Daily Archives: December 27, 2013

Questions about Apologetics and Worldview: What Is the Problem of Good?

 

In October of 2010, atheist Sam Harris’ book entitled The Moral Landscape was released. In his book, Harris argues against grounding morality in God and says that science is the only vehicle that humanity can use in determining the concepts of good and evil. Unlike other naturalistic philosophers and atheists (e.g. Nietzsche, Sartre, Russell) who have denied the reality of objective moral values, Harris instead argues against moral relativism and subjectivism. Harris believes that a valid alternative to moral nihilism exists, and that science provides the answers that human beings desire where issues of morality are concerned.

To set the stage, Harris defines the playing field (his ‘moral landscape’) in this manner: “The moral landscape is a space of real and potential outcomes whose peaks correspond to heights of potential well being and whose valleys represent the deepest possible suffering.” The concept of “well being” is key to understanding Harris’ definition of good and evil. Harris says, “Questions about values are really questions about the well being of conscious creatures.” So for Harris, the concepts of good and morality are all about the highs and lows of conscious creatures (animals are undoubtedly included along with humans because, after all, to an atheist, humans are nothing more than more highly evolved animals) and their well being. Harris says a goal for science is to determine and prescribe ways for human beings to ‘flourish’ and through human flourishing, the good life will be realized.

But is the ‘good’ that Harris talks about moral good? That is the primary question for Harris and the arguments he makes in his book. And this is the question and issue that has plagued atheists and materialists who do not try to blend their atheistic position with borrowed Christian teachings. The majority view in the intellectually honest atheist camp is that science and naturalism cannot make moral judgments or statements of ‘oughtness’ where ethics are concerned.

Can science tell the world what contributes to the ‘flourishing’ of human beings? It most certainly can, in the same way that it can tell the world what contributes to the flourishing of an oak tree. But that doesn’t equate to a moral conclusion at all. This is why, years ago, atheist Richard Dawkins made the following comment on the reality of good and evil in his book River out of Eden: “Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life … life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA … life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference” (emphasis added).

How does a person ultimately resolve what is good or bad, what is moral or immoral? Some, like Dawkins, believe there is no true concept of good and bad. Oscar Wilde, a talented artist who died at the age of 46 from a lifestyle that eventually caught up with him, once remarked “nothing succeeds like excess … nothing is good or bad, only charming or dull.” Others who follow the teaching and philosophy of evolution to its logical conclusion, like biologist William Provine, echo Dawkins when they say: “When Darwin deduced the theory of natural selection to explain the adaptations in which he had previously seen the handiwork of God, he knew that he was committing cultural murder. He understood immediately that if natural selection explained adaptations, and evolution by descent were true, then the argument from design was dead and all that went with it, namely the existence of a personal god, free will, life after death, immutable moral laws, and ultimate meaning in life” (emphasis added).

Yet most human beings do not live this way. And to his credit, Sam Harris acknowledges this in his book and states that there are indeed objective moral laws. At issue are what defines ‘moral’ or ‘good,’ where these good moral laws come from, how they are recognized, and how they are put into practice by humanity.

The Problem of Good—Defining Good
What is ‘good’? In this book, Harris does his best to communicate that ‘good’ is ultimately the well being of conscious creatures. In fact, he consistently argues that ‘good’ is that which causes conscious creatures to flourish. Harris literally wills into existence his definition of good and ends up arguing that no one can ask the question of why conscious creatures flourishing equates to ‘good’ because that is what he says ‘good’ truly means.

To provide his readers with more insight into why he believes atheists can hold to objective moral laws, Harris provides a few analogies. He says that, for example, in chess there are objectively good and bad moves that a player can make, and the same is true in life. Harris also argues that the supposed fact/value divide between science and morality can be easily bridged because (1) Objective knowledge implies values; for example, being logical in one’s thinking is good; (2) Beliefs about facts and values arise from similar processes in the brain.

Is Harris right? First, Harris cannot simply define reality and his concept of good and then expect everyone to follow suit, as we will see in a few moments when the topic of where moral laws arise is discussed. Second, no one argues that there are good and bad moves in chess, or that the use of logical thought and reason is good to employ. However, Harris equivocates the term ‘good’ where morality is involved. Is the bad move a person makes in chess, ‘evil’? Is the person not using logical thought acting in an evil capacity?

Lastly, just because people use their brains for both fact and value operations, such a process cannot be traced back to buttress Harris’ definition of good, especially where morality is concerned.

