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Christians: A logic problem - an all knowing God and free will


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So I was ruminating on the subject of logic, God and philosophy and I thought of something that of course has been thought up before. We've probably discussed it before but not as its own subject.

 

That is the subject of an all knowing God, and free will. the God of the bible is all knowing as one of his characteristics. This is hinted at via many verses, but one of the explicitly stated ones is:

 

1 John 3:20(NKJV)

20 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.

 

It is even claimed by some Christians that "as Matthew 11 points out, God even knows what people would have done if their circumstances had been different". So God would have known what you would have done if you didn't do the thing you did do.

 

However, it's also said among many Christian doctrines that in order to solve the apparent unfairness of the fall in Eden that humanity was granted free will. Not all doctrines hold this view, I recognize that. For example if you follow Calvinism then God predetermined everything so there is no free will to worry about. However many do.

 

The problem however is that the premise that God is all knowing, and that he gave humans free will are logical contradictions.

 

If God knows what you will do, then you cannot do otherwise. In this instance you have no free will. On the other hand if you can do something that God doesn't know about then you have free will, but then God isn't all knowing.

 

As a Christian this didn't really bother me because I never considered it deeply, but when deconverting I did think about it, and it was one of the logical problems that I had no solution for. As we didn't follow Calvinist doctrine this presented a sizable problem to my beliefs. 

 

So how do you deal with it? Is there a logical pathway out?

 

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42 minutes ago, LogicalFallacy said:

If God knows what you will do, then you cannot do otherwise.

 

I think this is an unproven assumption.  I can imagine a universe where god simultaneously gives his creatures free will, and knows what they will do of their own free will; that simultaneity might not be what we are used to, or make sense to us; but I can imagine it if god is not bound by time.

 

I can also imagine a universe where an all-knowing god can, of his own free will, limit his own knowledge in giving his creatures free will.  Omniscience then means that god could know everything if he wanted to, but chooses not to know some things.

 

I did not grow up as a calvinist so this is my natural tendency.  Our take on it was that if god cannot choose to give his creatures free will, then he is not all-powerful.

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The problem of free will is a major issue in philosophy. It isn't restricted to Christianity. Christians have a particularly bad version of the problem to deal with, but they aren't the only ones who have to face it.

 

In normal philosophy, the problem of the freedom of the will has to do with the apparent incompatibility of determinism and freedom. The statement of the problem is usually something like this: if it is true that the universe operates according to fixed laws, and that it is causally closed, then it ought to be possible, at least in principle, to predict, given complete knowledge of one state of the universe, all subsequent states of the universe, and to retrodict all previous states (this is the essence of determinism). But if this is so, then there cannot be freedom of the will, because any choice I might make is part of a state of the universe, and is hence completely determined. Nevertheless, it seems fairly obvious that I do have free-will. Hence, we have a problem.

 

There are some people who argue that the problem is misconceived, and that free-will and determinism are actually compatible (appropriately named "compatiblists"). I don't personally think these arguments really go anywhere. There are also people who say that free-will must simply be an illusion. And then there are those who say that determinism must be false. I fall into this final category. Notice, though, that this still leaves a kind of problem of free-will, namely that we need to demonstrate how freedom of choice arises. To do so, I think, will require a robust explanation of consciousness, and, well, it isn't called the "hard problem" for nothing.

 

For Christians, though, the problem is worse. If God is supposed to be an all-knowing, all-powerful creator, then, in a sense, He knows what will happen, and because he is the creator, he has caused it to happen. Under this picture, it is very difficult to see how freedom of the will is possible.

 

I can see a few possible ways out. We could say that freedom of the will is illusory, but I don't think this will have great appeal for most Christians. We could say that God is not all-knowing, but again, I don't think this will be very popular. A more palatable response may be to adjust what we mean by "all-knowing". One thing that has just occurred to me is that it could be argued that God knows all possibilities, and all consequences of all possibilities, but he doesn't know what choices we will actually make. He knows what the consequences of every possible choice are, but he leaves up to us what we will choose. On this conception, your life is like a very complex "choose your own adventure" novel. There are many different story lines, and many different endings, and it is up to the reader (us) to choose which path she will take. Nevertheless, the author knows all possible paths, and he knows at every step where each choice leads. So the author is all knowing about the possibilities, but he isn't all knowing about what choices we will make. That is up to us.

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I prefer Pepsi.  I can, of my own "free will", choose to drink a Coke.  But such a choice is ultimately just a reaction to my propensity toward Pepsi.  We are only "free" to make the choices we are capable of making.  Thus, in my estimation, "free will" is an illusion.

