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Rushdoony’s Impact on Science

Dr. R. J. Rushdoony and the Chalcedon Foundation he launched in 1965 have continued to exert an influence on mathematicians and scientists. Rushdoony focused primarily on the philosophy of science, the intellectual underpinnings upon which the various modern thought edifices have been erected under the aegis of rationalistic humanism.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede,
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Dr. R. J. Rushdoony and the Chalcedon Foundation he launched in 1965 have continued to exert an influence on mathematicians and scientists. The first major creationist work, The Genesis Flood by Whitcomb and Morris, had been turned down by mainstream Christian publishers, but Rushdoony successfully lobbied to have Presbyterian and Reformed publish this pioneering volume (despite the fact the two authors were neither Presbyterian nor Reformed!). Rushdoony focused primarily on the philosophy of science, the intellectual underpinnings upon which the various modern thought edifices have been erected under the aegis of rationalistic humanism.

The Mythology of Science

Mark Rushdoony was motivated to write an explanatory new foreword when the time came to reprint Dr. Rushdoony’s 1967 volume The Mythology of Science, in large part because most people equate the latest research with scientific relevance. Because science gives us a word of flux, relevance in science is keyed to the date of publication of one’s sources or research. For example, the most common criticism raised against creationists is that their source citations are perennially out of date. Science continues to move the goalposts, so even if creationists cited up-to-the-minute current research in their favor, that research will quickly drift out of date because creationism’s critics assume that scientific progress always favors the evolutionary paradigm. (The immediate response to new data favorable to creationism is necessarily a bit different: “Those results are very new and uncorroborated, and we need time to evaluate them to discern what they really mean … no need to rush to a nonmaterialistic conclusion.”)

Evolutionists are allowed to stand on the shoulders of giants and cite earlier research, but if creationists do so, the giants are shot out from under them as representing out of date sources. Creationists could be excused for thinking the system might be rigged, except it’s not: the system is merely consistent with its own true commitments, which may well differ from its publicly stated commitments.

Mark Rushdoony was shrewd to point out that The Mythology of Science contains three critical reviews of books that were already dated at the time Dr. Rushdoony wrote the reviews (the books were published between 1958 and 1960). Why did Dr. Rushdoony review dated material? Because that material tells a never-ending story about how science is conducted and reveals the unchanging philosophical commitments that fuel this modern Goliath’s hurling of scorn at competing worldviews. At the heart of the issue is what Dr. Rushdoony called the mythology of science, whereby science deliberately pits itself against history:

On the surface, a myth is the illusion of an age or a culture whereby life and its origins are interpreted. As such, the myth has an axiomatic truth to the age and is its criterion for judging and assessing reality … A myth is the attempt of a culture to overcome history, to negate the forces and ravages of time, and to make the universe amenable to man. The myth reveals a hatred of history. History shows movement in terms of forces beyond man and in judgment over man; history rides heavily over man … and clearly reveals man as the actor, not the playwright and director. And this man hates … [and] resents. The purpose man then sets for himself in his myths is to end history, to make man the absolute governor by decreeing an end to the movement that is history.1

In other words, science is the savior that will deliver man from history. It’s not without reason that Rushdoony cites the 1961 book by Lundberg entitled Can Science Save Us?2 For science to save, it must control. And as Rushdoony has insightfully pointed out, therein lies the very real danger of modern scientism.

Science, Magic, Control, and the Bible

Science, as Dr. Rushdoony has analyzed its historic sweep, was initially tied to magic and remained so until Christianity was able to separate the two. But modern science has reattached itself to magic and the goals of magic, as Rushdoony explains it:

The purpose of magic is the total control of man over man, nature, and the supernatural. Whatever the form magic takes, this is its goal. The relationship of magic is therefore basically to science rather than to Biblical religion. Under the influence of Christianity, science escaped the constraints of magic … The purposes of modern science are increasingly those of magic, the exercise of total control. The essential goal of modern science is knowledge in order to have prediction, planning, and control. Thus magic has again triumphed, and modern science is popular precisely because man today, wedded again to the world of myth, demands magic to overcome history.3

