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Letters to the Editor
September 27, 2005

Intelligent designer behind such a planet?
By Hector Avalos

Intelligent Design is a new variant of an old creationist argument. Here is a simple version:

1) Design implies a designer; 2) this designer is the god I worship. The book “The Privileged Planet,” co-authored by an astronomer and a theologian, is simply one of the latest attempts to argue that our planet was designed by some higher intelligence.

If our planet were much farther from, or much closer to, the sun, for example, then life might not exist, according to the book. Other planets don’t offer as good a platform for astronomical observation. Therefore, our planet is intentionally positioned for the emergence of intelligent life, which can then produce astronomers to discover the purposes of the designer.

One need only read theologies produced over the last 2,000 years to understand that this is not new.

The problem is that our planet has millions of features that we could identify as unique. These million other features also might not exist if our planet were any closer to, or farther from, the sun, etc.

If our planet were not located precisely where it is, then we might also not have AIDS viruses, congenital deformities or death itself. So why do ID proponents think that intelligent life and astronomical observation were the features selected for design? Why don’t ID proponents argue that our planet has been positioned where it is so that AIDS viruses, congenital deformities and death could exist?

“The Privileged Planet” tries to explain this selection: “When considering universes, everyone recognizes, unless they’re trying to avoid a conclusion they find distasteful, that a habitable universe containing intelligent observers has an intrinsic value that an uninhabitable one lacks.”

And just what is the definition of “intrinsic value”? The book says, “Such value is difficult to define, but we usually know it when we see it.” So how do we scientifically measure this “intrinsic value”? Who is the “we” judging “intrinsic value”?

In “The Privileged Planet” we discover a designer who did not create enough arable land to feed all of Earth’s hungry children and did not equip us with enough immunity to fight disease, but yet he wanted astronomers to have an ideal spot from which to observe solar eclipses. Astronomy is the privileged profession. Astronomers become the privileged inhabitants.

-Hector Avalos, associate professor, religious studies, Iowa State University, Ames.

