Category Archives: Philosophy

More on William Lane Craig’s Morality

In the comments section of my last post on this topic, it was highlighted to me by Prayson Daniel that I may not have exactly presented Craig’s case accurately. Though I feel that many of the points I made were valid against his argument, I figured I would redo my rebuttal it, and some his others in a new post quoting only his words. I shall provide links for all quotations so that you can see the context. So here goes, I shall dive in:


This is Craig’s moral argument in his words:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.

3. Therefore, God exists.

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Let us begin with premise one; “if God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist”. Lets see what he offers in support of this:

Consider first the question of objective moral values. If God does not exist, then what basis remains for the existence of objective moral values? In particular, why think that human beings would have objective moral worth? On the atheistic view human beings are just accidental byproducts of nature which have evolved relatively recently on an infinitesimal speck of dust called the planet Earth, and which are doomed to perish individually and collectively in a relatively short time. On atheism it’s hard to see any reason to think that human well-being is objectively good, anymore than insect well-being or rat well-being or hyena well-being. This is what Dr. Harris calls “The Value Problem”

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On a naturalistic view moral values are just the behavioral byproducts of biological evolution and social conditioning. Just as a troop of baboons exhibit cooperative and even self-sacrificial behavior because natural selection has determined it to be advantageous in the struggle for survival, so their primate cousins homo sapiens have evolved a sort of herd morality for precisely the same reasons. As a result of socio-biological pressures there has evolved among homo sapiens a sort of herd morality which functions well in the perpetuation of our species. But on the atheistic view there doesn’t seem to be anything that makes this morality objectively binding and true.

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I essentially agree with this point. On naturalism there is no independent, timeless, objective system of ethics that exists outside of our own consciousness. This does not mean that a rational account for morality cannot be advanced. Science has shown us that there is a neurological basis for empathy – we are literally hard-wired for compassion. Let me explain; when you observe a person drowning and crying out for help, there will be a certain set of neurons that fire to coordinate their movements and actions as the person struggles in the water. As you observe this a certain subset of those same neurons fire as though your brain were mirroring what that person were going through – hence the name of these brain cells: Mirror neurons.


During the course of our evolution, our brains grew larger and we developed a much more complex system of mirror neurons. This would provide an advantage because it allows us to imitate the actions of others, and would play a vital role in the development of tool use. It has also give our brains an intrinsic connection between our own minds and those of others. When we see someone suffering we can literally put ourselves in their shoes through the “mirroring” of their actions in our brains. Similarly when we someone overjoyed or relieved, we share this experience with them. It is in our nature to be empathetic, as neurologist V.S. Ramachandran states:


Within some of these regions [of the brain], there is a special class of nerve cells called mirror neurons. These neurons fire not only when you perform an action, but also when you watch someone else perform the same action. This sounds so simple that its huge implications are easy to miss. What these cells do is effectively allow you to empathise with the other person and “read” her intentions—figure out what she is really up to. You this by running a simulation of her using your own body image.


When you watch someone else reach for a glass of water, for example, your mirror neurons automatically simulate the same action in your (usually subconscious) imagination. Your mirror neurons will often go a step further and have you perform the action they anticipate the other person is about to take—say, to lift the water to her lips and take a drink. Thus you automatically form an assumption about her intentions and motivations—in this case, that she is thirsty and is taking steps to quench her thirst. Now, you could be wrong in this assumption—she might intend to use the water to douse a fire or to fling in the face of a boorish suitor—but usually your mirror neurons are reasonably accurate guessers of others’ intentions. As such, they are the closest thing to telepathy that nature was able to endow us with.”

The Tell-Tale Brain page 22


Thus we have good grounds to believe that it is in our nature to be empathetic and compassionate. We see a person drowning and we want to help them because we can visualise ourselves in that position. Thus, though there may not be a law of the universe that states ‘we should be good’ it is an intrinsic part of our consciousness to be kind, and that is one perfectly adequate reason to be good – its in our nature!


