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James Cowles

January 08, 2014  6:28pm

@ Carlos Ramirez Trevino ... "But what causes that dispersal, transformation, or transfer of heat from the water to the ice?" What transfers the heat and evens out the temperature is the motion of the molecules of water (liquid and ice) when they bang into each other, like billiard balls. At first, the molecules of liquid water have a much higher mean velocity than the molecules of the ice. The molecules of liquid bang into the molecules of the ice, imparting motion to the ice molecules, which gradually break apart as the ice liquefies. The ice molecules absorb the impact and slow down the liquid molecules, cooling the liquid. The liquid thus heats up the ice as the ice cools down the liquid. Again, think of billiard balls banging into each other. It's all a matter of the transfer of kinetic energy among the molecules. Same thing is happening on the scale of the entire universe. Hence the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, which anti-evolution people routinely misunderstand BTW.

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Carlos Ramirez Trevino

January 08, 2014  11:46am

This is all too interesting! You also have a very effective way of explaining it. But what causes that dispersal, transformation, or transfer of heat from the water to the ice? For example, we put ice in a glass of warm water to cool it down. Isn't the ice transferring its coolness to the warm water, as opposed to the water its warmth to the cold ice? Or is that where the leveling comes in, they both disperse their heat to meet at a median, where the cold becomes warmer and the warm colder? This is, of course, all very objective and constant. I watched an episode of Criminal Minds and one investigator solves a puzzle. When asked what it means, he simply says something like, "I don't know what it means. I can tell you what it is, but I can't tell you what it means". What is it that makes us appreciate these things? How is it that we can even understand it? I guess my question is what is mind and how does it relate to the universe?

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James Cowles

January 07, 2014  6:10pm

@ Carlos Ramirez Trevino ... " ... is there too much emphasis on the role of gravity on this phenomena? Can gravity alone explain why the moon circles the earth or the earth the sun?" For LARGE masses and LARGE distances, there is no such thing as "too much emphasis on ... gravity". For LARGE masses and LARGE distances -- large enough to be of astronomical significance -- gravity basically "rules the roost". Gravity keeps stars burning their nuclear fuel by providing the force that compresses hydrogen. Gravity determines the orbits of planets and moons around their primary bodies (stars, planets). There are 4 forces in nature: strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravity. The first 3 are, by far, MUCH stronger than gravity, but their effects decrease much more rapidly with distance and are not tied to the mass of an object. Gravity is weaker, but is closely related to mass and falls of much more slowly with distance. So gravity dominates on the cosmic scale.

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James Cowles

January 07, 2014  6:05pm

@ Carlos Ramirez Trevino ... "Is Entropy sort of a leveling of heat in a particular environment (universe), where heat in objects acts like water that when poured tends to disperse to find its level? Likewise, heat will transfer from a hotter object to one that is cooler, in sort of an attempt to seek equilibrium? If so, I can begin to understand how this exchange or transfer of heat can be at its maximum capacity continually. The condition of a universe can then be in a constant state of molecular transition." Yes ... that's a pretty good colloquial description of entropy. Entropy is DISorder in a system. Boil some water in a cup. Now drop in a couple of ice cubes. That cup-and-ice system is ordered: the ice is HERE and the hot water is THERE. As time goes by, the ice melts and is distributed evenly throughout the cup. So there is DISorder: everything is mixed together ... the cold water that was in the ice and the hot water (now much cooler) that was in the cup.

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Carlos Ramirez Trevino

January 07, 2014  5:58am

One more thing. I don't know much about the formation of stars and planetary orbits, but is there too much emphasis on the role of gravity on this phenomena? Can gravity alone explain why the moon circles the earth or the earth the sun? The Bible says that God placed the planets in their orbits. How He did that is another matter. Mechanically speaking however, once gravity pulls, it continues to pull. So, is there something other than gravity that can account for the concentration of the "soup" into a solid? Is there perhaps another, yet undiscovered law of physics that can account for the concentration of dispersed particles into a solid?

