Response to radio listener’s questions

| 326 Comments

I was on Tom Conroy’s radio show ‘Conroy’s Public House’ last Wednesday (KLWN, 1320 AM in Lawrence, Kansas), along with lawyer John Calvert of the Intelligent Design network. (I will report more on this as time allows.)

A listener sent this email to Tom with some questions for me, and Tom asked me to reply. These are good questions which contain a number of important misconceptions about science, Here are some brief responses.

The questions

A question of the man defending naturalism (Jack Krebbs) [actually Krebs]. He said that there was no scientific evidence for design. What scientific evidence can he point to that would point to naturalism? What scientific evidence can he present that demonstrates that something must be scientific in order to be true? What scientific evidence is there that demonstrates that the scientific method brings true knowledge?

My answers

1. I was not defending naturalism. I was defending science. As I pointed out on the show, millions of Christians and others accept science and also have religious beliefs: these two are not in conflict for most people. The listener seems to have bought Calvert’s argument that science and naturalism are equivalent, but I certainly never said anything like that: in fact, I pointed to incontrovertible evidence (the beliefs of millions of people) that this equivalence is not true.

2. I also did not say that ‘something must be scientific in order to be true.’ Again, the listener is assuming things based on his preconceptions rather than understanding commonly held perspectives on science. Science produces a limited and tentative type of knowledge about the physical world. Science does not claim that it can answer all types of questions – in fact, science clearly acknowledges that many questions are outside the realm of things it can investigate. Science does not address questions about how one ought to live, such as morals, values, emotions, aesthetic judgments, etc.; nor does science address questions about metaphysical entities or forces that might underlie the physical world, such as God, the human soul, Platonic ideals, etc.

3. The listener asks, ‘What scientific evidence is there that demonstrates that the scientific method brings true knowledge?’ Obviously, this is a tautological question, as no system of belief can justify its own validity. Science produces knowledge that the world in general has found to be practically useful. Scientific knowledge is considered true ‘within the limits to which it has been tested and its scope of applicability’ (to quote a nice phrase from the Kansas science standards) because the methods which produce it have been successfully tested against additional empirical evidence, not because it claims any internal proof that it can provide Ultimate Truth.

4. Last, the listener writes, ‘He [Krebs] said that there was no scientific evidence for design. What scientific evidence can he point to that would point to naturalism?’

There are a couple of issues here. The first is that the Intelligent Design as advocated by the Intelligent Design movement is different than the more general theological claim of design. Orthodox Christianity holds that everything is designed: everything that exists and happens reflects God’s will, purpose, and design for the world. Science does not address this meaning of design.

Intelligent Design advocates makes a much more specific claim. They claim that there is scientific evidence that certain parts of the biological world have been specifically designed by God – and by ‘specifically’ they mean God has intervened to produce things that natural processes, which God himself has created, were unable to produce. This is an interventionist view of God that is in conflict with, or at least inconsistent with, the orthodox Christian viewpoint of design described above. The orthodox view is that God doesn’t need to perform a set of little miracles to manifest his design for the world, but Intelligent Design claims that scientific evidence for these interventions exists.

My claim is that the Intelligent Design movement has offered no scientific evidence of God’s intervention in this latter sense.

Conversely, I don’t claim that scientific evidence allows one to conclude naturalism. Scientific evidence seems to continuely confirm that there is an internal causal consistency within the physical world, but that causal consistency can ‘point to’ either orthodox theism or naturalism, depending on other beliefs a person may hold.

Science cannot address the question of whether there is or isn’t a metaphysical foundation to the physical world, and thus is neutral on the subject of whether naturalism is true.

326 Comments

Very good article Jack. Too bad that ID is still using equivocation of naturalism and methodological naturalism, which started with Philip Johnson, to confuse and mislead their followers. ID is scientifically vacuous, theologically risky and philosophically misleading.

PvM Wrote:

Too bad that ID is still using equivocation of naturalism and methodological naturalism.…

That method influences (perhaps determines) belief cannot be denied; this is standard after Descartes. The results of the method reflect the philosophical underpinnings of the method.

Naturalism simpliciter is a metaphysical position. If it is adopted for methodological reasons, the results of that method will bear the stamp of the metaphysical position.

So, Michael Finley, do infer correctly that you endorse the Discovery Institute’s notion that we should abandon naturalism* as a foundation of science?

*(Note the lack of adjective, philosophical or methodological, as, I gather, you don’t really distinguish)

The problem is that by conflating naturalism and methodological naturalism, the impression is given, no in fact this suggestion is created, that the scientific method contradicts religious beliefs. However, science is clear about its limitations and thus cannot address issues of religious faith. To suggest that naturalism simpliciter is adopted for methodological reasons, misses the point. Naturalism simpliciter is NOT adopted.

Methodological and Philosophical Naturalism

Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection (2000) by Barbara Forrest

Methodological Naturalism and the Supernatural (1997) with post-conference notes (updated 4-7-1997) by Mark I. Vuletic

Justifying Methodological Naturalism (2002) by Michael Martin

Confusing the scientific method with philosophical naturalism has been exploited by many creationists in their fervor to reject science. Lamoureux exposes much of these problems in Johnson’s arguments in the book ‘Darwinism defeated?”. Well worth reading.

Engineers, in their engineering work, rely strictly on naturalism. No supernatural forces, no appeal to unknown Intelligent Beings.

Yet, as far as I know, neither Michael Finley nor anyone else claims that engineering is atheist for sticking to naturalism.

MF is needlessly singling out science in his criticism. Does he rely strictly on naturalism when he drives his car? Does that betray the philosophical underpinnings of driving?

And Michael Finley’s assertion that method determines philosophical underpinnings is given the lie by the fact that there are many, many religious engineers, and some of their works can serve religious purposes, such as the great cathedrals of Europe.

Russell Wrote:

[do] you endorse the Discovery Institute’s notion that we should abandon naturalism as a foundation of science?

I endorse the notion that supernatural causes should not, in principle, be rejected as unscientific.

Note the lack of adjective, philosophical or methodological, as, I gather, you don’t really distinguish.

The distinction between two kinds of naturalism is a confusion. Metaphysical or philosophical naturalism is unqualified naturalism, i.e., naturalism simpliciter. Methodological naturalism is the adoption of naturalism qua method. And if a method is naturalistic, the conclusions of that method will be naturalistic.

