The Bible as a source of scientific knowledge

I first saw this posted on Facebook (with the name blurred out as it is here) and it was met with responses that contained words like “stupid,” “idiot,” and “Creatard.” I’m not terribly fond of that last one, but I understand the sentiment it’s trying to convey. But not a single commenter made an attempt to explain just why the person who made this absurd statement is an idiot, or why they’re stupid. Now, I don’t know anything about the person who wrote this. In fact, I don’t even know their name. I can’t honestly call this person stupid, but what I will do is hopefully explain why their argument(s) is/are stupid. My one hope is that somehow this post makes its way back to the person who made these arguments originally, because I am genuinely interested in seeing their response.

Let me begin my dissection of this post by stating that nobody ever has or ever will claim that something begins to exist or be true the moment it is “discovered” by science/scientists. I more than likely stumbled outside as a toddler and found myself in the green grass of my parents’ front lawn before a scientist had ever affirmed to me the existence of grass. This does not mean I waited for somebody with a Ph.D. to confirm grass was real before I could accept that it was. This also does not mean grass did not exist prior to my “discovery” of it.

Which takes me to your first example: snakes. More specifically, snakes with legs. Whether or not the Bible states that snakes actually have legs is really a matter of interpretation. The Bible speaks of a serpent in Genesis, who coerces Eve to take a bite of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. God’s punishment for the serpent’s role in Eve’s betrayal of his trust, “You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.” Whether this means the serpent had legs prior to God’s curse is unknown, nor is it obvious whether or not this meant the serpent did not have legs after the curse. After all, even a human can crawl on its belly while having legs. It is uncomfortable to do so, especially for long periods of time; perhaps this is what makes it such a harsh punishment. Or perhaps the bit about eating dust is the actual punishment. Either way, the nature of the serpent both before and after God’s punishment is ambiguous.

That being said, you specifically mentioned snakes. I can assure you, and I will do so publicly, that snakes do not have legs. They have not ever had legs and they will not ever have legs.* Throughout the course of evolution, any creature that had legs in the long line of a snake’s ancestry was, assuredly, not a snake. Even if it were so, like I pointed out in my opening statements, a scientist would not have to “discover” a snake in order for a snake to exist.

So let’s move on to your next argument, which is the Bible describing a spherical earth at a time when science allegedly told us the earth was flat. This would be relevant if it were true. It would suggest the Bible really was written or inspired by the words of somebody who not only knew more than modern scientists, but knew truths that were contrary to what science told us at the time. The fact of the matter is, however, that the Bible never once tells us the earth is a sphere. We hear talk of the earth’s “four corners,” actually, which suggests the earth is either a two-dimensional quadrilateral or a triangular pyramid. Incidentally, Pythagoras hypothesized a spherical earth as early as the sixth century BCE, long before the Old Testament was written (and even longer before the NT).

Oh, but you spoke of a “round” earth, and not a spherical earth. If that’s the case, I think you may actually be right in that the Bible suggests, at one point, that the earth is round (I couldn’t tell you which chapter/verse, but that would contradict everything it says about corners). That would be worth investing thought into, since Pythagoras’s spherical-earth hypothesis was not yet widely accepted, except that the common belief was exactly the same: that the earth was round. Flat, but round. More precisely, that the earth was disc-shaped. So the Bible has, yet again, taught us nothing we didn’t “know” already. In fact, at best we could only say it propagated the [false] belief people already held.

Your third example is that the Bible explained to us the nature of the ocean — specifically its currents and its topography — “way before the first submarine.” I think it’s important to note, first, that a submarine is not required to study the floor of the ocean. It certainly makes it easier (and yes, it is required once you get to the deeper parts), but for all intents and purposes let’s just agree that I could walk off the shore and into the ocean, swim twenty feet out, and tell you what I see below me without the use of a submarine. Likewise, I could describe the currents to you. The Bible does not, ever once, explain gravity and the moon’s role in the ocean’s tides. That would be an argument worth posing since it took “science” quite a bit longer to explain that, despite what right-wing talk show hosts on Fox News may tell you.

Second, I’ve read the Bible but admittedly I’m not sure what part you’re referring to when you say it tells us of valleys under the sea and describes how oceanic currents work. If you’re talking about the fantastical Noah’s Ark story, these are observations anybody in a boat could make.

