Chapter One: Is There a Reason for Everything, or Do Some Things Just Happen?
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Part One Philosophical Cosmology / Natural Theology from an Evolutionary Perspective 3 1 Is There a Reason for Everything, or Do Some Things Just Happen? In his widely read book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Rabbi Harold Kushner proposes that very often bad things happen to good people for no reason at all.1 As a result, one should not blame other people for what happened, nor blame God, nor most of all blame oneself.2 One should instead ask God for assistance in deciding what to do next by way of making the best out of a bad situation.3 This is excellent pastoral advice to people who are depressed or angry at what has happened to them quite unexpectedly. But it does raise questions about God and the world we live in. Kushner himself does not offer much explanation for his claim that some things happen for no reason at all beyond pointing to the fact that we live in a world in the process of evolution and that evolution is inevitably a trial-and-error process.4 But he is also brave (or foolhardy) enough to say that there are “pockets of chaos” over which God, for the moment at least, has no control: “The world is mostly an orderly, predictable place, showing ample evidence of God’s thoroughness and handiwork, but pockets of chaos remain.  .  .  .Things happen which could just as easily have happened differently.”5 But this raises still other troubling questions. What guarantee do we have that order will ultimately triumph over chaos if God is clearly not omnipotent in dealing with creation? For that matter, 1. Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Schocken Books, 2004), 53–63. 2. Ibid., 97–124. 3. Ibid., 141. 4. Ibid., 59–63. 5. Ibid., 60. 4  Part One: Philosophical Cosmology / Natural Theology what guarantee do we have that the laws of nature will work tomorrow as well as they work today? Are we actually living on the edge of chaos all the time without realizing that this is the way things are? Two distinguished twentieth-century philosophers of science, Charles Sanders Peirce and Alfred North Whitehead, thought seriously about such questions—namely, the relation between chaos and order, discontinuity and continuity within natural processes—and came up with remarkably similar solutions. Ironically, despite their best efforts to explain what they meant, neither one of them succeeded in persuading either the scientific community or the educated public of their day that their solutions were correct or in many cases even worthy of serious consideration. Perhaps what they proposed was too contrary to the conventional understanding of how this world works for most people to give credence to their theories . But given a fair hearing, their proposals are remarkably simple and straightforward. In brief, they both propose that the world is constituted not by people and things physically separate from one another, but by momentary energy-events with interrelated patterns of self-organization that allow these events to be linked with one another so as to constitute the persons and things of ordinary experience. From this perspective, each of us is from moment to moment a bundle of interrelated energy-events that keep our heart pumping, lungs breathing, mind working, legs and arms moving, etc. All of these events within our bodies have an instinctive feeling for one another so as to work together harmoniously. As a result, subjectivity (a feeling-level responsiveness to the environment) seems to be present not only in our human mental life but at every level of physical activity within our bodies. For that matter, it is what we share with all other creatures in this world, the feeling of acting and being acted upon at every moment of our existence. Before launching into a brief overview of Peirce’s and Whitehead’s understanding of reality, however, let me return to Kushner’s claim that some things just happen for no apparent reason and take note of the fact that two groups of people who basically distrust one another’s intentions on virtually everything else still end up agreeing that there has to be a reason for everything that happens. In their view, nothing ever happens strictly by chance. The one group is materialists who claim that nature and nature’s laws ultimately explain everything. Everything that happens is without exception based on deterministic cause-and-effect relations. The other group is religious fundamentalists who likewise claim that...


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Subject Headings

  • Causation.
  • Cosmology.
  • One (The One in philosophy).
  • Many (Philosophy).
  • Philosophical theology.
  • Providence and government of God.
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