The article by the NY Times explained how much of cancer appears to be just the result of random mutations: It just happens without our ability to control the event. It then ends with this bit of religious philosophy:
For all our agonizing, it can be liberating to accept and even embrace the powerful role chance plays in the biology of life and death. Random variation, after all, is the engine of evolution.
Because of spontaneous mutations in germ cells — sperm and eggs — each generation of our species is subtly different. Some of the variations confer an advantage and others a vulnerability. They are sifted by natural selection, and so we adapt and evolve.
Don’t worry about cancer, it’s just how nature creates life.
Notice that this is a creative force is chance and necessity, randomness and fate. But if we think a bit more, by “chance” or “random” we really mean things which happen but we just don’t expect them. If we knew more precisely all the intricate details of the forces upon cell reproduction, we would be able to accurately predict the mutations and thus it would no longer be “chance”. “Chance” is merely a measure of ignorance. Fortuna is an ancient goddess of chance.
This leaves us to fate. In the Illiad, Book 24, line 209, we learn that Moira, the Fates, spin out the length of one’s life at birth. This belief in the Fates is an odd sort of “liberation”; it is merely a passive resignation: there is nothing to be done with death.
That, however, is an overtly religious and pagan sentiment. It appears reasonably and rational, but that is because it is spoke as the language of believers. Nothing sounds more reasonable, more rational to believers than to hear their belief expressed in words where it cannot even be questioned.
There is another level of paganism here: the belief that inanimate forces have the power of life and death; that atoms in motion in time are gods and are capable of creating personhood in human beings. It is an odd belief if you do not hold it: It is odd to think that hydrogen atoms left alone for a few billion years will eventually write poems, fall in love and look wistfully upon their ancient parent, matter with the power of creation. There is no “advance” upon paganism here, the Sky and the Earth creating all. Sure, the names have changed and the story has become more complex.
However it is not the only story.