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Why Do We So Devotedly Insist On Believing In Nonsense? PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

A survey conducted this month by the Russian Center of Public Opinion Research of 1,600 Russians in different regions of that country has revealed that 32% of them believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth, four percent more than in 2007 when a similar survey was conducted. This fact was trumpeted just as President Medvedev called for national Lunar and deep space programs to be implemented, rather highlighting scientific misconceptions among Russians. That same survey also found 55% of Russians believe that radioactivity is a human invention, and 29% believe that humans lived in the era of dinosaurs. What a strange mixture between scientific ambitions and pure superstition! Right?

Well, I suggest that we in the USA should not begin chortling about this news, which we can easily look upon just another example of ignorance abroad. Our religious community right here at home can outdo anything found elsewhere, and we instill superstitious beliefs in our children in so many ways besides direct religious instruction. In fact, the line of demarcation between Biblical/Koran-sourced influences and other origins, is very, very, fuzzy – though we often do not recognize this fact. For example, every week parents across our nation send their kids off to the local Tae Kwon Do center for a few hours of kicking, aerobics, and self-esteem building, right? But I have to ask, just how much of this – if any at all – is just harmless educational fun and exercise, and how much is simply mindless superstition? We tend to regard jiujutsu, kung fu, aikido, tai chi, and a whole string of other “martial arts,” as acceptable pursuits for kids, not aware that they all profess and teach a metaphysical foundation, a genuinely woo-woo basis that has no supporting evidence other than anecdotal, legendary, tales told in hushed tones to very receptive young ears. Ridiculous stories – but *only* stories – of "death touches," impenetrable skin, pyrokinesis, levitation, mind control, literal invisibility, superhuman strength and other supernatural powers provide the fictitious commercial background upon which these business ventures are founded and conducted.

I’ve just received a copy of Dr. Wayne R. Bartz’s new book, *Critical Thinking: The Antidote for Faith*. In the introduction to the book, speaking of the presumed superiority of our species over others, he writes:  

"We alone speak, write, build, create art, compose music, develop technology and construct world-shattering weapons. Clearly no other species does these things. So we must be the most intelligent species, right? But hold on asecond…"

The late British anthropologist Ashley Montague suggests precisely the opposite: because of our exceptional ability to learn, *Homo sapiens* has arguably become the *least * intelligent species on earth. This is because no other species can be taught the nonsense, the foolishness, the idiotic rubbish that human beings so eagerly embrace. You cannot teach dogs, cats, dolphins or flatworms to hate each other on the basis of color, shape, size, or religion. You cannot get them to organize into armed groups and march off to obliterate those they have been taught to despise. You cannot convince them to build temples to their ancestors, worship gods, attend church, or condemn their own sexual urges. In fact, if we humans observed another species doing these things we would be appalled, concluding that they are defective at best, and at worst, evil…

Dr. Bartz – and Dr. Montague – may be rather over-demoting our species here – I suspect they are – but this is a very sobering observation. As will be made very evident in my next book, *A Magician in the Laboratory*, I lay much of the blame for the world’s scientific ignorance on the media, and the rest to a lack of proper education. And so long as we have religious organizations sponsoring places of both higher and lower learning, we will have the specters of deities, gurus, angels/demons, flying horses, talking serpents, ghosts, various versions of Paradise/Hades/Valhalla/Nirvana, and other fantasies vying for attention and acceptance with reason and evidence– in short – Science.

As I organize the contents of this next book of mine, I am deluged with data, news items, inquiries, suggestions, and criticisms from all over the world – welcome but almost stultifying material that requires me to consider tuning off this inflow and getting the book to press. For example, I’ve just been informed that former NYC lawyer Peter Gersten, a fanatical New Age UFO devotée in spite of his education, head of *Citizens Against UFO Secrecy*[CAUS] has announced that he will commit suicide by jumping off some famous rock in Arizona at exactly 11:11p.m. on December 21st, 2012. Set your clocks… Why? Here’s his logic:

"…I believe that some type of cosmic portal will be opening at that time and place, and that an opportunity will present itself. I fully expect that it will either lead to the next level of this cosmic program; freedom from an imprisoning time-loop; a magical Martian-like bubble; or something equally as exotic… In March 2012 I will reach 70 years of age, and nine months later we arrive at the cosmic coordinate. I think it will then be time for me to move on – in one form or another. I’d like to see what else our Cosmic Computer has to offer."

What else? Maybe calculating the amount of energy required to come up with such juvenile nonsense? Or would that burn up the computer? But think, folks, this man Gersten actually spent his professional life appearing in court as an actual lawyer! He has, I’m sure, opted to now fall in with the end-of-the-world 2012 crowd, though he’ll have the advantage of not looking as silly as all the rest of them when the world simply moves on to 11:12 on 12/21/2012 and bills become due, babies are born, teenagers make out in barns, and politicians tell more lies.

And skeptics give another mighty sigh...

I’m preparing to hear Richard Dawkins speak here in Fort Lauderdale at *Farquar College of Arts & Sciences* on the 17th – and perhaps induce him to visit here at the JREF briefly. Life is hectic, but very, very, good...!

