Aug. 25, 2006
August 25, 2006
STAR GAZING AT THE VATICAN
Speaking of outer space, as I will be below, the Vatican Observatory has a new director. Click here for a story about his views on the relationship between science and faith.
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GOD AS 'DARK MATTER'
Perhaps you read or heard about the news easier this week that astronomers have demonstrated that dark matter in the universe really does exist.
Scientists have long believed that most of the matter in the universe is this invisible stuff they've labeled dark matter. But they have needed proof of its existence. Recently NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory witnessed the collision of two large galaxies. The result was a separation of dark matter from regular matter, officials say. And that provides the strongest evidence yet for dark matter's existence.
I'll let you poke around on the Web or in your own sources if the idea of dark matter intrigues you enough for further investigation. What I want to offer today instead is the thought I have that in many ways God is composed of the spiritual and theological equivalent of dark matter.
Which is to say that most of God's existence is invisible to us. Oh, yes, we can look at the universe, at each other, at our holy books, at the lives and words of prophets, at -- Christians would say -- Jesus Christ to have God revealed to us. Even adequately revealed.
But even so, I think it's like trying to get a drink of water from a full-on fire hydrant. We simply are incapable of taking it all in.
Jacques Ellul, the wonderful French Christian writer and thinker, talks about this in his brilliant book Hope in Time of Abandonment. He writes:
"The God of Israel. . .never shows himself, to put it briefly. He is the God who speaks, and his word is a promise, not a fulfillment of the present time. He cannot be an idol because he gives only a name. He gives his name to Moses, but he does not show himself. Never does he show himself. All that is seen of him is a reflection, a symbol. He gives a sign. It is the burning bush.
"He gives a mediator, and it is the angel of Jacob. When he is there, in Jesus Christ, it is not as God that he discloses himself. What we see is a man."
I contend that the truth Ellul speaks here should make us humble, even silent -- except when we feel God has abandoned us and, in hope, we cry out for the divine presence. But the evidence running amok in the world is that we think we know all there is to know about God -- and we're intent on ramming it down the throats of others.
I'll have more to say about this in my Sept. 9 column, when I take note of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. But for now, let the idea of dark matter in the universe and the mystery of God roll around in your brains.
(By the way, NPR's "Talk of the Nation" Science Friday show today is to focus on dark matter. Check your local listings. And if you missed yesterday's "Talk of the Nation" show on religion in China, click here and poke around among the offerings. I didn't get to hear it all, but what I heard was pretty interesting.)
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.
PS: Did you ever wonder where readers of this blog are when they log on? The counter I use tells me what city or country they come from. I've had readers in England, Switzerland, France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Most readers are from the greater Kansas City area, though there are lots from outstate Kansas and Missouri, too. But here's a list of cities from which readers checked in over a period of a few hours one day this week: Fort Myers, Fla.; Trenton, N.J.; Livermore, Calif.; Nashville, Tenn.; Tulsa, Okla.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; Bloomington, Ill.; Irving, Texas; Plano, Texas; New York City; Denver; Memphis; Algonquin, Ill.; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Tucson; Waco, Texas; Middleville, Mich.; Des Moines; Ashburn, Va., and Wisconsin Rapids, Wis. So your comments may be read by folks absolutely anywhere. What an intriguing collection. Thanks for reading.
I would say that "Dark Energy" would be more indicative of God's presence. Most scientists think it is theoretically possible to eventually see dark matter. Not so with Dark Energy. Plus it makes up the vast majority of matter in the
Universe and causes its expansion to accelerate instead of decelerate.
Posted by: openmind | August 25, 2006 at 07:44 AM
Bill, your facility with theological concepts continues to amaze me! I like the notion of dark matter (or as you propose, openmind, dark energy) as a metaphor for the hiddenness of God.
In a similar vein, the new director of the Vatican Observatory observed (from the article Bill referenced):
"...[S]cience can sometimes help people 'arrive at a knowledge of God,' said Argentine Jesuit Father Jose Funes."
This whole business of "natural theology" is one which was relatively untouched in my seminary training. I believe it is beginning to blossom again, led by such people as Templeton Prize winner Dr. John Barrow.
In "The Privileged Planet," author Guillermo Gonzalez makes a case for design extended seamlessly from the cosmos to the sphere of life...of biology. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Funes might do with this link. So far, it looks like he's being rather mum.
Ruth, we'll all await your report on him if and when you get a chance to meet him!
