We are free spirits

This column is dedicated to the relationship between faith and science. As you would expect, its modal habit is to look at scientific discoveries and suggest how the progress of science need be no enemy to faith, and indeed can sometimes give it stout support. The Pope Emeritus spoke in 2012 of the “urgent need for continued dialogue and cooperation between the worlds of science and of faith in the building of a culture of respect for man”.

So today I want to examine the basis of that relationship and think about how it works out in practice. First, I want to look at reductionism which, in this context, explains phenomena to such a depth that there is simply no room for spirit: matter and the causality of matter explain all.

The example most readily to hand is evolution. While there is much still to understand, there is really no argument (outside the merry band of flat-earthers) that evolution is the major factor in bringing about the material world that we experience. The picture of God creating the world by a series of fiats is anthropomorphic. Equally anthropomorphic is the problem we may have in grasping that the random processes of evolution are possible to God. We must accept that the relationship between God and his creation is opaque to us; we must speak in metaphors. We need only to remember that every iota of creation exists from moment to moment by the active will of God.

The second topic is harder to tackle, but thankfully Revelation helps us. I speak of the human brain. In this column I have written at some length about the growth in our knowledge of the human brain. The outcome of this is that some of the best minds in the field have come to the conclusion that all the functions of the mind can be explained in material terms. While they have not all been demonstrated as yet, enough is known to infer that the remainder will confirm this provisional conclusion. So for example the hypothesis of free will is unnecessary.

Take, for instance, our inclination to religion. Our tendency to be attracted to a religion is, so the studies of identical twins tell us, about 40 per cent genetic – the same, by no coincidence, as our inclination to conformity. It is easy to understand that primitive human societies required most of their members to conform. While some non-conformists might succeed as leaders, most would have been destroyed. So the majority survived to transmit their conformist genes.

A powerful means of encouraging conformity is religion. Not only can the society’s shamans ensure obedience through their contacts with the preternatural but the omnipresence of the higher power can monitor us when we are alone. Religion needs a story. We have the Christian one.

This account of the origins of religion is speculative but plausible. Let us suppose for a moment that it is actually true. Why would we have problems in accepting that God prepared us at the natural level to accept a supernatural power, so that in course of time we would accept his Son – and be guided to do so via the biological senses and the inbuilt faculties of the brain?

We need to take seriously that the infusion of our biology by the creative spirit of God results in a single organism; it is this that is the image and likeness of God. So we are called.
So we are redeemed. So we will rise again. Everything that happens in the “soul” happens in the “body”.

Here is a practical example. The development of habits involves the firing patterns of neurons in the basal ganglia (and you can’t get more biological than that). But Aquinas defines virtue as “a habit by which we live righteously, one that makes its possessor good, and his work good likewise”. Now the development of the virtues is the high road to our imitation of Christ. So let’s take a strong example: Our Lady is full of virtue, and were we able to examine the basal ganglia in her resurrected brain we should find the biological correlate of her love of her son.

But it would be foolish to presume that a biological correlate gives us the whole story or, in such a case, the important part of the story. Our Lady’s habit of virtue finds its essence in the free choice of her will inspired by the mystery of divine grace. The same is true of us (albeit at a considerably lower level) whenever we aspire to practise and develop virtue. That the wonder of this should be complemented in our bodies is the way God chose us to be.

It is no surprise that the scientists are unable to find hard evidence of free will, or to explain moral obligation. Nor is it a surprise that they cannot check their minds from thinking that they have free will and declaring that they have moral values. They are ensouled bodies, too: the spirit escapes the microscope.

There is irony here. The more confidently they argue the absence of free will and the fundamental origin of morality the more they unconsciously witness to the Spirit of God which alone can explain these things.

I will return in due course to a closer examination of behaviour which we do not immediately recognise as virtues, but which are in fact practical implementation of the cardinal virtues. As you would expect, such virtues have one foot in good psychology, and the other in good theology.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Church and Society, Moral judgment, Neuroscience, Philosophy, virtue ethics. Bookmark the permalink.

80 Responses to We are free spirits

  1. St.Joseph says:

    I have often wondered why God chose the Hebrews to be the chosen people, whereby He spoke to the Prophets.,and how far do the Jewish people go back before the Bible.
    Would that be where God put His Spirit first into humans (if we are to believe in evolution) as I don’t think God would put His Spirit into an animal whilst in the process of evolving.
    I can not see humans evolving all at the same time all over the world.

  2. Peter D. Wilson says:

    St. Joseph – The accepted view agrees with your last point, in that human beings originated in roughly central Africa before spreading out slowly into the rest of the inhabitable world. I shouldn’t like to venture on to the question of when ensoulment occurred.

    According to the chronology in the Jerusalem Bible, Abraham (whom I suppose we must consider the first Jew) lived about 1800 – 1900 BC, and Moses, popularly credited with the early books of the Old Testament, some 600 years later. It was probably centuries later still that they wre first written down, and then not in the form we know as there’s been a great deal of editing and combining of different sources. And on your first point, as someone wrote,
    “How odd of God
    to choose the Jews”

  3. St.Joseph says:

    Peter Wilson
    Thank you for your comment.
    Everything is so much speculation and I have never given it a great deal of thought as I have always felt that Jesus came to open our minds to the Good News which is more essential to how we live our lives in the present, and not looking back. That is past and we can not relive it, we don’t always seem to learn from past mistakes.
    It is mans need to look for the truth in everything and that is good when it is necessary for our . salvation and not for our pleasure We are so knowledgeable to day in scientific matters and yet the world is groaning in
    agony-hunger, disease, floods, earthquakes, how much of this is caused by the way we live materially.everything for the good of man without considering our souls.The good v evil, and not

    actually seeing the difference at times.
    Perhaps God chose the Jews because he knew in advance that they would always be the kind of people who would have a deep and long lasting insight into Hims.We can never do enoughelf as the first ensoulments- our original ancestors.in our genes from Jesus from the House of David,Just calling ourselves christian is maybe not enough it may need something that goes goes far deeper into our being the substance that saints are made of.. We are all saved by His saving Blood, but do we really go fully along with all He asks of us.I know I don’t. Each day ought to be better than the last.. We can never do enough.

  4. Singalong says:

    There is an interesting and relevant article in today`s Daily Mail, (with apologies to those who think this paper has little to offer.)


