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Francis Collins: Picked by Obama, Attacked by Atheists, Wrong on Theology

posted by David Klinghoffer

Genome scientist and Evangelical Christian Francis Collins got the nod from President Obama today to head up the National Institutes of Health. Atheists are already on the attack. Thus Jerry Coyne at the U. of Chicago pronounces himself “worried”: “I’d  be much more comfortable with someone whose only agenda was science, and did not feel compelled to set up a highly-publicized website demonstrating how he reconciles his science with Jesus.”

Just so happens I have an op-ed in the Forward this week reflecting on precisely the fight over “accomodationism,” pitting Coyne et al. v. Collins et. al. The issue: can science and religion be reconciled, or does it perhaps make a difference what you mean by “science”? Readers of this blog will know that I’ve shown how Francis Collins makes a mash of the very serious religious belief that human beings are made in the image of God. More on Collins and his insipid theology here.
Excerpt from my Forward piece, and more after the jump:

Today in academia, a believer like…Francis Collins, or like Catholic biologist Kenneth Miller at Brown University, can count on being ridiculed by the anti-accommodationists. In academia, where reputation is everything, you would not want to be an ambitious young scientist in their mold.

This is despite the fact that both men strenuously deny that there can be any empirical evidence of God’s creativity in nature. [T]hey affirm that the history of life could have produced intelligent creatures very different from human beings for God to enter into a relationship with. Perhaps “a big-brained dinosaur, or… a mollusk with exceptional mental capabilities,” as Miller has speculated, surrendering the basic Judeo-Christian belief that the human face and body mysteriously reflect the image of a non-corporeal God.

That may sound as if we’ve come to a final parting of the ways between science and religion. However, it all depends on what you have in mind when you speak of “science.”

Must religion indeed accommodate any scientific idea — even if the idea is wrong, even if it’s bad science, ideologically motivated in its origins, intended to explain nature specifically with the view of keeping God out? If that’s what science requires, then of course there can be no reconciliation.

But remember — alongside the secular Enlightenment view of science, there runs a parallel tradition, seeking to explain nature without preconceptions, secular or otherwise. That way of thinking still exists among individual scientists, though it is in need of a good revival. With that tradition — older, grander, more open-minded, even more enlightened, you could say — there is no need for a truce with faith, no need for a separation, no need for a divorce.

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Gabriel Hanna

posted July 8, 2009 at 6:34 pm

surrendering the basic Judeo-Christian belief that the human face and body mysteriously reflect the image of a non-corporeal God.
A belief rejected by, oh, MAIMONIDES.
Which was pointed out to you repeatedly, and you never acknowledged it.
It was also pointed out that if ID is really not religious, it cannot avoid the very objection you made about God’s image. Therefore, you are lying when you say ID is not religious, or you are lying when you say ID is theologically superior to theistic evolution–you never did get back to us about which.
I hope people DO go back and read the squid posts and commentary. They will learn a great deal. Not what you intend them to learn, thought.

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Gabriel Hanna

posted July 8, 2009 at 6:48 pm

Let’s spell it out in a little more detail.
David Klinghoffer says that theistic evolution is wrong because it can lead to intelligent squids, a rejection of “the basic Judeo-Christian belief that the human face and body mysteriously reflect the image of a non-corporeal God” (which is also debatable, but leave that aside).
However, he is paid to endorse ID as a scientific alternative to evolution. But the “Designer” could have made intelligent squids as well as people, so ID is also wrong–unless ID REQUIRES that the Designer is God and made Man in his own image, which places it firmly in the religion camp.
So, David is on the horns of dilemma. Either ID is theologically wrong, or or it is not science. He has said that it IS scientific and it IS tehologically correct, so he is lying about one or the other.
Quod erat demonstrandum.

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David Klinghoffer

posted July 8, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Gabriel, I keep meaning to ask you, are you Jewish? Since you’re a regular commenter — for which, thank you — I’m curious about your background if you care to share that. Regarding Maimonides, there’s a very, very big theological gap between him and Francis Collins or Ken Miller. *Needless to say.* His view on this question deserves a post of its own when I have time. Thanks for prompting me.

