God Is [not] Great

This started out as a book review, but morphed into a full-scale rebuttal, not of every false claim by Hitchens (because he is somewhat repetitious), but certainly of a lot of them. Hitchens has 19 chapters:

Hitchens chapter: 1  2 3  4 5  6 7 8 9  10 11  12 13 14 15  16 17  18 19 My conclusion

The third chapter "A Short Digression on the Pig" ridicules the Jewish and Muslim prohibition on eating pork, but his facts are muddled -- are we surprised? -- and it deserves no special comment from me.

Hitchens seems to be running out of relevant things to say. The last third of his chapter "A Note on Health" is devoted to eschatology, which has nothing at all to do with health, not even (as he apparantly supposes) mental health. If there is a God (and there is), then God has the right and ability to tell us about what happens in the future, both ours and the whole earth (and he does so tell us), so it is not unhelathy to contemplate what we have been reliably told about so portentious a topic. If Hitchens chooses to put his head in the sand and ignore it, that does not make religion poisonous, nor the people who properly consider such topics -- even if in error, although it's not -- mentally unbalanced. Those conclusions could only be drawn if we all knew beyond a shadow of doubt that there is no god and no afterlife. But we only have Hitchens' word for that. Given so many of his verifiable facts are wrong, why should we believe what he cannot know?

P.45  On actual health issues, he devotes a lot of ink to ridiculing various religious and not-so-religious responses to AIDS. It is important to keep in mind that a large part of atheists' objection to Christianity is the erroneous supposition that our restrictions on sexual behavior are misguided. AIDS is a part of that. Condoms have a known failure rate around 15% when consistently used correctly. Hitchens tries to ridicule the Christians who point that out. He's simply wrong.

P.49  Hitchens criticizes the Bush administration on his handling of AIDS in Africa, nevermind that Bush actually did more for Africa than any other President, before or since. My brother-in-law spends a lot of time in Africa working with African people; he has reason to know this. The American media cannot be trusted to tell the truth about a President they hate so much.

P.52  It's not clear to me how Hitchens considers it a matter of health, but in the middle of a 3-page diatribe against people of faith teaching their faith to their children and encouraging them to live it, he offers the concession that they should only be allowed to teach and practice it on other adults, he adds "By all means let anyone who believes in creationism instruct his [adult] fellows during lunch breaks. But the conscription of the unprotected child for these purposes is something that even the most dedicated secularist can safely describe as a sin." Of course the dedicated religionists can safely describe the reverse conscription, forcing on the unprotected children delusional notions of meaningless randomness and urging them into patently unsafe sexual practices, even more a sin. Hitchens wants to coerce your children into his religion, and he doesn't want you to even teach your own children the truth about the Creator God. And somehow this is supposed to be more healthy for them. The "most dedicated secularist" (atheist) might agree, but they deny us freedoms they themselves want. I have a problem with that. Fortunately there are more of us than there are atheists, and while they exercise a disproportionate control over the government, God is bigger than they are. I read the last chapter of the Book: we win.

Hitchens ends his section on actual health issues with "three provisional conclusions" based solidly on wish-thinking (his term, in a different context). First he repeats his claim that "religion and the churches are manufactured." Of course they are. So is his book and his religion. Some religions are manufactured by God; his is manufactured by people. "The second is that ethics and morality are quite independent of faith, and cannot be derived from it." On the surface this is utter nonsense, because your religion (in the broader definition, which includes Hitchens' own atheism) defines for you why you should do or not do things. But there is some truth to his claim, at least in the case of atheists like Hitchens and most other people who have not taken the time to think through their ethics. He and they do good because that's what Momma told them to do, quite independent of why they should do it. Thinking, rational atheists are (as Vox Day points out) either sociopaths or suicides; we are certainly happy that most atheists (Hitchens included) are irrational. "The third is that religion is not just amoral but immoral." That's especially true of Hitchens' own religion, for pretty much the same reason, namely that he "claims a special divine exemption for its practices and beliefs," but in his case that his religion has no god but Hitchens himself, and who could disapprove of giving oneself such a special exemption from criticism? Of course he doesn't say all that in so many words, but it's there.

P.53  In the section I can only suppose Hitchens intended to ridicule the mental health aspects of religion, he comments on how "the taboo on incest... is usually found to be abhorrent to humans without any further explanation." I don't think so. I think it gets pounded into their little psyche at an early age before they can understand or follow why it should be so, like the rest of ethics and morality. I come to this conclusion based on introspection, because I was not subject to the edu-factories at that critical time in my life, although I personally do not condone incest because of the teachings of my religion (and not for any other reason). But then almost everything I condone or forbid is the thoughtful result of considering its religious (and thereby social) implications, unlike Hitchens and most others who do no such analysis. But the fact that I can do the analysis puts the lie to Hitchens' hand-wave.

P.54  "The holy book in the longest continuous use [is] the Talmud" is simply false, and an example of his careless use of non-facts that can be checked. The Jewish Encyclopedia reports that in the third century [AD] it was still forbidden to have a written copy of the Talmud, whereas we have copies of parts of the Bible (in the Dead Sea scrolls) dating to before Christ, and fragments of copies of the gospels dated to less than a century after Jesus lived, both long before the Talmud was a "holy book" and not just some memorized lines. It is only the atheists who prefer to continue believing in the late composition of the Bible, and that for their own religious reasons, not from any supporting evidence.

P.59  In the section ridiculing apocalypticism, Hitchens tries to include the Y2K foolishness as part of the religious hysteria he imagines apocalypticism to be, and supposes that it is properly debunked by the observation "that 2000 was only a number on Christian calendars and even the stoutest defenders of the Bible story now admit that if Jesus was ever born it wasn't until at least AD 4." Of course the Christians admit no such thing. Matthew and Luke both clearly place the birth of Jesus during the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 1BC after Jesus was born, as Matthew reminds us. The Y2K foolishness was nothing more than a goofy (but not altogether inappropriate) concern for the inadequate handling of dates in computers, completely independent of religion.

P.63  The fifth chapter is titled "The Metaphysical Claims of Religion" which he imagines he has successfully debunked by merely asserting without proof his own religious (that is, atheistic) metaphysics. His argument seems to depend on a God-of-the-gaps recession, while neglecting his own Darwin-of-the-gaps problem which only grows worse with passing years. The next chapter apparently tries to deal with the argument from design; we shall see how he gets around that -- if at all.

In reference to "the impressive faith of an Acquinas or a Maimonides," Hitchens claims that "Faith of the sort that can stand up for a while in a confrontation with reason is now plainly impossible." Hitchens himself should know better, because he had been repeatedly bested in debate with thoughtful Christians. Maybe he had Clue Deficit Disorder, and supposed that witty but uninformed zingers like we see in this book are more "reasonable" than facts. Maybe all atheists think so -- indeed they must think so, or they would be forced to abandon their foolish religion.

P.64  He goes on to say, "One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody had the smallest idea of what was going on." I think he calls such self-centered aggrandizement in Christians "solipsism," but we have already seen how little concern he shows for his own glass house while throwing stones at others. Prehistory, in Hitchens' thinking, seems to have ended rather after he was born, because Scientology is quite a recent religion. If he wants to ignore them, he himself made reference to Millerism, which along with Adventism, Mormonsim and Jehovah's Witnesses, were invented in the 1800s, slightly after the date he puts (later in this same chapter) on the beginning of the age of reason. Most dictionaries define "prehistory" as before written records began being kept, which certainly predates Christianity and Islam, and also (as many of us have reason to believe) Judaism. It's this kind of hyperbole that might endear Hitchens to his atheist choir, but does nothing to make his arguments appear more reasonable to the other 90+% of the people.

P.65  Hitchens imagines that he knows "that there would be no churches in the first place if humanity had not been afraid of the weather, the dark, the plague, the eclipse, and all manner of other things now easily explicable." Of course he knows no such thing. Churches are an invention of Christians, who came to their faith because of a Resurrection that Hitchens cannot explain any more today than they could nearly 2000 years ago.

Hitchens cannot ignore the obvious religiosity of Isaac Newton, so he calls him "a spiritualist and alchemist of a particularly laughable kind." Nevermind that it was Newton who nailed the lid onto the (as Hitchens supposes, "religious") geocentric theory of the universe by inventing the mathematical calculus and the theory of gravity necessary to accurately predict eclipses from the Copernican model of the solar system. This is less of a laughable person than Hitchens himself, and far better acquainted with "what is going on." But this book is obviously intended as entertainment for the religious nutcakes of our day (that is, the atheists), and not as a compendium of facts to persuade reasonable people.

P.67  In an unusual apparent insight, Hitchens tells us that "the end of god-worship discloses itself at the moment... when it becomes optional, or only one among many possible beliefs." And presumably, if this insight is to be believed, the rebirth of God-worship discloses itself at the moment when it ceases to be optional. Actually, God-worship has always been "optional" as far back as we have records, as Hitchens himself admits. Otherwise God would not have needed to command it. Hitchens' atheism is neither new nor modern; he only imagines it so. Even where God-worship has not been "optional" (such as in the former Soviet Union, and in Viet Nam and North Korea today) it is still optional, and God has always had His "7000 men of Israel who have not bowed the knee to [the state-mandated alternative]."

Furthermore, while there are always alternative explanations of varing degrees of credibility -- modern atheism being rather less so than some present-day alternatives -- ultimately it is the Creator God who is the only reasonable object of worship, and therefore it has never been really "optional" to worship Him. What we know about the universe changes from time to time, and some of the things formerly attributed to God or gods cease to have supernatural explanations, while other facts of the universe are discovered that are harder to explain away. Darwin only knew of a small number of fossils, and assumed that further discoveries would confirm his hypothesis. Now that those fossils are fully discovered and known, the Darwinists must look elsewhere for confirmation, because the fossil evidence does not support their religion. After Crick and Watson discovered the double-helix of DNA, the atheists hoped they could prove Darwinism from the genetic data, but now we know that you get different evolutionary trees from different genes -- in other words, no Darwinistic tree at all! Hitchens does not disclose any awareness of these facts in his religious dogma (this book), nor should we expect him to. His religion is not about truth, but rather the defiance of Truth incarnate.

Of the various religions Hitchens says, "we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and making an offer that people could not refuse." At the risk of sounding repetitious -- for Hitchens is also repetitious -- I note how that is still true today of the atheistic religion. Hitchens may imagine himself generous and virtuous and accepting of all people regardless their faith, but the book he writes does not strongly urge that generosity on his colleagues of faith, and they have taken no such advice if he had.

P.68  In a somewhat contradictory paragraph, Hitchens blames the Christian emperor Justinian for destroying manuscripts of Aristotle, but praises the Muslims for preserving them. I was unable to find confirmation of this allegation in Wikipedia's article on Aristotle, although another article did report the preservation of some classical Greek works by the Arabs, but also mentions Byzantine (Christian) monasteries doing the same with the original Greek texts (but more often replacing them with Christian works, as would seem reasonable from a Christian perspective). He can't really fault the religionists from being less than eager to preserve the writings of their opponents when the athiests are even more ambitious to destroy their respective opponents when they in a position to do so, as we see for example in American public schools and the whole nation of North Korea.

P.70  In a rather long discourse on William Ockham, Hitchens applies the so-called "Occam's Razor" credibly to natural science, "when [Ockham] agreed that it was possible to know the nature of 'created' things without any reference to their 'creator'" [Hitchens' quotes]. Hitchens does not, however, make the equally reasonable inference that it is not possible to know how those created things came about without reference to their Creator. By way of analogy, it is possible (in principle, although probably not in practice) to understand the message of Hitchens' book without reference to Christopher Hitchens himself, but it is not possible to understand how the book came to be without reference to its author -- unless you want to argue the absurd supposition of the accidental confluence of ink and paper into words and pages without benefit of any (human or otherwise) author being involved.

P.71  Hitchens goes on to quote Ockham's criticism of the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God, "It is difficult or impossible to prove against the philosophers that there cannot be an infinite regress in causes of the same kind, of which one cannot exist without the other." However, Hitchens neglects to tell us that Ockham surrounded this discussion with additional considerations which convinced himself of the basic validity of his repair of the proof.

Hitchens ends the chapter by arguing against a "leap of faith," which he says "it often doesn't rely on 'faith' at all but instead corrupts faith and insults reason by offering evidence and pointing to confected 'proofs.'" This contradictory statement leads to the next chapter, where, he supposes, "it is within the compass of any human being to see these evidences and proofs as the feeble-minded inventions that they are." Maybe we shall shortly see who is feeble-minded.

P.73  "There is a central paradox at the core of religion. The three great monotheisms teach people to think abjectly of themselves, as miserable and guilty sinners prostrate before an angry and jealous god." Well duh! There is evil in the world, and nobody is innocent. We are all responsible.

P.74  "On the other hand," says Hitchens, "religion teaches people to be extremely self-centered and conceited." When I see that, I call it Relationshipism, and yes, it is taught in our churches, but not from the Bible. But it's not only our religions that teach this, it is human nature, and Hitchens even admits that "human beings are naturally solipsistic." He exhibits that same self-centered conceit in his book. His fellow atheist Richard Dawkins praised The Selfish Gene in a book by that title. So what? We can do better. God teaches us and enables us to do better. Atheists don't have that benefit. Hitchens refuses that benefit.

The title of this chapter is "Arguments from Design" but Hitchens seems to have confused logic with superstition, and rambles on about the number 13 and astrology and assorted good-luck charms, as if they had anything to do with religion. It is human nature to want to be in control of our destiny, and magic offers that false impression. So does atheism. God tells us otherwise.

P.76  "There but for the grace of God go I," Hitchens quotes John Bradford, who watched from prison other convicts being led off to their death. What this really means, Hitchens insists, is "There by the grace of God goes someone else." That's not what Bradford said, because it's not what he meant. People who do Bad Things deserve their punishment, and we all (Bradford and Hitchens included) do Bad Things. The grace of God rescues us from (some of) the consequences of our own evil. Bradford understood that, Hitchens did not. Some of that rescue is free and unbidden, as in "God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike." And some of that rescue you have to want and ask for, because if you do not want God's righteous reign over you in Heaven, He will not force it on you; there is another place where God is not. Hitchens had that choice.

P.79  Hitchens finally gets into Paley's Argument from Design, and spends a couple pages ridiculing what he in his limited knowledge supposes to be mistakes in God's design. Should the fact that our bodies grow old and weak "be counted as part of the 'design' as well?" God has clearly told us otherwise. At the end of the Sixth Day, God said it was "very good," but Adam broke it -- and we all continue to break it. Hitchens is seeing the broken version. There is still evidence of design for all to see, but it is fallen and broken.

P.80  Hitchens is also seeing only his limited view of the whole. He remarks "of our blue and rounded planetary home, where heat contends with cold to make large tracts of it into useless wasteland, and where we have come to learn that we live, and have always lived, on a climatic knife edge." So? There is plenty of space for all of the people of the world to live in and to grow enough food to feed all of us (if we so chose), with margins to move into in the case of "global warming" or cooling. Why is that bad? Why is that an argument against God's goodness in providing it?

P.81  Hitchens quotes Michael Shermer in an argument for evolution:

"The human eye, for example, is the result of a long and complex pathway that goes back hundreds of millions of years. Initially a simple eyespot with a handful of light-sensitive cells...; it developed into a deep recession eyespot where additional cells at greater depth provide more accurate information about the environment... then into a complex eye found in such modern mammals as humans."
P.82  Of course neither Shermer nor Hitchens nor anybody else knows that it took hundreds of millions of years, because nobody was around watching it happen. What we have, and what Hitchens admits we have, is "all the intermediate stages of this process... located in other creatures, and sophisticated computer models have been developed which have tested the theory and shown that it actually works." Now I happen to be a computer programmer, and I know professionally that computer models are like fiction: we programmers can program them to simulate anything we like, whether it follows the laws of physics or not. Hitchens does not explain to us, if each new "improved" eye was so much better than the previous, why didn't Natural Selection take over and eliminate the less efficient one? Why are they still around for us to look at? Why hasn't every creature evolved a highly efficient compound eye? They all had the same "hundreds of millions of years" to do it in.

The answer is of course that those creatures -- a curious word Hitchens used without his usual quotes, it means "the product of creation" -- have good enough vision for the environment they live in, and they don't need a compound eye. A smart Darwinist might even tell you that. But then why did any of them evolve a better eye? You see, they want to have their cake and eat it too. Furthermore, we have absolutely no experimental evidence of any creature evolving even a simple eye where none previously was, nor a more complex eye from a simple one. That would take "hundreds of millions of years" to happen. But we do have -- and Hitchens surely knew about them -- Richard Lenski's Escherichia coli bacteria experiments covering more than 40,000 generations, and are thought to have undergone enough spontaneous mutations that every possible single point mutation in the E.coli genome should have occurred multiple times. But after some 20,000 generations they stopped improving, they did not continue unbounded change in the face of the hostile experimental environment the experiment subjected them to. Natural Selection still works, but the organisms stopped offering improvements for it to work on. Computer simulations have no such limits, we can program them to do anything we want them to do. That does not make them a good model of reality.

P.83  Hitchens even quotes Charles Darwin in agreement:

"To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree."
But he believed it anyway, and so do all his faithful followers, completely without any scientific (that is, testable) evidence at all, except sophisticated computer models. How absurd!

P.84  In reference to a fish with four eyes, Hitchens imagines "A creative deity, of course, would have been more likely to double the complement of optics in the first place, which would have left us with nothing to wonder about, or to discover." I think that an even more creative Deity would have left us with something to wonder about, and to discover, which, it seems, is exactly what God did. Hitchens' imagined god is too small. No wonder he doesn't believe in Him.

P.85  "The process... is slow and infinitely laborious, and has given us a DNA 'string' which is crowded with useless junk." This is a common misperception based solidly on ignorance and Darwinist nonsense. The Creationists predicted otherwise, and now we are beginning to see their predictions coming true.

Hitchens goes on to ridicule theistic evolutionists: "In this way they choose to make a funbling fool of their pretended god..." I agree. Darwinism is not a "theory" at all. It is a pseudo-science without testable evidence, and Christians should not be throwing good science away for it. Hitchens explains,

"A 'theory' is something evolved -- if you forgive the expression -- to fit the known facts. It is a successful theory if it survives the introduction of hitherto unknown facts. And it becomes an accepted theory if it can make accurate predictions about things or events that have not yet been discovered."
Hitchens needs to pay attention to his own definitions. Darwin's hypothesis never fit the known facts, not when he published his Origin of the Species in 1859, and not any time since then. The only reason it survives at all is, in the words of English eugenics advocate Karl Pearson, "the joy we...felt when we saw that wretched date BC 4004 replaced by a long vista of millions of years of development." Darwinism, for all its flaws, is the only remotely credible alternative to the Bible.

P.86  Hitchens tries to dismiss Intelligent Design (including the rather strong argument from Irreducible Complexity), in which he shows himself essentially ignorant of their points. I have dealt with Irreducible Complexity elsewhere and do not need to repeat it here. Hitchens has Clue Deficit Disorder.

P.87  "We must also confront the fact that evolution is, as well as smarter than we are, infinitely more callous and cruel, and also capricious." It appears that Hitchens has personified "evolution" into being that god he pretends not to believe in. Evolution is smarter than we are, so it can embue us with intelligence. It is -- oh dear! -- callous and cruel, so we too are justified in cruelty. Although Hitchens prefers to believe otherwise, the aforementioned Karl Pearson had no problem inferring from his Darwinism that he should advocate genocide of the kind that Hitler (from the same rationale) put into practice. Why does this offend Hitchens? Precisely because he does not look carefully into the moral implications of his religion, but clings mindlessly to the Christian values taught him at an early age by his theist parents. If atheists must be irrational, surely let them be irrational in this respect! And we will all be the better for it.

P.90  After several pages imagining the imaginations and aspirations and religious "prophecies" of lost races in the Americas, Hitchens starts in on the Genesis story, where "man is given 'dominion' over all beasts, fowl and fish. But no dinosaurs or plesiosaurs or pterodactyls are specified, because the authors did not know of their existence." In another place Hitchens admits to reading the King James translation, but even so he disingenuously stopped before coming to the dinosaurs in that verse. I read the Hebrew, and I do not need to make such blunders. The KJV phrase "every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" translates the Hebrew word 'remesh' the verb form of which literally means to crawl, but the noun generally refers to reptiles -- including dinosaurs. The Hebrew word 'oph' used earlier in the same verse is the noun form of the verb to fly, so it includes also bats and pterodactyls, and is not limited to the modern Darwinist category of "things that have feathers." Similarly, the Hebrew verb 'dagah' means to swarm or populate; used with "the sea" as it does here, it refers to all aquatic creatures, including whales and porpoises and plesiosaurs and sea turtles and squid and lobsters as well as fish and sharks and eals. The Author of Genesis knew about dinosaurs of all kinds, and did not omit them from the list of creatures Adam was given dominion over. And yes, there were dinosaurs in Biblical times. One of them is described in considerable detail elsewhere in the Bible, as an animal that the Patriarch should know because he had seen them. If you want to criticize the Bible, you should at least get your facts right.

Hitchens continues his ignorance, "Most important, in Genesis man is not awarded dominion over germs and bacteria because the existence of these necessary yet dangerous fellow creatures was not known or understood." I suspect if Adam had looked into a microscope and seen microbes moving around, he would have immediately recognized them as "swarming the waters" and therefore fully within the category of things that swarm the sea. It is Hitchens' ignorance on display here, not God's. And yes, we have indeed exercised dominion over them in various degrees, even before Christian researchers (who did not "elbow the priests aside") discovered them and started to develop protections against some of the more insidious of them. The requirements on ancient Israel to cover their latrines outside the camp, and to abstain from pork, and the detailed prescriptions about "leprosy" are all clearly protections from harmful microbes, over which they thus (perhaps unwittingly, because only God knew what was really going on at the time) had early dominion.

P.91  "Our place in the cosmos is so unimaginably small that we cannot, with our miserly endowment of cranial matter, contemplate it for long at all." I don't know about Hitchens' cranium, but I seem to have quite sufficient matter in mine to contemplate everything I need to.

He goes on, "Still, at least we are not in the position of those humans who died without ever having the chance to tell their story, or who are dying today at this moment after a few bare, squirming minutes of painful and fearful existence." I have not yet come to the place in this book where Hitchens -- if at all -- declares his support for human genocide committed in the womb as this sentence suggests, "after a few bare, squirming minutes of painful and fearful existence," but it is a "right" that the atheists promote and practice more universally and more vigorously than the Christians and the Muslims.

P.93  Still in the chapter on Design, after some detail on the Cambrian explosion in the Burgess shale, which Hitchens does not bother to tell us is exceedingly difficult for the Darwinists to explain, he mentions one fossil there, Pikaia gracilens, which the Darwinists (or at least Hitchens, and presumably also Stephen Jay Gould, whom he quotes on the topic) seemed to consider the ancestor of all vertibrates. "The question of the ages -- why do humans exist? -- the answer must be: because Pikaia survived the Burgess decimation." Umm, does anyone else see the problem here? If Pikaia survived, then why do we not see Pikaia today?

P.94  Peter and Rosemary Grant did a 30-year study of the finches on the Galapagos islands, which Darwin held to be evidence of evolution. Hitchens reports "They have shown conclusively that the size and shape of the finches' beaks would adjust themselves to drought and scarcity, by adaption to the size and character of different seeds and beetles." In a mere 30 years they saw "evolution" happening and reversing changes that allegedly took 3 million years to evolve. That's not Darwinist evolution of new species, it's just variation within the created kind. They are still finches, and apparently no different from the mainland finches -- at least during certain years when the food chain is supportive. Like Lenski's E.coli, none of them was ever seen to evolve into anything other than a finch.

P.95  Assuming that human "evolution" is similarly active -- and I would have to agree, but I wouldn't call it "evolution" -- Hitchens goes on to mention what he and his sources suppose are recent human mutations. He did not give enough information for me to track down in a reasonable time the source data on these items, but he uses that theme to segue into

P.96  Voltaire famously suposed that "if god did not exist it would be necessary to invent him." Hitchens disagrees, "if we lost all our hard-won knowledge and all our archives, ...in some collective fit of amnesia, and had to reconstruct everything essential from scratch, it is difficult to imagine at what at what point we would need to remind or reassure ourselves that Jesus was born of a virgin." I agree with Hitchens here. We did not invent the Virgin Birth, God did.

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Minor corrections added 2012 December 31