I am willing to grant Craig his assertion that on naturalism there is no truly objective grounding for morality, however I do think there are issues with Craig’s unstated assumption that God is the source of objective morality. I shall return to the dilemma I highlighted in my previous post on this topic. Here is the problem:


1. If something is good because God commands it then this is a subjective basis for morality

2. If God commands something because it is already good then objective moral values exist independent of God

3. Therefore God cannot be the source of objective morality and Craig’s first premise is false


Lets take an example of Biblical morality, perhaps the most obvious; “Thou shall not kill”. If this is an objective indictment then there would be no context in which killing is permissible. Yet we have another passage from the Bible (this is not an isolated instance either):

“If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him.  Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you.  You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.  And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst.”

(Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)


How can God’s commands be an objective basis for morality when in one instance he states; do not kill anyone, and in another he states; go out and kill? If killing is both okay and not okay in separate instances then it is not objectively wrong. It is determined by the subjective whims of God.


Prayson brought up the following point of contention with this in the comments to my previous post:


“[A] common reply offered in this literature is that objective moral values and duties base on God’s own nature. Plato called it The Good. Thus it cannot exist independent of God because God is The Good, they contended.

So what God commands reflects his nature. It is for that reason that he cannot command something against his nature.”


This does nothing to solve the confusion of the above dilemma. If God’s commands reflect his nature, then his nature must require that killing is both okay and not okay – his nature, according to scripture and this reasoning, is contradictory. So we still cannot arrive at the objective decision “killing is wrong” via this line of reasoning.


In conclusion, Craig’s first premise is flawed because an objective grounding morality requires that moral injunctions such as those against killing be true in all instances, yet this is contradicted by instances in scripture in which God endorses and encourages killing. Neither the divine command theory or the argument about God’s nature escapes this dilemma.


Let’s turn to premise 2: “Objective moral values and duties do exist.” And see what he offers in support of this assertion:


But the problem is that objective moral values and duties plausibly do exist. In moral experience we apprehend a realm of moral values and duties that impose themselves upon us. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. Actions like rape, cruelty, and child abuse aren’t just socially unacceptable behavior—they’re moral abominations. Some things, at least, are really wrong. Michael Ruse himself admits, “The man who says it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says 2+2=5.”2 Some things, at least, are really wrong.

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The problem of this is that he does not provide any real reason to accept that we are actually apprehending a realm of moral values and duties that are an objective reality. He merely states that there is no reason to deny it. Yet there are reasons to deny it.


As I highlighted earlier in this post there are neurological groundings for empathy and compassion – we undoubtedly experience feelings of guilt and conscience. But this does not necessarily represent a realm that objectively exists outside of our consciousness. I explained that there are good evolutionary reasons for why we feel empathy and compassion.


Other morally guiding emotions such as shame and guilt, have equally sound evolutionary explanations. A short example of this would be, we may have evolved guilt and remorse as a defence against habitually dangerous behaviour – for example; adultery – the more our ancestors committed adultery the higher the frequency of getting caught and injured or killed. The unpleasant emotions of remorse and guilt prevent us from putting our lives at risk from “pissing too many people off” as it were. Likewise, friendship, cooperation etc. are advantageous, those who cooperate can survive much more efficiently than those who are constantly fighting with each other. There are many good naturalistic explanations for our moral experience that do not require the existence of moral principles that exist beyond the functioning of our brains.


Whilst it is undoubtedly true that most normal human beings experience what can be described as a ‘moral realm’ – however there is no reason to assume that this realm exists external to our consciousness. It is a part of who we are as a species, but it does not necessitate the existence of objective moral principles that exist in anything other than the internal realm of our experience.


Despite his assertion that there is ‘no good reason’ to deny the existence of an objective moral realm – I have shown that there are good reasons to. He offers nothing else in support of his argument. What Craig really needs to do is show us why there are no good reasons to deny his assertion, until he does so, I shall consider his point refuted.