It’s not surprising that Dr. Rushdoony was able to quote the Chancellor of UCLA as favorably citing “the death of Calvinism”4 as an important prerequisite in extending the claims of scientific control. Calvinism (the real deal and not a caricature of same) confronts and challenges the pull toward magic that science is otherwise unable to resist. Rushdoony then strongly indicts scientists for abandoning objectivity.5 As he points out,

Scientific objectivity and impartiality? On the contrary, this is a passionate dedication by the new magicians to the myths of their own making … This then is the new mythology of man, the mythology of science. It expresses the basic presuppositions of the humanism of the day, so that its absurdities, contradictions, and pretensions have the ring of infallible truth rather than irrational myth.6

Because science co-opts the modern Zeitgeist, the humanistic spirit of the age, it is (with some irony) uncritically accepted in the name of critical thinking. The concomitant penchant for total control makes sense from the modern scientific point of view:

[E]very experiment, to be valid, requires total control of all factors. Hence, the scientific society must be fully totalitarian, otherwise it will not work, nor will it be scientific.7

Rushdoony indicts science as attempting to make all things “subject to the law of controlled causation,” which he asserts is a law that is basic to science because “science is not so much the understanding of things as the controlling of things.”8 Once this distinction is grasped, the hidden baggage behind scientism becomes much easier to discern.

Rushdoony therefore sums up the nature of the modern myth in disturbing terms: “No more deadly mythology has ever plagued mankind than the mythology of science.” Why? Because as Rushdoony states, it is the Bible’s teaching that with God all things are possible and that He can do all things:

But according to the mythology of science, science can and will do all things. Not only are all things possible with science, but they are also planned for delivery. Sickness, disease, and death shall be abolished. Poverty, crime, and war shall be eliminated. Not only man, but also his world and weather shall be controlled. Life will be created, new organs, arms, and legs grown. The universe will be explored and populated, and, when the sun dies, a new sun shall be created and set in the heavens by our new gods, the scientists … This new revolution … ensures the collapse of all property and all law as it teaches men to despise the riches of the present for the promises of the future.9 (Emphasis added)

It wasn’t always so. The interface between science and Puritanism (or Puritan-Calvinism) was explored in several articles published in Chalcedon’s Journal of Christian Reconstruction that corroborated and extended much of Rushdoony’s views on the science-magic connection and how Calvinism had once successfully severed that ugly bond.10 Rushdoony’s call for a return to those world-changing Calvinistic roots as the only way to redeem science from its errant path is more relevant now than when he first issued these warnings forty years ago.

The Secular Road to “Truth” Always Leads to Statism

Rushdoony notes that after the French Revolution, “unbelief and positivism were increasingly vocal. Julian Jaynes tells us how vocal and blatant the new mood was”:

This secularism of science … became rough and earnest in 1842 in Germany in a famous manifesto by four brilliant young physiologists. They signed it like priests, in their own blood … (and) angrily resolved that no forces other than common physicochemical ones would be considered in their scientific activity. This was the most coherent and shrill statement of scientific materialism up to that time. And enormously influential.11

As Rushdoony summarizes the situation in light of these developments, “devotion shifted, insofar as many people were concerned, from the church to the state.”12 Scientists thus became self-appointed prophets to lead the people into their new future. He quotes Rebecca West’s report “on the feelings of a scientist who believed that scientists alone should control atomic energy.” When one of his hearers asked what guarantee there was that scientists would not use such a control for evil,

[h]e, the least arrogant of men, replied by a simple claim that he and all his kind were born without sin. “How can you suppose that any scientist would do such a thing?” he asked, his spectacles shining with anger. “Science is reason. Why should people who live by reason suddenly become its enemy?” … [S]cientists cannot be wrong and cannot do harm, because they are scientists, and science is right.13

Rushdoony correctly concludes that “because the modern state sees itself as Reason incarnate, it shares in this self-righteousness.” He notes that distortion of the record of scientific progress has prevailed, for factors readily apparent to those willing to pull back the curtain:

Educators tend to exalt other educators, and professors of the sciences tend to equate scientific knowledge and greatness with the university and its sciences. Our history and science textbooks are radically erroneous in their emphasis because of this prejudice, and the major part of the history of the sciences is thus unknown. With few exceptions, the great advances in the sciences have come in association with industry … To exalt academic science is to miss the point entirely and means in essence to reject science for talk about science …
We must remember that modern man falsely regards science rather than Scripture as the primary source of truth … [W]e are told that, because the sciences are concerned with the physical world, they are concerned with reality, it being implied that Christianity is not concerned with reality but with vague spiritual assumptions.14

Rushdoony cites Van Til in regard to this illicit sharp separation between science and religion: “Even the mere assumption that anything can intelligently be asserted about the phenomenal world by itself presupposes its independence of God, and as such is in effect a denial of Him.”15 Rushdoony further expands on the analysis Van Til had conducted concerning the nature of all non-Biblical thought (writing in the Van Til Festschrift Jerusalem and Athens16). As Rushdoony observes,

For Van Til ultimacy belongs, not to the created order, but to God, to the ontological trinity. Van Til, in commenting on modern dialecticism, observes, “All non-biblical thought is dialectical. Dialectical thought expresses itself in the form of a religious dualism” … When men depart from the eternal one and many, they drift into dialectical thought.17

As Rushdoony shows, the only way out of the mire of dialectical thought and dualism is to reconstruct the sciences upon Biblical presuppositions. This alone delivers the sciences out of the hand of dialecticism and dualism. He appropriately quotes Van Til’s 1939 analysis in regard to the matter of interpretation of factuality (one’s “philosophy of fact”):

Thus the first step that the current scientific method is asking you to take is to assume that the facts that you meet are brute, that is, uninterpreted facts. I say you are asked to assume the existence of brute facts. If you did not assume this you could not be neutral with respect to various interpretations given of the facts. If God exists there are no brute facts; if God exists our study of facts must be the effort to know them as God wants them to be known by us. We must then seek to think God’s thoughts after him. To assume that there are brute facts is therefore to assume that God does not exist.18

Science, like every other aspect of man’s existence, gains illicit ground by claiming a mythical neutrality to which it has no legitimate right. The myth of neutrality, one of Rushdoony’s central indictments of modern thought, permeates scientism more so than virtually any other human enterprise. Science ejects God from His creation as a precondition for explaining it, and then labels the resulting explanations as being neutral rather than being explicitly anti-God.

Like Van Til, Rushdoony indicts the scientific method as an alleged pathway to truth:

The scientific method is never carefully defined, but, like the term science, is somehow equated with truth … whatever truth there is, if it can be known, it will be discovered and known through the scientific method. The Moslems say, There is one God, and Mohammed is his prophet. The scientists are no less dogmatic: there may or may not be truth, but if there is, science is its prophet, the only means to its discovery … The scientific method, as it now exists, is in reality a religious principle which holds that truth can emerge from any area, provided it is not from the sovereign and triune God and His infallible word. The scientific method of our time masks another religion, humanism.19

Rushdoony’s unmasking of scientism, of scientific materialism, is not welcomed by those with a stake in the status quo, who have a lust for credibility and who wish to be friends of the world. Far too many churchmen would be unhappy to see their humanism exposed for what it is.

Neutrality and Scientific Thinking

The modern educational ideal of the student’s mind as a blank tablet (tabula rasa) to be molded by educators extends to the sciences as well. As Rushdoony writes, the ideal of the mind as a clean tablet …

has provided the ideal for scientific thinking. The true scientist ostensibly wipes his mind free of all preconceptions and approaches his subject with a clean-tablet mind, ready to see and interpret the facts in and of themselves. This scientific attitude is one of the great myths of modern times. That the scientist actually approaches his subject with a variety of axioms of thought and pre-theoretical and religious presuppositions, Herman Dooyeweerd and Cornelius Van Til have amply shown. His clean-tablet mind is actually free only of the attitudes the Enlightenment rebelled against, preconceptions being identified with Calvinism and Scholasticism. Instrumentalism is another expression of the same basic concept and assumes that it alone possesses the ability to attain true knowledge because it alone is ostensibly free of preconceived ideas in approaching factuality. This is again a mythical faith, and an impossibility. The instrumentalist also is guilty of extensive and basically religious presuppositions which provide the unconscious axioms of all his thinking.20

