Archive for category Nature

Electrons and God: Are Either For Real?


Dancin Wu-Li Masters

I’m back into the book “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright. I found this passage to be particularly interesting as it was my  introduction to Quantum Physics with the book “The Dancing Wu Li Masters” by Gary Zukav that got me first really thinking about the possibility of God.

“It’s a bedrock idea of modern physics that, even if you define “ultimate reality” as the ultimate scientific reality—the most fundamental truths of physics—ultimate reality isn’t something you can clearly conceive. ”

“Think of an electron, a little particle that spins around another little particle. Wrong! True, physicists sometimes find it useful to think of electrons as particles, but sometimes it’s more useful to think of them as waves. Conceiving of them as either is incomplete, yet conceiving of them as both is… well, inconceivable. (Try it!) And electrons are just the tip of the iceberg. In general, the quantum world—the world of subatomic reality—behaves in ways that don’t make sense to minds like ours. Various aspects of quantum physics evince the property that the late physicist Heinz Pagels called quantum weirdness. ”

“The bad news for the religiously inclined, then, is that maybe they should abandon hope of figuring out what God is. (If we can’t conceive of an electron accurately, what are our chances of getting God right?) The good news is that the hopelessness of figuring out exactly what something is doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Apparently some things are just inconceivable—and yet are things nonetheless”

“At least, some physicists believe electrons are things. The fact that nobody’s actually seen an electron, and that trying to imagine one ties our minds in knots, has led some physicists and philosophers of science to wonder whether it’s even accurate to say that electrons do exist. You could say that with electrons, as with God, there are believers and there are skeptics.”

“The believers believe there’s something out there—some “thing” in some sense of the word “thing”—that corresponds to the word “electron”; and that, though the best we can do is conceive of this “thing” imperfectly, even misleadingly, conceiving of it that way makes more sense than not conceiving of it at all. They believe in electrons while professing their inability to really “know” what an electron is. You might say they believe “in electrons even while lacking proof that electrons per se exist.”

“Many of these physicists, while holding that imperfectly conceiving subatomic reality is a valid form of knowledge, wouldn’t approve if you tried to perform a similar maneuver in a theological context. If you said you believe in God, even while acknowledging that you have no clear idea what God is—and that you can’t even really prove God per se exists—they would say your belief has no foundation.”

“Yet what exactly is the difference between the logic of their belief in electrons and the logic of a belief in God? They perceive patterns in the physical world—such as the behavior of electricity—and posit a source of these patterns and call that source the “electron.” A believer in God perceives patterns in the moral world (or, at least, moral patterns in the physical world) and posits a source of these patterns and calls the source “God.” “God” is that unknown thing that is the source of the moral order, the reason there is a moral dimension to life on Earth and a moral direction to time on Earth; “God” is responsible for the fact that life is sentient, capable of good and bad feelings, and hence morally significant; “God” is responsible for the evolutionary system that placed highly sentient life on a trajectory toward the good, or at least toward tests that offered the opportunity and incentive to realize the good; in the process “God” gave each of us a moral axis around which to organize our lives, should we choose to. Being human, we will always conceive of the source of this moral order in misleadingly crude ways, but then again you could say the same thing about conceiving electrons. So you’ll do with the source of the moral order what physicists do with a subatomic source of the physical order, such as an electron—try to think about it the best you can, and fail. This, at least, is one modern, scientifically informed argument that could be deployed by the believer in God.” [Robert Wright, The Evolution of God]

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God Says; Skip the Salad but Bring On the BBQ!


abels-bbq

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD.  But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.

As we asked in an earlier thread,  The Murderous Root of Religionhow did Cain come to understand that God  disfavored  his offering of grain (or fruits or vegetables)? Did God expressly tell him this in a thundering message from the clouds? Or perhaps in a dream?

Or was it more likely that Abel was in some way better off than Cain ? That Cain was envious of Abel’s circumstances, and figured that God just wasn’t being fair.  These were primitive people without all the trappings of  modern humankind.  So,  I don’t think that  Abel had nicer clothes or a bigger house or a more luxurious wagon imported from Germany. It’s also doubtful that money was  a concept that they would be familiar with.  So in what way did God bless Abel over Cain? What’s left to be jealous of?

