Whenever a tragedy happens, some people say that it happened for a reason, that no matter how dreadful and catastrophic an event is, there is a purpose. Everything is part of a Grand Design. And this is one of the defenses against the problem of evil, or at least William Rowe’s version of it, which goes:
1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
3. (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.
Without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse. I read this theodicy article that did not actually attempt to answer the problem of evil but simply proposed a stalemate because, the writer claimed, we really cannot know if these evils are indeed gratuitous or unjustified since we are not omniscient. And I agree with him.
Richard Dawkins considers himself a SIX in his spectrum of theistic probability because he is a scientist. He is not claiming that there is no God but simply that God is very improbable and so he lives his life on the assumption that God does not exist. And if this is the case for a certain person, I guess he/she would agree that we really cannot know for sure if all the evils in this world do not serve some greater purpose – no matter how unlikely. (And this is why I can only respect people from TWO to SIX in Dawkins’ spectrum because they acknowledge the limits of their understanding, while those in ONE and SEVEN actually claim to know.)
But I think purpose comes after the fact, because we can make a purpose out of unfortunate events. Take a look at the typhoons and floods that killed hundreds last year, for example, or the gruesome massacre that brutally ended the lives of 57 persons. Some people would claim that they have a purpose, and part of that is to awaken the Filipinos and make them turn from their evil ways. However, I highly doubt that an omnipotent and loving deity would lack the imagination to come up with more effective and less genocidal ways to win the hearts and souls of its beloved creation. But as the most highly evolved of all creatures, we can (and we actually did) make a purpose for these tragedies so that we should not have suffered them in vain. Ondoy exposed the fatal hazards of poor (and corrupt) urban planning, reminding developers to be conscientious and citizens to be vigilant. The Maguindanao killings let the world know that there was an oppressive empire right within our country’s borders whose king and princes reigned in terror, where human rights were violated on a daily basis and everyone was too scared to talk. Now this empire is no more, and if we keep a watchful eye it will probably stay that way.
The purposes we come up with and the good they bring may not be greater than the misfortunes from which they arose, but at least we are doing something to make things a little better. After all, we are not omnipotent.