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The Table Video

J.P. Moreland, William Hasker& Gregg Ten Elshof

Panel Discussion 3

Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Huntington College
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
May 11, 2013

Dr. William Hasker and Dr. J.P. Moreland respond to their commentators. The two speakers and their commentators respond to questions from the audience regarding their arguments on human composition.


So, as was our pattern yesterday, we’ll allow for some brief response from our speakers to their commentators and then we’ll open it up to the, we’ll allow for some back and forth perhaps, and then open it up to the floor for questions and answers. And my job I suppose will be to prevent a repeat of the violent exchange apparently that happened a few decades ago.

I didn’t say it was violent.

We’re probably all secretly hoping I’ll fail. Bill, would you like to start us off?

I agree with Stewart’s characterization of ours as a benign family disagreement, but members of a family can sometimes think that other members are pretty seriously misguided. I wouldn’t go that far, but I want to well, first of all, just a marker, I think some of those Cartesian intuitions are a bit over the top, so I may disagree a little bit with JP about that.

But the main point is I maintain that emergent dualism has a distinct advantage over traditional dualism, creationist dualism with respect A to the souls of animals and respect B to evolution and so I just want to elaborate that point briefly. Now, it’s quite true that as we consider the various forms of life especially animate, life of animals, we have considerable difficulty in saying well, how far down the scale should we go in assigning or believing that there’s some form of conscious awareness that exists here.

And people differ somewhat in their intuitions about this. My point is that emergent dualism has no problem about this, I mean wherever the line is drawn whether high or low is perfectly okay with us, it causes no difficulty. On the other hand, I think creationist dualism does have an embarrassment here. On the one hand, considering the connotations of what a soul is, many people want to draw the line very high, of course Descartes notoriously thought that only humans have souls, animals are simply automata.

As I used to tell my students, if you can believe that, you can believe anything. But, one very well known Christian philosopher thought that it’s absurd to suppose that fish have souls, fish don’t have any sort of consciousness. I think he’s suffering from mammalian chauvinism or maybe mammal and bird chauvinism, that seems arbitrary and unreasonable. On the other hand, if you go to the other extreme with late great Charles Tolliver and speak about brother worm, well then you do have God creating individual souls for worms, mosquitoes, intestinal parasites and then having to dispose of these apparently when the creatures– if that doesn’t strike you as incongruence, it’s okay with me, but it certainly strikes me as pretty weird.

Now, with regard to evolution, Stuart strangely said that both of these views involve a lot of intervention. Not so at all. On emergent dualism, as far as I’m concerned, there need be no, maybe no divine intervention at all in the evolutionary process. Some people think that it’s important for God to have intervened in some special way with the evolutionary advance leading to human beings. I have no quarrel with that, I’m not firmly committed to it, but the basic divine activity consists in building into the nature of matter, the potentiality for this.

And I admit, that’s a big jump to make, it’s one that I feel compelled to make, but it allows us to make sense of evolution. Whereas on the creationist view, I think it’s very difficult to make, to tell any sort of plausible story that incorporates divinely created souls into evolution. Now maybe Professor Swinburne has some good ideas about this but I see it as a significant problem, so I do think that emergent dualism has a significant advantage in these respects.


Yeah, let me just make some remarks about Bill’s paper and Robin’s. I wanna thank Bill for fairly representing my views and getting them accurate. It’s always nice when someone criticizes your position to recognize yourself in it. And I did. I was gratified, and we’ve talked about this personally, that your complaints against my view are scientific and not philosophical.

That was comforting to me. I tend to approach developing a world view by giving more weight to philosophy and theology than I do science unless there are specific cases where it’s pretty clear that science trumps philosophical or theological considerations.

So, it’s not a universal claim but it’s one that’s generally true. So, the charge of idealism, I would respond to it a couple of ways. First, if you take a look at the book by Robert Pasnau called The History of the Metaphysics of Substance, from twelve twenty five to sixteen seventy one, where the view that I’m advancing flourished for about four centuries. He makes the point that there were actually two versions of the position that I’m advancing. One was a strictly metaphysical view and the other has scientific implications to it.

