All the headlines are shouting: “Cancer due to bad luck!” after a recent Science magazine article proclaimed that lifestyle and environmental factors may account for only about one-third of cancers. The study cited states that two-thirds of all cancers are likely caused by random mutations during DNA replication in normal, non-cancerous cells.
Does this surprise anyone, really? To me it simply reinforces the idea that science is continually demonstrating the reality of such random events – “misfortune” the name we give the hated surprise and “miracle” the name for the lucky one (e.g., spontaneous remission).
The definition of miracle that’s most apt for this situation reads: “a highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.”
The definition of misfortune, on the other hand, is basically “bad luck.” The events are equally random. The main difference is in how we react to them – sadness, fear and anger versus joy and relief. As science delves ever deeper into the mysteries of the universe – the impossible “miracles” of quantum physics and the impenetrable mysteries of black holes – it discovers whole new sets of seemingly inexplicable rules of order.
A favorite axiom of mine: Whereas science for a couple of centuries was all-powerful in disproving so-called naive religious beliefs, it is now the vehicle by which we continue to unearth, and be baffled by, a growing pool of phenomena that look suspiciously like some of those mysteries religion’s been talking about for centuries.