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Carlos Ramirez Trevino

January 07, 2014  5:42am

James, that is really interesting. I did some reading and my lack of understanding of Entropy was obvious from my previous response to you. Is Entropy sort of a leveling of heat in a particular environment (universe), where heat in objects acts like water that when poured tends to disperse to find its level? Likewise, heat will transfer from a hotter object to one that is cooler, in sort of an attempt to seek equilibrium? If so, I can begin to understand how this exchange or transfer of heat can be at its maximum capacity continually. The condition of a universe can then be in a constant state of molecular transition. So, if two molecules occupy the same environment, and one is hotter, the hotter will release its heat energy which will in turn be absorbed by the cooler and thereby equalize or level the heat energy in that particular environment. This constant release and absorption of heat is called Entropy? But what causes that? What compels one molecule to release its heat energy to another? Wow! Isn't Gods complexity amazing! But what can we say about the fact that this apparent disorder (Entropy) is so reliable? When God established physical laws, whether affected by gravity or not, can it be said that the apparent lack of structure in Entropy is really as orderly as a structured universe? Consequently, disorder is really disorder only in so far as we don’t understand its parameters. And what defines the parameters is purpose. If something consistently behaves in a particular manner, isn’t that structure? Please understand that I am not well-versed in these things. Be patient with me. And thanks for explaining these things so clearly.

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James Cowles

January 06, 2014  11:14pm

@ Carlos Ramirez Trevino ... "Entropy I can understand. Maximum entropy is also comprehensible. But perpetual entropy is a logical contradiction. Please forgive me, but the notion seems nonsensical and meaningless." A condition of perpetual maximum entropy is theoretically possible in a universe where the laws of nature were such that Newton's gravitational constant was so small that gravity was too weak to allow for the formation of stars, planets, etc. -- in other words, STRUCTURE ... which is the opposite of entropy. Such a universe would consist of a thin, undifferentiated "soup" of, at most, hydrogen gas ... or maybe just a "soup" of subatomic particles. If there really are (perhaps infinitely) many universes, then at least a few would almost certainly fit this description of a maximum-entropy "soup" universe. The "law of large numbers" can lead to astonishing consequences!

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Carlos Ramirez Trevino

January 06, 2014  10:19pm

Well James, I think I am getting in over my head. Our play with words has been interesting, but the concept of "perpetual maximum entropy" is more than I can handle. Entropy and perpetuity are incongruous. But there is probably something there that I don't understand. Perhaps the idea of perpetual death sounds better in Russian, but it certainly doesn't make sense in English. Any system speeding at maximum velocity toward its demise has to lose velocity, energy, mass and must at some point cease to exist. Entropy I can understand. Maximum entropy is also comprehensible. But perpetual entropy is a logical contradiction. Please forgive me, but the notion seems nonsensical and meaningless. As for God, I agree. The condition is the lack of it.

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James Cowles

January 06, 2014  5:04pm

@ Carlos Ramirez Trevino ... "In the case of the God of the Bible, if as AP would suggest the conditions are right, God can be self-existent ... " But if God is truly self-existent, then -- by definition -- God's existence cannot depend on any set of "conditions". Rather, a truly self-existent God simply "exists, period", irrespective of any conditions or qualifications. "And that is why there is order, instead of disorder in the universe." But there are instances of order in the universe independent of anyone to do the "ordering". The Russian ... I'm pretty sure he is Russian ... physicist Ilya Prigogine did pioneering work in self-organizing / -ordering systems, which he called "dissipative systems", since they dissipate energy in order to evolve into ordered systems. He wrote "Order Out of Chaos" about just this tendency of some systems -- not all, but some -- to order themselves spontaneously. Besides, perpetual maximum entropy is theoretically possible in some universes.

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Carlos Ramirez Trevino

January 06, 2014  4:03pm

James, you have an interesting perspective. However, for something to be subject to something else, that something else has to be superior. In the case of the God of the Bible, if as AP would suggest the conditions are right, God can be self-existent (I'm not sure I can define that). Consequently, if for a self-existent God to exist as per AP rules, then he must have existed before anything else, since that would be when conditions would be optimal for his existence. In other words, if God came first, then God is the mind that planned and organized everything that exists outside of himself. And that is why there is order, instead of disorder in the universe. Regardless, the only plausible explanation for existence is the God of the Bible, who purposed to create a temporary existence subject to corruption, with the expectation that that existence, through his own intervention in the incarnation of Christ, would annihilate the potential and existential reality of corruption in everything. In that, God’s love, mercy, compassion, grace and justice are revealed. The great thing for us is that God isn’t just a god with a purpose; He is a personal God. So, it is one thing to talk about Him as if He were a thing in the universe and quite another to respect Him as the great Savior that He is.

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James Cowles

January 06, 2014  11:50am

"In fact, AP, taken seriously, would have to admit that their assessments suggest that God, the God of the Bible, must exist given that He is a logical possibility in a multiverse where all the right conditions exist. In other words, Jehova is not a logical impossibility in some universe which can sustain Him." But then God becomes a created / evolved being subject to physical law -- just like rocks, clouds, & trees. That is not the orthodox Christian understanding of God, Who, in that understanding, is seen as the Lawgiver Who is not bound by the Law, as the Uncreated Creator, the Unsustained Sustainer. THE FACT THAT YOUR THEOLOGY IS NOT ORTHODOX DOES *** NOT *** MAKE IT WRONG. I'm just saying that you're not playing the game called "Christianity" any more. You may be playing a game just as "good" or even better -- but not that one.