In the first third of the twentieth century, official acknowledgement of the metaphysical component of modern science was more readily admitted, as testified by the publication of The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science by Cornell University’s E. A. Burtt, in a volume that spoke of a revolution in “world-view” as early as 1924.21 But denial of metaphysical roots has prevailed since then, and modern scientists prefer to keep hiding their hidden baggage, annoyed that scholars like Rushdoony keep pulling the covers back to reveal what they’re hiding in the way of precontemplative commitments.

In this regard, Nobel laureate Richard Feynman continued to find himself between a philosophical rock and a hard place, as his book The Character of Physical Law points out. As James Gleick explains in the book’s foreword, that particular volume of published lectures represents

Feynman turning philosopher, in other words—for these are matters ordinarily belonging to philosophy. Yet Feynman had always scorned philosophers. They “are always on the outside making stupid remarks,” he once said … Feynman wrestles with these issues throughout this volume, interspersing his philosophical discourse with digs at philosophers … Still, The Character of Physical Law is Feynman acknowledging that pragmatic science alone is not enough. “It is a problem,” he remarked at one point, “whether or not to worry about philosophies behind ideas.”22

Feynman can’t have his cake and eat it, either in regard to his love/hate affair with philosophy, or with the unanswered questions plaguing (and still plaguing) science. He finally ends up idolizing doubt as the highest of values, primarily to insure that authority (against which science has perpetually warred) should never be permitted a place at the scientific table.23 Uncertainty in scientific pronouncements is not a bug: it’s a feature! Feynman became in effect the self-appointed Prophet of Doubt, promoting a blatant dialectical approach to certainty and knowledge (the very place where both Rushdoony and Van Til predicted science would invariably end up).

Some have regarded Rushdoony’s description of modern scientists (namely, as constituting a new priesthood) as being an exaggerated, over-the-top characterization. They might be surprised to learn that Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter made the same point in Wieman v. Updegraff when he stated, “To regard teachers—in our entire educational system, from the primary grades to the university—as the priests of our democracy is … not to indulge in hyperbole.”24 This admission is surprising given that in 1915 the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) guidelines expressed confidence that “the university was to be a refuge from all tyrannies over men’s minds—those of the state, university trustees and administrators, and public opinion” and implied “a student’s right to be free from the coercive shaping of his or her mind.”25

The AAUP guidelines labeled as “proprietary” those institutions (e.g., religious ones) designed to propagate specific doctrines and insisted that while such institutions were constitutionally free “to impose their particular orthodoxies, … they were morally obligated to adhere to what one today would call ‘truth in advertising.’”26 Despite scientists being a new priesthood per Frankfurter, the orthodoxy they now champion is somehow exempt from being deemed “proprietary,” and this new priesthood is, remarkably, under no moral obligation in regard to truth in advertising at all! The coercive shaping of students’ minds can proceed without obstruction or any moral obligation regarding truth in advertising. In the words of the 1915 AAUP guidelines, they’re free to “sail under false colors”27 all they wish. Why should a coercive system scruple otherwise?

In other words, a system that is obviously not neutral is given free rein to pretend it is neutral. Once this status of unearned and illicit neutrality is granted, any objection to the system will appear to be biased and prejudiced, since neutrality has simply been conferred on the status quo. Few are those willing to buck the social, educational, and professional pressures that can be imposed on any who point out that Christianity and the Bible are simply being defined as irrelevant by raw humanistic fiat, in the name of a neutral science that is anything but. Rushdoony is one of the most courageous of critics in this regard, and those scientists who have followed his lead, who have abandoned the false towers of Babel offered up by modern science, will ultimately be the more fruitful for it.

