Hick's Irenean Theodicy
Fowler (Charlotte)
Source: Heythrop Lecture Hand-out, 2010
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  1. Hick’s Irenean Theodicy
    • Hick’s Irenean theodicy needs to be understood against the background of the Augustinian / Thomist approach to the problem of evil.
      It is the Augustinian/ Thomist approach that still dominates Catholic approaches to evil.
    • Michelangelo’s painting of God creating Adam can be seen as summing up the assumptions behind this approach.
  2. Evil in the world
    • Augustine says that ‘all evil is either sin or the punishment for sin.’ De Genesi Ad Litteram Imperfectus liber 1.3. Moral evil was caused by the sin of Adam and Eve; all humanity now lives in a state of sin because of this original sin. We live in a state of sin, alienated from God, not as we were made to be as a punishment for this original sin.
    • Dealing with a myth. Contains some truths about the human condition. In the Garden all was perfect. Adam and Eve were vegetarians and lived in peace with the animals. They also lived in peace with God and each other. There was one rule…not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. They disobeyed and there were dramatic consequences. Adam and Eve thrown out of the garden for disobedience to God. Alienation from God the result of disobedience, but also alienation from nature.
    • Adam and Eve: Two fold contribution…God made the world and it is therefore sacred…we do not own it….moral evil results in disharmony between natural world and humans. See this in Shakespeare – Midsummer Night’s dream, Oberon and Titania fight and the world is disturbed. Belief that God created the world is a crucial factor for Christian attitudes to the environment. It belongs to God, is of God and is to be cared for because of this. There are higher and lower greater and lesser goods but everything that has being is good in its own way and degree except in so far as it has become spoiled or corrupted. Evil represents the going wrong of something that is inherently good. Augustine gives the example of blindness. The eye in itself is good. The evil of blindness consists of the lack of a proper functioning of the eye. Augustine holds that evil always consists in malfunctioning.
  3. The Free Will Defence
    • St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas’ approaches to the problem of evil both rely on human beings being free to disobey God. Evil is not due to God, but due to human (and angelic) use of their God-given freedom to rebel against God.
    • Both Augustine and Aquinas, whilst affirming non-determined human freedom, maintain that God’s knowledge of human actions is causal and, therefore, it is questionable how free human beings are against God…
    • The FWD seeks to blame human actions for evil and to say that God could not have created human beings who could love and be compassionate without giving them the possibility of rejecting God and doing evil.
    • The possibility of evil is, therefore, the necessary consequence of freedom. God does not want evil to take place but God cannot prevent evil without doing away with human freedom.
    • The FWD stresses non-determined freedom and tends to be adopted by Protestant theologians such as Alvin Plantinga. This is not Hick’s position.
  4. John Hick – A Protestant Theologian – Rejects This Whole Approach
  5. Hick’s Irenaean Theodicy
    • John Hick’s rejection of Augustinian / Thomist Theodicy
    • It represents a pre-scientific world view.
    • Bible story of Adam and Eve is myth not history.
    • Evolution1 questions human beings created finitely perfect and then falling. Humanity appears to have evolved out of lower life forms, emerging in a spiritually and culturally primitive state but developing.
    • Earthquakes, floods, death are not the consequence of the human fall, or a prior fall of angelic beings. They were in the world long before humans evolved.
    • Humanists, sceptics and atheists will not find the traditional approach challenging.
    • Many problems with this theodicy, easy to work out or research for yourselves. A more tricky problem which is worth outlining here is the Essential problem caused by blaming freewill for the existence of evil in the world.
    • If God is omniscient then he must have known what would happen.
  6. Hick’s Presuppositions
    • Faith – Hick’s religious experience is of a good, loving creator God.
    • Love Relationship – He believes the goal of human life is to enter into a relationship with God.
    • Christianity – not to demonstrate that Christianity is true, but the fact of evil does not show it to be false.
    • Greater Goods defence. Clearly Hick starts with the presupposition that God made the world and is infinitely good. He starts from the position of theism; that is the position which has at its centre a faith in an all loving creator God. From the conviction that the experiences he has of a loving God are real. If you start from the facts of evil and suffering you end up in a different place altogether, that there is no God. Also starts from the assumption that what is morally good to us must also be morally good to God. Whatever it is to be a good God is not the same as what it is to be a good human. Theodicies all assume human perception of morality and apply it to God. Aquinas would reject this use of language. Also assumes that we know that God wants to enter into a love relationship with humans. How do we know this? How can we know anything of God’s essence.