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Wonderful quote
written by trawnajim, February 10, 2011
Reading this brought to mind a wonderful quote that I've been meaning to send JREF-way. It is from Ursula K. LeGuin's book "The Telling" that I finished reading recently: Belief is the wound that knowledge heals. Rather sums it up well, in my opinion.
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written by Six_eight_ten, February 10, 2011
Absolutely none of the martial arts schools/dojos in either the US or Japan that I've trained in have mentioned "death touches," impenetrable skin, pyrokinesis, levitation, mind control, literal invisibility, superhuman strength and other supernatural in anything other than a derisive or joking manner. Which is not to say that there aren't some out there that do pretend to teach these things, but to say that it is "the fictitious commercial background upon which these business ventures are founded and conducted" of all martial arts teachers/schools is just plain wrong. There are many, many places that teach the martial arts for what they are- a form of exercise with self-defense applications (some places with more emphasis on one or the other).
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written by Matt_D, February 10, 2011
I have to agree with six_eight_ten - I used to study Karate and Tae Kwon Do and my girlfriend studies Aikido and Iaido and I don't think either of us has encounted any "woo" at all. To single out martial arts as some kind of centre for credulous, unskeptical thinking is totally unfair. I'd say there's more superstition in your average hockey or baseball locker room than there is in your average dojo.
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written by Zoroaster, February 10, 2011
Whether or not humanity is intelligent as a species is a question only time will answer. Our 100,000 or so years as hunter gatherers with a humble global population of 2-4 million were shaky but sustainable. This new thing of exponential population growth, longer life expectancies and global industrialization is completely unproven. Even if it is all our parents and grandparents can remember, it doesn't go much further back than that. Will our cleverness solve the problems it created? We'll see.
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@Six_eight_ten
written by FledgelingSkeptic, February 10, 2011
When I was a kid, my sensei talked about using chi to "balance and focus" so I could "think through" the board I was trying to break Most of the time it failed. I also recently saw a sensei and his student give a demonstration. He credited his martial arts with healing her of her stage two cancer.

Maybe not all dojos are as extreme as Randi's example but can you point to more than a small handful that don't incorporate even some small form of Woo in them somewhere?
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Belief in nonsense: blame evolution and our schools :)
written by live.the.future, February 10, 2011
I have to disagree that our penchant for subsuming critical thinking to fantastical beliefs makes us the "least intelligent" species. Quite the opposite. No other species that I'm aware of has the critical thinking abilities of humans. That reason and logic more often seem to be the exception rather than the rule strikes me as a condition of our evolutionary development. Evolution is, of course, not a guided process aside from the pressures of various forms of selection. So having a perfectly critical mind, free of logical fallacies and unfounded beliefs, was not something that was planned or designed for by evolution. Indeed, some forms of "fuzzy thinking" (e.g. pareidolia) may well have served valuable social and/or survival functions in the past, and it may take quite a long time of living as a civilized species for such mental traits to get bred out and for critical thinking to become the norm for humans. (Assuming, of course, that we all don't just become transhumans and force-hack such qualities out of our brains. smilies/wink.gif)

In short, humans are vulnerable to believing in nonsense because we simply haven't reached a more mature stage in our evolution yet. That our one species has been able to develop a brain sufficient for relatively high-level thinking at all is remarkable; it's understandable that it is still bogged down with inefficiencies and ancient ancestral baggage.

My other comment was regarding the media-vs.-education blame game. I agree that the two are largely responsible for the perpetuation of woo, but I think more of the blame should go to our failing school systems. Our schools are failing to give society the mental tools we need to be able to think critically. Sure it's frustrating that there are so many ghost-hunter, Nostradamus, and 2012-type shows on TV. And a little disturbing that so many people take these shows seriously. But I think the media is more of a symptom than a root cause.

This is anecdotal evidence of course, but years ago I worked as a grader of K-12 state exams. (The company I worked for scored the exams from several states.) It was, shall we say, a disheartening job. A lot of kids just aren't being taught how to think properly. Little wonder, then, that so many forums on the net are filled with people (kids and adults) who are credulous, view science as just another belief system, and who choose to believe what they want rather than what logic & evidence point to.
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@Six_eight_ten. Matt_D
written by lytrigian, February 10, 2011
I would venture to say that you have been fortunate, or at least not particularly unfortunate. I have had extremely angry replies from a number of martial arts students when I've remarked on various online forums that qi doesn't exist. (Most recently on Randi's Homeopathy video.) Not that I've always been polite myself, but YouTube only gives you 500 characters at a time and they filter out links, so it's not really possible to satisfy a demand for "proof". Not that they'd pay attention to it anyway. These kids -- I can't imagine they're much past their teen years if at all -- are true believers. And they get it from their martial arts instructors either deliberately or negligently. (By "negligently" I mean they discuss qi/ki as a metaphor for breathing/focus/core strength/body mechanics and so on, but neglect to clarify that it *is* a metaphor and allow their more naive students to believe in it in a literal sense.)

"Kung fu" is, I think, far too vague a term to be useful. It doesn't denote any single martial art discipline.
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written by Hierro, February 10, 2011
Damn! Seems all the cool skeptical talks happen in South Florida while I'm stuck studying away. Can't wait to finally graduate so I can move back to Miami and visit the JREF and see the occasional skeptical talk that occur around there.

And I'm very much looking forward to your latest book Randi! smilies/grin.gif
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@Hierro
written by live.the.future, February 10, 2011
Re stuff happening in S. Florida: I hear ya. When it comes to skepticism or other cool conferences, it seems like there is the east coast, the west coast, and 1,500 miles of hard vacuum in between. Helloooo!! Human population here in the midwest! smilies/cry.gif
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written by vshalashov, February 10, 2011
Hi all, first post.

