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Does God depend on logic to exist?

Do numbers really exist?
Published: 29 January 2016 (GMT+10)

What is the relationship between God and logic? Is ‘logic’ a real thing (like a chair is a ‘thing’) that exists alongside God? If so, does that mean that God depends on it to be logical? Lizz C. from the United Kingdom writes:

I have recently thought of an argument that seems to undermine the theory of God (an intelligent being with a personality of sorts). I'm not an atheist, but am a YEC. I am just learning philosophy and am trying to expand my arguments and understanding of God.

I was wondering which came first; logic or God. If God came first then He would be incapable of thinking logically to create such a complex universe. I then began wondering if logic was purely a skill, one that finds the patterns in information, but then I think where does the information come from (like that of philosophy of information and maths)? Is there an endless list of possible different types of information, which only a few apply to us in this universe, meaning that almost everything outside of this universe is out of reach of our logic? If information a part of God? If so, how? I might be getting a little confused, so it'd help to get someone else's outlook.

Thank you in advance and may God bless you. Lizz

Everything that exists is in some way dependent on God for its existence

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

This addresses the issue of God's relation to 'objects' like numbers, propositions, laws, etc. We can formulate the question like this: is logic a real metaphysical object that exists independently of God? Clearly the answer is no, because God is the sole self-existent source of all being—everything that exists is in some way dependent on God for its existence (see Did God create time? for more information). But, there are two plausible ways to get to a negative answer to the question.

Is logic an idea in God’s mind?

The first is commonly known as conceptualism, which is the idea that numbers, propositions, laws, etc. are ideas in God's mind. It actually accepts that logic is a real metaphysical object. However, it identifies it as an idea in God's mind, thus making it dependent on God for its existence, though it exists necessarily. This would not mean that God creates logic as if by an exercise of His free will. That would render logic contingent, like the physical world, which is of course absurd. Logic, if it is a metaphysical object, exists necessarily (as does God). Rather, it means that God necessarily conceptualizes logic in His mind. That means God is explanatorily prior to logic, as minds produce thoughts. But since both God and logic are eternal, this has nothing to do with which came first in a temporal series—which as you correctly note is absurd. No, we would say that logic necessarily exists because God necessarily exists.

But does that mean that logic/ideas/information are parts of God? No, we could construe them in like manner to God’s attributes; God just is His thoughts as He is his omnipotence/omniscience/etc. Please see Is God 'simple'? for more information.

Is logic a really existing thing?

The other option is known as nominalism or anti-realism, which is the idea that numbers, propositions, etc. are not existing metaphysical objects at all. In other words, we can question whether logic is a ‘really existing thing’ like God is. If logic is not a really existing object like God is, then the question of 'which came first' is moot—logic wouldn't 'exist' in the real metaphysical sense that God does. Rather, ‘logic’ would just be a description of how God thinks—God is logical.

Note that this is not a question about whether logical statements are true (that's an issue of meaning, not metaphysics); we would still say truly ‘God is logical’. Rather, this is a question of whether propositions such ‘A is A’ or numbers such as ‘2’ are actually existing objects (and whether they need to be for such representations of them to be true).

There is no reason to think that logic somehow precedes God, or is independent of Him.

Does our use of linguistic conventions to communicate logical truths entail that logical truths are themselves existent objects? It's hard to see why that would be the case; the mere use of the word 'exist' doesn't entail that everything we use that word to refer to is an actual metaphysical object. For instance, we might say ‘There are many ways to skin a cat’. Does that mean each ‘way to skin a cat’ is an object? Moreover, we could say ‘there exist many truths about God’. However, that doesn’t automatically mean that propositions like ‘God is all-powerful’, ‘God is holy’, and ‘God is wise’ are actually existing objects. It just means that we can speak truly about God in many different ways.

On anti-realism, ultimately it's people who refer by means of words; words don't inherently refer to things in themselves. As such, while we are certainly committed to the metaphysical reality of the persons who use words to refer, our use of words does not automatically commit us to the idea that words, concepts, or even logic are actually existing objects.

