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ID and Neuroscience in The Chronicle of Higher Education

Researcher Brings Intelligent Design to Mind
By RICHARD MONASTERSKY

When the leaders of the intelligent-design movement gathered for a secret conference this month in California, most of the talks focused on their standard concerns: biochemistry, evolution, and the origin of the universe. But they also heard from an ally in the neurosciences, who sees his own field as fertile ground for the future of ID.

Jeffrey M. Schwartz, a research professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles, presented a paper titled “Intelligence Is an Irreducible Aspect of Nature” at the conference, held at Biola University, which describes itself as “a global center for Christian thought.” Dr. Schwartz argued that his studies of the mind provide support for the idea that consciousness exists in nature, separate from human brains.

Organizers of the conference, called “Research and Progress on Intelligent Design,” had hoped to keep its existence out of public view. The university held a well-advertised public debate about ID that same week, but Michael N. Keas, a professor of history and the philosophy of science at Biola who coordinated the private meeting, would not confirm that it was happening when contacted by a reporter, nor would he discuss who was attending. “It’s our policy just to keep the names out of the public limelight, since this kind of research tends to draw more attention than many other science topics,” he says.

Intelligent-design proponents believe that an intelligent force rather than natural selection created the diversity of life seen today, a proposition that has sparked conflicts over public-school curricula across the nation. It has also led to debates in higher education. Dr. Schwartz says the other participants at the conference were afraid of losing their jobs if their names were released, but he describes himself as “incendiary,” and discussed his talk in advance with The Chronicle.

Dr. Schwartz treats people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorders by teaching them to focus their attention away from their urges. He says the therapy can actually change people’s patterns of brain activity, an observation that shows that the mind can exert control over the brain, which challenges the material concept of the mind. His theory leads to the conclusion that consciousness exists separate from the human body, he says.

“You can’t get the intelligence out of nature,” says Dr. Schwartz. “Intelligence is an intrinsic part of nature.”

Many other scientists have been highly critical of Dr. Schwartz; even some researchers interested in exploring spirituality discount his theory. The Templeton Foundation, a philanthropy devoted to forging links between science and religion, rejected a grant proposal by Dr. Schwartz, says Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president of the foundation. A cosmologist by training, Mr. Harper says the proposal was turned down because “it had to do with a lot of hocus-pocus on quantum mechanics.”

‘Soul Mate’

Leaders of the intelligent-design movement, though, see clear potential for Dr. Schwartz’s message to resonate with the public.

“When I read Jeff’s work, I got in touch with him and encouraged him to become part of this ID community,” says William A. Dembski, who next month will become a research professor in philosophy at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Texas. “I regard him as a soul mate,” says Mr. Dembski.

Though Dr. Schwartz’s theory has not won over many scientists, some neurobiologists worry that this kind of argument might resonate with the general public, for whom the concept of a soul, free will, and God seems to require something beyond the physical brain. “The truly radical and still maturing view in the neuroscience community that the mind is entirely the product of the brain presents the ultimate challenge to nearly all religions,” wrote Kenneth S. Kosik, a professor of neuroscience research at the University of California at Santa Barbara, in a letter to the journal Nature in January.

Pope John Paul II struck a similar theme in a 1996 address focusing on science, in which he said theories of evolution that “consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person.”

Dr. Kosik argues that the topic of the mind has the potential to cause much more conflict between scientists and the general public than does the issue of evolution. Many people of faith can easily accept the tenets of Darwinian evolution, but it is much harder for them to swallow the assumption of a mind that arises solely from the brain, he says. That issue he calls a “potential eruption.”

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37 Responses to ID and Neuroscience in The Chronicle of Higher Education

  1. I don’t understand this:

    “Dr. Schwartz treats people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorders by teaching them to focus their attention away from their urges. He says the therapy can actually change people’s patterns of brain activity, an observation that shows that the mind can exert control over the brain, which challenges the material concept of the mind. His theory leads to the conclusion that consciousness exists separate from the human body, he says.”