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Glen Davidson

posted July 8, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Once more David tries to blame Coyne et al. for saying what he and his colleagues have been pushing for years. I may as well put here the same quote that I included in my comment (why it posted twice I have no idea) at Forward:

What theistic evolutionists have failed above all to comprehend is that the conflict is not over “facts” but over ways of thinking. The problem is not just with any specific doctrine of Darwinian science, but with the naturalistic rules of thought that Darwinian scientists employ to derive those doctrines. If scientists had actually observed natural selection creating new organs, or had seen a step-by-step process of fundamental change consistently recorded in the fossil record, such observations could readily be interpreted as evidence of God’s use of secondary causes to create. But Darwinian scientists have not observed anything like that. What they have done is to assume as a matter of first principle that purposeless material processes can do all the work of biological creation because, according to their philosophy, nothing else was available. They have defined their task as finding the most plausible — or least implausible — description of how biological creation could occur in the absence of a creator. The specific answers they derive may or may not be reconcilable with theism, but the manner of thinking is profoundly atheistic. To accept the answers as indubitably true is inevitably to accept the thinking that generated those answers. That is why I think the appropriate term for the accommodationist position is not “theistic evolution,” but rather theistic naturalism. Under either name, it is a disastrous error. Shouting `Heresy’ in the Temple of Darwin Christianity Today October 24, 1994 p.26

Sure, David, it’s we who call theistic evolutionists either “useful idiots” or “just idiots.” You don’t want to own your rhetoric, while you pretend to support people like Collins against the “evil atheists,” but you keep repeating it and implying that it’s really those other guys who make such attacks.
For myself, I’m more with Mooney, I don’t really care what a person thinks if he does good science and doesn’t explicitly undermine science by supporting pseudoscience, or otherwise.
Portraying Coyne as “attacking” and doing so “already” (as if he’s jumped on this story, rather than commenting when the possibility was mentioned) when he’s really fairly measured in his response (he can call for Collins to step down from BioLogos, probably a good idea when he’s head of the NIH) is more blaming the other side for your own intemperance.
And, of course, it was religious scientists “seeking to explain nature without preconceptions, secular or otherwise” who gave us the science we use today. It’s why we look for actual causes, rather than hazy blather about “designers” which deliberately fails to make even the predictions that we expect of actual designers (rational planning, lack of the hereditary constraints which are ubiquitous in life). It is you who try to shame Newton, Galileo, and Dobzhansky, by nullifying all of the standards of science bequeathed to us by religious scientists.
Glen Davidson
Glen Davidson

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David Klinghoffer

posted July 8, 2009 at 6:55 pm

You Gabriel, I don’t think I’ve insulted you by questioning your sincerity — why not extend the same courtesy to me? I was writing about these issues long before I became associated with DI. The problem with TE isn’t that it leads to smart squids but that it proposes that God didn’t care or intend to create human beings. In any event, this is a question of TE versus Judaism, not versus ID.

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Gabriel Hanna

posted July 8, 2009 at 6:57 pm

David, I am not Jewish, was in fact raised a Mormon, but years ago I stopped being religious. I couldn’t tell you why. When I was young my mother explained to me that dinosaurs weren’t real because they weren’t in Scripture–I don’t say the LDS Church takes that position–and I believed her then, and stopped reading about them.
Since then I’ve gone on to study physics professionally, and other sciences as an amateur. Philosophically I gravitate toward people like David Hume and Karl Popper. I’ve read them, and their critics, so I understand their limitations, but my own thoughts are of the same flavor as many of theirs.
There are any number of things science can’t teach us–it can never give moral prescriptions, for example–but the things science DOES teach us are usually on very firm ground.
I’m sure that Maimonides is VERY far from Collins and Miller-but his ideas about “God’s image” are very far from those you have expressed, from what I understand.

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Gabriel Hanna

posted July 8, 2009 at 7:04 pm

The problem with TE isn’t that it leads to smart squids but that it proposes that God didn’t care or intend to create human beings.
This is no more true of TE than of ID. God runs His universe as He sees fit, and many theistic evolutionists say that God used natural laws to achieve His intended result.
The “Designer” has no obligation, if ID is scientific, to make Man in His Own image. He need not have done so at all. Unless ID incorporates the God of Abraham, it is not superior to what you criticize.
If God wants a stone to roll down hill, or to form a snowflake from a drop of water, does He need to wreak a miracle to do so? That is the flaw in your argument. You distort the TE perspective, focusing on one person’s idiosyncratic expression of it, to try to discredit the whole position.
This is why I do not credit you with sincerity, sir. I have seen what you do with quotes. I have seen you distort positions into unrecognizability, then triumphantly declare them defeated.
And the judge in Dover saw through it too. ID is a fig leaf. You don’t believe in it. You believe in the God of Abraham. There is nothing wrong with that, but it IS wrong to deceive people about it.

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David Klinghoffer

posted July 8, 2009 at 7:07 pm

Gabriel: Mormon…thanks that’s very interesting. From your name, I had thought you must be Sephardic! Which would explain your emphasis on Maimonides. But you have to understand that some of his views were and even still are controversial in Judaism. One doesn’t have to regard him as Gospel, so to speak. Nachmanides for one freely disagreed with him in very sharp terms. Again, I’d like to write about this in a post or somewhere at greater length.