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James Cowles

January 06, 2014  11:45am

"As I understand it, and my understanding might be flawed, the conditions of the universes are such that minds must of necessity exist, given that all the logical possibilities must engage somewhere." That's an interesting possibility -- if the multi-universes theory turns out to be correct. If there are (perhaps infinitely) many UNIverses in the MULTIverse, then the probability that at least one of them -- ours! -- will evolve intelligent life because conditions in that one "local" UNIverse will permit life to exist. In fact, that is the many-universes version of AP. "I think the most significant question AP raises is, why is there order in the universe. I think the answer to that is obvious. For there to be order there has to be a mind to organize and plan it." If there are (perhaps infinitely) many universes, there may be (perhaps infinitely) many where order does NOT exist. In a MULTIverse sufficiently large, ALL possibilities will be realized SOMEwhere.

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Carlos Ramirez Trevino

January 06, 2014  10:17am

James, as you put it, who wouldn't agree? But I am not sure that was the intent of Karen, the author. It is counterintuitive to allow a child to see something with an adult that would otherwise be forbidden to him. Good point. Pleasure, by definition is always good. Would it be appropriate to consider that what is not good is abuse, what God has restricted, and pleasure that infringes on the rights of others? With respect to your statement that, " *** IF *** such observing minds exist -- then conditions have to be such as to permit organisms with such minds to evolve," I have reservations. As I understand it, and my understanding might be flawed, the conditions of the universes are such that minds must of necessity exist, given that all the logical possibilities must engage somewhere. But if that is not correct, my apologies. Please correct me. In addition, it seems to me that the existence of mind does not logically presuppose development. But what is a living organism? And how is mind defined? Is mind just a compilation of elements that react to electrical impulses? If so, are computers minds? I think the most significant question AP raises is, why is there order in the universe. I think the answer to that is obvious. For there to be order there has to be a mind to organize and plan it. I believe that is an AP argument? Genesis 1:1 says that in the beginning God organized everything. In fact, AP, taken seriously, would have to admit that their assessments suggest that God, the God of the Bible, must exist given that He is a logical possibility in a multiverse where all the right conditions exist. In other words, Jehova is not a logical impossibility in some universe which can sustain Him. Does that make sense to you or anyone else?

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James Cowles

January 06, 2014  9:09am

@ Carlos Ramirez Trevino ... "AP is making the unsupported assertion that if there is something that can be observed in the universe, then there must be a mind to observe it ... " Again you misunderstand the AP. The AP doesn't presuppose the existence of observers or minds or anything. It does say that *** IF *** there are minds to observe -- *** IF *** such observing minds exist -- then conditions have to be such as to permit organisms with such minds to evolve. But the AP does not assert that the existence of observers or anything else is necessary. I highly recommend the book "The Anthropic Cosmological Principle", by Barrow & Tipler.

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James Cowles

January 06, 2014  9:01am

@ Carlos Ramirez Trevino ... "James, I agree with you that pleasure is a legitimate and desirable emotion. What we have to define, as you indicate, are the parameters. How far do we go?" But that's going to be a question under ANY system of morality using ANY moral criteria. That is why, in my initial reply to you, I emphasized that the article seems to be suspicious of pleasure *** PER SE ***. That is, ANY kind of pleasure under ANY criterion is morally suspect. It's like a child getting into a theater to see an R-rated movie: the child is admitted only if accompanied by an adult. Similarly, the article seems to be saying that "child" of pleasure is "admitted" only if "accompanied" by some higher moral purpose. As I also said, it's pretty Reformed-church Puritanical in that regard. The guiding principle seems to be "If it ONLY gives pleasure -- however innocent -- there's probably something wrong with it". Rather joyless, that!