PvM Wrote:

The problem is that by conflating naturalism and methodological naturalism, the impression is given … that the scientific method contradicts religious beliefs. However, science is clear about its limitations and thus cannot address issues of religious faith.

If a divine creator is a religious belief (and it may also be a metaphysical belief), and the scientific method excludes divine creation as a possible conclusion, then belief and method are in conflict. They can only be reconciled by some version of the scholastic “two truths” doctrine, i.e., there are scientific truths and theological truths, and never the twain shall meet. Such a division is implicit in your response.

To suggest that naturalism simpliciter is adopted for methodological reasons, misses the point. Naturalism simpliciter is NOT adopted.

The distinction between naturalism and naturalism as method does not free the method from its metaphysical roots. It is a method that, by definition, produces naturalistic conclusions, i.e., conclusions that depend on metaphysical naturalism (or some version of the “two truths” doctrine).

Air Bear,

I have no problem with a science employing natural causes. It is the a priori exclusion of supernatural causes that I object to.

If it is adopted for methodological reasons, the results of that method will bear the stamp of the metaphysical position.

How dreadful. Would you mind showing everyone how a NON-methodologically-naturalist science can be done?

Maybe an example can help. One claim made by many ID creationists explains the genetic similarity between humans and chimps by asserting that God supernaturally created both but used common features.

Let’s take this hypothesis and put it through the scientific method,shall we? (If you don’t like this particular hypothesis, feel free to substitute ANY super-natural or non-materialist hypothesis that you DO like).

1. Observe some aspect of the universe.

OK, so we observe that humans and chimps share unique genetic markers, including a broken vitamin C gene and, in humans, a fused chromosome that is identical to two of the chimp chromosomes (with all the appropriate doubled centromeres and telomeres).

2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.

OK, the proposed ID hypothesis is “an intelligent designer used a common design to produce both chimps and humans, and that common design included placing the signs of a fused chromosome and a broken vitamin C gene in both products.”

If you have some OTHER non-naturalistic hypothesis that you’d like to use instead, please feel free to substitute it here.

3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions.

Here is ID non-naturalistic methodology’s chance to shine. What predictions can we make from ID’s hypothesis. If an Intelligent Designer used a common design to produce both chimps and humans, then we would also expect to see . … . … . …?

Fill in the blank.

And, to better help us test ID’s hypothesis, it’s most useful to point out some negative predictions — things which, if found, would FALSIFY the hypothesis and demonstrate conclusively that the hypothesis is wrong. So, then — if we find (fill in the blank here), then the “common design” hypothesis would have to be rejected.

4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.

5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.

Well, we seem to be sort of stuck on step 3. Help us out here, IDers. Give us some testible predictions from your hypothesis. Tell us how to go about testing them.

Or, would you rather than we just skip steps 3,4 and 5, and just take your religious word for it that your hypothesis must be true. Is that, after all, what ID is all about?

Take note here — there are NO limits imposed here on the nature of your predictions, other than the simple ones indicated by steps 3,4 and 5 (whatever predictions you make must be testible by experiments or further observations.) You are entirely free to invoke whatever deities or supernatural causes that you like, in whatever number you like, so long as you follow along to steps 3,4 and 5 and tell us how we can test these deities or causes using experiment or further observation. Want to tell us that the Good Witch Glenda used her magic non-naturalistic staff to POP these genetic sequences into both chimps and humans? Fine — just tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test that. Want to tell us that God didn’t like humans very much and therefore decided to design us with broken vitamin C genes? Hey, works for me – just as soon as you tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test it. Feel entirely and totally free to use all the supernaturalistic causes that you like. Just tell us what experiment or observation we can perform to test your predictions.

Let’s throw methodological materialism right out the window. Gone. Bye-bye. Everything’s fair game now. Ghosts, spirits, demons, devils, cosmic enlightenment, elves, pixies, magic star goats, whatever god-thing you like. Feel free to include and invoke all of them. As many as you need. Show us all how to apply the scientific method to whatever non-naturalistic science you choose to invoke in order to subject your hypothesis “genetic similarities between chimps and humans are the product of a common design” to the scientific method. Show us how your non-naturalistic science works and how the rest of us can apply it.

I await with bated breath.

Let the arm-waving begin.

Michael Finley Wrote:

I have no problem with a science employing natural causes. It is the a priori exclusion of supernatural causes that I object to.

There is nothing a priori about the exclusion of supernatural causes. If one actually investigates cause and effect events in the universe, with as much critical thinking and self-honesty as possible, one finds no events inconsistent with natural causes. This is clearly an a posteriori CONCLUSION (as tentative and falsifiable as any other conclusion based on critical thinking and empirical investigation, not an a priori assumption. The accusation of a priori assumption is simply unsupported creationist cant. Quit parroting it.

Jack, your answers are superb. They exactly answer the questions posed and fairly address the underlying concerns of the questioner. Very well done!

Too bad the Discovery Institute can’t do the same.

I endorse the notion that supernatural causes should not, in principle, be rejected as unscientific.

Um, they’re NOT.

The scientific method consists of five easy steps:

1. Observe some aspect of the universe 2. Form a hypothesis that potentially explains what you have observed 3. Make testible predictions from that hypothesis 4. Make observations or experiments that can test those predictions 5. Modify your hypothesis until it is in accord with all observations and predictions

Nothing in any of those five steps – nothing at all whatsoever in any way shape or form – precludes, excludes, rejects, kicks out, or in any other way limits the use of any “supernatural cuase” that you like. You are entirely free to invoke as many non-material pixies, ghosts, goddesses, demons, devils, djinis, and/or the Great Pumpkin, as many times as you like, in any or all of your hypotheses. And science won’t (and doesn’t) object to that in the slightest. Indeed, scientific experiments have been proposed (and carried out and published) on such “supernatural causes” as the effects of prayer on healing, as well as such “non-materialistic” or “non-natural” causes as ESP, telekinesis, precognition and “remote viewing”. So your arm-waving claim that science rejects supernatural or non-material causes out of hand on principle, is demonstrably quite wrong.