  7. Ireneus – Bishop of Lyons
    • Ireneus (120 -202) did not develop a theodicy.
    • What he did was develop a framework of thought in which a theodicy could emerge that was not dependent on the concept of the Fall.
    • John Hick says: “we should rather speak of a type of theodicy of which Ireneus can properly be regarded as the patron saint.” (‘Encountering Evil’. p. 41).
    • “Then God said let us make man in our image after our likeness”. Ireneus understood this to mean that humans were created as personal and moral beings created in the image of God but not yet formed into the likeness of God. By likeness Ireneus means a quality in human life that reflects the divine life.
  8. In favour and against Ireneus
    • Against Ireneus’ Interpretation: Ireneus did not understand the poetry in Genesis and in the Hebrew scripture where they tend to repeat the same thing in slightly different terms. This is clear in the psalms. The nature of Hebrew poetry is repetition of idea – saying the same thing twice so ‘image and likeness’ is not two separate ideas….
    • In Favour Of Ireneus Interpretation: Hebrews 2.10 talks of “Bringing many sons to glory”. In Romans 8.17 Paul talks of people having to become children God. In 2 Cor 3.18 Paul says “We all with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord and being changed into his likeness.”
  9. Two-fold stage of Creation
    • Gen 1:26 Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Image: potential for knowledge of and relationship with God.
    • Humans created spiritually and morally immature. Likeness – the intelligent, ethical and religious creature is being brought through free responses into a relationship with God
    • Space to grow mature and develop. Creation of homo sapiens, evolutionary2 process developed into intelligent ethical and religious animals, NOT Adam and Eve. No original utopia. Life always a struggle. Being made in the image of God only meant being made with the potential to enter a relationship with God. The second stage involves being brought through own free choices into a loving relationship with God. This is a movement into the likeness of God. Perfection does not lie in the past but in the future. We are involved in a continuing creative process whose completion lies in the eschaton. Irenaeus used the terms likeness and image from Genesis 1 26, “Then God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. Exegetically dubious reading of the text! Irenaeus meant that man as a personal and moral being already exists in the image of God, but has not yet been formed into the likeness of God. By this likeness Irenaeus means something more than personal existence as such, he means a valuable quality of life that reflects the divine life This is the perfecting of man, the fulfilment of God’s purpose for humanity, the bringing of many sons to glory, Hebrews 2 10. Or making us children of God, Romans 8 17. Man is created in the image of God but is only raw material. Ready for the more difficult stage of God’s creative work.
    • Perfection lies in the future, not in the past (cf. Augustine – thus life is dynamic and exciting, purposeful)
  10. Hick’s Irenaean Framework
    • Show Elohim creating Adam (William Blake) to students and ask for comments. What do they notice. Good visual stimulus for Irenaean theodicy.
    • Irenaean image of creation. Adam born with the shackles of sin wrapped around him. Made in image, but not yet in likeness.
  11. Why was Humanity not Created in the Likeness of God?
    • They would then already know God.
    • Aim of human life is to freely enter a relationship with God.
    • If they are already made in God’s likeness they are not free to make this choice. Therefore…
    • Epistemic Distance needed.
    • World is religiously ambiguous.
    • The world is created etsi deus nondaretur.
    • This ensures human freedom, liberty of indifference.
    • Virtues are better hard won than ready made
    • Epistemic distance - not spatial distance – God is incorporeal, omnipresent. In order for a person to have some measure of genuine freedom the creature must be brought into existence at a distance from God. A distance in the cognitive dimension. The world must be religiously ambiguous. The distance is created by our existence within a world that functions as an autonomous system. We are in a world that is etsi deus non daretur, as if there were no God. In order for humans to come to know and love God they cannot already know and love him.
    • Final point expresses a basic claim that cannot be substantiated. Value judgement. Better to have virtue which is hard won by struggle than to have virtue already made in the person. Question to ask: Is this plausible and coherent within the word as we know it?
