How My Readers Have Changed My Mind

by Luke Muehlhauser on June 22, 2009 in News

constructive_criticism

Readers: I value your criticism so much that I want to give evidence that your criticism makes a difference here.

One major correction came when cartesian lambasted me for misrepresenting Plantinga’s views, suggesting that I should actually read Plantinga’s work instead of just reading summaries of his views written by skeptics. I saw this as a moral failing on my part, so I corrected my post and wrote a new post which apologized for my failure and praised cartesian’s criticism.

Other times, readers have literally changed my mind about something substantial. Most notable was my first interview with Alonzo Fyfe, which – along with his book, which I purchased 5 minutes after the interview ended – led to my conversion from moral anti-realism to moral realism. Talk about a worldview shift!

Another paradigm shift occurred in the comments of my post Common Atheist Mistakes. I had originally written that just as religion is partly responsible for the Crusades and 9/11 and other evils, so too is atheism partly responsible for the anti-theistic genocides of Stalin and Pol Pot, and it is unfair of atheists to blame religion for 9/11 while denying the influence of atheism on Pol Pot’s genocide of theists. Several readers, especially toweltowel, helped me to realize that neither theism nor atheism can contribute to violence, since there is nothing inherently violent about either position. Instead, certain specific worldviews can contribute to violence, for example those which venerate scriptures that advocate violence against unbelievers (Christianity and Islam, for example). I originally argued against toweltowel’s position, but now I am persuaded by it, and I changed my original post.

Some more examples of successful correction:

  1. In Top 20 Evil Bible Stories, I listed “God kills a man for not impregnating his brother’s wife.” Reginald commented that it would be fairer to say “widow,” since the brother was dead at the time. So I changed it to “widow.”
  2. On Ugly Stuff Craig Has Said, I wrote that William Lane Craig claims that atheist lives are meaningless, despite the obvious fact that many atheists find a great deal of meaning in their life. Kevin commented that this isn’t quite what Craig meant – he only meant that on atheism, life lacks ‘objective’ meaning, which is perhaps false but not ugly. So I removed that item from the list of ugly things Craig has said.
  3. On my post about the Christian philosophers’ petition against gays, Victor Reppert commented to explain why he signed the petition without necessarily thinking gays are evil. I then added a summary of his comments to the end of my post.
  4. On a post about words and abstract objects, cartesian commented to correct my representation of Plato’s idea of the Forms. I fixed my post.
  5. I ended up apologizing for my Sexy Scientists post.

Why I like criticism

I do not see many bloggers who react to criticism as positively like I do. I certainly do not see many who literally invite it. An obvious question might be: “Why do you like criticism?”

I like criticism because I have been very deluded and ignorant before, and I want to be less wrong in the future. I like criticism because it sharpens my critical thinking skills. I like criticism because it opens my mind, flexes my mind, challenges my mind. I like criticism because it is often productive – and when it is not productive, I can easily discard it with no harm done.

My question is, “Why do other people not like criticism?”

Perhaps it has something to do with ego. Maybe people feel their value is threatened when they are wrong or ignorant about something, and they want to protect themselves. I can understand that, but my brain doesn’t work that way anymore. I consciously chose to train it such that my ego was not threatened by attacks on my thinking.

And maybe people don’t like criticism because it lessens their influence. People who appear to be always right can have lots of influence. Herds follow a fearless leader, not a self-questioning and open-to-criticism leader. Politicians never get anywhere by highlighting their intellectual defects.

Maybe people don’t like criticism because much of it, especially online, is useless name-calling that wastes time. I think it’s pretty easy to ignore worthless criticism. My eyes recognize it in a split second and I can skip to the next comment. But also, I don’t get much of that here because my readers are pretty great.

Why I like praise

But let’s face it: I also like praise. Along with most bloggers, I get relatively little of it because people usually only comment if they disagree. Readers, I ask you: Please comment when you like something. If you don’t leave positive comments, then I don’t know what is reaching people and what is not. Also, leaving praise will help bring you more of the stuff you like, as it will motivate me to write more posts like that in the future.

