The Gospels, Personal Relevance, and A Priori Commitments

The Reconquista Initiative


The Gospels, Personal Relevance, and A Priori Commitments

Note:  Please be advised that this essay was inspired by David Marshall’s blog post located here:

When speaking about the gospels, as well as the veracity of all the records for Jesus’s life, unbelievers often point to the fact that there is a great deal of dispute amongst scholars concerning the details of Jesus’s earthly existence—especially when compared to the relative agreement that scholars have concerning the details of the lives of other historical figures—and such unbelievers point out this fact as a means of undermining both the credibility of the gospels and certain Christian claims about Jesus Himself. And so indeed, unbelievers thus bring up this issue as a reason to reject the claim that we can know much about the life of Jesus. However, there is often an ignored reason for why there is such a major dispute concerning the life and times of Jesus and so relatively little dispute about other ancient figures: namely, personal relevance. After all, for the unbeliever, if the gospels are true, then this not only means that his entire worldview is false, but also that, suddenly, he is morally at fault for various things, he is morally responsible for those faults, and there are even potentially everlasting repercussions to his faults if he does not repent of them. Thus, the debate over Jesus is not merely an academic one, as it is in the case of most other historical figures. Rather, it is a debate which affects every single one of us, whether we want it to or not. And in such a case, both motivated reasoning and cognitive biases can flare up to a major level in anyone who wishes to deny the evidence for Christian theism, such as the evidence found in the gospels.

Therefore, the issue of “relevance” concerning the gospels is a point that cannot be overlooked. In fact, it is so important that one wonders whether one should, before having a discussion with a non-believer, ask them whether they would genuinely come to believe that Jesus had caused miracles to occur or that God had resurrected Jesus from the dead even if they had ten eyewitnesses to the events in question as well as video evidence of both Jesus’ miracles as well as his death and subsequent resurrection. Since I doubt that many of them actually would believe in Jesus’s miraculous workings or his resurrection even given such evidence—rather, they would grasp at any naturalistic explanation possible, such as that ‘aliens’ did it or that the video evidence was forged—then it soon becomes reasonable to believe that such unbelievers’s current objections to the gospels are merely objections meant to give more plausibility and apparent legitimacy to their already existent a priori rejection of Christianity and the gospels. In essence, their current objections against the gospels—which, though not without merit, are all-too-often exaggerated and selectively-skeptical—make it easier for them to maintain their intellectual credibility in light of their a priori commitment against theism and Christianity; and such objections certainly make such unbelievers seem more rational than if they outright admitting that no amount of historical evidence would ever convince them to believe in miracle-working Jesus or in his miraculous resurrection from the dead.

And lest you think that I am merely “supposing” that some atheists would react this way, note the following examples.

First, note atheist JJC Smart, when, on page 46 of the 2003 second edition book Atheism & Theism, he states the following:

 [QUOTE] …someone who has naturalistic preconceptions will always in fact find some naturalistic explanation more plausible than a supernatural one… Suppose that I woke up in the night and saw the stars arranged in shapes that spelt out the Apostle’s Creed. I would know that astronomically it is impossible that stars should have changed their position. I don’t know what I would think. Perhaps I would think that I was dreaming or that I had gone mad. What if everyone else seemed to me to be telling me that the same had happened? Then I might not only think that I had gone mad—I would probably go mad. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added]

Second, consider arch-atheist Richard Dawkins, who, in an interview with fellow atheist Peter Boghossian, which can be found on Youtube under the title “Richard Dawkins in conversation with Peter Boghossian”, essentially admits that no evidence can convince him that God exists. Here is a transcript of their conversation between the 12 minute and 30 second mark and the 15 minute and 30 second mark (and please note that I am indebted to the ‘Shadow to Light’ blog for this transcript):

[QUOTE] Boghossian: What would it take for you to believe in God?

Dawkins: I used to say it would be very simple. It would be the Second Coming of Jesus or a great, big, deep, booming, bass voice saying “I am God.” But I was persuaded, mostly by Steve Zara, who is a regular contributor to my website. He more or less persuaded me that even if there was this booming voice in the Second Coming with clouds of glory, the probable explanation is that it is a hallucination or a conjuring trick by David Copperfield. He made the point that a supernatural explanation for anything is incoherent. It doesn’t add up to an explanation for anything. A non-supernatural Second Coming could be aliens from outer space.

[Peter Boghossian begins to speak and is in full agreement with Dawkins, arguing, for example, that if the stars spelled out a message from God, we would first have to rule out alternative explanations, like an alien trickster culture.]

Dawkins then agrees with Boghossian.

Boghossian then asks him: So that [stars aligned into a message] couldn’t be enough. So what would persuade you?

Dawkins: Well, I’m starting to think nothing would, which, in a way, goes against the grain, because I’ve always paid lip service to the view that a scientist should change his mind when evidence is forthcoming. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added,

Third, in a Pharyngula blog post which was written on the 9th of October 2010, accessed on the 14th of January 2017, and titled “It’s like he was reading my mind”, atheist PZ Myers—author of the aforementioned popular atheist blog site—also admits that no evidence could convince him that God exists:

[QUOTE] Steve Zara has a nice article at [Richard] that is actually saying the same thing I’ve been arguing at recent talks: There is no possibility of evidence to convince us of the existence of a god. … There is no valid god hypothesis, so there can be no god evidence, so let’s stop pretending the believers have a shot at persuading us. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added,

Finally, Steve Zara—mentioned above—in an article on ‘’, which was written on the 30th of July 2011, and accessed on 14 January 2017, and titled “There can be no evidence for God (revisited)”, writes:

[QUOTE] …we should challenge the very concept of gods, we should not let believers set the rules of the game with flim-flam about the possible truth of Biblical miracles, or other ways of knowing reality, or necessary beings. We should make it clear that all arguments that lead to gods are wrong because they lead to gods! God is a singular mistake, a philosophical division by zero, a point at which the respectability of arguments break down. God is out of the question, the ultimate wrong answer. [UNQUOTE, bold emphasis added,

In light of the above quotes, is anyone surprised that such unbelievers would vociferously argue that the gospels are not persuasive and that they would use any means necessary to make their objections against the gospels and against any historical record which supported Jesus’s historical nature? Of course not, for doing so is the only way to maintain their intellectual credibility in light of their a priori anti-theistic commitments. In fact, given the above quotes, it is not even shocking that some unbelievers try to outright deny the very existence of Jesus, for doing so makes their dismissal of the gospels that much easier. And so, while points can indeed be made concerning certain weaknesses in the gospels, we cannot lose sight of the fact that objections against the gospels would be made no matter how good the evidence for them was. In fact, funnily enough, Jesus himself tangentially admits as much in a more general way in Luke 16:27-31 when he says that some people would not believe in the miraculous or in Christian theism even if they saw a man raised from the dead, and so Christians should not only not be surprised when people readily deny the evidentiary value of the gospels, but they should actually predict that this will be the case in many instances.