    How does he conclude that the “mind” can exert control over the brain rather than the brain exerting control over the brain ? How does he define the mind as distinct from the brain in his experiments ? Is there any way to access the actual paper ?

  2. “The truly radical and still maturing view in the neuroscience community that the mind is entirely the product of the brain presents the ultimate challenge to nearly all religions,” wrote Kenneth S. Kosik…”

    This would seem to be a view that is more a consequence of materialism than a result of research. reportedly, there is still scant understanding or agreement among researchers of the “mechanics” of consciousness. This must be what is meant by “…still maturing…”

    Also, why do we need another “ultimate challenge to nearly all religions”, is ND not working?

  3. If the theory of the material mind is “still maturing”, it must be maturing at a glacial rate, since it is one of the oldest philosophical positions. Whether the material components are the fire, water, earth and air of the pre-Socratic philosophers or the neurons and chemicals of modern scientists, it ultimately amounts to the same thing. And the materialist must still answer the questions posed by Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas if his theory is to get anywhere.

    For example, if our minds are purely material, how is it that we can both think of the same number, “2″ for instance? The matter that makes up your head and the matter that makes up my head are not the same matter, and if thinking “2″ is nothing more than a rearrangement of matter in our respective brains, then “2″ cannot be identical for us since the arrangement of matter will not be exactly identical in both our brains; and even if it was, it isn’t the same matter. Yet we clearly CAN think of the same number “2″, therefore our minds cannot be merely material.

    That is the kind of question that neuroscientists need to answer before we need to take their assertions about the material mind seriously, and it’s what JPII was referring to when he wrote about the “truth about man.” He wasn’t referring merely to religous revelation, but to the truth that is manifest to anyone not blinded by scientism, religious or not.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  4. Hey, this is great! Who cares whether Schwartz is a Buddhist. This is just what we need–more and more researchers, teachers, writers, practitioners, more heavy-weights, etc. Made it out of the wilderness over the weekend to a Barnes & Noble–stacks of Darwin stuff but only one Behe–nothing else!

    A Darwinist friend concedes that all living things possess a will to live without which, in his opinion, there could be no evolution. Machines utterly lack such a will. Though there is as yet no materialist explanation for this “anima” he has faith that one day there will be.

    Rambling here … but don’t they treat depression by trying to eradicate or neutralize whatever brain chemicals seem to accompany the depression? Make the chemical go away and the depression will go away. But what if it’s the other way around–the depression causes the chemical and not the chemical the depression. Turn your attention away from yourself, think positive thoughts. Ordinary folks used to know this. Here, can’t resist a quote (Phil 4:8), “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

  5. Rude,

    It may be that the various phenomena we file under “depression” have a variety of origins. Some may have a purely chemical origin in the brain, others may have non-material component in the mind, yet others may be a combination of the two. It may even be that the same phenomenon could be caused either chemically or through the mind, so that a chemical treatment would work in one case and not another.

    In any case, even if depression has a purely chemical origin, that doesn’t affect the status of the non-material mind. The classical philosophers were quite content to concede that feelings, moods, etc. have a purely material origin. It was *thinking* that they wondered about. Your feeling of depression may have a purely material origin, but what about your thinking about depression? That’s the rub – the difference between the feeling of depression and the idea of depression.

    The interesting thing is that when materialists site brain studies, it is almost always in terms of the material stimulation of feelings, moods, sensory phenomena and the like, the material origin of which the great classical philosophers never doubted. The studies never show the material stimulation of rational thought, for instance the thought “2+2=4″, the material origin of which is what is doubted. The materialists keep flogging a horse that has been dead since Alexander the Great, and they miss the stallion that continues to lap them.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  6. I couldn’t understand why “a cosmologist by training, Mr. Harper says the proposal was turned down because “it had to do with a lot of hocus-pocus on quantum mechanics.”

    Is it common for cosmologists to refute quantum mechanics?

    Sometimes life throws these recurring themes at us… On Saturday I covered a story for the newspaper about our local amateur astronomy club. One of the members, an optical engineer, made a 24-inch mirror. The other guys built a Dobsonian mount, and it is a thing of beauty. The club seems attracts all types, however, even they guy who wears a T-shirt with a map of the galaxy that says, “You are here!”

