Rereading The Language of God (& signed book giveaway!)

Jim talks about rereading The Language of God, and talks a bit about why it’s not only important to him, but also to our organization.

We are also hosting a giveaway of signed copies from Francis himself, so be sure to check the link to enter to win a copy.

Ironically, though I have the book now and I’m reading through it, I did not find out about BioLogos because of the book. I found out about it by first coming to the conclusions that much of the Bible is a fictional tale pointing towards the truth that God is our God. Which made it easier for no issue with evolution which I already believed but never tackled. As mentioned before one of the elders I studied under was a scientist and mentioned it as a potential interpretation. Just accepted it and then really dig into the textual reasons why I now believe that.

So with all of that I was listening to another podcast called, The Bible Project, and they mentioned some name that I don’t remember now because when I went to search for it Francis Collin’s name came up and I googled that and saw some of the stuff he said and then looked BioLogos up on iTunes.

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How did you come to the conclusion that much of the Bible is a fictional tale/what does that mean exactly? I think that carries some heavy connotations with it that many can find inconsistent with the idea that there can be truth found in the text of any kind.

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It’s the same as what the majority in here seem to believe. That the creation account, and even accounts like Jonah are not actually scientifically or historically accurate. That it’s some for of figurative fictional tale that points towards God.

Such as I don’t believe in a literal six day creation event. I don’t believe in a literal global flood that covered even the highest peaks in the world. I don’t believe in people living for hundreds and hundreds of years. I believe 100% in the Bible. I don’t believe that means I need to take it all literally. I believe the six days is not literal, which means it’s fictional. It’s a fictional tale with the goal of explaining that God is
Our God among many other things like setting up future patterns.

Truth does not mean literal interpretation.

" Sorry, this promotion is not available in your region" :frowning_face:

Sorry, Liam! I think it’s set to US & Canada only because of shipping.

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I think you’ll also find that most here choose their words with care here. The above thought, as you express it, seems to invite one into the fiction vs. truth contest again. I think it’s probably fair to say that many of us here think that there are parts of the biblical narrative that do employ fiction, hyperbole, vision, and other genres to guide us to Truth. That is a less threatening way to say that than “much of the Bible is a fictional tale…” which sounds dismissive of at least “much of the Bible” - even though I know you don’t mean that. But we don’t want our inaccuracy of speech to manufacture even more offense than is already felt toward these things even when accurately stated.

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I guess to me it’s just all the same. Not trying to be dismissive to your thoughts, but for me that’s just the way I explain it and it’s how I explain it even when studying the gospels out with unbelievers. To me it almost seems as if it’s some sort of game if two concepts are same but one is worried it’s opening up to this or that.

I do believe there is a lot of fiction in scripture and I do believe the Bible is a combination of fiction and nonfiction that points towards the gospel. Not just the first eleven chapters. But I believe the entire story of Jonah and Esther is fiction. To me fiction carries no negative connotation. It’s not belittling the Bible what so ever in my opinion to refer to parts of it as fiction. Same as it’s not a worry to me that it mentions books that we no longer have such as Jasher or Enoch in scripture despite the Bible mentioning it. I’m not worried about the issue such as did Jesus quote from the Septuagint, Pentateuch or Masoretic texts or how the Bible ended up coming to what it is.

But I definitely don’t see it as truth vs fiction. I see it as truth vs lies. Fiction and lie may both mean untrue in the literal sense but their nuances seem very different.
One example I used before is I never hear someone go to a library and ask where is your lie section. They say fiction. Likewise I never hear someone say my bf cheated on me and then told me a fictional story about what he was doing but instead they say he lied.

I was raised, and still carry the view that truth can be expressed in a literal or no literal sense. That the no literal since is a fictional expression which can come in many forms such as ahistorical, hyperbolic, parable, analogy, metaphor, mythological and ect…

Lies can also be expressed in a literal or non literal way.

It seems like many here agree the the Bible contains fictional elements. It would seem some just believe that how we state it has fictional claims could be problematic but that to me is coming from what a persons paradigm is. Trying to voice it’s fictional, while trying to hide the directness of that fact, to me almost seems as if people are ashamed of it. But I’m not and it’s does undermine it for me.


