Richard Dawkins: D- Grade for Science & Christianity

Richard Dawkins: D- Grade for Science & Christianity May 23, 2018

This is one of four critiques of the book, The God Delusion (New York / Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006), by perhaps the world’s best-known (and most influential?) atheist, the biologist Richard Dawkins (born in 1941). His words will be in blue. Links to the four critiques follow:

Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion: General Critique

Richard Dawkins’ “Bible Whoppers” Are the “Delusion” 

Richard Dawkins: D- Grade for Science & Christianity

Richard Dawkins’ Outrageous Hypocrisy on Abortion

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Before starting in on my critiques of this book with regard to its claims on science and Christianity, I’d like to point out some areas of agreement:

Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question . . . (p. 48)

[T]he existence of God is a scientific hypothesis like any other . . . God’s existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice. (p. 50)

The presence or absence of a creative super-intelligence is unequivocally a scientific question . . . (pp. 58-59)

[T]he God question is not in principle and forever outside the remit of science. (p. 71)

I agree that if materialistic / atheist scientists have disdain for religion and God and Christians and forbid them to “do science” with their religious beliefs intact (as they very often in fact do), that they should also refrain from condemning religion and entering into our domain and “field” from their materialistic perspective. Goose and gander. If we can’t talk about their area, they ought not talk about ours, either. What’s fair is fair.

I also agree that science — by definition — is restricted to empirical observation and matter.

And I say that there are many ways to discover and verify God’s existence besides scientific (e.g., philosophical, experiential, miracles, revelation, faith).

But I am thankful that Dawkins doesn’t remove God altogether from any connection to science whatsoever, as so many scientists do. Although, the further his book is explored, we see that this doesn’t amount to much tolerance on his part, in practice, at least he agrees in principle that God is potentially discoverable (or made plausible or whatever) through science.

I believe that the traditional cosmological and teleological arguments indeed strongly suggest (though I don’t think they technically “prove”) His existence. The former is easily tied into  Big Bang cosmology and the latter to questions of possible irreducible complexity and astronomical odds against — or extreme implausibility of – particular organs or systems having evolved step-by-step purely and solely through the laws that govern matter.

Along these lines, I think he observes truthfully:

[W]e on the science side must not be too dogmatically confident. Maybe there is something out there in nature that really does preclude, by its genuinely irreducible complexity, the smooth gradient of Mount Improbable. The creationists are right that, if genuinely irreducible complexity could be properly demonstrated, it would wreck Darwin’s theory. (pp. 124-125

He also tends to disbelieve the ultra-absurd and absolutely unverifiable, “unscientific” (by our present known scientific laws) notion of the “serial multiverse”:

The standard model of our universe says that time itself began in the big bang, along with space, some 13 billion years ago. The serial big crunch model would amend that statement: our time and space did indeed begin in our big bang, but this was just the latest in a long series of big bangs, each one initiated by the big crunch that terminated the previous universe in the series. . . .  

As it turns out, this serial version of the multiverse must now be judged less likely than it once was. because recent evidence is starting to steer us away from the big crunch model. It now looks as though our own universe is destined to expand for ever. (pp. 145-146)

Shortly after, he tempers his skepticism a bit, but at least this is something on which we agree. That said, let me now proceed to pick apart several statements that I think are dubious (to put it mildly).

On p. 13 he calls Albert Einstein an “atheistic scientist” and blithely assumes that he wold be on his “side” in comments on pages 13-19, stating:

The one thing all his theistic critics got right was that Einstein was not one of them. He was repeatedly indignant at the suggestion that he was a theist. (p. 18)

This is quite right. Einstein was a pantheist (“god is all”) or perhaps a panentheist (“god is in all”). That much is clear and indisputable. The problem is that Einstein also disavowed any connection to atheism, as well as to theism. I outlined Einstein’s religious views in a paper of mine over 15 years ago (prior to Dawkins’ book). Einstein also wrote (see the sources in my linked paper):

Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in point of fact, religious. (1927)
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My religiosity consists of a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we can comprehend about the knowable world. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God. (1927)
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I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations. (1930)
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Speaking of the spirit that informs modern scientific investigations, I am of the opinion that all the finer speculations in the realm of science spring from a deep religious feeling, and that without such feeling they would not be fruitful. (1930)
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All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. . . . It is no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. (1937)
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In view of such harmony in the cosmos which I, with my limited human mind, am able to recognize, there are yet people who say there is no God. But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views. (c. 1941)
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Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is the same as that of the religious fanatics, and it springs from the same source . . . They are creatures who can’t hear the music of the spheres. (7 August 1941)
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Does there truly exist an insuperable contradiction between religion and science? Can religion be superseded by science? The answers to these questions have, for centuries, given rise to considerable dispute and, indeed, bitter fighting. Yet, in my own mind there can be no doubt that in both cases a dispassionate consideration can only lead to a negative answer.
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While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious or moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge. (1948)
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You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being. (28 September 1949)
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I have found no better expression than ‘religious’ for confidence in the rational nature of reality, insofar as it is accessible to human reason. Whenever this feeling is absent, science degenerates into uninspired empiricism. (1 January 1951)
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I am also not a “Freethinker” in the usual sense of the word because I find that this is in the main an attitude nourished exclusively by an opposition against naive superstition. My feeling is insofar religious as I am imbued with the consciousness of the insufficiency of the human mind to understand deeply the harmony of the Universe which we try to formulate as “laws of nature.” It is this consciousness and humility I miss in the Freethinker mentality. (23 February 1954)
In a word, like all great and wise (and humble) thinkers, Einstein fully understood that he could not explain everything, and retained his wonder as regards the marvels of the universe. This is very much in line with Christian thinking, and strictly contrary to doctrinaire / crusading atheism, as he himself repeatedly noted. Bottom line: though not a theist, it seems fairly apparent that Einstein was closer in spirit to us — in terms of the relationship of religion to science — than to atheism. Thus, it is erroneous for Dawkins to claim and assume otherwise. He could have found all these citations, just as I did, but he chose only to selectively cite those that fit into his own thesis.
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Since I have mentioned Einstein, I’ll mention another scientist that he brings up, getting important things wrong about him. He calls microbiologist Michael Behe (of “irreducible complexity” and Darwin’s Black Box fame) a “creationist” on page 129. He’s not, and this is easily able to be discovered (if not already known), by ten minutes maximum spent on Google or the Amazon pages of Behe’s books. In the aforementioned book (written in 1996), Dr. Behe writes:
Many people think that questioning Darwinian evolution must be equivalent to espousing creationism. . . . For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it. . . . I think that evolutionary biologists have contributed enormously to our understanding of the world. Although Darwin’s mechanism — natural selection working on variation — might explain many things, however, I do not believe it explains molecular life. (p. 5)
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This is not to say that random mutation is a myth, or that Darwinism fails to explain anything (it explains microevolution very nicely) . . . (p. 22)
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I believe the evidence strongly supports common descent. But the root question remains unanswered: What has caused complex systems to form? No one has ever explained in detailed, scientific fashion how mutation and natural selection could build the complex, intricate structures discussed in this book.
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In fact, none of the papers published in JME [Journal of Molecular Evolution] over the entire course of its life as a journal has ever proposed a detailed model by which a complex biochemical system might have been produced in a gradual, step-by-step Darwinian fashion. . . .
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The very fact that none of these problems is even addressed, let alone resolved, is a very strong indication that Darwinism is an inadequate framework for understanding the origin of complex biochemical systems.