However, this doesn't address the question of whether, given anti-realism, thoughts might still be parts of God. The anti-realist could accept the conceptualist solution above; God just is his thoughts, as He is his omnipotence/omniscience/etc. (Is God 'simple'?). In this way, these attributes are not ‘things’; they just refer to God. Alternatively, the anti-realist could simply deny that there are such things as ‘parts’, which means it’s wrong to construe thoughts as parts of God. In other words, on anti-realism ‘thoughts’ is just a shorthand way of describing mental activity, so thoughts are not things at all. So if there are no such things as ‘parts’, then God clearly has no parts.

God alone is supreme, and supremely logical

Therefore, whether logic is an idea in God's mind, or is just an abstraction about reality that itself is not a metaphysically real object, there is no reason to think that logic somehow precedes God, or is independent of Him. God is the perfectly logical sole ultimate reality from which all other reality derives its existence.

Helpful Resources

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Readers’ comments

Adrian C.
I find neither conceptualism (that numbers, laws, etc, are an real metaphysical objects) or nominalism (that these don't exit) are satisfactory when applied to logic which has metaphysical existence (contrary to nominalism) but it's not a metaphysical object (contrary to conceptualism). Rather, logic is a relation between objects. (Even though "relation" implies multiple objects among which the relation holds, however, I don't think this view impedes on the principle of divine simplicity. It doesn't mean that there is a multiplicity of metaphysical objects within God among which the relations are established b/c 1)as the article states, God's attributes are not independent but are just different expressions of the same, unique essence that God has (I'd call it YHWH).

2)if we look at the most basic principle of logic, the principle of non-contradiction, the fact that God exists not only implies existence but also a contrast relation between existence (which God has) and non-existence (which God doesn't have). So, the relation is between a metaphysical "object" or property (existence) and and "anti-object" or a non-existent object (non-existence). Thus, God remains simple (he still has only one type of essence) but entails a valid relationship without involving multiple distinct objects or realities among which the relation holds (as the relation is to something that doesn't exist and God doesn't have—that is, to nonexistence).

I much enjoyed the article (and others by the author) but fails to distinguish the the 3rd possibility that besides 1) real objects and 2) nonexistent (imaginary) objects there are also relations which are real without being objects, without being "a thing" but only a relation between things. I believe logic is exactly this, relations.
Shaun Doyle
Very interesting thoughts. In my article, I treat the two statements 'logic has metaphysical existence' and 'logic is a metaphysical object' as logically equivalent, if not synonymous. However, you seem to treat 'metaphysical existence' as a broader category than 'metaphysical objects'. To 'metaphysical objects', you add a notion of 'relations', which both seem to fall into the larger category 'metaphysical existence'. If that's so, then your concept of 'relation' confuses me. You call logic a 'relation between objects', but then, to what (if anything) do you refer by the term 'relation'? I'm not simply asking for a definition of 'relation', but I'm looking for an ontological account of what a 'relation' is. If my analysis above is wrong, then I'm not sure how you parse the difference between 'logic has metaphysical existence' and 'logic is a metaphysical object'.

Perhaps it might be helpful to draw a distinction between 'thing realism' and 'truth realism'. 'Thing realism' is a commitment to the existence of an actual object—e.g. '2' refers to an actual object. 'Truth realism' is the idea that statements of a certain subject (e.g. ethics—'torturing babies for fun is wrong', or maths—'2+2=4') are either objectively true or false. 'Anti-realism' in the sense I use in my article is only a denial of 'thing realism' regarding logic (and numbers, propositions, properties, etc.), not 'truth realism'.

This might also help us analyze the difference between conceptualism and anti-realism a bit more carefully. For the conceptualist, 'truth realism' implies 'thing realism' about the referents in a proposition, but anti-realists deny any such automatic implication. For instance, consider this question: can the statement 'God is omnipotent' be true without committing us to the existence of an object denoted by the term 'omnipotence'? The conceptualist will say no, and the anti-realist will say yes. There is a middle ground on this, but it's to say that there is no fact about the matter. However, God's existence entails at least one fact about the matter—'things' such as propositions, numbers, properties, etc. can't be self-existent objects. As such, our options for ontological commitment on abstracta are limited to certain types of realism (such as conceptualism) and anti-realism.