    It reports on a study published in the American Psychological Association`s Journal of Applied Psychology, on 103 volunteers from the US Military Academy at West Point, 87 men, so presumably 16 women. The findings showed that the neural networks in the frontal and prefrontal lobes of those deemed “leaders” were different from the rest. These are the areas of the brain associated with self regulation, decision making and memory.

    There does seem to be more and more research showing how much our characteristics are determined by the structure of our brains, as well as by our upbringing and circumstances. As a non scientist, I find it very hard to see how there can be any space left for completely free choice.
    I feel as if I can choose certain courses of action, but I do not understand how that could be scientifically explained

  5. Nektarios says:

    It seems much of the thinking of the Church these days and for some considerable time before
    have become dependent on the scientific and psychological definitions and methodology, I can scarely
    see where it is leading the Church of God.
    Take a look around the world, see the mess it is in, the problems it has, take a look at ourselves, who have inbibed so much of the scientific and psychological terminology as well we could add the philosphical ideas, projections and methods to help us.
    No, no, no, one has not seen what the Church is., or indeed what a Christian actually is, a Child of God
    It is not earthy in origin but heavenly.It is supernatural. It is full of Power.
    Its thinking and working is not earthy either, being totally dependent on the movement, working of the Holy Spirit.
    Ah, say same, perhaps, but what good i that, how will we be able to communicate to the world at large,
    you lack definition, you lack clarity, where is your data to back up your assertions?

    Well, here it is. Acts 6. Go on pick up your Bibles and read this chapter before you read any further.
    The situation arose about food distribution, because the Greek widows were being neglected in the food distribution.
    Now get this Acts 6:2. The twelve disciples summoned everyone together and made this point to them.
    “It is not desireable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.”
    Acts 6:3. This is a very important verse if one is to understand the supernatual source and power and workings of what the Church truly is.
    “Therefore, brethern”.Note that word, brethern.”Choose out from among you seven men of good reputation full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom whom we may appoint over this business.”
    Practically none of these were highly educated, did A levels and went to university, they did not exist.
    These we humble people, fishermen, trades people. They so the people chose people who were full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.
    Beginning to get the picture as to the spernatural power and life of the eary Christians eh? Yes they knew a person who was full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom – the power and influence to expand our understanding. Now we opt for men of degrees and cleverness, mistakenly think they are automatically full of the Holy Spirit. and wisdom.
    Well how do we know someone is full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom? The answer is things start happening!

    Will continue this in a separate posting to follow.

  6. Nektarios says:

    Let us continue.

    Acts 6: 5 -8 Please read it first before proceeding.
    One of those selected for the task to deal with the daily distribution of food and necessities was a man called Stephen.
    What is written about him in this 5th verse: he was, ` a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.’ Nothing merely academic or philosophical or speciallized for the task of distribution, but a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.
    This world is not up to the task of even fairly distrubting food and necessities, be they clever politicians, scientists or philosophers. As a reslt there is mass hunger all over the place, wars, and as a result many die of hunger, illness and war.

    Ah but perhaps you are thinking no one has the answer to these things like stopping wars and feeding millions.
    Now I want to take you a step further to see that a person full of faith and the Holy Spirit can deal with volatile situations like this, the outcome of which is very different.

    Now please read Act 6:8. Done that, right?
    This ordinary humble guy called Stephen in, and under the power of the Holy Spirit was like a totally different person. ` Did great wonders and signs among the people.’
    In Jerusalem at that time were people of many different nationalities, each with their own slant and take on things, religious, philosophical and so on, and they began disputing with Stephen.
    They did not realize this rather ordinary guy was filled with faith and the Power of the Holy Spirit.
    What happened? We find the answer in Acts 6:10. `And they were bot able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke.’
    Such is a Christian person who is full of faith and the Holy Spirit, or are we just one of a rabble voices with our own point of view like secularist, post-modernists, liberals and the like, operating under our own pathetic power and strength?
    Will continuein a separate posting.

  7. ionzone says:

    The apostles may have been humble fishermen, but that does not mean they were in any way stupid or uneducated people – when you get right down to it, it’s just a job description. They certainly had at least one teacher that we know of – Jesus. People put a lot of stock in university degrees, but here is the thing: they mean as much as most people think, they are really just a mark that you managed to slog it out through years of paperwork. They don’t actually teach you all that much. I think there is a lot of snobbery in the idea that the apostles get picked on over qualifications! We seem to have picked up the idea that everyone in the past was a bit thick, so I doubt it would make any improvement if they were scribes or philosophers.

    Reductionism and materialism are actually a belief systems, if you think about it. They may be taken for granted by scientists, but that really doesn’t mean anything. An unquestioned belief is still unquestioned no matter how smart you are. There are some books out now by scientists questioning the assumptions that reductionist materialism makes about the universe, but most scientists are still stuck with this unquestionable eighteenth century belief about the universe.

    • ionzone says:

      Sorry, that should have been ‘degrees mean only as much as we decide they do’, meaning that the degree system, when I was in it, seemed far more about acquisition of status than knowledge.

  8. Nektarios says:

    Let us continue with this last part, you will be glad to know.

    The Church does not need to go to the world – it has nothing to offer the Church, nothing!
    The Church needs the word, faith and the power of the Holy Spirit.

    The Church as gone cap in hand to the scientists of different diciplines, to the philosophers, to other religions, but we so often forget, Christian, our faith is not of this world. The power of the Christian life, the Holy Spirit , is not of this world either, and as history shows all too clearly when it neglects our faith, our source of power, the Church wilts under all sorts of railing acusations brought by this world against the Saints.
    Even so, the world, will if it cannot or will not yeild to the Spirit of God and His word, they will resort to all sorts of false accusations and opinions. They will haul you before committees, accuse you in court, have you flung in prison or worse.
    In the West, it is the put-down, asking for your academic credentials and the like, be they secular or religious. Over the centuries the Church has languished and been perscecuted time after time, but as the Word told us, `the gates of hell shall not prevai agaist itl’.
    Such was the case with our hero, Stephen. Before all the accusers and those who would judge him… Acts 6:15. Yes, do read it!
    The loud aggressive crowd baying that the very life be stoned out of Stephen. Our hero did not have to say a single word to them. Everyones eyes were on Stephen, and what they saw, ` his face as the face of an angel.’