I would agree. No doubt we all agree that Jesus’ parables were fiction, but contained greater truth than he could convey with simple statements of fact. While we may disagree of exactly what in the OT is historically based and what is not, we should find common ground in what truths are expressed through those stories.

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After encountering this thread, I thought it was about time I read this book myself. And I now have a copy in front of me.

The book begins with Collins’ reflections on his childhood. While there is a few commonalities, the differences from myself were nevertheless considerable. With free love (no marriage or fidelity), peace marches, black panther headquarters, a commune and the familiar smell of marijuana, I was far more a child of the sixties than he was. It was also bit more leftist (father blacklisted as a communist) and with parents being two psychology majors going into teaching perhaps valuing education and intellectualism a bit more as well.

Also unlike Collins, I pretty thoroughly embraced science and existentialism from the get go. Though I do not consider that I was ever an atheist. My approach to the question of God was always a determination to figure out what this “God” stuff was all about. I suppose you could say that some of the ideas of Christianity were planted as seed rather early from reading the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis around the age of 12. That got me reading the Bible to see what I could make of it, and I liked the Sermon on the Mount. I also responded at high school age to a televangelist by desperately asking Christ into my life at age 16, though I did not follow that up by seeking any guidance and so I don’t think I was anything like a Christian for another 13-20 years (long gradual process). In those years I went through a consideration of the various pseudo-Christian groups which approached me: Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and Moonies.

Sterling scholar in science from my high school I went straight to the University of Utah physics program. Though I spent a considerable time in the math department particularly with Numerical Analysis and scientific computing. Around that time my sister attempted suicide and I think that helped more than anything to push me more solidly into the theist worldview with my equivalence between a faith in God and the existential faith that life was worth living. I was never going to swallow Christianity or anything for that matter as a whole package. My conversion to Christianity took so long because I had to consider each and every theological question separately. But I had my answer to what God was all about and it was just a matter of deciding what understanding of God best served this purpose of upholding a faith that life was worth living.

Well that is my reflections from reading the first chapter. I will post more as I continue reading.

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Interesting story. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts. My childhood was quite a bit different, growing up on a farm in a conservative small town, seeing the sixties mainly on the TV, but bringing me to a similar place.

I think the main thing you will find in my refections upon chapter 2 is that I approached and answered these question addressed rather differently than Collins did.

Isn’t the idea of God just Wish Fulfillment?
When I first encountered the philosophy of Pragmatism (the only 100% fully American philosophy) founded by Charles Sanders Pierce, I agreed completely. This should make perfect sense considering my thinking about God in my childhood reflections above. Not for me was any pretense at an objective consideration of whether God existed, but only in finding what role and benefit was there in a belief in God? What else is life about in the first place if not wish fulfillment? Trying to live your life as if your desires have no value seems totally absurd to me.

So while I was always an extremely intellectual person and also valued the objectivity of science a great deal, it never really ocurred to me to limit my thinking to objectivity alone. Our emotions and desires are as much a part of reality and life as anything else and it only seemed natural to me that I should incorporate such things into my understanding of reality. I guess this is part of what lead to my ultimate conclusion that there is an irreducibly subjective aspect to reality itself.

What about all the harm done in the name of religion?
From the reflections of my childhood, it should be clear that I was raised knowing rather well all the harm done and continuing to be done by religion in the world. But one of the things that struck me in reading the Bible was how much of it was about precisely that – all the harm done by religion in the world and warning after warning about the dangers and messed up thinking that could be found in it.

So I guess the main point is that all this harm done by religion is all in the old news category for me. And so the question that would always be a great deal more interesting to me is why then do so many people see so much value in religion? And after all, why should the failure of people to live up to their highest ideals mean that the ideals themselves are wrong? Wouldn’t it be even more hypocritical to judge religion by such standards and then turn around an make that a reason for discarding them?

Why would a loving God allow suffering in the world?
In high school AP english we read “The Stranger” by Albert Camus, and while my classmate (mostly mormon) could not relate to either the main character or the ideas of existentialism, I certainly did. I didn’t have have to struggle with the criticisms of religion as they did, and my main takeaway was how Meursault valued even the worst experiences of life.