One possibility that comes to mind is Abel’s health. After all, it’s always been said that if you have your health then you have everything. Maybe Abel’s family was healthier than Cain’s, suffering from fewer maladies and in better overall physical condition. Being healthier, perhaps they were also happier. To a primitive mind, what other reason could there be for this disparity, other than that God was smiling on Abel while punishing Cain.  But why would God allow Cain to be healthier than Abel?

The answer might be found  in their choice of offerings; Abel’s was made up of meat and fat as opposed to the vegetarian offering of Cain.  Today’s conventional medical wisdom affirms that Cain’s high carb menu would certainly be healthier than Abel’s fatty one. But perhaps God knows something that the majority of our doctors, nutritionists and dietitians do not.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll have steak tonight. Again.

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Is Your Doctor Killing You?


shaky-pyramid

This is a story about Bob. There are  millions of  people who have stories just like his.

When Bob was 35 years old he had his blood cholesterol checked.  The results indicated that his total cholesterol was through the roof – 351 mm/dl.  The conventional wisdom said that anything over 200 was indicative of a high risk for coronary heart disease, which happened to run in Bob’s family.

The doctor put Bob on a cholesterol lowering medication but the drug wreaked havoc with Bob’s digestive tract. In addition, the warning that came with the drug said that it could possibly damage his liver,  and since Bob enjoyed both beer and wine, with the occasional adult cocktail, he decided to forgo the medication and attempted to lower his cholesterol with diet and exercise.

The American Medical Association along with the American Heart Association had long ago ‘conclusively’ determined that fat in the diets of Americans were killing them off.  Following their (and his doctor’s) advice, Bob began a regime of a very low fat, high carbohydrate diet coupled with daily rigorous exercise.  His fat intake was well below the recommended 30% of daily calories (it was likely well below 20%).  Every day he engaged in cardiac stimulating exercises for at least an hour, usually two.  He began running and was soon up to 15 miles a week. His weight dropped from 175 to 155 lbs  but he could never achieve his doctor’s suggested goal of 145 lbs  (he was only five feet, five inches tall but with  a muscular build).  Still, he felt great.

After a year of this discipline he returned for his follow up blood test and was dismayed to find that his total cholesterol had dropped only two points! In addition, he was advised to keep on eye on his salt and sugar intake as now his blood pressure had risen along with his triglycerides (whatever they were).  He agreed to take the cholesterol lowering drug and eliminate as much animal fat from his diet as possible.   So began a lifestyle that included a diet allowing only minimal lean cuts of meats, lots of fruits and vegetables along with plenty of plain bread, pasta, potatoes and rice.  No more butter or mayo.  No whole milk or cheese. No more ice cream or sour cream. No more Caesar dressing. No salt on his peanuts or pretzels. And no more rib-eye steaks.  But plenty of fiber; he could have all the crunchy fiber he wanted.  He took to wearing Birkenstocks and he was always hungry.

Even with such a lean diet, Bob struggled to keep the weight off. Disillusioned (and getting a bit older), Bob’s exercise regimen gradually fell off to taking brisk walks about three times a week.  He slowly put the weight back on (as he just as slowly lost his hair) and after 10 years he was back up to about 180 pounds. Even though he didn’t feel ‘fat’,  the conventional medical wisdom ( of that week) said that he was downright obese. But ‘they’ also  said that he was obese when  he weighed twenty pounds less.  He finally got over feeling offended.

Right around this time Bob called his doctor,  complaining of an occasional tingling along the entire right side of his body.  Undergoing multiple tests it was thought that he had experienced TIA (Trans Ischemic Attack) – a mini stroke, likely caused by hypertension.  Now he agreed to take medication for this condition, yet it still hovered around the high borderline.  The other meds had helped to drop  his overall cholesterol  to around 220 mm/hg yet his triglycerides (which had something to do with both arterial sclerosis as well as blood sugar) continued to rise.  He was diagnosed as pre-diabetic along with being at an ever higher risk for cardiovascular disease.  Continue to lay off the animal fats (except for fish – now that fat was good for you) and eat lots of fruits, vegetables and plenty of fiber, his doctor said.  Oh, and drop 20 or so pounds while you’re at it.