The Problem of Good—The Options for a Moral Source
If a person omits a transcendent source of objective moral values, then there are three options left for a starting place of the objective moral law:

1. The natural universe
2. Culture or society
3. The individual person

Can the natural universe serve as the source for objective moral values? Since science admits that an effect must match its cause in essence (i.e. a cause cannot give what it does not have), it seems impossible that amoral matter could create beings obsessed with moral behavior. Novelist and poet Stephen Crane put it like this:

“A man said to the Universe,
Sir, I exist!
Nevertheless, replied the Universe,
That fact has not created in me
The slightest feeling of obligation.”

What about culture or society—can it serve as the source for objective moral values? This hardly seems like a plausible possibility given the fact that many cultures and societies exist, and they can differ quite a lot where their moral framework is concerned. Which one is the right choice? For example, in some cultures they love their neighbors, and in others they eat them.

If a singular culture cannot be chosen as the standard, then another possibility is just to let each culture decide on morality, and yet, this becomes untenable unless human beings around the world want to turn a blind eye to customs such as widow burning (a practice where a living wife is burned alive with her deceased husband) or systems such as Nazism. The problem of even deciding what is moral within a culture becomes problematic as well. If the majority rules that rape is ‘good,’ does that make it morally good?

The last choice for a source of objective moral values is the individual person, and it is typically represented in philosophies such as postmodernism or in religions like Wicca whose motto is, “If it harms none, do as you will.” Yet such grounding can be nothing more than emotive in nature; nothing can be labeled as truly wrong. Instead, perceived immoral actions are reduced to statements such as “I don’t like rape” or “For me, rape is wrong.”

In his debate with the atheist Bertrand Russell, the Jesuit and philosopher Frederick Copleston looked at Russell and asked, “Lord Russell, do you believe in good and bad?” Russell replied, “Yes.” Copleston continued, “How do you differentiate between good and bad?” Russell replied, “The same way I differentiate between blue and green or yellow and green.” Copleston then said, “Wait a minute, you differentiate between yellow and green by seeing don’t you?” Russell said, “Yes.” So Copleston challenged him by asking, “How do you differentiate between good and bad?” Russell replied, “I differentiate on those matters on the basis of my feelings, what else?”

The fact is it becomes impossible for the individual to be the source of objective moral laws. If two people disagree on what ‘good’ is, how is the dispute settled?

The Problem of Good—Recognizing and Implementing the Moral Law
Without a transcendent source for the moral law, there are four possible ways to recognize and agree on what ‘good’ is. They include frameworks that are either:
1. Utilitarian—whatever produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people
2. Pragmatic—whatever appears to ‘work’ where happiness (positive) or consequences (negative) are concerned
3. Subjective—whatever is right for the particular person in the particular situation
4. Emotive—whatever ‘feels’ right

As has been exhaustively argued for centuries, none of these is a good option on its own. Harris denies options 3 and 4 as he believes in objective moral values. He is right on that front. Moreover, this is something some intellectually honest atheists other than Harris will acknowledge. For example, in her debate with Christian philosopher William Lane Craig on whether objective moral values exist, atheist philosopher Louise Antony admitted: “Any argument against the objective reality of moral values will be based on premises that are less obvious than the existence of objective moral values themselves.” In other words, it’s tough to argue against the reality that love is better than hate or desire in a world where murder is a virtue and gratitude a vice.

A combination of options 1 and 2 may describe Harris’ way of recognizing good and bad, but if it does, then problems arise. It’s not a stretch to say that such a position could lead to eugenics and the infanticide of babies who are not deemed able to flourish. Euthanasia could also be declared good if it means that the quality of life is raised for the majority by eliminating a minority who are the source of extravagant expense and effort. Left to the sterile choice of science, many human atrocities are possible if carried out in the spirit of improving the flourishing of humanity as a whole. The elimination of undesirables has already been attempted more than once in the past by various regimes. Psychiatrist Victor Frankl—himself a victim of death camps twice in his life—once declared: “I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz were ultimately prepared not in some ministry of defense in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of Nihilistic scientists and philosophers.”

A more recent example of such a proposal being put forward for the supposed betterment of the world by a naturalistic scientist came at the 109th meeting of the Texas Academy of Science that took place at Lamar University in March, 2006. At the meeting, evolutionist Dr. Eric Pianka presented a lecture about how human overpopulation is ruining the Earth. Professor Pianka said the Earth as we know it will not survive without drastic measures. Then, and without presenting any data to justify his conclusion, he asserted that the only feasible solution for saving the Earth is to reduce the population to 10 percent of the present number.