Posted by: Dave Miller | August 25, 2006 at 08:02 AM
I have said before that a combination of a philosophy class (the teacher was a believer in materialism) and a class entitled "Matter in the Universe" restored my faith in God. I went from being a Catholic, to an athiest, to believer all between the ages of 16-20 and I havent looked back since. While I am not a religous person, I am very spiritual. I always found it odd that two classes that most people would assume were anti-God (a materialism class and a physics clasS) could turn an atheist into a believer.
Posted by: openmind | August 25, 2006 at 10:25 AM
In one of your sources, Bill, the author displays a picture of visible matter and another of dark matter. That is the http://astro.berkeley.edu/~mwhite/darkmatter/dm.html link. Dark matter is displayed as just a black box.
The difference between these pictures and God is obvious. There is a revealed universe that we can see, feel, hear, etc. There is nothing about God that is revealed.
The only "evidence" we have of God is a bunch of superstitious thoughts of people attempting to explain the unknown without sufficient real evidence. That is why the fundamentalists are so much opposed to science. The more we know about the universe, the more absurd the notion of God becomes.
If there really is a personal God, then it ought not be so mysterious. In fact religion feeds on the mysterious and the resulting fear that mystery engenders.
Bill, when you say "that in many ways God is composed of the spiritual and theological equivalent of dark matter" you are really just giving an excuse for not having good evidence of any God. At least we have evidence of a physical universe. The only evidence we have for a God is based on superstition.
From your confirmed secular humanist/atheist.
Posted by: Greg Swartz | August 25, 2006 at 10:43 AM
I was watching an interview with Joseph Campbell and he spoke about a conversation he had with a friend of his who was a Catholic Priest.
PRIEST: Do you believe in a personal God?
CAMPBELL: No, Father, I don't.
PRIEST: I don't suppose there is anything I could say to convince you, is there?
CAMPBELL: No, Father. If there were, then what would be the point of faith?
We see things all throughout the Universe, starting with simple and basic experiments, that are simply not repeatable. You create the same circumstances and yet you get a different result each time, and not just because of experimental error. But we see trends after millions and millions of experiments ... so many here, so many here, etc. Scientists believe this will never change, and their theories embrace these indeterminancies through probabilities.
So, what do you believe? Do you believe that the universe just is not well-defined, or do you postulate that there is something which causes these individual "decisions" to be made which we cannot measure, probe or determine? Take your pick. But you can't make the basic experiments go away--they're real and something we've been forced to live with.
Edward Teller, the inventor of the hydrogen bomb who was an active leader in science throughout most of his life said this just a few years ago,
"What is new, what is incredible, is that atoms don't behave like machines. Science cannot predict whether you have a free will or not."
The more we know about science, the more it it forces us to allow for the spiritual (i.e., that which affects this world, but which we cannot control from this world). You choose what you what to believe: is it just the random nature of the world, or there is something which causes the decisions that are made? You can't tell the difference using science--that's literally out of the question.
Christians believe that God is Spirit and that He affects this world and yet we cannot probe, measure or control Him with science. And we believe that faith is our way of tapping into the promises of God for our lives, and that through a connection with God, our spirit is reborn to new life in which His Spirit that overcame this world is in us allowing us to overcome this world. And without Him we believe we are spiritually dead and a slave to sin, a machine without the freedom to escape but only a small flickering flame of a yearning to escape and to come back into the presence of Holiness from which we know we are separated. Ever have that feeling?
Posted by: Just Thinking | August 25, 2006 at 12:16 PM
First, I am not sure what the point of the prient/Joseph Campbell dialogue is. I do not rely on faith; I rely on reason. To me, faith is anti-intellectualism. One turns to faith when one wants to believe in something that reason tells them is false.
You write: "We see things all throughout the Universe, starting with simple and basic experiments, that are simply not repeatable." What is the point of that and where is your proof of that? Are you saying that a spirit has intervened so that those experiments are contrary to the principles of nature and therefore not repeatable? If so, that is nonsense.
Spirits exist within the imagination of humans. They do not exist in reality. I have never seen one and I believe that those who believe in spirits are delusional.
You write: "His Spirit that overcame this world is in us allowing us to overcome this world." When was this supposed to have happened and what is wrong with the world as it is. I find it to be a beautiful place and enjoy most every minute of it. True, there is some pain and sadness from time to time, but that is because our existence was not planned and it comes with what evolved.
