Blogalogue

Blogalogue


Reason Leads to Belief in God

posted by hmacdonald

Dear Heather,
I’m looking forward to this conversation. As you know, we have covered some of this ground in earlier talks, but just to bring our new friends up to date, I’d like to offer a bit of information on my background and my perspective on this issue, and why it seems to me that belief in God is not contrary to reason, but, indeed, seems to grow out of it.
I was born in the year that Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany, and have never been able to blink away the horrors of the newsreel footage I saw at Saturday matinees during my youth: concentration camp fences; emaciated figures in ragged striped uniforms; stacked dead bodies pitched into trucks like sacks of sand. Hegel wrote somewhere: History is a butcher’s bench.
By age twelve I knew that human life can be far more horrible than I was at first willing to face, and I wondered whether unbelief, kicking back at the darkness, would be the most honest way. In the writings of atheists, I have often recognized some of my own bleak feelings. It is from this shared darkness that believers and unbelievers would do well to proceed.
An observation important to my own thinking about God is that knowledge of God’s presence, even though unseen, is the default position of the human race. For most of the human race in past history, and also today, the knowledge of God’s presence is part of daily awareness.


This knowledge does not depend on Christian or Jewish faith. It seems to spring from human reason itself–from the unlimited drive to ask questions, which leads our minds to the infinite and the eternal. This impulse seems to be irrepressible.
I also think about belief and unbelief with an awareness that in today’s world, articulate believers and unbelievers need to be able to carry on a civil, reasoned conversation in order to locate the exact areas of their disagreement. Many purported disagreements rest on gross misunderstandings, often on both sides. It takes a lot of quiet evenings to work through these. In No One Sees God, I try to examine what such a conversation would look like, by closely engaging with the “New Atheists.” This exchange proved very beneficial to me. The objections raised by atheists provide an excellent stimulus to deepen thinking about why atheism does not seem plausible to me or to most of us.
Over the years I have tried to contribute to this discussion through some partly original thinking about philosophical approaches to God. This leans me to a number of new epistemological points such as the power of “blicks” in affecting our heuristic expectations, our methods, and the range of our inquiries. Also the relation of the act of “existing” to the act of making a judgment. Our conversation might also benefit from some reflection upon the historical relations of the “secular”–an affirmative term invented by Christian thinkers before 450 A.D. – and the sacred or holy. St. Augustine recognized that the City of God is intended to penetrate the City of Man as yeast does dough. Each “City” has a wholeness of its own, and is complementary to the other.
In fact, the age-old dialectic between the religious and the secular impulses of the West has given our culture its astonishing dynamism. This dialectic is now unfolding anew in virtually every culture on the planet as an amalgram of Jewish/Christian and secular ideas begins to suffuse the whole world. These ideals awaken consciousness of human rights and hunger for liberation from poverty, liberty from torture, and liberty of consciousness, speech, and political association.
All those who care about freedom and open inquiry, whether persons of unbelief or knowers of God, need to learn civil respect for each other, so that we can join forces in resistance to our time’s abundant enemies of liberty.



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Faustus5

posted November 10, 2008 at 8:03 pm


Reason leads to a belief in god?
Gee, that must be why only 7% of American’s leading scientists identify themselves as believers, 72.2% disbelieve, and 20.8% are agnostic or doubters, as documented in a 1998 study in the journal “Nature”.
Like to see theists explain that one away.



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bkay

posted November 13, 2008 at 2:26 pm


Faustus5,
I am not sure where your 7% statistic comes from or how accurate it could be. I grew up in Los Alamos, NM home of the National Scientific Labratory. The community has a higher PHD population than most University communities with an abundance of PHD physicists, chemists, etc. The town is filled with active churches and other houses of worship populated by these leading scientists. Faith and reason are quite compatible in this community. If only 7% of the scientist were believer, the town (of about 10,000) would only be able to support a couple of churches rather than the dozens that thrive. Faith and science can go hand in hand and very often do.