Rushdoony’s Impact

Science as pretext is rampant on the world scene, primarily because (as Rushdoony foresaw) science will always become politicized. Because science sees itself as Reason, any coercion in the name of science would by humanistic definition be reasonable, and any opposition to that coercion would be unreasonable. Morality then is reordered around the principle of science/reason as delivered to us by what Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter termed today’s educational and scholarly priesthood. The global warming controversy is more visible than most scientific issues because, as the tip of the iceberg, it sticks up out of the water.28 The vast bulk of actions taken in the name of the mythology of science are hidden under the surface. Rushdoony, particularly in The Mythology of Science, has shown how large the whole iceberg truly is.

Rushdoony has blown the whistle on the propensity of science to claim truth as its sole domain, and to deny truth to any other realm of human life and thought (religion in particular). Because humanism is at heart a religious faith, and because it denies the truth of Scripture, it must create a surrogate truth (an idol) and bid all to bow down to that. This is what happens in public schools when the children of Christians are indoctrinated in the principles and worldview of scientism.

The Christian opposition to evolution is already too narrow because the problem is much larger than the evolution issue. Science contends that it is truth. Christ says of the Father, “[T]hy word is truth” (John 17:17). Men cannot serve two gods, and dialectical mixtures end up degrading the relevance of the Bible. As quoted earlier from Rushdoony’s The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum, “[B]ecause the sciences are concerned with the physical world, they are concerned with reality, it being implied that Christianity is not concerned with reality but with vague spiritual assumptions.” Science subordinates everything under itself—not a surprising result for an enterprise that assumes the nonexistence of God in its treatment of facts, for it then teaches a subsequent vacancy at the apex of authority that it believes itself (and only itself) competent to fill.

Rushdoony’s promotion of creationism is well-known to our readership. He put his money where his mouth was and published books by other authors that were (and remain to this day) important studies in their fields, perhaps none being so important in regard to science as the volume entitled Alive: An Enquiry into The Origin and Meaning of Life by Dr. Magnus Verbrugge,29 which deserves far greater circulation than it has received to date.

Ending on a more provocative note, Rushdoony’s Biblical writings on mensuration (the process of measurement) are considered by some Christians in the sciences to have powerful application to both relativity theory and quantum theory. In short, if diverse (varying) weights and measures are an abomination to God, and men are thus commanded not even to own anything that enables such fluctuating mensuration, such laws must reflect God’s own character.

Additionally, the fact that the Bible expressly teaches cosmic personal determinism is undisputed by any orthodox Christian. These two respective points are in at least prima facie collision with the premises of relativity theory and mainstream quantum mechanics. However, there are scientists willing to plumb these implications to their bottom, dissidents more interested in the truth than in indulging a misplaced lust for credibility (the prevailing, enfeebling bane of Christendom). If, by the end of the twenty-first century, these two dominant approaches to physics are eventually overturned in favor of a reconstruction of classical physics,30 such a result may be a long-term legacy of the direct impact Rushdoony’s thinking will have had on the hard sciences.

The crucial seeds have already been planted. Are you willing to help see that they’re being adequately watered?

1 R. J. Rushdoony, The Mythology of Science (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, [1995, 1967] 2001), 5.

2 Ibid., 26 n. 5.

3 Ibid., 6.

4 Ibid., 9. Franklin Murphy was the Chancellor quoted in a Los Angeles newspaper in 1966; see n. 4.

5 Ibid., 11. Rushdoony quotes Science Digest, Vol. 58, No. 4, October 1955, to the effect that “Lingering hopes that Venus might support life received a blow.” Says Rushdoony, “Now this is curious language for supposedly objective science. Supposedly ‘science’ and scientists are interested in the results, not in proving a hope, in getting at the truth of something, not in making a case. The pleasure should have been in getting some kind of knowledge about Venus. But the knowledge was a ‘blow’ to ‘lingering hopes’!”