Also, you write: "And without Him we believe we are spiritually dead and a slave to sin, a machine without the freedom to escape but only a small flickering flame of a yearning to escape and to come back into the presence of Holiness from which we know we are separated." What does all that mean; I find it jibberish! What do you mean by the words "spiritually dead?" There are no spirits and for now I am very much alive! I am certainly not a "slave to sin." I try very hard to treat everyone fairly and generally do a pretty good job of it. I feel compelled to do the best I can for others; I do not feel compelled to treat others unfairly. I have never felt like I was a flickering flame yearning to do anything! What does all that mean? Nothing, but rhetoric!
Posted by: Greg Swartz | August 25, 2006 at 02:00 PM
"One turns to faith when one wants to believe in something that reason tells them is false."
Faith is described in Hebrews 11:1...
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."
If you have ever been in the park on a hot day and really wanted a drink of water, you might have experienced faith that the water fountain up by the shelter house would be there to quench your thirst, even if that water fountain wasn't in view. If you know that the water fountain is actually there, faith is natural and perfectly reasonable. Those of us who have faith in God have faith because we know He is there.
"I have never seen one and I believe that those who believe in spirits are delusional."
Well, you wouldn't see one, would you? I mean, they're spirits after all. I don't suppose you believe in black holes, do you? By definition, they cannot be seen. Wind also cannot be seen. What can be seen are the effects, and only then by using the correct equipment.
"When was this supposed to have happened and what is wrong with the world as it is."
The Spirit of God overcame the world when the work of Jesus Christ was finished on the cross at Calvary. The world is defiled with sin, which results in pain, suffering, and death. If there were no sin, there would be no pain, suffering, or death.
"What does all that mean; I find it jibberish!"
I know exactly what you mean. I felt precisely the same way when I first heard about deoxyribonucleic acid. Then I cracked a book open and read for awhile. Imagine my surprise when that jibberish turned out to have meaning that I couldn't understand in my ignorance.
"I try very hard to treat everyone fairly and generally do a pretty good job of it."
Does that include dismissing the opinions of others without trying to understand their point of view? It seems like there is much about what JT wrote that you don't understand, yet instead of asking for clarification you dismiss it as "rhetoric". Is that fair treatment?
Posted by: SC in KC | August 25, 2006 at 02:55 PM
I was sad to read that Fr. Coyne has been replaced as top astronomer.
I hope this is not political but I have my doubts. As a physical scientist myself, I would hate to see the church move backward and bend science to fit theology. The Jesuits have always rocked boats (bless them) and I hope that they will have the freedom to continue.
We need more like Father Coyne to stand up for the integrity of the process.
Posted by: Ruth from Tucson | August 25, 2006 at 03:08 PM
I mostly agree with Greg. SC, you're water fountain analogy doesn't work. I have "faith" that the water fountain is there because I have seen it before. If I know something is there, then I believing it is there is not faith. Faith is, by definition, believing something that cannot be proven. You have faith that God exists but you cannot prove it. Plus, Greg did not just dismiss what Just Thinking wrote. He rebutted some of the arguments. For those statements by Just Thinking that he didn't understand, he responded, "What does all that mean; I find it jibberish! What do you mean by the words "spiritually dead?" Seems to me he was asking for some clarification. He then went on to rebut additional arguments. How is that dismissing arguments?
Posted by: Steve S | August 25, 2006 at 03:20 PM
The point of the story about Joseph Campbell was that we cannot "prove" the existence of God to you--belief and faith are important.
The point of the rest is to get you to understand that direct observation has forced us to admit that simple happenings in this world don't depend on what we can measure, probe or control. It's a shame that we spend so much time on grand theories like evolution and leave out basic experimental facts that show that basic happenings in this world do not depend on what we can measure, probe or control.
Science is the study of the repeatable. But that does not mean that everything is repeatable and, indeed, it is not. Here's a good link for you to get started: http://www.thekeyboard.org.uk/Quantum%20mechanics.htm Ignore the scientific theories, the interpretations and philosophies. Just focus on what actually happens during the double slit experiment. You'll be shocked and amazed if you thought that the world was repeatable and deterministic. You can keep reading to the end where you learn about how particles separated by 10km can be coupled as a single system, too! Strange information communcation ...
Finally, when you understand this non-repeatable nature of the real world, then you'll come to accept that (a) either we attribute no cause and live with it or (b) accept a cause that would have to be something which we cannot control from this physical world, but which influences this world. I'm trained to look for causes. But it still comes down to what you believe, but make no mistake that this world leaves room for you to believe.
Now, if you think these small things don't make a difference, then understand that the small things happening in your mind can change this world! Revelation (i.e., spontaneous understanding) is a very powerful force.