Thus his conclusion “God exists” is not shown to be true due to the flaws in both of his premises that I’ve highlighted.


I hope this provides a more accurate and in depth analysis of his argument. Feel free to discuss in the comments below.







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William Lane Craig and his nonsense ethics

Christian apologist William Lane Craig, author of Reasonable Faith (the irony of this title will soon become apparent) argues that if objective moral values exist then God must also exist. Objective moral values do exist, he asserts, therefore God exists. One might be forgiven for thinking that someone with a Ph.D. In philosophy would be able to formulate a cohesive argument in favour of his assertion that objective moral values do indeed exist. One would be mistaken however. His reasoning is as follows; “objective moral values do exist and deep down we all know it.” This is an utterly asinine philosophical argument that is almost too embarrassing to dignify with a refutation. Nonetheless I shall endeavour to persist.

His argument can, without parody, be translated thus; I have a gut feeling that something is wrong therefore it must be objectively wrong. But there are lots of things that human beings have strong aversions to; consider eating rotten meat for example. Most of us would wretch if we were presented with a platter of semi-decomposed carrion. Our strong abhorrence, or gut feeling that rancid flesh should not be consumed does not mean that it is objectively wrong to do so. There is no universal law that prohibits such an act – plenty of organisms do feed off fetid meat. Humans however, have evolved an innate sense of disgust in response to it as a defence against the potential diseases that we might contract from consuming it.

Similarly, our conscience doesn’t necessitate the existence of a universal code of ethics. It merely necessitates that we have evolved a defence against certain destructive modes of behaviour. If you imagine there are two populations; one in which the people have no qualms about murder, theft and other such detrimental behaviour, and another in which the people have a fully developed conscience that prevents them from committing such actions. It is easy to see how the first population would fail to prosper. Their socially destructive behaviour would prevent the necessary cohesion that is required to persist as a population with for any great length of time. The second population on the other hand would cooperate and trust one another with ease, their society and institutions would flourish and they would have the means to deal with the challenges that face any culture. Whilst the first population are too busy squabbling and killing each other to solve even the simple challenge of making sure everyone gets fed, the second population could gain the strength and resources necessary to form armies and conquer the first population with ease – thus eliminating them, and their destructive habits. It is clear to see why having an aversion towards certain behaviours is an advantage in evolutionary terms, without appealing to the existence of objective values.


In order to move on however, I shall be unusually generous and put all that aside. Lets assume for the moment that there is some substance to Craig’s claim that objective moral values do exist. Does it follow from this that God exists?
Craig’s reasoning is predicated upon the assumption that only God could provide the grounding for objective morality. If one subscribes to the ‘divine command theory’ – which states that an act is either good or evil depending on whether God commands it or prohibits it – then there are some problems with this assumption. If we take an act generally considered to be immoral, such as killing a child, for example. Is killing a child wrong because God prohibits it, or does God prohibit killing children because it is intrinsically wrong?

If God prohibits killing a child because it is intrinsically wrong, then it is wrong regardless of whether or not God exists – and thus objective moral values do not necessitate that God exists. If something is right simply because God commands it, and wrong simply because God prohibits it then anything can become right or wrong based upon the whim of God. Thus if God commands a person murder a child (a problem which is amplified by the fact that God does command exactly this in the Bible) then this would be the right thing to do by definition. This renders morality completely subjective, and arbitrary.

Some will respond to this problem by stating that goodness is derived from God’s nature. However this creates a very similar dilemma. Is helping a suffering individual good because it is in God’s nature, or is helping a suffering individual in God’s nature because it is already intrinsically good? The latter option again removes the necessity of God, and the former can be refuted with an example from the Bible. Consider Jeremiah 19 verse 9: “And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters”. Here God is causing people to cannibalise their own children – thus we can consider it to be in God’s nature to induce others to eat their own progeny, and as such we can conclude that doing so is good. If one protests that causing people to eat their own offspring is morally wicked then they are either appealing to a moral standard that is beyond the nature of God, or they are saying that God is capable of acting against his own nature. But if it is in God’s nature to be capable of acting against his own nature then the whole argument is rendered meaningless.