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Steven K

posted November 13, 2008 at 3:43 pm


Faustus5’s argument that the majority of “leading scientists” reject god is the same argument the atheists argue against. This is that the majority opinion does not need to be right. Clearly even Heather MacDonald’s first comment in this discussion addresses this issue.



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Your Name

posted November 15, 2008 at 1:23 pm


Michael recalls the Holocaust. Where was God when millions of Jews were gased to death? Where is God now when one billion humans are starving to death?____It’s too easy just to blame humans for evil and suffering (“sin”) and let God off the hook. If there is a Creator, this is Unintelligent Design, not Intelligent Design. ____For some of us simply trying to accept suffering as a natural part of life seems like a too detached approach, a way of denial. ____A rational response to “The Problem of Evil” is to conclude that God is either not all-powerful or not loving. Or perhaps God is solely a human creation, a univeral coping strategy to deal with misery and suffering.



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nnmns

posted November 15, 2008 at 1:56 pm


“For most of the human race in past history, and also today, the knowledge of God’s presence is part of daily awareness.”
For most of the history of the human race, as best we know it, it was very dangerous not to appear to believe in the currently prevailing god or gods. So most people have always grown up being taught to believe in the current god(s) and people who clearly didn’t were removed from the gene pool. It’s wonderful that some of us now don’t face those dangers and it’s wonderful that a lot of people still have a natural (not supernatural) view of the universe.



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Your Name

posted November 15, 2008 at 9:24 pm


Any characteristic- physical or behavioral – found in the majority of a species’ individuals will have a natural selective advantage. The fact that most people believe in a God, simply suggests that such behavior at some point, has been naturally selected. ____“This knowledge (of God’s presence)… seems to spring from human reason itself–from the unlimited drive to ask questions,”____I would argue that, this knowledge does not spring from human reason but rather from human emotion. And asking question does not serve religion well, because let’s face it, faith is belief without answers. __



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K. Sean Proudler

posted November 16, 2008 at 12:48 am


Believing in God is a good start, but it also can be a final disaster. One only must practice a belief if one actually is at a distance from the truth itself. If one becomes a dedicated believer, then one can develop a bad habit of placing ones beliefs as number one in ones decision making. Truth is the real “ number one “. However, if one shifts beliefs to the top of the ladder instead, truth has no higher a place to go and thus it must go all the way down to the bottom of the ladder, since that which was previously the bottom of ladder was also shifted up by one step. With truth then having been thrown to the bottom, lies become seen as truths and vise versa. Thus if a huge truth was placed in front of such a believer, say Jesus Christ for instance, he would be perceived to be a liar that is connected to Satan rather than a man of truth that is the son of God, etc.



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Chip W

posted November 16, 2008 at 4:25 am


This explanation of how “Reason leads to belief in God” distills down to the following (extracted from the article):
“The knowledge of God’s presence is part of daily awareness.
“This knowledge … seems to spring from human reason itself–from the unlimited drive to ask questions, which leads our minds to the infinite and the eternal. This impulse seems to be irrepressible.”
So, reason is the unlimited drive to ask questions. No, that is curiosity. Reason has to do with how you go about deriving answers to questions.
Then, asking questions (not reason) leads our minds to the infinite and the eternal. God, then, is our minds’ conceptualization of the infinite and the eternal.
So, God is a concept in our mind. And I agree with this; it’s compatible with my definition of God: God is a word that represents the concept of everything that exists. This is a powerful concept, but I don’t think that’s what you were shooting for.
If you want to show that God is something other than a concept in our mind, and that reason leads us to this God, you’ll have to start from scratch.
I doubt you’ll succeed. What is in our mind may coincide with what’s true, but, for God and all faith-based beliefs, there’s no way to check it out, and that’s where reason comes in.