No matter how much Bob  stuck to the prescribed diet, he could not lose weight.  In fact, he started to develop that famous characteristic of the Western male; a beer belly (although he drank little beer). Not long after Bob’s 50th birthday his blood pressure shot up again. He began to feel occasionally dizzy and weak.  Aware of his pre-diabetic condition he bought a cheap monitoring device from Walgreen’s and was not surprised  to find that his blood sugar was now through the roof:over 300 mg/dl! (normal is between 90 and 120).  Bob had come to resign himself to the fact that he was just one of those genetically engineered walking time bombs.  Now, with full blown Type 2 diabetes added to his medical file,  his doctor placed him on Glucophage to assist with insulin production and ordered a cardiac stress test, which he passed, but just barely; there might possibly be some blockage of his pulmonary arteries.  This would have to be closely watched.  Meanwhile,  it was recommended that he visit the American Diabetes Association website for advice on what and what not to eat.

Bob was amazed.  Rather than recommending a radically different diet, the ADA was telling diabetics to eat essentially the same foods that he had been eating for 15 years now; low fat, high carbs and high fiber.  The only difference he could see was that he should completely eliminate alcohol from his diet, while minimizing, but not eliminating,  sugar and simple carbs like white bread, white rice and potatoes.  They even said that diabetics could eat the occasional dessert, as long as they exchanged it with another high glycemic item from their diet like biscuits or hamburger buns (something that made little sense to Bob, if he was supposed to be avoiding biscuits and hamburger buns anyway).

When Bob informed his parents of his new condition, his father ( a retired physician) was surprised.  He wondered how Bob had developed diabetes since he knew of no incidence of this disease on either side of the family.  As diabetes had been traditionally linked to genetics,  he wondered where this gene had come from.  (This idea has become highly suspect, as the rising rate of diabetes among indigenous populations throughout the world who had no history of diabetes prior to colonialism, would attest.)

Bob began to wonder;  if fat is the great food evil of  modern times  (as populist activists like Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest keep telling us), then why had his health deteriorated along with this supposedly healthier diet?  And why, as hundreds of studies have shown,  did the non-Western peoples of the world historically not suffer from diabetes, heart disease, periodontitis and numerous other common Western afflictions (including cancer) even though their diets were high in animal fat and salt and low in vegetables and grains? Now, as they have adopted Western habits, these diseases have become common, even epidemic,  among those people.

Why was it that, as Americans have dramatically cut meat and animal fat from their diets, the incidents of diabetes, vascular disease and cancer have increased? Was it possible that somewhere along the line the ‘experts’ got it wrong?  Could it be possible that the true villain was not animal fat but actually the carbohydrates that the USDA, the AMA and the NIH had been pushing on us for over thirty years?  Was a low-fat diet killing millions of people?

According to distinguished science writer Gary Taubes, in his book “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, the answer is a resounding YES.  And this well documented answer is one that many medical researchers have been proclaiming for years, much to their professional detriment.  To contest the conventional wisdom that advocates  the benefits of a low fat diet is to suffer the ridicule and derision of the professional powers that be, not to mention the government, the media and numerous  public interest groups.  It is risky business indeed to question an entrenched doctrine that many have staked their reputations on, along with their patient’s health.   Not just Bob’s health, but the good health of  millions of the world’s citizens have been compromised not by fat and salt, but instead a recipe of sugar and flour mixed with a large portion of political correctness.

Meanwhile, in our nation’s schools, the USDA and the departments of education have mandated that the current generation of  children continue with this nutritional experiment.  And we wonder why childhood obesity continues to rise.

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The Pelagian Hearsay


That’s right. I meant hearsay, not heresy.

