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Methodological Naturalism, Falsifiability, and Evolution: A Challenge

It is generally agreed that for something to be considered scientific, it must at least in principle be falsifiable.

Let me suggest that evolutionary theory in all of its most controversial aspects is, at rock bottom, unfalsifiable.

I want to go right to the bottom:  the claim and insistence that life on this planet can be explained satisfactorily as being the result of unguided, natural processes.

It is plain and simple common sense that tells us that in order to falsify the notion that something is unguided, we would need to show that it is in fact guided.

There is just one problem.  The prevailing New Atheist Evolutionary Rabid Apologist froths at the mouth at the very notion that there could be any scientific validity to reliably detecting guidance, that is, intelligent agency and design.  Unfortunately, if there is no scientific validity to design hypotheses, we are necessarily deprived of a scientific basis to falsify an ‘undesign’ hypothesis.

  1. In order for something to be considered robust science, it needs to be falsifiable.
  2. Modern evolutionary theory is usually presented so that it entails unintelligent operations.
  3. To falsify the claim that something is driven by unintelligent forces one would have to show how intelligent forces were at work.
  4. Evolutionary apologists insist (with heapings of derision) that such a showing is outside the bounds of science.
  5. But if showing design is outside the bounds of science than there is no reliable and objective way to conclude scientifically that something is not designed.
  6. Therefore, macroevolutionary theory cannot be scientifically falsified at the point that it is the result of unguided natural processes since they reject as unscientific the very things that could falsify it.
  7. Consequently, at one of its most controversial points- that it is unguided- macroevolutionary theory is shown to be scientifically unfalsifiable on the evolutionist’s own terms.

Unfortunately for modern evolutionary apologists, the ‘unguided’ part is a pretty important part and precisely the reason why so many of them pin their atheistic viewpoints on evolutionary rationale.

The only escape that I am aware of to this problem is to insist that scientific inquiry must take on a ‘methodological naturalistic’ approach.   But this is not much of an escape at all, as it merely means that we have discovered that there is no scientific evidence for the notion that we are the result of unguided natural processes, rather we have assumed that we are the result of unguided natural processes.

To me the challenge seems pretty simple:  show how you can falsify the claim that we are the product of ‘unguided natural processes’ without necessarily imparting scientific validity to methods of reliably determining ‘guidance’ or come clean and admit that your high flutin’ ‘scientific theory’ actually cannot be falsified on this point… and so, may not be the robust scientific theory you present it as.

One other alternative seems to be possible, and that is to tell me why I must adopt your assumption.  But then, that’s the thing about an assumption:  it’s axiomatic;  you can give me no reason why I should adopt it.

In short, it seems to me that all this talk about science requiring ‘methodological naturalism’ is actually ‘philosophical naturalism,’ ie, a presumed atheism,  masquerading as scientific inquiry.  And obviously if you have assumed atheistic explanations for everything in the world then you will never- as you cannot in principle do it- come up with anything other than atheistic explanations.

Which is fine, I guess.  I mean, you’d be upset with me if I said that we had to assume theistic explanations for everything in the world and insisted that science required it and you’d mock my theistic conclusions for the obvious reason that of course I’d get theistic conclusions since I began with theistic assumptions.  But you want to tell me why it is different in the case of assumed atheism and ‘unguidance.’  I tell you, that’s unfalsifiable, and therefore not science.

You’ll tell me that I’m wrong.  Spare me that and tell me why I’m wrong and that we really are the result of unguided natural processes despite the fact that we assumed it as the framework of our inquiry and moreover this is ‘unguidance’ is actually falsifiable even though the thing that would falsify it- ‘guidance’ is itself unfalsifiable.  That’s your challenge.

Enjoy.

(PS, as an aside, does anyone else see the logical incoherence in insisting that intelligent design is unfalsifiable while simultaneously saying that evolution falsifies it?  These are the reasonable folk?  really?)

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    • Bill on March 26, 2010 at 4:38 am

    Beyond the Evolution vs. Creation Debate – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=352HUa5sBn0

    • Urnext on May 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    It’s simple. It’s called irreducible complexity. In other words, if you find an example of something in the world today that couldn’t have come about from gradual changes over a long period of time, you’d prove inteligent design. If it couldn’t have randomly evolved from small changes and ended up the way it is, it must have been designed by an intelligent being. So far, the only half way decent example for irreducible complexity ID has found is the bacterial flagellum. But even that can be broken down in part.

    • JG on July 12, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    You go wrong at the outset using the terminology unguided natural processes. I do not see how guided or unguided is relevant for falsification. Evolution could be either in which the negation of either is inconsequential to falsification. However you can falsify evolution by natural selection by finding bunnies in the Precambrian or show an organism that cannot be shown to have a common ancestor or show cases where an organism less well adapted for its environment is selected for over an organism more well suited for that environment.

    • Anthony on July 13, 2010 at 1:50 am
      Author

    Hi JG,

    Thank you for your comment.

    Unfortunately, I must contest every part of it. For example, it is not appropriate to take issue with my terminology, for the terminology simply represents my setting the terms of the argument. The ‘unguided’ in the terminology is important, which should be evident since this is a blog dedicated to offering arguments for Christian theism and rebutting those against it. Insofar as evolution is a major reason why many nonChristians, especially atheists, are nonChristians, it is obviously the unguided aspect that will be of the greatest interest to me. In short, if I had not put in the modifier ‘unguided’ then no doubt I would have been flooded with evolutionists- theistic evolutionists in particular- who insisted that evolutionary theory was compatible with belief in God. The modifier allowed me to zero in on the issue that I wished to address and I should point out to you that a man is entitled to address an issue however he pleases and the reasonable critic will address the argument based on the terms of the argument set forward. Understood in this way, it would be as if I had said, “I shall now argue against nepotism, and by nepotism I mean such and such” and you said, “Well, I think nepotism means this and that.” It is not really relevant what you think it means, unless we are actually arguing about just what nepotism is.

    Now, as it happens, many readers will find ‘unguided natural processes’ to be a redundancy. Certainly, evolutionary theory is usually presented in such a way that its unguided-ness is implicit, and it isn’t hard to find it explicitly so, either. It was my purpose to tweak apart from the theory this implicit aspect of it. If I had wanted to talk about whether or not evolutionary theory could be falsified in itself apart from the question of it being a guided or unguided process, then you can be sure that’s what I would have addressed. In other posts on this blog I have. The modifier indicates clarity on my part, and your response represents your willful decision to depart from my stated intent.