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Gabriel Hanna

posted July 8, 2009 at 7:16 pm

David, of course Maimonides is not “Gospel”, but he represents a good chunk of Jewish thought. It would be like saying “Christians believe X” when Thomas Aquinas disagrees–sure, he’s not the sole source of authority but a great many Christians follow him and given his major role in Christian thought his disagreement ought to at least be mentioned.
When you said that Christians and Jews in general believe that Man’s physical form reflects God’s image, you said something that is not true.
“Gabriel” is an increasingly common name among people who are not particularly religious. “Hanna” is Scottish, of possibly Pictish derivation. No Sephardic ancestry that I am aware of, but my maternal grandfather’s family had been Dutch Mennonites. My background is English, Welsh, Irish, Scots, and Dutch.
Raised Mormon, I had a LOT to learn about mainstream Christianity, I certainly didn’t get it in Sunday School

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Gabriel Hanna

posted July 8, 2009 at 7:23 pm

I suppose Mormonism has had something to do with my intellectual development. The Book of Mormon has been seriously embarrassed by modern archaeology, and Church history is self-serving, to say the least. I got used to finding that what I learned in church and what I learned in school were at odds with each other. Consequently I became accustomed to critically examining the things I read. Mormonism got dropped pretty quickly when I started doing that, and Christianity not long after.
The thing about the LDS Church is that their early history took place in a literate and well-documented century. I have no doubt that more traditional religions might find themselves in the same predicament, if they had not been started long ago in faraway countries.
God may make Himself known to me if He wishes, I am not one who will say that religion is a delusion or a con. But I do set the bar pretty high.

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Glen Davidson

posted July 8, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Cross-posted (with a correction) from Foreward:
“But remember — alongside the secular Enlightenment view of science, there runs a parallel tradition, seeking to explain nature without preconceptions, secular or otherwise.”
It isn’t a parallel tradition, all real scientists have simply followed rules of thinking in science. Viz. Newton:
“In experimental philosophy we are to look upon propositions collected by general induction from phænomena as accurately or very nearly true, notwithstanding any contrary hypotheses that may be imagined, till such time as other phænomena occur, by which they may either be made more accurate, or liable to exceptions.
“This rule we must follow, that the argument of induction may not be evaded by hypotheses.”
And so why would we inductively suppose that languages evolved (albeit by very different mechanisms than in biological evolution) from the patterns of similarities and differences among them, and that life evolved due to patterns of similarities and differences among organisms, and yet to suppose that such inductive thinking stops at some theologically-defined point where the theist no longer is willing to accept such inductive reasoning?
Newton utilized known rules of thinking. He did not himself apply these to life, it is true, but Darwin did (he was clearly in the Newtonian tradition of science), and he didn’t insist upon some arbitrary cutoff point between the IDists’ fuzzy conceptions regarding “macroevolution” and “microevolution.” Either one follows the same inductive principles and conclusions, or one is simply not thinking properly.
Evolution simply follows the same rules as does the rest of science. One of the most bizarre aspects of ID is that it mercilessly condemns scientists for being consistent, rather than inconsistent in the way that IDists pretend to do science.
Glen Davidson

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Gabriel Hanna

posted July 8, 2009 at 7:40 pm

It might be interesting to mention that Mormons take “Man in God’s image” quite literally; that God is a deified man, and that humans have not only a Father but a Mother in Heaven, as expressed by Eliza Snow:
I had learned to call thee Father,
Through thy Spirit from on high;
But until the key of knowledge
Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heavens are parents single?
No; the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason, truth eternal
Tells me I’ve a mother there.

I’m not trying to ridicule Mormons by bringing this up. Just saying that people applying “pure reason” to holy books can come up with widely divergent answers.

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posted July 8, 2009 at 8:28 pm

As you know, David, there were no preconceptions about the history of life, or, even more troubling for your argument, the preconceptions that existed were the ones that supported your claims when evolution was first discovered. These preconceptions were all shot down and they continue to be shot down every day by scientists.
Non-evolutionary creationism lost. It was demonstrated to be false. The only thing left for creationists was to find a way to adapt their theology, which had failed, which had been shown to be false, to modern realities. Theistic evolution or a complete indifference to the question, accepting the discoveries of science, were the most common results, but some refused to accept this. They insisted that the facts were wrong. You are a member of this group.
You have no evidence to back up your claims. You attack others for being wrong on theology, even though most Christians and Jews belong to church bodies that reject your anti-science dogma. The belong to denominations that accept the reality discovered by scientists. Why do you reject those discoveries? What gives you the authority to not only reject these scientific discoveries without a shred of evidence but then attack others for not being correct?
Intelligent design is the religious doctrine of non-evolutionary creationism dishonestly cloaked in the words of secularism. It is an anti-scientific doctrine and it is propagated by anti-scientific religious folks. No scientific evidence supports it.
By the way, when will the Discovery Institute start doing scientific research? We keep hearing the word ‘scientific’ from them, but all we see is religious dogma.