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DuckPhup

posted November 16, 2008 at 9:37 am


Novak: “An observation important to my own thinking about God is that knowledge of God’s presence, even though unseen, is the default position of the human race. For most of the human race in past history, and also today, the knowledge of God’s presence is part of daily awareness.”
Ridiculous. An intellectually-honest look backwards… with the benefit of reason and 20/20 hindsight… reveals that ‘god’ is a place-holder for ‘knowledge’.
As humans evolved to the point of being able to communicate abstract ideas, they inevitably reached the point of being able to ask questions about their environment and their existence… profound questions, such as “What holds the sky up?” and “Why are we here?”
Of course, there were complications. The sky gave every appearance of being a solid physical structure, with big lights and little lights upon it, that moved… and they did NOT have the technical means or the knowledge-base what would enable to extract the answers… KNOWLEDGE… from nature. But they had to deal with ‘cognitive dissonance’. They knew that if you hold something up and let it go, it falls to earth… yet they SAW all these objects ON the sky which did NOT fall to earth… except occasionally. There had to be a REASON that they didn’t fall down.
God. Where something demanded an answer, but there was no way to extract an answer from nature, you MAKE UP an answer… based upon the supernatural… and simply accept it as a matter of ‘faith’.
Novak: “This knowledge does not depend on Christian or Jewish faith. It seems to spring from human reason itself–from the unlimited drive to ask questions, which leads our minds to the infinite and the eternal. This impulse seems to be irrepressible.”
Oh, twaddle. The operative human impulse here is the impulse to SUPPRESS ‘cognitive dissonance’. Ideally, the cure for cognitive dissonance is KNOWLEDGE. But what do you do when knowledge is unavailable or inaccessible? Simple… you substitute the ILLUSION of knowledge, which is JUST as effective a cure for cognitive dissonance as ACTUAL knowledge is, and is MUCH easier to come by. You don’t have to DISCOVER it… you just have to MAKE IT UP.
God did it.
Oh… by the way… there is a WORD for ‘the ILLUSION of knowledge’. That word if ‘BELIEF’.
Novak: “I also think about belief and unbelief with an awareness that in today’s world, articulate believers and unbelievers need to be able to carry on a civil, reasoned conversation in order to locate the exact areas of their disagreement. Many purported disagreements rest on gross misunderstandings, often on both sides. It takes a lot of quiet evenings to work through these. In No One Sees God, I try to examine what such a conversation would look like, by closely engaging with the “New Atheists.” This exchange proved very beneficial to me.”
Baloney. You just need to be HONEST with YOURSELF. In the distant past, smart operators discovered that being a PURVEYOR of the ILLUSION of knowledge was profitable… and also a pathway to power.
I used to think of religion as an integral aspect of human culture, that evolved right along with it. But a recent insight revealed to me a NEW paradigm… the perception that religion is NOT an integral part of humanity… it is a parasitic meme that PREYS upon humanity. It evolved ALONGSIDE humanity, sucking its life-blood… debilitating it… weakening it… sickening it… holding it back… but not killing it… YET.
Look at christianity… a CRIMINAL business enterprise that specializes in fraud and extortion… a supernatural ‘protection racket’ that uses mental-manipulation tricks and indoctrination techniques that have been developed, perfected and refined over the past 1,700 years or so.
They suffered a setback a few hundred years ago, when the widely embraced humanist ideals of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason… heretical, satanic ideas such as ‘human rights’… stripped them of the political power which had previously given them leave to torture and/or kill dissenters, or people who betrayed impious thinking. But modern marketing techniques and communications technology have allowed them to recover from that, to the point where they once again are in a position to alter the fabric of society… to the great detriment of us all.
First… beginning with insidious childhood indoctrination, they instill the FEAR of eternal damnation, torture and torment. Then, they throw you a life-line… they SELL you the false HOPE of ‘salvation’ (from WHAT, exactly?) and the false PROMISE of eternal life. In a process that I can only think of as ‘stupidification’, they are creating whole generations whose world-view and false ‘reality’ depends directly from the myths, superstitions, fairy-tales and fantastical delusions of an ignorant gaggle of Bronze Age fishermen and peripatetic, militant, marauding, murdering, genocidal goat-herders.
To the extent that they might be ‘true’, the accounts of their genocidal depredations in the Old Testament are most likely nothing more than an attempt to lay-out a cover-story, the need for which arose when they realized that they might some day be called to account for their horrific crimes. They knew that they could not DENY their evil crimes… so the best that they could hope for was they might somehow be able to JUSTIFY them. I suspect that a good bit of the OT is nothing more than first documented attempt at the ‘Nuremberg Defense’… “We were only following orders.” God made them do it.
Novak: “The objections raised by atheists provide an excellent stimulus to deepen thinking about why atheism does not seem plausible to me or to most of us.”
From my perspective, that statement is muddle-headed and utterly ridiculous. Do you know what an atheist ACTUALLY IS? (I think not.)
What DEFINES atheists is the fact that THEY do not find YOUR STORIES about invisible, magical, all-powerful, supernatural sky-fairies (gods) to be ‘plausible’. Atheism is simply SKEPTICISM focused upon ideas such as the judeo/christian one, wherein the world/universe was poofed into existence by such an entity, to function as an environment for a race of beings (us) that it subsequently fabricated from a dust bunny and a rib for the express purpose of having them, their progeny and their descendants spend their lives believing in it, loving it, praising it, and kissing its holy butt. Ultimately, some few of those beings will be rewarded with eternal life… the selection criteria for this reward seeming to be ‘the most stupid and gullible’. The unfortunate remainder get to spend the rest of eternity in unimaginable torture and torment.
So… please… explain how does your ‘deep thinking’ arrive at the profound conclusion that SKEPTICISM… focused upon STORIES of invisible, magical, all-powerful, supernatural sky-fairies… is NOT PLAUSIBLE?
Heather is WAY too kind and respectful. You, sir, are an evil man… irrespective of whatever opinion you might hold of yourself. You are, in fact, a purveyor, protector, promoter and defender of gullibility, self-deception, self-delusion, willful ignorance, ordinary ignorance, lies, hypocrisy, and toxic, drooling stupidity… and I’m restraining myself.