    So, to conclude, the nature of the Church, that is the `brethren’, the word we had in verse Act 6:3, we
    are brethern. None of this arrogant class, social, academic ridden superiority and climbing of the eclesiatical ladder. No, no, we are equal, we are `brethren’. It is a lesson sadly missing among Christians today.
    That road so many are on, are playing this world’s games. But remember, to be friends with the world and the spirit of this world, is to be an enemy of God.
    How many enemies are within the Christian Churches today?

    From a technological point of view, things have developed little by little, but the price for that is one gives up ones Faith. Modern man and moderning thinking says so, no, demand it.
    But I tell you, they know nothing, nothing of the greatness, beauty and power of the Church, nothing at all.
    The modern man, the scientific man, the academic in various fields from astronomy to astro-physics, not only bring their theories and ideas but dispute with God’s people. The modern man does not know of what the Church and its true nature really are.
    When they do see something of it, being of this world, they being of the spirit of this world are God-haters, and because, Christians, we are God lovers, they will attack you, verbally, put you down, see you in court or even have us put to death in certain countries.When was it any different?
    Make no mistake who we are dealing with when engaged with this world and the spirit of this world.
    Perhaps the institutional side of the Church has this worldly side? Perhaps this has trickled down to us
    where the believer thinks there is more credability trusting their word or that scientific or political group. Saying political group, one has to ask, what is the Vatican actually for what does it do whom does it truly serve?
    Let prayer, the Word and the Holy Spirit rule in your life, giving one a life full of faith, wisdom and power.
    Then, who knows, they may just come knocking on your door?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Thank you for all that.It needs me to absorb it a bit more,that will take time,interesting enough to do so.
      I would. like to ask your opinion on two things that have come into my head and I will forget if I leave it.
      First, would if there was life on another planet man would have fallen again and Jesus would have had to come to them and maybe suffer and die for their sins so that they w c could be saved? Is it really free-will or just animal instincts?
      Also, When Jesus said’Unless you eat My Body and drink My Blood, you can not have Life in you, and they turned away,He did not call them back to say ‘ I don’t mean you have to ‘consume’ My Body and Blood to be saved.. But He did not call them back.
      Just a thought , I have thought about .

      • Nektarios says:

        St Joseph
        On the first question you raise if I have decipher the question correctly, the answer according to the word of God, would be No. For Christ died once, not only for the redemption of mankind, but the whole of creation is renewed in its pristine heavenly spirtual energy form.
        On the issue of free will or natural instinct: since the fall, the free will of mankind has been subject to his lower nature with all its passions sorrow, fear and struggles and with death at the end of it. Realize one’s will has to serve another. So one has to choose who or what our will will serve, one is true freedom, the other is bondage in some shape or form.

    • RAHNER says:

      Does ANYONE take this stuff seriously??

      • St.Joseph says:

        You surprise me, I thought you knew everything!

      • johnbunting says:

        With respect, Rahner, can you be a little more specific about which ‘stuff’ you are referring to?

      • Mike Horsnall says:

        Er,….as it happens…no.

      • Nektarios says:


        I am beginning to think I cannot take you seriously at all. You have your views and opinions but that is all they are.
        So instead of what you have been doing of late, posting with brevity, it needs to be said, your obvious disagreement, perhaps you can state your case, your take on what is posted, your considered opinion. Till you do, you are just hectoring from the bank, while the river of life flows past you. Perhaps you are too frightened to jump into the river of life?

    • Quentin says:

      While I have let these three long instalments lie since I have not had time to invigilate today, I think I should make it clear that the ‘comment’ section of the Blog is for comments and exchanges of view. It is not for posting long contributions which would properly belong to the writer’s own blog.

      • RAHNER says:

        Thank you Quentin!

      • Geordie says:

        People don’t seem to be listening to you, Quentin. Their long, involved responses are detracting from the blog. It is losing its potency as a vehicle for an exchange of ideas. I personally don’t want to spend time reading long, repetitive comments which often stray from the original concepts in your articles.

      • Quentin says:

        Geordie, the irony is that important things which people wish to say get lost in their own wordage. The great advantage of a blog like this is precisely that one can afford to make short comments with real impact — knowing that one can make as many further comments as the dialogue warrants.

  9. claret says:

    Well. I am not a paid up member of the ‘flat earth society’ but with apologies to Quentin try as I might I just cannot accept that when I see a herd of wildebeests sweeping magistically across the horizon that it all started from some minute organism, that would have been invisible to the human eye and kind of ‘popped up’ from the depths of some pond that was created by a big bang.(The latest potted ‘theory’ on creation that I read somewhere, no doubt someone else will come up with something else, for example an explanation as to where the pond came from.)
    I really don’t know what people expect of the Bible but its explanation of how life began is no more incredible than the organism ( a single one? ) of life that supposedly started it all. You could fill a warehouse with all the different writings on the theories of evolution but put them in a single Biblical volume and ask yourself where Moses got his ideas from and you might well end up with something remarkably like we actually have in Genesis.
    From that point it is a small evolutionary jump to a brain that was created by God.

  10. johnbunting says:

    I think that from the standpoint of Christian belief, it makes little difference whether you think of things as created more or less instantaneously, as in Genesis; or by a process of evolution over millions of years. The point is that, either way, we are created beings, not the products of blind natural forces.
    From the standpoint of science, however, things are different. The appearance of life from non-living matter is a physical and biological process, so should in principle be explicable in scientific terms; although, as Quentin says, it may be hard to grasp that the apparently random processes of evolution are possible to God. But a complex organism springing into existence suddenly, like Athene from the head of Zeus, would be inexplicable by science. I think Genesis deals with the meaning of creation rather than the material details; and the Bible in general gives us the truths necessary for salvation. The rest we can work out for ourselves; as indeed Galileo thought, so I feel I’m in good company!
    It is also important to think of evolution in its physical, or pre-organic phase: the creation of the conditions which preceded organic life.. Evolution is not self-explanatory: it must have started from things which were not themselves the products of evolution, but had the potential for virtually unlimited development; and it is at that point, I think, that the creative act of God is inescapable. The origin, from nothing, of that which made all subsequent development possible.