    While I was recovering from my rapture at seeing Saturn through a telescope for the first time, another guy was explaining the quantum physics required for human thought.

    Go figure.

  7. Dave Taciturnus,

    Can’t say I understand Hebrews 4:12 (“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit …”), but one does find throughout Scripture a clear and consistent distinction between soul (נֶפֶשׁ – ψυχη) and spirit (רוּחַ – πνευμα). Everywhere spirit is associated with knowledge and truth and soul with desire and free will. Thus it is not the spirit but the soul that sins (Ezekiel 18:4, 20), and it is the soul that needs atonement (Leviticus 17:11).

    There is, for example, this interesting piece in First Corinthians 2:9-11,

    “But as it is written [Isaiah 64:4], Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”

    Does a man know the things of a man (language, mathematics, reason, science, art, music), things that mean nothing to, say, a cow, because of a particular “spirit” in him? Does this spirit provide access to a mathematical and logical reality that is “out there”, or is this Platonic reality itself what the ancients called spirit?

    One wonders–might distinguishing between soul and spirit somehow inform our scientific theories? Might we be dealing with two intangibles besides brain mechanism–some kind of receptor of logical categories, the ability to think “2″, as you say, which is distinct from the core of our being which is where desire and the will reside?

  8. I’have no problem seeing mind as completely rooted in our natural world. Our brain is a very clever machine (with nothing comparable in human technology) and our mind results from it. There is no supernatural component for generating our mind our aspects of it – that’s my hypothesis. I say this as theist and ID-proponent. The main reasons for my position are theological, I simply dismiss some acient philosophies. And I have a look at pathology. In my Job I see every day people who are loosing their minds and personality. And I see treatments and their effects on this people – it’s like fixing a machine. Maybe I’m wrong, but if not it’s also okay for me. I like it to work as machine;-)

  9. Ostensibly, the Templeton Foundation’s goal is to “integrate faith and science”. But they’re a priori opposed to any notion of biological design being approached scientifically, and it appears that they likewise write off research that looks to study the mind from a non-materialist perspective, and to look for physical correlations with the mind’s activity, as “too crazy” to be considered. What, then, is the point exacly? To try and dream up sophistic ways of making materialism seem compatible with some vaguely defined notion of “religion” or something? It doesn’t sound to me like they really have a clear idea of what their goal is, and how on earth they expect to go about it. I’m not trying to be snarky here, but the whole thing, on the terms that they’ve set, seems like a kind of silly waste of time to me.

  10. Hi, taciturnus:

    The studies never show the material stimulation of rational thought, for instance the thought “2+2=4″, the material origin of which is what is doubted.

    On top of this, imagine even if we *could* make somebody think “2+2=4″. Presumably then, you could just as easily make them think “2+2=5″, which is false. The question, then, is how could you make them *rationally* think “2+2=4″? From their end, both thoughts are arrived at the same way – they are forced on them from outside. They have no more rational warrant for thinking one thought than the other. You might say, “Well, *my* belief that 2+2=4 is rational, and I transferred it to them, so it’s rational for them”. In this case, you are arguing that they have derived rationality – that their belief is rational by virtue of your own rationality, not theirs. But if you’re a materialist, trying to use this expiriment to show that mental states are material and are arrived at fully materially, and that there is no free will, then you must accept that your own thought that “2+2=4″ was arrived at more or less the same way – imposed deterministically from without yourself (as is everything else – there being no self according to materialism). Rationality, then, is contingent upon free will. You can’t coherently deny the latter while maintaining the former.

  11. Markus Yet I watch a show where the doctors removed half of a young girls brain. (left side) At first it seem to change her personal but later after she relearned how to talk and read she had all of her “Mind” (person/soul,etc) . She remember everything that happen in her life. She explained at first how hard is was for her to think of a word but nothing would happen. Exactly “where the “PERSON” is?” is still a great mystery. What if our brain are nothing but a organ which connect to our souls. I would think noone would doubt our brain is the devise uses to interact/communicate with the physical world. This girl is a good example of someone who still had her “mind” yet had trouble communicating since she loss all of her language skills.