I'd like to also point out that the results in the Russian ВЦИОМ survey most likely point to ignorance, rather than superstition. Complete survey results: http://wciom.ru/index.php?id=459&uid=111345 (in Russian only, sorry). For example, while only 46% of the surveyed disagree with the statement "the earliest humans coexisted with the dinosaurs," 71% agree with the statement "the continents upon which we exist have been in motion for millions of years and will continue moving," and 61% agree with the statement "current humans evolved from earlier species of humans," which are in direct contradiction with a literal interpretation of the Bible. While I find it surprising that 32% of people in Russia answered "agree" to "the sun spins around the earth," I think that the answers mostly stem from a deficiency in education or perhaps testing confusion, rather than some sort of religious or otherwise superstitious belief. Finally, the last concern here is that equal weight is given to all the regions of Russia, while 73% of the population is urban. City dwellers were (and continue to be) _far_ better educated in Soviet times (in a strictly atheistic and skeptical fashion, WRT science) than their rural equivalents; this last bit is from personal experience, I do not have statistics to back it up, nor do I have access to the methodological details of the survey in question.
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Martial arts
written by Sadhatter, February 10, 2011
While i agree with most of what you say, and the vast majority of this article, i do have one small quibble.

I agree that a good portion, even most schools of martial arts teach woo, there are a small minority that are reality focused. As someone who was fortunate enough to enroll in one of these, i can say that if you look hard enough there are good places to learn basic self defense. A good windmill throw has gotten me out of plenty of situations, and without a criminal record. No invisibility , impenetrable skin, or Hadu-ken required.

Otherwise, ( and it was a rather small otherwise.) i agree with the article in its entirety.
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written by Six_eight_ten, February 10, 2011
Being "Fortunate" has little to do with where I've trained in regards to avoiding "Bullshido" dojos. I have seen some places that profess the woo, but I've opted not to train there. Note I did not say that such places don't exist, just that no place I've ever trained has ascribed to the BS. I've moved a few times, and trained in several different locations, I've never had any trouble finding a place that didn't espouse their secret "flying ninja invisible flaming butt monkey" as the ultimate technique or whatever, so I believe that there are certainly more than a handful of martial arts schools that don't rely on woo. I haven't looked in on the forums at bullshido.net in some time, but ask around there and I'm sure you'll find a lot of non-mystical martial arts schools (though back when I did used to look in on the forums occasionally, there was a lot of non-woo "your martial art sucks, I could kick your ass" bluster going around).

As for arguing that chi doesn't exist on youtube comments, that's like walking into an extremely fundamentalist church in the middle of their sermon, saying "God is not real", and expecting well-reasoned, calm discussion on the subject.
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written by KimMcCavit, February 10, 2011
I can attest to a couple more of the 'small handful' of martial arts studios that did not talk about chi or mystical powers. They did talk about 'focus', which I interpreted as trying to get the maximum momentum behind your fist or foot. My experience was quite a while ago and limited to only two gyms, but the only place I have heard anyone make mystical claims for Tae Kwon Do is on TV or on the Internet. I’m sure there are plenty of martial arts instructors that believe in nonsense, just as there are many nurses that believe in similar nonsense, I just haven’t met any of them.
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written by lytrigian, February 10, 2011
Let me clarify. I've not had a lot of martial arts experience myself, but I have had enough to know that "bullshido" is not the rule. I think, though, that it happens often enough that people who do not select studios as carefully as you can easily fall into one.

As for arguing that chi doesn't exist on youtube comments, that's like walking into an extremely fundamentalist church in the middle of their sermon, saying "God is not real", and expecting well-reasoned, calm discussion on the subject.

Well... yeah, but it WAS on Randi's video, so that shoe was kinda on the other foot.
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@vshalashov, Lowly rated comment [Show]
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written by Steel Rat, February 10, 2011
I have to disagree that our penchant for subsuming critical thinking to fantastical beliefs makes us the "least intelligent" species. Quite the opposite. No other species that I'm aware of has the critical thinking abilities of humans.


That's because we're the only species that has spare time. Every other species has to struggle for survival every minute of every day. They don't have time to watch E!.
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And from Science magazine...
written by Alencon, February 10, 2011
The latest depressing news comes from the January 28th issue of science.

Two Penn State professors report that, based upon a recent survey of public high school biology science teachers, only 28% stress Evolution as a scientific reality; 60% take a neutral stance either telling students they need to learn Evolution but not necessarily believe it or actually present both Creationism and Evolution so the students can decide and, are you ready for this one, 13% teach biblical Creationism as fact rather than Evolution.

These are high school "SCIENCE TEACHERS," in the nation that still has the world's largest thermonuclear arsenal, in the 21st century. Not only are they doing their students and their country a disservice, some are actually breaking the law.
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written by popsaw, February 11, 2011
The late British anthropologist Ashley Montague suggests precisely the opposite: because of our exceptional ability to learn, *Homo sapiens* has arguably become the *least * intelligent species on earth. This is because no other species can be taught the nonsense, the foolishness, the idiotic rubbish that human beings so eagerly embrace. You cannot teach dogs, cats, dolphins or flatworms to hate each other on the basis of color, shape, size, or religion. You cannot get them to organize into armed groups and march off to obliterate those they have been taught to despise. You cannot convince them to build temples to their ancestors, worship gods, attend church, or condemn their own sexual urges. In fact, if we humans observed another species doing these things we would be appalled, concluding that they are defective at best, and at worst, evil

I think the following put humans and marks us as intellectually superior and unique to all other animals ...
selflessness to the point of death in some cases
sense of mortality
language
speech
love
sense of purpose and desire to know our origins
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written by Steel Rat, February 11, 2011
I think the following put humans and marks us as intellectually superior and unique to all other animals ...
selflessness to the point of death in some cases
sense of mortality
language
speech
love
sense of purpose and desire to know our origins


Except that we don't know if other species do any of these things because we can't communicate with them. A mother bear defending her cubs could be construed as selflessness to the point of death, We simply can't know if animals have a sense of mortality, language and speech, we don't know, as with the last two. Your list doesn't really help.
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@steel rat
written by Sadhatter, February 11, 2011
Refresh my memory, how long does a male lion spend sleeping in a given day?