    • Man in his personal existence is the finite likeness of God. The features of this likeness are revealed in the person of Christ and the process of man’s creation is the work of the Holy Spirit. 2 Cor 3 18, “And we all, with unveiled faces beholding the glory of the lord are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another: for this comes from the lord who is the spirit”. Fall for Irenaeus was a fall in the second stage of creation, we refuse to move from the animal to the spiritual. For Hick, this was a movement from animal life to eternal life, which transcends but includes the first.
    • The second stage of creation cannot be accomplished by divine fiat, but requires an uncompelled response. Hick’s picture is developmental and teleological and eschatological.
  12. (Blake): God is no longer in Adam’s sight. There is a gap of knowledge, a gap which means that God is not obvious in the world. There is an epistemic gap, the world is religiously ambiguous because of this epistemic gap.
  13. Eschatological verification
    • The world as a ‘vale of soul of making’ requires an after-life3 for completion.
    • Human beings are on a purifying journey towards the celestial city; from image of God into the likeness of God.
    • Hick claims his theory will be verified after death.
    • But, there is little evidence that people do grow into the likeness of God.
    • Also Hick rejects Augustine’s view of angelic beings.
    • And Hick justifies suffering with a hypothetical, metaphysical conclusion…
    • Based on the assumption that a finite loss is worth an infinite gain.
    • If the soul-making process does not seem to work then there is no justification for levels of and random nature of evil and suffering.
    • Why did God not just make our span on earth longer so that we had time to come to know him here? Why are so many things put in our way, the child that dies young? Hardly seems like a theodicy either. A theodicy is supposed to explain God’s ways to man not excuse God with promises of an afterlife4.
    • Is there any evidence that humanity is improving spiritually and morally…slavery abolished, female emancipation, some would argue that there is no evidence of this in evolutionary5 terms, but what about in the life of the individual? Hick is thinking in individualistic terms. Do we grow spiritually and morally more mature with age? Hick talks in terms of individual improvement not evolutionary6 history. How did the holocaust make people more perfect? It just maimed and destroyed.
  14. Natural Evil – Positive thing.
    • ‘Do you not see how necessary the world of pains and troubles is to school the intelligence and make it a soul?’
    • World is a vale of soul-making, a person-making world
    • Spiritual maturity only comes through struggle and suffering.
    • The world is not static and so provides a place for suffering and endurance.
    • Natural evil needed for the greater good.
    • Counter-factual hypothesis. A world in which no harm could come to anyone would not elicit moral growth. Natural evil elicits compassion and courage.
    • If the aim is to bring many sons to glory then the world had to be made with this purpose in mind. The purpose of a loving God is not to create a hedonistic paradise, but a world which is fitting for moral beings to be fashioned through their own free insights and responses into children of God. Children in an over-protective environment do not grow morally or spiritually. Pleasure is not the supreme value. The true test of whether this is a good world is whether it is a vale of soul-making…. A phrase coined by John Keats in a letter written to his brother and sister… ‘do you not see how necessary a World of pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?’
    • Some evils are justified by moral goods. Evil is the logically necessary condition of certain types of moral activity. Compassionate and courageous activities are responses to suffering and evil and are not possible if evil and suffering do not exist. Need to show that the compassion suffering sparks is worth the suffering itself to justify this kind of theodicy. Hick specifically argues that souls are morally and spiritually matured through suffering. The highest form of virtue and spirituality can be acquired only through struggle, and this requires real obstacles. By mastering real temptations and overcoming real evils we become the sort of persons who can enter into a loving relationship with God. The good this justifies is a vision of and participation in God’s own life.
    • Could make reference to such novels as Brave New World, Aldous Huxley - covered in Story and Evil session. The world as it is is an appropriate world for the second stage of creation to happen – making humans in the likeness of God. Challenge and response situations needed to develop human nature. In a world devoid of dangers there would have been virtually no development of the human intellect and imagination… true? The world also provides opportunities for moral growth. The way we respond to people in need, crisis in the world etc. Pain is needed for moral development, because people must be able and free to inflict it. Otherwise there would be no moral choices, the murderer who shoots someone can never hurt or kill. No distinction between right or wrong.