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Robert Landbeck

posted July 9, 2009 at 6:47 am

The reconciliation of religion with science is already taking place as I type this note, but not with ‘religion’ as we know it. The first new interpretation of the moral teaching of Christ for two thousand years is spreading on the web.
It offers first ever viable religious conception capable of leading reason, by faith, to observable consequences which can be tested and judged. This new teaching delivers the first ever religious claim of insight into the human condition, that meets the Enlightenment criteria of verifiable, evidence based truth embodied in action. However unexpected or seemingly implausible, for the first time in history, a new moral tenet exists, offering access by faith, to absolute proof for its belief.
Revolutionary stuff for those who can handle it.
Published [at the moment] only on the web, a typeset manuscript of this new teaching is available as a free [1.4meg] PDF download from a variety of sites including:

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Elizabeth Carter

posted July 9, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Hi Gabriel! I stumbled upon this site and quickly noticed your post about Mormonism and the Book of Mormon. I hope you don’t mind if I share my thoughts concerning what you wrote.
You mentioned that the Book of Mormon has been seriously embarrassed by modern archaeologists. I can totally see why you think this way. The fact is, most of the Mormons who do research comparing the BOM with archaeology are not archaeologists or even academics themselves. If you visit any Mormon bookstore, you’ll notice the majority of the authors work in other fields, and are people like dentists or insurance agents. This is not to say that people without PhDs can’t do good research, but these specific people haven’t done it so far. And unfortunately, it is these people that modern archaeologists understandably criticize. It is also unfortunate that most Mormons end up reading these books and getting the wrong ideas (ie: Izapa Stela 5 or the myth of Quetzequatal). It is also unfortunate, that a lot of the Mormon archaeologists out there purposely don’t publish on the BOM, or else they would be labeled as non-academic and lose their good standing in the field.
Being a Mormon myself and also being married to a Mesoamerican Archaeologist (who is also Mormon), I have had the opportunity to understand the difference between real evidence or non-evidence for the BOM (By the way, we both believe the BOM took place in Southern Mexico and Guatemala). Unlike over-zealous Mormons wanting to prove the BOM true through archaeology, we understand this might never be the case. We’ll probably never find a stela that says “Lehi was here”. It’s like trying to dig up a 10X10 square in Los Angeles 1,000 years from now, and expecting to find an old copy of the BOM.
However, there is evidence out there that adds up little by little to form convincing arguments, and coming from good sources too (such as archaeologists like Karl Taube or Stephen Houston – both leading Mesoamerican archaeologists in the field). By putting a lot of pieces together, the BOM comes to life and starts to make sense (like the death of a thousand wounds). You’ll never really hear a good scholar criticizing the BOM (at least on paper) because they have never read it. The BOM to them is kind of like UFOs or Bigfoot…why even bother. There are exceptions though. The archaeology directors in charge of Teotihuacan in Mexico City (they’re married) just got baptized into the Mormon church a few years ago because they were willing to let the missionaries over for dinner and discuss the BOM. I’m friends with both these people, and they will tell you that the archaeological evidence is definitely there.
If you would like some recommendations for evidence pointing towards the BOM, please let me know and my husband would be happy to share good sources with you. There are plenty of things you could read and consider. My husband and I have never found what he learned doing his PhD at odds with what we believe concerning the BOM. My husband’s advisor, Karl Taube (who is the standard featured on National Geographic), knows we are Mormon, but he knows my husband is objective and academic when publishing anything. It’s nice to talk about the BOM on our own however, and hopefully one day people can be a little more interested to the possibility that the BOM could be an ancient and historical record.
I want to end by saying that my husband and I don’t believe in the BOM because of archaeology. We actually believe in it because we read and prayed about it and feel strongly that it’s a real and true book. Mormonism teaches this is how a true testimony of the BOM should be gained.

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posted July 9, 2009 at 9:26 pm

“…surrendering the basic Judeo-Christian belief that the human face and body mysteriously reflect the image of a non-corporeal God.”