    With that said, I do not even share your optimism that evolution- guided or unguided- would be falsified by finding a bunny in the pre-cambrian or any other scenario you might present. The only thing that would happen is that the understanding of our evolutionary history would be re-worked in order to fit the new data. And having been down that road before with people, I know that the retort in that scenario is that ‘the nature of science is such that it changes when new data emerges.’ The understanding of how life has evolved has changed thousands of times since Darwin published his book. For the homo sapiens themselves I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a news article announcing that our understanding of how we humans have evolved has to be completely re-written. Interestingly, no one ever seems to be concerned that finding something that didn’t fit the previous understanding falsified evolution itself. I have no doubt that this would apply to any other ‘surprise’ that is turned up in the fossil record.

    But having said that, this was not the point and purpose of this post, and I shall say no more about it.

    Thanks again for your comment.

    • JG on July 14, 2010 at 9:33 am

    Anthony,

    Thank you for the reply.

    As a point of fact it is appropriate to examine definitions and terms of an argument when investigating its truth value. When you contend that it is not that is like saying it is not appropriate to contest premises within a syllogism.

    Having said that I will again say that using the term unguided does not apply for evolution and is a bit of a non-sequitir.

    This is a bit like saying that a person could not get from point A to point B without being guided, which we know is absurd since for example a given city had initial settlers.

    Further evolution has no point B per se in that there is no goal, no destination. What you have done by insisting upon using the term is to setup a strawman.

    I think it is also incorrect to imply that evolution is a “major reason” why non Christians and atheists do no believe in the Christian God. This is a sweeping absurd claim that I would like to see argument for.

    You are implying that a major reason that Hindus believe in Brama is because of evolution? Or that Muslims follow Mohammed because of evolution? What about the many Christian theists who do accept the fact of evolution and still believe in Yahweh and Yeshua?

    I do not know a single atheist who rests their disbelieve on the theory of evolution. If evolution were falsified it would not affect the logical absurdities and reasons for disbelief one single iota.

    This is a fundamentally flawed statement.

    You are also conflating findings that revise certain ancestral lines with evidence that would falsify evolution. Human evolution is not in question any longer, just a matter of where certain ancestors come into play in our evolutionary lineage. Where any of the specimens you casually give reference to found in strata pre-dating our earliest human origins?

    If you found a human in the pre-cambrian there would be no re-working, evolution would be falsified at that point.

    • Anthony on July 14, 2010 at 10:49 am
      Author

    Hi JG,

    I’m not going to spend time defending my statement that atheists and evolution tend to go together. This is based on my own anecdotal experience of reality, and so is irrefutable on that basis. You may wish to look at Ken Ham’s book “Already Gone” which does delve into related issues. If you have a different experience, obviously I can’t contest it. However, I’ve interacted with many, many, many people, and a lot of atheists. It’s a wonder that our experiences diverge so dramatically. But there it is.

    Now, I’m also not going to defend my statement about evolutions putative falsifiability. You think that if we found a human in the pre-cambrian evolution would be falsified. I doubt it. I am entitled to doubt, and I have good reason for it, as when I have confronted evolutionists with inconsistencies and contradictions in the past they have merely noted that evolutionary theory has changed, which all good scientific theories do. At any rate, it is not the purpose of the essay at hand, and a point I’d prefer not to have to defend further on this particular thread.

    As for this post, now, I have to disagree with you strongly.

    Let me put this in very simple terms:

    x+y=2

    If I say, for the purpose of this argument, x=1 and y=1, those who wish to evaluate my conclusion- that x+y=2, are confined to adopt the terms I have set forward, which is, again, that x=1 and y=1. What you are trying to do is say that I am not permitted to say that x=1. Well, in fact, I can, and you are obliged to evaluate the merits of the full proposition, x+y=2, based on these definitions.

    If you want to step in and quibble with me and insist that in fact, x=2, that would in effect change the whole equation that is in play, and would be irrelevant to whatever proposition it is that I am defending.

    Now, in this post, it wasn’t evolution that I was attacking, but only the one little part. If you believe that no one really thinks that way, that is your perogative. If you think that I’m writing for an audience of zero, that may well be true, and yet if I choose to write it anyway, your task is to evaluate the argument based on the merits according to the terms I give, or let it go. Based on my years of experience discussing these issues, I am confident that I am not in fact writing for an audience of zero.

    To the extent that it is appropriate to take issue with terms and definitions, I would contend that it would have been wrong of me to NOT focus on the modifier ‘unguided.’ This would have been as if I was arguing that x+y=2 but failed to give the value for either x or y. In that case, you would have been right to point out that I could not possibly reach the conclusion that I did.

    Anyway, I suppose if you really believe that ‘unguided’ or ‘guided’ evolution is of no consequence, then you have no objection to Intelligent Design theorists who infer guidance?

    Your statement here exposes the profound flaw in your thinking:

    “This is a bit like saying that a person could not get from point A to point B without being guided, which we know is absurd since for example a given city had initial settlers.”

    Well, it would actually be absurd because we know also that settlers are sentient, willful, and deliberate. A better example would be if we came across an area where there were hundreds of columns reaching hundreds of feet into the air and on top of each of them was a single, large, rock. Does it follow in this case that obviously the rocks got there without being guided because, well, they’re there? Absurd.

    If we came across hundreds of columns each with a person sitting on top of them, we may suppose that the person climbed (ie, we have a mechanism), and intended to do so. Our explanation is easy once we have a sentient agent on hand to give an account for a remarkable phenomena. Not so easy if there is no hint of a sentient agent.

    You may consider this from the perspective of one who goes to another planet and finds these columns with rocks perched above. Did they get there because someone put them there, or not? If you concocted some scheme for how they could have got there without guidance, then it would be your duty to provide a mechanism. If we retorted that the best explanation is that an intelligent agent put them there, and you retorted that any such explanations were unfalsifiable, we would be now within the parameters of the purpose of this post- for if intelligent causes are unfalsifiable, then this removes any basis you may have had for falsifying non-intelligent causes, which cannot, by definition, be falsified apart from intelligent causes.