Either objective moral values do exist, but God is superfluous – which is contradictory to Craig’s argument. Or objective moral values do not exist, and morality is down to the subjective and arbitrary whims of God – which again, contradicts the original assertion that objective moral values do exist. Craig’s moral argument falls flat on its face.

William Lane Craig doesn’t stop his ethical embarrassment here by any means. In his debate with Arif Ahmed, he openly declared that: “The premise that pointless suffering exists, or gratuitous evil exists is extremely controversial. We are simply not in the position to make these kinds of inductive probability judgements”. What does he mean by this? He appears to be casting doubt on the existence of gratuitous evil, in other words, evil that is without reason, cause or justification. So, if we accept the implications of this, then we must accept that all evil and suffering exists to serve some kind of purpose. What might that purpose be? Well, God’s purpose of course, as Craig states on his website

“God may well have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. We all know cases in which we permit suffering because we have morally sufficient reasons for doing so. What Law would have to prove is that it’s improbable that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the suffering in the world. But how could he possibly prove that? God’s justifying reasons might never appear in our lifetime or locale or even in this life. Suppose, for example, that God’s purpose for human life is not happiness in this life but the knowledge of God, which is an incommensurable good. It may be the case, for all we know, that only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil would the maximum number of people freely come to know God and find eternal life.”

So, if evil exists to serve a purpose, and that purpose is God’s supreme plan – which is ultimately good (unless you want to concede that God is evil), then it follows logically that all evil is ultimately good. Such a perfect way to commit moral suicide! Although to be fair on Craig, he doesn’t assert that gratuitous evil definitely does not exist. However, his doubtful stance does completely undermine his ability to make any moral judgements whatsoever. If, for example, the torture of a small child for fun cannot definitely be said to be gratuitously evil, and that it might be a part of God’s ultimately good plan, then there is no way to say for definite whether such an act is ultimately good or evil. Thus contrary to his laughably inane assertion that we can just know that something is right or wrong, Craig’s own position actually undermines his ability to make moral judgements.


From Craig’s asinine argument from objective morality, to the absurd conclusions that follow inevitably from his scepticism over the existence of gratuitous evil, it is evident that his theological beliefs do nothing to advance any real ethical philosophy. That is not to say that William Lane Craig, is himself devoid of coherent ethics, however I think it is safe to say that they stem from somewhere other than the whims of a supernatural law-giver.


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Prayer and Free Will

The Bible declares that human beings are given free will so that we can choose to either accept or reject God (“whosoever will, may come”).


Christian doctrine decrees that God can at least sometimes answer prayers.


If a Christian were to pray that a person were to accept God, and that prayer is answered then that person’s free will is violated.


Conclusion: Prayers answered with regards to the actions/decisions of others would mean that this person’s free will is violated. This creates logical problems, and shows that free will and a God that answers prayers are not entirely compatible.


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Killing the Kalam Cosmological Argument

1.  In order for the Kalam Cosmological argument to be valid, it must deny that the universe has an eternal cause. If it does not deny this then the argument can be refuted by positing that the universe was caused by an event in a prior eternal, or timeless state. There is no evidential reason to make this assumption therefore it must be assumed as a logical impossibility.


2. In order for the Kalam Cosmological argument to be valid, it must assume that something springing into existence from nothing without cause is logically impossible. If this assumption is not made then the argument fails because it could simply be refuted by positing a universe which sprang into existence from nothing without cause.


3. In order for these assumptions to be consistent then God can neither be eternal, nor have sprung into existence from nothing without cause. If these assumptions can be invalidated in the special case of God then there is no reason why the opponent cannot claim that the assumptions are invalid for the universe.


4. The Kalam Cosmological argument is invalid if it doesn’t assume point’s 1 & 2, but it is invalid if it does assume them. Therefore it fails on it’s own terms.