Occasionally, in conversations with conservative Christians, I have been accused of embracing the Pelagian Heresy.  I  gave these claims little thought, not having known much about Pelagius or his teachings.  (There are so many ‘heretics’  in church history it’s hard to keep track.)  Besides, the other heretic I kept being linked to was Arminius, and I rather liked what he had to say.

Now I realize that these people were probably right.  I am a Pelagian at heart.  I have been reading a book called “Christ of the Celts” by J Phillip Newell and in it he talks a bit about Pelagius, who was a Celt himself.  Rather than being incorporated in the burgeoning Christian empire that was based in Rome, the Celts were pushed out to the fringes and by the fouth century were mostly contained in what is now Scotland and Ireland.  They embraced Christianity but were afforded some insulation from the empire-supporting church doctrines which have shaped the majority of western Christianity.  This Celtic Christianity is much more in tune with nature, much less overburdened with doctrines and dogmas and has a reputation that is, in my opinion, much more in in accord with the true teachings of Jesus. Their theology relies heavily upon the thinking of Pelagius, who was a monk and a mystic that understood the underrated role that nature plays when encountering God.

This is what the conservative Christian Apologetics Research Ministry has to say about Pelagianism:

Pelagianism derives its name from Pelagius who lived in the 5th century A.D. and was a teacher in Rome, though he was British by birth. It is a heresy dealing with the nature of man. Pelagius, whose family name was Morgan, taught that people had the ability to fulfill the commands of God by exercising the freedom of human will apart from the grace of God. In other words, a person’s free will is totally capable of choosing God and/or to do good or bad without the aid of Divine intervention. Pelagianism teaches that man’s nature is basically good. Thus it denies original sin, the doctrine that we have inherited a sinful nature from Adam. He said that Adam only hurt himself when he fell and all of his descendents were not affected by Adam’s sin. Pelagius taught that a person is born with the same purity and moral abilities as Adam was when he was first made by God. He taught that people can choose God by the exercise of their free will and rational thought. God’s grace, then, is merely an aid to help individuals come to Him.

Which sounds pretty reasonable to me. Not having to rationalize ponderous and often inexplicable church doctrines allows the believer to focus more on the authentic Good News of Jesus Christ. Of course, freedom of thought and expression are not things that popes, bishops, kings and governments are fond of, therefore Pelagius’  ideas have been  smeared by both the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. The convoluted machinations of his theological adversary, Augustine of Hippo, were much more conducive to authoritarian Church control of the peasantry, and consequently Augustine is called a saint and Pelagius a heretic.

Again, according to CARM:

Pelagius has been condemned by many councils throughout church history including the following:

* Councils of Carthage (412, 416 and 418 )
* Council of Ephesus (431)
* The Council of Orange (529)
* Council of Trent (1546) Roman Catholic
* 2nd Helvetic (1561/66) 8-9. (Swiss-German Reformed)
* Augsburg Confession (1530) Art. 9, 18 (Lutheran)
* Gallican Confession (1559) Art. 10 (French Reformed)
* Belgic Confession (1561) Art. 15 (Lowlands, French/Dutch/German Reformed)
* The Anglican Articles (1571), 9. (English)
* Canons of Dort (1618-9), 3/4.2 (Dutch/German/French Reformed)
(CARM).

It’s nice to see that the Catholics and Protestants do agree on some things, as the above list shows.  Some  church leaders have even gone so far as to claim that nothing authored by Pelagius is in existence, requiring that we make up our minds about him through the writings of his adversaries. (The winners always get to write history.) One of the common accusations pointed at Pelagius was that he denied the saving grace of God. Yet on that subject, Pelagius had this to say:

“I anathematize the man who either thinks or says that the grace of God, whereby Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’ is not necessary not only for ever hour and for every moment, but also for every act of our lives: and those who endeavor to disannul it deserve everlasting punishment.”

Not too radical.

Fortunately, some of his works survive. His dissertation on Nature presents a concise summation of his theology and is well worth checking out. It’s a shame that the Church has done it’s best to deny its lay members the opportunity to hear from Pelagius and other daring thinkers.

If you would like to learn more about the Pelagian “Heresy” you can check out the links to these pages that attempt to refute  Pelagian theology.  You may find their criticism are not strong enough to convincingly condemn Pelagius and why it required the strength of empire to squash him.  Don’t rely upon hearsay, decide for yourself.

The Pelagian Heresy

The Catholic Encyclopedia

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Faith and Evolution Need Not Be Irreconcilable


A surprisingly liberal consideration of Evolution by Dinesh D’Souza from the fairly conservative Christianity Today:

The Evolution of Darwin

The scientist’s problem with God did not spring from his theory.

It was in 1859—exactly a century and a half ago—that Charles Darwin published his Origin of Species. It is perhaps the most controversial book of the past millennium, and the work that has since made Darwin the patron saint of modern atheism. According to Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”

Evolution does seem to turn many Christians into unbelievers. A famous example is the distinguished Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson. Evolution gave him a profound sense of intellectual liberation from his Baptist upbringing in the South. Evolution also makes some people secular evangelists for the Darwinist cause. Michael Shermer was an evangelical Christian studying at Pepperdine University when his study of evolution convinced him to give up his faith. Shermer is now the editor of Skeptic magazine.

So does a belief in evolution automatically lead to disbelief in God? Actually, Darwin didn’t think that. Darwin was not an “intellectually fulfilled atheist”; rather, he called himself an agnostic. Atheists say God does not exist, while agnostics say they don’t know one way or the other. Moreover, Darwin did not boast about his unbelief; rather, he approached it with marked public caution. Shocking the mores of traditional believers may be Dawkins’s thing, but it certainly wasn’t Darwin’s.

Here we must distinguish between Darwin the scientist and Darwin the unbeliever. Darwin, who was raised Anglican and even considered becoming a clergyman, did eventually relinquish his Christian faith. But he did not do so because of evolution.

The story is told in Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s authoritative biography, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist. When Darwin’s daughter Annie died at age 10, Darwin came to hate the God he blamed for this. This was in 1851, eight years before Darwin released Origin of Species.

Around the time of Annie’s death, Darwin also wrote that if Christianity were true, then it would follow that his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and many of his closest family friends would be in hell. Darwin found this utterly unacceptable, given that these men were wise and kind and generous. Darwin’s rejection of God was less an act of unbelief than a rebellion against the kind of God posited by Christianity. A God who would allow a young girl to die and good people to go to hell was not anyone whom Darwin wanted to worship.

When Darwin published his work on evolution, the American biologist Asa Gray wrote Darwin to say that his book had shown God’s ingenious way of ensuring the unity and diversity of life. From Gray’s point of view, Darwin had deepened man’s understanding of divine teleology. Darwin praised Gray for seeing a point that no one else had noticed. In later editions of his books, Darwin went out of his way to cite the English writer Charles Kingsley, who described evolution as compatible with religious belief. To the end of his life, Darwin insisted that one could be “an ardent theist and an evolutionist.”

Some of Darwin’s followers, however, were attracted to Darwin’s theory precisely because they saw it as helping overthrow the Christian case for divine creation. Thomas Henry Huxley, for example, noted that evolution’s “complete and irreconcilable antagonism” toward Christianity constituted “one of its greatest merits.”

So why didn’t Darwin correct his overenthusiastic advocate? Here is where the story gets complicated. Over time, Darwin’s hostility to Christianity did play a role in his scientific views. While Darwin was originally very modest about evolution—a theory to account for transitions from one life form to another—he became increasingly insistent that evolution was an entirely naturalistic system, having no room for miracles or divine intervention at any point. When Darwin’s co-discoverer of evolution, Alfred Russel Wallace, wrote him to say that evolution could not account for man’s moral and spiritual nature, Darwin accused him of jeopardizing the whole theory: “I hope you have not murdered too completely your own and my child.” Darwin’s ultimate position was that it was disastrous for evolution to, at any point, permit a divine foot in the door.