I went on to read more of Camus: The Plague, The Myth of Sysyphus. The Plague was most focused on dialogue between a doctor and a priest over a child suffering agony while dying of the plague. So it was all about this question of how a loving God could allow such a thing. Of course I didn’t buy into the inane justifications and explainations of the priest any more than Camus did. But instead of leaping to the atheist response, perhaps conditioned by my reading of “The Stranger” it was more in the direction how such experiences could be of value despite how meaningless and abhorrent it might appear at first glance.

In the Myth of Sysyphus, I found the integrity to defy and condemn the frequent concepts of God found in religion that were unjust, unloving, arrogant, and even sadistic. This speaks more to the previous question about harm found in religion. It only reinforced my conclusion that one of the principle tasks of religion was to fight against bad religion.

But I found my ultimate answer to this question (about how a loving God could allow suffering in the world) in the theory of evolution. Evolution demonstrates that suffering is an essential part of life itself. Without suffering there would be no life at all. Life only exists as struggle against the threat of suffering and death. How ironical that we have atheists and theists leveling almost identical cricisms about these two theories of origin, each complaining how cruel and uncaring it is. It seems hilarious to me. As for evil rather than suffering the same answer applies except that it is the possibility of evil which is a necessity rather than evil itself. It is again part of the very nature of life itself (the very essence of which is free will) that we are confronted by this perverse choice to act against life itself.

How can a rational person believe in miracles?
My first instinctive reaction to this question is to ask: How can a human being who values life not believe in miracles? At first I thought Collins’ view might be at odds with my own because he talked about them as something which are (seemingly) inexplicable by the laws of nature in contrast to the “cheapening” of the word in modern parlance. But when he began to speak of probabilities, I began to have second thoughts – especially since he did insert the word “seemingly” above. It looked to me like the real question in his mind might simply be whether the improbable might ultimately have a supernatural (i.e. non-physical) cause. For me the simple fact that the laws of nature are not a causally closed (i.e. deterministic) system because of quantum physics means that having an ultimately divine cause doesn’t mean something has to be scientifically inexplicable.

Collins speaks of a healthy use of skepticism for claims of miracles. But this seems largely derived from the identification of miracles with the inexplicable. He thinks calling the blooming of a flower a miracle treads upon an understanding of plant biolgy. While for me this simply points the the highly subjective nature of miracles in the first place. I do not expect miracles to be inexplicable, unless you mean that science must ultimately resort to statistical anomalies in such an explanation. I don’t see either case as being a reason for excluding an ultimately divine cause or for not using the word “miracle.” Instead I would say this is the difference between real miracles and the magic in fantasy stories. For me the irrationality is not the idea that science cannot explain everything but the idea that God would break the laws of nature which He Himself created just to impress a bunch of ignorant savages who wouldn’t know the difference anyway.

Through my career in medicine, I have come to the same conclusion, though only recently connected it to evolution. It does make the idea of a “New Heaven and new Earth” a bit hard to imagine, as suffering seems to be an integral part of our existence. Sort of goes to final episode of “The Good Place” where heaven was made bearable only by the ability to chose to kiss it goodbye.

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So you watched that series too, huh? If so, then our family wasn’t alone in that guilty pleasure. They did touch on a lot of deep issues in interesting ways.

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Collins begins chapter 3 with a remembrance of Immanuel Kant, who saw reasons for belief in God in both the starry heavens and the Moral Law. Neither of these are among the reason I have for belief in God – quite the opposite. Not only do I find the moral law coming from the very logic of life itself but I see order and “designoid” features of the universe arising quite spontaneously from mathematical/mechanistic processes. Since I mention my reasons for belief frequently in this commentary here is a link to them.