Now, I do take my view to have scientific implications but if those implications turn out not to be helpful or true, there would still be a version of an aristotelian thomistic dualism that would be available that wouldn’t make those implications. So, even if I’m falsified on scientific grounds, I don’t think I have to leave my home in the aristotelian view. Secondly, as he acknowledged, my view really isn’t a version of idealism, I don’t like that word because in the hey day of idealism the vital entity was construed as a force or a field almost an ether like thing that actually was responsible for efficient causes that were not, that couldn’t be accounted for by physics and chemistry so the urea problem arose.

But the version of organicism that I’d like to advance, postulates an aristotelian soul primarily to explain both the teleological development of, and the type of unity that the body has. And here’s what this comes down to for me, if I’m right about this, then the organic parts of a living thing’s body would be what I call inseparable parts. They will get their identity and their nature from the whole of which they’re parts.

And we will talk about them largely in functional terms because they are what they are in virtue of the literal function they play in the whole of which they’re parts. If the more mechanistic or materialist view is true, then living things are primarily ordered aggregates that are constituted by separable parts that, so that the difference would be for example for me the liver is a functional thing and for someone on the other side, it would be a stuff thing.

So, in addition to that remark about vitalism, I would say that there are a group of scientists, and they’re not just all ID people, a lot of them are just atheists, biologists or micro biologists, that are advocating a view called organicism which is very much like my view. The best book on this that I read to get me interested in this was Brian Goodwin’s book, How the Leopard Changed it’s Spots. Where he talks about the myth of DNA and talks about an organicist more holist view of organisms than can be explained be the aggregate view.

I don’t wanna keep droning here, so let me just make a couple of other quick points. I’m cheered by the fact that my view isn’t consistent with theistic evolution because I’m not a theistic evolutionist, I’m a progressive creationist of an intelligent design sort, though I think the view could be adjusted admittedly in an ad hoc way and that would count against it to make it more consistent with theistic evolution, but that really isn’t my concern at this point for my own view. Bill invited me into the family of emergentists, claiming that my view is an example of emergence.

And I did appreciate the invitation, [laughs] but I think an aristotelian would be shocked to hear, of the trudisian sort, would be shocked to hear that his view is an emergentist view. When I talk about a new substance emerging, I just mean it’s coming to be. You had substantial change, you don’t have a collection of parts that rearrange with new emergent properties, so maybe we can talk more about that. Robin’s view, I’m not a philosopher of physics and so a fair amount of what he said is not available to me because I don’t traffic in that literature.

But a couple of remarks I think were helpful. Robin is arguing, I think if I understand him correctly, that the mereological hierarchical framework isn’t adequate to account for what we know in physics. If that’s true, then I’m gonna say yay, verily and amen. So, much the worse for it because I don’t adopt the mereological hierarchy myself.

But, the fact of the matter is that there are an awful lot of people who do. And given that that framework is widely embraced by a lot of thinkers, my argument was an attempt to say given that framework you still have problems. Robin also fussed at me a little bit about my understanding of a structural property. And he used the example of hardness by claiming that we’ve had a concept of hardness before we knew anything about structure, and so the property of being hard is a distinct property independent of our view of structure.

I think number one, that that only shows that there’s been a conceptual shift in our understanding, not that not that hardness isn’t a structural property for example. But, in fact I think Robin is factually wrong about that. As Frank Jackson has demonstrated, up until modern science, hardness was understood as everywhere dense.

Now, in light of the mechanical philosophy, hardness is basically viewed as a disposition to to resist encroachment. And so there has been a change in our notion of hardness from a categorical property to a dispositional property and that’s due to, I think, the emergence of the mereological hierarchy and structural properties. He gave some examples of top down causation, but as far as I could see, they were still examples of outside in causation, where you have wholes exerting influence on their parts, so that didn’t, those examples seemed outside in, not top down to me. Just one other thing and I’ll close, I don’t think you can functionalize concepts. I think that if you mean by that in a reductive way.

Now, if you have a concept or a meaning, you can give a functional description of it that’s isomorphic with it. But concepts and meanings are not functionalizable I don’t think and there are a lot of reasons I hold that, but one of them is that if a concept is functionalizable, I don’t think that you could know what concepts were in your mind by attending to them.

Because if functionalism is true, a concept is what it is in virtue of a wide range of relations to other concepts and outputs, that would mean that in order for me to know what a concept was I was entertaining, I’d have to attend to that entire wholistic functional grid and I don’t think that’s what we do. I think we’re simply able to be aware of the content of our thoughts by paying attention to them, so I don’t think they’re functionalizable. Thank you.

Okay, so why don’t we open it up to the floor for questions?

Audience Member: Bill, this is really simple but, for a Christian philosopher, or two Christian philosophers, suppose one of them says okay, at a certain point in the evolution of organisms something like souls or minds or something naturally emerged. And another Christian philosopher says at a certain point in the evolution of the complexity of organisms, God implanted something like souls in them. For the life of me I don’t see why one is more economical than the other.

Your question is which is more economical, traditional dualism or my emergent dualism? Well, you know I’ve written a book on this. I think that, I guess I will avail myself of an argument that Tim O’Connor used yesterday. What we see in nature, in the world, is that the world is developmental in nature.

This has become, I mean this of course is obvious in the light of individual organisms, but the more we learn, the more developmental or if you like, evolution we see. We start with the big bang, we get stars, galaxies, second generation stars that spew out heavy elements that form into planets that have creatures like us at least on one of them. The whole thing is a developmental process.

Now, if you inject into this process, divinely created souls, this is in a certain sense out of step with everything else that’s going on. As Tim pointed out, and I think this is right, if you have a divinely created soul, this doesn’t by the way apply to emergent souls, but if you have a divinely created soul it has to get the whole package right at the beginning so that all of the intellectual powers that we saw in Einstein or Newton or whatever, or Comte okay to get a philosopher in, all these intellectual powers are inherent in the nature of the soul at the very beginning, though not able to be exercised unless and until certain biological properties are realized.

And so, this is a sort of, this is a very broad brush argument but it’s a sort of interruption to the natural flow of development which is what we see every where else in nature. So, I think that’s a nice little point in favor of it.

Audience Member: It sounds like they’re like resurrected, I mean isn’t that out of step with the resurrection of Jesus and out of step with what’s going on everywhere else.

Well, see there’s a difference between creation and redemption, okay? I think you’ll grant me that. Redemption is a matter of putting right some things that have gone really, really wrong. And so, even if the system was created to work right in the first place, if things go really, really wrong, then you’d expect some pretty dramatic intervention to be needed to set it right again. So, I don’t see that as a terribly strong objection.

I actually liked the point, and maybe I could push back just a little bit on Bill here. Since about the nineteen fifties or sixties, emergent properties have been categorized ontologically, as unique and new and novel. But, for about a hundred years prior to that, emergent properties were characterized epistemically, as unpredictable in principle, surprising, not entailed by an exhaustive description of the subvenient base.

Now, that wasn’t without accident, because what that means is that emergent entities are not in principle, if they’re emergent, predictable from the subvenient base. Robin may claim that you can establish laws, but A, laws aren’t causation and B, laws turn out I think just to be correlations. My view is that from a knowledge of the base, you can’t predict an emergent property. It follows, if that’s right, when we’re an emergent substance, that we don’t know what the heck’s going on down there. And I think that the preference for emergence over a creationist view, which is not my view, I’m a traducian, would be based on aesthetic reasons just preferability it seems to me.

Can I make a comment to about Bill, what you said? When you appeal to what Tim O’Connor said, when you appeal to what Tim said, first of all what Tim’s point was about the simplicity, a simple and assume you hold the soul as simple, even if it’s extended it’s not composed of parts, then he said if something’s not composed of parts, how is it supposed to develop? So, if you hold that the soul is not composed of parts, you would run into his objection.

Now, I don’t agree with him on that, I think you could have something that’s not composed of parts that could very well develop, and I think you can give some examples of that from physics so I don’t agree with him on that point. But, I think you couldn’t appeal to his argument if you hold that the soul is simple.

You’re right, I was adapting Tim’s argument. Yeah, I don’t think it’s correct, it’s that something which is ontological simple in the sense that it’s not decomposable into parts, is therefore incapable of internal development. If that were the case, a simple soul would never be able to learn anything and obviously adherents of simple souls all know that we can learn things.

So, I think it’s not correct that a simple entity cannot develop, but I do think it’s a little incongruent to think of God as adding additional powers bit by bit to the soul as the organism develops. So, I think if we have a divinely created soul, then it probably does have to have all of it’s fundamental powers there from the beginning. Which may be okay.

That’s what I don’t see, I don’t see why God couldn’t just create a soul that could develop. In the brain, God creates the soul for the fetus and He creates it in such a way that it can develop.

How would it develop?

Well, I mean it’s gonna be the same problem you’re gonna have, it changes in response to it’s learning and things like that.

That seems like a sort of hybrid view, it gets it’s original existence from an act of special creation, but then it’s powers flow to it from the organism as the organism develops. I mean, you’re welcome to that, but it doesn’t seem very–

I don’t think that, I think you put it correctly when you read my papers, it’s not that it’s powers flow to it, although that could be the case, too. But, it’s that it’s powers require instrumental causes before they can be actualized. It’s a little differently put.

I think I’m glad that I did understand your view correctly, but that isn’t what Robin is presenting here.

It could just like, matter can have new powers, under your view all the powers are in there in some sense, are all potentially there. But, in another sense it gains new powers, so what we would call new, why can’t that be the same with the soul, just created that way? I don’t see why, what the difference is.

Yeah, well okay. But, the new power is in the view you suggest, I’m not saying it’s impossible, but the new powers that you’re suggesting are going to accrue to it from the development of the biological organism, right?

Or from the development of the soul. I mean, it’s learnt–

If they’re inherent in the soul to begin with, that’s JP’s view and I mean that’s, but then you, okay. I don’t know maybe it washes out.

This is why we should be miraclists.

We have another question in the back.

[Audience Member 2] My question was for doctor Hasker. I wanted to ask if you could clarify the evolutionary objection you had to Doctor Morlin’s view. Was it that Morlin’s view entails that everything with a soul falls under a natural kind and that there’s some sort of vagueness as to whether that would actually be the case given evolution, is that your argument? And if not, could you clarify for me?

Well, if natural kinds are immutable, then when you have an apparent transitional form between two species of organisms, however you identify with the species, if you have an apparent transitional form, then it isn’t really a transitional form, it’s a defective instance of one or the other of the kinds. But in an evolutionary perspective, natural kinds are not immutable. Precisting species are, you might say, islands of stability in what is in the broadest perspective an overall flux.

So, one species of organism can give rise to a different species through a process of transformation and that’s perfectly compatible, I mean on the emergent dualist view souls and bodies developed together and the, as you get a transformation in the genetic structure however exactly that arises, then you get the difference in the kind of soul that’s generated. Now, I admit I have no ability to fill in the details of all this, but maybe that’s asking for a lot at this point. I don’t know if that answers your question or not.

[Audience Member 3] Okay, simple question for JP. Why settle the emergentist who wants a real causal ethicacy of mental properties with supervenience? Why are we committed to that? Why not say instead that emergent properties are caused diachronically by underlying properties perhaps together with other emergent properties?

Well, that seems to me to be supervenience. I mean, if their cause- emergent supervenience for me is causality so that the subvenient base is what causes the emergent property to exist and it depends on it. So, that seems to be the pattern that has claimed to be present in the natural world, that these things are built up from bottom up and that’s what I take supervenience to actually mean. Come back and tell me what you’re thinking.

Okay, I’m just thinking that it’s not a synchronic causation, it’s diachronic so it’s causing subsequent emergent properties and once there are such properties, so here we’ve got emergent property one, at time T one that was caused by some physical property at time T zero, but then at time T two, maybe we have an emergent property that is caused jointly by the physical, some relevant physical properties at time T one but also the emergent properties at T one. So, the physical properties are not sufficient.

Yeah, I think that making it diachronic doesn’t help instead of synchronic, because I think that maybe the coming to be of the instantiation of the emergent property has a time lag, but its continued existence seems to still depend on what’s happening on the bottom that’s what it means for it be emergent. I think that if you’re gonna give it, if you’re gonna give a state of affairs, which is what I take an emergent property to be, causal powers there’s no need or room for them to be exercised like I tried to argue.

I think what you have to have is the direction your heading, and that’s an emergent individual. But, I’d like to push you a little bit over more towards Bill’s view [laughs] But that would be, I think that even if it’s diachronic, through time, that you still have the state of affairs that’s determined by and grounded in what’s underneath it, that’s what sustains it and its changes in existence, would be my view.

