When humanity confronts a threat to life as we know it, which includes widespread human suffering and death, conventional perspectives on the nature of reality, including the divine reality, are thrown into a tailspin. This is the old theodicy question that troubles many faithful religious devotees, including Christians. Confronting the Coronavirus, the question across the globe becomes especially acute. Each of the world’s religions has their own answers to the question “Why?” but answers seem never to be satisfactory. There are even multiple answers to the question provided by the writers of the Christian Bible. In this talk, I simply want to present two complementary perspectives, one called the etiological model, with three approaches, and the other a teleological model coming from a different direction. One approach seeks to answer the cause of suffering; in contrast, the other is focused on the purpose of suffering. The interesting thing for us to explore is what happens when these two distinctly different models meet at the nexus of science. At the end, you might feel that the original question still has not been answered, but the hope is, at least now, you will see that – even without an answer – we have no excuse for ignoring our responsibility. Human empathy still calls us to do all we can to ease the torment of those afflicted with suffering.
Arvin Gouw is the vice president for research and development at the Rare Genomics Institute (RGI), where he oversees the Rare Genomics Task Force (RGTF) and the BeHEARD Challenge (Help Empower & Accelerate Research Discoveries), which provide grants globally to rare disease researchers, foundations, and patient families. Gouw is also a research fellow in Oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine and affiliate scientist at UC Berkeley/LBNL, developing cancer drugs and drug screening platforms. Given his interest in the intersection between science, policy and religion regarding genomics ethics, he serves as an affiliate faculty at the Center for Science, Religion, and Culture (SRC) of Harvard Divinity School. Arvin Gouw did his fellowship on science and religion at Princeton. He has a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, M.Phil. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, M.A. in theology from St. Mary’s Seminary and University Ecumenical Institute of Theology, and M.A. in endocrinology and B.A. in molecular cell biology – neurobiology from UC Berkeley.