The Big Bang
Instead of being a challenge to the theistic worldview, the demonstrable fact that the measurable physical universe had a beginning is the clearest significant “I told you so” and cause for smugness on the part of theists. To be sure atheists can choose to believe that the universe didn’t begin there but since that goes beyond what is measurable they are on level ground with theist claims for a creator, resorting to the fact that it cannot be proven that the universe actually began at that point. But science is founded on testing hypotheses and in this case the test is in favor of the theist worldview, and it is the atheists who have to scramble for justifications and alternate interpretations of the data.

But I must say that what I remember from the end of the copy of “A Brief History of Time” (or maybe it was “A Briefer History of Time”) which I read, is Hawking’s triumphant declaration that because of quantum fluctuations we now no longer need God to explain the existence of the universe.

What came before the Big Bang?
The Big Bang does not beg the question of what came before because we have every reason to believe that time came into existence at the Big Bang along with everything else. One of the things that modern physics has made perfectly clear is that the old idea of absolute time as a singular measure applying to everything is simply wrong. So it is incorrect that we have to answer the question of what came before the Big Bang, any more than we have to answer that question with regards to God, whether to ask what came before God or before God created the universe. This doesn’t require a timeless God, but only one that uses time (in making a temporal sequence of thoughts and actions) as He sees fit rather than being under the dominion of any measure of time outside of Himself.

But even if the question of what came temporally before the beginning of the universe can be dispensed with, I suppose there is still the question of what came before it in the causal sense. But since this lies outside what we can measure, I cannot see how science could ever answer such a question. It may be that many people feel that the Big Bang or the universe cries out for divine explanation, but this is a subjective feeling and not one that I share. I believe in God for quite different reasons than this.

Formation of our Solar System and Planet Earth
Considering all that had to happen in order to bring the earth into existence (the formation of the elements in stellar explosions in additions to the 5 billion years of its formation), the 13.8 billion year age of the universe does not seem like such a very long time to me at all. For that reason, life might be somewhat more rare in the universe than we might otherwise have supposed. As a demonstration of how speculative Drake’s calculation is, there is one of those numbers that we how have an answer to. What fraction of stars have planets around them? Nearly all the stars in this region of space apparently have planets. There may be other regions of the universe where heavier elements are not so abundant so we cannot say this about all stars in the universe. Regions with a lot of old red dwarfs might be an example of a place where the stars have no planets. In any case, I certainly agree with Collins that the existence of life elsewhere has no bearing on the likelihood of the existence of a creator.

Anthropic Principle
Here Collins makes an argument that the most likely explanation is that the universe was designed by a creator to support the existence of intelligent life. But at a key part of the argument He observes that we really have no way to calculate any of these probabilities and that is quite correct. The unavoidable conclusion of this observation, however, is that this argument is ultimately as subjective as seeing the shape of rabbits in the clouds. To be sure I see the same rabbit – God designing the universe to support life looks like the most reasonable explanation to me. But I will never claim that this is anything but a subjective judgement on my part… so much so that I do not give this as one of my reasons for belief. I will at most simply defend the rationality of this explanation. It is a reasonable way to think, even if we cannot reasonably expect others to accept this explanation.

Quantum Mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle
And here we come to one of the reasons I do give for belief. Collins does not say very much on this subject except to point out the collapse of the Laplace demon deterministic naturalist worldview in which the mathematical laws of nature are a perfect explanation of everything. Perhaps it because I am a physicist that the cognitive dissonance which physicists experience because of this is so much more significant to me. And thus I have given this as one of my reasons for belief, also admittedly completely subjective. But the existence of a creator who wants to continue to interact with the universe, altering the course events, does make sense of what we have found in quantum physics to me.

Cosmology and the God Hypothesis
I must begin with an objection to the phrase “God hypothesis” because it makes it sound like this is a scientific hypothesis and it is not and never will be. It fails the most basic requirements for such a thing because there is no measurements we can make to test it. As marvelously honest and objective as the scientific method is, with all of its epistemological superiority, it has some definite limits. Ideas which are unfalsifiable by physical measurements must be rejected as hypotheses in a scientific inquiry. This is my principle objection to Richard Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion.” And as a scientist he really should know better. If you treat it like a scientific hypothesis just to shoot it down with a lot of subjective reasons, then you not only indulge in pseudo-scientific rhetoric but you make yourself a hypocrite for excluding creationism from the science classroom.