Given all this, to me it sounds like your position falls into the anti-realist camp (note that there are several different 'anti-realisms', so this is in no way a narrow designation). Why? You say logic, as a relation, is not a 'thing', but you nonetheless believe it is objectively true that objects stand in relations to each other. This seems very close to affirming the distinction between 'thing realism' and 'truth realism' that makes most anti-realists happy.
davidk L.
God is logic.

"In the beginning was the Logic. ... And the Logic was God."
Gian Carlo B.
Hi Shaun, I received your reply.

I do think understanding and knowing God even at the deepest and mysterious levels is indeed a form of worship, since we are in constant relationship and interactive knowledge with God and I believe it is biblical to seek the LORD and get to know Him. As you said earlier to another respondent, not all philosophical positions stand firm in an accurate description of YHVH so we need to ensure the philosophical positions we take are in synthesis with Scripture. I firmly hold to the essentialist view of God because God in and on itself is the image of Metaphysical Transcendence, the body of Truth and objectivity. He is the ultimate conceivable standard and this it makes sense that whatever emanates from Him do constitute to a whole of who and what God is. Logic was not made nor is dependent of God but it is the essence and attribute to His infinite rationality and wisdom. In a way, factual and moral truths are intertwined in the biblical paradigm as they form the whole picture of reality. I do also pray to The LORD for wisdom and accurate thinking to understand and know Him and be able to reach a sound comprehension of His very essence and being.
Peter H.
Proverbs 8:22-23 might be taken to mean that wisdom (of which I would argue that logic is a subset, so to speak) was a fruit of God's thoughts from the beginning, thus implicitly supporting option 1 in your exposition.
Shaun Doyle
I think that in light of the obviously poetic nature of Proverbs 8:22ff, it's hard to draw any metaphysics from this passage. Moreover, 'wisdom' in the Hebrew sense is not mere propositional knowledge, but practical knowhow—in this case, for living God's ways. That makes it very hard to parse the relationship between 'wisdom' in Proverbs 8 and 'logic', even if we think that Proverbs 8 has metaphysical implications.
Oshea D.
Jesus appealed to the Law of contradiction in Mark 12:35-37 passage, which would be an appeal ultimately to Himself. For, Jesus is called the Logos in John chapter 1.
I believe the best way to describe this, is to say that Logic is merely pointing out the regular motions of God's mind and ascribing names to them (law of contradiction, identity, and excluded middle). This would explain why no one is able to deny the Law of contradiction without using it, making it an ontological necessary. That is, some of the regular motions of God’s mind are so basic to Him, that if we, who are created in His image (i.e. image of His Mind), do not move our minds in them, then we do not think.
Jared C.
My initial response to the question would have been that the question is flawed. So flawed, in fact, that when corrected the answer because obvious. "Logic" as we know it is only from man's perspective and is a fallible as any invention of man. There is reasonable biblical evidence that God views man's logic like an adult would view the logic of a child. So, when the question is restated "Which came first - Man's logic or God?"... the answer is obvious.

From there, I'd argue for the case of a divine logic just like what was done in the article. I think that distinction highlights the absurdity of the original question even more.
Don D.
Interesting article. I'm not much of an expert on logic but it seems to me that the logic that we are able to understand in our limited Space-time environment may not be the same as the logic that exists with God, is eternal with Him, and contributed to the creation of our universe. I don't think we can begin to understand that logic.
Shaun Doyle
We can't separate completely 'our logic' and 'God's logic' because that would entail that they contradict one another, which of course is absurd. We must have some ability to grasp accurately 'God's logic', since we're made in His image. Even the Fall doesn't change this, though it does darken our minds to God such that we can't please Him. I don't need to be saved to know that the thing in front of me as I type this is a computer, but God does need to be there, and He needs to have revealed himself, if I am to know anything.
Peter T.
These debates always amuse me in the sense that we try to argue in human terms, things that cannot be understood by these very terms. We declare God is, or God exists, or God is logical. We all need to stop trying to put God in a box. Just, God. Humans define time, space, earth, etc. by what God said, e.g."In the beginning", or for those who don't believe in Him, they simply exclaim without any proof that time didn't have a beginning and everything just "is". God wants all of us to come to our own logical conclusion that He Love us. He has done everything required for all of us to be with Him at the end of creation. All we need is faith about His Love, which He fulfilled by conquering death on the cross. I love your website and read many articles that help me as a "scientist" refute those that would deny God's existence, but I find that there is still very little success in arguing with those who choose to attack my faith. We need to pray to God to bring those who desire to find the Truth to us, and by having Him in us (by His gift of The Holy Spirit) and us in Him (by being the body of Christ), someone's human heart may be touched in such a way that they join in our Communion.
Shaun Doyle
This is not about putting God in a box. It's about trying to discern as best as we can the perfection of God. And it shouldn't surprise us that there are 'rules' for how this should go, such as consistency with the Bible and logical consistency. The Bible is the ultimate norming norm, and I of course started with the Biblical parameters (though I referred to Did God create time?, where I set forth the relevant biblical parameters). Logical consistency is also a must because if 'God' were not a coherent concept, then God couldn't exist. The incoherence of the concept of God would be the ultimate argument for atheism—if it were true. But it's not; 'God' is a coherent concept, so God must exist, since part of the concept of God is necessary existence.