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Carlos Ramirez Trevino

January 06, 2014  6:42am

James, I agree with you that pleasure is a legitimate and desirable emotion. What we have to define, as you indicate, are the parameters. How far do we go? When does pleasurable engagement cross the line into disgraceful or repulsive behavior? But that is when corruption sets in. It was perfectly fine for Lucifer to be the epitome of beauty. But when his desire became an obsession and his admiration became vanity, both Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 tell us Lucifer began to deteriorate. And that was, of course, the Plan for which Christ came; He came to do away with corruption and establish eternal righteousness and perfection (Daniel 9:24). An indication of when we have crossed the line is found in Genesis 2. Adam and Eve felt shame. That is the voice of conscience we all try to silence. With respect to the assertions of AP, it seems to me as if AP is just another take on Descartes' assertion "I think, therefore I am". AP is not just making observations of facts. AP, if I can sort of understand some of it, is guessing about the origins of life, among other things. In other words, if there is something that can be thought of, then there must be a mind to think about it. Likewise, if a tree falls in the forest and it makes noise, then there must be a noise detector somewhere to hear it. But that argument is a little bit redundant. AP is not just saying that the speed of light is constant and matter has a specific consistency. AP is making the unsupported assertion that if there is something that can be observed in the universe, then there must be a mind to observe it, and therefore, mind exists. But the key is not that there is something that can be observed. The key is that if there is an observer, the observer can appreciate what is observable. If there is no observer, even if things exist, then they can’t be observed by the observer. The observable doesn’t presuppose the observer. I have never been to Antarctica. But the fact that I am not there doesn’t mean that Antarctica doesn’t exist because, neither I nor anyone else is there to observe it. I hope I have done some justice to AP with my assessment. I don’t pretend to understand AP or know much about it. But from what little I can gather, it seems to say that when all conditions are right, the right things happen. Consequently, if there is no moral authority, then there is no legitimate basis for morality. All that we have with AP is a series of interdependent events. In other words, AP cannot explain or account for morality.

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James Cowles

January 05, 2014  10:22pm

@ Carlos Ramirez Trevino ... "Although James, the Anthropic Principle is just a replacement justification for existence. If there is no God, more specifically the God of the Bible, then there is no justification for anything. Nothing, under that premise, is objective. Everything is permissible." I think your making a category mistake here. The intent of the AP is to "justify" nothing. Justification is a moral category. The AP makes assertions about the natural world to which such moral categories do not apply. What "justifies" the speed of light or the value of Newton's gravitational constant? The question itself does not make sense. Also, everything is NOT permitted under anthropic morality, because certain actions are self-defeating in the sense that, if you undertake them, human beings will not exist to discuss the matter. We don't HAVE to take care of the environment, e.g., but if we don't we will not be around to lament the fact that we did not. Existence itself limits actions.

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James Cowles

January 05, 2014  10:19pm

@ Carlos Ramirez Trevino ... "Interesting article, but I wish she had given us an example of objectivity in art. What is the standard that defines art? Can emotion and pleasure be divorced from art?I agree completely. I also agree that a paticular, discrete example -- preferably several such in different media (music, painting, sculpture, etc.) -- would have helped a lot. But I think what I object to is the presupposition that there is something wrong with pleasure per se. Not that all pleasure is morally permissible. Pleasure in torture, e.g., is not. But the article seems to be animated by a knee-jerk suspicion that merely because something is pleasurable, it is THEREFORE morally suspect. Hence the Puritanism. I even would assert the same thing about O'Connor's take on the subject. Flannery O'Connor was a brilliant woman, but she was steeped in the anal-retentive Catholicism of her day that took a similarly dim view of pleasure per se. This is the atmosphere of Calvin's Geneva.

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Carlos Ramirez Trevino

January 05, 2014  1:20pm

Although James, the Anthropic Principle is just a replacement justification for existence. If there is no God, more specifically the God of the Bible, then there is no justification for anything. Nothing, under that premise, is objective. Everything is permissible. There are no parameters, except by convention as Rousseau, Locke and others would argue. Any demented act could be, and is actually promoted by some as ingenious, artistic, laudable, exceptional and worthy of being imitated. Puke splattered on a canvas would be as acceptable as a detailed reproduction of life in oil. But the fact is that there are natural parameters that guide our aesthetic appreciation of the objects and activities around us. We seem to know intuitively what is right and wrong, beautiful and reprehensible, acceptable and repudiable. Neither Man nor Nature can be the subjects of their own creation. That is a little like the drawing that draws itself.

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Carlos Ramirez Trevino

January 05, 2014  12:48pm

Interesting article, but I wish she had given us an example of objectivity in art. What is the standard that defines art? Can emotion and pleasure be divorced from art? Isn't art intended to evoke feelings of delight, admiration, and awe? Would Michelangelo's God reaching out to man have any meaning or significance if it weren't for the subjective, emotionally charged association it conveys between a lost humanity and a compassionate God? What is art? Is it straight lines? Curved? Colors? Shapes? Or is art the relationship between the observed and the perceived? Everything, it seems, is related to something else. What are the points of reference for art and beauty? Unquestionably, a fallen world finds the creature more attractive than the Creator. Is it then surprising that form should be more important than content? A man appreciates a woman because of her curves and the pleasure he associates with it. A woman seems to focus on other aspects, such as personality, functionality, practicality, and security. But is there also an indispensable element of emotional satisfaction present? What are the objective qualities of beauty? Shouldn’t Art be imbued with feeling for it to be art? Finally, what is the role of experience in our perception of beauty and art?