The value of readers

Readers, I doubt you understand how much I value you. I do write because I want to influence people, but I also write because I want to learn. You are my sounding board, and I want you to show me why I’m wrong about some things. I want you to change my mind. Thanks, and keep up the good work. We are all trying to peacefully talk our way toward a better world, one baby step at a time.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Marco June 22, 2009 at 1:59 pm

It’s kinda hard to place compliments sometimes, cause the comments are usually limited to the subject matter.
Here’s a great chance though!
Honestly I think your blog is awesome, and with having seen countless atheïst, theïst, whateverist blogs, I’d say that counts for something. 
It’s the honesty that I like most, and your thorough analysis of a lot of stuff. 
Your posts on ethics and S&GWG are great. I hope you don’t mind that I copy these into a Word-file ;-)

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lukeprog June 22, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Marco,

I’m pleased to hear you copy my posts into a Word file. They are worth reading together, if you have the stamina for it. But they are broken into tiny blog posts because it is easier for many people to consume them that way (myself included!). Thanks for your comment.

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drj June 22, 2009 at 5:14 pm

I’ll send some praise too…  this has become one of my favorite blogs, precisely because of the tone that lukeprog sets for it.  I’ve only made one post in the comments here… but I lurk.  The level of discourse is a bit above me yet… I’ve lots of reading to do:)
I enjoy the exchanges between the theists and atheists here… seems to be a cut above most other forums/blogs… all seem to be able to defend their positions admirably here.. and the conversations maintain a level of quality that is rare on the interwebs.

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Kip June 22, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Keep up the great work, Luke!

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Dan June 22, 2009 at 5:51 pm

You are the most balanced blogger I have ever read on this subject, on EITHER side of the debate.  Thank you for your work.

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Sabio June 22, 2009 at 6:45 pm

I stopped commenting after I never heard replies from you.  I asked about what software you use to map arguments.  Did I miss your reply.

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Scooter June 22, 2009 at 7:07 pm

Hey Luke,

I’m not a good enough philosopher to partake in the discussions yet, but I wanted to say great job on the site.  We are the same age and have similar backgrounds, and I gotta say it’s really nice to see someone who’s not just some polemic hothead.  These discussions go deep down the rabbit hole, and I admire that you want to get to the bottom of things.

Alright, enough praise.  Here’s where I tell you how I disagree with the whole desire utilitarianism construct for morality, but…dammit I can’t think of any good counterarguments!  I’ll leave it up to Cartesian.

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lukeprog June 22, 2009 at 8:06 pm

Sabio,

Can’t remember if I replied to that. I’m going to do a post in the near future on what software I use.

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Sabio June 23, 2009 at 3:09 am

I look forward to your software post.  I LOVE your posts and keep you in my “Atheist Must Read” file.  Thanks.

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Taranu June 23, 2009 at 4:20 am

I have learned a lot from this blog. Both from your posts as well as from your critics. I also find the  sources you cite very useful. Because of this I can say that I now have a better understanding of Atheism and Christian theology than ever before, but I also recognise that I still have a lot more to learn. So keep up the good work and thanks for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us.

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Reginald Selkirk June 23, 2009 at 10:07 am

I suggest you make a slight change to the formatting. I would like the title of the post to be a URL (which it is), and followed immediately by your name and the date. That way, if I want to write about it elsewhere, I can just cut & paste that and a sentence or paragraph to give an idea, and anyone interested can follow the link to get the full post. See any of the Scienceblogs blogs, such as Pharyngula, for an example of what I am talking about.
 

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Jeff H June 23, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Well aren’t we all just getting emotional here *sniff* Haha I’ve gotta agree with the above people, this site is definitely on my list of blogs I visit regularly (typically daily). I think that the tone you set of open criticism and honesty really shows in the posts you do. You’re not out to condemn religion just because you had some bad experience as a child, and you’re open to criticizing atheism/atheists when warranted. That tone is what kept me coming back.
 
And while I’m at it with the compliments, I’ll just mention that I recently started listening to your podcasts, and they’re well done! I have only listened to a few so far, but I especially liked the interviews of Gregory Dawes (it brought up some very interesting questions for me) and of Michael Licona (it made me appreciate more that he seems to honestly struggle and seek the truth, rather than just want something to affirm what he already believes). I know it’s likely a lot of work to track down these people, get them to agree to an interview, and come up with good questions to ask them, but keep it up, because it’s well worth the effort!

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lukeprog June 23, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Thanks, Jeff!

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matt h October 9, 2009 at 5:12 am

This is pretty much the only blog i read. No joke.

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lukeprog October 9, 2009 at 7:03 am

I’m honored!

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Angelo December 18, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Glad you changed your mind about theism/atheism causing violence. It always bothered me when people used that as an argument. Not only is it specious, but it teaches people not to take full responsibility for their own actions.