To say other animals don't have free time is quite the stretch. Off the top of my head i can think of about a dozen animals that chill out a good portion of their day. Hell, bears spend months just hanging about.
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@popsaw
written by Sadhatter, February 11, 2011
Go find a wolf with some pups, now run up to it and try and snag one. Then come back here and tell me animals don't exhibit selflessness to the point of death.
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written by Spellweaver, February 11, 2011
As interesting and important an article as any written by J.R.
I would, however, wish to invite you to qualify your blanket statement against martial arts.

Conjurers of your trade started plying their trade and skills quite some time before science explained why we are so easily fooled by diversion and sleight of hand. The explanations for what was intuitively grasped by those early conjurers may very well have been partial, faulty or down right fraudulent. That does not, however, mean that they tricks were any less effective.

Likewise, martial artists who have enough integrity not to lie about their activities, develop amazing physical and even psychological abilities and fortitude. That does not mean that the metaphysical propositions explaining their abilities are sound or scientific but neither does it mean that the abilities are all, intrinsically falsely claimed.

As there are many conjurers who knowingly lie or delude themselves into believing to have supernatural powers, so there are many people who are equally willing to lie for money. This is no surprise. There is no one trade from which parasitic people stay away. One might argue this is naturally unavoidable as a gullible crowd will without a doubt attract a predator out there for an easy meal.

I am a devout skeptic and a great fan of your work and tireless dedication towards responsible and critical thinking. I am also a great supporter of science as a responsible and honest means of furthering our inquest into reality. I do, however, practice martial arts and at no point did I encounter spurious claims towards telekinesis or anything supernatural. I do, however, labuor towards increasing the understanding of my own body and the attention I habitually pay it. As a master of sleight of hand I am sure you are able to do many things lay people would need to acquire through training and are unable to perform without said training.

Therefore I would suggest that, in order not to throw such a blanket statement on what can easily be seen as a beneficial pursuit, you qualify your statement and lay the blame where it is - liars and charlatans in it for ill gain, rather than on some intrinsic failure of something rather wider than you may have personally researched.

Many thanks and best wishes with your important work.
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The woo is there...
written by bignick, February 11, 2011
As a martial arts instructor and black belt in both tae kwon do and jujutsu I can definitely confirm the woo is there. But in my experience has been firmly pushed to the fringes thankfully.

As an aside the American Athletic Union (AAU) has held their national championships the last two years at the Ft. Lauderdale Convention Center just a short jaunt from the JREF headquarters. It will be held there again in 2012. If Mr. Randi is up for it I invite him to come down and observe. I doubt he'll see any woo, just a lot of hard working youth and adults engaged in a skillful athletic competition.

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written by Zounds, February 11, 2011
This is because no other species can be taught the nonsense, the foolishness, the idiotic rubbish that human beings so eagerly embrace. You cannot teach dogs, cats, dolphins or flatworms to hate each other on the basis of color, shape, size, or religion.


What do actual biologists think about that? I think it's dreadfully naive, based on some deep misunderstandings about animals.

The impetus that makes us quick-tempered and violent towards outgroups is very much present in other animals. Our close cousins the chimps and gorillas regularly have forms of warfare. Triabalism and violence is prevalent everywhere. Are they fighting over religion? No but we only fight over such abstract concepts because we've been able to form large social groups and largely weed out the tribal violence which plagued earlier societies. In primitive groups, 50% or more of deaths would be at the hand of another human! Religious wars may sound devastating but they've never approached the extremes (on a percentage basis) that exist in tribal societies.

It's absurd to say that we're less intelligent because we still have violence without acknowledging how much we've reduced the levels. It's like these so-called critics who just point to the fact that huge numbers of people are dying from cancer today and 10,000 years ago cancer was almost unheard of, therefore our ancestors lived in greater harmony. Well the fact is our ancestors died at such young ages that cancer never had a chance to grow! The same is happening here - we've eliminated most of the forms of violence which killed us in huge numbers which has given smaller effects like religion a chance to appear. This doesn't mean that we'd be better if we lived more like the animals, anything but!
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interesting hypocrisy, Lowly rated comment [Show]
Re: Martial arts comments
written by zhombu, February 11, 2011
I hate being redundant when so many others have weighed in, but I have this to add: I study Southern Pray Mantis Kung-Fu. The technique is very elegant, very effective, and extremely dangerous. We learn it for self-defense and no other reason. I wouldn't stand for a school that professes any woo whatsoever, and we don't. If we're talking about energy, it's about proper structure germane to the style to ensure effective alignment for maximum power. While there's nothing at all woo about that, the out-of-state Asian Grand Master from whom my instructor learned could hurt someone quite badly with an accurately placed finger. This ability is probably the genesis of the "dim mak" the Death Touch. I personally have been struck very gently (in practice) by one of the sub instructors right on my sternum and was in great pain for several minutes thereafter. I can only imagine what a full-force strike would do. There's no woo, just "wow! My instructor charges nothing and accepts nothing for the lessons. It's done to teach self-defense. We don't have belts, degrees, plaques, or contests with other schools. So I can attest, then, to at least one martial arts school that does not follow Randi's assessment.
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Wait a minute!!!!
written by zhombu, February 11, 2011
What's that crap above my first entry? Every atheist will claim that spontaneous generation occurs? Wherever did you get that misguided idea? Not ONE of the people who claims to be an atheist would also support that claim. What, were you sent to the principal during that lesson or something in 8th grade? Comical!!!
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@zhombu, Lowly rated comment [Show]
to Davis
written by zhombu, February 11, 2011
Not even close. You're misappropriating the term "spontaneous generation", which is a long-since (150 years?) disproven theory of Mathus when observing a "closed" box containing rags and grain magically developing mice, mouse poop, and no grain over time, if I remember correctly, and applying it the common misunderstanding of the time-consuming process of evolution. I am an atheist through-and through, and I'll tell you right now and right here that spontaneous generation is not something with which my type "arms" ourselves as evidence. Your lack of science understanding has you mixing and matching disparate concepts. To answer your simple question, of course life arose from non-living matter, we're here, aren't we? You just need to have a better understanding of what 1.4 billion years to generate that life truly means. It didn't happen overnight.
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written by Zounds, February 11, 2011
Davis,