Professor Swinburne.

Bill asked for a little defense of creationism. I’m sorry to raise a point that I raised last night at the banquet, but as stated so far by you, I don’t see why a scientific theory which says that when neurons reach a certain stage of organization that they throw up a soul. Can you explain why they throw up my soul rather than your soul? Why does it happen this way around? Now, you might say, well there’s a certain this-ness in the underlying matter and you might say that if a certain chunk of underlying matter from my mother happens to meet a certain chunk of underlying matter from my father, then that means I’ll evolve.

But, if unfortunately they don’t meet, then I won’t evolve, now you might say that but the way things seem to be going in physics, the view seems to be that fundamental particles do not have this-ness, that is to say an electron is the electron it is in virtue of its properties as an electron and its history described in qualitative terms. If that’s right, then it comes, nothing there can- all qualitative physics can explain is the emergence of something qualitative. And it can’t explain why it’s me, rather than you. And that does seem to need something extra.

Well, you know I just don’t know. When the sperm and egg fortunately got together and generated your body, it seems to me that that generates a particular individual and that your soul is the soul of that body. That seems to me enough individuality to start with and there’s a lot of other things that have happened that make you the person that we all respect and admire, but it seems to me that the individuality is sufficiently given by the fact that those two cells met and generated a human individual. And the same for me, I don’t see why we need to suppose that there’s some further problem that needs an answer.

If this view of physics is right, that electrons are the fundamentals particles don’t have this-ness, they are just what they are in virtue of their properties described in universal terms, it would seem to follow that any composite of these, the same would apply. That is to say, until I become conscious, what makes my body my body is that it’s a body and that it has a certain qualitative history. There’s nothing more to it than that, it doesn’t have any individuality.

Well, I mean, your body not only has a certain qualitative history, but it has a certain spatio-temporal origin. And I think that’s, I think the spatio-temporal origin is essential to the individuation of material things.

Of course, but spatio-temporal origin itself is a qualitative matter, on this view, it doesn’t matter whether time, that is to say being at a certain point of space is just having a certain relation to other things. You’re at the moment trying to save things by an absolutist viewers space that suggests that, which might be correct, I’m only just probing a bit, but therefor as it were, if there was a certain this-ness about a point of space, then why I would evolve would be because some of what’s me has a history back to that point of space.

But, I’m only saying you are relying on a certain view of physics here, which is not currently popular and that is important for your case that you should rely on.

I’m just not seeing this, I mean there are individual material objects. I don’t think that is too contentious. One of these objects, or two of these objects, got together, combined in a certain way to generate your body. Two other such objects got together in a certain way and generated my body. I don’t see that there is some additional kind of individuation which is required beyond that. Now, if there is, then my view may be in trouble but I just don’t see it. I just don’t see that there is such a–

Can I have one more try? Perhaps somebody else would like to try on my behalf? The question is what makes your body the body it is and presumably it’s the particles out of which it’s made. And what makes those particles those particles? Well, because they’re an electron and they’re a proton, but what makes it that electron or that proton? And there’s two possible answers, one is that each proton has its own this-ness that makes it that, so that what makes it different from another proton is not its history, it’s just different, solo numero. The other view is that what makes it this proton is that it’s a proton continuous with a proton continuous with of a certain sort, it’s got a certain history.

And if the same applies to every other proton in the universe, then it’s being that proton simply is it having certain relations to other things. If that’s right, then your body is the same, your body doesn’t have any this-ness built in, it’s just a body of a certain kind. And the kind that makes it your body. So, it’s a body, but what makes it your body is that bits of it have had a history and the history can only be described in qualitative terms, that is the proton is the proton it is because it’s continuous with a proton which was two miles away from another proton and four miles away from another proton earlier and so on.

If that’s right, then all the laws can say is that something of this kind, in these circumstances is going to produce something else of a kind in certain kind of circumstances. That’s not, in my view, that’s not what makes you you, you would be you whatever other properties you had whatever you thought about, whatever your history was, that would make you you and therefor it wouldn’t be explained by the qualitative properties. Now, I’ve said enough.

I’m sure I’m not really understanding the problem adequately, but to me the difference, the individuation is, I mean there are multiple bodies in the world and my individuation is described, adequately described by the history of this body, that may be wrong, I just don’t understand that there’s a further problem.

