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Shermer’s Summary of Christian Belief

I’m dumbstruck by the number of former believers, people who say that they were passionate Christians — read the Bible, prayed often, and even engaged in door-to-door evangelism — that can’t seem to articulate their former belief system correctly.

They are atheists because they believe that the God they once served never existed.  And that’s a real possibility.  Based on Michael Shermer’s summary of his former faith, I can confidently say that that god doesn’t exist.

This is Shermer’s summary from the forward to Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists:

  1. Christians claim that God is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenovolent — all knowing, all powerful, all present, and all good, creator of the universe and everything in it including us.

  2. Christians believe that we were originally created sinless, but because God gave us free will and Adam and Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, we are all born with original sin as a part of our nature even though we did not commit the original sinful act ourselves.

  3. God could just forgive the sin we never committed, but instead he sacrificed his son Jesus, who is actually just himself in the flesh because Christians believe in only one god — that’s what monotheism means — of which Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just different manifestations.  Three in One and One in Three.

  4. The only way to avoid eternal punishment for sins we never committed from this all-loving God is to accept his son — who is actually himself — as our savior.  So …

God sacrificed himself to himself to save us from himself.  Barking mad! [p. 11-12; ellipses and emphasis in original]

Let’s take it one at a time.

There seems to be little to with which to take issue in (1).

(2) is basically right; however, original sin represents the propensity to sin rather than an actual sin itself.  Sin taints the whole earth and everything in it, including mankind.

So we are born with a sinful nature, and that is abhorrent to God.  If we remain on that course, we will sin and we will move further and further away from God.  The solution can’t, therefore, come from ourselves and must come from God.

(3) has two problems with it.  First, I hesitate to say that God can’t simply forgive sin.  What God cannot do is behave inconsistently with his own nature, because God is perfect.  So I’d prefer to think of it as God won’t simply forgive sin; but a price or a penalty must be exacted first.  In the Old Testament, we see a sacrificial system in place to make propitiation for our sins.

Why?  Because there can be no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.  God killed a bear to cover Adam and Eve’s shame — the example we draw from!  The High Priest would make propitiation once per year by making an offering and entering the Holy of Holies by the blood of it.

Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the perfect sacrifice for our sins.

The second problem is the description of Jesus and the Holy Spirit as “manifestations” of God.  There is only one essence of divinity in Christianity, and this essence is simultaneously shared by God the Father (the Creator, described in the OT), God the Son (the Savior), and God the Spirit (the Helper).

Characterizing these Persons as “different manifestations” of God is heresy.  The Athanasian Creed, one of the three foundational creeds of Christendom, defines what the Trinity is and is not, and it doesn’t leave room for modalism:

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.

Each Person of the Trinity shares the power, glory, majesty, and titles with all other members.  However, each has different roles not shared with the others:

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. So that in all things, as aforesaid; the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

As for (4), it suffers from the fundamental error identified in (2): sin is both action and nature, and the fact that we have a sin nature is itself abhorrent to God.  But, left on that path with no aid, we will sin.  So we’re born sinful, we follow that nature — no surprise there — and God punishes us.  Not for sins we didn’t commit, but for ones we absolutely did.

The way out is to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  This recreates our flesh anew and removes the sin nature; it removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh.  We are regenerated.  We are no longer enslaved to sin, and so we are able to choose life instead of inevitably following the path that leads to death.

The conclusion suffers from all of the problems I identified — misunderstanding of the Trinity, misunderstanding of sin, misunderstanding of what the Savior does for us when we accept him as such.

So good for Shermer in not believing in this god.  He clearly doesn’t exist.  The God described by the Bible, however, does exist!  Let’s hope there’s an argument against him somewhere in the rest of the book.

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Contradiction Tuesday: Jesus in the Pecking Order

Better late than never, right?

I skipped the next contradiction in line.  It’s easy to resolve, but I’m saving it for Easter.

So for today’s contradiction Tuesday, we have another both/and resolution.

I and my Father are one. (Jn 10:30)

set against

Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come again unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I. (Jn 14:28)

The Trinity is the most misunderstood doctrine of Christianity.  Atheistic challenges to it amount to little more than “I don’t understand the Trinity, so it must be false.  Now I shall mock it to appear clever.”

Jesus and the Father share an essence.  But they do not share an identity.  Meaning they are ontologically the same, but still separate people.  John 10:30 refers to sharing the essence, while the pecking order established by 14:38 refers to the separate persons.

For Once, I Agree With Vjack

 

Christine O'Donnell

I normally bash what Vjack has to say, but in this case, I think it’s perfectly justified.