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Reinhart Meyers

posted November 16, 2008 at 10:42 am


I believe there is a God. I am a Christian and believe that when God created us he created us as free human beings. God did not allow us to be brought into the world in fear, chains, behind bars, in some kind of containment either for our bodies or minds. I do believe we are all slaves to a sinful nature of which we have been freed by Jesus suffering and death for our sins if we accept God’s free offer through Jesus’s sacrifice for our sins. Does this mean we can do anything we want? No! Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Galatian’s. Paul wrote that freedom is what we have, Christ has set us free. But does that mean we can do whatever we want. Paul writes that there is a proper use of the freedom we all have. We can’t just do what ever we want or the world and everyone in it would be out of control and total chaos would result. There can be no love without freedom. God gives us both and more. Every human being should be treated with love and respect because God made us. Every human should be free to choose who they want to marry, what faith they want to follow, what they want to wear, where they want to go and do, and what they want to do with their bodies. Even with all this there must be proper use of our freedom. We cannot hurt others either physically or emotionally in anyway. We must not manipulate or pressure others to satisfy our wants and desires. That means everyone, men, women, and children. Anything that prohibits the true freedom that God gave us results in violence, evil ways, and a lack of love for ourselves and others. I believe that any religion that deviates from the true freedom we all deserve that causes emotional or physical harm to a human being in anyway is no religion at all.



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nnmns

posted November 16, 2008 at 12:31 pm


RM what you suggest is pretty well captured by the Golden Rule which shows up in a variety of religions and is a common sense rule of thumb for living in a world with lots of other people. No religion is needed for that.



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Reinhart Meyers

posted November 16, 2008 at 1:34 pm


nnmns,____I agree we don’t need religion to live by the golden rule. The problem is our sinful nature which we can’t detach from ourselves. Only God is able to do that. That is why Jesus paid a debt (of sin) He didn’t owe because we owed a debt (sin) we couldn’t pay. I believe we are all sinners in need of a savior. There have been times where the world couldn’t solve my problems. So I turned to God and prayed about it and that I needed help. Each time I did this good things happened. I am not saying that it couldn’t be coincidence. Was it God or was it coincidence? I believe it was God and I was also very thankful. It really gave me hope and joy.