I found your fourth example particularly interesting because I can use “toddler Dave” as an example yet again. My parents taught me constellations when I was young. I could look up to the sky and recognize Orion (though, admittedly, Orion’s Belt was far easier to point out) and Ursa Major. Looking up at the night sky and recognizing shapes made by the stars does not require the use of a telescope, just like a submarine isn’t required to study the ocean’s topography. That said, I’m curious to know which Bible verses speak in great detail of the constellations, and how looking at shapes in the sky pertains to science. Science doesn’t tell us anything about constellations, because they are irrelevant. Science instead focuses on the makeups of stars, their distances from one another, how they interact cosmologically, and what their relevance is. Whether or not a cluster of stars as viewed by the naked eye from earth vaguely resembles mythical people and animals is of no concern whatsoever to legitimate scientists.

Show me the Bible verse that describes the gases that make up stars and explains what happens when a star goes supernova, and then you’ll have my interest.

Your fifth example is dinosaurs. Again, I encourage you to tell me the exact Bible passages that discuss dinosaurs without using words that could possibly refer to other mythological beasts — such as behemoths — that people of that day and age actually believed in, but which never actually existed. You also spoke of archaeological discoveries, as though to differentiate between some random nomad digging up what appears to be a large skull in the desert and thinking it might have belonged to one of those mythological beasts they believed in long ago, and a certified archaeologist digging up a skull which they can study and determine once belonged to an actual dinosaur that we actually know actually existed.

To reiterate, anybody can stumble upon a large, old bone and say “Aha, something big used to be alive!”

I’ll respond to your sixth example briefly: nephilim have never, not ever, not even once, been “discovered” or determined to have once existed. Any skeletons of legitimate “giants” (as in, significantly larger than what we know modern and ancient humans and other apes could have grown to) that have been discovered have been proven to be hoaxes. I’m surprised you bothered to include this as an argument, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Finally, you’re restating what we all already know is stated in Genesis: that human life, as we know it, began with God’s creation of one man (Adam) and one woman (Eve). So far, we understand each other. Next you said we have, through the practice of anthropology, traced humankind’s origins back to “skulls in Africa.” The way you phrased it is confusing; I’m not sure if you meant we’ve traced our origins back to TWO skulls in Africa — which is blatantly wrong, so I won’t bother rebutting it — or simply back to, again, “skulls in Africa.” Hoping you meant the latter, this means nothing. Long before human-like skulls were discovered in Africa we had theorized that humans evolved from other human-like species. Based on the current geography of much of the world’s apes and monkeys, we theorized humans most likely first evolved in Africa. This is why we even searched in Africa in the first place! We already knew we evolved and it wasn’t based on anything the Bible tells us (especially since the Bible states that we were created, which we know is not true). Your last argument, just like your other six, is invalid and irrelevent.

Now, absolutely none of what I have just said disproves any gods, nor does it claim to, nor have I even made an attempt to; I’m simply rebutting the arguments which try to claim the Bible is a legitimate source of scientific knowledge and countering any arguments which state scientists are/were somehow wrong or “behind the times” at the time the Bible (especially the Old Testament, to which the original post primarily points) was first penned. Anybody is welcome to tell me where anything I’ve said here is wrong, but I politely ask to keep all discourse on-topic; that is, related directly either to the original post referenced or my response to it. Thank you.

*A Redditor brought to my attention a story of a snake with a single leg discovered in China in 2009. After researching it a bit I’ve yet to determine whether that particular story is a hoax or not (or whether it has simply been misinterpreted as something it is not), but it led me to feel the need to amend my claim that snakes do not have, will not have, nor ever have had legs. Snake embryos, in fact, have legs which are then absorbed by the body before hatching. This is an example of a vestigial limb, carried on in the genes of snakes from their non-snake-but-snakelike reptilian ancestors. In rare cases, the snake will retain its legs or feet after birth, but since this is a mutation (specifically, it is known as atavism) I will simply amend my statement to say that snakes do not have legs, except in rare mutation-related situations.

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Humans are pretty dam* dumb.