Try harder next time…


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Context and Objective Morality

One of the most sickeningly annoying arguments that theists like to make is that atheists have no objective standards by which we can judge right and wrong. Of course the standard response to this is to point out the many examples of hideously immoral acts condoned in the Old Testament, examples such as this:


“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

– 1 Samuel 15:3 (KJV)


Here we have genocide and the killing of small children and babies condoned in a single verse. What is the standard response to this? Whether you’re a theist or an atheist you probably can guess what it is; ‘you have to understand the context of that verse’…


Here’s the thing; if killing babies and children is objectively wrong this means that by definition there is no context in which it can be permissible. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that the Bible gives you objective moral standards, and then when faced with the inconvenient fact that the Bible (or at least the Old Testament) depicts a psychotic genocidal God who commands suckling infants to be slaughtered, claim that one has to understand the context. If killing is objectively wrong, then there needs to be no discussion about context, killing is wrong in every context – that’s what objectively wrong means. If there is a context which needs to be understood, and which makes the event permissible then you are arguing from a subjective standard.


The contortions that theists go to when defending their bigoted genocidal maniac of a God is quite amusing to observe. All you have to do is ask a few straight forward questions and they tie themselves in knots. Is something right because God says it is right? Does that mean that eating your own children would be right if God makes you do it (Jeremiah 19:7-9)? If not then doesn’t that mean God has nothing to do with objective morality?


There is actually quite interesting philosophical discussion to be had about whether or not objective morality exists (I don’t know if it does or not), but there is one thing that is clear to all free-thinkers; the God of the Bible is a sickeningly evil demon of a God who deserves no apologies from anyone, and it only makes a mockery of any kind of moral discussion to try and advocate such a being as the source of all that is right and true.

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What Is The Meaning of Life?

“What is the meaning of life?” is probably one of the most profound questions ever to strike our collective conciousness. Even the least philosophically inclined person might ponder this riddle at some stage in their life. Some people profess that there is an absolute meaning and purpose for existence – a meaning that applies to the whole of humanity, whether they agree with it or not. Religion clearly defines an absolute purpose and meaning – that we should devote our lives to some form of God, and appease him/her/it with rituals and liturgy. Religious people will often view those, like myself, who deny what they see as the fundamental reason for existence as believing that life has no meaning whatsoever. I do not believe that life has an absolute meaning, but that does not mean to say that I do not believe life has any subjective meaning. I feel that people make their own meaning, and very often that changes throughout a lifetime.


The very fact that different people arrive at different answers to this fundamental question is proof of its subjective nature. I can see why it can be psychologically pleasing to believe in an absolute meaning of existence. I believe, however, that the truth is more important that what we might find psychologically satisfying.


Humans are a conceited bunch. We feel that we are the reason that the universe exists, despite the fact that we continually discover this not to be the case. We are not separate from the animal kingdom like we once thought, we are the cousins of all life on this planet, not the custodians. Our planet is not even special, every year we discover more and more solar systems like our own. Our star is not special, we have no privileged place in the galaxy, or the universe, we are lost amidst countless stars, and galaxies. To think that our little rock is the sole reason for everything, to me is absurd. Everything we know tells us that we are part of something grander than our forefathers could ever have guessed.


I do not find it a particularly unpleasant thought, in fact it fills me with awe and wonder.  How many other intelligent civilizations might there be? – This is the kind of question that gives me goosebumps, and there is much about the cosmos to bring about this feeling; the tremendous beauty of galaxies and nebulae – art on a scale we can scarcely imagine, the vast distances that light travels to reach our eyes, sizes beyond comprehension.


I do not feel that this lack of absolute meaning should plunge us into desperation and hopelessness. We can make our own meaning. Some might think life means religiously watching your favourite football team every weekend, or to find true love and happiness, others might think it should be spend in devotion to God – and that’s fine by me.