However, what science DOES require is that your supernatural or non-material hypothesis, whatever it might be, then be subjected to steps 3, 4 and 5. And **HERE** is where ID falls flat. It is NOT, repeat NOT, any “unfair rejection of supernaturalism” that stops ID dead in its tracks. It is ID’s simple inability to make any testible predictions using its “supernatural cause” hypothesis – any testible predictions at ALL – that can be confirmed by experiment. Deep down inside, IDers are bitching and moaning NOT that science unfairly rejects their supernaturalistic explanations, but bitches and moans because science demands that those supernaturalistic explanations BE TESTED ACCORDING TO THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD. Not only can ID *not* test any of its, uh, explanations, but it doesn’t WANT TO, and instead wants to modify science so it DOESN’T HAVE TO. In effect, the IDers want their supernaturalistic “hypotheses” to have a privileged position — they want their hypotheses to be accepted by science WITHOUT being tested; they want to follow steps one and two of the scientific method, but NOT steps three, four or five.

Me, I see *no* reason why the IDers should be so privileged. I see no reaosn why ID “hypotheses” should not follow the same scientific method as every OTHER hypothesis has to, no matter HOW holy and righteous the IDers think they are.

So when IDers weep and whine to us about science unfairly rejecting their supernaturalistic explanations, they are just BS’ing us. That’s NOT their real complaint. Their REAL complaint is that science demands their “hypotheses” be TESTED, and WILL NOT just accept their “hypothesis” on faith and the IDers holy say-so. THAT is what ID all boils down to.

Mr. Flank,

How dreadful; you don’t seem to recognize a philosophical discussion when you see it. Your rhetoric has gotten you quite ahead of the question. I suggest you slow down and return to the actual disucssion under way.

Scientific method is, of course, not a concern of science. It is not an empirical question. It is, rather, a metaphysical question. We are currently discussing whether or not scientific methodology must be naturalistic. Naturalism is also a metaphysical topic as well. So save your clever talk of chimps and humans for another day.

Of course, Rev. Otherwise, why would they insist that “it takes as much faith to believe in Evolution as it takes to believe in God”?

And they are completely oblivious to the irony of trying to “drag down” science by equating it with “faith” (something no sane theist would probably do).

I think something is being missed when it is claimed the ID bunch has no test of their hypothesis. They routinely argue that they are only providing evidence of design and not information about the designer (old hat),but I think it is an important distinction. They can rightly claim that it is the prevue of the empirical sciences and not the theorists to provide testable hypotheses. For example, their overall argument for the validity of the “scientific” basis of their model would go as follows: OBSERVATION Looking as bacterial flagella, it is to complex to have arisen by mutation and selection (critiqued in depth). GENERALIZATION There must be some agent at work producing all these complex structures. HYPOTHESIS There is an intelligent designer. ID theorists support this with theoretical framework showing how chance can be eliminated in the production of structures (critiqued in depth). Their theoretical framework only needs to provide evidence of a designer, not who/what the designer is/was. That’s up to other scientists once ID is accepted, so arguments about the “designer” are irrelevant. Then finally, Baramologists using their version of cladistics show how organisms can be grouped according to “kinds” which are discontinuous. This supplies PREDICTIONS AND TESTS. The anti-evolutionist can now argue with even more conviction that they have provided a model, even though segments of that model have been discredited. It will be the testing methodology that will tie all the previous work back to the creationist foundations. Even with all the pleadings that ID is not rooted in the creationist tradition this last step would reveal the true goal of ID movement. Baraminology is clearly a YEC construct as demonstrated by a review of the current literature. Articles such as It’s a horse, of course! reexamining equine phylogeny can seem almost reasonable. But in light of phrases like “biblicial systamatics” found in the references a reasoned critique requires a level of sophistication not found in many casual readers. Am I missing the mark?

M Finley says

Scientific method is, of course, not a concern of science. It is not an empirical question. It is, rather, a metaphysical question.

So, no trial & error was involved at arriving at the general method? A philosopher just decided, and scientists fell in line without concern over whether it works?

We are currently discussing whether or not scientific methodology must be naturalistic.

As it applies to science, naturalism just means following the evidence. As archaeology and forensic science show, science can easily deal with design, given appropriate evidence. What science must not do is partake of the DI’s argument from ignorance.

Finley supposes that mainstream science, which rejects ID, presumes naturalism and thus is philosophically biased against the supernatural. But as Flank admirably points out, science is perfectly capable of evaluating supernatural hypotheses, were any forthcoming. Science is a method for achieving reliable knowledge that makes no ontological assumptions one way or the other, even though some of its advocates talk about methodological naturalism in describing the scientific method. (I wish they wouldn’t, since it gives folks like Finley a rhetorical opening.)

The sorts of entities and processes that science discovers, on the basis of evidence and experiment, are what we call the natural world. It isn’t that there is some apriori quality attached to an entity or process that marks it out as natural in advance of scientific confirmation. Rather it’s that the scientific method establishes what we can reliably say exists *independent* of ideology, religion, or philosophy, and it’s this we call the natural.

I’ve responded to John Calvert, who made the same ill-begotten claims about science presuming naturalism, at http://www.naturalism.org/science.htm#truescience.

Mr. Thompson:

there is no way of knowing what is designed and what is not, except when we know the designer.

So, we have two categories of entities: those where we know who or what designed them (and we call them, for brevity’s sake, “designed”); and those where we do not know who or what designed them (everything else).

The only difference between elements of these two sets is our knowledge of one or more designers.

Therefore, there is exactly one kind of “evidence for design”, i.e. the designer(s).

Despite all the smoke and mirrors of creationists of any variety, complexity is not, in and of itself, evidence for design; nor is “specification”, nor is “CSI”, nor is “fine tuning”, nor any other convoluted attempt to shift the onus probandi off their feeble shoulders.

This is all a mere muddying of the water.

Either the scientific method adopts methodological naturalism or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t then I have no point of contention. If it does, then it depends on metaphysical naturalism.

Methodological naturalism is the decision to be a metaphysical naturalist relative to a particular activity. That is, the scientist qua methodological naturalist is a metaphysical naturalist relative to science. Therefore, any conclusions of methodologically naturalistic science depend on metaphysical naturalism.

Otherwise, what is the point in being a methodological naturalist? Take care that your answer doesn’t beg the question.

If a divine creator is a religious belief (and it may also be a metaphysical belief), and the scientific method excludes divine creation as a possible conclusion, then belief and method are in conflict.