    • Anthony on July 14, 2010 at 11:07 am
      Author

    By the by, I suppose when Richard Dawkins said in his book, The Blind Watchmaker, that evolution finally made it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist, that this was because he felt that there was some connection between atheism and evolution. Maybe Richard Dawkins isn’t an atheist. Maybe he knows fewer atheists than you and I know. Eh?

    Perhaps he is wrong, and thus I am wrong, but nonetheless if someone as prominent as Richard Dawkins believes there is a relationship between the two, then I am not alone. One may suppose that there are others, too. And why? If guidance or unguidance are irrelevant, why should it matter? Hmmmmmmmm 😉

    • JG on July 14, 2010 at 11:40 am

    Well actually Dawkins says it makes it possible to become an intellecutally fulfilled atheist, but he did not say it makes it possible to BECOME an atheist. I’d wager my money that if evolution were falsified, Dawkins would still be an atheist on other grounds.

    As a matter of fact, I will ask him.

    • JG on July 14, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Well, I reject utterly the comparison of premises in a philosophical discussion to mathematics.

    You also missed the point of my guided/unguided scenario and went off on a bit of a tanget. The point was that it is possible to arrive at a certain point whether guided or unguided. It was not a statement of agency or design.

    I am happy to engage in that discussion however as there are numerous example of apparent design that is shown to be brought about be natural cause.

    The crux of that argument is complexity = design which is an altogether bad argument.

    I’m not interested in anything Ken Ham has to say on any topic. I’ve read of few books and have been to his “museum” which is an insult to science and the progress of mankind.

    If you are studying his works and way of thinking, then I can easily see how you arrived at the idea that somehow guided/unguided has anything to do whatsoever with whether or not evolution is falsifiable.

    • Anthony on July 14, 2010 at 11:57 am
      Author

    Oh, I am quite certain that he would still be an atheist on other grounds. Nonetheless, he apparently saw a relationship between the two, and so I am in good company in suggesting there is. So, it is irrelevant for my purposes if he would be, or not be.

    When you ask him, why don’t you also ask him if he is going to own up to his academic laziness regarding his quote from Augustine’s “Confessions”? I’ve been hoping one day he might get around to admitting that he was wrong to do it, but apart from posting it on my blog made no effort to more directly rub his nose into it. If you’re so ‘tight’ with him, I’m sure you are confident that he is in actuality a man of integrity. No doubt, then, he will want to publicly own up to this error.

    Here is the link you’ll want to send him: http://sntjohnny.com/front/outright-lies-illiteracy-or-just-bad-scholarship/33.html

    Now I see that you have posted something else, so let’s see what it is.

    • Anthony on July 14, 2010 at 12:18 pm
      Author

    “Well, I reject utterly the comparison of premises in a philosophical discussion to mathematics.”

    lol, you would! What is an algebraic equation but a syllogism?

    A. X=1 and Y=1
    B. X+Y=Z
    C. 1(X) +1 (Y) =2
    D. Therefore, Z=2.

    This doesn’t look similar in structure to a philosophical argument?

    “The point was that it is possible to arrive at a certain point whether guided or unguided.”

    Right, and my point is only with those who insist that something got there ‘unguided.’ Simple. If you do not insist that, then this post is not for you, is it?

    “I am happy to engage in that discussion however as there are numerous example of apparent design that is shown to be brought about be natural cause.”

    And there are numerous examples of apparent design that can be shown to have been brought about by intelligent agents. Right?

    “The crux of that argument is complexity = design which is an altogether bad argument.”

    I don’t think that’s their argument at all, but it’s still not relevant to my post which is about falsifiability.

    “I’m not interested in anything Ken Ham has to say on any topic.”

    Well, if you wanted a more systematic discussion of a relationship between evolution and unbelief, that particular book would be one example. Don’t say I didn’t give you anything, because I did. If you choose not to look at it, that is your business, not mine.

    “If you are studying his works and way of thinking,”

    Oh, is this now when you switch to ad hominem? Would it matter if I told you that I have not been to his museum, do not own any of his other works, so on and so forth? Or have you just put me into a box where I can be safely pummeled.

    “Already Gone” reflects a large survey of individuals discussing evolution and their faith or lack of it. It is not an argument for creationism, except insofar as it is an exploration directed to the Christian church on the impact of evolution.

    “I can easily see how you arrived at the idea that somehow guided/unguided has anything to do whatsoever with whether or not evolution is falsifiable.”

    You need to go back and re-read this post, because in no place to I argue that evolution is falsifiable. I say over and over again that insofar that evolution is presented as solely and exlusively unguided processes, it is unfalsifiable- but even then it is only unfalsifiable if it is maintained that ‘guidance’ is unfalsifiable. Please study my argument again.

    It is really very simple, JG. Consider:

    1. X falsifies Y.

    If this is the case, does it not follow that,

    2. Y falsifies X.

    Or,

    1. Given a traditional, non-tampered with coin, if the coin comes up heads, it cannot be tails.
    2. If it is tails, conversely, the coin cannot be heads.

    Simple.

    Guided/Unguided are two sides of the same coin. However, evolutionary apologists wish to say that intelligent design cannot be falsified, so it cannot be scientific. But at the same time, they wish to say that their assertion that evolution is a purely mechanistic account- and the part about ‘purely mechanistic’ is, falsifiable. They want their cake and they want to eat it, too.

    It’s irrational. You may as well insist to me that you can prove that a coin is heads by showing that it is not tails but that you cannot show that a coin is tails by showing that it is not heads.

    I do hope that in your next posts you shy away from unnecessary and ad hominem like remarks. Don’t you understand that I think even less of Richard Dawkins then you think of Ken Ham? I could not contact Ken Ham if I wanted to, but you can apparently talk to Richard Dawkins any time you want. If we were going to start dismissing arguments, not on their merits, but on associations, then I can assure you that there is not a single thing you could say to me that I would believe is worthy of consideration, for my estimation of Dawkins is extremely low, and hold him in utter, and complete, contempt.

    So why not just play it above the table, eh?

    • JG on July 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    Well it is worth noting that you mentioned both Richard Dawkins and Ken Ham, not I. Now I am not sure why you are attempting to invoke an ad hominen label on me. I did not make and personal attacks or name calling whatsoever of Ken Ham.