The following is taken from the comments section of a particular Listverse list of “15 Unusual Prehistoric Creatures.” This is one of those cases where I don’t think a rebuttal is even necessary, but I’ll provide a very brief one after the quote. It’s entirely possible that this Captain Carrot is just a “Poe,” but I’ll treat this as though he’s being completely serious.

Captain Carrot / 27 May, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Oh, Lord. I’m tired of hearing the retarded sounding “creationists believe the earth is only 6000 yrs old” bullcrap. Who said that? Where is that fact?

Good Lord, nobody is saying that the earth is only 6000 yrs. old. That would be like saying that nothing existed, that there was this big explosion, or “bang” if you will, and then things started growing from out of nowhere. But we all know that, scientifically, it’s been proven something can’t just grow out of nothing, right? Um, right?

Plus the fact that animals were a totally different creature or species and they just “grew” what they needed later. Like how I read somewhere that dolphins were actually land animals (a cow, for instance) and all of a sudden “transformed” into something else entirely. The legs just miraculously “fused” together, it grew fins out of it’s sides, the blowhole developed, etc. etc.

For f*ck’s sake, and they say the religious crowd comes up with some unbelievable stories. Humans really are pretty dam* dumb.

Fortunately, whether or not they’re correct, most people at least recognize the existence of the Young Earth Creationists who do, in fact, claim the earth is approximately 6,000 years old. To deny these people exist (“nobody is saying that the earth is only 6000 yrs. old”) is nothing more or less than a blatant lie. Just because something is highly illogical does not mean nobody believes it to be true.

Secondly, please, for the sake of the religious right, stop attempting to use science to invalidate science. That would kind of be like saying “The Bible says it’s true, therefore the Bible is true.” Nobody ever says that! (that’s an example of me being facetious)

Third, and finally, please refrain from commenting on evolution until you actually understand evolution. Animals don’t just grow things they need. If that were to ever happen, I would be more likely to believe some supernatural force is the one guiding such transformations. It is clear you have zero understanding of evolution or the theory of natural selection.

In short, you’re right. Humans (at least some of them) really are “pretty dam* dumb.”

There is no such thing as an atheist

For some reason this comment was moved directly to my spam folder, which meant I was never given the opportunity to approve it for publication. I’m not sure why, as it’s not blatant “trolling” or spamming – then again, it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic discussed in the original blog post, nor does it seem to add anything to any existing conversations or comments. Nevertheless, I rarely check my spam folder and did not see it until now.

It was originally made in response to my post titled Thank god! but I’m reposting it here because I think it warrants a response – in this case, in the form of its very own post.

There is no such thing as an atheist. Although I know my reply will be deleted, it matters not. My path almost led me down the road to so-called “atheism”. The term “atheist” is derived from two roots “a” meaning “against” and “theos” meaning “God” or “a god”. Thus people who claim that they are atheist because they don’t believe in Him is a contradiction of terms. You can’t be against something you don’t believe exists. You may as well be a-fairy, or a-pomogianisticis. There are no such things so it is impossible to be against them. The funny thing about so-called atheists is that they spend so much time talking about the very thing they claim doesn’t exist. Isn’t this a waste of time? I don’t go around trying to convince people not to believe in the tooth fairy. No, the real purpose of each and every atheist is a deep longer to know. You WANT to see for yourself. You wish deep down inside that God would show you a sign so that you could hold on to something tangible.

As for myself, I used to believe in science and believed that everything had to have a scientific explanation. Then I realized that God’s word was far more consistent that science. Science is limited to the five senses. With science there is no room for anything that our finite human bodies can experience. It didn’t take long for me to see that science has to continue correcting itself because what is scientifically proven one day can be false the very next day. I have very little faith in science these days. I have no faith in doctors either. Doctors prescribe drugs they have little knowledge about. They cannot see the effects drugs have on the human brain, DNA, and a whole multitude of bodily functions. While a certain drug can seem to solve one issue, it will ALWAYS create a new host of side effects that can be and probably are more detrimental to our bodies.

Wasn’t it science that claimed the earth was flat? Wasn’t it scientists that claimed there could not be such things as microwaves, germs, and the like? Why not? Because we did not have the instruments to see such things. Therefore they must not exist.