Finally, it should be noted that while Christians are not immune to the same problem as the one identified above, this problem is not necessarily as acute for believers as it is for unbelievers. After all, even if the gospels are deemed to be weak historical evidence, a Christian could nevertheless remain a Christian on purely philosophical grounds, or on the basis of Paul’s writings, or the Christian could even move to fideism or to Reformed Epistemology as the grounds for his faith; or even, the Christian might lose Christianity, but he could remain a religious theist, and so the blow to the Christian would not be nearly as much as it would be to the unbeliever if the unbeliever had to admit that the gospels were powerful historical evidence. Thus, for the Christian, changing his perspective on the gospels would not be nearly as life-changing as such a change would be for the atheist. Thus, a good case could be made that the atheist’s drive to deny the strength of the gospels is greater than is the believer’s drive to affirm their strength.

And so, the long and short of it is this:  as unpleasant as it might be to have to question a person’s motives and worldview commitments when dealing with their arguments concerning the gospels, the fact remains that when it comes to assessing the gospels, a person’s a priori commitments concerning them are highly relevant, and so they simply cannot be ignored. And this is a point that should never be forgotten when discussing the gospels with an unbeliever.

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Anno Domini 2017 01 14

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam


Another Objection to Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma

The Reconquista Initiative


Another Objection to Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma

In response to the dilemma that evolution poses to atheism, commentator Andrew offers yet another objection to this argument, and since his objection is quite interesting, it is well-worth a detailed response. As such, and before considering the objection in its various parts, let us first review Andrew’s whole objection, which is the following:

[QUOTE] Possible counter-argument:

(1) Across societies and times, and continuing to the present, there is great variety in what people believe with respect to the supernatural, including much contradiction.

(2) Given the presence of this contradiction, it is obvious that much of what humanity believes about the supernatural is false.

At this point, many atheist apologists assert “given that much of it is false, it’s reasonable to treat it all as false”. This is a stupid argument, not the least because for any given true belief it is possible to concoct a plurality of beliefs that are like to it but are false. To put an extreme example, there is exactly one true solution to “X = 2 + 2”, but the set of false solutions is infinite in the natural numbers alone. The presence of many false solutions does not disprove the existence of a true one.

But let us instead go in a different direction:

(3) Despite most societies holding false beliefs about the supernatural, most remain functional to a greater or lesser extent.

(4) Thus, while having belief in the supernatural may be a survival benefit, whether such a belief is accurate or not confers little to no benefit.

(5) In contrast, having more accurate beliefs about the natural world typically leads to a survival benefit to the peoples or societies involved.

(6) Having shown that inaccurate beliefs about the natural world decreases survival, while having inaccurate beliefs about the supernatural does not, it’s reasonable to conclude that our minds are tuned towards accurately tracking the natural but not the supernatural.

I’m sure there are ways to nitpick this, but I think the core idea represents a legitimate challenge. One could answer it by showing that a particular set of beliefs about the supernatural leads to better outcomes, but I think that in this context “better” draws in more moral baggage (and thus needs more apologetic work) for the theist than “survival advantage” does for the atheist (as long as he/she avoids holding up survival as a moral good).

How would you deal with this? [UNQUOTE]

So, have looked at the whole objection, let us now dissect it in detail; therefore, let us consider Andrew’s initial claim, which is the following:

[QUOTE] Possible counter-argument: (1) Across societies and times, and continuing to the present, there is great variety in what people believe with respect to the supernatural, including much contradiction. [UNQUOTE]

 Now, the first thing to note in response to Andrew’s claim is that we need to distinguish between what could be called ‘primary’ belief differences and ‘secondary’ belief differences, where secondary beliefs are those that are built upon the primary ones and which would not exist without the primary beliefs being in place first. And to understand what I mean, think, for example, of the history of the Titanic. A primary difference concerning the Titanic would be a debate over whether or not the ship actually sank, whereas a secondary difference would be whether it sank as a whole ship or broke in half before doing so. In the same way, when it comes to the variety of supernatural beliefs, we must separate primary differences from secondary ones, and when we do so, we find that there is not that much primary difference between supernatural belief systems. For example, nearly all supernatural systems believe that gods exist, that spirits exist, that these spirits can have an effect on the world and can be interacted with, that there is a life after this one, and that there is an after-life punishment for misbehavior in this life. Now, in terms of secondary differences, this is where the great deal of variety rests. For example, is reincarnation or resurrection true, or is God the greatest conceivable being or not, and so on. And so in terms of secondary beliefs, there are indeed differences.  Nevertheless, the point is that at a fundamental level, different supernatural belief systems are quite similar, and they all obviously agree that atheistic-naturalism is false.

Notice as well that if the atheist objects to the distinction between primary and secondary differences, then he runs into a problem for himself. Why? Because the same distinction applies to natural things, such as science, as well. For example, consider evolution. Though most atheists concur that evolution occurred, they differ on what the main mechanism of evolution was, whether it was continually gradual or rapid then slow, or whether such things as group-level selection occur or not. So even in the realm of evolution, we have primary agreement with secondary disagreement. And the same could be extended to other sciences as well, not to mention numerous other domains such as history, for example. So the point here that the atheist cannot object to such a distinction, nor object to the importance of this distinction, without also undermining his own beliefs about numerous natural subjects as well.