    • Counterfactual hypothesis - imagine the world the way it is not: a place not free of pain and suffering but free of undeserved suffering. A place where sufferings can be seen as justly deserved or to serve as constructive for moral training. Suffering would not elicit sympathy, but be regarded as good for the person. Compassion that follows suffering is worth the moral opportunity it provides for the moral training of others.
    • Evaluative point that Hick has given evil a positive value. For Augustine is was an absence, but for Hick it now has a positive value. Evil contributes positively to human life making it a vale of soul-making, the question is soul-making. But for who? Was Auschwitz soul-making? It seems rather to have been soul destroying. What about the suffering of animals and children? Is this soul-making? Too much suffering is inflicted on the innocent purely for the edification of the rest.
    • Swinburne p. 219 essentially supports the idea of the greater good defence. The existence of God. ’Clearly if there is a God he must set a limit to the amount of suffering. Clearly too there is such a limit. There is a temporal limit constituted by death to the amount a given man can suffer. And there is also presumably a limit to the intensity of possible suffering set by the constitution of the brain through which suffering comes to man. ….My own lack of experience of many of the harsher evils of the world may have led me to fail to appreciate their full horror.’
    • Those who say God could limit the amount of evil suffered are asking for a toy-town world.
    • ‘The reader will agree with my verdict insofar as he believes that it is more important what an agent does (the choices he makes, the changes he produces in the world) than what happens to him (the sensations he experiences)’.
  15. Why is suffering indiscriminate?
    • There appears to be no justice in the way suffering strikes – the righteous as well as the unrighteous.
    • Why? It is ultimately a mystery but it ensures that the world is religiously ambiguous. If misfortune came predictably upon the wicked we might have reason to believe there was a divine hand in it.
    • Compassion for those who suffer, which is a soul-making event, would disappear.
    • Also it would not serve as a person-making world – people would have an ulterior motive for acting well: reward / punishment.
    • No reason offered for level or indiscriminate nature of suffering. It is a mystery and maybe the fact that it is a mystery is important to the world’s qualities as a place of soul-making.
    • Early answers to the question of innocent evil and suffering were that it was a punishment for evil actions; punishment visited upon the third and fourth generation. This meant that suffering did not even have to be for your own sins, but could be sins of father or grand-father. Not seen as haphazard, although the individual suffering not necessarily responsible. Evil and suffering punishment from God, to pay for sin. Out of this idea eventually came the idea of vicarious suffering in second Isaiah. View of communal guilt disappeared and demand for justice for the individual emerged. Jesus may have taken the sin of the world, but not all the suffering.
    • Hick regards suffering as indiscriminate and explains this suffering as a guarantee of religious ambiguity – thus maintaining liberty of indifference. Hick thus opts for the other major biblical strand; suffering as a test, or a trial.
    • Though perhaps one could have less intensity / fairer distribution of suffering and yet still maintain religious ambiguity – thus human freedom would be preserved. Need to justify this level of suffering in terms of the perceived benefit. Has Hick achieved this? Also raises the problem of animal suffering, why do animals suffer if suffering is to be explained in terms of human soul-making? Answer probably that suffering is a part of survival package. Need to feel pain of heat in order not to be burned alive.
    • Was there no middle ground between the most horrendous forms of evil and the utopia that Hick thinks would leave us morally flabby?
    • Is a God who creates this level of suffering for his own sake, so that he can know that we have freely come to love him, good? Is this kind of deity worthy of love? Cannot know the goods which evil precipitates in all its complexity. Cannot know for sure the full extent of its benefits. We cannot be accurate in our assessment. The God who gives permission for evil and suffering is revealed as a loving just God and this is where faith comes in, to claim that in our ignorance of the full facts of evil, and our inability to explain animal suffering, or whether the positive goods that it brings justifies it we have to rely on faith in what is revealed as the person and nature of God.
    • Hick maintains that this is the right amount of suffering to attain soul-making, that if we take away harsher forms of indiscriminate suffering humanity will demand the next thing is also too harsh; ie. take away cancer then what next etc. But then this also assumes that if the level of suffering were increased it would also be compatible with a loving all-powerful God.
  16. Universal Salvation
    • According to Hick’s Irenaean theodicy everybody is saved. All will come into the likeness of God. This process is not always completed in this world but continues in the next.