  12. excellent point smidlee. the brain is in fact a receptive device used to interface between the material and non-material. The analogy of a radio reciever is pretty good. If one knew nothing about radios, (like me), one might assume that the little metal and plastic box on the shelf was the origin point of all those pretty sounds…they might test that theory by turning the volume up and down and saying “oh yes…when this button is manipulated, the pretty sounds get louder, therefore, the box is most definitely responsible for the sound!” If they investigated further, and found that they could turn the sound on and off with another button, this might produce further ‘evidence’ of the theory. However, we all know that a radio merely recieves information in the form of waves, which due to their finer nature are imperceptible to the normal senses, and require an instrument specifically designed to transform them into intelligible, perceptible sounds.

  13. Hi Smidlee & tinabrewer: I understand the point and the radio-analogy is very good. But I see no evidence why this should be true. At the end such concepts are only demanded by the old greece philosophical construct of a immortal soul. If one not believe this philosophy there is no necessary reason to postulate that mind is connected with something “non-material”. There is a theoretical possibility that human mind is generated by more than just material processes/something that is not in the reach of science – I’m not dogmatic at this point. But from a heuristic perspective we should maybe assume that there are no such limits for our investigation. Back to ID: For reliable conclusions about the origins of any object we need as much knowledge as we can get about the object. It’s simply not helpful to postulate that some aspects of an object are working by supernatural intervention. Until there is very powerful evidence to the opposite we should consider that the brain is a kind of machine and mind is not supernatural generated – alone from a heuristic perspective.

  14. Deuce,

    That is an excellent point, and brings to mind another argument of the ancients against the material mind. The mind is infinitely self-reflexive. When we know 2+2=4, we not only know it, but know that we know it, and know that what we know is true, etc. When we think 2+2=5, we know that it is false, and know that we know it is false, etc. Material processes are not self-reflexive in this manner.

    And the difference between 2+2=4 and 2+2=5 is that one is true and the other false. What does this mean in a material sense? Material processes are not true or false… they just are. The neurons fire and the chemicals react in either case. As you say, what makes them true and false is that a rationality recognizes them as such, which is another way of saying that rationality must be prior to matter, not matter prior to rationality.

    Dave T.

  15. Rude,

    Well, in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas at least, it is only the knowing power of the soul that operates independently of matter. In every other aspect, it is so integrated with the body that it cannot function without it. (That’s why modern examples of brain pathology prove nothing with respect to this philosophy).

    The human soul is meant to inform a body. The soul after death, and before reunion with the body in resurrection, cannot see, hear, feel or even imagine anything. After death, it knows things only via knowledge directly infused by God. It is through this knowing aspect of the soul, which the other animals do not have, that man transcends matter.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  16. So, does this mean we have a new method, the “Soul Inference” ?

  17. not really, it only means that some very old methods have been ignored rathered than answered…

  18. old methods ignored ?

    or old observations unexplained ?

    I don’t understand.

  19. Good Pt. Dave T.

    It would seem to me that there is a problem with the potential for understanding how the brain works to engender conciousness/knowing/self-awareness if there is no transcendent aspect to the mind. leaving aside that, without transcendence, we cannot trust (or trust that we trust ;) ) that our knowledge is analogous to a real world at all. How could we “step out of” ourself to examine these processes and information structures if there is no transcendent ‘observation space’. Now this is not to say that the conciousness could not be completely involved in the natural mind, the brain, but I think it could not originate there.

    to belabor:

    Someone may bring up the example of a self-diagnostic monitoring system for some machine or computer system as an example of self-originating self awareness. but this would in fact show that the understanding of the system must trancend the system itself, whether or not the mechanics for this self-knowing is purely physical.

    IOW in a universe without transcendence (if one could exist), “I know myself” is a nonsense statement. That’s what i think (I think).

  20. bdelloid,

    That’s a fair point… I’m primarily talking about old observations that are unexplained, and can’t be explained in principle by materialism.

    Dave T.