The truth of the matter is that anyone who puts their faith in science is going to be disappointed over and over again. Scientists are only now realizing that there are things in this universe that cannot be explained because they do not fall into the category of tangible evidence. This is why they have created a whole new field of science called quantum physics.

Don’t allow yourselves to be deceived by blind religion or blind science. Make intelligent well informed decisions. Seek out the facts first.

Remember just because we could not detect sound waves didn’t mean they didn’t exists. Similarly just because we don’t have the equipment to detect demons and angelic beings does not mean they are not all around us. One day science will have to be re-written yet again to contain new evidence. The scriptures, however, remain unchanged since ancient times.

Finally, my story… At the pinnacle of my own arrogance and the height of my intellectual achievements, I stumbled upon a radio station that played hard rock and heavy metal. There I heard a caller describing an apocalyptic event that was all the rave at the time. He asked the disk jockeys if they had heard about a meteor that would kill one third of the population. They laughed at him and hung up the phone and continued on with their jokes, but my attention was focused on one single thought – “a third of the population”… I had heard that in my youth in my Sunday School class. “Yes” I thought, “That’s in Revelation…” So I dusted off an old Bible my parents had and found some old scriptures giving an account of the end of the world in minute detail. As I read, there was a documentary on the Discovery channel about the same topic – a meteor strike of catastrophic proportions.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I read along with the program. The events described in both the Bible and the television show were identical to a tee! God had my full, undivided attention. It was at this point that I made up my mind to have faith like a child. I said within myself, “If God says ‘A donkey talked’ then by all mean a donkey talked. I will never again question His Word.”

It was that very year that things began to happen in my life. Those “signs” I sought after were revealed to me, and I lost all hope in science forever.

I laugh whenever I see Nacho Libre with Jack Black now. Whenever I hear his sidekick declare, “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science” I chuckle within myself because I am now the total opposite.

Delete my reply if you insist this is all baloney, but if you expect real discussion on this topic, then leave it and see what other say.

Man O God

http://www.godlyfather.blogspot.com/

I don’t plan on addressing everything said in the comment, but will try to catch what I think are the most important points:

There is no such thing as an atheist…
Well, there definitely is such a thing as an atheist. As long as you’re bringing up the roots of the word I should point out that a does not mean against; rather, it means precisely the same as the a in asexual, that is, without. I, and all the other atheists, are without theism.

You are right in bringing up disbelief in fairies, and the fact that it doesn’t have “its own word.” I actually agree with you – atheism shouldn’t even be a word. Atheism should be the norm. Just like we would question somebody who told us they believe in fairies, we should question somebody when they say they believe in gods. Gods are, after all, just as likely to exist. The reason we – the atheists – speak out so fervently against religion is because it plays such a huge (and, more often than not, unwanted) role in our lives despite the fact that we do not share the same beliefs. I guarantee that if politicians and educators were trying to pass laws that were directly or indirectly inspired by their belief in Bigfoot, we would speak out against that too. If belief in Bigfoot were so widespread that it affected our lives on a nearly daily basis, we might even start using a word to describe ourselves which separated us from those who believe.

No, the real purpose of each and every atheist is a deep longer(sic) to know.
This is somewhat accurate. I can’t speak for all atheists, but I can certainly speak for myself when I say I would much rather know something than to just believe in it. That’s why we’re called skeptics. We won’t take something based on faith alone. Faith is okay, in fact I have faith in plenty of things, but my faiths are reinforced by evidence. Religious faith is not.

You’re incorrect when you say we want your god to give us some sign of its existence based on the simple fact that we do not believe it exists. I can’t want a god to prove its existence any more than I can want Harry Potter to prove he exists. He most likely doesn’t, nor does any god – especially not your god. That said, if I believed in a god I would certainly want – or at least expect – it to prove it exists.

Then I realized that God’s word was far more consistent that(sic) science.
First, you’re terribly wrong. The Bible (“God’s word”) is littered with inconsistencies and contradictions. This isn’t the place to point all of them out to you, but a quick and easy Google search for “Bible contradictions” should be all you need.

