A year ago, my brother and his wife experienced the worst mishap that can befall any parents. Their daughter was killed in a tragic, senseless auto accident. She was only 20 and scheduled to be married in six weeks. We are still dealing with the fallout.
My brother's family is strongly religious and, while their faith was shaken, it remains intact. However, as a confirmed agnostic the only faith I have is that I am woefully ignorant of how the universe really works. Still, over the past year I've frequently asked myself what kind of God would create my beautiful niece, only to snuff her out before she had a chance to fulfill her potential. It's a question people have posed since humans began to think. Whole schools of theology have arisen around the proposed answers, and religions have splintered during the ensuing arguments. The Book of Job mused mightily over the question, but didn't find a satisfying reason. The Manicheists believed that the forces of good and evil had equal hands in creation. Charles Darwin lost his religion when he realized that natural selection was both brutally efficient and completely amoral. His beliefs included divine providence. He found nothing of divine providence in evolution.
When I was a child and rather more religious, my friends and I used to contemplate such conundrums as, "If God is omnipotent, can he make a rock so heavy that he can't lift it?" The question is both silly and profound. Put differently, if there is a God, does he obey his own laws? I've decided this must be the case. Random evil and tragedy exist in our world because we cannot exist in a world without them. We are creative. We have free will. Neither can exist in a universe that does not also allow accidental, senseless tragedies. The best we can do is to use our intelligence to improve the odds.
I know that better minds have contemplated these questions and that my own musings are probably sophomoric. But it's the best I've been able to come up with so far.
With a Perspective, this is Paul Wolber.
Paul Wolber is a technical manager in Silicon Valley and a lecturer at San Jose State University.