Now, Andrew continues:

[QUOTE] (2) Given the presence of this contradiction, it is obvious that much of what humanity believes about the supernatural is false. [UNQUOTE]

In the case of outright contradictions, this would be correct. And yet we must be careful here, for things can be contradictory on a secondary level without being contradictory on a primary one. Again, think of evolution: atheists agree that evolution occurs, but some might believe that group-level selection occurs while others do not, and yet these secondary-level contradictions do not negate the primary belief that evolution did occur. And the same could be true for supernatural belief systems. So, for example, two different supernatural systems could have contradictory accounts of the origins of, say, spirits—which would be a secondary belief—and yet both could be correct about the primary belief that spirits exist. So a contradiction in secondary beliefs need not be a contradiction in primary ones. At the same time, we must also be careful of claiming that things are contradictions, when, in fact, they are not. For example, Hinduism holds that hundreds and even thousands of gods exist, and yet Christianity teaches that only one Supreme God exists. However, this is not necessarily an outright contradiction, for what Hinduism considers to be lower-case ‘g’ gods, Christianity would consider fallen angels separated from God, thereby seeming to be gods in this world; after all, Christianity teaches that Satan is the prince of this world, and Satan’s power certainly makes equal to something like a lower-case ‘g’ god. And so again, we must be cautious before we claim that something is an outright contradiction rather than just being a definitional difference.

Next, Andrew states:

[QUOTE] At this point, many atheist apologists assert “given that much of it is false, it’s reasonable to treat it all as false”. This is a stupid argument, not the least because for any given true belief it is possible to concoct a plurality of beliefs that are like to it but are false. … The presence of many false solutions does not disprove the existence of a true one. [UNQUOTE]

This is true and correct. Furthermore, consider that much of past science has been shown to be incorrect, and this trend is no doubt bound to continue into the future, and yet this does not mean that we should treat all of science as false. At the same time, even though we could offer numerous different theories to account for our empirical observations, and even though most of these theories would be false and even contradictory, this does not mean that one of them is not the correct one. So again, Andrew is correct in his point above.

Additionally, note that even if we take this objection seriously, then, at best, it seems that what could be argued is that much of the secondary aspects of supernatural beliefs are false, and that it is reasonable to treat these secondary aspects as false or be agnostic about them; but that does not mean that it is reasonable to treat the primary beliefs as false. After all, think again of the evolution example: though it might be reasonable to be agnostic about whether group-level selection occurs, or whether evolution is gradual or not, or what the primary evolutionary mechanism is, this does not mean that it is reasonable to be agnostic about whether or not evolution occurred at all. Now you might have other reasons to discount certain primary beliefs about evolution, but just because there is a dispute about the secondary aspects of it should not necessarily be one of those reasons. And so again, distinguishing between primary and secondary beliefs is critical in this case.

But now Andrew moves to his main objection:

[QUOTE] But let us instead go in a different direction:

(3) Despite most societies holding false beliefs about the supernatural, most remain functional to a greater or lesser extent.

(4) Thus, while having belief in the supernatural may be a survival benefit, whether such a belief is accurate or not confers little to no benefit.

(5) In contrast, having more accurate beliefs about the natural world typically leads to a survival benefit to the peoples or societies involved.

(6) Having shown that inaccurate beliefs about the natural world decreases survival, while having inaccurate beliefs about the supernatural does not, it’s reasonable to conclude that our minds are tuned towards accurately tracking the natural but not the supernatural. [UNQUOTE]

So, this is Andrew’s main argument. And as we examine it, let us look at Point 3 first. Note again that this point does not distinguish between primary and secondary differences. Indeed, this point, even if accepted, should read that most societies holding false secondary beliefs about the supernatural remain functional to a greater or lesser extent. And this will be an important issue shortly.

Next, note Point 4. Again, the difference between primary and secondary beliefs needs to be brought to the forefront. After all, it would be highly beneficial to a person’s survival to have correct primary beliefs about the supernatural, such as having the correct belief about whether spirits actually exist and can be interacted with to aid human survival; by contrast, it may not be beneficial to have accurate secondary beliefs about the supernatural, such as whether those spirits are Hindu gods or Christian demons or whether. So it can be true that being accurate in terms of primary beliefs about the supernatural may have an enormous survival benefit—for example, think about the survival advantage granted by knowing that a spirit exists who can make it rain food from the sky and knowing how to ask this from him—while at the same time, the survival advantage granted by having accurate secondary beliefs about the supernatural is minimal—such as knowing the spirit’s exact name or history. Furthermore, it is also interesting to note that being accurate about certain supernatural beliefs—such as the belief in the existence of interactive and human-assisting spirits—could be much more important from a survival perspective than numerous beliefs about the natural world, such as that evolution is true or that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Indeed, if I was a human trying to survive in a harsh environment, being accurate about certain supernatural beliefs would be much more important for my survival than being accurate about certain natural facts. After all, if I am going to use valuable time and resources for a supernatural purpose, such as making offerings of food, or animals, or prayer, then it would be highly beneficial to be accurate about whether or not the use of that time and those resources for the supernatural purpose will actually have a survival-enhancing effect or not. By contrast, if I am inaccurate in my beliefs about evolution or other abstract scientific or mathematic or philosophical facts, then this does little to nothing to harm my survival chances. Thus, accuracy concerning the supernatural could be much more important, from a survival perspective, then accuracy concerning abstract and non-survival-related facts about the natural world.