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nnmns

posted November 16, 2008 at 4:10 pm


RM the obvious question for believers who think “we owed a debt (sin) we couldn’t pay” is, who set the universe up so “we” would owe such an incredible debt? (Another, lesser question is, to whom do we owe it?). Since I believe it’s supposed to be “God” who set up the universe, it would be “He” who set it up so we’d owe a debt we could not pay and so lots and lots of people died owing it and presumably suffered for that and so impressionable people suffer psychologically because they actually think they are guilty of all that sin.
So the obvious follow-up question is, why worship a god who’d create such a screwed-up universe? Wouldn’t derisive laughter be more appropriate than adoration, at least unless you are sucking up to avoid the eternal suffering you were probably raised to believe in?



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Reinhart Meyers

posted November 16, 2008 at 5:21 pm


God didn’t create a screwed up world. It was beautiful when he created it. No polluted steams or lakes, no garbage dumps, no toxic waste areas, no smog, etc. We weren’t made as puppets. God gave us free will. We will be judged by a just God so we don’t have to worry about mistakes being made like in our court systems where innocent people are found guilty and guilty people are set free. God doesn’t ask a lot from us. God basically wants us to be good. I like pleasing God because it does a lot in giving me peace of mind and comfort for my soul. From my observations it amazes me at how many restless, lonely, depressed, angry, and sad people there are out in the world. I do try to help them because God wants us to. I don’t believe in eternal suffering as stated. I believe it is just eternal life without God. Doesn’t mean there will be physical, spiritual or mental suffering. It could mean being restless, lonely, sad, depressed etc eternally because God provides just the opposite of these difficulties. From experience I have found people are a lot happier when they aren’t sad, depressed, lonely, restless or angry etc. These are not good for anyone’s physical or emotional wellbeing. I am very thankful when people help me.



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Reinhart Meyers

posted November 16, 2008 at 5:45 pm


Years ago I was on a flight back from California and I happened to sit by a gentleman who was a retired CEO. He told me about his expensive homes he sold in California and purchased a beautiful home near the east coast. I asked him if Jesus or the Christian way of life was of any value in the corporate world? He thought about it for a minute and said, “No” Then as I spoke with this gentleman he shared how lonely he was. It wasn’t hard to notice how sad he was. Then I mentioned about all the emotional pain executives experience. This executive beat around the bush when I brought up the subject of corporate embezzlements, pirated business stragegies, adulteries, scandals, criminal activities, and bad marriages, etc. These real issues seemed to be avoided in conversation as if they didn’t exist in the corporate world. There were Christian’s around us who realized the point I was trying to make and that spiritual problems were very real and that God had a solution for them. I could see that our conversation made this gentleman think very deeply as he shared that he was deeply troubled. Is there a need for a relationship with God? I believe there is!



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nnmns

posted November 16, 2008 at 7:10 pm


Well by your lights your god set up the universe “his” way, so the credit and blame for how it turned out would be “his”. I realize that’s inconvenient but if you want an omnipotent, all-knowing god you get a god with all the blame.
I’m quite glad I don’t have one of those.