What "The Privileged Planet" really attempts to dispute is the Copernican Principle of Mediocrity. This is a tough principle for science lovers to give up as it's what launched the age of enlightenment, not to mention a heckuva lot of really good science fiction stories. I'm still a believer in CPoM but I'm not married to it. With every passing day it looks more and more like it's not true and "The Privileged Planet" presents a very strong argument against it grounded in delightfully sound science. That said, I'm not ready to vote for abandoning SETI just yet. DaveScot
Hector's argument that all morals are relative relies on a given that God does not exist. No one gave him that point. If God does exist then absolute God-given morals are a possibility. This still leaves the problem Hector mentions wherein various claims of God-given morals are conflicting. The answer to that is that some who claim knowledge of absolute morals are mistaken and they are in fact making relative claims. This does not prove that absolute morals do not exists. On Hector's list of "things that might not exist" if the earth weren't privileged in the way it is ALL subtend from #6. Without life (#6) there would be no #'s 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, and 10. #5, natural disasters, are not disasters to non-living systems that by definition don't care what happens to them - disasters are only relevant to an observer that values some arrangements of matter more than others. Poor arguments, Hector. Try again. DaveScot
THE FOLLOWING IS MY REPSONSE TO DR. ALVAREZ'S POST ABOVE. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CRITQUE MY RESPONSE. Dear Dr. Hector Alvarez, Thank you for responding to my email. Per your request, I will answer your question later in this response, but I would like first to address your explanation for an atheist’s morality. First of all, I am not arguing that atheists do not possess morality nor am I arguing that atheists are the scum of the earth. I am only arguing that you have no rational basis for your moral judgments. Your “cause and effect” argument for morality just doesn’t seem to work. To see why, let us take a closer look. You state, “Anything that causes me pain is “BAD”. Anything that causes me to survive happily is “GOOD”. By your own definition, nerve endings cause “pain” and thus cause you to “survive happily” (self-interest). Consequently, pain and self-interest are then therefore the cause and guidepost of your morality. Following your logic, a living creature that feels pain or is motivated by self-interest will necessarily possess morality, since morality is the effect of these causes. Poke a mouse with a needle and its “nerve endings” will allow it to feel pain. A rat feels pain. A dog feels pain. A lion’s self-interest causes him to “survive happily” by inflicting pain on and eating a gazelle. A snake’s self-interest causes it to “survive happily” by inflicting pain on a mouse as it devours it for dinner. A shark might “survive happily” by eating a swimmer. By your own definition, these animals feel pain and also do what’s “good” for themselves and therefore should be making moral judgments. If they could make moral judgments, we would be holding them accountable. This demonstrates that some creatures that feel pain and act in there own self-interest do not possess moral reasoning capability. You stated, “The best moral systems are those that rely on known and verifiable causes.” I agree with this statement completely. However, if you still insist that pain is the cause of morality, you will then have to prove why it would cause morality in humans but not have the same effect in animals. Again, how does an atheist worldview account for human morality? Perhaps Darwinist Philosopher Michael Ruse said it best when he stated “Why should a bunch of atoms have thinking ability? Why should I, even as I write now, be able to reflect on what I am doing and why should you, even as you read now, be able to ponder my points, agreeing or disagreeing, with pleasure or pain, deciding to refute me or deciding that I am just not worth the effort? No one, certainly not the Darwinian as such, seems to have any answer to this…The point is that there is no scientific answer.” (my italics) At this point, I would like to address your question regarding #6 and #7 on your list and your request for a scientific proof. To save time, perhaps you could allow me to focus on #6 (Life). Like morality, perhaps you are taking life for granted by the mere fact that it exists. According to evolutionary theory, the big bang produced light beams, which turned themselves into non-living matter. Then non-living matter turned itself into living matter. If any of these events can be shown to be scientifically impossible, a creator must exist due to the impossibility of the contrary (evolution). As you know, every scientific experiment, including Miller/Urey, has failed to bring forth living matter from non-living matter, yet you still seem to accept this as probable. Not only has science failed to bring forth life from non-life, but it can’t even begin to account for its cause. The burden is really on you to scientifically demonstrate the path from light beams to the first cell, not to mention the path to humanity. If intelligent beings can’t bring forth life, why should I then believe that an extraordinary effect (life) can take place without a verifiable cause? If you now argue that this is possible but the cause is unknowable, you have perhaps just debunked evolution as a theory. If it is impossible to prove evolution’s falsity, it is not a scientific theory. You would then debunk your argument. To prove the ID theory invalid, you need only show that evolution can account for turning light beams into a cell. You said to me in your 1st response that the best moral systems don’t rely on some “unverifiable notion of what you think God wants”. One need only replace God with “evolutionary theory” to describe evolutionary logic. ‘The Privileged Planet’ is merely demonstrating the necessity for an intelligent designer due to the impossibility of the contrary. I will now conclude by asking you again for a scientific account for morality, which you have failed to provide to date. If you do not respond with one, I will assume you don’t have one. If that’s the case, it’s game-over. Blessings, Saxe saxe17