Posted by: Just Thinking | August 25, 2006 at 04:23 PM
You left out a third possible explanation for the apparantly random and non-repeatable experiment results:
c) the cause is something we cannot measure, detect or understand at this time but will be able to in the future.
Throughout the history of mankind, people have utilized supernatural explanations for natural occurances that they do not understand. Unfortunately for those with faith in those supernatural explanations, scientific advances eventually demonstrated the natural cause.
Posted by: Steve S | August 25, 2006 at 04:44 PM
We would have to invent new measurements to explain this, but for various reasons scientists do not believe there are other things we can measure.
Your historical analogy breaks down here because we are not dealing with something which we can observe consistently but cannot explain by a theory. We are dealing with something which is observed and which definitely does not depend on anything we measure. This is not about theory, but about measurement.
Scientists do not believe that we have an incomplete set of measurements. Even with string theory where we invent new dimensions (i.e., new quantities), we do not believe they are measurable. Scientists concoct ways that these things could be physical and yet not be measurable using uncertainty as a basis. They never propose that we can find a new measurement.
Posted by: Just Thinking | August 25, 2006 at 04:55 PM
To complete the thought ... yes, I think there are things which we cannot measure, probe, or control, but which we will someday understand. But I think we've understood them to some degree for a very, very long time already.
Posted by: Just Thinking | August 25, 2006 at 04:58 PM
The reason I brought all of this up in the first place was because the claim that as we learn more about science, there is less room for God. That's just not true.
Science proves nothing and neither does direct observation. But science also does not disprove much either and neither does direct observation.
Maybe observation will change fundamentally in the future and science probably will. And I don't put my faith in those things for just that reason.
But it sure is interesting how those who insist on evolutionary science being taught will fight tooth and nail to keep non-deterministic science from being mentioned. They'll come up with ad hoc explanations to avoid the conclusions of modern non-deterministic science even though it is something which can be easily observed. They'll take on the entire scientific community and experiment if they have to in order to stop it. But we try to challenge some horribly complex theory like evolution and we're just being dishonest because that's science what they're doing. Interesting, isn't it?
Posted by: Just Thinking | August 25, 2006 at 06:02 PM
Man loves darkness more then light. I rejoice because my name is written in The Book of Life, and I have eternal life through Jesus Christ!
Rom 1:16 ¶ For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
Rom 1:17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
Rom 1:18 ¶ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
Rom 1:19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them.
Rom 1:20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Rom 1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Rom 1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
Rom 1:23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
Rom 1:24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Rom 1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
Rom 1:26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
Rom 1:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
Rom 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Rom 1:29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Rom 1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Rom 1:31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Rom 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Posted by: SteveEarl | August 25, 2006 at 06:33 PM
Openmind, can you explain the difference between being spiritual, but not religious? I hear a lot of people make this distinction these days, and in such a way that indicates they think it is far superior to being religious. I'm not quite sure what is meant by it. It sounds like you believe in some sort of generic god who is unknowable except in some general, fuzzy sort of way. Those of us who are religious believe in a personal God who has revealed Himself to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. It seems to me being religious is far, far better than being spiritual.
Posted by: Ron | August 25, 2006 at 07:09 PM
Being Christian includes being spiritual. Our connection with God is spiritual and must be because God is spirit.
23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.
The Holy Spirit comes to live in us when we are saved.
38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call."
The Holy Spirit and our spirit communicate in ways too deep for words.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and reveals the true essence of truth to us. He is not known to the world.
15 "If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
Posted by: Just Thinking | August 25, 2006 at 08:54 PM
OK. But what's wrong with being religious?
Posted by: Ron | August 25, 2006 at 09:34 PM
You made a distinction between being spiritual and being religious. A religious Christian would also be spiritual because everything taught about the spiritual, all that we can really know, is part of the religion. But if you are just spiritual, then you might not be religious--if that is what you are saying, then I'd rather be religious.
I could believe in ghosts and that could easily be considered spiritual. I don't think things like that are superior to anything.
But you could also be religious about a strange religion, too. If you're asking about a religion other than Christianity, then I would still have objections. I'm very biased that way.
Posted by: Just Thinking | August 25, 2006 at 10:13 PM
Just Thinking, you and I are sayinig the same thing, I think. Openmind said he was not religious, but he was very spiritual.l This is a very common statement for people to make today. It's as if being spiritual supercedes being religious. I believe there's nothing wrong with being spiritual, as long as your spirituality is based on Christianity. Spirituality alone is worthless.