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James Cowles

January 03, 2014  6:31pm

The Anthropic Principle says that certain objective physical parameters have to obtain in order for the universe to harbor life that can evolve the intelligence to ... formulate the Anthropic Principle. E.g., in a universe where Newton's gravitational constant was such that stars burned out in only 10K yrs would not have life. So no one would be around to talk about the Principle ... or anything else. I'm saying analogous statements hold for morality: we can act in certain ways that make human society, and therefore ethical discourse, impossible. Hence the parallel with the Anthropic Principle. It's not a matter OUGHT but of WANT: do we WANT to be around to discuss these issues? If we do, then we are constrained to treat each other a certain way. No God does not mean ANY & ALL modes of conduct are permitted.

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James Cowles

January 03, 2014  6:18pm

Yeah ... That's an almost universal misconception that religious believers have about atheists & secular humanists -- I am both -- the idea that we are not receptive to the experience of "the holy". If "holy" is connected with a god, then I am not. But there are other, non-god-centric, senses of "holy". I'm thinking in particular of that quote from Einstein. It's too long to quote here, but it's easy to find by googling his essay that contains it: "The World As I See It". Ethically, I subscribe to what I term "anthropic ethics", modeled on the Anthropic Principle. There are certain principles that HAVE to be presupposed in the sense that, if we do NOT presuppose them, then human society never "gets off the ground", or dies off immediately, in which case we would not be around to talk about it, things like mutual respect, human dignity, etc. We are free to deny these values & practices, but if we do deny them, humans will not survive because we'll revert to extinction.

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James Cowles

January 03, 2014  10:13am

The problem with pornography is not pleasure-for-the-"mere"-sake-of-pleasure (the "mere" speaks volumes, BTW!), but that pornography rips the veil of mystery off of something that is and should remain personal and mysterious and puts it on display like rutabagas in a pile at the supermarket. That is why graphic violence or bloody accident scenes are pornographic. That is why videos of people jumping from the WTC on 9/11 are pornographic. First Amendment notwithstanding, some things simply SHOULD not be shown, sheer legalities being as they may. Besides, what "objective" qualities does Picasso's "Guernica" and a Stan Getz tenor-sax riff have in common that render them both "objectively" beautiful? That said, there probably are certain qualities in art that our brains are hard-wired to find "beautiful" in common. But that is a statement of "is", not of "ought".

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James Cowles

January 03, 2014  10:10am

@ Todd K ... "But I honestly have no idea what 'objective' beauty would be. Would such a thing be an empirical 'beauty' that is perceptible to all observers, independent of individual thought? If so, I'm not convinced such a thing exists." Neither am I. That is not to say that all art & all expressions of beauty are equally meaningful or profound -- two other terms that are also problematical, from an "objective" standpoint. It is only to say that pleasure for the sake of pleasure, regardless of additional significance or profundity, is a valid objective of the creation of art. I read a Stephen King novel. It's fun. Not Tolstoy or Faulkner. But fun. Is that "pornographic"? The idea that all art MUST aim at something "higher" or "more spiritual" than mere pleasure or good-feeling is suspiciously Puritan in H. L. Mencken's sense of being preoccupied with the idea that "sometime, somewhere, someone was happy".

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Terry Miller

December 31, 2013  5:25pm

Thank you Karen Prior. I like how you think and write. Keep doing both !

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LAURA C STEEL

December 31, 2013  7:26am

CS. Lewis also addressed this in "The Abolition of Man". It's part of the 20th century's wholesale rejection of objective "right" and wrong".

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Matthew Haller

December 30, 2013  7:15pm

Nice post, I agree. We could use some more caution in ascribing value to things based on how they make us *feel*.

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Laura McAlister

December 30, 2013  7:01pm

Fantastic article! This is probably my favourite article on Her.meneutics all year. But I think the point that really blew my mind was how abandoning objective beauty paved the way for abandoning any notion of objective truth or goodness. As I said, loved it... hopefully in a non-sentimental way though!

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Jack Heller

December 30, 2013  10:03am

If I may, I recently applied the same O'Connor essay, indeed the same passages, to the kerfluffle over Duck Dynasty: http://jackheller.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/oconnor-knows-the-robertsons-sor t-of/

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Ellen Mandeville

December 30, 2013  9:26am

Great article, Karen! Now I know why I'm fed up with most romance books.

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