of God and secondly, lives their life according to the will of God. To believe otherwise and still call yourself a Christian is irrational.
Back to the question, there is a maxim which states that one should embrace the creed of their upbringing until something better comes along. This motto is fine however it should come with some caveats attached, being that we shouldn’t close our minds to alternatives, and also that we subject our default creed to the highest scrutiny! This sums up my own personal situation and attitude towards this subject. Now I will humbly submit that I do not possess encyclopaedic knowledge of all the worlds religions and nor could any God expect this of His creatures, indeed the Christian God seems to require belief on intuition alone. What I know of and understand about other religions and worldviews provide no compelling reasons for me to convert to them. This covers the first part of our maxim, now the second. In order to evaluate the validity of any belief system we must first presuppose its truthfulness and then judge it on its own terms, thus the criteria that Christianity must meet, differs from those of other worldviews. Christianity makes claims about the history of the world, explains the condition of the world and mankind, decrees standards of ethical conduct, and offers a way of salvation. All these claims need to be reconciled with our knowledge and experience, and furthermore need to sit comfortably with our reason, emotion and intuition. Christianity ticks all these boxes to my complete satisfaction. This post is only a summary so I will not at this stage elaborate on any evidential type argument. If you have any specific objection against Christianity then the onus is on you to tell me. Needless to say I have never encountered an argument against Christianity that is not easily debunked. So all these things considered, Christianity makes sense of the world, and encompasses everything that I hold to be good, noble and true and I honestly love it!
Q.2 Why do I believe it is important to promote this worldview?
A. Firstly , promoting the Christian worldview correlates with being a Christian, best done by leading a life of example, and evangelising after studying effective methodology. Principally Christianity concerns itself with individuals and personal salvation, however our personal convictions manifest themselves in our politics and have repercussions on society as a whole. Christianity offers a pragmatic outlook on life and recognises the potential for good and evil in people, believers and unbelievers alike. Whereas the godless in their quest for ’progress’ have no sound premise upon which to base notions of good and evil, thus anything may be permissible in the pursuit of their agenda. I am not saying that all atheists are thugs and tyrants, only that they have no absolute standard to judge those that are, whereas the Christian does. I sincerely believe that with the demise of Christianity society will become increasingly dysfunctional.
I will leave you with these thoughts until my next post. In which I will respond to your first post.


Posted by David Miller

David's response.

Hello Kristian,

Yes, I quite agree with you. The initial problem with constructing a belief-system consists of the realisation that one's beliefs are an accident of birth, a matter of where one was born in the world. I also agree that the best idea is to start by taking the beliefs we have been 'given', and then subjecting them to rigorous analysis as a first step to deciding on one's own beliefs.

I note that you have decided that you are an adherent of a particular version of the religion known as Christianity. The problem for me is that when I investigate Christianity I find hundreds of differing denominations and sects. Most of them claim that their interpretation of the Bible is the one and only true interpretation. And most of them claim that their denomination or sect is the only one that will achieve Salvation.

You may wish to say that I am exaggerating. But far from it! When I google the World Christian Encyclopedia, I find that it lists hundreds of Christian denominations and sects, mainly Fundamentalist. (Australia 109; Britian 253; USA 635.) What am I to do? I am sure that almost every single adherent of Christianity will adamantly insist that their denomination or sect's version is the one and only true version. Why should I believe one any more than another?

Posted by David Miller

Kristian's email response, 23 November 2008.

Hello David

The following is my reply to your first post. Firstly you stated that you have ascertained what it is that you believe, and are acting on it. It is apparent from your articles that you have written that you have gone to great lengths to explain away Christianity, so as far as our debate is concerned I presume that you have somehow falsified Christianity. If you are correct, then there must be some philosophical argument or piece of evidence that I am unaware of, could you please enlighten me.