But none of this is to say I have fully comprehended God. I don't even know fully what I am! So how can I possibly know the fullness of the Almighty God? But that's the joy of philosophical theology—going as far as we can in discerning God's fullness in a propositional manner. It's not the only way to worship God, but done properly it can expand our horizons on God's greatness. And done properly it provides a vital service to the church—it defends her against error, both from within and without. But it all must be brought to the bar of Scripture—that is the norming norm, and it's the means by which we test all our speculations.
Richard L.
Thanks, Shaun, esp. for your later "logic is grounded not in God's created activity, but in his nature... a reflection of God's mental nature"

A couple of thoughts:

1. I have found Christian astrophysicist Jason Lisle's parallel explanation of logic to be helpful, "... laws of logic are “reflections” of the way God thinks. Since God is always true to Himself and never denies Himself (2 Timothy 2:13), and since all truth and knowledge are in Him (Colossians 2:3; John 14:6), all truth will have an internal consistency that we describe as the laws of logic".

2. Although logic is not a created entity, it can still be useful for us to note that logic is definitely a phenomenon within the cosmos. Its existence needs to be adequately explained. We Christians have a tidy explanation-- a universe-external God.

Atheists--committed to explain all phenomena within the universe only by the resources within the universe (interacting randomly)-- are stuck. They are stuck with having only energy-matter (in various manifestations) as the foundational reality, yet logic (like information) is not energy-matter. For atheists, there is no adequate explanatory tool in their tool kit for the presence of logic in our universe.
Ed M.
We need to remember this: "In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God."

I could write a book on the implications of this verse, but it answers so many questions that were raised in this article.
Chris M.
Would it not be clearer to say. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him", Genesis 1:27, so that though the image is marred, here is a vestige of His image that we have? We are after all, rational creatures.
Shaun Doyle
It's not clear how this relates to the question at hand. Even if God had never made man, the relation of God to logic would still be a live question.
Gian Carlo B.
Hi Shaun, it seems like another article of philosophical discussion just is your thing, like the article 'Did God create time?', this one now asks if logic is either a part of Him or a created thing? Well given that you have given two philosophical stances on this issue, I'd say you solved the dilemma pretty well, in the end, like morality, logic is what God is, it is grounded in His nature. So it is not a mere idea of God but rather a concept God has in His nature, so we go back to the Divine Nature Theory: every metaphysical object that is by nature objective (moral good, truth, logic, etc.) are an attribute of God's very essence. So in the end the essentialist position makes sense.
Shaun Doyle
I do enjoy these questions; I see philosophical theology as a form of worship. The more we know about God, the more we can appreciate just how great and good He truly is. Of course, no amount of knowledge about God is a substitute for knowing God in Christ. As such, philosophical theology must start and end in submission to Scripture, in service for the church, and in the context of truly trusting Christ for one's own salvation. I pray my meditations will be taken in such a light.
Robert B.
Lizz is bringing essentially an old conundrum since this is a restated version of Euthyphro's Dilemma where they pose the problem of "Whether God loves good because He recognizes the goodness of Good as an already existent thing or whether something is good only because God calls it Good?"