David, I think you’re mistaking “basic Judeo-Christian belief” for “what I happen to believe”. Don’t feel bad, it’s a common mistake to assume that you personally get to decide what is ‘basic belief’ for a billion and a half people.
For the record, most of the Judeo-Christians who I’ve heard talk about the subject take “made in the image of G_d” to refer to the mind or the soul, not the body. This always seemed like the more reasonable interpretation to me, and the sort of thing you could disagree about without having to accuse the other of abandoning bedrock principle. But hey, what do I know. I don’t even have my own collumn or anything.

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posted July 9, 2009 at 9:32 pm

RobertL: “The first new interpretation of the moral teaching of Christ for two thousand years is spreading on the web.”
From the energon site: “Once called the Gospel of the Resurrection, this previously secret and most personal teaching, lost in ancient times and buried under the weight of ensuing false tradition is now openly published for the first and last time.”
From Consumerism 101: (1) Beware of secret formulas. (2) Beware of one-time offers. (3) Beware of ‘suppressed’ information.
But don’t take my word for it. Hear what Wikipedia has to say about the harmful aspects of energon: “In its raw form, Energon is unstable and extremely harmful to most Transformers. Existing in a crystalline state, it constantly emits radiation, which can overload Transformer systems, as was discovered by Optimus Primal and his crew during the Beast Wars, when they were forced to adopt animal forms that shielded them from the radiation. Energon is also highly explosive.”

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posted July 10, 2009 at 5:11 pm

“Non-evolutionary creationism lost. It was demonstrated to be false.”
Where does this person get their information? The only thing PROVEN to be false is the THEORY of evolution. There is not one shred of evidence that man evolved from an animal. ALL they so called evolutionists have is fossils of once living creatures. There is no way to PROVE man came from MONKEY. Piltdown, Lucy, and a plethora of others are just BONES of ANIMALS that lived. Look at the bones with your eyes not an atheist antichrist opinion.

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posted July 10, 2009 at 8:32 pm


posted July 10, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I think you’ll find that there is significant evidence to support evolution. Perhaps it is you that should look at the bones with your eyes and not a theist christian opinion. I do agree with you on one point though. You are correct in asserting that there is no way to prove that man came from monkey. Why? Because man DID NOT come from monkeys nor has any evolutionist claimed that we did. Man and monkeys have a common ancestor. How many times does this have to be said? I think before you claim that evolution is false, perhaps you should learn something about it. Its obvious that you know nothing about what the theory of evolution states.

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posted July 11, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Oh no, the mormon mafia is after Gabriel! Her husband finds nothing in conflict with the BOM.Of course not, he is a believing Mormon, how could he. This is the problem with religious fanatics, they twist reality to fit predetermined beliefs.

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Gabriel Hanna

posted July 13, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Elizabeth, you are right to base your belief in the Book of Mormon on faith; evidence, internal or external, will get you nowhere, because there isn’t any.
The external evidence shows no reason to suppose that Jews came over at the time of the Baylonian captivity and built huge cities–the Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs, Mayans, and the people who built Teotihuacan seem to have been more than capable of doing so themselves.
The internal evidence suggests the work of a farmer’s son, familiar with the Bible, who didn’t write very well. Haven’t you noticed that nearly all the verses start with “and it came to pass”? Have you ever heard of a real war that ended with only one man left standing, who then writes a book? Haven’t you noticed how often he runs out of things to say and then starts quoting Isaiah, word for word from the King James Bible?
Lehi and Nephi seem, on the evidence, to be much less real than King Solomon or King Arthur. They seem more like Plato’s Atlantis–not a real legend or history, but something invented by one person and presented as real.

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posted July 22, 2009 at 9:04 pm

It seems to me that anyone who writes a book titled Why the Jews Rejected Jesus really wouldnt have a clue about anything to do with the process and practice of True Religion.
Such a book implies that he was an on the ground witness in Palestine/Israel 2000 years. And that he has researched and interviewed many many people of the Jewish faith in ALL times and places ever since.
In short he is talking through his hat.

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posted March 28, 2010 at 6:38 am

It seems apparent that Atheists want to dismiss the fact that for a very long time many Scientists tried to claim that man descended from a monkey, chimp or ape. Now that its apparently not the case they are changing their story to suit their own agenda again by claiming that was never claimed at all?. The Bible has always shown evolution as in the first book, Genesis which said all creatures brought forth by the earth and seas “after their kind” Although I dismiss Darwins version as unlikely the facts are that after their kind is the basis of Darwins and all evolution. Collins flat out admits to being an Atheist in his book until his education brought him to God. You can dance all around the subject but you must conclude with reality.

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