Science does not exclude divine creation as a possible conclusion. It merely realizes that science is unable to address these questions. Religious belief can co-exist quite nicely although some ID proponents seem to be confused about the extent of Methodological Naturalism and Ontological Naturalism, leading them to suggest that science is anti-religious. Finley is confused by the meaning of methodological naturalism which does NOT assume that there is no supernatural designer, but merely accepts that science is unable to address these issues, one way or another.

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They can rightly claim that it is the prevue of the empirical sciences and not the theorists to provide testable hypotheses.

I very much doubt that any theoretical physicist would agree with you.

Michael Finley wrote

I have no problem with a science employing natural causes. It is the a priori exclusion of supernatural causes that I object to.

Engineering excludes supernatural causes and effects a priori. Do you object to that? Why not?

Therefore, any conclusions of methodologically naturalistic science depend on metaphysical naturalism.

Reeaaalllyyyyyy.

Um, why are so many scientists (who practice methodological naturlaism) Christians (who, I presume, are not metaphysical naturalistic, believing in God and all . … . ) Oh, and why are the vast majority of Christians (who, once again, I presume are not metaphysical naturalistic) accepting of evolution and all the rest of modern science (which, I point out, follow methodological naturalism).

Explain, please.

And TRY not to wave your arms too much.

In an effort to be nice, lots of folks suggest that the sciences are missing something because they are unable to detect the supernatural. It’s much more likely that what’s missing is the supernatural itself. If the sciences had detected a God in the Universe, you can be sure that believers wouldn’t be talking about the defects of scientific methodology.

Standard disclaimer: nothing in these comments should be taken to imply that only the natural sciences produce meaningful results.

This is all a mere muddying of the water.

Yes, it is.

So stop muddying the waters and just answer my question; how do you propose a non-methodologically-naturalistic science would work.

Please be as detailed as possible, and take as many screens as you need.

Or am I correct after all in concluding that what IDers *really* want is to have their “hypotheses” accepted by science solely on the holy say-so of IDers.

Do you, or do you not, think that ID hypotheses should be tested using the scientific method, the same way that everyone ELSE’s hypothesis should be tested using the scientific method. If you do NOT think ID hypotheses should be subject to the same testing as everyone else’s, then please explain why ID hypotheses should be privileged in this manner. If you DO think that ID hypotheses should be subject to the same testing as everyone else’s, then what the hell are you bitching about.

The Flankster wrote:

But I notice you’ve not answered my question. Please show us how to use the scientific method to test a supernatural hypothesis.

We went through this a few days ago here. The healing power of prayer is an excellent example of a supernatural effect that can be tested by the scientific method. The experts here pointed me to articles showing no effect, or that the experiments purportedly showing an effect were seriously flawed.

And we’ve just had anecdotal evidence that the fervent prayers of millions of the faithful were not sufficient to heal a dying old man.

I have no problem with a science employing natural causes. It is the a priori exclusion of supernatural causes that I object to.

Engineering excludes supernatural causes and effects a priori. Do you object to that? Why not?

Indeed, so does weather forecasting (I’ve never yet heard any meteorologist conclude that “this hurricane followed this track into that cuty because God wanted to punish sinners there”), or accident investigation (I’ve never yet heard an FAA investigator conclude “this airplane crashed because it was the will of God”). In law, supernatural causes and effects are also ruled out a priori – no lawyer is allowed to argue “my client is innocent of the murder because the Devil made him do it”. Heck, the rules of baseball don’t mention any supernatural causes or effects either. Utterly materialistic and naturalistic.

Medicine? Gee, when Mr Finley gets sick, do you suppose he asks his doctor to utilize supernatural methods or non-material cures? Or does he just ask his materialistic naturalistic doctor to cure his materialistic naturalistic diseases by using materialistic naturalistic antibiotics to kill his naturalistic materialistic germs?

So why is it that IDers get their panties all in a bunch about “atheistic naturalistic materialistic evolution”, but NOT about “atheistic naturalistic materialistic” weather forecasting or accident investigation or law or medicine or rules of baseball?

Or … DOES “renewing our culture” indeed include forcing DI’s particular brand of theism into all those areas as well . … . ?

.

PvM Wrote:

Finley is confused by the meaning of methodological naturalism which does NOT assume that there is no supernatural designer, but merely accepts that science is unable to address these issues, one way or another.

Your confusion has led you to mistakenly attribute confusion to me. Let me illustrate the problem by a comparison.

Suppose science were to adopt methodological solipsism. Thus, while driving his car, going to church, or spending time with his family, the scientist believes that there is an external world populated by other people. While doing science, on the other hand, his methodology constrains what kinds of conclusions are permissible, i.e., he cannot conclude that there is an external world, etc.

As a result, every scientific conclusion reached by the scientist would depend on metaphysical solipsism in the following way - if metaphysical solipsism were false, his scientific conclusions could not be applied to the world. There would be an a priori disconnect between the two.

There is no principle difference in this regard between methodological solipsism and naturalism. Both suppose their metaphysical counterparts.

Finley writes “Methodological naturalism is the decision to be a metaphysical naturalist relative to a particular activity.” It always helps one’s argument if one can make up one’s own definitions.

“That is, the scientist qua methodological naturalist is a metaphysical naturalist relative to science. Therefore, any conclusions of methodologically naturalistic science depend on metaphysical naturalism.”

“Otherwise, what is the point in being a methodological naturalist?”

We don’t need these big words. People are attracted to a way of finding things out that works. For a long time people just didn’t realize that so many interesting, not otherwise apparent, indeed often very surprising things could be found out by studying nature systematically. Once people found out, the method became popular.

What occasions this weblog and our discussions is that some people, for no good reason, just don’t like some things that have been found out.

Calling this ‘metaphysical’ is too much like a yam wearing a tie.

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but is that what you’re suggesting - That at the quantum level the question “Why did x happen?” is meaningless?

No, I’m suggesting that “causality” is highly inadequate to deal with physical phenomena at its most basic level. The “why” is there, in thermodynamics, momentum considerations, in quantum probabilities and descriptions.

Rather than dealing with the examples I brought in to show that causality is inadequate, you latched onto the deconstructible word “interaction” that I used–which I used because I must resort to language here. I am more than a little aware of the fact that “interaction” means no more than “cause” or “designer” does ultimately. In science one has to deal with the phenomena in interpretive ways, but any innovative scientist doesn’t forget that we’re not operating absolute terms when discussing “causality”, “designers”, or “interactions”. The IDist thinks that “designer” means something more than an interpretation of phenomena sensed by us (or in us, whatever, since I don’t have any stake in realism), but it doesn’t–or can’t be shown to do so.

Now I know why you went for the word I used instead of considering how to deal with observed phenomena, since the venue of metaphysics is largely words, rationality, and the sense that we must “know” this or that prior to science in order to do science. But we don’t, we only need to have a reliably communicable interpretive structures at least somewhat corresponding to observed phenomena in order to do science. Thus we can use (and have used) the concept of “causality” to investigate much scientific phenomena, because such a reductionistic term does convey to the observer that we need to explain what happens.

The problem is when this reductionistic term “causality” is taken to be something in itself, as if “design is the cause” means anything beyond the circularity of words. What is said can mean something outside of the circularity of words, and indeed, words need not be circular as long as one realizes that something like “causality” is something that should be in doubt and questioned, just like any other word like “designer”. Einstein fell into the Newtonian sense of “causality” (actually, it was kind of a hybrid of Spinozistic causality, Newtonian causality, with a good bit of Kant thrown in) and disagreed with Bohr and other quantum mechanists about “God playing dice”. Well, Bohr purportedly asked who made Einstein God’s secretary, and his side carried the day with probabilities substituting for causality in quantum matters (in fact quantum mechanics isn’t even playing dice, for what it’s worth, since dice throws are virtually entirely deterministically calculable).

Hume noted that causation cannot be demonstrated, Kant said that it was part of our own thinking and thereby an indelible method of interpretation, and Nietzsche pointed out that causality is largely a psychological/cognitive issue. Quantum theorists took neo-Kantianism and other German philosophical concepts to heart, and indeed did call into question the meaning of causation–and of what “interaction” means, if one wants to get into that. On the other side, phenomenologists and other continental philosophers took Kantian interpretation to heart, without believing that we really think in the set categories that Kant “identified”. That is to say, neither in science nor in much of philosophy is causality given credit for being more than a construction out of the observations made by us and the interpretive apparatus with which we are born. As long as this construction is faithful to what is seen, there is no reason to fault it–and yet it is fairly useless in quantum mechanics and thus is fairly well ignored except where one wishes to explain why the “classical world” is as we see it.

The crux of the matter really comes down to philosophy, for if you take words to have meaning beyond the empirical usage of language in phenomenal life, you will have to believe that “causality” means something “in itself” when the word is used, and the same for “interaction” and “designer”. The whole point those of us on the science side have been trying to make is that “designer” means nothing apart from a certain interpretive context, and I have added that it is the likewise with “interaction” and “causality”. The problem with metaphysics is that it doesn’t even ask about the evolved terms that we use in speech, and by beginning with a creationistic/metaphysical view of language, they fail to ask the questions proper to science.

I myself have run into discussions where it became plain that “causality” was an especially slippery and difficult term in certain situations. One guy on a forum not unlike this one said something to the effect that in quantum mechanics there appear to be situations where energy is not conserved, and therefore the universe doesn’t need a “cause”. The obvious response that I made is that these situations where energy might not be conserved can nevertheless be thought of as “caused” in the conventional meaning of the word. But of course, at the margins we really don’t know what “cause” means, a good indication that it isn’t more than a human catch-all reductionism of a number of fairly different phenomena.

This brings up the question, what does asking for the “cause of the universe” even mean? In Aquinas’ time, the “cause of the universe” was not thought about in terms of conservation of energy at all, but today when someone asks for a “cause” of something, they typically want the “scientific cause” of the universe or what-not (at least when they’re not attacking science, like Dembski and Berlinski). One reads Aristotle or Plotinus writing of what we interpret to as “cause”, but these writers are typically using the word “aitia”, which in many ways is not what we mean by “cause” now. It can mean “responsibility”, the “formal cause”, the “material cause”, well you know, the famous Aristotelian “causes”. Even the “efficient cause” in Aristotle is thought of in a significantly different manner than we think of scientific causes at the present time.

Since “cause” doesn’t even hold a fixed meaning through time, not even Kant’s “rescue” is adequate to science. We ask “why?”, of course, although some in science don’t like “why?” and would prefer to ask “how?” Regardless of the dislike of “why” questions, in the conventional sense of “why” we do ask “why the sky is black with lights in it?” But if we say that there must be a “cause”, the biggest “why” question can be, “why do you think in terms of cause?” To be fair, though, if we do think in terms of cause, we can ask what the “cause is”. This, however, only throws the question over to what even fits our notion of “cause” or “aitia”, and the fact of the matter is that to the degree that we are still able to think of “causes” in “classical” science, only the “efficient cause” is considered even to be a cause, and that only in a manner significantly different than how Aristotle meant it.

Getting back to ID, though: If we use the term “efficient cause” for our particular construction of “causality”, then we can see exactly what is wrong with ID. There is no efficient cause in ID (despite the engineering and design analogies), there is only an “aitia”, responsibility ascribed to one called “designer”. Science only cares about efficient cause because that is all that it (and to tell the truth, all that we) can investigate. And even that interpretation of physical phenomena becomes useless, or nearly so, in some areas of physics (though ironically, a quantum experiment demonstrating the lack of classical causality will be nevertheless caused by scientists–but they know what they mean when they use the term “cause”).

The fact is that even if you’re going to stick with “causality” in science, ID again falls flat, as it has no idea of how this “designer” in fact effects design. I’m willing to use the “causality” interpretation thus far, certainly, for it is still another way in which IDists fail to understand science.

My response is that, either you are incorrect about QM, or QM has a major conceptual difficulty at its foundations.

This is why scientists often aren’t fond of philosophers, for some of the latter will tell the scientists that their considerable achievements fail in the philosophy realm. Of course this isn’t true of the better philosophy that I studied (Nietzsche appears prescient now that we have QM, and it is likely that he and other Romantics contributed conceptually to such a successful interpretation), but it is too true of much philosophy.

I think we’re getting to the point where the bankruptcy of metaphysics has been demonstrated to exhaustion, and there is little more to be said of value.

Glen Davidson Wrote:

…there is little more to be said of value.

On this, we are in agreement. Our discussion would quickley devolve in the philosophy of language (e.g., what relation meaning and sense have to the structure of the world) and broader metaphysical issues (e.g., whether Kant’s relegation of metaphysical concepts to the rational structure of experience is nothing more than an ad hoc disaster).

It seems to me that you have a philosophical position (whether you admit to it or not) that disagrees with mine all the way down. And as a professor of mine once joked, the only thing left for us to do is throw oranges.

I would point out that you keep dragging ID and creationism in, and from my perspective this last discussion, though the heir of a discussion on ID, is independent of those considertions.

I think we’re getting to the point where the bankruptcy of metaphysics has been demonstrated to exhaustion, and there is little more to be said of value.

I agree.

I propose adding the above quote as a permanant banner to the Pandas Thumb, right below that Pennsylvania preachers remarks about being attacked by the “educated segment of society.”

As for Mr. Finley, I see that he managed to find his way back to the Pandas Thumb. Did you pray for your browser to open at this website, Mr. Finley, or did you need to use your brain and fingers to get here like the rest of us human beings?

Why not try eating some dirt today for lunch (instead of chicken-fried steak – blech!)?

As far as you know, Mr. Finley, the dirt might enable you to travel into another dimension and find the elusive scientific evidence which will prove that evolutionary biologists are deluded materialists trying to force secular humanism down the throats of children who should be allowed to “think critically.” Wouldn’t it be worth it, Mr. Finley? Just open your mind and reach down and grab some of that good old dirt and throw it down the hatch. This could be the day when dirt has all sorts of wonderful magical properties – what a shame to waste it!

All those people who told you that dirt-eating was bad – they are just mindlessly reciting the dogma that has been handed to them by others, just like those deluded evolutionary biologists.

Go head, Mr. Finley, it’s time to put your arguments into action. You might want to add some water from the curbside – it makes an interesting “gravy”.

Michael Finley, Thankyou.

If I quote anyone from above without properly citing you, forgive me. There are so very many posts and this morning I came across two sentences from Glen Davidson that say quickly what I am about to say very slowly.

OK. About assumptions. (“Science makes a host of metaphysical assumptions. That is not a bad thing. It is just a fact.”) Or as you put it elsewhere, principles. (“Take Hume, who I mentioned. Hume points out that basic principles of science (e.g., causality, probability, that there is a regularity from past to future, etc.) cannot be empirically justified.”) You are asking for empirical proof of the principles that science is based on. But the tool of empiricism used by humanity is science and you are setting up the very tautology demonstrated by Jack Krebs at top. You are right, science is based on principles that it can’t prove using its own method. But that is irrelevant because science doesn’t ASSUME them either.* Some things are observed(When I kick a soccerball, it moves). Some things are defined(1+1=2). What science chooses to use as its basic principles is entirely up to it. It needs no justification outside of its own criteria, the instance under consideration being metaphysics.

To demonstrate lets take a trip back 2,335 years to ancient Greek society and meet Euclid. His book, the Elements, is very well regarded as one of the greatest textbooks ever. But at its root it is based on assumptions, five of them. Uh-oh there’s them assumptions again. Now we have metaphysical problems. Except Euclid didn’t call them assumptions, he called them axioms. (Well personally I don’t speak Ancient Greek so I don’t know what he called them, but today we call them axioms.) Yes this is semantics but I think it is useful semantics. The history of these five axioms is very celebrated precisely because they are not assumptions. The fifth axiom was far to cumbersome for mathematicians and for thousands of years they tried to prove it with the other four. Fast forward to 1697 and meet Girolamo Saccheri. He was the first mathematician to NOT assume the “truth” of the fifth axiom, and did the entire structure of his math disintegrate before his eyes? No, and we’ll get to why later. Other gentlemen followed. Lambert and Legendre were two. Then three men came along and discovered that changing axioms did not cause the failure of mathematics. Gauss, Bolyai, and Lobachevsky created whole new geometries by dropping one axiom and inserting another. This culminated in Riemann and Einstein and General Relativity. But why did this work? Because they (and through my analogy modern science) only had one criterian, that the system being worked out be internally consistent. There is no “absolute truth”; there is only “internal consistency”. If you use one set of axioms you get one geometry, use another and you get a different geometry. This is very bare bones and if you google Euclid’s fifth, Gauss, and Bolyai you can get the whole rich, wonderful story.

Science adds a second criterian to the first one used by geometry above: that it’s conclusions correspond to reality. The basic assumptions or principles of science are more properly called axioms and science can pick and choose any that it desires to create its structure. The only rules of the game are that the structure be internally consistent and correspond to reality. And the axioms that it chooses are as much fair game for science as any of its fields of investigation. Whether or not the axioms are justified metaphysically matters absolutely not at all and in fact the opposite is true. How many times in the history of science have people said something like “well it must be true because it logically makes sense” or “well it must be true, here is my reasoning” only to be smacked down by a reality that doesn’t recognize the validity of their all too human reasoning. To quote you “A mildly clever turn of phrase is a poor substitute for abstract thought.” I will add that abstract thought is a poor substitute for hard work on the lab bench. Science quite rightly is suspicious of metaphysics and regards it as irrelevant. Science has more than once run right over metaphysics when its discoveries advanced far enough. In a manner of speaking metaphysics is like religion in that it is slowly being boxed in by science.

Because science ascribes no absolute truth to its axioms they can change and have. This does not change science but only affects its applicability (just as one geometry is not invalidated by the existence of another). To use an example from science rather than mathematics: Newton’s work rested on certain axioms(for instance the absolute nature of time). When at the turn of the 20th century physics encountered seemingly insurmountable problems Einstien came along and changed the axioms. Out popped a whole new science. But that did not make Newton wrong. It only limited his applicability. Science holds no axioms holy and will challenge and change them at will when the necessity is there. (As an aside this is why science is not a religion. The faith in axioms is contingent. Science recognizes its own fallibility. Religion does not.)

The best example available right now is the one you brought up most frequently above and what Glen Davidson has already explained very well. Causality(or more prosaically Interaction) is an axiom of science that in the realm of QM must be questioned. How it will turn out for science only the future can tell. But unfortunately science will probably not be informed by metaphysics in the process(although it is completely guaranteed that alot of phycisists will engage in alot of metaphysical talk DURING the process.