The way past this sort of dilemma is to realize that God IS GOOD. More than stating that Goodness is an attribute that God possesses and that Goodness may therefore precede Him, rather Goodness EMANATES from God in the way light emanates from a light. The same applies to all other Virtues as well. The Bible states that:

God IS Good.
God IS Love.
Jesus IS the Truth.

All Virtues flow FROM God because He embodies them. That transcendent understanding exceeds the more limited view of God framed by Euthyphro and Lizz's friend.
Chris S.
This reminds me of a question John White poses in one of his books: Is God righteous because he chooses to be righteous, or because he has to be righteous? Neither answer seems satisfactory. If we say God chooses to be righteous, we have the unpalatable thought of our holy God contemplating unrighteousness. But if we say God is compelled to be righteous, we are putting some sort of governing principle higher than God. John White doesn't give an answer!
Shaun Doyle
There is no standard outside God to which He must conform, yet neither does He simply determine what righteousness is by fiat declaration. Rather, God is by nature righteous. Nor is there any going behind God—He just is the end of the explanatory chain. The relevant question, then, is this: is God a plausible end to the explanatory chain? Yes it is; it works because by definition there's nothing conceivably greater than God. Now, is it better to be perfectly righteous by nature, or not? Clearly the former. Therefore, perfect righteousness is a naturally necessary attribute of God. See What is 'good'? (Answering Euthyphro Dilemma) for more information.
Alan S.
Surely this is question of the nature of logic. It is not self-existent but is one of the attributes of God, as is eternity. Neither of these can exist without Him. At creation he gave them to us as a free gift as he gave us life. We lost eternal life at the fall but logic remains to distinguish us from other living creatures.
Geoff C. W.
Here's an interesting bit of Biblical logic, since we're on the topic:
Jesus said in Luke 27 that we needn't worry about this or that... 'Consider the lilies of the field. They toil not, neither do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these'.
The lilies were better adorned than Solomon. Doesn't that mean that the lilies are also better adorned than us? If that is so, then talking about how well the lilies are adorned wouldn't be of much comfort to us.
Tomislav O.
In mathematics there is a school of thought called "formalism" which states that mathematical objects are just symbols on a piece of paper (or bits in a computer algebra system) that mathematicians play around with, with any meaning being imposed externally by humans, and not innate.

In that case, mathematics does not exist necessarily, but contingently, and contingently by humans!
Shaun Doyle
Mathematics is more than just a game humans invent—e.g. that 'the sum of two oranges and another two oranges is four oranges' is necessarily true. That truth is in no way dependent on markings on a page (or bits in a computer). There's no way to locate the necessity of necessary mathematical truths in the contingent human or physical world. Divine conceptualism is also a form of realism, but it doesn't suffer the same problems as anthropocentric formalism because God is necessary and omniscient. If mathematical truths are indeed objects, God's mind has the necessary 'concept space' to ground them, unlike anything else.
Joseph M.
We use logic, so logic must exist. We cannot use something that doesn't exist. Just as God dwelt in the physical body of Christ, so does all understanding and knowledge dwell in God, Colossians 2:2-3. Logics properties may be at issue, but the issue of logics composition doesn't falsify logic into non-existence. Logic is one of the most fundamental components of a rational conversation, as well as reliability of our senses, etc. The logical law of identity (P is P) is fundamental in every statement we make ( especially in empirical science, the periodic table of chemicals, etc.) unless we are speaking in poetry. Renaming logic into something else only transfers the same issues to that something else.

It reminds me of a person that argued "you can't understand the mysteries of the bible using the English language", then immediately (instead of using Greek or Hebrew) tried to explain the mysteries of the bible in the English language!! The annoying thing was that they couldn't understand the logical contradiction (P is not non-P) and inconsistency in their actions.