And how would Pianka go about reducing the population of the earth? AIDS is not an efficient killer, he explained, because it is too slow. His favorite candidate for eliminating 90 percent of the world’s population is the airborne Ebola virus because it is both highly lethal and it kills in days, instead of years. However, Professor Pianka omitted the fact that Ebola victims die a slow and torturous death as the virus initiates a cascade of biological calamities inside the victim that eventually liquefy the internal organs. After praising the Ebola virus for its efficiency at killing, Pianka paused, leaned over the lectern, looked at the audience and carefully said, “We’ve got airborne 90 percent mortality in humans. Killing humans. Think about that.” And what was the audience response at the end? The attending scientists gave him a standing ovation.

Forrest Mims, one of the scientists in attendance, summed up the response this way: “I still can’t get out of my mind the pleasant spring day in Texas when a few hundred scientists of the Texas Academy of Science gave a standing ovation for a speaker who they heard advocate the slow and torturous death of over five billion human beings.” Evidently the other attending scientists must have believed they would not be included in the 90 percent of humanity Dr. Pianka advocated being eliminated.

The Problem of Good—Another Obvious Alternative
Harris’ attempt at defining, sourcing, recognizing, and implementing a moral law within the natural universe is somewhat original for an atheist; he must be granted that. However, his attempt at redefining good, his equivocation of the term ‘good,’ and the inescapable conclusions of where his philosophy leads all point to his position being untenable.

What happens when the other obvious alternative for objective moral values is considered: a transcendent source of an objective moral law that defines what good truly is and implements a way for good to be ultimately implemented? What about God?

Make no mistake, Harris is right when he says that people don’t need to believe in God to discern moral duties or understand that objective moral values exist. That has never been the argument of the Christian theologian. The Christian argument is that in order to ground an objective moral law, you need to have a transcendent source of those values.

This is something those who founded the United States clearly understood, and why they grounded the rights of American citizens in the way they did: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Nothing similar can be found in a statement made by any other nation: moral well-being hinged on a creative act. Life … Liberty … Happiness. It sounds very much like conscious human beings flourishing and experiencing well-being. Moreover, the term “self-evident” communicates the concept of the moral law being undeniable, or objective (so does “truths” instead of “opinions”). Sam Harris would, or should, be proud.

But due to his naturalistic presuppositions, Harris won’t consider God as being a possible source of the moral law, and this in the end becomes his undoing. Harris does not understand an important truth: good cannot be defined without purpose, and purpose cannot be defined without cause. Atheists believe the universe (their only reference point for eternality) is purposeless and without meaning. But yet Harris wants morality, which cannot be had without purpose and meaning. Harris’ cause has no way of producing either the purpose or meaning he desires, and because a cause cannot produce an effect that has something it does not possess, he is left twisting in the wind for an explanation of how the morality he desires can possibly come about. The atheist’s formula of Impersonal Matter + Time + Chance fails to produce the effect he desires. In fact, it seems to have produced the opposite. This is something well stated in the end of Steve Turner’s poem “Creed”:

“If chance be the Father of all flesh,
Disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
And when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.”

Without a cause possessing meaning and purpose, there can be no morality in effect. This leads right back to honest atheists like Nietzsche who admitted that, without God, there can be nothing called ‘good,’ nor can there be anything called ‘evil.’ The logic works this way: if there’s such a thing as evil, you must assume there’s such a thing as good. If you assume there’s such a thing as good, you assume there’s such a thing as an absolute and unchanging moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. If you assume there’s such a thing as an absolute moral law, you must posit an absolute moral law giver, but that would be God—the one whom the atheist is trying to disprove. So now rewind: if there’s not a moral law giver, there’s no moral law. If there’s no moral law, there’s no good. If there’s no good, there’s no evil.

The simple fact is moral laws imply a moral law giver (a ‘giver’ that possesses meaning, morality, and purpose itself). Even Harris admits there is an objective moral law, so the obvious conclusion should be there is a moral law Giver.

The Problem of Good—The Conclusion
Atheist philosopher J. L. Mackie has stated: “We might well argue that objective intrinsically prescriptive features supervenient upon natural ones constitute so odd a cluster of qualities and relations that they are unlikely to have arisen in the ordinary course of events without an all-powerful God to create them.” Honest thinkers will reach this conclusion at some point if they follow the logical order of where the arguments lead, but what they do once they reach that point is hard to say. C.S. Lewis eventually made it to that place and describes it this way: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”

Atheists like Harris have no objective straight line to grab hold of. Few materialists have the courage of Nietzsche to understand and then embrace the real consequences of what the death of God means. Instead, most are like Harris who blink when they stare into the face of atheism and end up with ill-conceived ideas of morality that have no able cause to produce the effect they know is present and real.