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My old church held that god knew what choices we would make; but left said choices up to us.  Since he didn't make the choices for us, but knew the outcomes, then we had free will, and he was still all-knowing.  Not a great answer; but there it is.

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2 hours ago, disillusioned said:

The problem of free will is a major issue in philosophy. It isn't restricted to Christianity. Christians have a particularly bad version of the problem to deal with, but they aren't the only ones who have to face it.

 

In normal philosophy, the problem of the freedom of the will has to do with the apparent incompatibility of determinism and freedom. The statement of the problem is usually something like this: if it is true that the universe operates according to fixed laws, and that it is causally closed, then it ought to be possible, at least in principle, to predict, given complete knowledge of one state of the universe, all subsequent states of the universe, and to retrodict all previous states (this is the essence of determinism). But if this is so, then there cannot be freedom of the will, because any choice I might make is part of a state of the universe, and is hence completely determined. Nevertheless, it seems fairly obvious that I do have free-will. Hence, we have a problem.

 

There are some people who argue that the problem is misconceived, and that free-will and determinism are actually compatible (appropriately named "compatiblists"). I don't personally think these arguments really go anywhere. There are also people who say that free-will must simply be an illusion. And then there are those who say that determinism must be false. I fall into this final category. Notice, though, that this still leaves a kind of problem of free-will, namely that we need to demonstrate how freedom of choice arises. To do so, I think, will require a robust explanation of consciousness, and, well, it isn't called the "hard problem" for nothing.

 

For Christians, though, the problem is worse. If God is supposed to be an all-knowing, all-powerful creator, then, in a sense, He knows what will happen, and because he is the creator, he has caused it to happen. Under this picture, it is very difficult to see how freedom of the will is possible.

 

I can see a few possible ways out. We could say that freedom of the will is illusory, but I don't think this will have great appeal for most Christians. We could say that God is not all-knowing, but again, I don't think this will be very popular. A more palatable response may be to adjust what we mean by "all-knowing". One thing that has just occurred to me is that it could be argued that God knows all possibilities, and all consequences of all possibilities, but he doesn't know what choices we will actually make. He knows what the consequences of every possible choice are, but he leaves up to us what we will choose. On this conception, your life is like a very complex "choose your own adventure" novel. There are many different story lines, and many different endings, and it is up to the reader (us) to choose which path she will take. Nevertheless, the author knows all possible paths, and he knows at every step where each choice leads. So the author is all knowing about the possibilities, but he isn't all knowing about what choices we will make. That is up to us.

 

Disillusioned,

 

Is Proverbs 3 : 5 -6 a verse likely to be used by Compatiblists?  I used to believe that such 'divine mysteries' as this were beyond human understanding.  Would that have made me a Compatiblist?

 

Btw, I agree that on logical and philosophical levels the Combatiblist position is incoherent.  But, if God were truly capable of making a square circle, then all such logical incompatibilities wouldn't be a problem for him.  A problem for us, to be sure.  Perhaps one that is simply beyond the scope of human intellect.

 

Thank you.

 

Walter.

 

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6 hours ago, WalterP said:

 

Disillusioned,

 

Is Proverbs 3 : 5 -6 a verse likely to be used by Compatiblists?  I used to believe that such 'divine mysteries' as this were beyond human understanding.  Would that have made me a Compatiblist?

 

Usually, those who claim to be compatiblists are not arguing for Christianity, but I take your point. I think there is definitely a kind of similarity between the determinism/free-will dilemma and the omniscient God/free-will dilemma. Saying "we just can't fully understand God's ways" is a bit of a cop-out, in my view,  but it is a kind of compatabilistic stance.

 

Quote

Btw, I agree that on logical and philosophical levels the Combatiblist position is incoherent.  But, if God were truly capable of making a square circle, then all such logical incompatibilities wouldn't be a problem for him.  A problem for us, to be sure.  Perhaps one that is simply beyond the scope of human intellect.

 

 

I actually agree with this. If God does exist, there's no reason at all for us to be able to understand His ways. Earthworms might as well try to reason about quantum mechanics. And if He is all-powerful in truth, then He can do whatever He wants, whether we understand it or not. Again, this is a cop-out, but it works...

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On 12/14/2019 at 3:30 AM, LogicalFallacy said:

It is even claimed by some Christians that "as Matthew 11 points out, God even knows what people would have done if their circumstances had been different". So God would have known what you would have done if you didn't do the thing you did do.

 

In the Calvanism thread, I pointed out that all-knowing and predestination amount to the same thing. Even though non-Calvinist's don't look at it that way. If god knows EVERY possible outcome, choice, or otherwise, everything has been predetermined. But predetermined by who? Did the people predetermine their own fate?

