DIVINE INTERVENTION: As I mentioned yesterday, I passed my Written Qualifying Exams. They were difficult, and after I took them last week I was pretty sure that I had not done very well. I took the exams once before and failed, and I was mildly stressed out about the possibility of failing again (that's about as stressed out as I get).

During the six months of preparation, the few weeks of cramming, the 10 hours of testing, and the 10 days of waiting to get my scores back, I did a lot of praying. I asked God to give me wisdom as I studied, a clear mind, focus, encouragement, some lenient professors... and of course, I ask him to help me pass. And I did pass. So, did God answer my prayers, or did God just sit back and watch while I did my thing?

SDB believes that "the material universe is all that exists, and that everything we see around us is a manifestation of matter and the way it interacts according to the laws of physics". So he would clearly say that my prayers had no impact on my actual performance, other than perhaps psychological. But then, that assertion would be predicated on his existing philosophy and not really based on any evidence in this particular case -- indeed, my prayers were such that they could be answered without there being any incontrovertable evidence of God taking direct action.

What about free will? Some have claimed that God cannot act directly in the world or intervene in human affairs without undermining free will. That's an interesting position, and it relates closely to my prayers regarding my exam. It seems obvious that God could, for example, manipulate natural forces without interfering with free will (or even leaving noticable indications that he was meddling), but in order to answer my specific prayers in the affirmative God would have to tweak my own behavior, at the very least.

I asked for wisdom and focus, so if God assented and somehow helped me be more dedicated to my studies did he violate my free will? Not if he was only doing what I myself asked him to do. The very process of asking for God to act implies that I consent to the requested involvement.

The request for lenient professors is a bit trickier. Speculatively, God could cause memories to arise of the professors' own examination experiences which could lead to generosity when they graded mine; that would not necessarily subvert their free will (since such remembrance is not generally a conscious process), but would certainly be somewhat manipulative.

In the end, there's no real proof either way. But I did pass, and my intelligence and opportunities at the very least came from God's grace.



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