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. . . the papers are missing. Nothing remotely like this has bee published. (p. 176)
That is simply not “creationism.” Common decent is antithetical to any form of creationism (whether young-earth or old-earth). Behe’s view is a form of theistic evolution. Therefore, it’s both dishonest and flat-out stupid for Dawkins to describe him in that way. It’s a combination of the unworthy “poisoning the well” and “straw man” fallacious tactics.
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But Dawkins, in his wise and gracious magnanimity, precludes any possibility of that category of thinker (even though Darwin himself didn’t do so). For him, it’s either materialistic / atheistic Darwinian evolution (and gradualist at that) or nothing. No one can honestly, intelligently be a theistic evolutionist. Hence, he writes:
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I am continually astonished by those theists who . . . seem to rejoice in natural selection as ‘God’s way of achieving his creation’. (p. 118)
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Why? How can that be ruled out? Well, in effect, it “is” simply by scientists like Dawkins saying so; not by rational argument. But simply asserting one’s own dogmas is neither science nor philosophy. Charles Darwin wrote on 7 May 1879, less than three years before he died:
It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist & an evolutionist.— You are right about Kingsley. Asa Gray, the eminent botanist, is another case in point— What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to any one except myself.— But as you ask, I may state that my judgment often fluctuates. Moreover whether a man deserves to be called a theist depends on the definition of the term: which is much too large a subject for a note. In my most extreme fluctuations I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.— I think that generally (& more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind. (Letter to John Fordyce, [complete] )
Darwin’s best friend and advocate / “bulldog”: the agnostic Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), certainly didn’t forbid either God or theistic evolutionists from science. He wrote in his article, “Science and Morals” in 1886:
The student of nature, who starts from the axiom of the universality of the law of causation, cannot refuse to admit an eternal existence; if he admits the conservation of energy, he cannot deny the possibility of an eternal energy; if he admits the existence of immaterial phenomena in the form of consciousness, he must admit the possibility, at any rate, of an eternal series of such phenomena; and, if his studies have not been barren of the best fruit of the investigation of nature, he will have enough sense to see that when Spinoza says, ‘Per Deum intelligo ens absolute infinitum, hoc est substantiam constantem infinitis attributis,’ the God so conceived is one that only a very great fool would deny, even in his heart. Physical science is as little Atheistic as it is Materialistic.
One could go on and on with this sort of thing (for much more, see my book, Science and Christianity). The point is that, if Dawkins wants to invoke Darwin in hushed and semi-hagiographical tones, and pretend that his outlook requires a strict materialism and/or atheism, then he also has to take into consideration Darwin’s own stated views, and that of his closest friends, like Huxley and Gray. We can’t superimpose present atheism back onto them. Darwin and Huxley were both agnostics, and Darwin makes it clear that his revolutionary views developed (in 1859) when he was still a professed theist.
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While Dawkins is “astonished” by theistic evolutionists, he is not above citing them at times to suit his own purposes. Thus he mentions Dr. Kenneth Miller as “the most persuasive nemesis of ‘intelligent design’, not least because he is a devout Christian” (p. 131). Yes he is! And that means he is a theistic evolutionist. On the same page he recommends Dr. Miller’s 1999 book, Finding Darwin’s God. I have it in my library, along with Dr. Behe’s two books. Miller opposes Behe’s take on intelligent design, but in no way does he preclude God from evolution:
By any reasonable analysis, evolution does nothing to distance or to weaken the power of God. . . . A God who presides over an evolutionary process is not an impotent, passive observer. Rather, he is one whose genius fashioned a fruitful world in which the process of continuing creation is woven into the fabric of matter itself. (p. 243)
I have no problem with that at all. However God exercised His power to create (Behe’s way or Miller’s way), He is still intimately involved in the process. And that view is far — poles apart — from Dawkins’ position, which holds that absolutely everything is ultimately or potentially explainable (since there is no God) by natural processes. Dawkins seems to think Miller is on his side. He’s far more on my side.
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Behe and Miller (both Catholics) agree that God is necessary in the evolutionary process, and that this process (nor the earlier creation of the universe) could not have occurred without His involvement in some sense or way (exactly my own view, that I defend as an apologist, especially against atheists). The only difference is over the degree and nature of this theistic (and not deistic) divine participation and guidance. Miller makes God a bit more remote from the workings of scientific laws and processes, whereas Behe brings Him a bit closer. Both views are Christian and quite permissible in that worldview, and for that matter, easily harmonized with the related pre-scientific statements of the Bible. Dawkins states:

The design approach postulates a God who wrought a deliberate miracle, struck the prebiotic soup with divine fire and launched DNA, or something equivalent, on its momentous career. (p. 137)

Yeah, possibly that occurred, and maybe Behe would agree. Miller wouldn’t, and would say that God designed all of those potentialities and actualities from the outset, and let them run their course. Theists can have those discussions. Dawkins can’t, because his prior atheistic dogma dictates that God is impossible (and absurd). Obviously, then, it’s difficult to discuss His relation to evolutionary processes if He ain’t there in the first place. I find this dogmatic closed-mindedness to be contrary to both the scientific and philosophical enterprises.
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Give me an agnostic, a la Darwin and Huxley and Einstein, any day. They retain an open mind and a humility and thoughtful seriousness that Dawkins seems to not even be capable of conceiving. Dawkins is naive and foolish enough to think (in a very un-Einsteinian way) that science can essentially explain everything:
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Historically, religion aspired to explain our own existence and the nature of the universe in which we find ourselves. In this role it is now completely superseded by science . . . (p. 347)
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Alright. Let’s see, then, how Dawkins attempts to explain the origin of the universe and of life. Here’s a few samples:
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[T]he spontaneous arising by chance of the first hereditary molecule strikes many as improbable. Maybe it is — very very improbable, . . .  (p. 137)
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[T]he origin of the eucaryotic cell . . . was an even more momentous, difficult and statistically improbable step than the origin of life. The origin of consciousness might be another major gap whose bridging was of the same order of improbability. (p. 140)
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Natural selection works because it is a cumulative one-way street to improvement. It needs some luck to get started, and the ‘billions of planets’ anthropic principle grants it that luck. Maybe a few later gaps in the evolutionary story also need major infusions of luck, with anthropic justification. (p. 141)
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It follows from the fact of our existence that the laws of physics must be friendly enough to allow life to arise. (p. 141)
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We see here that Dawkins (especially in the final sentence above) ventures into radically circular logical territory (meaning, he has already assumed what he is trying to prove and that his “conclusion” was already present in his premise):
1) Alas, life (including us) is here.
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2) Only physical laws can account for life (no God can possibly explain it, since there is no God).
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3) Therefore, the laws of physics must have done so.
This is hardly compelling: logically or any other way. Dawkins has asserted dogma. He needs to prove it, according to the usual scientific demonstration. This is materialistic [blind] faith and belief in unproven axioms, that I have endlessly critiqued and lampooned in my apologetics for over 35 years now. Dawkins had repeatedly decried “chance” in the book and denied that natural selection entailed it. Yet when he has nothing better to offer, he readily “worships” the god of “luck” in order to shore up his bankrupt worldview, as to how things ultimately got here. How is Dawkins’ “luck” any intellectually superior to Behe’s intelligent design and irreducible complexity? We’re not impressed.
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Referring to the origin of life on earth (“possibly only one planet in the entire universe”), he says that “We now understand essentially how the trick was done” (pp. 366-367). It’s all explained by natural selection, you see. We understand no such thing, which is presumably why Dawkins never blesses us with the scientific explanation. He merely asserts yet again (atheists have become very good at that: so often thinking they need not explain anything). He (with a straight face) proclaims the glories of his god Darwin, and Darwin’s prophet and bearer of good tidings, natural selection, and concludes on his last page (order inverted below):
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[W]e considered the improbability of the origin of life and how even a near-impossible chemical event must come to pass given enough planet years to play with . . . (p. 374)
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[I]n the vastness of astronomical space, or geological time, events that seem impossible . . . turn out to be inevitable. (p. 374)
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Really? This doesn’t follow at all, but has become atheist unquestioned Dogma. I mercilessly satirized the atheists’ religion of “atomism” years ago, in by far my most controversial paper in atheists’ eyes. It raised such a firestorm of protest that I had to write a follow-up explaining the satire: the nature of which  virtually no atheist could even comprehend, being very unfamiliar with being on the receiving end of sarcastic humor that they dish out to us all the time. Here is what Dawkins’ unbridled faith in matter truly amounts to, satirically (but accurately!) expressed:

Matter essentially “becomes god” in the atheist / materialist view; it has the inherent ability to do everything by itself: a power that Christians believe God caused, by putting these potentialities and actual characteristics into matter and natural laws, as their ultimate Creator and ongoing Preserver and Sustainer.

The atheist places extraordinary faith in matter – arguably far more faith than we place in God, because it is much more difficult to explain everything that god-matter does by science alone.

Indeed, this is a faith of the utmost non-rational, childlike kind. . . .

The polytheistic materialist . . . thinks that trillions of his atom-gods and their distant relatives, the cell-gods, can make absolutely everything in the universe occur, by their own power, possessed eternally either in full or (who knows how?) in inevitably unfolding potentiality.

One might call this (to coin a phrase) Atomism (“belief that the atom is God”). Trillions of omnipotent, omniscient atoms can do absolutely everything that the Christian God can do, and for little or no reason that anyone can understand (i.e., why and how the atom-god came to possess such powers in the first place). . . .

Oh, and we mustn’t forget the time-goddess. She is often invoked in worshipful, reverential, awe-inspiring terms as the be-all, end-all explanation for things inexplicable, as if by magic her very incantation rises to an explanatory level . . . The time-goddess is the highest in the ranks of the Atomist’s wonderfully varied hierarchy of gods (sort of the “Zeus” of Atomism). One might call this belief Temporalism.

Atomism is a strong, fortress-like faith. It is often said that it “must be” what it is. . . .
Some Atomist utterances even have the “ring” of Scriptures; for example, urgings of an appropriate humility regarding man’s opinion of his own importance, because the universe is so large, and we are so small, as if, somehow, largeness itself is some sort of inherently God-like quality. . . .

All of this desperate “pseudo-explanation” of the universe comes about because Dawkins disallows anything but matter to exist in the universe (the position of monism, as opposed to dualism). Listen to his viciously circular and hyper-silly utterances, made with a blind faith that is admirable at least in its “heroically” hopeless defiance of reason and reality alike:
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[T]here is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence . . . no soul . . . If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope to eventually understand it and embrace it within the natural. (p. 14)
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[A]ny creative intelligence, of sufficient complexity to design anything, comes into existence only as the end product of an extended process of gradual evolution. Creative intelligences, being evolved, necessarily arrive late in the universe, and therefore cannot be responsible for designing it. God, in the sense defined, is a delusion . . . (p. 31; italics in original)
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[T]he Darwinian is challenged to explain the source of all the information in living matter . . . Darwinian natural selection is the only known solution to the otherwise unanswerable riddle of where the information comes from. (pp. 113-114)
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I confess that I am an utter loss to reply to such fathomless inanities as this, so I will again cite my “Atomism” paper and conclude:
The Atomist – ever-inventive and childlike – manages to believe any number of things, in faith, without the unnecessary addition of mere explanation.

“Why” questions in the context of Atomism are senseless, because they can’t overcome the Impenetrable Fortress of blind faith that the Atomist possesses. The question, “Why do the atom-gods and cell-gods and the time-goddess exist and possess the extraordinary powers that they do?” is meaningless and ought not be put forth. It’s bad form, and impolite. We know how sensitive overly religious folk are.

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Photo credit: American biologist and [Catholic] theistic evolutionist Kenneth R. Miller (b. 1948), photographed on 1-10-06 [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
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