So, what do I think that the meaning of life is? Firstly I would say that, for me, the meaning of life has always been in a state of flux. I have never had one set meaning that I have adhered to my entire life. At different times my life took on different meanings, and it shall no doubt take on more in future. The following are some things that I feel currently provide meaning to me; giving as much meaning and happiness to other people’s lives as I can, speaking out against injustice, acquiring knowledge, spreading truth, and being happy. Then there are more personal things such as music, sunshine, singing, writing, walking, talking, reading, learning, thinking, sitting around a fire at night beneath the stars.


The most important thing to me is to have fun, and enjoy it whilst I’m here. This existence is the only one we can be sure of, I feel its too precious to waste on bended knee to a higher power, or pursing a higher course. We shouldn’t bemoan the fact that we will one day cease to exist! The fact that we exist is a wonder in itself, and there are many, many potential people who never got a chance. A life devoid of absolute meaning, is not a meaningless life.

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Can Atheists Enjoy Life?

I don’t think anyone enjoys life all the time, theists and atheists alike are all burdened with the same problems; health, mortality, loss, ageing etc. Suffering is universal, however a potential difference could be argued between a theist’s capacity to cope with suffering and that of an atheist.

I would be inclined to think, however that a theist is not necessarily equipped to deal with suffering any better than an atheist, in fact I would argue the opposite. A theist’s view point is one of eternity, that we continue beyond this life in eternal paradise, or damnation. It could be argued that this tendency towards idyllic permanence is in conflict with reality. Nothing lasts forever, and acknowledgement of this fact reduces suffering because when one is faced with loss or change one can reflect upon the impermanence of things and understand that it’s part of the way things are. Could it be that one who’s mindset is inclined towards permanence may have difficulty accepting the truth of impermanence?
I think the counter argument to this would be that theism gives one the strength to rise above worldly troubles, but I think that this is often not the case. Theists will often question their faith when faced with suffering, rather that use it to escape suffering. This adds a whole other level of suffering to the mix, not only is one suffering problems, one also has questions rising about their fundamental view of reality – which in itself can be classed as a kind of suffering. I think theists often doubt their faith in times of trouble, then this will just reinforce their faith later on when things become more settled. Problems generally sort themselves out in time, but a theist would be inclined to believe that this was God helping them out, thus reinforcing their faith. So they end up with these stories of how they were faced with really hard times and even doubted the existence of God, but later everything was okay, so God proved himself to me by directly helping deal with my suffering.

I don’t think there are many honest theists who wouldn’t admit to having occasions in which they have doubted their faith, this is a problem that atheists are never faced with. An atheist would be less inclined to doubt their fundamental views on reality when faced with suffering (I say less inclined because I am open to the plausibility that an atheist might be converted to theism when faced with suffering), they would merely understand that it is part of life, and therefore in my opinion suffer less as a result.

An imagined relationship with a omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being would be a psychologically bizarre relationship. As with most relationships they cause at times a certain degree of suffering. But nobody has an all seeing, all powerful, all knowing girlfriend. Imagine the nightmare that would be! If this girlfriend could read your thoughts, you would suffer immensely if, say you lusted after another woman, more so than you would if you did so, but managed to keep those thoughts to yourself (without acting upon them!). There would undoubtedly be a great deal of psychological torment in such a relationship. A theist would have similar problems in their relationship to God.

God wouldn’t like you thinking about other religions, or questioning his power. He doesn’t like sexual urges. And he promises eternal suffering as punishment for turning your back on him. It’s analogous to the worst kind of abusive and controlling relationship imaginable. Like a wife who can’t even think of hating her controlling and abusive husband because he can read her mind and he will torture her if she thinks anything bad about him.

I would say that theism, (at least how I have defined it here) is more of a cause for suffering than a relief. There are many psychological issues that theists would have to face because of their faith in God, this is a whole load of issues that people without faith never have to face.

An atheist would strive to find meaning and understanding in life. Understanding suffering for what it is, and knowing that the same principle that so often causes suffering, also takes it away eventually. Impermanence.

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