 

Christine O’Donnell, from everything that I’ve read about her, is making Christians in general look bad. She tried to argue that the phrase “separation of church and state” isn’t in the Constitution, so it’s not a valid concept.

The First Amendment says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What’s clear here is that the Founding Fathers didn’t want any one religion to be the religion in the United States, but I don’t think that they meant to clean all references to God and religion out of the government. They wanted the governing authorities to remain secular and not tied to a specific church or denomination. Different denominations within Christianity often have very different ideas of what constitutes the greater good. To remain free to serve the diverse religious beliefs within the new republic, the government would have to remain clear of heavy church influence.

Since many were religious refugees from the Anglican church, they wanted to respect the rights of other religious refugees to practice their own religion when they emigrated here.

The main problem with O’Donnell’s argument is one of consistency. I’m assuming (dangerous, I know) that she would believe in the Triune God, since she is a Roman Catholic. Well, by opponents of the Trinity, it has been repeatedly asserted that the word “Trinity” is found nowhere in the Bible. That’s one of the main arguments against the Trinity. Yet, the Trinity can be supported with numerous Scripture passages, even if they make no direct reference to “Trinity.”

So it is with separation of church and state. The phrase itself may not appear, but it can be deduced that this is the intent of the Founding Fathers. They didn’t want a single religion or denomination to dominate politics. To support a free exchange of ideas and to arrive at what is really the common good, denominational in-fighting has no place in government.

The Bible tells us to submit to the governing authorities (Rom 13:1; 1 Pet 2:13-17). Nowhere can I see that we are called to be the governing authorities. Rather, Peter tells us:

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Pet 2:15-17)

So, Christians should fine with separation of church and state. All the more reason to witness by our lives that have been changed for the better by Christ, for Christ. Live up to Christian values and morals, leading by example.

How to Make Your Christian Writing Anything But, part II

In my previous post, I took a peek at six of the twelve points that the Resurgence cites as ways to turn Christian writing into anti-Christian writing. Unfortunately, I’m guilty on some points. Let’s look at the final six.

Hell is real, but don’t let that concern you or your hearers and readers. It’s more important to have a good theology of evangelism than to actually tell others about Jesus, his cross, and his resurrection.

Actually, I think that it is more important to talk about the cross and the Resurrection than it is to mention hell. I don’t think that hell is really the best way to evangelize. It shouldn’t be avoided completely, but neither should it be over-stressed.

People just aren’t comfortable with a judging God. Most likely because people know, at the core, that they have sinned and are under condemnation. Instead of browbeating them with that, let’s focus on what God has done through Christ.

But we’d just be unkind if we didn’t talk about hell at all. People also need to understand the consequences of their choices.

Talk about technique a lot, because techniques are concrete. Miracles like regeneration, God turning haters into lovers, and the fruit of the Spirit are too abstract to be helpful.

Here we see Christianity capitulating to culture. Scientism seems to be creeping its way into the popular culture. People are believing the lie that they can only know what they can touch, taste, smell, or see.

Scientism is a philosophy, not a scientific conclusion. Since philosophies can’t be proven, only believed, scientism refutes itself. If you believe scientism, you’re already being inconsistent.

Everyone believes something on the basis of pragmatism alone, in the absence of empirical evidence. Everyone. Our minds are capable of knowing and understanding things in the abstract, without requiring evidence of their existence.

That means that speaking of love, hate, or the fruits of the Spirit are helpful. Speaking on technique is good, too, but sometimes it is necessary to speak of the abstract.

Guilt is a great motivator. Use it wisely.

I think we all know someone who falls into this category. I’ll move on.

In their sanctification, people should fake it till they make it. Tell them how.

Believing something on the basis of pragmatism is vital to constructing a coherent worldview. Obviously, you can’t see some of the abstractions that underlie your philosophies. If you hold to a theistic worldview, where the material plane is a battlefield for angels and demons influencing the minds and hearts of humans, you can’t see the immaterial beings nor can you see the deity, so pragmatism comes to the forefront in determining the rationality of your suppositions.

But pragmatism is not a good measure of the effectiveness of the gospel, nor is sanctification ever going to work if you fake it until you make it.

The New Testament consistently refers to the church as “the Bride of Christ.” In marriage, you are giving yourself wholly and completely to your spouse; that goes for husbands as well as wives. It is expected that you will put your bride first in all your considerations. Everything should change, and this is meant to be a permanent change.