People are justifiably laughing at you because you are saying "spontaneous generation" which was the ancient idea that, for instance, maggots would arise magically out of spoiled meat. Louis Pasteur disproved this in the 19th century. We all know this and we are laughing at you because your scientific information appears to be 200 years out of date.

Now maybe you're talking about abiogenesis, perhaps you're talking about something else entirely, we don't know. Your elaboration of "life from non-life" is infantile and it happens all the time - plants take inorganic materials from the air & soil (non-life) and convert it into living material (life) all the time. Now maybe you mean something more but we're judging you by your words and they're ridiculous.

As for matter coming from "nothing", you are getting laughter for entirely new reasons. You're talking about cosmology and particle physics which would require a high school education at the very least, and probably some University. Yet you're using words that a second grade child would use. I doubt you even understand your own question, I certainly don't think you'd understand the answer. This too is funny, but at your expense.

Now if you'd like to raise a serious point, please try acting like an adult who is capable of understanding not only the answers but his own question. Why don't you re-phrase your question. What is "nothing", what is "something", are you talking about matter or energy, is space itself "something"?

Let me get you started: summarize what you know of Cosmic Inflation, parity violations, the mass of the universe and current theories for the origin of matter, then you can explain why you don't find them persuasive.
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Not Mathus at all
written by zhombu, February 11, 2011
But many citations throughout history. Disproved by Pasteur 1859
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@zhombu, Lowly rated comment [Show]
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written by Zounds, February 11, 2011
Typical dogmatist. Just talks about "belief" and never about evidence, reason or justification. Do you think that all beliefs are the same?

Do you imagine that if you go on long enough and you find some questions that doesn't currently have an answer, that will somehow prove something? It sure sounds like you think that atheism will be conclusively disproved if we can't provide answers to your questions.
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To Davis
written by zhombu, February 11, 2011
Dude, you really need to take a closer look at the expiration date on those meds. What in the world are you talking about when you say "laws are laws". Which laws? Science has natural laws that are held tightly until empirical or sane mathematical evidence forces and update. You're not even really saying anything substantial. How is the Big Bang explanation (it's no theory at this point), from the late 40's qualify as "antiquated" to you while religious dogma (assuming that that's your fare) is thousands of years old and based mostly on guesswork? Why do you refuse what is obvious and proven about the Universe only to rely on aspects of science that suit you, such as the safety of that milk you just drank or the faith that your friction will work as always and stop your car before you plow into that bus of children?

You ask if I think the Universe is eternal without defining the terms. It's a meaningless question. Eternal regardless of what form into which it devolves? Eternal in size? Eternal as we see it? And, "Universe". Only what we can see of it or the possibility of parallel universes? Big Bang to Big Crunch and rebirth, or an endlessly expanding universe doomed to heat death?

Seriously, stick to the cereal boxes. You'll be much happier.
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written by Zounds, February 11, 2011
Why? You haven't answered any of ours and when you get an answer you don't address it or even correct your claims.

As I explained earlier, the way you phrase your questions makes it appear as if you don't understand the question and certainly won't understand the answers. That's also a problem that only you can fix.

So thanks for your response but can we have an answer to our questions now, please?
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Davis
written by zhombu, February 11, 2011
Despite the happy coincidence of "Zounds" and "Zhombu", we don't know each other at all. But similar names seem to have similar reactions: you haven't asked a question that is answerable, except with the mysterious platitudes you'd likely spout in answer to any sensible question. One thing I want to point out here; I don;t give a damn about "converting" you to sensibility. We're not offended that you and yours adhere to unsubstantiated dogma. To us, it's amusing and sad. The Bible and all religious explanations, insofar as the natural world go, are pitiful next to the joy of understanding what nature hath wrought through perfectly focused but completely insentient means. To me, it's sad that you miss out on that beauty, instead falling back on religion (which you have yet to profess here). But I no more care to sway you from your beliefs anymore than I care to sway you from driving a Chevrolet (shudder!). Someone needs to feed from the bottom of the barrel, so it might as well be you. So, Zounds and myself will happily answer any questions...but you need to actually ask one first.


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@zounds
written by Davis, February 11, 2011
I'll take that as a "no". Cant say I'm surprised. You'd obviously rather try to complicate and dodge my questions than give an answer.
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written by Zounds, February 11, 2011
Ah yes, you make accusations and insist that we accept beliefs which were disproved 150 years ago and when that's pointed out, instead of apologizing or backing down you accuse us of being evasive? Wow, project much?

So, what was your question again? Was this the question of whether we think the universe is eternal or not?

Okay, first: what do you mean by "universe"? Is that everything we observe or does it include anything "outside", what Sagan called the "cosmos"? Are you asking for a personal statement of belief, what confidence we have in our beliefs, or the evidence for these conclusions?

And while you're clarifying: what role do you think evidence and reason should play in any belief?
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written by Zounds, February 11, 2011
And for those people who do not write solely in questions (ouch, all those question marks makes my eyes hurt!), I was only expecting answers to the two clarifications: what is the "universe", and how do you think we should arrive at beliefs.
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@zounds
written by Davis, February 11, 2011
First, you know precisely what I mean by "universe". You're being intentionally obtuse for some reason. And I'll be happy to explain how I think we should arrive at "beliefs". Briefly, "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."
Randi titled this article "Why Do We So Devotedly Insist On Believing In Nonsense? We obviously disagree on the definition of nonsense.
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SNORE.........................
written by zhombu, February 11, 2011
"when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Yeah, real clever, if it's 1890 and you're Sherlock Holmes. What are you, 14? Try reality: science works by substantiating the observable and whatever doesn't fit...change the model. How about this for you, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.", Sherlock Holmes, A Scandal in Bohemia. Religion has zero evidence, yet adheres to strict conclusions. Science theorizes with the evidence in hand, and fine tunes the theory or throws it out altogether based on new evidence.
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zhombu
written by Davis, February 11, 2011
You're correct with "Science theorizes with the evidence in hand, and fine tunes the theory or throws it out altogether based on new evidence." But if dont realize that personal beliefs, bias, etc can strongly influence even the best intentioned scientists, not to mention the nefarious ones, you my friend are very naive.
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Davis
written by zhombu, February 11, 2011
I'll take a multi-thousands of scientists cross-checking each others work over hundreds of years based on real-world observations over a child's storybook every day of the week, thank you. "My people" are far from naive, very, very much the opposite. Name one event, thing, or situation where religion has paid off...excepting the manifold religious crooks teeming out there preying on saps like you.

You...have...nothing!

I wrote quite a bit this afternoon with little retort from you. Did I finally write something you recognized, Sherlock?

Rapture, already, will ya? And get the hell out of our peaceful world.
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written by Willy K, February 11, 2011
@zhombu
Religion has zero evidence, yet adheres to strict conclusions.


Religion(s) have more evidence than any other Human activity, but as you more or less said, the believers always ignore the correct conclusion that supernatural beings and such are products of the Human psyche and the complexity of nature overwhelms their ego-centric viewpoints. They cling desperately to "simple" explanations for just about everything! smilies/cry.gif

PS. Don't bother getting into a "discussion" with Davis, he is simply a non-functional Turing Test. smilies/tongue.gif
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written by lytrigian, February 11, 2011
As they sometimes say on "meme"-centered boards, successful troll is successful.
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But it's time...
written by Culmidon, February 11, 2011
I was going to post a long and cuttingly incisive reply to Randi's excellent article. But it's time for me to go align my chakras.
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written by Arioch7, February 11, 2011
Hello board. First post because this article irked me and since this is an oh so logical site I felt I had to post. I would like to say that I have followed Randi on NPR for years and was pleasantly surprised to find this site.

My beef is this... he thinks Martial arts are teaching "Woo Woo" things such as Chi. Randi's basic argument against chi is a False Continuum. In other words because some Martial Arts systems teach a false view of Chi that they all do because they employ the concept of chi. In twenty years of MArtial Arts training I have NEVER been taught anything mystical about chi. The word means "breath" in its most literal form. The ten year olds people are talking about in this thread have been watching Naruto and other crap.

I would also like to note the anti-religious bent to the post. I am a Therevada Buddhist. So yes, I think all "Supernatural" beings are BS. However, I do not insult people of Faith. Some of the greatest scientific thinkers have been devout adherants of religion. You all say they think thier religion is SCIENTIFIC PROOF. Yet they dont, there is a central tenet called FAITH. You use examples of certain Evangelical groups (You didn't label them but that's where your examples come from.) to prove ignorance. Again... False Continuum.

Finally, other people have commented on your "Man is the least intelligent animal"... God, I find this statement so silly I don't know where to begin. I could go on for about ten pages on this one. I do love Randi but I have to say this...

Just putting this crap in here is moronic. I know it's meant to be intellectually challenging but there can be no doubt that Homo Sapiens are the most intelligent animal on earth. The argument is that we aren't altruistic enough so we are dumb. Read the last paragraph I wrote just so you can construct your own ideas on how flawed the "Humans are the least intelligent animal is." It is a Political and not a Scientific statement.

Mkay. Sorry for the long post and I do love Randi but I had to say my two cents. Feel free to set me straight!
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@yall
written by JohnRatti, February 11, 2011
@Arioch7
Context FTW buddy: The late British anthropologist Ashley Montague suggests precisely the opposite: because of our exceptional ability to learn, *Homo sapiens* has arguably become the *least * intelligent species on earth. This is because no other species can be taught the nonsense, the foolishness, the idiotic rubbish that human beings so eagerly embrace. You cannot teach dogs, cats, dolphins or flatworms to hate each other on the basis of color, shape, size, or religion. You cannot get them to organize into armed groups and march off to obliterate those they have been taught to despise. She is saying we are so intelligent that we have the capacity to make ourselves dumber. The thought of little flatworm Nazis will now haunt my dreams for many moons. Then again it would be as if not more difficult to teach them to march than to hate.
Moving on, Martial Arts/ chi/ Woo.... Randi isnt saying all of them do it, but there is a significant number of Dojos and Shopping Center Mixed Martial Arts Mega Plazas teaching whatever BS they can muster to people who take whatever BS is mustered as truth. Not the ones approaching eastern philosophies as philosophies instead of full fledged money-grubbing religions.
As for the religion bashing; please remember that religious people you encounter are likely the hyper-moderates, whereas the ones in question are ultra-nutjobs. Please direct your attention to Exhibit A:[url= http://creationmuseum.org/] [u...useum.org/. It is a fantastical realm where stupidity and random crap they just made up is claimed as proven science and fact. The religious zealots and extremists. In my opinion Randi et all are attacking these folks. The people who have before, and still currently killed people in excessive numbers for questioning their "Faith" and they will continue to do so if not thoroughly and publicly dealt with. Exhibit B: http://www.atheistnexus.org/pr...es-history
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Lengthy post is lengthy...
written by JohnRatti, February 11, 2011
Continuation...

