Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Magical World of Atheism



My two main antitheological books were both written long before either the development of the big-bang cosmology or the introduction of the fine-tuning argument from physical constants. But since the early 1980s, I had begun to reconsider. I confessed at that point that atheists have to be embarrassed by the contemporary cosmological consensus, for it seemed that the cosmologists were providing a scientific proof of what St. Thomas Aquinas contended could not be proved philosophically; namely, that the universe had a beginning. (Antony Flew, “There Is A God,” p. 135)

Antony Flew’s book is aptly subtitled, “How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.” And for having the intellectual honesty to follow the evidence to where it leads, Flew was reviled and excoriated by his once admiring colleagues and fawning public.

Roy Abraham Varghese in the preface to “There Is A God” observes,

The response…from Flew’s fellow atheists verged on hysteria. One atheist Web site tasked a correspondent with giving monthly updates on Flew’s falling away from the true faith. Inane insults and juvenile caricatures were common in the freethinking blogosphere. The same people who complained about the Inquisition and witches being burned at the stake were now enjoying a little heresy hunting of their own. The advocates of tolerance were not themselves very tolerant. And, apparently, religious zealots don’t have a monopoly on dogmatism, incivility, fanaticism, and paranoia. But raging mobs cannot rewrite history. And Flew’s position in the history of atheism transcends anything that today’s atheist has on offer.

Nevertheless, despite the outcry, an undaunted Flew wrote his book describing his “conversion” to theism. Though to my knowledge he never embraced Christianity or the Bible, he fully realized that his atheistic worldview was utterly incapable of accounting for the actual world in which he lived; a finite universe, with a definite beginning. The “Big Bang” shattered the mythical world in which he once lived, imploding the very foundations upon which his atheism was built. 

Three years after Flew came to his senses, the editor of a local paper asked me, “Can a theist believe in the so-called ‘Big Bang’?” I told him then as I tell you now, that a theist, and only a theist, can believe in such a thing as the Big Bang because the atheist cannot logically or philosophically account for such an occurrence.

Ask the atheist, “How and why did the Big Bang occur?” He cannot sufficiently answer. The usual feeble attempt at answering the question involves such terms as matter, energy, time and chance.

Granted, we find matter and energy in the universe today and so we may suspect that the Big Bang involved matter and energy. But here is the problem: Matter and energy can serve as the material cause for the Big Bang, but they cannot serve as the efficient cause for the Big Bang. The Catholic philosopher and theologian, Thomas Aquinas [in the 13th century] demonstrates material and efficient causes with the example of a statue.

If the statue is made of bronze, then bronze is the material cause of the statue. However, the material cause [bronze] is not the efficient cause. The efficient cause must be the sculptor. Aristotle, many centuries before Aquinas, observed the same thing.

The Big Bang may indeed accurately portray the material cause for the universe, but it cannot account for the efficient cause of the universe. Atheistic science has a problem: The problem of existence.

In other words, why is there something rather than nothing? This is a problem that simply will not go away. Atheism gives us no logic for existence. We may ask, “What was happening five seconds before the Big Bang?” or “What existed prior to the Big Bang?” The proffered answer to both of these questions is tantamount to one word: Nothing.

Don’t be fooled by talk of “singularities” and the like. The atheistic answer to what was happening and what existed before the Big Bang is nothing. Though “nothing” will be expressed in various ways, it’s still a lot of talk about nothing. That something can come from absolute nothing is absurd. Ex nihilo nihil fit.

Yet, we often hear an atheistic scientist allege, “Our universe came into being around 14 billion years ago.” Came into being? How in the world does something--a universe or anything--come into being from absolute nothing? The notion that the universe sprang into being from absolute non-being is repugnant to reason and a leap of faith far too great for the Christian theist.

Big Bang cosmology—which was initially and understandably resisted by atheists--says the universe has a beginning and thus places the atheist on the horns of a great dilemma: How does one postulate the universe came from absolute nothing [the long discredited theory of “spontaneous generation”] without resorting to magic?

Flew could no longer believe the story which begins, “Once upon a time there was absolute nothing and then abracadabra…poof…there was a mindless, magical universe for no particular reason at all…”

Why is there something rather than nothing? How did the universe come into being from absolute non-being? How can something come from nothing? To date, no atheist has escaped this quandary and simply humming “Oh Oh It’s Magic” is wearing a little thin.