Now, onto Point 5. Here the assumption is made that having more accurate beliefs about the natural world leads to survival benefits. But does it? Well, consider some issues with this claim. For example, at present, Western societies are much more advanced in terms of having accurate beliefs about the natural world when compared to other more primitive cultures, and yet primitive cultures, at least from an evolutionary perspective, appear to be outbreeding Western societies quite well. In fact, accurate beliefs about such natural world things as abortion and contraception do not seem to be helping the demographic survival of Western peoples but actually hindering them, thus making them less successful, at least when viewed from an evolutionary perspective. So it is not clear that having accurate natural world beliefs leads to greater survival from an evolutionary perspective; or, at the very least, it is not clear that having accurate beliefs about natural world issues not directly related to one’s survival—such as abstract science, or philosophy, or mathematics—is in any way beneficial. However, note as well that it is even questionable whether having accurate beliefs about survival-related natural-world issues does increase one’s survival chances. After all, imagine, for example, that a person believes that, for human beings, exchanging saliva through kissing for five minutes leads to reproduction, whereas engaging in actual intercourse is just a medicinal action which transfers “critical chi energy” from one person to another; now, every time that this particular person “reproduces” through kissing, he then also has intercourse to replenish his chi energy. Now these beliefs about reproduction are false, and yet in comparison to a person with true beliefs about reproduction, would the person with false beliefs be any less reproductively successful? It is not clear that they would be less successful. After all, the person’s body would engage in all the right actions to reproduce even though he had completely false beliefs about what he was doing. Furthermore, a whole society with such a false belief about reproduction could nevertheless still reproduce just as well as a society with true beliefs about the subject. So again, it is not clear that accuracy about natural-world issues is more beneficial for survival. And indeed, for a further example of this, think of a person who believes that all predators with sharp teeth also have poison in their teeth; now such a person might have a false secondary belief about predators, but if he ran from predators just as hard as someone with a true belief about predators, then the person with a false secondary belief would survive just as well. Thus, again, it is not clear that accurate beliefs about secondary survival issues are needed for a person to have a survival benefit. In fact, in some cases, having outright delusional beliefs might aid in a person’s survival; for example, a man who is objectively ugly, physically weak, and undesirable, but who falsely believes that he is God’s gift to women, may be more reproductively successful, simply through his endlessly persistent efforts to reproduce, then a similar man who has an accurate view of himself and thus never tries to reproduce because he is accurate in his assessment of his undesirability. So, in some cases, false beliefs about the natural world may actually be more beneficial than true ones!

And finally, Andrew concludes his argument by saying that since having inaccurate beliefs about the natural world decreases survival, while having inaccurate beliefs about the supernatural does not, then it is reasonable to conclude that our minds are tuned towards accurately tracking the natural but not the supernatural. But, as shown, all the points leading to this conclusion are, at best, questionable, and, at worst, wrong. And so the conclusion itself is questionable.

And yet an even further problem with Andrew’s argument—at least in terms of its ability to undermine the dilemma that evolution creates for atheistic-naturalism—is that Andrew’s argument actually creates its own dilemma for the atheistic-naturalist given that a parallel argument can be made concerning the accuracy of our cognitive faculties for scientific and/or philosophical beliefs, and since atheistic-naturalism is a philosophical belief which largely draws on scientific facts for its justification, then this parallel argument serves to undermine atheistic-naturalism just as much as the original dilemma did. Not only this, but Andrew’s argument can even be flipped on its head to support supernaturalism while undermining atheistic-naturalism. And to understand what I mean, consider this argument which mirrors Andrew’s original argument:

  1. Despite most societies, in the past, as well as the present, holding false beliefs about science (biology, cosmology, etc) and about philosophy, they nevertheless remained functional to a greater or lesser extent.
  1. Thus, while having some type of philosophical and scientific beliefs may have a survival benefit, whether such beliefs are accurate or not confers little to no benefit.
  1. By contrast, having accurate primary beliefs about the supernatural world—whether it exists or not, whether the beings in it can interact with the world, etc—typically leads to a survival benefit to the peoples or societies involved in such beliefs given that accurate primary beliefs about the supernatural world will dictate whether or not to devote time and resources to dealing with this world or not. Indeed, if an interactive supernatural world exists, then having an accurate belief concerning it could literally be the difference between life and death for a society, or it could mean greater success than a competing social group who does not have such an accurate belief about the supernatural world.
  1. So, having shown that accurate beliefs about science and/or philosophy have little to no survival-benefit, while having accurate beliefs about the supernatural would have a survival benefit, then it’s reasonable to conclude that our minds are tuned towards accurately tracking primary beliefs about the supernatural world but not about science and/or philosophy. Or, at the very least, our minds are more accurately tuned to tracking primary beliefs about the supernatural world in comparison to accurately tracking beliefs about science and/or philosophy.
  1. But since atheistic-naturalism is a philosophical point-of-view largely based on the findings of science, then if human cognitive faculties are not tuned towards being accurate about such beliefs, then humans have a reason to doubt their accuracy concerning the truth of atheistic-naturalism while nevertheless having confidence about their accuracy concerning supernaturalism.
  1. And if we nevertheless do believe ourselves to be accurate concerning scientific and/or philosophical beliefs, then we have all the more reason to be more confident concerning our belief about supernaturalism, for we are tuned to be more accurate about primary supernatural beliefs then we are about scientific and/or philosophical beliefs.

And so, the long and short of it is this:  if human evolutionary survival is indeed linked to humans having reliable cognitive faculties, then evolution, in and of itself, arguably gives us a reason to trust the reliability of our cognitive faculties concerning the supernatural more than it does concerning science, philosophy, or the atheistic-naturalism that grows out of them. And so appealing to a connection between our evolutionary survival and reliable cognitive faculties will not help the atheistic-naturalist avoid Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma.

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Anno Domini 2016 12 23

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

Objections to Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma

The Reconquista Initiative


Objections to Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma

In the previous essay titled “Atheism’s Evolution Dilemma’, it was noted that evolution presents atheists and atheistic-naturalists with a dilemma: namely, if the atheistic-naturalist believes that evolution created human beings with cognitive faculties that have a low or inscrutable reliability when it comes to tracking the truth about the world, then the atheistic-naturalist has a reason to disbelieve or be uncertain about everything that is delivered by those cognitive faculties, including his belief in evolution and atheistic-naturalism; but if the atheistic-naturalist believes that evolution created human beings with cognitive faculties that have a high reliability when it comes to tracking the truth about the world, then the atheistic-naturalist has a reason to disbelieve or be uncertain about atheistic-naturalism, for those highly reliable cognitive faculties have almost universally created, in human beings, the belief that atheistic-naturalism is false and that theism and/or supernaturalism is true. So whatever way the atheistic-naturalist turns, evolution creates a problem for him given that it seems to generate a defeater for belief in atheistic-naturalism regardless of which route the atheistic-naturalist decides to take. And yet, as with all arguments, this one is subject to certain objections, and so those objections must be dealt with, which is precisely what we will now do.