Exhibit B: http://www.atheistnexus.org/pr...es-history
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Sorry for triple, having issues.
written by JohnRatti, February 11, 2011
I have no issues with insulting people of this type. If someone came up to you and said he was a guard at a Nazi concentration camp and helped slaughter thousands of Jews and other political scape-goats AND was proud of it, would you shake his hand and buy him lunch or spit in his face, knock him out and drag him to the nearest Kosher Nostra HQ? Yes, I am comparing Nazi SS to Evangelicals and Islamics(I don't care how much they say Islam is not a religion of violence, ACTIONS speak louder than words). Randi puts a lot of thought into the words he writes, so please put more thought into reading them.
@zhombu & zounds
Obvious troll is obvious. Davis' medications aren't expired they are just way too low in dosage. He is a constant presence on this sight and many others like it. He cannot be reasoned with. He doesn't listen to arguments. He just feeds on your attempts to correct and inform him. Ignore him and he will get hungry and go somewhere else for nourishment.
@justicemabas
try harder.... lazy troll is lazy
/thread
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written by xxi_centuryboy, February 12, 2011
I have to disagree with Dogs being able to discriminate. They can be trained to discriminate upon a wide variety of things, and react violently or kindly to them. Cats and Dolphins I don't know. Of course, dogs are trained by humans who teach them to discriminate, but I will bet that natural selection could teach them to distinguish various elements that they would discriminate against. As far as Martial Arts, my family and I as well as friends have been involved in Martial Arts and there is a weird element to it which is why we left. That being said, any organized group carries with it its own belief system which can turn into woo. Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Mormans, you name it and it carries its own woo. Just like this site, it ain't all true, but at least it can poke fun at itself and anybody that looks like Santa Claus and does magic tricks is a lot more fun than most figureheads!
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Eternal
written by GusGus, February 12, 2011

My take on the eternity question is this: I cannot wrap my brain around either concept. I cannot imagine an eternal universe nor a non-eternal universe. Just like I cannot imagine an infinite nor a finite universe. There are limits to my ability to imagine these opposite concepts. Neither makes any sense. Does this make me an atheist? Does this make me a fundamentalist? Maybe it just makes me human, with the inborn limitations of the human brain.
.
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Eternal
written by Zounds, February 12, 2011
Okay, I can haz trollbait?

According to many promising theories, our universe is self-sustaining. Our universe could have sprung from fluctuations in another universe, which sprung from fluctuations in another, which sprung from fluctuations in another. This isn't merely consistent with observations, it is an unanticipated consequence of other theories. As promising as this is, it's still one of many proposals and conclusive evidence is lacking. Far from being in a position to ask "how did it all begin" or even "was there a beginning", we're still asking "is this how our observable universe began" which is a very different question. The first two, about whether our cosmos is eternal, may never get answered as it may not be physically possible to make the necessary observations to confirm or reject the theory.

It also makes it difficult to talk about "the universe". Are we talking about what Sean Carrol calls the "co-moving patch" (roughly the parts of our universe that we can observe or influence), everything in our time-space continuum, or everything in other time-space continuums (what Carl Sagan called the "cosmos")? Given that, by definition, we can only gather information on our co-moving patch (and some inferences about what extends beyond), we are simply in no position to draw firm conclusions about the cosmos.

Of course our idiot troll has no clue about these distinctions and the notion that intellectual integrity might make people hesitant to jump to conclusions in the absence of evidence is probably incomprehensible.
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written by Steel Rat, February 12, 2011
The only honest answer to any of these questions is, "we don't know".
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written by Mark P, February 12, 2011
In twenty years of MArtial Arts training I have NEVER been taught anything mystical about chi. The word means "breath" in its most literal form.

That you have taught the mere existence of Chi is mystical. It's like saying that you never teach your children anything non-rational about Santa Claus!

(Anyway, humans have no "breath", except in a metaphorical sense. We take air in to our lungs, and by changing it's oxygen to carbon dioxide we can fuel our energy process. That is all. If we "breathe", then so do cars.
We don't even need to breath to live. Modern medicine is quite capable of keeping a person alive without them breathing.)

In reality, without any false translations, we know Chi is the word used for the non-existent "life force" we are supposed to have. If a practitioner mentions Chi, then at best they have left the observable world for one of metaphor. More often for one of woo.

I have seen martial arts woo first hand. One of my friends was persuaded of the "death touch" for example. The shouting most insist on is another woo element - there is no physiological need to shout (as opposed to a small grunt) during exercise despite the insistence it helps "release energy".
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written by gopiballava, February 13, 2011
Davis brings up a good number of logical fallacies, but I do think that there are some deep, fundamental misunderstandings he makes that are shared with other theists:

Why is "I don't know" such a terrible thing? The big bang is not why I disbelieve in the divinity of Jesus. The Urey-Miller experiments, and more modern ideas of abiogenesis are not why I reject Krsna as an incarnation of God. My rejection of the prophethood of Bahá'u'lláh is not based upon evolution by natural selection.

I am an atheist with regards to every god I have heard of because I don't think you have met your burden of proof.