So it should be in giving yourself to Christ. It should bring wholehearted change into your life. You won’t be the same person afterwords. The Bible declares the faithful a new creation. Just telling people to “fake it until you make it” doesn’t do justice to the gospel, and it trivializes Christ’s promises to make you whole.

Be condescending. Make sure your theology is un-gracious in content and tone.

Yeah, I know, this is my deepest sin in writing this blog. Anyone who wants to throw it in my face, go ahead. Search some past posts. I’m sure you can find plenty of examples of me being ungracious to commenters. But I’m going to really try to move past it, and give my apologetic answers with gentleness and reverence. No more sarcastic bite.

People really want Good Advice instead of Good News, so be a people-pleaser and only give lots of advice.

Yes, Joel Osteen, we are looking at you!

How to Make Your Christian Writing Anything But, part I

The folks over at the Resurgence have a great article on how to turn Christian writing into anti-Christian writing. They’ve itemized twelve errors, some of which I’ve fallen into. Let’s take a look at the first six.

Downplay the law of God and his grace. Tell people God is not that angry about cosmic treason, and grace isn’t that amazing.

It’s nice that they’ve started off with something that I, too, have railed against. It’s fairly common among skeptics (and far too many Christians!) to get really bent out shape when we mention God’s Law. Most of the resistance comes when we talk about punishment (hell is discussed later in this list). But the revulsion is inevitably there.

We can’t let that deter us.

It’s really important that our hearers understand both law and grace. The Law exists, and we ignore it at our peril. Both Paul and Peter charge us to act like we’re called by God to do great things! Simultaneously, we have to understand that the great things we’re called to do do not add anything to our salvation. We do them because they are the moral thing to do, and acting in accordance with our new, heavenly nature brings glory to God.

Don’t mention God the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Assume that people already know enough about them.

I’ve probably fallen into this trap. I tend to mention “God” without actually defining that concept in a particularly trinitarian fashion. God isn’t a nebulous concept, but a personal being with whom we can have a real, dynamic, give-and-take relationship with. I should mention the relationship of the divine Persons more often so that readers get a better grasp on who’s who in the Trinity.

“The Little Engine That Could” should be the foundation of your theology.

Another one that I’ve railed against: you can’t possibly read the Bible and come away with the understanding that you can do it on your own, if you only think positively! The Bible wants us to depend more on God, and less on ourselves.

This is Word-Faith theology, or Name-It-and-Claim-It. If you believe enough in yourself, anything is possible! Makes a great self-help book, but it isn’t biblical Christianity by any stretch of the imagination.

Remember that God is passive, so you better be really active… or else.

Orthodoxy (right belief) is very important. Orthopraxy (right practice) is also very important. But a balance must exist. Only Jesus can save you.

If you think that God saves only those who remain faithful to the end of their days under their own power and who do their own good works, you have Pelagianism: salvation by works.

This is related to the next error, which leans on orthodoxy to save you.

Remember, no other Christians get it right except for your tribe, of which you should be chief.

Yeah, I’ve done this. A lot. I resisted Calvinism at first because I thought that Calvinists were intellectual snubs. Then I realized the biblical truth of Calvinism, and became a passionate Calvinist–and an intellectual snub!

The rub of it is that I should consider myself a Christian first, and a Calvinist second (if at all). I was saved from the moment that I professed faith in Jesus for my salvation, and renounced the use of my own faculties to obtain God’s favor. I didn’t become “more saved” the day I read Chosen by God and realized the Sproul was conveying the absolute biblical truth.

A Christian relies only on Jesus for salvation, and seeks a cooperative sanctification by God in order to become like Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.

If a person believes that only the Calvinist is saved because he properly understands predestination as an unconditional choosing of God’s people by God for God, then you have gnosticism: salvation by secret knowledge.

All denominations (including we Calvinists) seem to lean to far one way or the other. Orthodoxy is important. So is orthopraxy. But they are designed to compliment each other, not to compete with each other. Striking a balance is important to the life of the Christian.

Only use Scripture as a proof-text—don’t actually teach it.

Now this is an error that I fall into quite often. I tend to propose most of my own philosophies on this blog, and back them up by using relevant Scripture passages. Never do I exegete a passage from the text.

I’ve been considering for a while doing just that. From time to time, maybe each Sunday, selecting a passage of text from Scripture and actually run through it verse-by-verse and expound on the deep, spiritual meanings of it. Kind of like a written sermon.

I could even “preach through” an entire book, section by section, each Sunday. That would help me understand it better, and it would definitely give my unbelieving readers a more through understanding of Scripture.

So far, it looks like I commit as many errors as I rail against. So I’m coming out nearly 50-50 after six. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the remaining six, and I’m hoping that I do better!