Now, when dealing with the objections that the atheistic-naturalist might raise, the first thing to be careful of is that the atheistic-naturalist simply not try to ‘special-plead’ his way out of this dilemma by merely asserting that theistic and/or supernatural belief just happens to be a major exception to humanity’s otherwise reliable evolution-created truth-tracking cognitive faculties. Indeed, until and unless the atheistic-naturalist gives us a sound reason to believe him, the atheistic-naturalist cannot just claim, without evidence, that our cognitive faculties are reliable in their truth-tracking ability except when it comes to theistic and/or supernatural beliefs. That would be obvious special-pleading. And yet, if the atheistic-naturalist does try to give a reason for why theistic and/or supernatural beliefs should not be considered a reliable deliverance of our cognitive faculties when most of its other deliverances are, then the atheistic-naturalist runs into numerous other dilemma-like problems which still undermine atheistic-naturalism.

First, notice that if the atheistic-naturalist does indeed claim that humanity’s evolution-created cognitive faculties are reliably truth-tracking, but not for theistic and/or supernatural beliefs, then the atheistic-naturalist has a serious problem, for given the absolutely pervasive nature of theistic and/or supernatural beliefs across all of human history, then this raises the question that if human cognitive faculties can be so widely mistaken in such an crucial area, then this fact is itself some grounds to doubt the truth-tracking reliability of human cognitive faculties in general. And so, the atheistic-naturalist is back at the original problem of now having a reason to believe that the truth-tracking reliability of human cognitive faculties is either low or inscrutable. So this is the first issue with claiming that human cognitive faculties are unreliable concerning belief in theism and/or supernaturalism: namely, that it forces the atheistic-naturalist right back into the original dilemma that he was trying to deal with.

Second, the atheistic-naturalist might try to claim that theistic and/or supernatural beliefs allegedly involve non-visible entities and/or entities merely inferred to exist from their effects, and so this is why human cognitive faculties are unreliable concerning theistic and/or supernatural beliefs, but not unreliable in general. And yet, once again, numerous problems arise with this objection. After all, numerous theistic and/or supernatural belief systems claim that the gods and/or supernatural beings that they posit as existent are not only perceivable by human senses, but they may even be outright material in nature. And so it cannot simply be assumed that theistic and/or supernatural entities, if existent, would not be manifest to human senses. Indeed, such beings might be entirely visible to human sense organs, as many religions, such as Christianity with the resurrected Jesus, claim. But the other problem for this objection is that if the atheistic-naturalist argues that human cognitive faculties are not reliable when it comes to non-visible entities and/or entities inferred to exist from their effects, then the atheistic-naturalist has just thrown major doubt on humanity’s ability to do a great deal of science, given that science, in very large part, is based on humans making inferences concerning unseen entities from the alleged effects that those entities make. Furthermore, what does this objection mean for a human being’s inference concerning the existence of other unseen minds, the actual existence of matter, which is never seen but only inferred, and numerous other common but inferred beliefs concerning things that are not directly visible to the senses. In essence, this objection undermines the reliability of a large part of the beliefs that we all consider reliable and which we all generally hold.

Third, the atheist-naturalist might argue that whereas human cognitive faculties are of high truth-tracking reliability when it comes to issues concerning survival, they are not as reliable concerning non-survival related matters, such as theistic and/or supernatural beliefs. But again, problems arise for this objection, such as the fact that it simply assumes that theism and/or supernaturalism had nothing to do with human survival in the past; indeed, this objection, in essence, simply assumes the truth of atheistic-naturalism as a presupposition. But that if the very point under discussion. After all, consider that if interactive theistic and/or supernatural entities exist and affect the world through such things as miracles or answering prayers, as most theistic and/or supernatural worldviews claim, then such entities would be intimately and directly linked to human survival, and so human cognitive faculties would be reliable concerning them even given this objection. Furthermore, if the atheistic-naturalist wants to claim that human cognitive faculties are only, or primarily, of high truth-tracking reliability when it concerns matters related to survival, then once again, such a view creates problems for science, abstract mathematics, and philosophy. Indeed, it raises problems for atheistic-naturalism in particular given that the worldview of atheistic-naturalism is a conclusion of abstract philosophy, not a conclusion prone out of a need to survive. So again, the atheistic-naturalist has a problem, for whatever way that he turns, the conclusion for atheistic-naturalism is not good even given this objection.

Fourth—and related to the third point—the atheistic-naturalist could argue that theistic and/or supernatural beliefs are simply a by-product of the evolutionary process, and hence are unreliable due to this fact. And yet, science, mathematics, philosophy, and numerous other advanced fields are also merely by-products of humanity’s evolutionary past that have no direct relationship to humanity’s evolutionary survival, and so again, to deny the reliability of theistic and/or supernatural beliefs due to their being a by-product—admitted presently only for the sake of argument—is to also cast doubt on the reliability of human cognitive faculties concerning all those other areas as well. But again, this then casts doubt on atheistic-naturalism itself, given that belief in atheistic-naturalism is a product of philosophical reasoning and alleged inferences from science. And so again, by the mere act of trying to avoid the dilemma that evolution presents to it, atheistic-naturalism is nevertheless still in serious trouble from the very objections that it tries to use to protect itself from that dilemma.

Finally, perhaps the atheistic-naturalist might argue that since theistic and/or supernatural beliefs were allegedly created in humanity’s evolutionary past by something like the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device (HADD), then this explanation is sufficient to account for why human cognitive faculties could have high truth-tracking reliability in other areas, but nevertheless be mistaken concerning theistic and/or supernatural beliefs. Now, leaving aside the obvious issue of the genetic fallacy here, the further problem for this objection is that this explanation merely assumes that atheistic-naturalism is true and then seeks an explanation for theistic and/or supernatural beliefs from within that perspective. But it is unsound to simply assume atheistic-naturalism to be the case. After all, whereas the atheistic-naturalist assumes that a person’s detection of a theistic and/or supernatural entity is a false positive (meaning that the human believes that something is true even though it is not), the fact is that the very reason that human beings may have claimed to detect theistic and/or supernatural entities in the past is because such entities were actually there and were really detected! Indeed, just because a person has a Hyperactive Agency Detection Device does not show, in and of itself, that the person is not detecting actual supernatural entities; making such a claim takes further philosophical argumentation and appeals to such things as simplicity, so the mere existence of the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device does not do the work that the atheistic-naturalist might want it to do. Furthermore, there is also a chicken-and-egg problem here, for whereas the atheistic-naturalist contends that the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device gave rise to theistic and/or supernatural belief, the theist and/or supernaturalist could question whether or not the prevalence of theistic and/or supernatural entities did not give rise to the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device. Indeed, a supernaturalist, arguing from his perspective rather than a naturalistic one, could claim that supernatural entities were so prevalent in the past—as numerous religions contend—that it was the prevalence of these supernatural entities which gave rise to the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device, rather than vis versa. So the atheistic-naturalist needs to contend with this counter-argument prior to merely claiming that the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device is the explanation for theistic and/or supernatural beliefs.