    My statements surmised that his “museum” is a travesty and that basically his works of are of no use to science or enlightened thinking whatsoever.

    I think the ad hominem card is played quite frequently and I’m a little baffled as to its application here.

    Next, I did not imply that I was pals with Dawkins, only that I would ask him. You seem to read alot into benign statements.

    Now I did not say that the form of a syllogism is not an equation. What I was implying and perhaps did not say so well is that using integers in your example as place holders (i.e. x = 1) is an attempt to ground the definitions of your argument in an absolute statement (i.e. 1 = 1).

    There are additional problems with your argument.

    “2.Modern evolutionary theory is usually presented so that it entails unintelligent operations.”

    Unintelligent is not the proper word here. Natural would be the correct word.

    “3.To falsify the claim that something is driven by unintelligent forces one would have to show how intelligent forces were at work.”

    Following from point #2 you are setting up a false dichotomy here, barring the rejected term of unintelligent forces, the true dichotomy would be:

    To falsify the claim that something is driven by unintelligent forces one would have to show how unintelligent forces were NOT at work.

    But more to the point the correct wording would be:

    To falsify the claim that something is driven by natural forces one would have to show how natural forces were NOT at work.

    There is no real point in critiquing further as your argument breaks down here.

    • Anthony on July 14, 2010 at 2:26 pm
      Author

    “I think the ad hominem card is played quite frequently and I’m a little baffled as to its application here.”

    Well, I wouldn’t say that it is outright ad hominem, but the paragraph of yours beginning with “If you are studying his works and way of thinking” is completely gratuitous and unnecessary for any other reason then to dismiss what I’m saying. It added nothing to the conversation, if your purpose is to address the merits of the post.

    “Next, I did not imply that I was pals with Dawkins, only that I would ask him.”

    Nor did I say you were. Reading a lot into things yourself. 😉

    “Now I did not say that the form of a syllogism is not an equation.”

    Obviously, abstract concepts do not have the benefits of integers. However, the structure of the argument was essentially the same, and what I was doing by adding the “unguided” to evolution was essentially the same as defining the variable ‘x.’ I am permitted to define my terms, and as long as my argument holds to those definitions consistently, there can be no objection- unless I am arguing specifically about the definition itself, which I am not.

    “There are additional problems with your argument.”

    I was hoping we might get to them. 🙂

    “Unintelligent is not the proper word here. Natural would be the correct word.”

    Why? Are you suggesting that intelligent agents could have guided evolution, and you are comfortable with that so long as these agents are space aliens or something similar? Otherwise, I don’t see a meaningful difference, and in fact since I am reflecting on ‘intelligent design’ I think my word choice is particularly apt.

    “To falsify the claim that something is driven by natural forces one would have to show how natural forces were NOT at work.

    There is no real point in critiquing further as your argument breaks down here.”

    I can’t agree. For example, consider your statement earlier, “I am happy to engage in that discussion however as there are numerous example of apparent design that is shown to be brought about be natural cause.”

    What is the point of this statement if saying something is caused ‘naturally’ does not by common understanding refer to something ‘unintelligent’? If something appears to be designed, but can be shown to have been brought about by a natural cause, then the implication is that what is produced by natural cause is ‘unintelligent.’ Hence, my decision to focus on the fact that these mechanistic causes are unintelligent, ie, unguided, is absolutely essential.

    The only reason why we should have to clarify further is if someone wished to suggest, ala Francis Crick (until he was forced to recant), that there was intelligence at work but they used naturalistic methods in their work.

    It would be as if we came across a structure of some sort and were arguing about how it came to be built. Was it built by intelligent agents? No, you say, it was built naturally. How so, I ask? Well, they used hammers and nails and the laws of physics, and they are all natural, and they were just people, who themselves reduce to mere naturalistic components. We can talk about this sort of thing if you like, but unless this is the sort of distinction you want to make between ‘unintelligent’ and ‘natural’ I don’t see the merit of choosing ‘natural’ over ‘unintelligent.’

    • JG on July 14, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    “What is the point of this statement if saying something is caused ‘naturally’ does not by common understanding refer to something ‘unintelligent’? If something appears to be designed, but can be shown to have been brought about by a natural cause, then the implication is that what is produced by natural cause is ‘unintelligent.’ Hence, my decision to focus on the fact that these mechanistic causes are unintelligent, ie, unguided, is absolutely essential.”

    Sorry again, this is a false dichotomy. It is natural or NOT natural (P or -P). Not natural OR something else.

    Would you quantify the processes necessary to create a snowflake as natural or NOT natural? Why or why not?

    The building scenario is a strawman. We are talking about reproducing, biological organisms here. When is the last time you saw a building produce another building, or consume resources to stay alive, or die? Same with your columns and other inferences to complexity = design = intelligence farce.

    “Nor did I say you were. Reading a lot into things yourself”

    Okay I’ve had enough, if you want to be downright dishonest on your own blog about even the most unimportant minute details such as inferring that Dawkins and I are “tight” (i.e. friendly, pals, etc) then there is no telling how far this type of behavior will go.

    Best of luck to you.

    • Anthony on July 14, 2010 at 3:35 pm
      Author

    “Sorry again, this is a false dichotomy. It is natural or NOT natural (P or -P). Not natural OR something else.”

    Natural is YOUR terminology. Remember, I said ‘unintelligent’ and I did so for a reason. P or -P, unintelligent is contrasted by intelligent. You are the one who felt that ‘natural’ should be used. Do you deny that evolution is presented as being the result of mindless, thoughtless, unintelligent processes?

    “The building scenario is a strawman. We are talking about reproducing, biological organisms here.”

    No, we really aren’t. We’re talking about whether or not one can appropriately say that intelligent design can be scientifically detected at the point of ‘falsifiability.’ That’s what we’re talking about.

    “When is the last time you saw a building produce another building, or consume resources to stay alive,”

    The point of my analogy was not to compare it with evolution, but with what is meant by ‘natural processes.’

    “Okay I’ve had enough, if you want to be downright dishonest on your own blog about even the most”

    Wow. Now you’re just looking for an excuse to leave. You’re right, I said ‘tight.’ I forgot that I had said that. I only recalled that I didn’t say ‘pal.’ I guess I mean different things by the two terms but I can see how in some minds or contexts they can considered near enough to count.