 

Let's say they do. The deeper issue is that the god created a person, turned it into two people, which then rolled into everyone. There's no question that everyone is created by god by christian standard. The god carried out this creation knowing EVERY aspect of not only what potentials COULD play out, but even further to knowing of infinite possibility's what WOULD play out. All of these would be predetermined, or predestined from the very act of creation. To be "all-knowing," the god would have to know which exact possibility will play out. 

 

On 12/14/2019 at 4:12 AM, TEG said:

I can imagine a universe where god simultaneously gives his creatures free will, and knows what they will do of their own free will; that simultaneity might not be what we are used to, or make sense to us; but I can imagine it if god is not bound by time.

 

Time and eternity don't really matter very much in this instance. The god's obviously eternal. And the god knows all possible outcomes AND which exact outcomes out of infinite possibility's will take place. Or else the god is not all-knowing. Only partially knowing. Whatever people do that looks as if they are free will choices, were already known to an "all-knowing" god. And therefore 'predestined as of the conscious act of creation,' as explained above. 

 

On 12/14/2019 at 4:12 AM, TEG said:

I can also imagine a universe where an all-knowing god can, of his own free will, limit his own knowledge in giving his creatures free will.  Omniscience then means that god could know everything if he wanted to, but chooses not to know some things.

 

Which would amount to partial knowing, and default to the god not being Omniscient.

 

The god can't make himself NOT know something without crossing the line from all-knowing to partial knowing. Even if he the god has the potential to know everything but chooses not to, the choice not to know everything is made, therefore keeping the god less than all-knowing

 

On 12/14/2019 at 4:12 AM, TEG said:

I did not grow up as a calvinist so this is my natural tendency.  Our take on it was that if god cannot choose to give his creatures free will, then he is not all-powerful.

 

Me neither. I'm of the free will variety like you. So I never really contemplated these Calvinist beliefs until recently when they came up. It never occur'd to me how all-knowing and freewill are such a logical contradiction of this magnitude. It's a huge problem. And now I'm aware of it. 

 

And aware of how difficult it is for christians to try and get out of it somehow. The bigger issue is that it runs down the line like you've illustrated above. The god can't be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present, all-good, or 'all anything else' you can think of without creating major, untenable logical contradictions in the process of trying. Each contradiction can be teased out like we've done here with all-knowing verses freewill. 

 

18 hours ago, disillusioned said:

I actually agree with this. If God does exist, there's no reason at all for us to be able to understand His ways. Earthworms might as well try to reason about quantum mechanics. And if He is all-powerful in truth, then He can do whatever He wants, whether we understand it or not. Again, this is a cop-out, but it works...

 

This tends to push god towards wholly transcendent, and therefore completely out of reach of understanding from here in the universe. But of course, that's an eastern god belief and not a western, christian belief. For the sake of christian contemplation, god is transcendent and immanent, therefore understandable to us rather than completely beyond understanding. The god makes himself understandable to us, even though it's alleged that the god is transcendent.

 

But even that comes with contradiction. And then amounts to claims that the god is understandable when it suites their purpose, but beyond understanding when they get stumped with logical contradictions and can't find any way out of it. So yes, it's a cop-out. 

 

If the god is all-powerful in truth, he can do whatever he wants. But if the god doesn't want to know everything then the gods choice was NOT to know everything. This doesn't help the christian position at all. The god chooses between all-powerful and all-knowing, forfeiting one of the two. If the god is understandable. Because attributes are within the range of understanding, they are not transcendent of understanding - they are words, concepts, ideas, etc. Transcendent is beyond words, concepts, ideas, etc.

 

If the god is wholly transcendent, completely beyond understanding, well, then it can't be said that the god has any attributes in any literal sense of the word. Attributes are of the realm of knowing and what's knowable, not beyond it. Beyond knowing means beyond thought, concepts, comprehension, visualization, and everything associated with human thought. Nothing can be said of such a god, least of all applying the term "god." It has to go beyond the any concept of "god." 

 

Everything from god, to attributes, to logic, to conceptualization can not be any more than metaphorical place holder's for what the person is actually trying to point at. And this does the christian argument no good. It dissolves christianity's position on god completely.

 

God necessarily vanishes into thin air in the process. Apologist's seldom realize where it leads when alleging that god is unknowable for the purpose of trying to excuse themselves from hard questions. And I always find them ending up stuck with arguing that god both is and is not knowable, according to whatever suites their own personal needs and agenda in a given circumstance. 