  21. kv,

    I agree that the notion of truth requires transcendence… maybe this is why materialism inevitably ends up in nihilism and relativism. Matter is by its nature individual and particular. So if matter is all there is, then there is no truth that transcends individual circumstance…

    Dave T.

  22. “…that the mind is entirely the product of the brain presents the ultimate challenge to nearly all religions,”

    We’ve meet short work of this incredible assumption that materialism is a new idea. However, I would submit (to stir the pot on this fading topic) that, if you want to present an “ultimate challenge” to any major religion, you simply challenge the historicity of its informing story. Christianity has welcomed and overcome this challenge for 2000 years. Indeed, many debunkers have become casualties (converted) in the fight after sincere investigation. I guess Dan Brown realizes this.

  23. Dave T.,

    “Can’t” be explained by materialism or haven’t yet been explained by materialism ?

    bdelloid

  24. bdelloid,

    I would think can’t be explained by materialism, because of the nature of matter. I’ve given several reasons in earlier posts… posts #3 and #5.

    Dave T.

  25. also #14…

    Dave T.

  26. Then I have a question. If you would argue that the idea of “2″ can’t be explained by materialism, do you think it is not worth it to investigate whether this is the case ?

  27. Markus: If you are still out there on this thread, I think when one wishes to investigate anything which is non-material (such as thought, intuition, the soul, the spirit) one cannot hope to measure it directly. This is a logical position. We must always adapt our tools of investigation to the material or stuff of which the object being investigated is made…soul/spirit/thought is not made of matter, and therefore cannot be DIRECTLY measured materially. However, its effects certainly can be. Stanford University has run some interesting experiments around the power of thought to influence material reality. I can’t remember the name of the project, but it can easily be found on a google search (I’ll do it after I finish this post) Anyway, they have these random event generators which they then get groups/individuals to try to skew through concentrated thought. They have been doing this for years, and have measured some quite startling results. This research clearly implies that thought has a component which is not limited to the material brain, but emanates out into the environment.

  28. bdelloid,

    I certainly think it would be worth investigating… and the investigation would begin by providing answers to the questions I posed in posts 3,5 and 14.

    Cheers,
    Dave T.

  29. Agreed. While frustrating and slow, seeking material causes is worthwhile.

  30. Rude: I wanted to thank you for bringing to my attention the scriptural support for the idea of the difference in substance between body and soul and spirit. This is actually a commonly held notion in Eastern religious traditions. The soul, which is more like “anima” is closer in its consistency to matter than the innermost, rarified, lightest substance of man: spirit. I love the Biblical depictions of when people are able, on very significant occasions, to behold an angel. They always speak of the “glory” shining around. This tremendous lightness is almost unbearable and inspires terror until the human being is assured not to be afraid!

  31. Hi Dave,

    Regarding your example of the human capacity to understand that 2+2=4, I would agree that the underlying mathematical principles that make this equation true exist whether or not a human is around to comprehend them; I think the same is true for all of mathematics and logic. In fact, I think that if such truths could be shown to exist independently of the human mind (which I think they can), this could form the basis of a powerful argument for the existence of Absolute Mind (i.e. God). However, I am unconvinced that the human capacity to understand the mathematical logic behind 2+2=4 would require a nonmaterialist conceptualization of the human mind. Have we really eliminated the possibility that the physical human brain could not be constructed in such a way as to produce true mathematical equations sort of like a calculator? Perhaps the weight of the argument lies in the human capacity to be conscious of truths and to be conscious of the consciousness of truths, etc., as you seem to imply. Would it be possible for you to further elucidate your argument? I have a feeling that there is something I’m missing. My own position concerning materialist/nonmaterialist conceptualizations of the human mind is very much like that of Markus: I’m interested in the nonmaterialist arguments but have yet to see one that is strong enough to fully convince me that brain cannot account for mind; I must presume methodological materialism until I see strong evidence to the contrary.