In addition to the above, it also needs to be noted that the theist and/or supernaturalist has his own evolutionary explanation for the rise of atheistic-naturalism. After all, in a world filled with theistic and/or supernatural entities which have an effect on human beings and which human being cannot control, it would not be surprising that a small percentage of human beings, being unable to psychologically cope with the knowledge that such entities exist, would engage in a form of psychological denial as a means to protect themselves psychologically from this truth in order to continue functioning in the world. Indeed, such a condition could be summarized as ‘Supernatural Denial Syndrome’; after all, denial is well-known psychological defensive mechanism, and it could just as likely be the cause of belief in atheistic-naturalism as the Hyperactive Agency Detection Device is the cause of theistic and/or supernaturalist belief. So, in many ways, this would be a form of Hysterical Blindness concerning theism and/or supernaturalism (and please note that Hysterical Blindness is where a person under high stress, such as a soldier, stops being able to see even though there is nothing physically wrong with him or his eyes; in essence, a person’s mind makes him blind in order to psychologically protect him from unpleasant sights and facts). At the same time, it could also be that a small number of human beings are cognitively defective in some way which prevents them from perceiving or inferring the existence of theistic and/or supernatural entities, much like deaf people form a small percentage of humanity who cannot hear sound due to a cognitive and/or physical defective, but sound nevertheless exists.

And, with all of the above in mind, note that it is also interesting to ask what is more likely if human cognitive faculties are of high reliability in their truth-tracking ability:  1) that most of humanity, both past and present, and with highly reliable truth-tracking cognitive faculties, have been mistaken concerning theism and/or supernaturalism, or 2) that a small percentage of humanity, namely atheistic-naturalists, are cognitively defective and/or in psychological denial concerning the existence of theistic and/or supernatural entities. I suggest that the latter is much more likely than the former, especially if, as mentioned, you believe that evolution created human beings with highly reliable truth-tracking cognitive faculties.

And now, as a very last point, it should also be mentioned that, as a last ditch effort, the atheistic-naturalist could deny the truth of evolution, but such a move comes with problems of such a serious nature for the atheistic-naturalist that it is essentially not possible for the atheistic-naturalist to rationally make such a move.

And so, the long and short of it is this: even though the atheistic-naturalist can object to the dilemma that evolution presents for belief in atheistic-naturalism, the fact remains that the objections that the atheistic-naturalist can mount to this dilemma can not only be countered, but these objections actually raise serious dilemmas of their own. Thus, it seems that whatever way the atheistic-naturalist turns, and whatever way that he objects, evolution still presents a problem for the rationality of belief in atheistic-naturalism.

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Anno Domini 2016 12 18

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

The Crusades and Your Neighborhood

The Reconquista Initiative


 The Crusades and Your Neighborhood

Many unbelievers point to the Crusades as not only a paradigm example of Christian evil, but also as a clear example of both the hypocrisy and the sinfulness of Christian believers. And while it is certainly true that the actions of individual Crusaders may have been sinful to a very high degree at certain times in the Crusading campaign, it must still be wondered: when the 463-year history of violent Islamic aggression that preceded the Crusades is investigated, were the Crusades still unnecessary in terms of a strategic-level action? In fact, were they even “evil”? Or were they rather a necessary action that any sane person would consider justified?

After all, consider these points:

– 632 A.D.:  Mohammed dies;

– 633 A.D.:  Mesopotamia falls to Muslim invasion, followed by the entire Persian Empire;

– 635 A.D.:  Damascus falls;

– 638 A.D.:  Jerusalem capitulates;

– 643 A.D.:  Alexandria falls;

– 648-649 A.D.:  Cyprus falls;

– 653 A.D.:  Rhodes falls;

– 673 A.D.:  Constantinople attacked;

– 698 A.D.:  All of North Africa is lost;

– 711 A.D.:  Spain invaded;

– 717 A.D.:  Muslims attack Constantinople again;

– 721 A.D.:  Saragossa falls; Muslims aim for southern France;

– 720 A.D.:  Narbonne falls;

– 732 A.D.:  Bordeaux was stormed and its churches burnt down;

– 732 A.D.:  Charles Martel and his men defeat the Muslim invaders;

– 732 A.D.:  Attacks on France continue;

– 734 A.D.:  Avignon captured by a Muslim force;

– 743 A.D.:  Lyons sacked;

– 759 A.D.:  Arabs forced out of Narbonne;

– 838 A.D.:  Marseilles plundered;

– 800 A.D.:  Muslim incursions into Italy begin, with islands being plundered;

– 813 A.D.:  The port of Rome is sacked;

– 826 A.D.:  Crete falls to Muslim forces;

– 827 A.D.:  Muslim forces begin to attack Sicily;

– 837 A.D.:  Naples repels a Muslim attack;

– 838 A.D.:  Marseilles taken;

– 840 A.D.:  Bari falls;

– 842 A.D.:  Messina captured and Strait of Messina controlled by Muslim forces;

– 846 A.D.:  Muslims squadrons arrived at the Tiber River’s mouth, and then sack Rome and St. Peter’s Basilica;

– 846 A.D.:  Taranto in Apulia conquered by Muslim forces;

– 849 A.D.:  Papal forces repel Muslim fleet at the mouth of the Tiber;

– 853–871 A.D.:  Italian coast from Bari down to Reggio Calabria controlled, Muslims terrorize Southern Italy;

– 859 A.D.:  Muslims take control of all Messina;

– 870 A.D.:  Malta captured by the Muslims;

– 870 A.D.:  Bari recaptured from the Muslims by Emperor Louis II;

– 872 A.D.:  Emperor Louis II defeats an invading Saracen fleet off Capua;

– 872 A.D.:  Muslim forces devastate Calabria;

– 878 A.D.:  Syracuse falls after a nine-month siege;