That being wrong, you also said science has to continue correcting itself. You’re absolutely right here. That’s how the scientific method works: a question is asked, research is done and information is collected regarding the subject, a hypothesis is formed, experiments are performed, data is interpreted and, if the data supports the hypothesis predictions can be made and a theory may be formed. If the data does not support the hypothesis, then the hypothesis is scrapped. This is where science and religion seem to clash. Despite all the geological, astronomical, and biological evidence that specifically conflicts with the young-earth “theory” so many religious believers adhere to, they continue to ignore the data, preferring to believe that what a non-scientific 2,000-year-old book says is probably more accurate.

As more evidence is discovered or collected, scientific theories may change. But that’s what rational people do – they admit when they’re wrong, and reshape their theories to fit the evidence. A religious person, on the other hand, reshapes the evidence to fit their so-called theories.

The scriptures, however, remain unchanged since ancient times.
If we do not count the frequency at which the Bible is re-translated, or the fact that multiple books have deliberately been removed from the earliest copies of the bible, you’re right again. Incidentally, the scriptures are just as implausible and inconsistent now as they were back when they were written.

The events described in both the Bible and the television show were identical to a tee!
First, I’d like to know which show this was on the Discovery Channel. As a fan of the channel and their publications, I’m fully aware that they do air a lot of religious programs featuring “what if” scenarios. I hardly believe a scientific program would talk about the likelihood of a dragon falling from the sky, a beast with multiple heads emerging from the ocean, angels blowing their horns at the “four corners” of the earth, or people ascending into Heaven while others found themselves marked with the number of the beast. So unless this show was specifically about the Revelation chapter in the Bible, no, they were not identical to a T.

“If God says ‘A donkey talked’ then by all mean(sic) a donkey talked. I will never again question His Word.”
I’ll just rebut this one with another one of your own quotes: Make intelligent well informed decisions. Seek out the facts first.

I lost all hope in science forever.
I would assume, then, that you never visit the doctor, never take any medicine, never drive a car, never use the internet, never watch television, and never pay any heed to documentaries on the Discovery Channel.

In other words, I’m calling you a liar and a hypocrite.

Miracles?

Yeah, yeah, Brandon made a post with this same title a while back. But mine has a question mark. So it’s different, see? See? Anyway, the subject matter is slightly different and it’s been, like, almost two months. Now that we’ve settled that this is an entirely different post from Brandon’s, we can continue.

What is a miracle?
A miracle is any event that betrays the laws of nature. It is not simply something science has no answer for, but something science and scientific laws explicitly state could not happen. It is a phenomenon which, without “divine guidance,” would otherwise be impossible. A meteor hurtling toward earth and then stopping, abruptly, about a mile before impact is an example of something that betrays the laws of nature and science and could legitimately be called a miracle.

Some people think a miracle is “anything that happens at just the right time when it is not expected.” This is okay, if you’d like to consider every single coincidence or stroke of good fortune a miracle. By that definition, you would say that winning the lottery is a miracle, but it would be one hell of a stretch to call it an act of god, let alone proof for god’s existence.

There are no miracles, ever.
Now that we’ve got that explanation out of the way, I can make my assertion: that there has never in history been such a phenomenon which, by the above definition, would be considered a miracle.

For the record, I should point out again that as an atheist I am prone to disregard the Bible as a factual account of historic events, so using any examples from the Bible would be completely futile. To argue while citing the Bible as proof is to assume the Bible is one hundred percent factual and accurate. That just doesn’t fly with an atheist. To quote Damon Wayons in one of his greatest characters ever, Homey don’t play dat.

Word of mouth also doesn’t count as a legitimate source. If that were the case, I could tell you that I fell from the top of a skyscraper the other day and landed head-first in a garbage bin full of nothing but broken glass and fire ants, yet suffered no injuries whatsoever. And you’d have to believe me. Because you believe personal accounts of miracles.

All that said, you are welcome to provide me with examples of any miracles for which there is not only documentation (from a reputable source) but, ideally, photo and/or video evidence.

Biblical miracles
Even the so-called miracles in the Bible can be more or less explained away by science. It is entirely possible that “back in the day,” natural events happened. God-fearing people did what they did best and feared god. They embellished the natural events in their tales and as they were passed down more and more through the generations, by the time they were written down they had been so embellished they could now be mistaken for miracles.