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a buddhist

posted November 17, 2008 at 8:58 pm


As a buddhist I have no personal opinion on the existence or nonexistence of a supreme being as it is not required to tell me how I should live. However as a technologist I present the following argument.
1. We exist in either a temporally cyclical or infinite universe: This implies that an infinity of time exists for events to occur within.
2. Given an infinite amount of time, order may emerge from chaos whenever appropriate conditions exist: The temporal condition is met by (1), the physical conditions is met whenever energy exists to be converted to matter, or matter exists to develop into a more organized form.
3. Given the correct circumstances order can evolve to more complex states: Matter emerged from energy, elements emerged from matter, the universe emerged from elements, we have emerged from the universe.
4. Intelligence arises from complexity, greater complexity leads to greater intelligence: A bird thinks more than an insect, a raccoon thinks more than a bird, a dolphin thinks more than a raccoon, a human thinks more than a dolphin.
5. Given infinite time (1) and the emergence of intelligence (2-4), intelligence will continue to evolve to more complex and powerful states: Modern man may not be more intelligent than primitive man (similar brain sizes, etc.) however the quantity of tools available to primitive man and modern man are completely different, resulting in far greater capabilities in modern man.
6. Given the growth in capability of intelligence over infinite time (1-5) intelligence will continue to far greater levels of complexity than occur now: if intelligence becomes more capable over time, given unlimited time intelligence will increase though not necessarily to an infinite amount (consider mathematical limits approaching infinity may be quantities other than infinity).
7. Technology will eventually result in the ability to manipulate space, time, energy and matter: As technology progresses we continue to increase our ability to manipulate our environment, it is now possible to manipulate matter and energy, theories exist that imply an ability to manipulate space and time as well.
8. Given (1-7) there will likely occur an intelligence capable of manipulating space, time, energy and matter, though this may occur far in the future or may have already occurred somewhere else in the universe in the past: If intelligence is likely to arise, and intelligence and technology are prone to increase over time it is likely that such super intelligences will arise multiple times over infinite time.
9. If such super-intelligences exist they would be indistinguishable from a supreme being to any lower intelligence: all the attributes typically given to a supreme being (omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence) would appear to belong to a intelligence capable of manipulating space, time, energy and matter as the 4 capabilities combined by definition give rise to omnipotence (the ability to do anything by manipulating space, time, energy and matter), omniscience (the possession of all knowledge through manipulation of energy and time) and omnipresence (an existence in all places and times enabled by the manipulation of space and time).
10. Given the emergence of a intelligence or intelligences indistinguishable from a supreme being (1-9), there will exist a intelligence capable of manipulating space and time in such a way as to effect the creation or modification of a area of space, time, energy and matter: an intelligence, once indistinguishable from a supreme being may perform the supreme act of creation, and may through the manipulation of time effect the creation of the space, time, energy and matter which resulted in its own original creation.
11. Given (1-10) there likely exists a supreme being: if it does not already exist it will arise at some point in the future, even if it emerges in the future it will have purview over the complete infinite span of time and will therefore be a supreme being to all previous times.
I have left out a few technological statements, lest the argument become far to long for easy digestion, however most are simply justifications for the development of intelligence and its progression through technology while other deal with the physics of infinite time.



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nnmns

posted November 17, 2008 at 10:19 pm


buddhist, interesting thesis. As you may know, by arguments not unlike yours it may well be that we in fact exist in a computer model, not a physical world. I can’t refute such arguments but I don’t spend much time thinking about them being true.
Anyway you are arguing for a natural super being, not a supernatural one, though I guess it might get hard to draw the line. I’m inclined to be a lot more comfortable with the idea of a natural super being.
I ran across a sci. fi. book you might enjoy, “Calculating God” by Robert J. Sawyer, if you haven’t already read it.



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Ayad Gharbawi

posted October 15, 2009 at 1:27 pm


Existence is wretched, it is a prison at best. Until we can accept this fact, there cannot be ‘happiness’ and an understanding of God. Life is a struggle that ends in failure. Concepts such as ‘friends’, ‘friendship’, ‘love’ do not exist for the most part. The vast majority of human beings are evil, with a fractuon of a minority who are capable of being trustworthy, loving and compassionate. Were it not for the laws, prisons, laws and justice, every Man will steal and backstab from his fellow Man. Man is a vile, creature who sees lust only in stealing, killing, raping, hurting others in a million and one ways, lying, deceiving and being the greatest pretender the planet has ever known.



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fghfgf

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Kate Smith

posted May 1, 2010 at 5:33 am


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mypromoeffori

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