You made the distinction between your atheism and your agnosticism, my target in this debate is actually the broader category of secular humanism, which for the sake of brevity I shall simply refer to as humanism. I can’t imagine that the proposition that the universe, being the result of an accident and therefore without meaning or purpose can provide ground for forming a solidarity with others who have reached the same conclusion. Rather it is the surrogate ideology of humanism which provides an umbrella philosophical system for atheism, agnosticism, skepticism ( as distinguished from scepticism) , ‘rationalists’ and even people who would label themselves as Christians, Jews, Moslems etc. The common characteristic being that they reject any notion of scripture being divinely inspired absolute authority, thus with the absence of divine revelation as a guiding standard, the humanist appeals to human reason as the final arbiter. Now I have no objection to human reason per se, after all our sense of judgement falls upon our reason. The heart cannot rest in what the mind rejects. It is the veneration of human reason which is false. It is more proper to venerate that which endowed humans with reason. The notion of human reason being supreme is in fact self refuting, as all beliefs no matter how absurd are the products of human ‘reasoning’, there are numerous ways in which human reason is fallible and can be perverted, and the word has been hijacked by some to be used as a euphemism to reflect their own dogma. The word reason itself, and its Latin root ratio-onis, hence the word rational, suggests that our thinking is measured against some standard that is independent from it. This of course is what we recognise as the laws of logic. These laws of logic which dictate all valid thought processes are universal, invariable and abstract; they exist apart from the material world. In the Christian worldview, logic is a characteristic of God. The word logic is derived from the Greek word Logos-Word. The Gospel of John begins with the statement “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.

I presume that as a humanist you acknowledge the laws of logic, otherwise meaningful discourse between us would be impossible. If we could agree that we owe our unconditional allegiance to the laws of logic, then we are part way towards solving our differences. I will consider it my task to demonstrate that the God of Logic and the Christian God are one and the same.

In reply to the question “Why do you believe it is important to promote your worldview” you stated that your sentiment would be “Let people believe as they wish”. I will give you the benefit of the doubt that you did not properly consider this answer before you pressed send. Apart from the fact that people will believe what they “wish” whether we let them or not, we will always encounter beliefs that we believe to be pernicious, and feel it is our duty to challenge that belief. As much as I would like to remain amicable to you as a person, I cannot say the same of your worldview, which if followed to its logical conclusion will lead to catastrophe, and I am sure you harbour a reciprocal sentiment towards my worldview. Let us not fall into the mistake of pretending there is some neutral ground, reality cannot accommodate both our worldviews, and one must yield to the other. When you put your pen to the atheist cause, and mine to the Christian cause, we enlisted to fight in a war. In fact I believe it is impossible to escape complicity.

Until the next post , keep well.

Happy thoughts,
Kristian Bengtsson

Posted by David Miller

David's response:

Hello Kristian,
Rather than it being a philosophical issue, it is one of history. The Roman Emperors 'bought out' one faction of the many that comprised the Early Church and, following the establishment of that faction as the Imperial State Religion of the Roman Empire (the Orthodox Catholic Apostolic Church), backed them up with the armed might of the Empire. The losing factions were suppressed.
Suppose the Roman Emperors had instead 'bought out' one of the other varieties of Christianity? That other variety might then have declared that they had their God's authority for their particular version of Christianity, as well as their God's authority for their choice of texts for the Bible. Hypothetically, they might have delayed as long as the winning faction did in deciding which texts would comprise the Sacred Canon.
Suppose the Roman Emperors had 'bought out' one or more varieties of the Adoptionists, the majority faction of the Early Church. In that case, Christians might now believe that Jesus was not a god but was purely human.
At the other extreme, what if the Roman Emperors had 'bought out' the Christian Church of Marcion, the major rival of the Imperial Church? Would the Christians now believe, in line with the ancient Marcionites, that Jesus was not human at all, and was purely a god? Would they now believe that the Christ's father was actually another god, the 'Good God', and not the Creator God of the Bible? Would they also be excluding the Old Testament from the Sacred Canon?
Suppose the Roman Emperors had 'bought out' one of the Valentinian Christian Gnostic sects. Then God, instead of a Trinity, might now have been a trienta (thirty). Fifteen loving couples made up the Valentinian God-Head.