32 comments:

  1. Thanks for this article, Dr. Griffin. I rarely think about things from the atheist's viewpoint, but it's instructive to do so. The can so quickly find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. They cannot explain anything except to resort to "well... it just happened." Their vaunted scientific method actually leads them to God, though they then have to go to contortions to deny any such thing. Their own laws contradict evolution (a close cousin to atheism). The second law of thermodynamics defines entropy - that things tend to come to rest. Complexity degrades, and does not increase as would have to have happened for complex structures such as eyes to have developed. Chance doesn't do it - the statistical probability of all this complex universe and massive structures happening just by chance is so near zero as to be beyond human imagination. Yet imagine it they will - because the alternative is to believe in a creator. And a creator capable of making all this must be highly intelligent, which leads to all the other attributes for God. In fact, this creator God can do almost anything - as he has shown.

    I always thought this little example was illustrative: considering all the technical and engineering genius we now possess, the reality is that man cannot create a leaf. One leaf. A living, breathing, growing thing with photosynthesis and a system of fluid exchange, all that entails. And God creates it for a season, lets it die and fall to the earth, and then creates it again the following year. It's almost as if God is saying, "Can you do THIS?!"

    I also like John MacArthur's characterization of the evolutionist's formula: Nothing times nobody equals everything. And they call themselves intelligent scientists!

    I'm only surprised there are so many in the scientific community who seem to reject God. As I heard that one scientist put it (paraphrasing): "We have to believe in random evolution. Because - what is the alternative?"

    Proving again that sinful man is a God-hater.

    I thank my creator God that he saw fit to remove my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, and to bless me beyond my imagination - and to secure my eternal life through his efforts alone.

    Thanks again for making me think, encouraging my belief, and for your willingness to tackle any subject.

    Rick Koenig
    Gloucester VA

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    1. Thank you, Rick, for reading and for your thoughtful comments. Sinful man is indeed a God-hater, and thus atheism is a starting point--not a conclusion.

      We so often hear of "chance" in discussions of origins. The atheist speaks of "chance" as though "chance" is some kind of force or power; a causal agent. This to me is ridiculous. How can "chance" exert force/power?

      Chance is merely a word we use for mathematical probabilities [50/50 chance] or for some unplanned event [I happened upon an old acquaintance]. But in neither of these usages do we think of "chance" as some kind of entity with force/power.

      Thanks again for reading and for your gracious, contemplative remarks.

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  2. Atheism is certainly a starting point because it's the null hypothesis. Until such time as the evidence warrants it, not believing the claims made about the various gods is the proper way to purport oneself.

    The argument for non belief needs to go no further than that. The claims made by the religious fail or succeed on their own merits, regardless of whether or not we can accurately explain the beginning of the universe by natural means. For myself and many other former christians, the lack of evidence and sound arguments for belief was sufficient to cause us to no longer believe. I simply can't force myself to believe something that appears to be false.

    More to your point here, so what if we can't say for sure what caused the big bang? That in no way supports your claims of the supernatural. If Flew felt more comfortable presupposing some kind of nebulous deity that kicked off the whole thing, so be it. I don't have to buy that, though. I'm comfortable simply saying "I don't know", because it's the most honest response.

    Trying to go from "the universe had a beginning" to "Jesus is god" is fallacious.

    Also, particles are created from nothing all the time without the need for a "force" or "intelligence" behind it. It's called vacuum energy or zero-point fluctuations. The Casimir Effect demonstrates this.

    I could posit that our universe is simply zero-point fluctuation from a different universe which then expanded and separated from the original universe and I would have more evidence to support that idea than theists do supporting their hypotheses.

    Conviction or certainty of belief does not equal validity of those beliefs. So just because you can confidently point to some passages in the bible does not mean that you are right.

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    1. "Atheism is certainly a starting point because it's the null hypothesis. Until such time as the evidence warrants it, not believing the claims made about the various gods is the proper way to purport oneself."

      Thank you for having the intellectual honesty to admit that atheism is a starting point and that you think and reason in a circle.

      (I have pointed this out to many atheists who vehemently deny that they begin with their atheistic presupposition, think and reason according to said presupposition, and then arrive at conclusions consistent with said presupposition and correlative reasoning.)

      "Conviction or certainty of belief does not equal validity of those beliefs."

      You are absolutely right and I would never suggest otherwise. How many atheists are absolutely committed to their belief system? How many atheists argue with conviction and certainty? (Sometimes they even argue with certainty or conviction that all is uncertain.)

      Thus, I simply apply your valid argument to your own assertion: "Just because you can confidently" dismiss "some passages in the Bible" doesn't mean you are "right." Right?

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

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  3. You don't need reason to arrive at the null hypothesis. You don't have to understand biology and cosmology to find the claims of the bible to be untenable. There's nothing circular about that. That's how the null hypothesis works.