    “then there is no telling how far this type of behavior will go.”

    Oh yes, I really went over board, didn’t I? *rollseyes*.

    I think you’re the one arguing about the most unimportant minute details. And if I forget that I said ‘tight’ no doubt, there is not telling how far I’ll go… ooooh, perhaps I could be the next Hitler…. oooooh, I’m a bad man, a very bad man.

    I suppose it doesn’t count that I admitted my error as soon as the precise instance was pointed out? Nah.

    Speaking of error, unrecanted, you be sure to ask Dawkins if he stands by his Augustine quote. Now THERE is a real case of concern about integrity.

    Thanks for the conversation, JG. Can’t say I think highly of your exit, which seems pretty petty and stretched- in a word, childish- but you hung in there a good little while and only stooped low once. That’s definitely a record for those who comment here. I can usually count on several dozen jabs and insults… and that’s just in the first paragraph.

    If you’re in the camp that says intelligent design can’t be scientific because it can’t be falsified, you remember what I said here. If it can’t be falsified, then the other side of the coin can’t be falsified either. You give that a good long think.

    • JG on July 14, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    “Natural is YOUR terminology. Remember, I said ‘unintelligent’ and I did so for a reason. P or -P, unintelligent is contrasted by intelligent. You are the one who felt that ‘natural’ should be used. Do you deny that evolution is presented as being the result of mindless, thoughtless, unintelligent processes?”

    Ok, I was speaking to this statement by you:

    “If something appears to be designed, but can be shown to have been brought about by a natural cause, then the implication is that what is produced by natural cause is ‘unintelligent.’”

    I am telling you that you have produced no justifiation for this statement. The real dichotomoy is natural or NOT natural, instead of natural or intelligent which is what you continually imply.

    “No, we really aren’t. We’re talking about whether or not one can appropriately say that intelligent design can be scientifically detected at the point of ‘falsifiability.’ That’s what we’re talking about.”

    Yes we really are. If you are going to content that evolution is not falsifiable then I recommend confining the discussion to the biological world and not using strawman arguments of non-biological objects to infer design.

    “Wow. Now you’re just looking for an excuse to leave. You’re right, I said ‘tight.’ I forgot that I had said that. I only recalled that I didn’t say ‘pal.’ I guess I mean different things by the two terms but I can see how in some minds or contexts they can considered near enough to count. ”

    Actually no I can hang for quite along time. But it has been my experience that when someone begins to exhibit dishonesty about the silliest of things, it is not worth my time to continue to attempt to persuade them. Since you recanted I will be glad to continue.

    “I think you’re the one arguing about the most unimportant minute details. And if I forget that I said ‘tight’ no doubt, there is not telling how far I’ll go… ooooh, perhaps I could be the next Hitler…. oooooh, I’m a bad man, a very bad man.”

    Ok, I will just ignore this.

    “If you’re in the camp that says intelligent design can’t be scientific because it can’t be falsified, you remember what I said here. If it can’t be falsified, then the other side of the coin can’t be falsified either. You give that a good long think.”

    Well what you have said here honestly doesn’t leave much of an impression because your argument fails very early on as I have shown.

    However I am not one and I don’t know any detractors of ID who say it CAN’T be falsified, only that the proponents have not OFFERED a way in which it could be falsified.

    When developing a hypothesis a scientist will look for ways that his own idea can be shown to be false. We have several ways to falsify evolution, gravity, thermodynamics, etc. Why haven’t those who proffer ID proposed a way for it to be falsified?

    • Anthony on July 14, 2010 at 6:36 pm
      Author

    Hi JG,

    First of all, I do give you kudos for being able to move on. I would say, however, that you should be a little slower on the trigger. Very well, let us proceed.

    I really don’t know that you are following the argument. For example, you said that this is about falsifying evolution. Then I said it isn’t. You retorted it is. I think I should know my own argument!

    Let me try to clear the air and hope this helps: For the purpose of this post it shall be conceded that evolution is the correct account for the origin and development of life on this planet. For the purposes of this conversation, I have absolutely NO desire to attempt to falsify evolution.

    Now that I have said this, if at any point you interpret any of my remarks as attempting to debunk evolution or falsify it or say it isn’t falsifiable, then you can be sure that you are not interpreting it correctly.

    If anything this post is about Intelligent Design, not evolution. Insofar as it is about evolution, it is actually about the proponents of evolution. If at any point you think I am saying something different, stop yourself. Go back and look at what I said again, because it surely means that you are not understanding the argument.

    I will say it again: This is NOT about the falsification of evolution. It is about fairness and reason applied to whether or not Intelligent Design can be considered falsifiable.

    I don’t know how I can be more clear about this.

    Now, you say that you are not someone who believes that ID can’t be falsified and know no one who is. You say that those who proffer ID have not proposed a way for it to be falsified. You set yourself forward as someone who informed on these issues, but I cannot believe you would make such comments if you were. There are a whole host of individuals who have asserted that ID CAN’T be falsified. I don’t feel inclined to prove this most basic of facts. Let me submit to you Google: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&q=intelligent+design+isn%27t+falsifiable&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=

    Using this same search you will be able to find plenty of attempts by ID proponents to propose ways it can be falsified, and this they would only do- you can be sure- if there were detractors who have said it can’t be. That’s all I’m going to say about this, out of fear it will be construed as condescending.

    If I have to document this most basic of realities in the ID debate, then we are a long way from being able to have an intelligent conversation about it. I can’t see how you can address my argument satisfactorily if you honestly believe that IDers haven’t offered ways for it to be falsified in the very same breath that you deny it has been demanded of them.

    • JG on July 14, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Ok I accept your statements regarding evolution.

    Now onto the other matter. I am saying that ID isn’t currently falsifiable, which is what your google search indicated. That is a far
    cry from saying that ID can’t be falsified. It isn’t currently falsifiable because the proponents have not offered a viable way to falsify it.

    For example, in the first result Behe is saying okay sure ID is falsifiable, here is how to do it. Take a flagellum and knock out the motor and then show me how it worlds and then ID is falsified.

    This is a shell game, did you catch it? He begins talking about falsifying the idea that some intelligence that is the product of some mind is behind a certain phenomena, but he offers a way to falsify irreducible complexity not ID. There are a number of things that are irreducibly complex and can be shown to arise to that distinction naturally.