Your concept of God is not the default. "I don't know" is the default until somebody has a good explanation.

I think one of the other fundamental problems that theists have is that their belief system conflates where the universe came from, where we came from, where we're going, whether Jesus was the son of God, and who we're allowed to have sex with. All of those rules come from the same source and are linked together.

What they have trouble grasping is that those questions are quite independent for many of us. My rejection of Jesus as the son of God is with a high degree of confidence. My acceptance of abiogenesis is totally unrelated to that, and has a much lower level of confidence.
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@gopiballava
written by Steel Rat, February 14, 2011
Well said.
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Davis: Spontaneous Generation versus Abiogenesis
written by addams013, February 14, 2011
Let me see if this clears things up. Spontaneous generation predicts some very specific things. For example, it predicts that rags left to themselves will make mice, and that meat left to itself will make maggots. When we say that spontaneous generation was disproved, we mean that the very specific things it predicts were demonstrated not to be so. Spontaneous generation may have been about "life coming from non-life", but it predicts that this happens in a very specific way. When spontaneous generation was shown to be false, it was not shown that life cannot come from non-life under any circumstances -- only that it does not happen the way that spontaneous generation predicts that it does.

Spontaneous generation predicts that materials will change their fundamental properties when left to themselves. It is, at root, a form of creationism. The idea has a long religious history. Early Christian authorities, for example, insisted that spontaneous generation represented a way around the seemingly intractable problem of Noah's Ark being too small to carry all known species. The ones that could be spontaneously generated simply didn't have to be brought aboard. (I can give you specific citations if you like.)

If anyone should be claiming no longer to embrace spontaneous generation, then, it's not those who accept abiogenesis. It's the creationists.

Among other things, abiogenesis does not predict a sudden transition from non-life to life, and is therefore quite different from anything spontaneous generation would predict (hint: It's called spontaneous generation). We find that organic molecules capable of self-reproduction can organize themselves using no more than the laws of chemistry; if you like, I can provide you with examples where we've watched this happen directly. Once you have things that can reproduce with the possibility of error, and the resources for self-reproduction are limited, you have natural selection. Evolution is off and running. Unfortunately, as these things became gradually more and more sophisticated, the boundary between "life" and "non-life" would be far from sharp.

As for the origin of the Universe, I note that you have yet to show that you even understand the different models currently under consideration, never mind whether or not you have good reasons to doubt them. Stating that the ideas are weak without explanation may be fine form for a sermon, but it's very poor logic and terrible science.
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written by gopiballava, February 14, 2011
I should probably also add that physicists see particles appear and disappear all the time, apparently out of nothing. I am not a quantum physicist so I won't try to explain any more detail, but the important point is that many of the rules and expectations we have about how things will behave do not hold true for sub-atomic particles. Things that your intuition tells you are impossible may not, in fact, be impossible.
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@ gopiballava
written by Davis, February 15, 2011
You said: "Things that your intuition tells you are impossible may not, in fact, be impossible."

I could not agree more.
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@Alencon
written by ElecTech, February 20, 2011
I wonder what the statistics would show if the teachers were also asked if they taught what they personally believe, or is there some pressure from management to teach the way that they do...
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Mark P: Chi
written by shadowkahn, February 22, 2011
First post. Feel free to rip it apart. smilies/wink.gif

I take exception to your comment that humans have no breath and don't breathe. You're using semantics to try and make a point, and I don't think it worked. And, while you are technically correct that modern medicine can keep people alive without them breathing, it is generally on a ventilator, which does the breathing for them. If they lose their lungs for whatever reason, they don't survive.

I also should point out that while chi might have originally been used as a term for a "non-existent life force" we must remember that the concept is thousands of years old, and was thought up by a relatively primitive society which had no understanding of modern science whatsoever. That which could not be understood was explained through magic and mysticism which, while certainly not correct, cannot I think be entirely condemned, nor should the beliefs of ancient civilizations be used to impeach the valid discoveries made by those civilizations. We do not say the Greeks were lousy architects because they believed in Zeus.

I'm certainly not saying that there are no dojos that teach the mystical interpretation of chi, but to condemn all dojos as "woo" is no more logical than to condemn all schools because, as noted above, some high school biology teachers teach creationism. Far more reasonable to condemn the schools that are teaching the bunk while leaving the rest alone.

For myself, a black belt who's been studying martial arts over half my life, chi is taught mainly as a historical anecdote. "This is what people used to think worked, but now we realize it's. . . " Knowing history and believing everything historical figures believed are two different things. In my dojo at any rate, "focus your chi" means nothing more than "direct all of your attention at whatever you're doing." It's nothing more than a saying. It does not mean that we sit around throwing chi-balls at each other or whatever else they're teaching in cartoons these days.

BTW, regarding the "death touch," again, you're condemning all dojos for something that perhaps 1% of them subscribe to. The "death touch" garbage came about when George Dillman transitioned from doing legitimate research on the application of pressure points (which are not magical, do not "direct chi", and do not rely on elemental alchemy to work) into believing that he could knock people out with only his mind, Jedi-style. In short, he went crazy, and his students and followers went nuts right along with him. The rest of us remained sane and would rather not be tossed into the same sinking boat he's in. smilies/wink.gif

Finally, regarding shouting, those who claim it helps release energy, or direct chi, or whatever else they're telling kids in McDojos, are barking up the wrong tree. The purpose of shouting is simple: Hopefully it will startle or distract your opponent.

In short, I'm sure you've seen martial arts woo firsthand, but then I've seen science woo firsthand, and do not find dubious "science" a good reason to dismiss the entire field of study.
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