Anyone effectively denying the existence of reason when the Gospel is presented to them should be treated as Christ treated those who rejected reason Matthew 10:14 "... shake the dust off your feet." (Either P or non-P i.e. the law of the excluded middle). Effectively, you are done with the conversation.... and free to move on.
Shaun Doyle
To deny that logic is an existing object is not to deny, e.g. 'necessarily, God is God'. It's simply to deny that a statement like 'that God is God is a necessary truth' implies the existence of a necessarily existing object in the class of 'truths' to which 'God is God' refers.
Michael T.
Verse 3 following may be helpful here:

Colossians 2:1 For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and [for] them at Laodicea, and [for] as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; 2 That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; 3 In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Shaun Doyle
Colossians 2 is not directly applicable to the issue at hand here. I briefly covered the biblical evidence relevant to this question in Did God create time? This article is an exploration of the relation between God and logic within those biblical parameters.
Nonetheless, Paul basically sanctions the sort of ‘revelation first reasoning’ I use here in Colossians 2. He says that we should not be lead astray by plausible-sounding philosophy that takes anti-biblical ideas as its starting point. God’s revelation comes first because revelation is reality from God—no plausible arguments can gainsay what God says is true. In the specific case Paul is addressing in Colossians 2, it’s the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ in the gospel that serves as the basis for thinking through the various issues that the Colossians are facing (Colossians 2:9–15). Here, the relevant biblical passages would include 1 Chronicles 29:14–16, Acts 17:24–28, and Romans 11:33–36, which establish God as the sole supreme reality that everything else completely depends on for its existence, persistence, and power.
Sebastián F.
Few months ago, I had a discussion with an atheist. But it turned into a language discussion. He insisted that logic does not exist and claimed that abstract things do not exist, but if we analyze the definition of existence they do. It was impossible to reason with that person. And about God. Most of the time they think we refer to a magical and magnified bloke with a long beard. By God (at least me) refer to the ultimate substance which gave existence to everything else and such substance does exist. All energy (and matter which is solidified energy as far as i know) comes from this source which I call God. Everyone should agree on that. Now the difference between believers and non believers is that we believe this substance is there for us and loves us. I rarely discuss with ppl these things now, they seem not to care about the argument, (most of them) only want to prove how wrong you are and how superior they are. God bless
Shaun Doyle
Do abstract objects exist? It's not only atheists that deny this; some theists do too. The difference is that there are good arguments for God that argue for His necessity, and don't rely on the laws of logic being actual objects—e.g. moral arguments, arguments from contingency, and ontological arguments. If any of these arguments are successful, they would show that while the atheist might be right in saying that abstract objects don't exist, he can't say that reality is logical 'even if God doesn't exist', since God necessarily exists.
Philippus S.
To me logical comes because God made it and now it is logical, not intentionally to be logical but because it is order and from that logical.
Shaun Doyle
The problem with the idea that God made logic is that it means he could've made 2+2 equal 5, which is impossible by definition. Even worse, if God made logic, then that mandates a situation in which God was without logic. That itself is clearly not logical. It's better, as with moral truths, to ground them in what God is, not what he does. As moral truths are grounded in God's moral nature, so logic is grounded in God's mental nature.
graham P.
Great answer: You might also define logic as 'thesis-antithesis' or 'A does not equal non-A'. In doing so we find that God establishes this at the beginning, where darkness is separated from light. (is not equal to light) For logic to exist there must be differentiation: differentiation comes from God, as we see 'He created them after their kinds..' and 'He named the stars..'.
So we see that separate objects (and classes of objects) are something God made, as opposed to the Hindu 'Om' in which there is no differentiation, and therefore separate objects.
Shaun Doyle
I'm glad you found my answer helpful. We need to be careful to avoid the idea that God created logic. Logic is grounded not in God's creative activity, but in His nature—God is by nature perfectly logical. As such, logic is not something distinct from God that He creates; it's ultimately a reflection of God's mental nature (as moral truths are ultimately a reflection of His moral nature).

Regarding Hinduism, there is a fundamental principle behind much Hinduism called Tat Tvam Asi (meaning "You are that"), which implies, as you say, that everything is ultimately one pantheistic reality. And it is contradictory; I cannot be equated with something else. Nonetheless, there is a branch of Hindu thought called 'Dvaita', which like 'Abrahamic monotheism' does uphold an objective distinction between different atman (souls) and the supreme personal reality (usually Vishnu). Unlike Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, however, in Dvaita Vishnu did not create everything else from nothing.

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