    This is what I am talking about when I say it isn’t falsifiable because the developers of the hypothesis have not offered a way to do so.

    That is wholly apart from saying that it cannot be falsified.

    • Anthony on July 14, 2010 at 9:14 pm
      Author

    I understand your point regarding Behe, IC, and ID. However, I wish to be clear that in fact the charge is made that ID is not falsifiable. So, I changed up the search and found these bits:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intelligent_design
    “Philosopher of biology Elliott Sober, for example, states that intelligent design is not falsifiable because “[d]efenders of ID always have a way out”.

    http://pondside.uchicago.edu/ecol-evol/faculty/Coyne/pdf/Behe_review.pdf
    “Because we will never be able to explain everything, there will always be evidence for Design.” Jerry Coyne

    http://www.physics.smu.edu/pseudo/ID/
    “Intelligent Design Creationism is not science; it makes no testable predictions so it can not be falsified.”
    Professor John L. Cotton and Professor Randall J. Scalise

    http://www.nationalacademies.org/evolution/IntelligentDesign.html
    “Intelligent design is not a scientific concept because it cannot be empirically tested.”

    And I thought I’d run down and get my copy of “The Language of God” by Christian Francis Collins, pg 186ff

    “First of all, Intelligent Design fails in a fundamental way to qualify as a scientific theory. [] A viable scientific theory predicts findings and suggests approaches for further experimental verification. ID falls profoundly short in this regard.”

    Ironically, as in the other examples I found, Collins, after saying that ID cannot be tested, proceeds to show how ID has been tested.

    Anyway, that Collins believes that ID is in principle not testable, as indicated by a few sentences later, “Outside of the development of a time machine, verification of the ID theory seems profoundly unlikely.”

    (Remember Cotton’s assertion above that if something cannot be tested or verified, it is unfalsifiable).

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/dawkins_coyne05/dawkins_coyne05_index.html
    “If complex organisms demand an explanation, so does a complex designer. And it’s no solution to raise the theologian’s plea that God (or the Intelligent Designer) is simply immune to the normal demands of scientific explanation. To do so would be to shoot yourself in the foot. You cannot have it both ways. Either ID belongs in the science classroom, in which case it must submit to the discipline required of a scientific hypothesis.”

    This essay of Dawkins and Coyne’s repeats the Haldane quote that you alluded to about rabbits in the Precambrian.

    I could really go on and on providing examples of prominent individuals and organizations who believe that Intelligent Design is not, in principle, worthy of being classified as a scientific theory on the grounds that it is not- in principle- verifiable, testable, and falsifiable, ie, “the discipline required of a scientific theory.”

    I do hope that you don’t make me produce even more quotes. At the very least, the fact that there are so many attempts by ID proponents to show that it IS verifiable and falsifiable certainly shows, at minimum, that the charge is out there and as common as dirt.

    I’ll leave aside the self-contradiction bundled with so many of these quotes where it is asserted that ID cannot be falsified and then they proceed to explain how it has been falsified. Not that I care to defend this particular point, but I also note how often ID is treated as virtually synonymously with irreducible complexity, especially Collins and Dawkins in TGD and TLOG which I had open for this post.

    Now, to return to the main point of the post…

    • Anthony on July 14, 2010 at 9:38 pm
      Author

    Having said all that, let us just take what you said as true: “This is what I am talking about when I say it isn’t falsifiable because the developers of the hypothesis have not offered a way to do so.”

    The arguments against ID as unfalsifiable in Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” come in the chapter, “Why there almost certainly is no God.” At the same time, Dawkins couches the whole thing in the assertion that evolutionary theory is thoroughly scientifically proven. Yes, if evolution was off the table, I’m sure that Dawkins would still reject theism, but the actual facts of the matter is that he finds evolution and the failure of ID and creationism (which he finds to be the same thing) make up one big reason why he does reject theism. He is not alone. A great many atheists do the same thing. Are they wrong to do so? Francis Collins obviously believes so. For my purposes, it is irrelvant if they’re wrong. It is enough that they do it.

    Now, here is the problem, and how it relates to this post.

    The only way that evolution can be considered as evidence for atheism is if the cited mechanisms by which we evolved were untouched and unguided by a divine agent. Obviously, if Dawkins believed that one could just as easily accept that God created life by evolution as not, he wouldn’t rest his entire chapter on why there isn’t a God on the strength of Darwinism.

    However, what I’m calling attention to in this post is this conviction that evolution happened without any Divine Agency involved cannot be a scientific conviction, on the very same basis that Dawkins (and others I have cited) puts forward to discredit ID.

    Why not? Because in order for the specific conviction that evolution was a wholly unguided process to be a scientific one, it must rise to the ‘discipline required of a scientific theory.’ That means that the claim that it was a ‘wholly unguided process’ must be subject to verification and falsification.

    However, in order to falsify the assertion that it is a ‘wholly unguided process’ that would require having criteria by which to reliably detect intelligent agency- the very thing they deny is impossible. Or, if we adopt your position, the very thing they deny has been offered by ID proponents. Either way you put it, the notion that evolution is a completely mindless, brainless, agent-less process can only be falsified by knowing with detail and rigor what a mindful, brainy, and agent-driven process would look like.

    We have been proceeding as though the burden is on the ID proponents to provide the falsification measures of their theory. In point of fact, the minute anyone wishes to rest their atheism on the alleged machinations of evolution, if they want this to be deemed as a scientific reason, it is THEY who must be prepared to show how ‘unguidance’ can be falsified. And it can only be falsified by showing guidance, the very thing that these same deny is possible.

    The other alternative is to simply acknowledge, as I said in the original post, that their belief that evolutionary was an unguided process is not a scientific belief at all.

    My argument only applies to this very narrow situation. They can escape my argument in two ways: either allowing that ID is, in fact, falsifiable, so that it is present as a legitimate way to falsify their own assertion of non-design, or drop their assertion that their confidence of non-design is a scientific one.

    Follow?