So as long as we are clear that it is only an idea which we are putting forward for philosophical consideration, what are we to make of the argument Collins makes here? Well it seems rather odd to me because he argues like a determinist and a Deist. There is no need for God to predict the outcome of Earth’s development if He has a hand in that development – if as theists believe God interacts with His creation. But I suppose the main thrust of this conclusion to chapter 3 is that there is really isn’t much reason to think that Christianity is incompatible with science, which is certainly something I agree with completely.

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In chapter 4 Collins begins by saying the advances of science have cost us some traditional reasons for belief in God – that it was easier to ascribe it all to an act of God before this. But I disagree, because the only thing the discoveries of science can speak to is how God did things and not whether He did them. You can only say that the discoveries have cost us the belief in a magical God who accomplishes things by some kind of power of command. But while this worked as metaphor to the power of human rulers, it doesn’t actually make any sense when speaking of God. Who is God commanding to do all these things which He cannot do Himself? Who has the actual knowledge and understanding to accomplish these things He commands? Does He have a workshop filled with all-mighty technically knowledgeable and proficient elves? It almost sounds like the point is to glorify the skilled laborers over the fat useless monarch. Maybe that is the real reason Kepler and Galileo were so upsetting. They revealed to our subconscious just how ultimately useless the people in power really were by asking questions about what was hiding behind the curtain.

As for a geocentric universe, the only one being put in the center was not God but human beings or even the fiery depths of the Earth. God in the heavens has always been associated with the sun far far more than mother Earth. So truth be told, I think the real reason it upset people was a matter of power and authority in the hands of the magisterium. They wanted to be the ones people went to for answers even if all they could ever really say is that is all great big mystery. When the scientist started supplying some actual answers to questions, suddenly all the mystery mumbo jumbo started looking really lame.

Collins then turns to the argument from design, and I have been pretty loud in my condemnation of all such arguments. It is my claim that such arguments replace a faith in God with faith in dubious premises which tend to derail our understanding of God and reality. For example, in the proof explained, there is a huge glaring flaw. Watches are machines – wind up toys with no life, consciousness, or intelligence. The argument leads us into the distorted belief that there is no significant difference between living and non-living, between living organisms and machines, or between people and robots. Not too surprising is how well this serves the purposes of those in power who actually want people to be little more than wind-up Xtian soldiers.

Origins of Life on Earth
Scientific inquiry into the origins of life has advanced considerably since the old guard focus of Dawkins upon the self-replicating molecule. Metabolism first theories and prebiotic evolution now has the notion of a period of self-organizing chemical processes which produced such molecules. Thus instead of being the center of life itself these RNA and DNA molecules become more of a tool for storing gathered information. In fact, Collins makes the observation that these molecules don’t have any innate ability to replicate but require a rather complex support system to do so. The appeal to pangenesis only shows how unworkable had become the previous idea of self-replicating molecules being the origin of life.

The Fossil Record
Collins explains how this tells its own story of the development of life on the Earth with increasing detail. Thus the answers of the priests and scriptures incapable of dealing with more questions than the most basic ones didn’t looks so good by comparison. But not all of the priests have been so grasping of power and jealous of their assumed/imagined authority, and so there were many who welcomed this opportunity to give answers to more detailed questions about our origins.

Darwin’s Revolutionary Idea
I believe the first reaction by a priest to Darwin’s work was a very enthusiastic congratulations. So to the adjectives “immediate” and “intense” describing the controversy over “Origin of the Species,” we should also add “divided.”

DNA the Hereditary Material
Yes, this became the source of so much more information about evolution, it was almost like having a video camera in the past. Being able to understand and read this information has taken a great deal of time, but the picture has been becoming more and more clear. Collins compares it to a language without the complexities of multiple meanings and translations (no tower of Babel, he says).

Biological Truth and its Consequences
Obviously I am not one of the believers which Collins speaks of, never having seen any merit in this argument from design.