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JuliantheApostate January 10, 2010 at 6:27 pm

I’ve only just stumbled on philosophy two years ago and came across this website just recently. From what I’ve seen and read, it’s really magnificent. Not only are you presenting these very eloquent and fascinating arguments, but you openly invite and seriously regard criticism. This truly is an amazing atmosphere for open and civil discussion, which is- in my own humble opinion- the best way for us to advance as a society as well as individuals.

I’ve been meaning to start a blog and a series of essays of my own and now I see myself putting that project aside. There’s just so much I still haven’t even contemplated. I’ve been humbled beyond fathom!

Forums like these are what inspired me to change my major to philosophy. It’s fascinating beyond compare, and discovering stores of intellectual information like this me is just oh-so-exciting!

There is one comment I’d like to add and submit to your point-of-view and criticism, about what fellow atheists are arguing. There’s one where they argue that countries like Switzerland, I believe, (It’s been a while since I looked at this census, and I can’t seem to find it) have a lower rate of abortion, teen pregnancy, crime, etc. when compared to the more religious countries along with a larger atheist population- which in this case was 80% secular, if I remember correctly. They argue that because of this, atheism would be a better alternative or lifestyle or that it says something about the religious life. While this might be a compelling argument that societies can, in fact, function without God, it doesn’t add anything else to the discussion. Correlation does not imply causation and the higher secular population might very well be a symptom of a society or civilization that has advanced further or- forgive my expression- matured past the need of the supernatural, or at least they’ve come to realize the virtue of good for its own sake and not divine commandment.

That’s my own penny in the jar, as the locals say and I’d love to hear your input on my input. (On a side note, I like how quirky that sounded, which is why I didn’t edit it.) I share your views on criticism, and this applies to the language and phrasing as well as the argument. English, while being the dominant one, is only a recently developed second language and I seek to improve upon it as much as my philosophy.

In any case, ENOUGH OF THIS!
I will cease writing and begin reading!
There’s so much to learn, and only… 50 years or so to learn it all!

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lukeprog January 10, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Julian,

Thanks for the kind words.

I wrote about atheistic societies here, and specifically mentioned that while these data debunk any theistic notion that societies without God crumble into chaos and immorality, it certainly does not imply that atheism causes societal health. In fact, I argued the opposite in What Causes Atheism?

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 18, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Luke,

1. As I am very sure you know, The ONLY Thing ALL Atheists have in Common is a Lack of Belief in one, or more gods!

2. Open-mindedness is not selective. A person is either open minded on ALL Subjects OR they are NOT “open-minded” at all.

And ALL subjects Luke, include the Iraq War!

Open Mindedness includes accepting the OVER WHELEMING amount of PROOF it is BOTH a Fully Justified War and a VERY Necessary part of Our World Wide War On the Moslem Terrorists who have been KILLING Americans and our friends for over Thirty Years!

Neil

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lukeprog January 18, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Neil,

I am open-minded about the Iraq War. I just disagree with you.

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 18, 2010 at 11:49 pm

LUKE, YOU FUNNY!

Open Minded people DO NOT deny facts which prove them wrong!

YOU are as Open-Minded on the Iraq war as are the Fundamentalist Christians who insist Homosexuals are not born, we do not need all the great things which Stem Cells can provide, Abortion is always wrong and Evolution is not a fact!

These Christians REFUSE to LEARN and/or DENY ANY and ALL Facts which PROVE they are WRONG.

And Sadly, SO DO YOU!

I DARE YOU TO DISPROVE ONE OF THE FOLLOWING, MUCH LESS ALL OF THEM!

And Luke, these are NOT MY facts as I do not OWN Facts, Facts have NO owners, they JUST ARE! They are the SAME for any and every RATIONAL person.

Here are a FEW of many FACTS which prove Saddam’s links to various terrorist groups including bin Laden’s and to the danger he was to the region, to the World and to the USA.

1. While WMD was the reason given the most press for the war, those of us who actually paid attention know WMD were ONLY ONE of EIGHT (8) reasons used by the U.S. Congress to authorize the use of force to remove Saddam’s regime from power. (And anyone who thinks the UN should have taken care of it are naive fools as the UN had 12 years to solve the probem.)

And in spite of what the totally ignorant claim, there were WMD found in Iraq!! There were drums of both Saran and Mustard gas. Some of this gas was used against US and Allied Forces

Then there was FIVE HUNDRED METRIC TONS (500) “Yellow Cake” Uranium!

It IS one of there most important parts of an ATOMIC BOMB! (It is now in Canada generating electricty)

Saddam also kept the facilities, the people and the materials ready to start up new WMD programs as soon as the UN & US pressure was off of him.

The Israeli Mossad, former high ranking Iraqi officials & the UN all reported WMD were moved to three known locations in Syria just before, and during the first part of the war. (And they were Moved by both the Iraqi military and by Russian Special Forces units.)

This certainly prove the main reason given by the Clueless Clods of the Loony Left for being against the war is total crap! ANYONE WHO SAYS THERE WERE NO WMD IS A LYING BAG OF BS! (or just and IDIOT!)

There is more than ample proof Saddam provided safe haven to terrorists who had killed Americans. Saddam also paid the families of suicide bombers $25,000 so they would more support one of their loved ones killing them- selves and Israeli men, women, children and even babies.

After we entered Afghanistan & started taking out the Taliban / Al Quada forces Saddam’s regime provided medical care, Rest and Recuperation, training, arms, food and intelligence to them.

2. Saddam had ALREADY invaded and occupied three of his neighbors. (Kuwait, Iran & Saudi Arabia) he had fired missiles on Israel. Anyone who thinks he was not a threat to the world is an IDIOT!

3. For years, Saddam gave “Safe Haven” which included housing, food, money and intelligence to terrorists who were fully responsible for the deaths of Americans as well as other terrorists wanted by governments friendly to the US.

4. There ARE links between he Iraqi Intelligence Services and the FIRST World Trade Towers attack as well as an attempt on a former US Presidents life

5. EIGHT Months BEFORE we began to liberate the Iraqi people, a July 2002, a BBC article reports both Taliban and Al Quada fighters were operating in an area of North Eastern Iraq referred to by the locals as “Iraq’s Tora Bora”

And they had been operating there for months before the article was written much less before our war to liberate the Iraqi people ever started.

Within a very few days of our beginning to liberate Iraq, on live TV, I saw U.S. paratroopers of 173 Airborne fighting these Taliban/Al Quada units there during a TV special I watched.

6. A 2002 article in one of Saddam’s son’s newspaper, stated the name of the Iraqi minister who was Saddam’s official contact for dealing with bin Laden and Al Quada.

7. There IS PROOF of MANY LINKS between Saddam and bin Laden going back to at least 1990!

Proof which the VAST MAJORITY of RATIONAL, INFORMED, INTELLIGENT and LOGICAL people would accept as TRUE. ALL they need to do is OPEN their minds and examine enough of the evidence.

8. There is ample proof Saddam’s regime trained, armed, funded, provided funds and intelligence to both individual terrorists and to terrorist groups from all around the world.

For at least eight years, they trained, armed and funded members of a Filipino Terrorist group who are still blowing things up and/or killing many innocent people. (Including Americans.) This group is operating there and still killing innocents.

9. Aside from Saddam torturing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi’s and murdering some 30,000 more of them per year, every year he was in power,

10. Saddam made it abundantly clear he would use any means possible to infict pain and death on America & Americans!

11. Saddam had a special prison for children age twelve (12) and under. Little kids who were held, starved, beaten, raped, tortured & murdered. One girl was only 2 years old when she was tortured!

Just the existence of this prison, all by
itself, is reason enough for me, and any other caring, compassionate and a moral person to have gone to war to remove Saddam’s regime from power.

Therefore all those against closing this prison, which took the Iraq “war” to do, just can NOT be a caring, compassionate, kind, fair or moral person!

ALL the above are ONLY SOME of the FACTS which PROVE the Iraq War was both Fully Justified and an Necessary Part of our World Wide War on the Moslem Terrorists who have both Declared War on us and who have been killing Americans and our Friends for at least THIRTY (30) years!

When people are so close minded to as not even examine the evidence with an open mind, it is certainly no wonder they never learn. They are but troglodytes wallowing in their deep dark caves of ignorance while falsely believing they actually have a clue, when in reality, they have none.

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lukeprog January 19, 2010 at 1:09 am

Neil,

I won’t play this game much, but…

1. You apparently think the invasion of Iraq was warranted because Iraq had some components of WMD? How many thousands of nuclear weapons does the USA have? Does that mean other nations are warranted to invade the USA?

2. How many countries has the USA invaded???

3. We did the same for several Latin American terrorists.

4. How many government officials has the USA assassinated in Latin America?

5. How many terrorists has the USA trained?

… I could go on but arguing with you is like arguing with a brick wall.

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 19, 2010 at 10:14 am

Luke

1. Arguing with me is NOT like arguing with a brick wall IF you have the FACTS to Back You Up and you STICK TO THE SUBJECT.

WHICH YOU DO NOT!

2. You are always talking about how logical you are. Yet over and over again you demonstrate your ability to use logic IN ALL Areas is exceptionally POOR!

As your comments on this PROVE!

3. YOU NEED to read a book entitled,

“The Art of Making Sense, A Guide to Logical Thinking” by Professor L. Ruby

4. This IS about IF the Iraq War is BOTH Fully Justified and a very Necessary Part of our World Wide War On Terrorists who have been Killing Americans & our Friends for OVER Thirty Years or NOT.

It IS About IF Iraq under Saddam was a threat or not. (And anyone who says he was not is too stupid to be permitted to breed as there are more than enough RETARDS in the gene pool already.)

5. It is NOT about how many Atomic Bombs and/or any other WMD the United States has. The United States is NOT going to either sell, or give them to Terrorists!

(And anyone who even thinks we are is a RETARD!)

I AM AMAZED YOU ARE REALLY SO TOTALLY CLUELESS YOU DO NOT KNOW THE DIFFERENCE between our having WMD and Saddam having them!

(The word “RETARD” comes to mind)

6. This is NOT about the number of counties we have “invaded” IF you Luke, actually had even a modicum of world knowledge, you would know when countries are REALLY invaded, they are NOT returned to the people who live in the country.

NAME A COUNTRY WE HAVE INVADED IN THE LAST 100 years which was NOT
returned to the people living there!

IF YOUR INTEGRITY was worth a SHIT you would GO to the Country and ASK the people Living there IF they were GLAD we did what we did or not.

If you did, you’d find the MAJORITY of the people Living there ARE DAMN GLAD
we “invaded” their countries and returned
them to Democratic Rule.

GO TO PANAMA AND ASK THEM

GO TO GRANADA AND ASK THEM

GO TO HAITI AND ASK THEM

GO TO JAPAN AND ASK THEM

GO TO GERMANY AND ASK THEM

GO TO SOUTH KOREA AND ASK THEM

GO TO IRAQ AND ASK THEM

The Vietnam War was like the Koran War
in that it was to demonstrate to the USSR et al, we AND OTHER countries were NOT going to become SLAVES to the Communists.

YOU ever lived under the Communists Luke? OF course not and YOU HAVE NO Clue about that era as you were NOT Born!

7. YOU ARE FAR TOO UNINFORMED!

YOU CHILD are far TOO YOUNG to have watched the TV interviews of the people living in Granada, Panama and Haiti AS I HAVE to have a clue!

8. USING your Clueless method of logic, the Armed US Air Force, Navy. Army arid Marine personnel in Haiti NOW are “invading” them!

What we are doing the SAME thing we have done before, with the only major difference being is we are helping them recover from a natural disaster rather than from a man made one.

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lukeprog January 19, 2010 at 10:22 am

You are too much, Neil. You hurl insults and claim I am uninformed but you do not respond to the substance of what I said at all.

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 19, 2010 at 11:38 am

DUH

AGAIN, what you said had NOTHING TO DO WITH THE IRAQ WAR! SEPERATE ISSUES

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Neil C. Reinhardt January 19, 2010 at 1:17 pm

And MAYBE LUKE

IF you actully paid attention, I would quit pointng out your errors.

HELLO??? KNOCK KNOCK, ANYONE HOME?

I DID ANSWER SOME OF YOUR ISSUES EVEN THOUGH they had NOTHING to do with the Iraq War being justified or not!

SO GO LOOK IN THE MIRROR!

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Rhys Wilkins March 4, 2010 at 3:34 am

Neil C. Reinhardt,

You are one intense individual.

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Neil C. Reinhardt March 4, 2010 at 9:55 am

I am one informed, logical, rational, intelligent person who damn well knows the facts.

Luke. has provided NO FACTS, NOT ONE, to DISPROVE ONE THING I have said.

His mind is made up and things like facts have NO effect on him. JUST LIKE CHRITSTIANS on many subjects.

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Keith August 4, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Luke,

You have an awesome website. Most level headed out there. I’m still laughing at Neil above (although I agree(d) with the Iraq war) with his caps and all. I am a teacher (science: Chemistry and Physics) who recently, with my wife, became an atheist (former young earth fundamentalist). As such, I have a lot of time during the summer to read and research. It’s really fun!

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lukeprog August 4, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Thanks, Keith. I’m very glad you and your wife had the same progression!

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graham veale October 11, 2010 at 1:08 pm

You know, I may not agree with many of your arguments or posts…
but I really like this blog!

Keep the conversation going, Luke!

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lukeprog October 11, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Thanks.

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