    • JG on July 15, 2010 at 8:34 am

    “The arguments against ID as unfalsifiable in Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” come in the chapter, “Why there almost certainly is no God.” At the same time, Dawkins couches the whole thing in the assertion that evolutionary theory is thoroughly scientifically proven. Yes, if evolution was off the table, I’m sure that Dawkins would still reject theism, but the actual facts of the matter is that he finds evolution and the failure of ID and creationism (which he finds to be the same thing) make up one big reason why he does reject theism. He is not alone. A great many atheists do the same thing. Are they wrong to do so? Francis Collins obviously believes so. For my purposes, it is irrelvant if they’re wrong. It is enough that they do it.”

    Well it appears that you are talking out of both sides of your mouth a little when you say yes Dawkins would still reject theism if it were not for evolution and then say that evolution is a reason that he does it.

    In my own experience, when asked why I am an atheist I do not even mention science, biology, cosmosolgy etc UNTIL the inquirer asks, “but what about life, complexity, design…etc”.

    I do not use it as a reason for disbelief, only to reject poorly formed arguments that are used in an attempt to compel me to believe. That is an important distinction.

    I cannot speak for him but I would think it may be similiar with Dawkins.

    “The only way that evolution can be considered as evidence for atheism is if the cited mechanisms by which we evolved were untouched and unguided by a divine agent. Obviously, if Dawkins believed that one could just as easily accept that God created life by evolution as not, he wouldn’t rest his entire chapter on why there isn’t a God on the strength of Darwinism. ”

    That is a strange statement. Evidence FOR atheism? This is a bit of a negative proof. How can there be any evidence for the lack of something? Atheism (at least my brand) is not making any positive claims, therefor evidence for atheism is an absurd statement.

    “Why not? Because in order for the specific conviction that evolution was a wholly unguided process to be a scientific one, it must rise to the ‘discipline required of a scientific theory.’ That means that the claim that it was a ‘wholly unguided process’ must be subject to verification and falsification. ”

    I think I see the root of the issue here. You are conflating philosophy and science. You are trying to use terms and requirements for science and extrapolate them onto a philosophical view. The conviction you mention is not a scientific one, but a philosophical one.

    “My argument only applies to this very narrow situation. They can escape my argument in two ways: either allowing that ID is, in fact, falsifiable, so that it is present as a legitimate way to falsify their own assertion of non-design, or drop their assertion that their confidence of non-design is a scientific one.”

    This is exactly what I am talking about. Whether or not ID is falsifiable, has any explanatory power or makes any meaningful predictions is a scientific question.

    Whether or not there is some intelligence that is a prodcut of a mind that is beyond the natural world, is not a scientific idea, but a philosophical idea.

    You seem to be confusing methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism.

    One does not need to escape your argument, it simply does not follow atheism to be justified that ID must be falsifiable and is becoming more convoluted as you go.

    • Anthony on July 15, 2010 at 9:10 am
      Author

    “Well it appears that you are talking out of both sides of your mouth a little when you say yes Dawkins would still reject theism if it were not for evolution and then say that evolution is a reason that he does it.”

    Uh, no. The former is a hunch and the latter is a demonstrable fact. This is a minor thing to quibble about, don’t you think? Unless you deny that evolution currently forms a significant basis for his disbelief I don’t see the point in belaboring it. And besides that, he is just one atheist out of many.

    “I cannot speak for him but I would think it may be similiar with Dawkins.”

    And that would be YOUR personal hunch. For my evidence I submit for now the entire chapter of his book I have previously mentioned and I’ll leave it at that.

    “That is a strange statement. Evidence FOR atheism?”

    Sure. Although maybe instead of ‘evidence’ I could have phrased it so: “as a reason for atheism.” That was more what I meant. Every atheist that I have ever talked with has reasons why they are an atheist. The conviction that we are the result, no more, no less, of natural processes is one reason often cited.

    Even among those in your brand of atheism. 😉

    “I think I see the root of the issue here. You are conflating philosophy and science.”

    Far be it from me to believe that science should obey the laws of logic. 😉

    “The conviction you mention is not a scientific one, but a philosophical one.”

    Well, that’s right. Please go back and look at my original post again, in particular a statement like this: “But this is not much of an escape at all, as it merely means that we have discovered that there is no scientific evidence for the notion that we are the result of unguided natural processes, rather we have assumed that we are the result of unguided natural processes.”

    While I don’t buy into your notion that science and philosophy necessarily play by different rules, in point of fact it is my purpose to show exactly what you said: the conviction that we are the result of unguided, nonintelligent, processes if a philosophical conviction, and not a scientific one. Yes, that’s exactly right.

    “This is exactly what I am talking about. Whether or not ID is falsifiable, has any explanatory power or makes any meaningful predictions is a scientific question.”

    🙂

    “Whether or not there is some intelligence that is a prodcut of a mind that is beyond the natural world, is not a scientific idea, but a philosophical idea.”

    🙂

    So on this telling, any notion that evolution could serve as a scientific basis for atheism should be completely off the table, right?

    “You seem to be confusing methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism.”

    Not at all. The whole point of the post was to attack those who actually do confuse them. It’s right there in black and white in the post:

    “In short, it seems to me that all this talk about science requiring ‘methodological naturalism’ is actually ‘philosophical naturalism,’ ie, a presumed atheism, masquerading as scientific inquiry.”

    What I am arguing, nay have demonstrated, and have now expounded on with your complicity, is that anyone who “pin[s] their atheistic viewpoints on evolutionary rationale” (another thing I said) is not doing so because their method or process or the evidence supports it in some scientific sense, but does so out of a philosophical conviction.

    Yes, finally you’ve got it exactly right on the substance, JG. Only you’ve got it wrong who is doing the confusing, and we have now come to a point where you are making statements that closely match what was in my original post- ie, MY position.

    • JG on July 15, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    ” Unless you deny that evolution currently forms a significant basis for his disbelief I don’t see the point in belaboring it. And besides that, he is just one atheist out of many.”

    I am saying that there is not a logical pathway to get there as there are millions of believers who have no trouble at all accepting evolution and their theism too.

    It is a non-issue.

    “Sure. Although maybe instead of ‘evidence’ I could have phrased it so: “as a reason for atheism.” That was more what I meant. Every atheist that I have ever talked with has reasons why they are an atheist. The conviction that we are the result, no more, no less, of natural processes is one reason often cited.”