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Reading chapter 5, the first part is Collins’ story of his work on the human genome project. The conflict with the Celera owned by Venter, seeking to patent its findings and thus keep portions of the human genome from the public, was very interesting. As a note of interest. Celera was sequencing Venter’s genome while the public project was sequencing selections of a number of donors from an even larger pool of donors so that nobody would know who any of the portions of the genome actually came from.

Surprises from the First Reading of the Genome

  1. Only 1.5 percent of the genome is actually used to code for proteins. This amounts to 20,000 to 25,000 different protein coding genes. However this should not be taken to mean that the rest perform no function at all. A lot it doesn’t. But some of it, perhaps as much as another 6.7 percent must be use for controlling when the protein coding sequences are used.
  2. The number of protein coding sequences is not so different from other much simpler organisms which also use about 20,000 genes. Collins compares this to the fact that the average educated English speaker has a vocabulary of about 20,000 words. But those same words can be used in very different ways and thus the vocabulary is not the same as the what may be produced from those same words.
  3. We homo sapiens all have 99.9 percent identical DNA with each other. Most other species have 10 to 50 times the genetic diversity as this. This points to a genetic “bottleneck” of sorts in the human population of about 10,000 people who lived between 100,000 and 150,000 years ago. And this fits with the fossil record which has most of our ancestors coming out of Africa about that time – probably the largest surviving group from a change in climate to a period of glaciation.
  4. The similarities between species in the genes which code for proteins is fairly high. 99% of human coding DNA being the same as that for a mouse, and 35% the same as that for a roundworm. More of the differences between species are found in the parts between genes, only 40% being the same as a mouse and practically none the same for a roundworm.

Darwin and DNA
“We can now see that the variation he postulated is supported by naturally occurring mutations in DNA. These are estimated to occur at a rate of about one error every 100 million base pairs per generation. …we all have roughly sixty new mutations…” (I am guessing this is not counting other types of variation like crossover which mix up genes inherited) With 91.8% of our DNA unused, that averages to about 5 mutations in the parts which are actually used for anything and less than one (60x1.5% = 0.9) on average that alters the coding for one of the proteins. Thus either these are less likely to be in the coding sections or Collins is overstating how likely they are to be harmful. I suspect the first is the case. Collins then explains why evolution has become crucial in managing the treatment of diseases which can easily become immune to the drugs we treat them with.

Collins also goes into a detailed explanation of the similarities of genome between species which shows this can only be explained by common descent, in complete agreement with the rates at which mutations appear. To say that these are a product of divine design is equivalent to saying that God is mimicking evolution in order to deceive us, which is even more difficult to believe. He also does a comparison of the chromosomes and their sizes between humans and chimpanzees. The only difference appears to be that one of the human chromosomes looks like two of the chimpanzee chromosomes combined together. So not only are DNA sequences for human and chimpazee 96 percent identical but their rather arbitrary groupings into chromosomes are nearly the same, and the groupings of genes on those chromosomes are also the same. Furthermore the difference in the active genes can traced to slight alterations in the genetic sequence which makes a gene which is active in one species inactive in the other.

Collins then by way of example, tells the rather interesting story of gene FOXP2 found because of a family with severe speaking difficulties. This gene happens to be one of the unique alterations in humans from other animals including non-human primates, all of which have pretty much the same version. This seems to be one of the human adaptations which the enable the human jaw muscles capable of the more fine control needed in human speech. But Collins warns, jumping from such explanation of human capabilities by mutation to the conclusion that there is no God is unwarranted.

Evolution: Theory or a fact?
Here Collins explains as I have many times the fundamental difference of the meaning of this word “theory” in science. In science the word “theory” refers to fundamental principles and not that it is only speculation or conjecture. In the science we have a general division between experimental science and theoretical science and the difference is that the theoretical science works with the basic laws and equations by which things are explained in science while the experimental focuses on testing how these match up with measurements and observations.

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Enjoying the review and your thoughts. It has been awhile since my reading.

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Ditto to what Phil said above.

I’ll admit that I haven’t read everything above (busy week) - but of what I’ve read so far, it’s been a great trip down memory lane since it’s been a while since I had read Collins’ book. So the detailed review I’ve looked at so far has been helpful to see.

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