This history is important because we can embrace Darwin’s account of evolution without embracing his metaphysical naturalism and unbelief. Dawkins and others like him are in a way confusing the two faces of Charles Darwin. They are under the illusion that to be an evolutionist is essentially to be an atheist. Darwin, to his credit, rejected the equation of these two stances as illogical, even if he didn’t always maintain, within his own life, a clear distinction between his science and his animus toward God.

Dinesh D’Souza, a former policy analyst in the Reagan White House, is author of What’s So Great About Christianity and other books.


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(P.O.O.) The Problem of Odor


dirty diaper One of the more challenging issues for theists in their ongoing debate with skeptical atheists has been the Problem of Evil.  Often referred to as the P.O.E., it asks the very reasonable question; if God is good then why would he permit evil?  The typical Christian response says that it was man who, by his rebellion against God, brought evil into being. This has met with varying degrees of acceptance but it’s the answer that makes the most sense to me.

It’s hard to find any evidence of ‘evil’ that has not been the result of the selfish actions of men and women.  Even natural calamities and physical aberrations can be rationally explained as the result of the untold centuries that mankind has lived out of harmony with God’s nature.  When pressed, most moral people will admit to finding at least something repugnant about any ‘evil’ act.  From office gossip shared at the water cooler to the pimp who beats the teenage runaway, they are all overlaid with a patina of dirtiness, what you could expect from something done against God’s will.

But, all seriousness aside, there is another question that is not quite so “easily” explained as the POE.  What about those human habits and functions that are utterly vile, repulsive and disgusting but are natural and normal processes of life?  You may be too polite to bring this up yourselves but each and every one of you knows exactly what I am talking about.  Why are human (and most animal) bodies so filthy? If God is good why did he make us so…GROSS? Even the most adorable baby early on in life becomes quite the foul little thing.  (My wife claims that as soon as my children were weaned off of baby food I could never be found at diaper changing time. This is patently untrue. In fact there is a photo of me changing their diapers, wearing over my nose and mouth a red bandana that had been thoroughly doused with Old Spice.)

I believe this to be a very relevant theological question and was going to call it the P.O.P. – the Problem of Poo. But the POP has already been taken. So instead I will call this the POO – the Problem of Odor.

Of course when God walked (perhaps very carefully) with Adam and Eve in the Garden there were no diapers to be changed yet (or were there?)– But they were still eating of “every seed-bearing plant… and every tree that has fruit with seed in it” to be found in the Garden (and we all know what a diet of just fruits and vegetables is like, right?).  Perhaps prior to the fall they were somehow physically ‘different’ in that their bodily wastes were not quite so offensive (like a rabbit that has no problem eating its food more than once).  Maybe they were 100% efficient when it came to digestion, their only waste products being a little H2O, carbon dioxide and a few grams of ash. Or perhaps their waste was like ours but somehow ‘nicer’ – not yet tainted by the fall.

But if their physiology was just like ours, how was this handled in Paradise?  I don’t know about you but my vision of Paradise doesn’t leave any room for Port-A-Potties.  Of course they wouldn’t have access to facilities as modern as that – they were still primitives living off the land.  Though the Bible doesn’t say so, the first invention may very well have been a crude entrenching tool.  Alternatively, perhaps they were allowed to venture out of the Garden a couple of times each day to take care of business, leaving their nastiness in someone else’s backyard (something that most of us have continued to do for centuries).

But back to my point; couldn’t God have come up with a better way of packaging our bodily effluvia and excreta?  I mean, it wouldn’t have to be too fetching – that probably would’ve been counterproductive.  Still, maybe something more along the lines of Brussel Sprouts would’ve made the point with a lot less nausea. Maybe sauerkraut. Or Kimchi, even.  That’s all I’m asking.  And I’m asking it for all of you people who have wondered about this yourselves but didn’t have the cojones to bring it up.

SHARP IRON – “Where we aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions”

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Not All Cats are Gray in the Dark


What will those wily Koreans think of next? First kimchee, then the Hyundai and now this. Jeesh! I’ll bet it cuts into their mousing percentages, though.

(Wait’ll Buddy sees this.) http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20071212/sc_afp/healthscienceskoreacloning

glow-in-dark-cats.jpg

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