Things Happen For a Reason.

One of the more common platitudes you’re likely to hear from time to time is the phrase ‘things happen for a reason’. Usually offered up in lieu of an explanation around the time someone suffers a disappointment or ex post facto a happy event or set of events that ended in a fortuitous conclusion.

This phrase has always irritated me because of the implications behind it: that things happen for a purpose, that you do not know what this purpose was (though the purpose can be revealed to you later after the events of the cosmic scheme have played out) and that this explanation that is no explanation at all is somehow supposed to be an answer to questions that probably have no answer.

That there are reasons things do happen is beyond question. Many events do indeed have physical causes and should we be so inclined we could determine these causes if we wished to: ‘I was in a car accident because the road was wet and I was driving too fast’, ‘ I didn’t get the job I really wanted because the interviewer found another candidate’s answers to their questions more impressive than mine’, ‘I got lung cancer because I smoked a pack a day since I was 15’’ and so on.

The problem however lies in this reasoning:

 ‘I was in a car accident because the road was wet and I was driving too fast’

‘I was injured in the crash and went to a hospital; there I met a lovely nurse’

‘The nurse and I fell in love and she is now my wife’

‘Therefore, I was in a car accident so that I could meet my wife’

That the car accident in this example did lead to the meeting of the lovely nurse and the subsequent nuptials is a fact. But that the sequences of events were part of some plan whose purpose was the happy marriage flies in the face of all reason.

For this idea to be true, we would need to establish two things:

1: The existence of a plan –  with the implications for your own free will its existence would imply.

2: the existence of the planner – and what a planner this must be to manipulate the web of events with genius beyond that of the most cunning Chess grand-master.

These things are never established – unless of course you’re religious and you take the existence of a planner as a given. (and you may bow out now, as you cannot prove the existence of your god anymore than the hipster-spiritualist can prove their planner).

Further errors in reasoning occur when we consider the  confirmation bias involved the idea – the fact that you met your wife after a car accident ignores all other negative events in your life where you didn’t meet your wife, or which did not lead to some other form of fortuitous happening, or all the other events, positive and negative that led to absolutely nothing at all.

Ah… but those events weren’t part of the plan you might say.  I hear the sound of goalposts shifting – So what were they? Simply random events? And how are we to determine which events are part of ‘the plan’ and which ones aren’t? None of these questions are ever satisfactorily answered, nor, usually can they be.

What we are left with is the reality of what this statement actually is: human beings confronting their own limited power and trying to explain things that they cannot explain. It is far more comforting to believe that there is some form of ‘captain at the helm’ steering the ship to unknown but presumably benevolent shores rather than the more likely reality: That the ship may well be adrift, there is no master plan or course being followed and the only people in charge is us.

And there is the one thing that we can verify: If you do so desperately wish to cling to the belief that things ‘happen for a reason’ then the only verifiable take on that statement is that the reason is the one that you determined, the plan is your own and that you are the planner. But as any military historian and general can tell you, your plans will only go so far, you cannot plan for the weather – and that my dear reader is the point – You cannot plan for the weather, and the weather does not plan for you.

Lastly, I suspect that very often people know how baseless and hollow a platitude this statement is which is why you almost never hear it at certain times. If there is a purpose behind events then that implies that even the most traumatic of events have purpose – bereavement and the loss of family and loved ones, parents who lose children. The carnage of wars and the indiscriminate suffering foisted upon countless millions afflicted by disease and hunger. These things happen for a reason apparently, and some reason it must be indeed.

There is no evidence that ‘things happen for a reason’ and I am not so afraid to admit that sometimes the random the meaningless and the unexpected and unknown just happen. So I put it to you that we are not – despite how comforting it might be to think it – pawns on the board in a cosmic game of chess..

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~ by benephobia on December 1, 2013.

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