Paul Thagard, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Waterloo, questions if everything indeed happens for a reason:
When people have to cope with difficult situations in their lives, they sometimes reassure themselves by saying that everything happens for a reason. For some people, thinking this way makes it easier to deal with relationship problems, financial crises, disease, death, and even natural disasters such as earthquakes. It can be distressing to think that bad things happen merely through chance or accident. But they do.
The saying that everything happens for a reason is the modern, New Age version of the old religious saying: “It’s God’s will.” The two sayings have the same problem – the complete lack of evidence that they’re true. Not only is there no good evidence that God exists, we have no way of knowing what it is that he (or she) wanted to happen, other than that it actually did happen. Did God really will that hundreds of thousands of people die in an earthquake in one of the world’s poorest countries? What could be the reason for this disaster and the ongoing suffering of millions of people deprived of food, water, and shelter? Why do people find it reassuring that the Haiti earthquake happened for a reason such as the will of God, when such terrible events suggest a high degree of malevolence in the universe or its alleged creator? Fortunately, such events can alternatively (and with good evidence) be viewed as the result of accidents, and possibly even of chance.
I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason. Even if nothing else fails to make me feel a little better, this always seems to work. I don’t think it’s a self-serving bias in any way; if anything, it is introspection: by exploring the upsides of a bad situation, we are able to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and learn from our mistakes.
And sometimes, we need to have a little faith.