Lastly, you admitted(perhaps that is too strong a word) in Comment #23354 that metaphysics has not proven anything that could be called a basic principle of science. Doesn’t that represent a curve ball thrown right at your own assertian. In Comment #23284 you said “Nevertheless, science depends on metaphysics. We don’t want to say that “A causes B” is merely “useful” in an instrumentalist sense (some may, but I find such a position grotesque). We want to say that “A causes B” is correct of the world, i.e., is true.” If metaphysics can’t prove the principles then metaphysics doesn’t “support” or “justify” science anyway. I’ll repeat. The only justification that science needs is internal consistency and correspondence to reality. I can sympathize with your discomfort as a philosopher over the lack of rigorousness in the base of science so I say this with absolutely no hostility, but it is tough that you find the position “grotesque”; science doesn’t care.

If this makes sense to you (sometimes I wonder if I’m not completely incoherent) then I can answer one of the other two arguments you asserted in this threadline, but I will save it for another post.

Sincerely,

Paul

*I am about to start parsing like crazy and considering what I said yesterday I owe Mr. Finley an apology for conflating him with parsing creationists. I guess that is the nature of the beast(I am man, hear me roarprevaricate).

I’ll repeat. The only justification that science needs is internal consistency and correspondence to reality.

This is what nearly every human beings asks from their fellow humans on a daily basis.

All sane adult human beings respect the scientific method and recognize its utility for most of their waking lives. That is why creationists who loudly and regularly smear scientists nevertheless own medicine cabinets and aren’t found in parks eating dirt and tin cans for lunch.

Sadly, some human beings refuse to acknowledge this wonderful unifying aspect of human existence and engage instead in strange divisive wordplay (e.g., “worldview” rhetoric) rather than admit what is plain as paint.

Why? We need only look so far as other universal aspects of human nature to understand their motivations, e.g., fear, pride and lust for power.

Mr. Finley said:

Hume’s arguments prove that causality cannot be gleaned from experience, i.e., cannot be empirically discovered by science. Science, of course, depends on attributions of causality; without them science would be impossible. Therefore, science assumes a priori the principle of causality, and in doing so makes a metaphysical assumption.

Perhaps right. So what?

Is there any other way a sane person doing science would act? It is true that we cannot say for absolute certain that germs cause disease – scientists know the connection well enough, however, that it is considered a crime in some states to argue otherwise in certain circumstances (consider the laws against spitting on sidewalks).

Hume makes an interesting argument in the abstract about what is knowable. That is neither an argument against evolution, nor a firm foundation on which to base an argument against evolution.

The enire causality argument, as it relates to Hume, is irrelevant to modern science. Unless one wishes to claim that hot air does not rise, germs do not cause disease, gravity does not cause things to fall toward the center of the Earth, or that evolution is not established way beyond the shadow of a doubt, the argument is best left to philosophers.

And if one does wish to make such nonsensical arguments? It is still best left to philosophers.

For legal purposes, in court, we abandon Hume’s doubt. If it’s good enough to figure out who is at fault in the auto accident, it’s good enough for most purposes.

This “overly long” thread is exactly what the Discovery Institute fears. There are no overly long threads at their blog. There isn’t any science, either.

Darrell Wrote:

Hume makes an interesting argument in the abstract about what is knowable. That is neither an argument against evolution, nor a firm foundation on which to base an argument against evolution.

The enire causality argument, as it relates to Hume, is irrelevant to modern science. Unless one wishes to claim that hot air does not rise, germs do not cause disease, gravity does not cause things to fall toward the center of the Earth, or that evolution is not established way beyond the shadow of a doubt, the argument is best left to philosophers.

“In the abstract” meant as “irrelevant to the concrete”? Or are “abstract” reasonings relevant to the particulars? These are rhetorial questions, of course.

Obviously its not an argument against evolution. And as anyone who carefully read my posts would know, I never even remotely suggested that it did.

Just because you or I or anyone else doesn’t expect anything and everything to happen on a whim because we read Hume, doesn’t mean the argument is irrelevant to modern science. Of course we all still believe in causality and act accordingly. And that should tell us something, viz., we make metaphysical assumptions in everyday life and in science (either tacitly or explicitly).

The whole point has been that there are relevant concerns to a rational person that are not handled by science. Metaphysics is not the home of witch-doctors and snake charmers. It is a legitimate discipline that deals with important questions outside the scope of science.

Darrell Wrote:

Hume makes an interesting argument in the abstract about what is knowable. That is neither an argument against evolution, nor a firm foundation on which to base an argument against evolution.

The enire causality argument, as it relates to Hume, is irrelevant to modern science. Unless one wishes to claim that hot air does not rise, germs do not cause disease, gravity does not cause things to fall toward the center of the Earth, or that evolution is not established way beyond the shadow of a doubt, the argument is best left to philosophers.

“In the abstract” meant as “irrelevant to the concrete”? Or are “abstract” reasonings relevant to the particulars? These are rhetorial questions, of course.

Obviously its not an argument against evolution. And as anyone who carefully read my posts would know, I never even remotely suggested that it did.

Just because you or I or anyone else doesn’t expect anything and everything to happen on a whim because we read Hume, doesn’t mean the argument is irrelevant to modern science. Of course we all still believe in causality and act accordingly. And that should tell us something, viz., we make metaphysical assumptions in everyday life and in science (either tacitly or explicitly).

The whole point has been that there are relevant concerns to a rational person that are not handled by science. Metaphysics is not the home of witch-doctors and snake charmers. It is a legitimate discipline that deals with important questions outside the scope of science.

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Uber and Ed Darrell, And this thread became ridiculously overly long without any input from DS, DK, or JAD. ;)

Please supply a physical “support,” i.e., justification, for the principle of causality. And after you do, send it off to the most prestigious philosophy journal you can find for immediate publication.

And with this, the novice was enlightened.

As has been pointed out (and as you must know), causation does not have a fundamental proof in physics. In fact, the lack of this causes no little discussion and what-iffery among the theoretical physicists: there are published papers (one quoted previously, many others available) which pick away at the threads of this part of the tapestry. Moreover, there are events which occur without causation. Whatever causation is, it is not a sine qua non of physics.