    • Only this can justify God in giving moral and natural evil, sin and innocent suffering to the entire human race throughout history.
    • The greater good which justifies evil and suffering is Universal Salvation.
    • Eschatological Verification: Human beings are on the journey of suffering which takes them from the image to the likeness of God.
    • The truth of this will be known in the afterlife7, and cannot be known in this life.
    • World does not however seem to succeed as a place of soul-making!!!
    • Undermines human free will. Free will to choose to love God or not was the reason for the epistemic gap, and the freedom to do evil and inflict harm part of the choices to be made in that search. If we are not truly free, but determined then the theodicy fails.
    • Why bother to be moral if everyone will be saved?
    • Lacks biblical authority. Matt 7:13, 12:32 25:41. If there is universal salvation then it is not achieved because we deserve it but because we are given it as a result of grace…this is far from the theory of Hick who suggests we come to know God through our own choices and that our decisions in the afterlife8 contribute equally to this, ie. that it is deserved, we work towards it. Trust God even in the midst of deep suffering, for in the end we shall participate in his glorious kingdom. Person-making process not completed on earth. The tragedy in the life of most of us is that we die before we are fully born. This theodicy presupposes the afterlife9 as a necessary postulate for the completion of us as humans. For many people this renders this theodicy implausible.
    • Why spend 4 billion years of animal suffering to reach the stage where humans can have a vale of soul-making…does not make any more sense of the evolutionary10 period than Augustine.
    • Can Ivan return his ticket? Only if he can show that it was possible to create an alternative, better world. Science seems to show that natural evil is part of the balance of the natural world, and finite life is only possible if death exists. Pain is a useful way of preserving life. Warning system. Necessary for survival. It is ordered but flexible and this seems to be the only way it could be. And for Hick this is a good thing, positive contribution to our lives, vale of soul-making. If it is not worth creating a world in which human suffering occurs, then Ivan can return his ticket, logically this means no one who is thinking about having a child can justify it, because they know that this will mean a degree of suffering. It would be immoral. We still have children because we believe that the greater good of life makes the suffering worthwhile. It is worth it. Would you rather be dead than sitting here having gone through the suffering you have endured already in this life?
    • Godward bias, but essentially we come to God by our own free choices in Hick’s Irenaean theodicy. This means that we earn our relationship with God. Problem for those who maintain justification by faith alone and the redemptive power of the Incarnation and crucifixion. What happened to grace?
    • Swinburne calls the hypothesis of life after death11 a case of ad hoc hypothesis….adding a hypothesis to save theism. This hypothesis entered Jewish thought under the pressure of suffering inflicted during the period of the Maccabees. Reduces the prior probability of God. Why did God not just make our span on earth longer so that we had time to come to know him here? Why are so many things put in our way, the child that dies young? Hardly seems like a theodicy either. A theodicy is supposed to explain God’s ways to man not excuse God with promises of an afterlife12.
  17. Newton (Blake)
    • Euclidean, rational mind.
    • Absorbed in the task - at the expense of everything else - in spite of hard coral rock
    • Measuring - implying authority / control
    • Perhaps imagery of 1st human being - Adam?
    • At the bottom of the sea bed - darkness
  18. Man has potential to become like God, in his likeness; Newton, or like Nebuchadnezzar, less than human. This happens through own free choices.
  19. Nebuchadnezzar – sequel to Newton!
    • The consequences of focusing exclusively on reason - the purely rational will become bestial.
    • Look of horror in the face - too late, unable to change.
    • Examples of evil / suffering which results due to exclusively focusing on reason: Eichmans, concentration camps, cloning, GM Food?
  20. Liberty
    • The success or failure of both Augustinian and Irenaean type theodices depends on the notion of free will.
    • Both traditions depend on humans having liberty of indifference rather than liberty of spontaneity.
    • Liberty of indifference means that we experience free will and have real choices that are not determined. We are capable of surprising people who know us.
    • This notion of freedom underpins both theodicies.
    • Augustinian: Humans and angels are free to choose moral evil which justifies God against the accusation that he, as creator of all things, must also have created evil.
    • Irenaean: Humans are free to choose to move into the image of God.
    • Liberty of indifference means that we don’t just have the experience of freewill, we actually are free to choose.