Danelle Ice on Total Depravity

John Calvin

Image via Wikipedia

Danelle Ice (Dangerous but Good) has a post on the “dangers” of Calvinism. I find her reasoning problematic for two reasons. First, she has an interesting philosophy behind what Christians can teach as truth:

We know that we can never teach something that isn’t scriptural.  So, even if I firmly believe something with all my heart (exaggerating example: that John the Baptist had 12 toes!)  I couldn’t teach it to my family or other Christians as truth if there is no scripture in the Bible to back it up.  I may think it makes sense, and I may really believe it, but as a minister and a Christian, the burden of proof from the scriptures is on ME before I open my mouth and talk about it.

I once knew a Christian (I’m not identifying this person by any designator other than “a Christian” because of how embarrassingly stupid this position is) who believed that Jesus never got sick, ate, or went to the bathroom because there is no Scripture that directly says he did any of those things.

What does Scripture say about the humanity of Christ? That Jesus shared our flesh (Rom 8:3) and was tempted the same as we were (Heb 4:15, referring to Mt 4:1-11). If Jesus essentially “emptied himself” of divinity to become a humble and obedient human servant (Phil 2:7-8)–and it is anathema to say otherwise (2 Jn 7)–it’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume that Jesus may have gotten sick, or had to eat, or used the bathroom at some point during his 33 (or so) years on earth. We don’t have Scripture that actually says Jesus ate, got sick, or went potty, but I think that we can take it for granted that he did.

Holy Trinity by Fridolin Leiber (1853–1912)

Image via Wikipedia

There is no Scripture (except for 1 Jn 5:7 in the KJV) that directly teaches the Trinity, either. I would assume that Danelle believes that implicitly despite the fact that the Bible never refers to God as a Trinity. If Danelle is going to be consistent, she has to reject the Trinity since we, as Christians, are only allowed to teach truth based on Scripture.

The apostle Paul, of course, didn’t limit truth to the Hebrew Scriptures of his day. Paul quoted pagan plays and poetry quite regularly. He told the Greeks that the “unknown god” to whom they built an altar is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Danelle’s point isn’t biblical, and the apostles certainly didn’t buy into it.

The second problem inherent in Danelle’s reasoning is that Danelle isn’t arguing against Calvinism proper; she is creating her own version of Calvinism and trying to beat that down. This becomes obvious when reading her definition of total depravity:

We will use the first point of Calvinism to  illustrate the point:  “Total depravity”, that people are not naturally inclined to love and serve God, but must be forced to.  We know this is not scriptural, because man was made in God’s image, and God is love.  Even though we fell into sin, sin can’t change the essence of what God designed and created us to be: loving, praising, worshiping beings.

First, it should be quite obvious that people are not naturally inclined to serve God. In the Bible, for example, you will see numerous prayers to incline one’s heart to serve God:

  • And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. (Num 15:39)
  • The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. (1 Kgs 8:57-58)
  • Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! (Ps 119:36)
  • Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! (Ps 141:4)

The fact that the people of the Bible are praying, both personally and corporately, for God to move them to obedience and faith indicates that they don’t believe that it is the natural tendency to have faith and be obedient to God. The natural tendency of man is opposition to the laws of God (see Rom 7:14-20, especially v. 18).

While Romans 7 sums up the spiritual battle quite well in verses 7-25, the most succinct teaching of total depravity is Ephesians 2:1-3:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

We are dead in sin, according to this verse. Paul also says in Romans that we are unable to carry out the desire to do good (7:18). This adds up to a powerful biblical case for total depravity, despite what Danelle is trying to say.

Second, God doesn’t force anyone to love him. Some have accused Calvinism of teaching this, but that isn’t so. God, from the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals to whom he would reveal his full glory and who would fellowship with God in heaven. The choice of these individuals is inherent in God’s character and has nothing to do with the individual so elected.

A general call goes out with each preaching of the gospel, but an effectual call goes out only to God’s elect. Upon hearing this effectual call, the elect are quickened by the power of the Holy Spirit and are regenerated to life. The only logical response to this quickening is a free will choice to put faith in Christ, and in so doing love and serve God. This isn’t coerced at all, the effectual call simply doesn’t go to everyone in the entire world.

Third, it is no wonder that Danelle would think that man is generally good (Prv 16:2). Apart from the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, we humans generally lack the objective ability to see our own sin. Generally, non-Christians don’t see mankind (by extension, themselves) as inherently evil. They see mankind as inherently good. Some see mankind as misguided in some way, but many (especially atheists) don’t think that mankind is in any way broken or in need of repair.