  11. Nektarios says:

    John Bunting & Fellow bloggers
    It is interesting your assertions are all mxed up with the assertion of the scientic evolutionists.
    Ok, I will leave that issue for the moment and ask another question.
    Where did the Church come from? Where did the founder of Christianity and the Salvation of mankind come from?
    If you say it was a process of evolution, one does not yet know what the Church is actually, its beauty, or its power. So, where did Christ come from? Where did the children of God come from?
    Why are they made manifest in these last days?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Thank you.
      However,as the last Supper is the institution of the Eucharist and the first Mass,should it

      be the highest form of worship to God the Father Almighty our Creator the first person of the Blessed Trinity owed to Him as it seemed to be important enough to Jesus,
      It may not be necessary for our salvation but necessary for some thought by. Christians who don’t give it any.Holy Mass is more than a gathering or party but a sacrifice..
      It takes us fully in to the spiritual world the closest thing to Heaven which I think is pertinent to science and faith and binds it together what happens on the altar.not separates us.
      Holy Mother Church does not go to science I would disagree with you there, science in the proper sense goes to the Church.

      • Nektarios says:

        St. Joseph
        If you truly appreciate what the worship of God is, then your question is superflous.
        Partaking of the Holy Mysteries as they call it in the Orthodox Church, is part of our worship of God, certainly.
        I don’t want to bog you all down with a lengthy posting on Worship and what it is to the spiritual person alive in Christ, or Quentin will be gently rapping me over the knuckles again.

  12. Jacobi says:

    “This column is dedicated to the relationship between faith and science.”

    My particular interest here is time and matter.

    Science and Faith are complementary, dealing as they do with the physical world and the spiritual world i.e., that which is outside of time. Science accepts that time is finite, as before the Big Bang , or whatever, or when we reach maximum entropy.
    Scientists have observed many instances of time being relative, non-existent i.e., “spookiness” or possibly reversing?
    The science of matter and its constituent particles becomes ever more fascininating and how shall I put it, “unreal”.

    Given this, the Christian doctrine that Christ, who created this “illusion” of reality can step in and out of it, is really not difficult to grasp.

    • Nektarios says:


      I have not seen your name on the blog before, so welcome!
      What you say is a neat idea, but not correct in many respects.
      God does not create illusion, but we in our thoughts do about all sorts of things including time and reality.
      Time is dependent on recording the past, with all its movement. If we die to the past, with the observer watching the past, then one has brought time to an end in oneself. Then what?
      I don’t quite grasp your idea of God flitting in and out of time, as if He needed to? God is not the popularized `cosmic god’, He is totally other, the Creator of all that is, yet God is not part of it in His essence, He, as I say is totally other, outside it all, yet totally within it all, seeing all, knowing all, and has power overall.

    • Vincent says:

      Jacobi, can you or anyone tell me whether ‘mass; comes into this? The well known equation gives us energy = mass x speed of light squared. Since speed is expressed in terms of time, does it follow that mass, and therefore matter is equally relative or non-existent?

      • tim says:

        Vincent, I’m not sure if your question makes any sense at all (maybe Rahner will be moved to two or three words on the subject), but, supposing it does, I don’t think that it follows that matter is either relative or non-existent. The equation could still balance in two ways – if there are ‘relative’ elements on both sides, or if two ‘relative’ elements on one side combine to make an absolute one (as with multiplying by – 1). Anyway, ‘relative’ seems rather different from ‘non-existent’. ‘Puzzling questions’ – perhaps they are beyond conjecture.

  13. claret says:

    Just a brief but sincere ‘thank you’ to John Bunting for his succinct and laudable response to my slightly ‘tongue in cheek’ contribution on the origins of man.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Thank you.,when you say ‘that a lengthy post and what it is to a spiritual person alive in Christ’ – It would not need a lengthy post on Worship. my question to you. maybe was not clear. I meant ‘ Why is it that the full significance off Holy Mass is ‘not’ welcomed with open arms to Christians.I wondered if you knew why they did not.
      Most of my friends are Christians not all Catholics ,but Mass means Church, a gathering of community, which is also good. I forget which Saint I think St John Vianney,(may be spelt wrong) said that ‘If we really believed what was happening on the Altar we would die’…As a priest said to me over 40 years ago, if God revealed Himself to us in one go our brain would explode.
      I may not be right in thinking it is when time and Eternity meet., but these are the mysteries of our faith.that I don’t require answers to. Just Faith.

      • Nektarios says:

        St Joseph
        I think part of the answer lies in various denominational biases among Christians and how the view the Eucharist and Holy Mass.
        Not all agree with the RCC emphasis, some see it as a remembrance, some see it in a purely liturgical format.
        Despite all the differences, all Chistians see the Eucharist, Holy Communion, breaking of Bread, as most holy, and most Christians take it seriously everywhere

    • johnbunting says:

      Thanks, Claret.
      Although the ‘creation v. evolution’ arguments about bodily origins seem to me largely unnecessary, the ‘soul’, our distinctively human and rational nature, must, I think, be directly created by God.
      Jacobi, et al.
      On time and matter, how about this: we measure space by the intervals between material objects, and time by the intervals between events, which could not occur without objects. Therefore neither time nor space could exist without matter. Discuss.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you.
        I have some lovely friends and neighbours ,who are so good to me and we help each other all the time.
        All Christians, believe in Christmas ,Easter etc all Christened they call it, all married some divorced, second marriage,however have no thoughts of Church, or defending it. A couple of them are so pleased I take them home some Palm so on and so on,They love it.They ask for prayers if ill etc So why? I thought you might know the answer!As I felt it pertinent to your post on Acts and St Stephen. Maybe you don’t see it to be.
        Thank you anyway


      • claret says:

        I am hardly qualified to discuss these issues and I suppose that is why the simplicity of the bible explanation appeals to me although that ‘simplicity’ is not so obvious when studied scientifically !

        As for time , matter and mass, your comment lays bare some of the fundamental problems. Perhaps into those conundrums I would just add that for evolution of creatures would not a head be developed before a means of digestion and would not the means of digestion have to come before a means of secretion. And yet, as far as I know, there has been no evolutionary finding that produces a head without a digestive system and no one has found a creature with a head and digestive system but without a
        means of excretion.

  14. Jacobi says:

    Thank you for your welcome. Was just browsing! The word “science” always attracts my attention.
    Commentators, unlike God, have limitations. We try to express in a few word, or indeed in one word, an idea that would justify a book. Hence the implied difference between illusion and “illusion”.

    My suggestion, I wouldn’t call it even a hypothesis, is that time for us is progressive but for God, a spirit, it is not and does not exist. It is a dimension of the natural world. He is the designer and sustainer of that world, in no way limited by it. If He were to stop thinking of the physical world and its infinity of dimension and dimensions, it, and we, would not exist.

    He does not need, since He has no needs, to step in and out of our concept of progressive time, or “physical” existence, He chooses to. Examples of His intervention are the Incarnation, the appearance in the upper room, with a functioning appetite and presumably digestive system, and of course the myriad interventions during the course of the Sacrifice of the Mass, when he becomes fully present but under the appearance of what has been bread and wine.
    I don’t think we are at all disagreeing!

    But my point in commenting was simply to note that the extraordinary developments in theoretical physics, particularly quantum mechanics, are converging with, and are in no way contradictory to, classical Christian thinking on the spiritual world. This is something which the Church must welcome – and further address!

    • St.Joseph says:

      Thank you for your contribution to S{S.I found it interesting from a Christian view especially from the aspect of faith and my belief in visions accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.,
      Obviously always having an open mind to those which maybe just some other phenomenon. I particularly draw attention to Our Blessed Mothers appearances approved by Holy Mother Church. Also the appearance of St Padre Pio when alive was seen in two places at once.I think it is bi-locution.If ever proved it would most probably make those who do not believe in a spiritual life a little uncomfortable.!

    • Nektarios says:

      We are spirts too, incorporeal as well as corporeal having flesh and bones.
      Our corporeal aspect had a beginning, a middle and will have and end.
      But that which is spirit, being of God stuff if I may put it like that, is timeless and eternal.
      Perhaps, Jacobi, you would like to expand what you mean in your last paragraph, and why the Church must welcome and address it?

    • Horace says:

      On the whole I must second Jacobi and his remarks about ‘time’ which, of course, is intimately bound up with the concept of ‘free will’.
      “. . . note that the extraordinary developments in theoretical physics, particularly quantum mechanics, are converging with, and are in no way contradictory to, classical Christian thinking on the spiritual world.”

      See, for example, my comment on “No ghost in the machine” December 4th, 2010 at 11:57 pm, which follows R.M.Blaber’s erudite comment; and also my further comment on December 9, 2010 at 12:26 am, as well as many other comments on that post..

      Incidentally – for anyone who is interested in ‘Chaos’ I have implemented a very simple demonstration on my website
      Scroll down to “a simple illustration of the behaviour of a chaotic system.” and click on the link. [You will need to have JAVA implemented on your browser – and sometimes a little (perhaps a lot of) patience before the plot appears!]

  15. Singalong says:

    Geordie, I am disappointed that no one so far has followed up my comment made on April 12th.

    I have been puzzled by the extent of free will very puzzling for a long time. It has all sorts of ramifications for culpability and forgiveness which of course involves the Incarnation and our Redemption. Perhaps it has been fully discussed previously, but Quentin did mention it in this week`s Post, and I cannot read through the whole archive. If anyone could give me references I should be grateful.

    • Horace says:

      “I feel as if I can choose certain courses of action, but I do not understand how that could be scientifically explained”.
      You are not alone in this – many eminent scientists feel the same way!

      To find a relevant post enter “No ghost in the machine” into the Search box at the top of the page – just underneath the picture on the Right hand side – and click ‘Search’.
      The resulting post is followed by a good deal of discussion on this subject.
      e.g. :-
      Quentin states December 3, 2010 at 12:35 pm
      . . . “compatiblists” (those who believe that determinism and free will are compatible) are thick on the ground. . . the only point they appear to have in common is a general disagreement about a satisfactory explanation for this.
      We are always left with the question of how we may be morally responsible for a decision we were not free to make otherwise.

      From my Deg 9th 2910 comment :-
      Chaotic systems (as far as mathematics is concerned) are not random but are deterministic. However they are very sensitive to initial conditions and hence APPEAR disordered and random.
      Attempts have been made to use chaos to reconcile ‘free will’ with ‘determinism’ but are, to me at least, unconvincing because they depend on the assumption that the “illusion of free will” provided by chaos is equivalent to “free will” itself.

      • Singalong says:

        Thank you, Horace, for your helpful and patient answer.

        I have been reading the post you suggested with great interest, and think I am a little further forward in my understanding of this immense subject, or at least realising how many areas of thought and research are involved.

        I can now appreciate a little, for instance, the relevance of time, in Jacobi`s comment, and your reply to him, which I did not understand previously.

  16. St.Joseph says:

    I did read the article and didn’t find how it would apply to the Incarnation or our Redemption
    Our Lady was chosen long before Her conception, I believe as long back as the Psalms.
    She was born Immaculate full of Grace without the sin of the Fall ,so therefore her free will would not necesssarly depend on Her brain unless God gave Her one as the article su8ggests.
    I felt it was too far fetched to mention.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I thought that Nektarios made a clear comment on free will on the 12th at 6.36.to me more sound than scientific research on our brain

  17. Singalong says:

    Thank you St. Joseph.

    My thinking is that although I feel as if I have a free choice when I have to choose a course of action, I read accounts of research which appear to prove that in many ways my choice is constricted by the way in which I was brought up, by my genetic inheritance which determines how my brain functions, and by many other influences, conscious and unconscious, and I wonder how much room is left for real freedom. I would like to hear about any research which can explain this scientifically, and in simple terms.

    If our choices were to be totally or largely determined by factors outside our control, then we could not sin, and would have no need of redemption, so it is quite a fundamental question, far fetched in the light of our faith, but to my mind worthy of discussion, and finding out all that good scientific research can tell us.

    I do tend to summarise too much, and I hope this explains a little more.

    Thank you for reminding me about Nektarios` very spiritual comment, I was trying to approach from a different angle.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I understand what you say however one has to be aware of what is evil and good,and our decisions are made on that principle.,This is my understanding of Nektarios.s comment and Act’s. We can also consider St Paul.s conversion and the principle Christianity.
      Just a small example of the football riots today or any time as a prime example. I dontt believe that those who stay away from trouble is because of the position of their brain.,otherwise they would be doing it all time.
      I may be old fashioned to still believe in the devils temptation.
      I may be reading you wrong,

    • Quentin says:

      Singalong, you have lighted on one of the more difficult problems. It is certainly true that, at the point of decision, it is impossible to demonstrate that the decision has not been determined by the various causes you mention. Thus you can only say that you experienced your decision as free.

      But if you stand back and look at the proposition that free will is impossible, you immediately chop off the branch on which you are sitting. If you were not free to make the decision that freewill is impossible, then that conclusion is without meaning.

      Interestingly, you can meet many an atheist who will eloquently tell of the immoralities of religions, and if you ask him how a a religion can be immoral when it is not free but determined, he will find it difficult to explain. In fact the claim that one may be determined and at the same time be moral is literally nonsense.

      The great philosopher, Kant, came up against the same difficulty when he realised that he could not prove, but only experience, time and space. He was forced to accept that he had to assume their existence because, unless they existed, he could know nothing. Similarly if we deny our free will, we deny our ability to discover or express any truth whatsoever.

      I take consolation from the fact that I can deliberately develop virtuous habits through practice. Thus I can practise avoiding gossip, or practise being more truthful. At the biological level, habits are developed by training a particular set of neurons to fire together. So if I accept that many of my ‘decisions’ may be determined at the time I make them, I can at least train my brain to make them virtuously.

      • RAHNER says:

        “In fact the claim that one may be determined and at the same time be moral is literally nonsense.”
        I think the issue here is the ambiguity of “determined”. Unless our beliefs and actions ARE in some way determined by the state of the world outside ourselves it is difficult to see how they could avoid being arbitrary and unreasonable.
        Moreover, suppose a Nazi doctor agrees at gun point to reluctantly save the life of a sick Jew. His actions were surely in some sense determined by the threat of his own death and yet his actions in saving the Jew and himself were surely morally correct?
        The difference between our actions being free and being unfree and determined is a matter of degree. It is not an absolute distinction.

      • Quentin says:

        I think that it is all rather simpler than this. If, in a given situation, you are not free to choose your decision, then you cannot be held responsible for it. If you are not responsible then neither moral praise nor blame is relevant.

      • Singalong says:

        Thank you, Quentin, for adding so much to your original post, on a subject which I can
        see now could lead to a lifetime of study. Your aim of promoting discussion has turned into more tutoring, but I am grateful, and it will spur me on to continue reading and thinking, and help me to discover more of the amazing details of the processes that God has designed.

        Rahner`s comment put me in mind of T. S. Eliot`s line, “The last temptation is the greatest treason, to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” In this context, at least,
        somebody benefits.

      • RAHNER says:

        “If you are not responsible then neither moral praise nor blame is relevant.”
        Determining the praise or blame for an act is separate from the moral status of the act itself eg., if someone takes the morning after pill they are responsible for the consequences – but the morality of these consequences is a different issue.

      • Quentin says:

        But my example here was taken precisely from the blame which others may impose on the religious. If, by agnostic belief, the religious had no free will, then the question of blameworthiness does not arise. The moral status of the act s involved is not an issue here. Thus to hold that persons are blameworthy (or praiseworthy) but have no free will requires a contradiction.

        As JN would say “Quia est absurdum.”

      • RAHNER says:

        Quentin, a blog is not the place to pursue this question which would involve detailed and lengthy philosophical arguments.
        So in conclusion I would just say that if determinism is, as you appear to suggest, demonstrably incoherent then why do so many philosophers past and present fail to see this? (It is also worth recalling that in formal logic it is reasonable to draw a particular conclusion even though this conclusion is logically necessitated and determined by the premises.)

      • Quentin says:

        You are right of course. I know this because I once got into a debate about this with ‘Dawkins’ disciples’. I didn’t ask them to explain free will or moral obligation, but I asked them to show me how such things might be solved within science. 25,000 words later, they were no further forward. Although some of them were obviously pretty bright, they couldn’t tell me. So I concluded that there were some qualities which could not be so explained through empirical proof. And, by no coincidence, these are the precise qualities through which our creation in the image and likeness of God are distinguished. So while this is no proof of God’s existence, I believe in him as securely as I believe in my free will and my recognition of moral obligation.

  18. Jacobi says:

    A number of issues raised.
    Insofar as I understand – I am not a theoretical physicist – mass is relative to velocity, and measurably so, time would be zero if mass were zero, and miracles though contrary to the natural God made laws, do occur. We accept them after we have exhausted natural explanations, as at Fatima, for example.
    Nektarios. Agreed, we are “at once spiritual and corporeal”, CCC 362. Re my last chapter, it concerns the Secularist falsehoods that Faith and reason (science) are incompatible and that the Church denies science. Neither is true.
    The increasing “uncertainties” emerging in theoretical physics are increasingly compatible with, and conceivably convergent with, Catholic concepts of the natural and spiritual, so Catholic theologians and scientists should be actively involved.

  19. St.Joseph says:

    I expect we have evolutionists who are atheists scientists, And evolutionists who are religious scientists, can they ever be compatible in all sciences.I don’t believe they can.Unless of course they are all humanists and believe in the sacredness of human life,and the natural law.

  20. Nektarios says:

    I agree, that there are certain compatibile views held by those who would profess the Christian faith and science.
    Where I do disgree, is your view that the uncertainties of theoretical physics are increasingly compatible and conceiveable convergent with, Catholic concepts of the natural and spiritual…..
    I don’t know how that which is a thinking out of the box is compatible with truly Chistian and spiritual revelation within the mind and heart of a peson?

    That which is of the earth is earthy. Yes, we can explore it, discover many things, rejoice in what we find, as it tells us of something of a Creator and Sustainer – but like God, as Quentin pointed out, is opague.
    On the the otherhand that which is spiritual is spiritually discerned.

    The problem scientists and the mad, mad world of theoretical quantum physics face concerning God is, one cannot weigh or measure Him.
    So, the dimension where understanding is given is spiritual, and of the Holy Spirit, enlightening our minds, filling our hearts and empowering us.
    One last thing: One thing many scientists cannot abide in the physical universe, is the idea of an outside agency at work,namely God, bringing it into being and operating within it.

  21. Jacobi says:

    Regarding your last paragraph. Yes, many scientists do reject the concept of a god who has created “their” universe.

    But others don’t. As Haldane has pointed out, better than I have done, “far from being hostile to religion, contemporary scientific theories are often congenial to, and indeed may be supportive of, theistic viewpoints”.

    Pope Jean Paul II says in Fides et Ratio, (100), that, “The Church remains profoundly convinced that faith and reason (science) mutually support each other”.

    I find all this comforting, so personally, I am quite happy to be a scientist (albeit now retired) and, I trust, an orthodox Catholic.

    • Nektarios says:

      This is a very secular and humanistic point of view you have given.
      Whilst, the Christian faith is indeed sane, sensible and rational and man’s only hope,
      it seems because of this `fallen’ understanding, of the scientist or specialist as he /she gropes about in the dark, do get somethings right. When it does, they immediately jump in with their blurb, to say things like, `we understand this now, no need of God.’
      We have all sorts of silly quasi-scientific ideas banded about these days, which people take up in their unbelief, such as, God is dead; the gene to describe practically every aspect of fallen nature, short of saying, that they too, have a fallen nature, they too are by there methods groping around in the dark, and they too really do not have any understanding of God as yet. Some scientists do truly have faith ( that gift fom God) not believism, and they have a hard time of it from the scientific community in many fields.

      It is not comforting to me, to see scientists want to peer into, understand, weigh, measure, experiment on the Church of God and ultimately try to control it – sorry, Jacobi, all atempts to do these things will escape them. The present, are but experiments, observations on human behaviourisms and the working of the brain predominately but as they repeatedly say, `can’t find God anywhere’.

      The Church is something extraordinary, supernatural, that has not always been here
      but came with the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and the sending of the Holy Spirit.
      Of course the Church ‘s teaching IS, in as much as they are true to the Gospel, are sane, sensible and rational, yes, and much more.

  22. Geordie says:

    God has nothing to fear from science. He wrote the scientific laws which we try to discover. Science is the study of God’s creation and therefore gives us a greater insight into the mind of God. The universe is wonderful and mind-boggling; and you can’t blame mankind for wanting to know more and more about it. I’m pleased to read that Jacobi is a scientist and a Catholic.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I don’t think we question science because it may be against the will of God.
      At least for myself.
      Science is good when it is for the good of mankind, research into health,and giving people new limbs, and feeding the hungry. etc
      But finding out a greater insight into the mind of God is very much like the Fall as written in Scripture. in us all unless it it controlled. ‘You will be like Him’-it may be a story but a story to explain mans search into matters that ought only to concern our Maker.
      What is man searching for? Is it his own success?
      He will never know the mind of God!Feeding the hungry is our concern.
      This is the temptation of which is before us ‘Do not eat off the Tree of Knowledge.’

    • Nektarios says:

      God is not afraid of science, though in certain specifics I can imagine He could be quite angry with science, for example, abortion, the atomic bomb but to name two.
      No, Geordie, God did not write the laws, He spoke them, and they came into being.
      Why are these laws there? What was there before the laws on creation were utter and ushered in by God?
      I don’t blame mankind for finding out about the world and the universe he/she inhabits at all, as we try to understand the world we inhabit, same as Adam did – we have not gone very far really. However, I do think that our present understanding of the laws that are placed on the universe, is in reality, a miniscule amount..
      Yes, we are fascinated by it. that universe declares His glory. Some are even more interested in the Creator of it all and what He declares or reveals to us about It and Himself..

  23. Peter D. Wilson says:

    St. Joseph and Geordie – I don’t think any scientist, as such, aspires to understand the mind of God. When Stephen Hawking used the term, it was in relation to the question of why the universe exists. Moreover, “why the universe exists” has two different meanings: “what caused it to exist” (apparently Hawking’s usage, to the extent that he believes in causality) and “for what purpose it exists”. The mechanics are certainly in the realm of science; the purpose is a matter of philosophy or theology.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Peter D Wilson.
      I don’t see why its purpose would be theology. I can appreciate it would be of interest to atheists.

      • Peter D. Wilson says:

        St.Joseph – I imagine that atheists would deny that it has a purpose. You may have heard of the writer Arthur C. Clarke, if only as author of “2001”: I suspect that much of his fiction is an attempt to devise one. The “Penny Catechism”, answer 2, implies some part of the actual purpose, maybe a very small part.

    • Nektarios says:

      Peter D. Wilson
      I would oly qualify what you have said, that only some of the mechanics is known to the realm of science, but there are many others that will forever escape the scientist.
      I am all in favour of good science, but I am not so influenced that science has much to contribute, if anything to the spiritual life.
      If you are so convinced, what does science contribute to our life in Christ?
      I am not attacking science. What I want science like many other academic pursuits including theology to understand is the limits of their disipline, and so to know their place in relation to everything else.
      The spiritual life is supernatural, has divine intelligence and operates not according to the latest theory by anyone, but by the Holy Spirit who know all.
      It is not a different disipline, the spiritual life, but a supernatural life altogether.
      Perhaps you have lain too long among the pots?

  24. St.Joseph says:

    Peter D. Wilson.
    I expect so,but there again that takes us back to Genesis and the Creation story , which takes us then back to the Fall. Round and round we go.

  25. Nektarios says:

    I have just re-read Quentin’s introduction to our discussion.
    I am amazed, not so much by what he has said, for most of it is a guarded and well presented argument to influence our thinking, but by certain conclusion based on -well not truth, but reasoning and explanation supplied by the experts, some of which is correct, but does nothing for the life in the Spirit.
    I am also taken by the uses he employs of language, that of modern terminology, scientific, psychological and religious, then jumps to certain conclusions. For example, it is clear that the statement by the Pope Emeritus, is not fully working or accomplishing any real spiritual end.
    Like Quentin points out, rightly, the soul escapes the microscope.

    To say, there is nothing wrong with our reasoning powers, well, would the world be in such a mess, has always been in such a mess, and seems set to continue in the future to produce perhaps an greater mess than it is now, if our reasoning powers were in line with the will of God?
    I think not.
    But things are as they are and we have to take stock of that and not be afraid of it, not to have one’s faith influenced, compromised , weakened or spirited away by scientists, psychologists, philosophers explanations, theories and projections of which the road is the past is littered with their discarded theories and projections.