    • Shleiermacher supported by Flew and Mackie in claim that God could have created humans free but always inclined to choose to do the right thing. Mackie says it was logically possible for God to do this. Mackie: ‘If there is no logical impossibility in a man’s freely choosing the good on one, or on several occasion, there cannot be a logical impossibility in his freely choosing the good on every occasion. God was not then faced with a choice between making innocent automata and making beings who, in acting freely, would sometimes go wrong: there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but always go right. Clearly, his failure to avail himself of this possibility is inconsistent with his being both omnipotent and wholly good.(J L Mackie, Evil and Omnipotence Mind April 1955 p. 209.) Antony Flew makes a similar point in Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom, New Essays in Philosophical Theology.
    • Reply: No contradiction in saying that our actions are both free and caused by both the circumstances in which we find ourselves and our nature. People might be able to predict what we will do and yet we may still be free to do otherwise. BUT it is held, there is a contradiction in saying that God is the cause of our acting as we do and that we are free beings…specifically in relation to God. If all our thoughts and actions are predetermined by God we are not free in relation to God at all. We are God’s puppets. God is a parent who operates by a series of posthypnotic suggestions!! The one hypnotised feels themselves free but they are in fact determined. They are not genuinely free agents. God could have created this way, but there would have been no point if he was seeking to create people who would respond freely to Him.
  21. Liberty of Spontaneity:
    • We experience freewill but will always choose one path rather than another.
    • Factors beyond our control determine how we will make our choices.
    • This man thinks that he is receiving hypnotic treatment to help him to give up smoking….however….This wicked woman is hypnotising this poor helpless man into loving her. When he comes round and looks at her he will go weak at the knees and declare undying love. He will not be able to eat if she does not call him and sleep evades him at night. If he does not see her he will have withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced by people who do give up smoking…but he will not crave cigarettes, he will crave the sight of this terrible woman….All of this he does and believes it is freely chosen….He is free to choose to do otherwise, but is programmed not to wish to… Is this genuine freedom? Is this the way we are anyway? He experiences free will. We all experience free will, but people who know us will know the choices we will make and the paths we will take. If God gave us only liberty of spontaneity then moral evil is programmed into us…and God is responsible for the programming. We have no choice but to act in the ways that we do…Hitler programmed…not options. We are not free to do otherwise. Children who are abused often become abusers themselves. Both theodicies fail. If God could have given this kind of freedom then he could have made us to freely choose the right thing and to freely avoid moral evil….he did not and so is responsible for moral evil.
  22. Liberty
    • The success of the Augustinian and Irenaean type theodicies depend on the assumption that we have liberty of indifference.
    • If in fact we have liberty of spontaneity then we cannot be held responsible for our moral choices. Adam and Eve could not help giving in to temptation. We are not free to choose to move from the image to the likeness of God. The abused child cannot help becoming a paedophile.
    • We may experience moral choices but we are programmed.
    • A choice for you to make. What kind of freedom do you think you have…?
    • Much more than the traditional theodicies are lost in the process…law and order depends on people being responsible for their actions.
    • Antony Flew and John Mackie argue that God had the choice to give liberty of spontaneity and not liberty of indifference. In not doing so he is responsible for moral evil in the world.
    • In other words it is logically possible that we could have been made to experience the freedom to choose right or wrong but always be inclined by nature to do the right thing. This would have meant far less moral evil in the world.
    • God could have created humans free but chose the world in which they always did what was right. Mackie says it was logically possible for God to do this.
    • Mackie: ‘If there is no logical impossibility in a man’s freely choosing the good on one, or on several occasion, there cannot be a logical impossibility in his freely choosing the good on every occasion.’
    • If God could have made us always good, then Hick’s approach fails…
  23. Key differences
    • Augustine
      • Evil created by human/angelic free will.
      • Evil is a falling short of the originally perfect state.
      • The explanation for evil lies in the past.
      • Jesus died to redeem the world
      • Those who do not believe are damned
    • Hick’s Irenaean
      • Evil created by God.
      • Evil has a positive value for human moral and spiritual growth.
      • The explanation for evil will be known in the future.
      • Human free choice is determinative.
      • All are saved.


Heythrop MA Philosophy of Religion Lecture

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