The Bible declares “No one is good but God alone” (Luke 18:19). Good is grounded in the very nature of God, and what He wills is good because He is good. Just as many things can have ‘being’ (or life), but there can only be one thing that actually is Being (or life), the concept of good works the same way. Many things may have some good in them, but there can only be one thing that is good. And this good God invites everyone to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Eternity: How Can It Be Said that We Have Everlasting Life When We Still Die?

 

The Word of God assures us that all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ will have everlasting life (John 3:16, 6:47; 1 John 5:13). The Greek word translated “everlasting” means perpetual, eternal, forever. Perhaps the word “perpetual” best explains the biblical concept of everlasting life; it is life that, once begun, continues perpetually into eternity. This speaks to the idea that man’s life is not merely physical. Rather, the true life of human beings is spiritual, and while the physical life ends, the spiritual continues throughout eternity. It is perpetual.

When God created Adam and Eve He put them in the Garden with the tree of life, intending that they would live joyously forever, both physically and spiritually, but they sinned and brought physical and spiritual death to themselves and to all subsequent generations (Romans 5:12–14). God then sent Adam and Eve from the Garden and stationed cherubim to guard the way to the tree of life, and He did so because in His mercy He did not want man to live forever under the weight of sin. But sin must be punished and the only acceptable punishment to a holy God is everlasting punishment (Mark 9:43–44). However, our merciful God sent His Son as a perfect sacrifice to suffer, once for all time, the punishment due mankind for sin, thereby providing a perfect way to the tree of life for anyone and everyone who believes in the Him (1 John 5:12; Revelation 22:14).

We receive everlasting life by dying to our own efforts and receiving Christ Jesus into our hearts as our Lord and Savior, and when we do we are instantly reborn and made alive in Christ. We may not feel any immediate change, but there has in fact been a rebirth in the heart (John 3:6–7) and we are now free of the fear of death; we have the promise of God that we will never die spiritually, but instead will live forever with our Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10). Later, when we die physically, our soul will immediately be with the Lord, and still later when He returns, He will resurrect our bodies to meet Him in the air. As for those Christians that are alive at His return, their bodies will be resurrected “in the twinkle of an eye” and they will not experience even physical death (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).

Jesus Christ instructed the Apostle John to write the last book of the Bible, and therein we again read about the tree of life: “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God’ ” (Revelation 2:7b). The tree of life is, and always has been, symbolic of Jesus Christ. It is in Christ that all Christians trust, and it is in God’s power that we rest, assured of our everlasting life (1 Peter 1:3–5). From the moment we are reborn, God is in control of our destiny, and the one true God who created all things, including life and death and rebirth, will keep His word. Our God is all powerful and full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and He wants us to know that our eternal state is assured: Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25).[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Happened at the Council of Trent?

 

After the separation of the Eastern and Western churches in 1054, the holding of councils by the pope became a way to give guidance to the church, both locally and ecumenically (for the entire church), on varying ecclesiastical matters. One of the most significant of these was the Council of Trent, held in the mid-1500s, which considered such weighty matters as the Lutheran Protestant Reformation and how to counter it, disciplinary reforms in the church, the definition of dogma, and ways to establish key tenets of Roman Catholicism. In fact, the growing complexities of the issues at stake grew so voluminous that it took 18 years, spanning the reigns of five popes, for the Council of Trent to actually convene.

During the Council of Trent, both Scripture and tradition were declared authoritative for the Roman Catholic Church, with tradition just as authoritative as Scripture. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone, one of the Reformers’ rallying cries, was dumped overboard in favor of “sacramental” and “works” righteousness.

There are seven sacraments instituted by Christ, according to the council: baptism, confirmation, communion, penance, unction, orders and marriage. The council condemned anyone who said sacraments were not necessary for salvation, or that through faith alone without any sacrament man can be justified. “Works” righteousness is the belief that one can win God’s favor by doing good things.

The council also confirmed the belief in transubstantiation, that the substance of bread and wine given during communion (the “Eucharist”) is changed into the actual body and blood of Christ, while the appearance of bread and wine remains.

Trent attendees stressed man’s incapacity to save himself, yet confirmed the necessity for the cooperation of his free will, including his resolve to receive baptism and begin a new life. They denied that predestination to salvation can be known with certainty (one rebuttal to this belief is found in Romans 8:28–30). Modern Roman Catholicism, in general, continues to hold to the beliefs put forward and accepted at Trent.[1]

 

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

The Stock Market Has Officially Entered Crazytown Territory

It is time to crank up the Looney Tunes theme song because Wall Street has officially entered crazytown territory. Stocks just keep going higher and higher, and at this point what is happening in the stock market does not bear any resemblance to what is going on in the overall economy whatsoever. So how long can this irrational state of affairs possibly continue? Stocks seem to go up no matter what happens. If there is good news, stocks go up. If there is bad news, stocks go up. If there is no news, stocks go up. On Thursday, the day after Christmas, the Dow was up another 122 points to another new all-time record high. In fact, the Dow has had an astonishing 50 record high closes this year. This reminds me of the kind of euphoria that we witnessed during the peak of the housing bubble. At the time, housing prices just kept going higher and higher and everyone rushed to buy before they were “priced out of the market”. But we all know how that ended, and this stock market bubble is headed for a similar ending. (Read More….)