However. Taking causation as a massively attested given in much of physics, it is massively useful. We have thrown machines to the very edges of the solar system, to astonishing degrees of precision, and they have worked in ways predicable enough to return new knowledge. (I can conceive no way of doing this under an alternative philosophy, but would be delighted to learn of one). We conduct millions of experiments in the expectation of causality working, and they return information that fits (or does not fit) expectations and helps build (or tear down and rebuild) a consistent framework of knowledge that can be used. You are using a computer composed (if it is reasonably current) of billions of individual parts created, co-mingled and operated according to strict causal principles. In California, they make many times more transistors per year than raindrops fall. If causality as we experience it is not correct, it does a very good job of hiding itself beyond the reach of overwhelming statistics. Furthermore, it operates outside our belief system to the point at which we can make very precise predictions about areas of which we have no direct experience, only to find them confirmed when we get there. Or when the magnetometer on Voyager II started to report activity when the spacecraft passed Uranus, was that some group delusion in operation?

It is certainly possible that what we perceive as causation is in fact intervention by an unknown intelligence which could at any time act differently: indeed, I don’t know of a way of disproving this. Yet we are certainly justified in assuming causality to reflect truth, to a certain and not insignificant extent, and in rejecting any number (and there are any number existing beyond testability) of alternative theories positing intelligent intervention in the way causality appears to operate. These theories do not appear to reflect truth, even to an insignificant extent. Should evidence to the contrary appear, then it will bear examination.

Causality operates in useful ways. I think this is beyond dispute, but you presumably do not - otherwise why bring it up? And if you’re prepared to hold as important to science the fact that causation is unproven, then of course you’re not going to bother considering evolution as somehow more worthy. You are free to introduce the hand of a designer at any point - and, since you are not enamoured of causation, that hand can move in undetectable ways.

You appear to have two core beliefs: one, that a designer operates on the world; and two, that it does so in a manner untouchable by empirical science. Fine. This is not incompatible with evolution, any more than astrology is incompatible with planetary physics, because it does not impact on it in any way.

It does leave one question, though. Why are you here?

R

I give up. It’s like talking to a relentless herd of ADD children:

“Philosophy isn’t science.” Eureka!

“Hume doesn’t disprove Darwin.” Strike two.

“Creationism, a/k/a, metaphysics.…” You’re outa there.

Just call me the straw man. Until the next thread, farewell.

Like a moth to a flame, I cannot resist one more comment. Undoutedly the comment will be misunderstood and taken to mean all sorts of things that it manifestly does not mean, but that seems to be the price of admission.

Concerning QM, causality has been juxtaposed to probability with the latter being offered as some sort of non-causal replacement.

As any reader of Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding knows (which means most readers here don’t know), probability is a derivative concept from causality. Any criticism of causality is also a criticism of probability. I won’t bother explaining it. As is often said around here to non-scientists, go find the source and read.

I’m not sure that Hume knew much about quantum mechanics. :-)

Jack Krebs,

I’m guessing the post marathon has come to an end. And I’m quite sure you had no intention of giving birth to such a monster. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the melee. Let’s do it again some time.

Sincerely, MF

Michael, one more time. What Hume thinks about causality or probability is completely and utterly irrelevant. It’s only his philosophical speculation, a couple of hundred years old, which is absolutely nonrelated to reality. It’s not the Truth. He even could not come with anything valuable on the topic as he didn’t have the available data we have today.

It’s similar to other speculations of other philosophers. None of them was doing any real scientific work, like comparing their speculations with reality or observations. Herakleitos thought that fire is somehow important, well it isn’t. Maybe if he cared to look at the world before speculating, he would know it. And that’s a common problem with philosophy and that’s why it’s not science. It’s a speculation without any base in reality, in 99% of cases without any value. The fact that you repeatedly cite philosophers as authorities does not make you look smart in my eyes, completely the opposite is true.

I’ll tell you what causality means in physics. We observe that some events are causaly linked. That means that one event can be influenced by another one in the sense, that if it happened differently, the other one would be different two. It was not observed that one event would “cause” another one, there is no such thing as a “cause” of an event. That’s only a simplification people use in everyday life.

In direct contrast to what many laymen think, QM does not redefine causality. Causality is determined by the structure of space-time, but I won’t go into any more details on that. The probabilistic nature of QM has nothing to do with causality. The evolution of the state is deterministic in QM, what causes the probabilistic character of QM is the definition of the state, which is completely different from classical physics. One gets a probabilistic distribution when tries to get such information from the state which is not there.

Michael Finley Wrote:

My response is that, either you are incorrect about QM, or QM has a major conceptual difficulty at its foundations.

Reminds me of the economist who wouldn’t pick up the $20 bill he saw on the sidewalk because if it were really a $20 bill, someone would have already picked it up.

What I can’t figure out is why you guys have spent days discussing the intersection between the philosophy of knowledge and physics, but no one has mentioned a single philosopher other than Hume. A lot has happened in the philosophy of knowledge since the 18th century. (See e.g. Dewey, Wittgenstein, Popper.)

Michael Finley,

Thank you for the chat and I apologize for the swipes I took at you. I’ll apologize, too, for three others who seemed overly hostile(I don’t care if it is not my place). I wish we could continue this though, and thanks to Les Lane I just found something you may get a great deal out of.

http://www2.uwsuper.edu/rseelke/CRS[…]ES/TRUTH.doc

Sincerely,

Paul

Paul,

No need to apologize, though I accept.

Perhaps we could continue some version of this discussion over at antievolution.org‘s discussion board. On the discussion board there’s a page titled “after the bar closes” created (evolved?) just for that purpose. Start a thread and I’ll participate best I can.

Sincerely, MF

Michael Finley writes: “I endorse the notion that supernatural causes should not, in principle, be rejected as unscientific.”

Michael, can you enlighten us as to how one measures the supernatural?

Michael Finley writes: “Mr. Flank,

How dreadful; you don’t seem to recognize a philosophical discussion when you see it.”

Philisophical discussion didn’t invent the transistor…

Loghorn writes:

“Stuart, what do you mean by “outside of science?”

Can’t be interrogated by the scientific method.

I’m curious to see just how many posts this thread will get to.

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This page contains a single entry by Jack Krebs published on April 2, 2005 9:49 AM.

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