 

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"All generalizations are false, including this one." (Albert Einstein)

 

"I can resist everything but temptation." (Mark Twain)

 

https://hubpages.com/politics/What-Are-Lifes-Greatest-Contradictions

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And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”
So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”  Genesis 3:8-11


I feel like I am arguing about a comic book character like they did in the big bang theory, but . . . even though people use the word “omniscient” to describe god, he doesn’t always know everything.  And believers can always say that god is not fully knowable but reveals himself to us to the degree which we can understand.


Even statements like “god cannot be both all-good and all-powerful if he lets evil exist” have an answer that most christians wouldn’t like:  god must not be all-good, at least as we imagine it.  He must have an evil streak.  There are a number of verses in the old testament that talk about god creating or bringing evil; modern translations usually use the word “calamity.”  And the wrath of god is a thing in the new testament as well.  A lot, maybe most, believers create god in their own image, to suit themselves.  Maybe she isn’t an all-good santa claus in the sky.


And it seems as if there are two issues being addressed here:  the christian idea of predestination and free will, and the existence of free will in the actual universe.  I tend to doubt the latter, but I think science is just scratching the surface.


“I never said half the things I said.” (Yogi Berra)

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1 hour ago, midniterider said:

Can god choose to not know something?

 

If pigs had wings, could they fly?

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9 minutes ago, TEG said:

 

If pigs had wings, could they fly?

 

Probably not. Achieving flight relies on more than just wings. Simply put, pigs are not evolved to fly. And if they could fly they'd be so different that they wouldn't be recognisable as pigs.

 

I answered that way more seriously than I'd intended lol

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15 minutes ago, LogicalFallacy said:

 

Probably not. Achieving flight relies on more than just wings. Simply put, pigs are not evolved to fly. And if they could fly they'd be so different that they wouldn't be recognisable as pigs.

 

I answered that way more seriously than I'd intended lol

I don't know that the question is really relevant.  Plenty of winged species do not fly: penguins, emus; and I can think of at least one species without wings that does fly.

 

god choosing not to know something presents a unique problem, in that god needs to know what it is he is choosing to not know.  This creates a paradox, a conundrum, as it were.  As well as at least one further question: does god really not know; or does he actually know, but chooses not to acknowledge?

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It seems god is not a logical concept in order for the OP question to even be considered.

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There also seems to be an assumption that the future has some existence that can be accessed by god prior to the event. Maybe there is only the Now. Maybe causality and decisions are an illusion 

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On ‎12‎/‎14‎/‎2019 at 11:09 PM, disillusioned said:

One thing that has just occurred to me is that it could be argued that God knows all possibilities, and all consequences of all possibilities, but he doesn't know what choices we will actually make. He knows what the consequences of every possible choice are, but he leaves up to us what we will choose.

 

I'm not sure if this works for the Christian God? Let's assume you are correct. While God might know all possible outcomes, if he doesn't know the choices people will make then he doesn't know the actual outcome. If he doesn't know the actual outcome then how can prophesy work? For prophesy to work God has to know every choice that everyone makes that leads to the fulfilment of the prophesy under the Christian worldview. Otherwise 'prophesy' is just random guessing that manages to get it right.

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     How could god choose to not know anything?  In order to not know something god would have to first know that thing.  In which case god surely knows that thing no matter how you slice it unless god has a way to actually excise information from itself but then god literally lacks that information and wouldn't know that it lacks that information and would then not be omniscient.  I suppose god could tell some random angels all these bits and pieces of information before "forgetting" it so they could hand it back at some proper time but during this time god would lack the info and not be truly omniscient.  If god can willingly compartmentalize information and you ask god for that information at that moment, whether it's "contained" within god or not, if it doesn't have access to it then it's not omniscient.  Like if god decides to not know 2+2=4 and you ask that question and you get a shrug then god has failed even if that information supposedly exists within god.  And I would think that if would told god 2+2=4 that god should not be able to have that information since it's off-limits for it to know otherwise it would have to perpetually unlearn it.  So god could never know that 2+2=4 while it was actively now knowing this.  It's crazy.

 

     Also, if god is truly, absolutely, omniscient then it would also be bound by that knowledge just as much as we would be.  That would mean god would lack free will once it formulated this knowledge.  Once it knew everything it would include everything that it would do as well which means it would have to then carry out any activities contained in that knowledge.  That is, unless, that knowledge was imperfect.  In that case it could deviate but then it wouldn't truly be omniscient.  I don't know of any other way god could deviate from it's own omniscience.  How it could contain all knowledge but also modify that knowledge to contain new knowledge.  It seems that it would have to have known that it was going to modify that knowledge and, even then, it would have known what that new knowledge would be which means it was always there making the whole point  of modifying anything moot.