Mister Baker.

Mister Baker: Thanks. I wanted to take up a point that Stew Garrit’s made for Bill and maybe push it or explore it a little bit more. So, one of the big things you claim Bill is that your account fits better with evolutionary considerations and I understand and respect that, but it seems to me like if you tried to fill that out, there are gonna be some pretty formidable problems there, maybe equally formidable for all I know.

So, if we tell the story, I assume only a certain an object with a certain kind of complexity will even sort of generate a soul, even a simple one. So, how do you get to that level of complexity? And then even if you, what’s the evolutionary motive to get up there? And then even if you’re thinking of a whole gradation of souls, then it’s not clear to me if you have something that has a very simple consciousness of some kind, why is that simple consciousness any better than a physical reflex? So, it seems to me that it’s hard to get into that story.

Okay. I mean, the basic argument for the soul as a substance is the unity of consciousness which I just referred to very briefly. I mean, that’s my basic argument for the soul as a substance. But, that’s a key argument that we’d have to discuss at greater length.

If I can in fact add to that question, I’ve been comparing the creationist soul versus an emergent soul.

Well, that argument doesn’t distinguish a creationist soul versus an emergenist soul, no.

Right, so the question is how do we fill in the details of the evolutionary story such that it conveys selectional advantages in the way it needs to to get there.

Well, of course an important part of the view is the rejection of physical causal closure. So, at every level the mental process, the consciousness, whatever it is, has an effect on the physical behavior of the organism and a more perceptive consciousness can improve the organisms behavior. I mean, a simple matter of being able to sense and sense benign or harmful chemicals in the environment of a micro organism and try to move in the appropriate direction. So, the idea is that the soul and the body co-evolved in this way and I think as a general pattern that seems to me a pretty coherent picture.

Just two follow ups and then I’ll shut up, maybe. But, that might tell us how one improves once you have one, but that won’t get you the first one, that won’t get you, that’ll maybe help a soul ratchet itself up over time. But, it won’t get you the first soul. And why should we think that the micro organism is sensing something?

Well, as I admitted, we really have difficulty when we get to very simple organisms to say what is reflecting some sort of consciousness or what is simply a physiological response. And I don’t have any firm, any way to draw the line. So, that was simply an illustrative example which might not even apply. Obviously as we get to animal behavior we can see a lot that certainly strongly suggests to us that there is consciousness, but again how far down the scale of complexity you want to push this is another question. Now, where do you get the first soul from? It’s the potential inherent in the physical stuff of the world to create consciousness when it’s properly organized. That’s all I can say.

Right, where does that first proper organization come from?

Well, it would come from some physical process of development. I mean it might involve divine intervention, I don’t know, I mean I can’t tell you how life originated and as far as I know nobody else can either. So, it may have been a purely natural process, it may have involved divine intervention, I don’t know.

Well, we’ve found our– sorry, JP were you gonna?

Yeah, I wanted to make one final remark if you don’t mind, and this is not intended in any wat to be mean spirited, but there has been a little bit of a confusion I think about what all of us hold. And I wanted to make clear that at least I’m one that not only thinks the Bible teaches that there’s soul, but that it’s clear about that. I don’t believe in a soul just because the Bible teaches it, I’ve got independent arguments that Richard and Bill and Stew and others have helped me with. Sorry, Bill.

But, I do think that people for two thousand years all over the world, who’ve not been influenced by the Greeks, you take a look at the underground Chinese church, they read the Scriptures and they conclude that when you die your soul leaves your body and goes to be with the Lord and there’s a resurrection of the body at the end of the age. It’s not an accident that all branches of the church have taught that for two thousand years, it wasn’t due to Greek influence, it’s because the Greeks were getting at something that they already knew the Bible taught.

So, I don’t say that everybody has to agree with me on that, certainly we differ on that, but I wanted to say that at least some of us here not only think the Bible teaches that but it thinks, it’s clear about it and that the lay reading is the correct reading. I don’t say that to make or want your brothers to disagree with me, in any way feel outside, but I just wanted to say that we’re not all, our scholarship hasn’t made all of us a little bit confused on that question.

Well, that brings us to noon, which means it’s lunch time so please join me in thanking our panelists. [applause]