    And I don't speak for anyone else, so I'd appreciate you sticking to what I say, not what some other people supposedly said to you. I don't know how many atheists are absolutely committed to their position, but I know I'm not and most of the atheists I know are not either. I'd be pleased as punch for a god to be real. I rather enjoy living and if I could spend eternity in paradise with all the heroes of history, I'd jump on it. Unfortunately, as I already said, I can't force myself to believe something that appears to be false.

    The comment about certainty was to dispel the notion that because science is always tentative and we can't say for sure what caused the big bang that somehow the bible is a better answer because it gives concrete answers, a direction you seemed to imply. Apparently you do not feel that way, which is nice to know.

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    1. "You don't need reason to arrive at the null hypothesis."

      Not true. To arrive at any hypothesis requires reason. Reason [valid or invalid] is requisite to contemplation. (It is rather difficult to conceive of mindless thought.)

      "I don't know how many atheists are absolutely committed to their position,but I know I'm not and most of the atheists I know are not either."

      I can't imagine it would be otherwise. Atheists are prone to doubt their atheism. (It is indeed difficult to suppress all the truth all the time.) Hence, CS Lewis remarked that the atheist can be "none too careful" in the literature he reads.

      Nevertheless, though atheists have no certainty in their experience, they tend to speak with absolute certainty in their argumentation [at least in the interactions I can recall].

      "I rather enjoy living..."

      I am both sure and glad that you do. (The evidence suggests most living folks do!)

      "I can't force myself to believe something that appears to be false."

      Neither can I. Who can, really?

      But..."appearances" can be deceiving. That which appears to be true may in fact be false and vice versa. (I think we've all experienced this on some level, to some degree.)

      The question is: How is one to know? Why do we understand, interpret, and accept "appearances" so variously? By what standard do we justify truth claims? What is our epistemological foundation?

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    2. Again, no, that's not how the null hypothesis works.

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    3. Are you saying your hypothesis is devoid of reason? Is non-reason the foundation of this hyposthesis? Is it therefore unreasonable or irrational?

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    4. Are you just trying to be a jerk?

      Not believing an unevidenced claim does not require any effort. That's why it's the null hypothesis. It's the default state. Trying to equivocate nonacceptance with irrationality is fallacious and disingenuous.

      Please tell me you're better than this.

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    5. "Are you just trying to be a jerk?"

      Not at all. I really don't see why such a question is warranted. I'm merely trying to understand your position.

      You are claiming that you arrive at your hypothesis without the use of reason. You said, "You don't need reason to arrive at the null hypothesis."

      I'm trying to understand how a hypothesis which is arrived at--without reason--can be rational.

      In no sense am I equivocating. You are the one making the claim. I am questioning the logic of your claim.

      Let's use your own terms, okay? "You don't need reason to arrive at the null hypothesis/nonacceptance."

      Fine. But what is the rational basis for your "hypothesis" or "nonacceptance" if you do not use reason to "arrive" there?

      I'm asking you: How can rationality be predicated upon non-reason?

      "Please tell me you're better than this."

      This isn't about me, Mike. We are not discussing persons but ideas. You seem to be on the verge (I'm being overly generous here) of engaging in ad hominem argumentation.

      I will not participate in name calling and personal attack. I'm not interested in such things. My blog is "Just Thinking" not "Just Fighting."

      However, if you would like to answer my questions and explain how one can have a rational hypothesis which is founded upon non-reason, then please proceed.

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    6. You don't arrive at the null hypothesis. It's the starting point. It is, by default, where everyone begins when presented with a new claim.

      Do you really not understand how it works? If you don't, you shouldn't be arguing against it and calling it irrational. That's a bit of a jerk move. However, if this is the case I can try to explain it another way and give you an example that will hopefully clear this up.

      If you do understand the null hypothesis and yet you call it irrational that's an extreme jerk move and you're just doing it because you're itching to call atheists irrational.

      Either way, you need to check your words because you're dangerously close to becoming a typical online christian jerk. (And that's not an ad hominem. Insults are just insults. They only become fallacious when I dismiss your arguments simply because you're being a jerk).

      So let's see if we can iron this out first, then I can proceed to the rest of your questions (though the answers will be obvious once you understand the null hypothesis).

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    7. You write: "You don't need reason to arrive at the null hypothesis."

      You now write: "You don't arrive at the null hypothesis."

      How does one repsond to these statements? Heretofore, I've been addressing your first comment above. Now, it seems, you've "moved the goal posts" so to speak.

      You assert: "you shouldn't be arguing against it..."