Secondly, I am quite pleased that you have dropped the term 'secular' from Secular Humanism. The Humanists are deceiving themselves when they claim to be the originators of secularism. This honour rests with the Christians. Once again the slightest acquaintance with history informs one that it was the non-conformist Christians who were the originators of secularism. They were attempting to escape the persecutions perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church in Europe and the Church of England in the British Isles.
This belief that the Secular Humanists are responsible for secularism can be seen as an unholy alliance in mutual self-deception between the Atheists, Humanists, Rationalists and Skeptics, on the one hand, and the Evangelical Christians on the other. The secular states based themselves on Enlightenment values and, as the Humanists claim to be the champions of these values, it is easy for the Humanists to deceive themselves that they are secularism's originators. At the same time, the apparent dominance of the Evangelicals in the USA, particularly in the George W. Bush era, has lulled these Christians into forgetting the lessons of history: That secularism was their protection in the past from religious tyranny.

Posted by David Miller

Kristian's email response, 1st January 2009.

Hello David,

While it is undeniable that many denominations exist and have differing opinions on certain theological matters, the fact that there are numerous versions of a proposition does not negate the possibility of that proposition being fundamentally true. The question that you raise is a valid one, which denomination is correct? You can be sure that this adherent of Christianity does not insist that my denomination is the only true one. Christianity starts as a personal faith involving personal salvation, it is therefore incumbent upon the individual to grow in their faith and actually think for themselves. With the help of the Holy Spirit we discern what is true from what is false. I personally belong to the Lutheran church, because apart from family and cultural background, I find the church’s doctrinal stance to be scripturally sound, which is the criteria against which any church should be measured. And I also find our worship format personally agreeable, which is strictly a matter of taste!

I personally believe that those doctrines which are of fundamental importance are clearly inferred from a plain reading of scripture. And my only criticism of other “Christians” is if they do not give credence to what is plainly stated in the bible. Why label oneself as a Christian when agnostic would be a more appropriate one? To give an illustration, I believe that trains should run on time, Mussolini “made” the trains run on time. It does not follow that I label myself a fascist, because I do not subscribe to the fundamental tenets of fascism.

The bottom line is, that all human endeavours and institutions cannot be more perfect than its’ constituent members. Any differences Christians have with each other are due to human error, but the beauty of the Christian God is that He meets us where we are at, all He requires are humble hearts obedient to His will.

All the above discussion is based on the assumption that the Christian bible is authentic, which brings us to the subject of your next post being your postulation that the compilation of the bible is the outcome of some arbitrary process instigated by the Roman authorities to achieve some politically expedient outcome. It occurred to me while I was investigating this subject that there is no dispassionate commentary on this. All the sources I looked at on the net were written by people with an agenda whether they were Christian apologists defending the “official” version of events or skeptics trying to prove otherwise. I lack the time and resources to get too engrossed in the study of the actual documentation and eyewitness accounts of the actual event, so perhaps I am unqualified to comment on this subject. I will say however that you make no distinction between those Gospels accepted as part of the canon, and those that were rejected. The very word ‘canon’ means measuring rod! This is important because those that were accepted had to conform to a very rigid set of criteria, one being that it had to be written by an apostle or close associate. Some of the rejected texts were written much later and contained contradictory accounts of events and concepts that were alien to the already established Christian doctrine, accepting these texts would logically imply rejecting the bulk of the established texts. Your assertion that the Roman emperors orchestrated the canon is pure conjecture. History cannot provide us with conclusive answers, we can only interpret the recorded events within the framework of our preconceived worldview, It boils down to faith in what we choose to believe. Realistically David, I don’t think God expects us to unquestioningly believe every thing we’re told. But I can give no sound reason for rejecting what is claimed in the bible, and I also have sound reasons for rejecting what you would accept as truth, namely the naturalistic origin of the universe and life. You obviously feel differently but this is the true heart of the matter.

Regarding the term secular humanism, my only objective is to avoid confusion, and that when we use a word we both mean the same thing. According to the definitions in the Oxford dictionary the term secular humanism is a tautology like ‘round circle’. I thought it was in common usage, it must be an American thing! I confess that I am a bit confused, in that in a previous post I alluded to you being a humanist , whereas the tenor Of your previous comment suggests that you distance yourself from humanists. Please explain? I have no problem with secularism per se, only with philosophical materialism masquerading as secularism. Some human activities and arms of government are by their nature secular, of course there is no such thing as Lutheran tiling (my trade) or agnostic plumbing, the practitioner can be conscientious or sloppy but the principals are the same. However when it comes to formulating law or government policy the legislator appeals to principals derived from their worldview. The Christians’ unchanging standard is always going to clash with the humanists’ ‘fashion of the day’ philosophy. The only “religious tyranny” threatening Christians in the west in our times is that of dogmatic Philosophical materialism, forced on to the population through the public education system, state run educational facilities (museums etc.) and tax funded media. And tolerating no dissent.