 

          mwc

 

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13 minutes ago, mwc said:

Also, if god is truly, absolutely, omniscient then it would also be bound by that knowledge just as much as we would be.  That would mean god would lack free will once it formulated this knowledge.  Once it knew everything it would include everything that it would do as well which means it would have to then carry out any activities contained in that knowledge.

Hmm... I never thought about that... and if god, himself, doesn't have free will, then he isn't omnipotent, either; because there are choices that he can't make. 

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The subject of free will is masturbation material for philosophers. Christianity's take on it only makes it worse. I make these statements of my own free will.

 

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On ‎12‎/‎14‎/‎2019 at 10:12 PM, TEG said:

I think this is an unproven assumption.

 

Well lets face it - God is an unproven assumption. But if we apply the characteristics of the God as described and the notion of free will then my statement is more a logical conclusion than an assumption, imo.

 

On ‎12‎/‎14‎/‎2019 at 10:12 PM, TEG said:

 I can imagine a universe where god simultaneously gives his creatures free will, and knows what they will do of their own free will; that simultaneity might not be what we are used to, or make sense to us; but I can imagine it if god is not bound by time.

 

I can also imagine a universe where an all-knowing god can, of his own free will, limit his own knowledge in giving his creatures free will.  Omniscience then means that god could know everything if he wanted to, but chooses not to know some things.

 

I'm not sure if this works logically. God would have to know that he knows everything if he wanted to. But in order for that to work he would have to know everything in order to know that he knows it right? Which means he wouldn't be able to choose not to know something, while still being all knowing.

 

I can imagine a God as you describe, but it wouldn't the all knowing God I'm discussing.

 

On ‎12‎/‎14‎/‎2019 at 10:12 PM, TEG said:

I did not grow up as a calvinist so this is my natural tendency.  Our take on it was that if god cannot choose to give his creatures free will, then he is not all-powerful.

 

Yes, when you start running Omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence together you run into a raft of logical problems. Thus I limited this discussion to a particular problem. 

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10 hours ago, mwc said:

     How could god choose to not know anything?  In order to not know something god would have to first know that thing.

 

This is exactly the problem I laid out to TEG in my above post.

 

10 hours ago, mwc said:

Also, if god is truly, absolutely, omniscient then it would also be bound by that knowledge just as much as we would be.  That would mean god would lack free will once it formulated this knowledge.  Once it knew everything it would include everything that it would do as well which means it would have to then carry out any activities contained in that knowledge.  That is, unless, that knowledge was imperfect.  In that case it could deviate but then it wouldn't truly be omniscient.  I don't know of any other way god could deviate from it's own omniscience.  How it could contain all knowledge but also modify that knowledge to contain new knowledge.  It seems that it would have to have known that it was going to modify that knowledge and, even then, it would have known what that new knowledge would be which means it was always there making the whole point  of modifying anything moot.

 

Like TRP I hadn't considered the idea of free will from Gods point of view. But you are right. If one knows everything, including all the decisions one would make then one cannot choose otherwise to do a different thing to the thing which one knowns one will do. So it would appear that an all knowing God is simply deterministic. But then, again as TRP points out it puts a gaping hole in his omnipotence.

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What if there's more stuff to know than just "everything"?  Then god could limit himself to just knowing "everything"; but not all the other stuff.  Kind of like I limit my knowledge to algebra, even though I know trigonometry exists.

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I just don’t see a logical contradiction in the concept of “foreknowledge does not imply predestination.”  Or, for that matter, “I could know everything but I choose not to.”  If I made a race of little robots, and had the ability to give them actual free will, then I could:


1.  Peer into the future with my futurescope and see one of them walking off a cliff.  But its falling off the cliff was the result of its own actions, and the fact that I know it ahead of time did not make it happen.


2.  Not peer into the future, even though I could, and just wait to see what my creatures will do.  And if I did that, I could still give them a prophecy that at some point, I will send them a special robot that will have a special mission.  Or that if they do not shape up, I will punish them.


3.  If I were “outside” of time, and could see every robot’s time line all at once, then I could create them here, and see the results of their actions there, without causing them.  (This is kind of a tangent, but I remember having conversations about god like this.)


I can also put myself into my old “believer shoes” and think, “god can do things we don’t understand, so I can’t expect to reason everything out,” and it would innoculate me against all these arguments.


But, as I said before, I feel like we are arguing about a comic book character.  And according to the comic book, he does not know everything.

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