      Here's the thing, Mike: I haven't been arguing against anything. I have simply asked you questions. I am questioning your claim. (The claim which you now seem to have completely changed.)

      Once again I'm asking you: How can rationality be predicated upon non-reason?

      (After you address my question perhaps you should then reconcile the above quotes so that I may better understand your position.)

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    8. In addition, an explanation of your understanding of the null hypothesis could prove helpful.

      However...if the null hypothesis is not founded upon reason, how shall one offer a reasonable explanation of it?

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    9. If you don't arrive at something, obviously you don't need reason to get there. It's the default. The starting position. Nothing has changed.

      The questions you ask are nonsensical in light of what the null hypothesis means. You might as well be asking what is south of the south pole.

      I've never stated nor insinuated that rationality is predicated on non reason.

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    10. I tell you I can fly to the moon simply by flapping my arms. Without any other information the null hypothesis is to not believe that claim. That's not the same as denying it or stating that it's false, it's simply not believing it.

      You then ask me to demonstrate this. I flap and struggle but don't leave the Earth. I have given you no reason to move from the null hypothesis.

      You could then argue that my claim violates the known laws of physics, which is a claim based on reason and evidence, but is completely unnecessary to the null hypothesis.

      The problem is you're getting ahead of yourself. You think because I say I don't believe your god exists, that I'm also making the claim that I know your god doesn't exist and I know that the claims in the bible are false. While I may make those claims later, I haven't done so yet and your questions do not yet apply.

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    11. For the record, you were the one who introduced the term "arriving" at a conclusion, an implication that I was arriving at the null hypothesis.

      You still seem to want to employ slippery semantic tricks to try and call me irrational. Please stop. You say you're just trying to understand my position, but you're going about it in a terrible way. Repeatedly misconstruing what I say and insinuating other things that I haven't said are not typical of someone simply trying to understand another person's position.

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    12. You allege: "For the record, you were the one who introduced the term 'arriving' at a conclusion,"

      Not true. The problem here is, "the record" is clearly seen above. I didn't introduce the concept of "arriving," you did.

      You introduced this when you wrote: "You don't need reason to arrive at the null hypothesis."

      These are your words, Mike; not mine.

      As I was looking over "the record" in order to disprove your above allegation, I did happen to reread your very first sentence.

      You write: "Atheism is certainly a starting point because it's the null hypothesis."

      Thus far in your argumentation you have taken the position that one DOESN'T "arrive," that one DOES "arrive," and then again one DOESN'T "arrive."

      After so equivocating you now falsely allege that I am to be blamed for "introducing" the subject and then cry foul that I am employing "slippery semantic tricks!" :0

      Perhaps it's best to leave "arriving" behind? Still, you have an enormous dilemma. Let's try to make this quandary as easy to be seen as possible. Okay...here goes.

      1)You write: "Atheism is certainly a starting point because it's the null hypothesis.

      2)You allege: "You don't need reason to arrive at the null hypothesis."

      [Again, I will disregard that you are speaking--simulataneously!--of a STARTING POINT at which one ARRIVES.]

      Now, as I consider your 2 statements above, two things jump out: 1) Atheism IS the null hypothesis [per your first statement] and 2)The null hyposthesis is NOT based upon "reason" [per your second statement].

      With your 2 statements I formulate the following syllogism:

      Major premise: Atheism is the null hypothesis.

      Minor premise: The null hypothesis is not based upon reason.

      Conclusion: Atheism is not based upon reason.

      If atheism/null hypothesis is NOT based upon reason...what is it based upon? If atheism/null hypothesis is not based upon reason, isn't it--by definition--based upon non-reason? And if it's based upon non-reason how can it--in any sense--be rational?

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    13. From your first reply:

      "I have pointed this out to many atheists who vehemently deny that they begin with their atheistic presupposition, think and reason according to said presupposition, and then arrive at conclusions consistent with said presupposition and correlative reasoning."

      I was simply co-opting your terminology in a (vain) attempt to reach common ground.

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    14. No, you don't need reason to be an atheist. It's neither rational nor irrational. It's the default. There are further arguments to be made for atheism and against belief that are based on reason and evidence, but to simply not believe requires none of that.

      Haven't I already said this? Why is this so hard?

      Is your disbelief of my claim about flying to the moon based on reason? Even if you knew nothing about physics, you would start from the position that I could not do what I claimed. Does that make your starting position irrational or based upon non-reason?

      You're still asking the wrong questions. You're still trying to find out what's south of the south pole.

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    15. You're salivating over "atheism is not based on reason", aren't you?