The problem that Danelle isn’t seeing is that sin does change us–so completely, in fact, that a new birth is required in order to follow God (Jn 3:3). This new birth is a total 180-degree switch from what we once were:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Pet 1:22-23; see also 2 Cor 5:17).

Danelle is correct in stating that we were made in the image of God, and she is also correct in thinking that we do retain something of that image. It is this that gives humans an inherent dignity above that of an animal (1 Cor 15:39); it is the reasoning behind the commandment to not murder; it is the reason that we have the free will to love at all (1 Jn 4:19).

On Omniscience

Rey wonders out loud: “Where in the Bible does God declare that he is omniscient?” He then answers his own question: Nowhere. God never declares himself to be omniscient, or all-knowing. So we have to ask ourselves, must God declare something about himself for it to be true about himself? And, must something directly appear in the Bible for it to be true about God, or is it acceptable to deduce it from related Scriptures and/or natural theology?

Before we dive into these questions, it must be stated that I believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture: that the Bible we possess is inspired and inerrant, and sufficient for all of the activities listed in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. The problem in this entry is that Rey, the target of the criticism that I will present, doesn’t believe in inerrancy, nor does he believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture. Rey cherry-picks verses as inspired and uninspired to fit with what he believes about God. This is idolatry of the highest order.

That means that this criticism will likely fall under heavy fire from Rey in the form of rejecting the verses that I use as inspired.

It is not, mind you, that Rey rejects inspiration. He rejects plenary inspiration. He doesn’t believe that all of what we possess of the Bible is inspired, but he has yet to explain his system for accepting or rejecting verses.

Read the rest of this entry

Statement of Faith II: The One True God

In The Jewish Approach to God, Rabbi Neil Gillman cited that Jews believe that God is echad, which means “one.” He spent an entire chapter discussing that concept at great length, and I will touch on a few brief points in this post.

First, there is the shema. Jewish men recite the shema daily. It is Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The word for “one” in that passage is the Hebrew word echad, which implies more than just a number. It means more than, “God is a single unit,” although it means that, too. Echad means that God is uniquely God. God is unique because he is God.

So, now my atheist readers are raising an eyebrow and saying, “Ha! You worship three Gods: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! How does that jive with ‘God is one.’ Christianity loses, atheism wins!” Well, dear atheist reader, I’m going to try to explain it to you. Wipe the drool from your lower lip and continue reading.

I have outlined in this post that there is a fundamental difference between the polytheism of Indian religions like Hinduism and the monotheism of Christianity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each echad–uniquely God–while retaining their individual identities. Some atheists assert that we are worshiping three Gods in One. We are not: we are worshiping three Persons in one God.

Nothing about “personhood” suggests that it must be unique to an individual essence or soul. One could easily make the argument that an essence or soul could have multiple persons attached to it. That is not the case with humans, God’s image-bearers. Our essence contains only one person attached to it. Not the case with God; his essence carries three Persons attached to it: Father, Son, and Spirit.

Why, if we are God’s image-bearers, then do we only have one person attached to our souls while God has three? Would it not make sense that we should have three persons attached to our soul? Well, that is actually a very good question, and tough to answer. Scripture is silent in this regard, so we must be careful when attempting to draw inferences from it. The best, and most reasonable, explanation is that God chose to attach only one person to a human soul instead of three. That is our ontology, the way that God made us, and why he didn’t make us another way is simply a mystery.

One last point bears touching on before I close the discussion of the Trinity. As Richard Dawkins put it in The God Delusion, rivers of ink (and blood) have been wasted trying to explain the Trinity and Dawkins complains that much of it remains a mystery. So I ask, “Why the double standard?” Science accepts abiogenesis as a potential theory about the origins of life, despite failing in every way to substantiate it. The origin of life remains a mystery. Yet many hold out that one day, we will substantiate abiogenesis and solve the mystery of life. Why, I ask again, are you allowed to have mysteries of science, but I am not allowed to have mysteries of faith? I am doing the same thing as you are doing with abiogenesis, but for that you label me a “fundie” or “deluded.”

In The God Delusion, Dawkins explains that a certain agnosticism is warranted when the evidence is scant. Just like atheists can remain agnostic about the origin of life and still be called reasonable, we can call the Trinity a mystery and still be reasonable.

God, though three, is really one (echad). This is one of the great mysteries of faith, and instead of filling us with skepticism it should fill us with wonder. The wonder of echad is that God is the only God (see Is 44:6).