    We are tri-partied beings, body soul and spirit. We have a will, and that will must serve another.
    Choose carefully. One has to live in this world, eat, interrelate and so on, but Christian, you are not of this world or of the spirit of this world, unless you lend your members to it.
    And this is the crux of my posting we come to. The relation betwixt the various sciences are valid in the sense they are observations of this world, our ourselves in this world. Conclusions are drawn.But as a result, it has nothing to say on the life of Christ in any person.
    It was Jacoi who really highlighted what the astro-phyicists and so many other diciplines, including sadly, many religious,”scientists do reject the concept of a god who has created “their” universe.”

    So what is the actual relationship between science and faith?

  26. Nektarios says:

    Sorry, Jacobi, for mis-spelling your name. It was a great quote!
    And sorry fellow bloggers for other errors, but I hope readable to you all

  27. Geordie says:

    I didn’t say we shall understand the mind of God. I said we shall obtain a greater insight into the mind of God. I look at the universe in wonder and in awe; therefore I look on the Creator with greater wonder and awe. If He can do this with material things what will His spiritual creation be like? We have glimpses of this in Our Lord and His Blessed Mother but because of our limitations, they are only glimpses.
    We should not be suspicious of science because mankind abuses science. The abuses are due to the fact that we are prone to evil. It’s not the fault of science which has brought huge benefits to mankind.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I understand what you are saying. But do we need to travel into Space to obtain a greater insight into the mind of God.I only wish I could see some purpose of it.Maybe I am missing something.I believe it to be a waste of money when we are struggling to feed Earth.
      That is all I was saying.
      I saw a film about 30 years ago in Bradford showing the wonders of the Universe.,which was beautiful.But why do we want to go to the Moon or Mars.? Mans desire for knowledge and achievement. Maybe it is pride! One of the seven deadly sins.
      The insight to God to me is the Resurrection etc, the eyes of our souls as you pointed ,out His spiritual creation..
      But I suppose we are entitled to have our own thoughts,we can not all think the same.

  28. Geordie says:

    St Joseph

    We are not struggling to feed the world due to lack of resources. Children are starving due to greed and political corruption. Just recently it was announced that USA alone threw away over (I think) $1 billion of food per year (i.e. $1,000, 000, 000.)
    Three hundred years ago well over 90% of the world’s population was on the bread line. Now it is between 50% to 60%. This is due to technological progress which is the result of scientific inventions and discovery. Before the railways improved transport, some areas of the UK starved while other areas were in plenty. Science is a gift from God.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Thank you for that info. However. Why have we food banks in Britain,? What about the money we are asked to pay for water wells in Africa. Medicines, lack of food for health is not only edible.. Lack of proper health care ,cancer and other diseases needing money. Soldiers coming home without limbs, and no financial resources to help them.British Legion short of money for the widows and their children etc etc etc.The moral dignity of man, wasted in Space.
      Scientific experiments are those scientists looking upwards in the wrong direction.This is what I mean by good science and bad, not necessarily evil.
      The only thing that will change it is the love of God and our neighbour, as Jesus preached on the Sermon on the Mount.
      I know the cause and effect.

  29. Peter D. Wilson says:

    Nektarios, as on April 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm – You seem to attribute to me a far greater faith in the power of science than I actually possess, and I can’t see how you have gained that impression. I don’t suggest that in itself science has anything to contribute to the spiritual life, beyond perhaps a sense of awe and wonder, but perhaps, as on so many occasions, I have failed to understand you.

    St.Joseph – I think I see what you mean about good science and bad. For the last dozen years before my retirement in 2001 (nothing to do with the book or film of that name!) I was loosely involved with several lines of international research or technical development that on the whole I thought ill-advised, and maybe helped to quash some of the sillier ideas. One scheme was reputedly set up to provide innocent employment for Russian ex-military scientists who might otherwise have been tempted to sell their expertise to hostile organisations; the prospect of positive benefits was doubtful, but would you call that good or bad science?

  30. mike Horsnall says:

    In fact science and the philosophy of science adds a good deal to religious thinking, and vice versa. ‘Scientific’ thinking with its emphasis on objectification and analysis percolates into religious thought as a kind of salting of ‘rationality ‘ This is helpful in determining the boundaries of religious thinking. Of course rationality itself probably stems at least in part from millenia of ‘religious’ debate around the nature of origins. The rational mind is of course part of the creation since man as a whole is part of that creation and is formed in the image of God-an image marred but not lost through sin. The catechism is fairly clear on the subject:

    “The Christian faith respects scientific research for the explaination it tries to give of the process by which the cosmos appeared in time. But Christian faith goes farther: in the birth of the universe, faith sees and celebrates the work of the creating God who,in his absolute otherness, reveals his Trinitarian mystery” p718

    All this should be pretty obvious by now. Science does us many favours in giving the shape of things, we can no longer for example believe our planet to be shouldered by a turtle or see the world as flat. The Apostle Paul tells us that the presence of God can be deduced from what exists and there is a rich tradition of the attempt to do so by religious consideration of the evidence that science uncovers. To say that science has nothing to say to faith or vice versa is Manichaen in its divisiveness-simply wrongheaded if you like and tending towards an excessive spiritualism which denies the place of the observing body as part of Gods creation.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Peter D Wilson
      That would be a difficult answer for me ,not knowing what the science they were expertise in..If one is corrupt nothing would stop them from selling what they knew.
      I suppose placing them in a position of dangerous science, if there is such a thing would be morally wrong .
      An example of good science and bad science would seem to me to be research in infertility whereby the destruction of embryo’s are involved where the alternative is the Crighton Method and NAPRO., also stem cell research using embryo’s.
      Obviously I am not aware of all the unethical research,but not naive to know that it will not go on.
      Fertility awareness was made aware through scientific research, by ethical means by Dr Billing’s.
      That is why I consider it to be necessary for the
      purpose of theologians.,I would expect them to have a moral conscience.
      Just a small thought, when Jesus ascended into Heaven an Angel appeared to the Apostles and asked them ‘ why are you looking up’ perhaps we ought to be looking to the earth for our science, not into space,and have faith in the Lord that an asteroid won’t hit us. (that was a little tongue in cheek remark).

    • St.Joseph says:

      Mike Horsnall.
      One concern I have and that is when scientists are messing about with the laws of nature, they may be doing more damage for the sake of good, the natural balance of things.and Gods Creation.being abused, not only humans.

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