  32. crandaddy: why must you presume materialism unless there is strong evidence to the contrary? Why is material causation the default position on everything? Do we not have an inner capacity to percieve the non-material? We experience it all the time. It is only the grossly overdeveloped emphasis on matter, of which the brain is made, which makes us neglect and ignore this “still small inner voice” (Gandhi)

  33. Crandaddy,

    Sure, I’ll elucidate… let’s start with the analogy of the mind with a computer. I think this analogy is the single most influential (informal) reason that people are receptive to the materialist explanation of the mind. Computers seem to do things that we associate with our minds, like arithmetic and playing chess, so maybe the mind is nothing but a fleshy computer.

    But let us look at some of the characteristics of a computer. Any computer is composed of finite electrical resources, and as a consequence it can represent only a finite range of numbers. No matter how big or fast a computer is, there are always numbers too big for it to represent. The difference between a modern supercomputer and the clunkers from the 1950′s is that the range of representation is much larger, but it is no more infinite now than it was in the 1950′s. This is a necessary consequence of the material nature of computers.

    Our minds are not so limited. Propose any number, and I can think of a larger one. The range of numbers of which my mind can think is infinite. How can this be if our minds are but fleshy computers? No matter how complex one proposes the brain to be, no matter how many trillions of neurons it might have, it is still a finite body and there will only be a finite number of ways these neurons can interact, and therefore a finite range of numbers of which our minds might think. Since our minds are not so limited, they can’t be material. (This argument is not original with me – a version of it was made by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century).

    Then you’ve got the infinite number of mathematical equations that can arise from these numbers: 2+2=4, 2+3=5, 2+4=6, etc. If the mind is purely material, then the state of thinking each one of these must have its own, unique, material specification – and this infinite set of specifications must be completely mapped by a finite material brain. But the finite can’t reach across the infinite and therefore the mind can’t be merely material.

    This is one, simple, argument against the material mind that has been around for almost a thousand years (there are plenty of others), yet I never hear it mentioned let alone refuted by materialists… but it has obvious practical consequences. Any attempt to map our thoughts to matter will never succeed, because there will always be thoughts that lie beyond the map…

    Dave T.

  34. Tina,

    I inserted “methodological” before “materialism” after I had already put up my comment in order to avoid confusion with philosophical materialism. I think that when an empirical problem presents itself, it should firstly be investigated by way of empirical means. If purely physicalistic hypotheses fail to account for it, then nonphysicalistic accounts are perfectly acceptable. The reason I think that materialism is preferable is that matter and energy comprise our common sensory experience–these are the things which we perceive directly and are most commonly agreed upon as being ontologically real. Any nonmaterialist account would invoke entities which exist outside of matter and energy (not directly empirical in nature) to explain a phenomenon in the physical universe (which is directly empirical in nature). So if one is to go by Ockham’s Razor, (s)he would prefer the explanation which invokes the fewest hypothetical entities. If what is observed could be fully explained both by way of the pure interaction of matter and energy and by way of the supernatural intervention of some nonphysical entity in the physical universe, Sir Ockham would have us prefer the former. The difference between me and the dogmatic materialist ideologues is that I am not committed to materialistic explanations; I simply prefer them because they tend to offer the simplest account of phenomena.

  35. Dave,

    Thanks for the response. The argument seems much more formidable now that you’ve further explained it. You’ve given me some good food for thought; let me chew on it for a while. :)

  36. See Werner Gitt In The Beginning was Intelligence (1982, 1994, 1997, 2000),
    Werner Gitt: ResearchID.org. Gitt lays out five levels of information:

    Information heirarchy
    Gitt categorized information into five levels:
    Statistics: Symbol frequencies, channel capacity etc. See: Information Entropy, Shannon’s Theory
    Syntax: All structural properties of setting up information.
    Semantics: Meaning of symbols.
    Pragmatics: Actions required by recipient to achieve sender’s purposes.
    Apobetics: Sender’s purposes.

    Schwartz is highlighting the need to address these higher levels of information. Key is the issue that the mind is not reducible to statistics, just as Complex Specified Information is not reducible to Shannon’s channel capacity statistical measurement.

  37. [...] can read more about the OCD research here. The scientist is Jeffrey M. Schwartz – he is a Buddhist! Not a Christian! He has also [...]

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