6 Ibid., 11–12.

7 Ibid., 29, citing as proof Mischa Titiev’s 1959 book Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. See n. 13.

8 Ibid., 30.

9 Ibid., 123–124. Elsewhere, Rushdoony quotes Barbara Wootton, Professor of Social Studies at the University of London, to the effect that “[t]he risk of criminality will be enhanced, too, if the present association between moral teaching and the Christian religion be perpetuated” (35 n. 27). Wootton sees this connection between Christian faith and morality as “one of the most vulnerable features of contemporary society.” Scientists do teach the severing of Christianity from all cultural and moral relevance and cite this as a scientific necessity.

10 Charles Dykes, “Medieval Speculation, Puritanism, and Modern Science,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction 6:1, Summer 1979, Gary North, ed., 27-45; E. L. Hebden Taylor, “The Role of Puritan-Calvinism in the Rise of Modern Science,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction 6:1, Summer 1979, 46–86; and Richard Douglas Green, “Science and the Future: Covenantal or Apostate?” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction 9:1-2 (1982–1983, Douglas Kelly, ed.), 346–393.

11 Rushdoony, Sovereignty (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon/Ross House Books, 2007), 396 and n. 2.

12 Ibid.

13 Rushdoony, Sovereignty, 438 and n. 6.

14 Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, [1985] 1981), 64. Rushdoony deals with the matter of science in four consecutive chapters, 63–79.

15 Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum, 64–65.

16 E. R. Geehan, ed., Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Company, 1971), Chapter XVIII, Rushdoony, “The One and Many Problem—the Contribution of Van Til,” 339–348.

17 Ibid., 342.

18 Rushdoony, The Mythology of Science, 114 n. 7.

19 Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum, 75, 77.

20 Rushdoony, Intellectual Schizophrenia (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, [1961] 2002), 3–4.

21 Edwin Arthur Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, [1932; 1924] 1954), 15, 24–25.

22 Richard Feynman, The Character of Physical Law (New York: The Modern Library, [1965] 1994), viii–ix.

23 Ibid., x.

24 Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses (New York: The Free Press, 1998), 55. Footnote 16 further identifies the case as Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183 (1952).

25 Ibid., 51.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 The author assumes that icebergs will still exist by the time you receive and read this copy of Faith for All of Life, notwithstanding today’s alarmist fears concerning their supposed demise. For readers interested in seeing a qualified scientist grapple with the alarmists while painstakingly staking his case on the actual data, the somewhat technical website is highly recommended. If you dig back far enough, you’ll find items of particular interest regarding sweetheart deals and academic sanctions contemplated against the conduct of certain “party line” researchers, foibles sufficient to quickly demolish the notion that scientific objectivity reigns supreme among those supporting the majority position.

29 Magnus Verbrugge, Alive: An Enquiry into The Origin and Meaning of Life (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1984). I was personally involved in the preparation of the manuscript for publication and regard this book as one of the most important that Rushdoony had ever taken under his wing.

30 It’s not generally known that compelling alternate interpretations of famous experiments that allegedly support relativity and quantum mechanics exist. Regarding relativity, it is true that muons decay more slowly when accelerated to great velocities. Relativity interprets this as time dilation—that time literally slows down for the muons as they move faster. But the same effect would arise due to increased stability against decay arising from the muon’s self-interaction with its own fields: a nonrelativistic interpretation. Diffraction of electrons through a double-slit has long been treated as absolute proof positive in favor of quantum mechanics, until scientists illustrated how the effect could easily arise on deterministic and/or classical grounds. Commitment to relativity and quantum theory is so universal, however, that consensus scientists treated the classical explanations as interesting curiosities and nothing more because these explanations conflict with reigning paradigms and intellectual commitments. It’s not without reason that Rushdoony devoted the eleventh chapter in The Mythology of Science to “Paradigms and Facts,” with considerable attention paid to Thomas Kuhn’s The Nature of Scientific Revolution and that scholar’s embarrassing concessions concerning the inevitable circularity plaguing all scientific reasoning and discourse.

Martin G. Selbrede
  • Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

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