Regards, Kristian

Posted by David Miller

Kristian's further email comment:

Hello David
To continue our debate I submit this essay I wrote on the subject of Faith and Reason for your consideration and comment. Upon reviewing, it comes across as a scathing critique of atheist thinking, however I am just calling it as I see it, and I am sure you would demand no less from me. I only mention this to maintain the gentlemanly nature of our discourse so far, and ensure that the ‘gloves’ remain on while in the ring. Nevertheless I am sure that you have a thick skin and can take as good as you can give.
Faith and Reason

Anyone who is familiar with the writings of the worlds leading spokespersons for atheism will no doubt have noticed a point that is repeatedly emphasised is the claim that atheism marches under the banner of reason, and god-botherers march under the banner of faith. Thus the idea is conveyed to the readers that a dichotomy exists between faith and reason, and that the logical conclusion to be drawn from this is that believers are stupid and atheists are clever, and once inculcated with this idea, correlative statements such as religion vs. science are accepted without reservation. In this essay I will challenge this mode of thought on four counts. Firstly, the proposition that faith and reason are polar opposites is itself false. Secondly, faith is an inescapable conclusion which affects virtually every aspect of human experience. Thirdly, the atheist worldview itself is a faith based assumption of the worst kind, that is, a blind faith motivated by emotional impulses and contrary to intuition, evidence and commonsense. And fourthly, the motivation for this vitriolic attack on religious faith is based on the claim that Christianity and religion per se are directly responsible for various atrocities, while conveniently ignoring atheisms less than glorious track record.
Before I begin, I should point out that the atheists I am alluding to are careful to specify that the faith they refer to, is religious faith. However it appears to be an opinion pandemic among atheists that their worldview is derived solely from reason and involves no faith, and by association, the word faith itself is given
a negative connotation.
1. The False Dichotomy between Faith and Reason
The suggestion that faith is essentially opposed to reason is false, simply because although the terms are both features of the cognitive process, they do not exist in the same category or spectrum, such as light and dark, hot and cold, in the sense that when you move closer to one end you move further away from the other. One does not come to some junction in their mind where they have to choose between faith or reason, the choice presented would be faith or doubt which are the conclusions of the reasoning process, which simply put is the presentation of certain premises in order to support a conclusion. The premises themselves may be based on assumptions which cannot be proven, thus rendering the conclusion one of faith or doubt. Reputable Christian thinkers of the past and present would maintain that during temptation our passions or impulses are opposed to reason, to indulge in some momentary pleasure that would yield negative consequences that far outweigh the satisfaction gained. The person who with full knowledge of this still indulges in the temptation can be said to be irrational. As a final note, one must also have faith in their ability to reason correctly.
2. The Inevitability of Faith
We understand the word faith in various ways. In the ordinary sense of the word, faith can be quantified as a probability, For instance a reliable worker can be expected to bowl up to work 99 times out of a 100 going by past experience, even a worker with a perfect record is subject to a host of factors that may undo it. Uncertainty hangs like a cloud over every aspect of human experience. However it is not this kind of faith which is the topic of our conversation, but faith of the binary kind where we either accept or reject the proposition put before us. As explained before in the first point I defined reason as the process by which one infers a conclusion from a given set of premises, the problem lies in the premises themselves. When the proposition put forth is Christianity, we cannot appeal to facts that we have first hand knowledge of, we must resolve the question otherwise. We ask ourselves, does this make sense of the world as we perceive it? Is it logically coherent, and comports with known facts and history? If it is true, what is expected of me, and is it reasonable? etc…And as a final note we must ask ourselves what are the alternative explanations for the universe, and how do they measure up against the same criteria? No rational Christian could even argue against their religion being faith, because the bible itself stresses that point emphatically. Yet on the same token, they who reject Christianity also do so, on the basis of faith, although they would argue against it, which brings us to our 3rd point
3. Atheism as a Faith Based System of Thought.