THE FOLLOWING IS DR. ALVAREZ'S RESPONSE TO MY EMAIL POSTED ABOVE. I WILL POST MY RESPONSE IN THE NEXT POST. Dear Saxe Roberts, I will be glad to answer your question, but my letter is not about "good" and "evil" or even about whether God exists, but rather about the inability of Intelligent Design, as represented in The Privileged Planet, to explain how it selected 2 features (intelligent life and observability) out of the million others that might also not exist if the Earth were not positioned where it is. The same problem would exist for The Privileged Planet, even if one believed in God. And those other features need not be "evil" to expose the inability of ID to make its selections. I could just as well make my point with anything you might regard as "good." Nor did I argue that "evil" disproves the existence of a creator. It is possible that a creator be "evil," and so I am not sure that you even understood my argument. Your pronouncement that an "atheist worldview necessarily dictates that we are nothing more than molecules in motion" reflects a very poor understanding of atheism, let alone basic physics and chemistry. GOD IS IRRELEVANT TO MORALITY In any case, the answer to your question is, of course, that your definitions of "good" and "evil" are subjective. Who says that "good" and "evil" require theism? There are only two basic kinds of moral judges in this world: 1) Those who admit they are moral relativists; 2) Those who do not admit they are moral relativists. Your morality is just as relative as any other, except you might use "God" to justify what you do. Indeed, we can logically show that having a "God" in any moral system is meaningless. Having a god in a moral system is meaningless because it still would render human beings the ultimate judge of bad and good. Basically, any statement of the type "X is good because God says so" is still a human judgment. In reality, there are only two choices in a world where ethics involve a deity. To understand this dilemma, we need to consider a variant of Euthyphro's Dilemma as found in Plato's Euthyphro. We can briefly summarize the argument here. Things are either good/evil in themselves; or They are good/evil because God says so. If one says that something is good or evil in itself, then God becomes unnecessary for morality. Something good would be as obvious as the fact that a triangle has three sides. One does not need a god to make a triangle have three sides, and so God would be unnecessary to establish such a moral principle. If one says that something is moral because God says so, then this still renders us the judge of morality. For we are the ones making the judgment that "Whatever God calls good is what shall be called good." Even if one says that God planted our sense of goodness in us, we must still judge that something God planted in us is good. There is no way to escape this circle. Consequently, EVERY MORAL JUDGMENT IS ULTIMATELY A HUMAN JUDGMENT, WHETHER YOU BELIEVE IN GOD OR NOT. God remains irrelevant as an ultimate source of morality. And, in fact, a God makes a moral system very ineffective and chaotic. There are thousands of Christian organizations that believe in God, and do you think that they agree on morality? Not so. There are theists who believe homosexuality is a sin, and those that believe it is not. There are biblical authors who think genocide is sometimes obligatory, and theists who believe genocide is always wrong. There are theists who believe that killing children is sometimes moral, and those that don't. Historically, God based moral systems are a disaster in terms of providing any uniformity whatsoever. HOW TO JUDGE GOOD AND BAD So how do atheists judge morality, if that means the set of judgments about what is good and bad for human beings? We all judge morality the same way, whether we admit it or not. BY OUR OWN INTERESTS. As a biological entity, you have nerve endings that react adversely to what you call PAIN. Do you like pain? Anything that causes me pain is "BAD." Anything that causes me to survive happily is ?GOOD.? I don't need a God to tell me that AIDS will kill me or not feel good. I don't need a god to tell me that I don't want to live in a world where people randomly kill each other. That would not be in my best interest or those of my loved ones. In sum, a God does not help a moral system. It only makes it more chaotic. The best moral systems are those that rely on known and verifiable causes and consequences, not on some unverifiable notion of what YOU THIINK a god wants. If you want a more detailed case, read my new book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (Prometheus Press, 2005), where I examine Judaism, Christianity and Islam quite thoroughly, and make the case that religious violence is ALWAYS immoral. BACK TO INTELLIGENT DESIGN Again, my letter is not about whether God exists. But about whether the methods of The Privileged Planet are the best to show that a Designer exists. Now, please answer the issue on which my letter actually centered. The following are some of the myriad of features that are, as far as we can determine, also unique to the parameters and habitable zone in which Earth is positioned: 1) AIDS viruses 2) congenital deformities 3) Cockroaches 4) Death 5) Katrina and other natural catastrophes 6) Life 7) Measurability by intelligent observers 8) Great movies 9) bar code printers 10) Paris Hilton So, please answer this: How does one scientifically verify that the Designer actually meant to position the planet so that #6 and #7 would exist "uniq uely" rather than one, or a combination, of the other features on that list? Please answer this question seriously and respectfully or please do not contact me again. Nor can I promise to answer promptly, as I get a lot of letters, and have other duties to perform as well. Respectfully, Dr. Hector Avalos -I am usually no addressed by my first name, and it shows a great lack of respect in my culture to do so. saxe17
jaredl You seem to be completely ignoring the fall from grace. As far as I know orthodox Christians understand the fall. It's quite clear in the old testament. The world was created and maintained in a state of perfection. There was no pain, no death, no destruction. Humanity chose to defy God in an act known as original sin. God, respecting the free will of those He created in His image, left the world He created to its own devices. Without God to maintain a state of perfection things started going to hell. Lifetimes gradually decreased as the decay built up. Christ was sent to redeem our souls but not to restore perfection to the physical world. Restoration of perfection in the physical world is God's promise but it hasn't been fulfilled yet. The second coming of Christ is the fulfillment of that promise. Now I ain't no biblical scholar nor even a particularly good Christian as I'm nowhere near as charitable and gentle as the Lamb of God. But I do understand the gist of Christianity, the fall, etc. That's all basic stuff you learn in Sunday school as a child. There's absolutely no excuse for people purporting even minimal knowledge about Judeo-Christian scripture to not know why imperfection and evil exists in the world or to use the existence of same as evidence God does not exist. DaveScot
SteveB, I said "it doesn't matter" if god exists or not because it's a separate question that can be tackled later. As with ID, I think people are afraid of answering the first question (is there a designer?) because they fear the second question even more (who/what is the designer?). The first question can be answered, and should be answered independently. The situation is the same in the case of morality. People don't want to admit to an objective standard because they fear the next question - where did it come from? - and so they remain moral relativists. The problem with that is nothing is objectively good or evil; right or wrong. Not objective in the sense that we can't really distinguish between the two extremes (subjective interpretation). Rather, it's not objective because the extremes DON'T EXIST at all. They are illusions of the mind much like the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Tooth Fairy. Lurker
Brilliantly put, Saxe. Bombadill
When I read Saxe's letter, I looked back through the thread and read Lurker's comment: "I didn’t bring god into it because it doesn’t matter. An objective moral standard may/may not exist with or without such god." I'm wondering how. "Objective moral standard" implies an absoluteness to which we all must submit whether we like it or not, something we must, or at least ought to do. Without God (or some other transcendant entity) to define it, where does this standard come from? SteveB
Saxe, I liked the letter. I'd be pleasantly surprised if hector responds to you, but your chances would be better if you forwarded it to the editor at the Register. Just an idea... -sb SteveB
jboze3131 : "and what is it with atheists groups?" I'll drag out one of my favorite Chesterton quotes here. “They cannot get out of the penumbra of Christian controversy. They cannot be Christians and they cannot leave off being anti-Christians. Their whole atmosphere is the atmosphere of a reaction: sulks, perversity, petty criticism. They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith… An iconoclast may be indignant; an iconoclast may be justly indignant; but an iconoclast is not impartial. And it is stark hypocrisy to pretend that nine-tenths of the higher critics and scientific evolutionists and professors of comparative religion are in the least impartial. Why should they be impartial, what is being impartial, when the whole world is at war about whether one thing is a devouring suspicion or a divine hope?” Watchman
I can hear his response to your letter Saxe - "Morality is a product of human evolution..." - or some such thing. As I said above, either he admits to an objective moral standard and then deal with that whole issue, or he admits his belief in a real morality is akin to belief in pink unicorns, tooth fairies and flying spaghetti monsters. Lurker
I sent this email to Hector a little earlier this evening: Dear Hector, I just read your letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register regarding "The Privileged Planet". Frankly, I find it illogical for you as an atheist to be making moral judgments regarding good and evil. How does an atheist justify any morality whatsoever? An atheist worldview necessarily dictates that we are nothing more than molecules in motion. Yet in your letter you declare there is evil in the world and then imply that the existence of evil rules out God. Can chemicals in motion make claims regarding morality? I would enjoy any response outlining how an atheist or evolutionist can account for morality. By recognizing good and evil, you inadvertently make a Theistic argument. It is more than a little ironic that you use the worldview of theism (recognizing good and evil) to make an argument for atheism. If anything, you make a case for God by asserting that there exists a standard of goodness from which to juxtapose evil. I appreciate your time. Thank You, Saxe Roberts St. Paul, MN saxe17
okay. one last one (the people who did the "study") http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/toc/current.html jboze3131
sorry, this was an american based study. so i guess it was some nutball here in the US. ive no doubt the people behind the "study" are rabid atheists who despise religion jboze3131
on the subject of religion- some nutball in the UK did a study where he says that religion is bad for society, and proclaims: -------------- RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today. According to the study, belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems. -------------- http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1798944,00.html now the atheists are trying to proclaim theyve studied the issue and that belief in god leads to murder and STDs!! jboze3131
This is just another sign that atheists can't confront the evidence for design! Benjii
Avalos wrote: The book “The Privileged Planet,” co-authored by an astronomer and a theologian, is simply one of the latest attempts to argue that our planet was designed by some higher intelligence.....One need only read theologies produced over the last 2,000 years to understand that this is not new. Yes. And after 2,000 years--and all that science has discovered in the meantime--it still holds true! Avalos: Why don’t ID proponents argue that our planet has been positioned where it is so that AIDS viruses, congenital deformities and death could exist? Well, if there's no designer, then I guess it's "evolution" that's responsible for all these horrible things. So does that mean that Avalos considers "evolution" a disgusting, horrible thing? And, speaking of death, please do answer this query: If life-less matter somehow became filled with "life", then where did "death" come from? Did it "evolve"? (Remember that Darwin said that if anything harmful to an organism was ever shown to evolve, then this would disprove his theory. It seems death is about the worst that could happen to an organism. So, whence death?) PaV
Some options: 1. keep ignoring the politcally motivated petition (seems the best) 2. sign it! to prove how silly it is, for example as: First Name *smiley face* Last Name 3. reply to Avalos: 'What will you conclude if (when) most of the faculty do NOT sign the petition?' jzs
I didn't bring god into it because it doesn't matter. An objective moral standard may/may not exist with or without such god. If the objective standard doesn't exist then Avalos speaks from cultural bias and can easily be countered with an opposing viewpoint from a different culture. Lurker
The problem is, once you assume such a standard, as a corollary of the existence of the orthodox Christian God, you run into these pesky logical contradictions between observable reality and the supposed omnipotence, omnibenevolence of God. Hence, God, defined by orthodox Christianity, doesn't exist. Avalos simply rejected God wholesale, rather than embrace the fact that orthodoxy isn't the only theistic game in town. He fell victim to a false dilemma. The choices are not limited to orthodox Christianity or nothing. Those two options aren't mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. jaredl
Regarding the "evil" that Dr. Avalos speaks of. The problem is he needs an objective moral good/evil to exist before he can make the claim that bad/evil things happen. Without the objective standard, it's nothing more than his opinion or a subjective interpretation of events based on his cultural upbringing. Death and AIDS and all sorts of other things are neither good or evil unless this transcendent standard exists. The bad news doesn't stop there. Once he admits to such an objective standard then he's got a new set of problems to deal with. Lurker
On the problem of evil, I would suggest that it affirms the existance of a creator. Otherwise the injustice of this world ends without accountability. Hitler rests comfortably in his grave. And the cognizant ability to commit evil in the first place would necessitate a cognizant creator who would have had to endow us with free will. If you axed me. Bombadill
that is mind boggling that an avowed atheist (someone so set in his ways that he co-founded the ISU atheists group could be teaching religous studies to anyone!!! how does someone who denies a god teach religious studies to begin with? welcome to class, there is no god, but lets study these silly fools who believe there is! (??) and what is it with atheists groups? their site says "Serving Atheists and Agnostics Since 1999" (that statement is just laughable its so ridiculous)- ive never understood this idea. i dont believe in god, so lets start a group. a group of others who also have no belief. its like a bunch of people that hate golf starting a club to gather with others who hate golf. it makes no sense to begin with- you see that the only agenda of these groups is to try to belittle those who believe in god (the great majority of the planets population!) or try to "disprove" religion. you have to wonder about the social lives of these people. im kind of wondering where a rabid atheist who somehow ironically teaches religion thinks he can even speak on the issue of science and gonzalez in particular. its like having a dentist trying to do heart surgery. i take it hes just screaming out misinformation about how this isnt science but religion and a move towards a consiracy to establish a theocracy (isnt it sad these guys have become so predictable, even the other side knows their talking points?) jboze3131
The problem of evil is what Avalos refers to. In former orthodox Christians turned atheists, that is the most cited reason given... and it does, in fact, falsify orthodox Christianity. I'm of the opinion that the problem of evil does not necessitate rejection of Christianity simpliciter, and Avalos has fallen for a false dichotomy. jaredl
[...] Hvis man er en akademiker, der offentligt støtter ID, må man regne med at risikere sin karriere og mulighed for forskningsstøtte. Et nyligt eksempel er Guillermo Gonzales, professor i astronomi ved Iowas statsuniversitet. Et par ateistiske kolleger lancerede en kampagne imod ham for nogle måneder siden. Læs her om hans beretning om, hvad der sker, og her er et nyligt eksempel på den smæde, han bliver udsat for. Postet af Leif Asmark Jensen kl.21:17 [...] Intelligent Design :: Guillermo Gonzales :: September :: 2005
Silly atheists with their tremendous double-standard. Bombadill
He also fails to mention this credential: "...Avalos, co-founder of the ISU Atheist and Agnostic Society..." which is found here: http://www.iowastatedaily.com/vnews/display.v?TARGET=printable&article_id=4079eab8a06b5 russ
Why do you suppose that Avalos touts this credential: "-Hector Avalos, associate professor, religious studies, Iowa State University, Ames." ...but not this one: http://www.stuorg.iastate.edu/isuaas/members.shtml russ
A post by Guillermo Gonzalez about his experiences at the Iowa State University: http://telicthoughts.com/?p=291 Analyysi
Bombadill: A good number of stridently atheistic professors that I know of are former fundamentalists. One in particular that I have a genial relationship with has an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Seminary. A lot of times it's a reaction to negative experiences in that world (understandable) or an over-reaction to the percieved intellectual vapidity of certain subcultures within fundamentalism. I'm not trying to be reductionist/psychologistic about it; ultimately it's about the choices and rationale (however flimsy) that people like Avalos choose to attach themselves to. I'm just pointing out that a signifigant number of the most strident athiests I've run into have been former fundamentalists. dave
Is it not possible that what are now destructive retroviruses and mutant cells, etc... could have once been something benign that mutated due to environmental conditions? And that maybe the root cause is a specific point in time when the creation "fell", if you will? Bombadill
[...] The good report of Guillermo Gonzalez is in sharp contrast with the venom of the main promoter of hate at the Iowa State University, Hector Avalos. [...] Teleological Blog » The Good Report of Guillermo Gonzalez, author of “The Privileged Planet”
OK, I’ll take the bait: "Why don’t ID proponents argue that our planet has been positioned where it is so that AIDS viruses, congenital deformities and death could exist?" Perhaps because there’s no evidence, scientific or otherwise, that there is any correlation whatsoever between the position of the planet and AIDS, viruses and congenital deformities. "The problem is that our planet has millions of features that we could identify as unique. These million other features also might not exist if our planet were any closer to, or farther from, the sun, etc." True, but irrelevant. The point, of course, is not that they are unique, but that without the unique features identified by Gonzalez, Avalos would not be able rant as he does because he would be either a fireball or an ice cube. Perhaps this is not the "intrinsic value" that Gonzalez intended, but it just might be a variety of value that even Avalos would recognize. SteveB
Should the designer have completely eliminated the propensity for sickness, evil, etc...? If he had, would we have true free-will? Bombadill
how does a professor so bitter to god get a job in the religious studies dept?! the argument is absurd. the 3 largest religions all have the concept of "the fall" which totally explains death and disease. why does a religious studies prof not mention that little tidbit? he asks the question about AIDS, deformities, etc. yet never answers the question with what his own field states! these are the results of mans free will to turn away from god in the beginning. i have to wonder what topics in religious studies this guy teaches and in what manner he teaches the topics. a religious studies professor who argues that the planet cant be special because we have disease. too weird. jboze3131
I just read that Avalos is a former fundamentalist preacher. How discouraging. I wonder how one goes from preacher of the gospel to preacher of atheism. Can't help but speculate about some horrible tragedy which planted a seed of bitterness. Anyway. Bombadill
Yes, Dave, letters like this lead one to question whether tenure was the worst invention ever. William Dembski
"If our planet were not located precisely where it is, then we might also not have AIDS viruses, congenital deformities or death itself." I find myself compelled to say that's among the most stupid things I've ever heard. For the comedic value I'd love to hear the professor's justification for it. DaveScot
My only objection to his point about AIDS and related diseases and such, is a theological one. So, I guess I'm disqualified on this one. Bombadill
Hmm... that kind of crap annoys me. There is plenty of food and resources to go around -- we're just more interested in feeding ourselves then feeding the world. Plump-DJ

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