Warning: Rose Parade 2014 not so rosy for family viewing

A California-based pro-family group says a homosexual “wedding” that will be promoted in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade is reason to boycott the event.

The 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, will feature the “wedding” of two men and will take place aboard a float sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Millions of television viewers around the world as well as the hundreds of thousands along the parade route will see Aubrey Loots and Danny Leclair take wedding vows on a float that will celebrate same-sex marriage and proclaim that same-sex marriage helps reduce new HIV infections among homosexual men.

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Wall Street advisor recommends guns, ammo for protection in collapse

A top financial advisor, worried that Obamacare, the NSA spying scandal and spiraling national debt is increasing the chances for a fiscal and social disaster, is recommending that Americans prepare a “bug-out bag” that includes food, a gun and ammo to help them stay alive.

David John Marotta, a Wall Street expert and financial advisor and Forbes contributor, said in a note to investors, “Firearms are the last item on the list, but they are on the list. There are some terrible people in this world. And you are safer when your trusted neighbors have firearms.”

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Goodbye 2013, We Won’t Miss You

If 2013 were a beauty pageant, it would be the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest. If it were a movie, it would be “Titanic.” If it were a song, it would be “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus.

It is the year the nation moved from debating gay marriage to polygamy.

It is the year that we learned the number of children taking antipsychotic drugs has nearly tripled over the past decade.

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Fed-Up Veteran Tells Paul Ryan What He Thinks of ‘Bipartisan’ Budget Deal in Viral Open Letter

Chuck Wooten, a military veteran, was already ticked off about Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) pushing through the “bipartisan” budget deal, which includes cuts to veterans’ retirement benefits. So when he got a fundraising email from Ryan’s office asking for money, he decided to really let the Wisconsin congressman know how he feels.

The scathing open letter, posted on Facebook last week, is going viral — and you only have to read the first few sentences to know why. It should be noted that because Wooten’s Facebook page is set to private, we weren’t able to review the original post on his wall and had to rely on re-posts.

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DUCKing the Issue of Sin: Should Christians Be Silent?

I submit to you the biggest reason these public squabbles rarely get resolved is there is now a clear cultural divide in America and both sides cannot coexist peacefully any longer. There is too much at stake.

Though I agree with Phil Robertson’s views of the Bible and sin, I wish he would have answered the question on homosexuality with more tact in the GQ interview. Regardless, what did we learn?

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GodLife: Showing Appreciation

Showing Appreciation

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Just for You

Do you want to follow the whims and ways of the world, or do you want to use the resources God has given you for His eternal purpose? Click the link to learn more about sharing God’s gift in the Following the Path series.

Personal Help

Do you need help learning how to show God’s love through your appreciation of others? We have trained followers of Jesus who can help you figure it out! Click here to share your story with us. You will hear from someone shortly.

Prayer Points

Will you pray this week:
• That God will help you show people you appreciate them.
• That God will give you the the wisdom and knowledge to know the best way to show someone you appreciate them.
• For God’s protection over believers from insincere attempts to show appreciation.
• That your words would be encouraging to others.

GodLife Family

Where can you go online to get daily encouragement and inspiration, and to discuss showing appreciation? Visit the GodLife Facebook Page where we can gather daily to share our stories, to express ourselves, and to pray for one another!

What we voted for: new Obamacare taxes coming in 2014

WINTERY KNIGHT

The New York Post reports.

Excerpt:

The cost of President Obama’s massive health-care law will hit Americans in 2014 as new taxes pile up on their insurance premiums and on their income-tax bills.

Most insurers aren’t advertising the ObamaCare taxes that are added on to premiums, opting instead to discretely pass them on to customers while quietly lobbying lawmakers for a break.

But one insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, laid bare the taxes on its bills with a separate line item for “Affordable Care Act Fees and Taxes.”

The new taxes on one customer’s bill added up to $23.14 a month, or $277.68 annually, according to Kaiser Health News. It boosted the monthly premium from $322.26 to $345.40 for that individual.

The new taxes and fees include a 2 percent levy on every health plan, which is expected to net about $8 billion for the government in 2014…

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