Posted by: Ron | August 25, 2006 at 10:21 PM
We are saying the same thing.
Posted by: Just Thinking | August 25, 2006 at 10:41 PM
With all due respect, JT, you are wrapped up in defining and believing in something that is more pseudo-science, as opposed to science.
I'm not sure what you mean by the term non-deterministic science because there are several theories of non-deterministic science in different areas of legitimate science that are quite accepted. Neurology is one.
However, I am assuming that ID has been deemed or called non-deterministic science. ID cannot be proven by using the scientific method and therefore is not a science. I read the complex document on ID a few years back and would describe it as philosophy.
A scientific theory must be able to be proven using the scientific method and work within the confines of modern science. The concept of falsifiability means that a scientific theory must either be able to be proven true or false using the methods.
It may appear to you, by using your pseudo-scientific reasoning, that you can look at something that seems non-repeatable or deterministic and declare that it functions contrary to science. In fact, if it is a scientific theory, then it has ascribed to all of the stated conditions for it to be considered such.
I spent many years with a theoretical physicist who is quite an incredible scientist and mathematician.(Also a committed atheist.) He did a lot of work with particle accelerators in Germany and elsewhere. He daily proved quantum physics through the scientific method and through laws of mathematics. He would describe string theory as completely accessible through mathematical laws, also.
The problem is that you want to change the laws of science to suit your needs. And your need is to reconcile science with religion.
Science doesn't change its laws to accommodate any field. It is not merely prejudiced toward philosophy and religion.
Posted by: Patricia | August 25, 2006 at 11:36 PM
Openmind will probably offer you his own definitions, mine are simple.
Spirituality is "connection with God".
It can certainly be achieved through organized religion or through Scripture. But some of us feel that there are many different ways to access, understand, and feel God's presence.
I'm not sure how you can deem "connection with God" as worthless.
I think that there are two major differences that seems to act as stumbling blocks and problems on this blog when it comes to understanding one another and finding a common language system.
One thing is the difference that comes from some of us ascribing to an errant Bible and others ascribing to inerrancy.
An inerrant Bible is one that is infalliable and meant to be taken literally.
An errant Bible is one that is not meant to be taken literally, but rather placed in the context of the times it was written in, the fact it was translated and the fact that it has been through the hands of many falliable men.
The second major difference is that some on the blog are most committed to organized religions and attendant dogma and others of us are most committed to spirituality, which may include non-traditional ways to approach God. It doesn't mean that we don't have a highly defined sense of what God is or that we don't come up with ritualized ways to connect with Him. It also doesn't mean that we don't go to church although it may mean that we are much laxer when it comes to being locked into strict dogma of a church.
Posted by: Patricia | August 26, 2006 at 12:08 AM
Patricia, I believe you are right. It is nearly impossible for those who participate on this blog to have a truly meaningful discussion because the variables are just too great. Those who believe they can know God through "non-traditional" sources have an unlimited reservoir of stuff they can cite to explain why they believe what they believe. Then, there are those of us who believe what we do know and can know about God is found in the Bible, and the Bible alone. I don't think it will be possible to find a common language system when the ground rules for discussion are so divergent.
Posted by: Ron | August 26, 2006 at 12:34 AM
Quantum physicists not only accept that there are experiments whose outcomes are unpredictable, but they embrace them. Their theories are probabilistic in nature and their idea of predictability involves probability distributions. After performing an experiment many times, perhaps millions will be required, then they can predict how many will fall within a certain range only. But their theories not only allow that there are individual experiments that are not predictable, but their theories even directly imply this must be the case.
The theories of Quantum Physics must deal with the physical reality that these individual experiments are not predictable. I supplied a link earlier and you can go read about one of the most basic experiments that we've known about for over 200 years. Nobody disputes the experiments or suggests that anything is wrong, and our current theories agree with the observations.
Non-repeatable individual experiments are beyond science. No quantum physicist would ever tell you that the results of the individual outcomes of the double slit experiment are predictable. Nor do they suggest that there are new measurements which must be invented to explain the outcomes. They simply accept the non-deterministic outcomes as fact. The individual outcomes are beyond the scope of science.
I am not changing the rules of science or endorsing pseudo-science as you would call it. This is all mainstream and has been accepted for many decades now.
Apparently you are shocked that there are simple things which are not subject to prediction. That's okay. Even Einstein was shocked by this at first. But reality sometimes throws you a curve ball. You can have all kinds of crazy beliefs, but ultimately reality wins.
Posted by: Just Thinking | August 26, 2006 at 05:16 AM