Look, I realize the Bible is an actual book. It was written by people who believed in the business they were writing down. That doesn’t make it any more accurate, however. While some of the primary parts of the Bible (Jesus, as an example) are clearly sampled from previous religions, I’m sure some parts are simply huge exaggerations of actual events. Fascinating stories require fascinating embellishments in order to be fascinating.

Further Reading

I have added a new page to Atheist Dave. Underneath the banner at the top of the website you’ll find a link to Further Reading. This is a page where I have added (and will continue to add) easy links to books I’ve read or mentioned dealing with atheism, evolution, biology, religion, zoology, or anything else even remotely related to this site’s topics.

So far I’ve only added 15 books including Darwin, Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and even the exact version/edition of the Bible I’ve been referring to off and on in various posts. All of the books (yes, even the Bible) are highly recommended reads for better insight on all the aforementioned topics. Enjoy!

The Magic of Reality

Richard Dawkins has announced his upcoming book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, to be illustrated by Dave McKean and released this Fall (Amazon.com gives it a release date of October 4th 2011). This book will be geared toward children and science novices with its easy-to-understand explanations and colorful illustrations. Below is what the cover of the book will look like, followed by an excerpt from the chapter titled “What is the sun”. Dawkins begins by outlining how various religions viewed the sun:

In other myths, the sun is not a god but one of the first creations of a god. In the creation myth of the Hebrew tribe of the Middle Eastern desert, the tribal god YHWH created light on the first of his six days of creation – but then, weirdly, he didn’t create the sun until the fourth day! “And God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.” Where the light came from on the first day, before the sun existed, we are not told.

It is time to turn to reality, and the true nature of the sun, as borne out by scientific evidence.

This book can be pre-ordered from Amazon.com, and you can view a few pages from it (illustrations and all) as a .pdf file by clicking here. Since the illustrations are so colorful and take up entire pages, the file may take a moment to open.

Laziness in humans, a science question.

I thought I’d post my first science question on here.  I was thinking lately that laziness in humans might be related to the tendency in other animals not to waste energy.  The problem is that we have to do so much less in order to get food and survive, so it’s not good for us.  Not everyone is lazy, of course, but not all animals share the same opinion of what constitutes a waste of energy.  Thoughts?  Science to back it up?  See?!  In essence I’m being lazy.

A Moment of Humor.

I happened upon the videos of a youtube user called nicepeter. I found this one to be particularly good.  He does the Epic Rap Battles of History, in which two famous figures duke it out. This one is Einstein vs. Stephen Hawking.

10 Missing Links in Vertebrate Evolution

Bob Strauss defines ten of the most important missing links in evolutionary history. These remarkable animals take us from the sea, to land, to the sky; from scales, to feathers, to fur.

The phrase “missing link,” Strauss says, is a bit misleading in the sense that A) they aren’t missing – they have been positively identified in the fossil record; and B) in any particular line of evolution there would not, of course, have been any “missing link.” Hundreds or thousands of “transitional” species likely existed between a fish and a newt.

Here is Bob Strauss’ abridged list; follow the link at the bottom to view the original page with descriptions of each animal.

1. The Vertebrate Missing Link – Pikaia
2. The Tetrapod Missing Link – Tiktaalik
3. The Amphibian Missing Link – Eucritta
4. The Reptile Missing Link – Hylonomus
5. The Dinosaur Missing Link – Eoraptor

6. The Pterosaur Missing Link – Darwinopterus
7. The Plesiosaur Missing Link – Nothosaurus
8. The Therapsid Missing Link – Lystrosaurus
9. The Mammal Missing Link – Megazostrodon
10. The Bird Missing Link – Archaeopteryx

View 10 Missing Links in Vertebrate Evolution on About.com

Laryngeal Nerve of a Giraffe

Probably my absolute favorite evidence against creation/intelligent design is the giraffe‘s laryngeal nerve. Put simply, it is a nerve which, in a giraffe, travels several meters in order to reach a destination mere centimeters from its starting point. This is due to the fact that evolution works with what it’s got; it cannot go back and fix things. An intelligent designer would have had the laryngeal nerve travel directly from point A to point B, but in every single mammal it instead travels down the neck, around the aorta, and back up the neck to the voice box.

Here’s a video of Richard Dawkins explaining exactly how the laryngeal nerve works in a giraffe: