A Fantastic Story on the Life of Muhammad

Ibn Ishaq was a biographer of Islamic prophet Muhammad. He collected stories of the prophet which can now be found in his book The Life of Muhammad: Apostle of Alllah. The book was written in the early years after the death of Muhammad.

In the work, we find the following story:

The apostle of Allah himself described what had happened. ‘Whilst I and my milk-brother were pasturing some animals in the rear of our house, two men came to us dressed in white garments and bearing a golden platter full of snow. They took hold of me, opened my belly, extracted my heart, split it open and took out of it a black lump of blood which they threw away. Then they washed my heart and belly with snow, until they had purified them. Then one of them said to his companion, “Weigh him against one hundred of his people.” And he weighed me with them, but I proved heavier than they. Then he said, “Weigh him with one thousand of his people.” This he also did, and I was again found more heavy. After that he said, “Leave him; for if you were to weigh him against his whole nation, he would outweigh it.'” (London, the Folio Society, 2003, p.20)

This story is interspersed with other more standard ones describing the life of Muhammad.

The New Testament has a few miraculous stories of Jesus: He is born of a virgin, walks on water, and his body briefly glows with light.  When we compare these stories, what do we find?

We find distinct differences. The stories of Jesus were seen by many and reported by eyewitnesses and recorded in the New Testament by first-generation eyewitnesses.  This story of Muhammad was seen by no one and is only handed down to us through the long line of people telling the story to the next generation, who told it to the next.

The stories of Jesus in the New Testament are presented in a historical narrative that reads like a history book: Jesus went to this town, sent the disciples ahead on a boat, came to them walking on the water, taught some spiritual truths, and went to the other side of the sea. By contrast, the stories of Muhammad presented here are isolated vignettes with such a fantastic tone that we have trouble taking it any way except allegorically or completely symbolic. The story of Jesus reads like a miracle and is preceded by a normal historical narrative, while that of Muhammad leaves us wondering whether anyone would take it seriously. Yet it is in Ibn Ishaq’s narrative like all the other stories.

Another important difference is that the stories of Jesus are told by His followers to bring praise to Jesus. By contrast, this story of Muhammad is told by himself  to bring glory to himself.

We are also left to wonder how they weighed 1,000 people, or how such a heavy man would not collapse whatever it sat upon.

For these reasons, we reject this historical narrative of Muhammad as fancy. However,  since it is early and corroborated, this story gives us some indication that we can extend the rejection to the body of historical knowledge of Muhammad.

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A General Evaluation of Christopher Hitchens

I recently watched an online video of atheist Christopher Hitchens. He was apparently speaking at a Freedom Fest in 2008. Hitchens was quite influential, and to read the comments to the video, he was much beloved and missed by atheists. He had a good platform and audience by late in life, and made quite a splash with his books, speaking engagements, and debates.

I have found Hitchens interesting.  The reason I find him interesting is that the first time I watched him I was hit hard in the gut by the force of his statements. A few moments of reflection made me realize that he was not saying very much, at least nothing academically respectable to anyone trained in apologetics or philosophy. Reading his book confirmed to me that his arguments were indeed quite shallow (See here for one example). The writings do not rise to the level of a very good journal article, but read closer to the level of a of a popular magazine.

So why does Hitchens remain so influential? I think it is his stage presentation. He spoke with a force and vigor bordering on anger. My first reaction was that this was a formidable opponent, but a little while of cold-blooded reflection reveals that his arguments simply do not hold up.

For example, in the video I watched recently, Hitchens criticizes New Testament as a Jesus myth, one that is haphazardly put together. Jesus’ story is so fake, Hitchens claims, that we have no evidence that Jesus ever existed, the virgin birth does not prove Jesus’ messages, and the writers had to force-fit the birth of Jesus being in Bethlehem by inventing a census that would take Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. According to Hitchens, the whole thing reeks of legend, haphazardly slapped together and obviously fake to any thinking person. Of course, he says all this in the midst of a long string of other criticisms, such as the virgin birth being a copy of many pagan virgin birth myths. The story of Jesus is supposed to be an outright and obvious fake full of historical inaccuracies.

At first Hitchens statements seem quite persuasive, but after some thinking, they reveal themselves as having enough error to keep us going for a while. Hitchens eventually cedes the point that if the whole thing was made up from the start, why not have Him just start out in Bethlehem? This where we first notice the flies in Hitchens ointment. He is saying that the story is an obvious fake, but the central story is based in fact about a real person. Which is it, Chris? Hitchens would have us believe that the authors of the New Testament took a real person that everyone of that day knew where He was born, then wrote a story about Him that convinced large numbers of people to defy Rome, but was sloppily put together, riddled with historical and geographical error, and included teachings that are immoral on the face of them. Plus, believing in this story would get one ostracized from Jewish society and killed by the Roman government.  Chris has obviously glaringly missed something here.

As to Hitchens claims about Jesus being a copy of several ancient virgin birth myths, this is just false on the face of it, and Hitchens may have plagiarized this part of his writings and public speaking (Again, see here for detail on this).

Hitchens goes on to claim that even the virgin birth and the resurrection, if they are true, would not prove the value of the proposition that we should “take no thought for the morrow” which was one of Jesus’ statements in Matthew 6:34. Hitchens holds this to mean that we should not save money and should abandon our families. As the only qualifications Hitchens seems to bring to the table are that of a journalist, surely he knew what he was doing here. One sentence taken by itself does not make an accurate presentation of someone’s views. In the same paragraph of the speech, Jesus is telling His listeners to not worry or be anxious, for God knows what we need. The sentence just prior to the one Hitchens quoted tells us that if we seek first God’s righteousness, our physical needs will be taken care of. Further, in other passages, Jesus tells us to care for our families in Mark 7:9-13 and makes provision for His own mother after His death in John 19:27. Add to this the many passages throughout the Old and New Testament that tell us to help the poor and the widows, to work and not be a burden on anyone, and on and on about being good citizens.

Hitchens is also wrong about the historicity of the Bible. The New Testament alone has a large amount of historical fact that cannot be dismissed by a wave of the skeptics hand. For but a few examples, see here, and here, and here. The criticism about the census in Luke is tired and old and has been soundly refuted for years. See here.    The Old Testament is also historically accurate, as shown here.

No journalist would get very far by making such a misstep in any other field, but Hitchens made a good living by doing it to the Bible. He either knew what he was doing and did not care, or more probably, was so emotional about religion that he self-blinded himself to obvious and glaring flaws in his arguments.

But think about one statement Hitchens made. He claimed that even if someone rose from the dead, it would not prove their statements were true about life’s anxieties and worries. This is interesting and revealing. Hitchens is saying that even if someone were to actually, truly rise from the dead, he still would not submit and trust Jesus. It reminds me of the passage in Luke 16:19-31 where Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. In the story, a wicked man is in torment in the afterlife, and wants to go back and tell his family to change their ways. In v.31, Jesus teaches that if someone does not believe the Bible, they would not believe even if someone were to come back from the dead. Christopher Hitchens proves this point, for even though Jesus did rise from the dead, he did not believe, just as many Jewish leaders of the day did not believe even when Jesus rose before them.

Back to our question: Why was Hitchens so popular?  I believe it was because of his tone and presentation style. He spoke quickly and threw out a lot of criticisms in a short time. Even though most of them are patently untrue, it sounds impressive and makes it difficult for debate opponents to respond to all of them. I also believe his popularity was because of the force and bluster in which he spoke. He spoke with emotion bordering on anger, sprinkling in some ad hominem insults. Such a style sounds impressive. The irony is that upon close inspection using a reasonable evaluation, we find the arguments fail.

Christopher Hitchens’ style lends itself to what TV personality Bill Maher was quoted as saying after his death, saying he was “one of the great talk show guests of all time.” Things that make an outstanding talk show guest will influence many, but nevertheless be hollow upon close inspection.

Posted in Apologetics, Skepticism | 7 Comments

Christian and Atheist Discuss the Cause of the Universe and the Easter Bunny

Christian and Atheist discuss the Easter Bunny and the cause of the universe.

A: You xtians are so silly. You believe in a great god in the sky. Us reasonable people do not believe in fantasies like the Easter Bunny.
C: There is no evidence to show the Easter Bunny is real.
A: That’s right. No reasonable person would believe in something without evidence. And your sky god has no evidence either. Therefore we should believe neither. You are a foolish person.
C: The God of the Bible is reasonable and has several lines of evidence to support His existence. One is the Kalam cosmological argument. There is also the vertical cosmological argument, the moral argument, and the argument from design.
A: Silly person, the Kalam argument fails.
C: How so? The Kalam says that everything that has a beginning needs a cause, the universe had a beginning, therefore the universe has a cause.
A: The Kalam fails on the first premise, You haven’t looked at everything that came to existence, so you cannot say that everything requires a cause.
C: Are you seriously saying that there could be something that arises without a cause?
A: I’m saying it’s possible that could happen, and since you have not viewed the beginning of everything, you cannot categorically say that everything needs a cause.
C: Hmm. Didn’t you just say that the Easter Bunny is false?
A: Of course it’s false.
C: How do you know? Have you checked everywhere in the world? Could it not be logically possible that you did not look in the one place that the Easter Bunny existed, and you just missed it?
A: See, now you are being really crazy. It’s obvious to everyone that there’s no Easter Bunny because no one has ever seen one, ever.
C: So if no one ever sees an Easter Bunny, are you saying we can reasonably conclude it has not happened?
A:  Yes, of course.
C: So if no one ever sees a thing arise without a cause, we can reasonably conclude that nothing arises without a cause?
A: Well, uh, no.
C: Why?
A: Well, because it just does not work that way.
C: Why? If it’s true that we can make statements about Easter Bunnies because of universal experience, we should be able to make a conclusion about the cause of all things based on the same universal experience.
A:  But this is absurd. You are a stupid idiot.
C: Further, has not some atheists told us that the universe could have come from nothing, without a cause, because it could have come from the quantum vacuum?
A:  Yes, yes, the quantum vacuum. Now that’s reasonable. It proves that the universe does not need a cause. The Kalam fails again.
C: So the quantum vacuum could have pre-existed the universe?
A: Yes, it could have pre-existed the universe.
C: Pre-“existed,” huh? Sounds like the so-called quantum vacuum is a thing…..a thing with causal power, or at least the potential for the beginning of the universe.  Therefore you are saying it is not nothing. So according to you, the universe had a cause, but did not have a cause. This is not reasonable.
A: Uh……you are a big fat stupid idiot.
C: Yeah, Ok. Let’s try an experiment. I’m going to inject you with truth serum. (gives Atheist a shot). There now. You denied the first premise of the Kalam argument, which says that everything that has a beginning has a cause. To deny this is absurd, and we have no evidence anything ever arose without a cause. Why would you make such an absurd claim?
A: Because I do not want God to exist and I will look for any loophole, no matter how tiny.
C: Yeah, I thought as much. You told me a minute ago that no reasonable person would believe in something without evidence, but then you claimed you believed that something could arise without a cause, even though there is no evidence anything like that ever happened. Can you not see how unreasonable this is?
A: Yes, but if God exists, I’ll have to answer for my personal life.
C: I would suggest you read the Bible and learn of Jesus. He will clean up your personal life.

 

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Roman Catholics are Correcting an Infallible Source

We have recently seen a rather unusual event in Roman Catholicism. Pope Francis issued a document called Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). In it, the Pope moved in the direction of softening the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) stance on issues related to marriage and divorce, This is important, for in RCC theology taking the bread and wine in the Eucharist is a means by which a person receives God’s grace, and RCC rules prohibit divorced people from receiving the bread and wine. Protestants would disagree, saying that God’s grace is not given through any good act, but through trust in the finished work of Jesus, and hold that forgiven sins do not separate us from God’s grace.

In response, a group of priests, bishops, and lay leaders of the RCC have penned a document titled Correctio Filialis de Haeresibus Propagatis, which loosely translates as Subordinates’ Correction of the Propagation of Heresies. This Filial Correction is an attempt to correct what they call heretical teachings that arise from the Amoris Laetitia.

This is a very interesting development in Protestant – Catholic relations. Defenders of RCC positions have long taught that without an authoritative source, no Christian can rightfully interpret the Bible. The RCC claims that the authoritative interpretation, of course, can only come from the RCC, the holder of the authoritative succession from Peter, who they hold as the first Pope and keeper of the keys of church doctrine. The official RCC teaching office, called the magesterium, is held to be the sole source of authoritative interpretation, which they hold as equal in authority to the Bible. The official doctrinal teachings of the Pope are held to be infallible. In the 500 years since the Protestant Reformation began, the RCC has held that no Protestant can rightfully know what the Bible teaches because they are outside the teaching magesterium and do not hold the Pope’s teachings as infallible. The issue of the teaching authority of the RCC is a major issue in Catholic – Protestant discussions and has been for five centuries.

Into this fray comes the Filial Correction. This is interesting from a Protestant perspective, for now we have a Pope’s official teachings being corrected. A few points cannot be denied by RCC defenders:

  • The Amoris Laetitia (AL) is an official teaching of Pope Francis. The official title calls it an “apostolic exhortation” of the Pope to bishops, priests, and deacons. The reference to apostolic authority makes it clearly an official teaching of the Pope’s office. The document seems to specifically try to allow for different regions to interpret some issues for themselves, saying that not all issues should be settled by the magesterium (p.4). Regardless of the extent intended, the document as a whole is clearly the teaching of the Pope on a doctrinal matter.
  • They clearly are trying to correct the Pope’s teachings, for they tell us that AL contains “heresies and errors” that the Pope does “not rebuke but favour.” Several times the Filial Correction attempts to recognize and not usurp the RCC position on the infallibility of the Pope, but their correction of his teachings betrays their position.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. One can immediately sense the uneasiness in RCC circles and the attempt to explain away the implications. One RCC source claims that the accusations are not that the Pope is teaching heresies, but rather not acting to stop heresies. Such words are a dance of sophistic artistry, as are also the words of the Filial Correction that suggest they still hold to papal infallibility while they correct the Pope for false teachings.

We will watch this issue to see how it progresses. Meanwhile a critical point is reinforced: post-first century humans are all potential sources of error. Paul corrected Peter in Galatians, and here the RCC bishops are correcting the Pope. This leaves us with what every protestant has known since the 1500s, namely that the only authoritative source of truth we have is the text of the Bible itself. Accurate interpretation is a legitimate question, but falls into the realm of how we know things, a different question entirely. Protestants have long had mechanisms for correcting what church leaders hold to be false teachers, and now the Roman Catholic Church has exercised the same authority.

Catholic apologists have long spent much time and energy attempting to refute protestant Christians. I call them to soften their positions against protestants, at least on this issue, and begin to spend more energy on the true enemies of the church and evangelizing the lost.

 

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Ken Ham’s Uncharitable Inaccuracies

A few weeks ago I attended the National Apologetics Conference, sponsored by Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES). One of the sessions was a moderated discussion between Dr. Richard Howe and Mr. Ken Ham on the topic “God’s Word or Man’s Word: From Where Must Apologetics Begin.” Ken Ham is a well-known young earth creation writer, speaker, and ministry leader. Richard Howe is a seminary professor, writer, and speaker. Both men are young earth creationists and both hold to the inerrancy of scripture.

Since both men agreed on what the scriptures taught, the discussion was not on the age of the earth. Their disagreement was on what methods are proper for Christians to use when reading and deriving the meaning of the Bible. Ham continues to use the phrase “God’s word or man’s word,” saying that it is illicit to start from a human conclusion and apply it to interpreting the Bible. Howe contends that we must compare scripture to what we know about the real world. Howe would say that when Jesus says “I am the door” we know things about humans and doors and conclude that Jesus was using a metaphor, and He is not made of wood.

In the talk, both men were asked questions by the moderator and the audience and gave their positions. The problem came a few weeks later when Ham sent out a fundraising letter, which you can read here. Although Ham agrees with Howe in what Genesis is saying, Ham portrayed the event in an uncharitable way:

  • Howe’s view is “a plague in the church”
  • “the battle over the age of the earth came down to God’s infallible Word versus man’s fallible word.”
  • Ham said he was “planting seeds and encouraging those who do believe in Genesis to stand for the truth” as if Howe did not believe Genesis.
  • Several times Ham keeps mentioning the issue of age of the earth, even though that was not the topic
  • Ham claims many academics, presumably Howe and SES, hold that the average person cannot understand the Bible for themselves
  • Ham mentions seminaries have “compromise positions” on the Bible that “twist the scriptures”

SES was rightfully concerned, and published a response which you can read here.

I attended the discussion and have a recording of it. Ham’s statements do not align with what actually happened. Despite the fact that there was no disagreement on the age of the earth, Ham continues to paint it as if there was one. He is painting a picture that Howe and SES’s positions are a plague, accusing them of compromising scripture, making false claims about what they stand for about the Bible, even twisting the scriptures.

What is so disappointing is that this conference is one of the few places that is trying to get Christians together to have a safe discussion of the issues without name calling and mud slinging. The conference invites Christians to discuss the issues openly and charitably.

Keep in mind that Howe and SES are in the strongest camp of inerrantists. Both the seminary and this particular professor have defended Biblical inerrancy in the strictest possible terms. Anyone who knows Richard Howe knows that he takes a very strong position on the inerrancy of the Bible and has done so all his career. Howe even agreed with Ham on what the Bible says, but this was not good enough for Ham. The use of the phrase “God’s word or man’s word” is used uncharitably and inaccurately.

It seems that not only does Ham not allow someone to disagree on what Genesis says, but also will not allow anyone to disagree on the way we come to the conclusions about what Genesis says. He misrepresented what happened at the conference in a fundraising letter, painting the position to donors that he was defending the truth of scripture against the compromising plague of attacks from seminary professors. Ham’s statements are untrue. Ham either knows the difference in what he is saying and does not care, or genuinely does not understand what the whole discussion was to be about. He painted this issue in light of age of the earth, even though age of the earth was not at issue. Therefore Ham is the one making age of the earth the issue.

In making these statements, Ham is ensuring that Christians cannot even have a dialogue about how to approach the Bible. He turns an attempt at a calm academic discussion into an emotional appeal for support for his ministry. He has lowered his credibility and damaged the ability of well-meaning Christians to discuss the Bible and come to a common understanding of what it means. In that, we cannot recommend Ham or his approach to the issue.

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Minute Details in Acts Show an Accurate Eyewitness Account

In Acts 13, we find Paul the apostle traveling around the Mediterranean region. This chapter is typical of the last half of Acts, in that it mentions a series of minute details about local geography and people:

  • v.1: mentions several names. Listing these men serves no theological or political benefit, only historical and biographical.
  • v.4: “they went down to Seleucia”: From Antioch, Seleucia is down to the ocean.
  • v.4: they sailed from Seleucia to Cyprus, a correct sailing route.
  • v.5: “they arrived in Salamis” which was a port on the east side of Cyprus
  • v.6: “they had gone through the island to Paphos”: this city was on the west side of the island of Cyprus
  • v.7: Sergio Paulus was the proconsul:  It mentions this man, his first and last name, and his title. He is known to historians, for in 1887, archaeologists found a stone with his name chiseled into it. The details in this verse place Paul in a city with a known leader and dates it to the early 40’s AD. This is about 20 years after Jesus, too early for myths to develop, since eyewitnesses were still alive.
  • v.13: They sail from Paphos to Perga, which would be a correct sailing route.
  • v.16:  Paul is in a synagogue and begins to speak. He stands up and “motions with his hand.” There is no reason to mention this tiny detail unless there was an eyewitness there who saw it.

The second half of Acts has hundreds of these types of details. Such minute facts show that the writer had an intimate knowledge of the land, the people, the leaders around the Mediterranean. The details serve no theological or political purpose, and do not help with any plot line in the story.  If this were a historical novel, as critics suggest, it would be a very poor one, for the plot line does not allow for much of a novel, and the details serve no purpose in a fictional story.

The only purpose for these details is to show that it was from an eyewitness who was in that region in the first century.

 

Posted in Apologetics, Church History | 2 Comments

If We Have Transgender, Are We To Have Trans-Sanity?

There is an old Jimmy Stewart movie called Harvey, where a crazy drunk man sees and talks to a six-foot invisible rabbit.  By the end of the movie, the sane people are talking with the non-existent rabbit. What is worse, an insane person whose internal mental state is not aligned with external reality, or a sane person who goes along with them and treats them as if their mental state aligned with what is real?

It’s getting increasingly difficult to keep up with the sexually liberated world. Hugh Hefner was concerned about a sexually restricted world. Our society has freed itself so much that it’s hard to keep up. Now we can have trans-age.

A 52-year-old father of seven has now declared that he is a little girl, and says he is living like one. (see here).  So now we have transsexual and trans-age. Our liberals and social justice warriors, having accepted the first, have no logical grounds to object to the second.

I have no idea what happened to this man’s family. If it turns out that he abandoned them to go play sex games, he would certainly not be the first to do that. But it would seem that our citizens would be more interested in having a family that is paying for themselves and being productive members of society rather than ensuring someone has the right to pretend they are childish. On second thought, he is not pretending, but actually being childish.

Even if we go down the path of insanity and accept this person’s view of self, there are several problems. First, the person claimed to change ages at will. If someone is trans, they would not be able to just change identities so easily–did not Lady Gaga tell us they are born that way? Next, the news stories claim this person has a job in the winter driving a snowplow. Six year old girls are not allowed to drive heavy equipment. So it would seem that this person is trans part of the time and not others.

If the age portion of this trans person can be changed at will and only lived part of the time, why could not the sex part? Why are the rest of us having to put up with such mental disconnects?

Michael Brown reminds us of a few other trans problems (see here), which I will add to my list. It gets crazier and crazier trying to keep up, but here is my list of people whose internal mental state does not match external reality, yet seem to be accepted, even protected, by society:

  • The increasing numbers of people such as Miley Cyrus who self-identify as gender fluid, being neither a fixed male nor female, but moving between genders.
  • The people who believe they are male or female even though they are biologically the other gender.
  • Ja Du, the white man who believes he is Filipino.
  • The man who was born Richard Hernandez, who claims to have changed to a transgendered female, who then changed himself into a reptile.
  • Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who self-identifies as black. She was fired from her job at the NAACP.
  • The Norwegian woman who believes she is a cat accidentally born in a human body.
  • The natural-born biological man locked into a psychiatric hospital who believed he was pregnant.
  • Jewel Shuping, a sighted who mentally identified as blind, so she talked a psychologist into pouring drain cleaner into her eyes. She is now officially blind.
  • The man Gary Matthews who believes he is a dog.

Similar to Miley’s gender fluidity, it seems that the trans-age and the trans-specie people often move between the extremes: sometimes old, sometimes young, sometimes human, sometimes an animal. If we accept one fluid person, are we not obligated to accept them all?

We have a long enough list that we need to categorize them now: trans-gender, trans-racial, trans-specie, trans-ability. Here are my questions:

  • We are told we must accept this 52-year-old transgender father’s views that he is female. If so, how can we logically and consistently say to him that he is not a child, as he self identifies?
  • Why do we fire a trans-racial person from their job because they are in reality not that race, while accepting other trans people? Saying ‘because it is different’ is not sufficient. Fundamentally why is it different, when each example is so similar?
  • By accepting every sexual view that anyone can dream up, are we not doing away with any ability to declare anything abnormal?
  • What if someone were to say that their sexual identity was to force sex on the unwilling? On what basis could we say this is not a legitimate identity? It cannot be because others are being hurt, for many of the individuals in the list are allowed to hurt others. What of this father’s family that he abandoned?
  • Apparently some of the trans people on the list above can move between identities, whether it be because they are identity fluid or for the practical sake of getting along in life. If this is so, why must the rest of us accept trans people for what they want us to think they are?
  • Why have otherwise intelligent people accepted all this nonsense?

I think it much better to go back to when we knew what normal was. The Bible has told us that when we throw out a moral absolute, we are lost in a sea of relativism. It would do all of us good to go and read what true love is:  look in the Bible and read the little book of 1 John.

(addendum: Regarding the woman who believes she is a cat–in my high school there was a girl, Lou Ann, who acted like a cat. She hissed at people, meowed, and did cat paw movements with her hands. We all thought she was doing it for attention. We treated her like a human and expected her to be a human. We did not live in her fantasy and pretend she was a cat. Last I knew, she is living as a human female. Perhaps we should take the same approach with everyone else in this trans-messed-up world.)

 

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