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    16. Belief, like pregnancy, is binary. It's yes or no. There's no middle ground.

      So if non belief is not the starting point, belief must be. And believing something without any other knowledge about it is most definitely irrational. You're not suggesting that belief is the null hypothesis, are you?

      I'm really struggling with the idea that you don't understand this concept. You don't seem stupid. Assuming that you aren't leads me to think you're playing games and not really interested in a conversation. I've seen it frequently and you exhibit many of the hallmarks.

      If that is not your intention, please take extra care in your next response. I've already given your pedantry more time than I usually do because I'm a guest here but my patience is about to run out.

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    17. You write: "I'm a guest here but my patience is about to run out."

      You came here of your own volition and will leave here as you came. Right? Your level of comfort isn't the issue. I've tried to be gracious with you. I will discontinue my part in this discussion when I see fit and I afford you the very same courtesy.

      You ask: "You're salivating over 'atheism is not based on reason', aren't you?"

      No, not really. I've believed this to be true of atheism for a very long time.

      You write: "you don't need reason to be an atheist. It's neither rational nor irrational."

      Thus, you admit that you disbelieve for no reason. (We are agreed.) However, it's rather difficult to conceive of a concept which is "neither rational nor irrational."

      In fact the idea of something [call it a "default" or whatever you wish] being neither rational nor irrational is itself an irrational notion.

      Thus, I reject the notion of a nebulous "default" which is somehow based upon non-reason and is neither rational nor irrational.

      You then offer: "There are further arguments to be made for atheism and against belief that are based on reason and evidence..."

      Yes, but how does one go from a nebulous "default" based upon non-reason to thinking in terms of "reason and evidence"? How does one make such a mental leap? What is the thought process from nebulous non-reason to "reason and evidence"? Is the mental journey from that which is "neither rational nor irrational" to that which "reason and evidence" logical or reasonable? Where or when does the transition take place? And is the transition itself reasonable?

      I'm asking you: How does one begin with non-reason and arrive at rationality? How can one build a coherent worldview on a starting point, on a foundation, of non-reason or non-rationality?

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    18. "Thus, you admit that you disbelieve for no reason."

      I've said nothing of the sort. Once again, you've attributed ideas to me that I've neither stated nor implied. Why is it christians have to resort to lying to make their points?

      The rest of your questions could easily be answered if you'd respond to my hypothetical, but you've chosen to ignore that again.

      So, you ignore what I do write and them make up my position for me. It's tough to lose those debates, huh?

      Sadly, you've proven yourself to be just another Little Liar for Jesus, stooping to any tactic necessary to try and make yourself look good. You feign a strict adherence to logic and reason while believing in zombies and cockatrices.

      At least you seemed to have conceded that you did, indeed, introduce the idea of 'arriving' at a conclusion. Good for you. Maybe one day, when you're older, we'll be able to have a real conversation.

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  4. I'd like to thank you for not altering or deleting my comments. It's a nasty habit I've had the misfortune of running into several times on various other christian websites.

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  5. "The notion that the universe sprang into being from absolute non-being is repugnant to reason and a leap of faith far too great for the Christian theist."


    Far from being "too great", it seems it's simply not absurd enough for their tastes - instead they've created a being which is by necessity not constrained by logic or supported by evidence in order to explain the emergence of our universe.

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    1. "Far from being 'too great', it seems it's simply not absurd enough"

      When you say "not absurd enough," aren't you conceding that your position is indeed absurd?

      Is a universe "emerging" from non-being [I'm not exactly sure how being--ermerges from non being] just a little absurd?

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    2. Why would I concede anything about my position based on your inept caricature of it? The "notion" that the universe sprang into being from nothing is not scientific in nature, but just another laughable demonstration of believers engaging in attacks on straw men out of ignorance of actual evidence based claims.

      As to your final question, yes - what you've posited is indeed absurd, because there is no evidence to support your claim that "non-being" was ever a state of the universe.

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    3. "there is no evidence to support your claim that 'non-being' was ever a state of the universe."

      Is it your position that the universe is infinite and eternal?

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    4. "in order to explain the emergence of our universe."

      This seems to imply a finite/temporal universe. From what did the universe "emerge"?

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    5. Current theories point out that the universe is most certainly finite and that questions about "before the big bang" or whether the universe is eternal are meaningless, as time was itself a product (along with space, matter and energy) of the big bang.

      From what did the universe emerge? The singularity, which is far from the "nothing" you so flippantly attempted to explain it as, but rather was literally "everything" in its potential state.

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    6. You're offering nothing new here. Your points have already been sufficiently addressed in the article.

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