– 879 A.D.:  Pope John VIII forced to pay an annual tribute to the Muslims;

– 880 A.D.:  Byzantine Commanders gain victory over Saracen forces at Naples;

– 881 A.D.:  Muslims capture fortress near Anzio, plunder surrounding countryside with impunity for forty years;

– 887 A.D.:  Muslim armies take Hysela and Amasia, in Asia Minor;

– 889 A.D.:  Toulon captured;

– 902 A.D.:  Muslim fleets sacked and destroyed Demetrias in Thessaly, Central Greece;

– 904 A.D.:  Thessalonica falls to Muslim forces;

– 915 A.D.:  After three months of blockade, Christian forces victorious against Saracens holed-up in their fortresses north of Naples

– 921 A.D.:  English pilgrims to Rome crushed to death under rocks rolled down on them by Saracens in the passes of the Alps;

– 934 A.D.:  Genoa attacked by Muslim forces;

– 935 A.D.:  Genoa taken;

– 972 A.D.:  Saracens finally driven from Faxineto;

– 976 A.D.:  Caliphs of Egypt send fresh Muslim expeditions into southern Italy;

– 977 A.D.:  The Archbishop of Damascus is expelled from his See by Muslims;

– 982 A.D.:  Emperor Otho’s forces ambushed and his army defeated;

– 1003 A.D.:  Muslims from Spain sack Antibes;

– 1003-1009 A.D.:  Marauding bands of Saracens plunder Italian coast from Pisa to Rome from bases on Sardinia;

– 1005 A.D.:  Muslims from Spain sack Pisa;

– 1009 A.D.:  Caliph of Egypt orders destruction of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Tomb of Jesus;

– 1010 A.D.:  Saracens seize Cosenza in southern Italy;

– 1015 A.D.:  All of Sardinia falls;

– 1016 A.D.:  Muslims from Spain again sack Pisa;

– 1017 A.D.:  Fleets of Pisa and Genoa sail for Sardinia and find Saracens crucifying Christians, but drive the Saracen leader out. Saracens try to re-take Sardinia until 1050;

– 1020 A.D.:  Muslims from Spain sack Narbonne;

– 1095 A.D.:  The First Crusade is called.

So, with all these facts—as shocking as they may be— now in mind, it is thus appropriate to reflect on an analogy that all of us can understand and appreciate. Imagine living in a neighborhood or small village, as so many people have done in one way or another since time immemorial. Now imagine that in this neighborhood, there is a small group of individuals that suddenly come on the scene and begin attacking your neighbors and friends. These neighborhood hooligans’ violent forays against your friends are initially small, but soon they begin—due to a lack of physical resistance against them—to expand their attacks. These individuals raid the homes of your neighbors, steal their goods, beat their wives, kidnap their children, and kill some of the neighborhood men, all while demanding tribute from those that they have invaded and conquered within the neighborhood. They are, in essence, a gang. Furthermore, these individuals then begin do these things to your own home. And even worse, they do these things year upon year, spreading further and further across the neighborhood as they do so. They heed no call for an end to the banditry nor do they halt their violence for any real length of time. Indeed, the moment that they see an opening to attack someone, they do so; but when they cannot attack, they make treaties with the neighbors and pretend to want peace.

Now any sane man would see that such individuals are nothing more than thugs, bandits, and villains. And any man would be right to consider them as such. Thus, we must ask ourselves: if we happened to live in such a neighbourhood, would we not, as sane men, finally see that a defensive counter-attack against such a gang would be the only means to ensure the safety for our children, our wives, our homes, and our goods? And would we not actually do such a counter-attack, unless we were cowards or fools? And finally, would we, in our sanity, not only counter-attack such thugs, but drive them from our very neighborhood and our town, so that they would not be left to re-spread their evil? Would we not, as sane men, understand that to truly be rid of them, we must drive them completely out of our neighborhood, and set a never-ending watch of vigilance to save us from their future attempts at violence? Indeed we would! And thus our Christian ancestors eventually did exactly that with the initial Crusades and the Reconquista. And for those who are rather craven concerning violence, just note that Christ Himself drove those moneychangers doing evil out of His Father’s house with violence and anger.

And so, the long and short of it is this: when we, as individuals, realize that we ourselves would essentially do just what the initial Crusaders did, and for good reason, then we should understand that though the Crusaders are not wholly absolved of the certain evils that they themselves committed as individuals during the Crusades, the Crusades themselves (at least the initial ones), as a campaign, were not evil, but were rather a defensive action that any sane man with a spine would have endorsed if placed in a similar situation.

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Anno Domini 2016 12 05

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

There is Nothing Intrinsically Wrong with Slavery

The Reconquista Initiative


 There is Nothing Intrinsically Wrong with Slavery

One of the arguments that Christians routinely hear unbelievers make against both the Bible and against Jesus Himself is something along the following:

“Jesus and the Apostles never condemned slavery and the Old Testament actually encouraged both indentured servitude and slavery; and so, in light of these points, both Christian morality generally and Biblical morality specifically, as well as the personal example of Jesus Himself, are all suspect and unworthy of being fully followed.”

And indeed, I have heard an objection like this one being used as a moral indictment against both the character of Jesus and the moral code found in the New Testament, as well as serving as an objection against the Bible as a whole. As such, this is not some fringe objection to Christian truth but one which many people consider to be a serious issue for Christianity.

Now, in answer to this objection, many Christians try to explain that the commands of God in the Old Testament were unique to the Jews and were very specific to their particular circumstances, and so while slavery may have been allowed at that point in time, it no longer is. Or, alternatively, Christians try to claim that slavery was simply part of the ancient world and could not be easily or quickly changed, which is why Jesus nor the Apostles condemned it outright at that time, for to do so would lead to the end of the Christian message before it could even start. Or some Christians claim that opposition to slavery, and its condemnation as evil, is made implicitly through the other teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, and so these Christians argue that the New Testament actually does condemn slavery, but only via inference from other teachings. And finally, some Christians simply shift the discussion by pointing out that Christians, and primarily Christians, led the push to outlaw slavery, and so the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament ultimately did lead to the end of slavery, which thus points to Christianity’s ultimate opposition to the institution of slavery.