    Yes, reason is a much better word. I have a reason for my unbelief, specifically the utter lack of convincing evidence otherwise. As for the last part of your statement, sure one holding to ontological naturalism would state that the natural world and its processes are all that there are. But it does not follow to cite evolution as a reason for disbelief anymore than it does to cite electromagnetism as a reason for disbelief.

    “Far be it from me to believe that science should obey the laws of logic”

    I did not say otherwise, but are you implying that science can answer philosophical questions?

    “Well, that’s right. Please go back and look at my original post again, in particular a statement like this: “But this is not much of an escape at all, as it merely means that we have discovered that there is no scientific evidence for the notion that we are the result of unguided natural processes, rather we have assumed that we are the result of unguided natural processes.””

    This statement is just a wordy way to state the obvious. Why would science which is focused on the natural world having anything to say about whether or not there is anything more than the natural world. This is like trying to score a basket with no ball.

    “So on this telling, any notion that evolution could serve as a scientific basis for atheism should be completely off the table, right?”

    Absolutely. I just don’t see a logical pathway. Evolution could be the result of initial processes set in motion by a mind, sure that is why believers have no issue with it. Is there evidence for such yet? No. But I would no more use evolution as a reason to reject theism as I would thermodynamics as a reason to reject theism.

    “What I am arguing, nay have demonstrated, and have now expounded on with your complicity, is that anyone who “pin[s] their atheistic viewpoints on evolutionary rationale” (another thing I said) is not doing so because their method or process or the evidence supports it in some scientific sense, but does so out of a philosophical conviction.”

    I would agree with that.

    • Anthony on July 15, 2010 at 12:50 pm
      Author

    “It is a non-issue.”

    I am a Christian apologist. I spend a lot of time talking with atheists and even more talking with Christians. I don’t waste my time with non-issues, I assure you. Just because it doesn’t apply to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply to others.

    “But it does not follow to cite evolution as a reason for disbelief anymore than it does to cite electromagnetism as a reason for disbelief.”

    Don’t argue with me about it. I’m not the one doing it, I’m only refuting those who do. By the by, I have actually met people who include electromagnetism, gravity, etc, as reasons for disbelief. Dawkins himself practically does in TGD when he talks about the anthropic principle. Irrational? You and I agree. Does it happen? Yep.

    “I did not say otherwise, but are you implying that science can answer philosophical questions?”

    Depends on the philosophical question.

    “This statement is just a wordy way to state the obvious.”

    And something I said several times in different ways.

    “I would agree with that.”

    So then our remaining differences seem to be not over the substance of the post (although perhaps the presentation) but on whether or not it actually applies to anyone. On this, I am afraid that I must remain unmoved. Given my experience and the precise purpose of this blog, I have met hordes of people to whom it applies to. But I shall remind them all of this post, where you, an atheist and firm believer in evolution, agree that it forms a poor basis for disbelief. 🙂

    At this time, for the record, would you be willing to share exactly what your reasons are for your disbelief in God? I’m not going to debate them with you because with respect I have to move on to some other projects, but I should like to hear them and I think others would, too.

    • JG on July 15, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Well, I will have to provide them in summary, as they are quite lengthy and complex.

    First I would say that I take the default position that everything could quite possibly be wrong. Using that as a starting point I have been unconvinced by any religious dogma that any deity exists.

    Looking at any religious text clearly demonstrates the anthropomorphism of a god as seen through varying cultural lenses. I see no reason as yet to take the claims of any religion seriously.

    As belief is widely different among the many creeds and believers it is difficult to go through each one and cite why I find it lacking. Christianity alone has tens of thousands of denominations.

    Suffice it to say that to date every single logical argument presented to me has been found wanting and any evidence presented to demonstrate a diety has had a far better explanation in other realms of thought.

    • Anthony on July 15, 2010 at 3:07 pm
      Author

    Thanks, JG. I’m sure in time if you continue to frequent this blog we will have opportunity to discuss those points.

    Thanks for the conversation and I wish you the best.

    • Mark on April 30, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    I like your argument. I have found the same circular reasoning elsewhere. I’m willing to allow science to claim methodological naturalism, but I’m not willing to allow science to prove there is no god. I see a lot of people, like JG are baffled by that argument. By adopting methodological naturalism, science seeks the best naturalistic explanation for a phenomenon. If the supernatural exists, the scientific explanation may not be the best explanation, yet a lot of people assume that the scientific explanation is always the right explanation. This is where we need to separate philosophical naturalism from methodological naturalism.

    An example. In the Stein vs. Bahnsen debate, Stein claims that if his lectern lifted up in the air 30 feet, spun around and came back down, he would believe in the supernatural. Bahnsen said that he doubted it. Stein would assume that there existed some natural explanation that would be discovered in the future. That is the difference. Science would attempt to explain the phenomenon using natural means, but then the naturalists are going to assume that the scientific explanation is the truth. This is where we have to be very careful. Science has nothing to say about the existence or non-existence of the supernatural. Naturalism is not falsifiable in the same way that Theism is not falsifiable.

    This gets back to your argument. If Evolution proves that there is no god, then Evolution is not science.

    There was another statement that was interesting. “Outside of the development of a time machine, verification of the ID theory seems profoundly unlikely.” I think the same holds true for evolution. I like to propose a mental thought exercise. Let’s say that some verifiably supernatural event happens. A stadium full of the leading scientists of the day, of all faiths, Atheists, whatever, witness firsthand something truly miraculous. Now, given that every last person in the stadium is convinced that what happened is truly supernatural, to the best of their scientific instruments, etc. Their job is now to write an account of what happened to convince people 2000 years later that they truly witnessed a miracle.

    • Anthony on May 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm
      Author

    Thanks for the comment, Mark. I’m glad that people are still finding this post. I still see these themes surface in conversations with atheists and I’m still waiting for my challenge to be given its due weight.

    • Marvin on May 8, 2012 at 11:53 am

    It is good that I came across your blog Anthony. I was reading a blog on the Christian Post and a particular commenter was insisting that no one, not even Dennett, Dawkins or Hawking ever called evolution an unguided or random process.

    They seem to take that stance when pressed to show how ID should not be considered in the scientific arena, especially when presented with an argument like analogy of the two sides of a coin. I find that this line of reasoning is difficult for them to overcome without resorting to some form of dismissive ad hominem.

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