The atheists claim that their beliefs rest on the premise that ‘science’ has proven that the universe and organic life within arose by chance due to natural processes, and that this ‘fact’ is supported by an ‘overwhelming mountain of evidence’. If this claim were true, then they would be correct. There would be absolutely no reason to continue the charade of Christianity, because its foundations in Genesis would have been undermined. Humanism would be the only show in town! We should be equally as capable of fabricating moral codes as ancient patriarchs were! However the atheists premises are not as solid as they suppose. What they call ‘science’, Christians would call ‘the interpretation of data within the framework of the materialist worldview’ and what the atheists call ‘facts and evidence’ Christians would call ‘unsubstantiated hypotheses’ at best and ‘idle musings’ at worst. And it is quite underwhelming when scrutinised properly. It is most ironic that atheists lambast believers for having faith, when they expect people to unquestioningly accept whatever absurdity they masquerade as ‘science’. To delve deeply into this topic would be digressing from the main subject, however since I have thrown stones I should furnish an example. The creation myth of the atheist religion is Darwinian evolution, yet ever since Darwin himself conspicuously neglected to satisfactorily explain pre biotic evolution in the book that’s’ title claimed to give the answer to ( On the Origin of the Species), evolutionists still have no plausible explanation for it. That is not science, it is by definition ignorance! Thus they have constructed the huge edifice of Darwinism on the pillars of ignorance, prejudice and wishful thinking while failing to clear the first hurdle. The atheist supposes that their worldview is the product from drinking the crystal clear waters from the fount of reason, when in fact it is filtered through the muddy waters of their preconceptions and their prejudices thus becoming indistinguishable from them.
4. The Atheists Motivation for the attack on Religious Faith
The atheists cite as the reason for their attack, the many atrocities allegedly committed in the name of God, this is a serious charge because the claim is that these atrocities are committed, not in spite of the culprit being religious, but because they were/are religious. I will concern myself with defending the Christian worldview as Christianity is not culpable for the crimes of religion per se. First I would have to acknowledge that many unconscionable acts are performed by people who profess to be Christians, what remains to be proven is whether the alleged acts are consistent with what is prescribed by scripture, and can be justified generally. Let us start with the seemingly harsh penal codes of the mosaic law and the ‘scorched earth’ warfare policy of the early Israelites. These harsh laws were applied for the contingency of the nation of Israel from which the promised messiah would come. Preserving that line had priority over not offending 21st century western sensibilities. We also need to put things in their cultural context. Let me give a more modern example. In 18th century England it was not a punishable offence to not eat your vegetables, however If you were a crew member aboard the Endeavour with Lt. James Cook, failure to eat your vegies ( probably in the form of an unpalatable gruel) would earn you a nice little back massage with the ‘cat’. The whole point being that the fate of the voyage was dependent on the health and fitness of the crew, the more there is at stake the more rigid the discipline. The same goes with the total warfare described in the old testament, it was only specific tribes or cultures whose total annihilation was commanded by God because of their utter depravity. It is the prerogative of each society to makes laws which serve to protect civil order and public hygiene, and a good case can be argued that those prescribed by mosaic law were appropriate in their time and place. The general consensus among Christian thinkers today is that the old testament covenant has been abrogated by the new covenant of grace, those who would advocate applying mosaic law in modern society represent such a small minority that they could be classified as an endangered species. To cover all the incidents involving religious violence is a subject on its own, and I intend to cover them in a future post titled ‘The Christian worldview and morality’. I will close this post with the observation that atheists themselves have what they regard as ethical systems and in the past have not been shy about imposing them on the general populace’ using coercion and violence when necessary, and if given the opportunity will not hesitate to do so in the future. The question that remains to be answered is, why do they suppose the world would be a better place if no one believed in God, on what premise do they make this assertion? Does there exist a place on earth where there is a successful precedent for atheistic society? What kind of mental gymnastics are involved to suppose that if everyone believed that their existence is the result of a cosmic accident, that there is no reward or punishment for deeds that go unrewarded and unpunished in this life, that free will, ergo love, honour, sacrifice and justice are mere illusions, will cause people to behave as if they were true! If religious people who commit atrocities believe that they themselves are held accountable for them, how is it better when people who commit atrocities don’t believe they will be held accountable for them?

With regards, Kristian.

Posted by David Miller

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