Now, while all the above responses have merit, and while they are all true to some degree, I wish to answer this objection in a totally different, and perhaps shocking, way. In essence, I will argue that the reason that Jesus never condemned slavery is because there is nothing intrinsically wrong with slavery; indeed, I contend that, in-principle, slavery is not necessarily immoral, and so there was no reason for Jesus to condemn it as such. And to explain why this is the case, a short thought-experiment can be made. But before that occurs, it needs to be clear that by slavery, or more specifically by the word ‘slave’, I mean “a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them”, which is how the online Oxford dictionary—accessed on the 5th of December 2016—defines the term. And the Cambridge dictionary online, accessed on the same day, defines a ‘slave’ as “a person who is legally owned by someone else and has to work for that person.” So this is what is meant by the idea of slavery. Additionally, note as well that some versions of slavery or bondage could be set for a certain period of time, such as with indentured servants, or they could be indefinite, such as with slaves or bond-servants. Thus, the length of time that a person serves in servitude can vary, but whatever amount of time this is would not negate one’s status as a slave during that time.

Note as well that, in this essay, it needs to be absolutely and categorically clear that I am not claiming that, say, the kidnapping or abduction of a person to make him into a slave is moral; indeed, such an action would be immoral. But the fact remains that there is no necessary connection between slavery and the kidnapping of people to make them into slaves, for while the latter action is indeed immoral, for no one should be taken against their will, that does not mean that slavery itself is moral. After all, it is true that a person could volunteer himself to become a slave, much like is the case with indentured servants, and so there is nothing which in-principle connects the idea of slavery with an immoral way of acquiring a slave. So it must be clear that this short essay is not arguing that all the means of acquiring a slave are moral, for they are not, but the essay is arguing that there are moral means of acquiring a slave—such as the slave consensually volunteering to be a slave, thus being an indentured servant—and also that the idea of slavery itself is not intrinsically immoral. And lest one think that no one would ever volunteer to be a slave, note, for example, that the Bible itself provides for just such a possibility in Exodus 21:5-6, and there are stories of freed slaves in the past who wished to stay with their masters even though they did not have to.

So, with all that stated, let us conduct the aforementioned thought-experiment to see why slavery is not, in-principle, immoral.

Imagine a society where everyone was free to quit the work that they had and move around at will, but, for nearly everyone, all the work offered in every place in that society was such that 1) people had to work like dogs just to make enough to survive to the age of reproduction and they would die a few years after, and 2) they were given no holidays, and 3) they were fired from their job if they had a conscientious objection to some form of their work or they complained about their conditions, and 4) they were fired from their work if they did not accept the advances of their superiors, and 5) they were fired for having the wrong religion or the wrong views, and so on. But now imagine another society where nearly everyone who lives in this second society is a slave bound to a master whom the slave ultimately has to obey, and yet, in this society, the masters 1) ensure that the slaves’ work hours are entirely reasonable, and 2) that the slaves are very well paid (based on merit) and have full health and retirement benefits, and 3) that the slaves can change to different jobs if they wish to do so and are qualified to do so, and 4) that the slaves have self-chosen holidays and family days and sick days, and 5) that the views and opinions of the slaves are listened to and respected, and 6) that the slaves can move elsewhere if necessary, and finally 7) that the slaves can freely worship, speak, complain, and so on. Now, in viewing these two aforementioned societies, both of which are possible, it is clear—at least to me—that the immoral one, and the one that truly denigrates people made in the image of God, is the former ‘free’ society, whereas the latter ‘slave’ society is quite moral and genuinely respects men as being human persons made by God. In fact, in a strange inversion, the in-principle “free” society is the in-practice slave society, whereas the in-principle “slave” society is the in-practice free society. And note that while such a free “slave” society would likely not exist in-practice—for humans, being humans, would very likely mistreat any people that they owned as slaves—the point is that, in-principle, a slave society could be much more just, moral, and free than a free society could be. And indeed, note that, under slavery, there is nothing, in-principle, that could stop a master, whom the slave must obey, from telling the slave that the slave is free to do whatever the slave wishes to do; in fact, if he so wished, the master could decide to not even give the slave any command at all for the slave’s entire tenure as a slave! Thus, in-principle, a master could command a slave to act freely and to be free in a practical sense, even though, by law, the slave would be bound to obey the master in all things. In fact, in-principle, a slave master could, in-practice, free a slave while still indefinitely supporting the slave and paying for his livelihood, much like a financial patron would; and such a life, for the slave, would not only be moral, but could be considered even more moral and beneficial than a life of ‘free’ toil. So the whole point here is to realize that, in-principle, there is nothing about slavery which means that a slave must necessarily be mistreated, nor that the slave must necessarily be less-free, in-practice, than a man who is ostensibly considered free; thus, in-practice, a slave could be better treated and more free than a man who is theoretically free but is actually little more than a wage-slave.

Thus, what this little thought experiment helps to show is that a good case can be made that slavery, on a theoretical level, is not, in and of itself, immoral. Furthermore, this thought experiment helps to bring out the point that what is potentially immoral about slavery is how the slaves are treated and dealt not, not the fact that they technically fit the definition of being a slave. However, it is also obviously understood that, in practice, sinful men, being fallen creatures, would readily abuse their authority and nearly always abuse their slaves, and so the institution of slavery should be abolished and remain abolished for pragmatic reasons; but again, this does not therefore mean that, theoretically-speaking, slavery as such is an immoral institution, but only that men cannot be trusted to faithfully institute such a practice here on Earth.

And so, the long and short of it is this: a solid argument can be made to show that slavery, as a mere concept, is not necessarily immoral, but rather that it is how slaves are treated in practice that is the immoral aspect of slavery. But, if this is the case, then we would expect that Jesus and the New Testament would not object to slavery outright nor condemn it directly, but rather they would focus on how the slave is treated; and lo and behold, note that in Ephesians 6:5-9 and in Philemon—both of which speak to the fact that a slave should be respected and treated like a brother—that is precisely what the New Testament does indeed focus on. Thus, when it comes to slavery, the New Testament actually does address the primary moral point which should be addressed concerning slavery: namely, the treatment of slaves. And so the ‘slavery’ objection against the New Testament is, in light of this fact, much weaker than is normally assumed.

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Anno Domini 2016 12 05

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam