One of the things that most amazes me about the universe is its order. And its order is even more striking in the face of another force of apparent disorder. Let me explain.

The Source of order. When we look at things we can observe that, left to themselves, things tend to fall apart and and become disorderly. I think that science calls this process entropy and that it is related to the second law of thermodynamics. But consider with me for a moment a house in Detroit. Let’s say that in 1890 human beings assembled basic elements like wood, nails, brick, glass, and so forth and ordered (or assembled) these materials into a complex system known as a house. It has divisions, known as rooms. It has a purpose, known as shelter. Now, as long as humans live in or near the house and maintain it, the house continues to exist as an orderly and purposeful system. But suppose now it is 1985 and, due to the economic factors, the house becomes abandoned. Within a few years the order of the house will begin to decay. Perhaps within fifty years it will have completely collapsed and been reclaimed by the earth. This illustrates the tendency of things to fall apart unless they are acted upon by some force outside themselves to order and sustain them.

The Paradox of order – As we look around we DO see that entropy (the tendency of things to fall apart or revert to less complex states) does exist. And yet we ALSO observe the exact opposite. All around us is order and purpose. Somehow things have sprung up into orderly systems. Explosive disorder (the big bang) swirled into orderly and complex systems known as Galaxies and solar systems. Here on earth from the most basic elements of dust and water, complex life forms have developed. These life forms exhibit order and purpose. A complex ecosystem interacts at multiple levels and exhibits tremendous order and synergy. And all of this exists in world where we also learn that, without some unifying force things tend to fall into disorder. Life is ordered energy and death is disordered energy. Order is a paradox.

What causes the order and directs the purpose and complex interaction and order of all things? To me, creation shouts the existence of one who orders and directs its. We who believe call this someone, “God.” It seems evident to me that without God’s purposeful ordering of things, the tendency of things to fall apart and return to basic, less complex systems (entropy) would envelop all things. Just like the abandoned farmhouse described above, all the complexity and biodiversity we see in the world around us would collapse and be reclaimed by more basic elements. Like the farmhouse, something or someone sustains all this, and orders it.  Creation shouts out God.  

I suppose I might call this argument for the existence of God, the Argument from the Paradox of Order. But in reality it is rather close to an argument that St. Thomas advanced in the Summa long before my current feeble attempt:

The fifth way [of demonstrating God’s existence]  is taken from the governance of the world. We see that things which lack intelligence, such as natural bodies, act for an end, and this is evident from their acting always, or nearly always, in the same way, so as to obtain the best result. Hence it is plain that not fortuitously, but designedly, do they achieve their end. Now whatever lacks intelligence cannot move towards an end, unless it be directed by some being endowed with knowledge and intelligence; as the arrow is shot to its mark by the archer. Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God. (Summa I, 2.3)

Here is a beautiful video that rejoices with wonder and awe at what God has made:

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29 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    Order can also be spontaneous, like miracles. :)

    • richtea says:

      George Wald, Nobel Prize, Physiology/Medicine, 1967:

      “When it comes to the origin of life there are only two possibilities: creation or
      spontaneous generation. There is no third way. Spontaneous generation was disproved one
      hundred years ago, but that leads us to only one other conclusion, that of supernatural creation.
      We cannot accept that on philosophical grounds; therefore, we choose to believe the
      impossible: that life arose spontaneously by chance!” (G. Wald, “The Origin of Life,”
      Scientific American, 1954)

  2. jj says:

    Why not repeatedly? Unless I don,t understand what you mean when you use the term miracle.

    • Well, my only point is that the evolutionists want us to think that the order we observe is random (or spontaneous). But then it would seem as if this order had to emerge not just once, as a random occurance, but repeatedly, for order is obeserved to repeat down through generations and epochs. Hence, while Nick is not one of those evolutionists, I think it is good to note that, even though an ordered system might develop spontaneously for a moment, without an intelligence to produce the effect repeatedly, it would simply go away after an occurance.

      • Mark G. says:

        If exceptions to the natural order were commonplace, the world would be quite chaotic & unpredictable. C.S. Lewis’ book Miracles is a good study on that subject.

        In the Beginning by J. Cardinal Ratzinger is a great study of the creation accounts in the light of reason as well as modern science (which aren’t at all the same thing).

        In his discussion of the absurdity of having “faith” that the universe arose out of random chance, he quotes an author who sat in on a lecture by atheist scientist James Monad & said, “What this professor wants to inflict on us is far more unbelievable than what we poor Christians were ever expected to believe.”

  3. Anne says:

    When I go to New Advent, I scan the titles of the articles and select the one that seems most intriguing. Nine out of ten times, I find I selected Msgr. Pope’s article! Thank you and keep up the ministry for your online readers.

    • Lil' Sis says:

      Me too. And today, when I saw the photo my first thought was: that looks like a house in Detroit. I scrolled to the top to be sure I was in the Archdiocese of Washington, yep. Read a little, sure enough: Detroit.

      Pray for a quick and safe “decay” of these kind of homes so that the people who must remain can live a dignified life.

  4. Shan Gill says:

    Contemplation of the intelligence/order vs. inanimate/disorder theme led me to the conclusion some time ago that the theory of evolution was not so much scientific as merely anti-God. Since then, for the past twenty-five years or so, I have watched other scientists offer arguments to bolster the general evolution theme, but have never seen any that strike me as solid. Thus we can appreciate the fact that St. Thomas certainly had his thinking cap on straight when he came up with his arguments, and left us such a solid foundational legacy. Thank you for the article.

  5. rujuta says:

    Great post, wonderful points. I agree, if there is complex and ordered creation there has to be an all powerful and wise Creator.

  6. David Ulmer says:

    Amen, Msgr. Wonderful video as well. As I was watching it, my 7 year old came up to the computer. I try to teach my children the parts of prayer, while young, right before bedtime (adoration, thanksgiving, confession, and supplication) as we pray together. As he was watching, I said, “that’s adoration.” He gets it and since we home school, no one will be likely to wash it out of his brain.

    Rom 1:18-23
    For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.

    Ps 19:1-2
    The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
    Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.

  7. Linus says:

    Yes, but my favorite is a take off from the argument from beauty. How explain the fact that humans have the facility or faculty to appreciate the beauty in creation. It is a faculty not strictly demanded for humans to function. That we have it can only point to a loving cause desireing to draw us to Himself. This faculty can not be accounted for in a materialistic, evolutionary universe.

  8. Grandpa Tom says:

    Good article, Msgr. Pope. St. Thomas Aquinas in his argument for the existence of God says: “But even the unlearned perceive how ridiculous it is to suppose the instruments are moved, unless they are set in motion by some principle agent. This would be like fancying that, when a chest or a bed is being built, the saw or the hatchet performs its functions without the carpenter. Accordingly, there must be a first mover that is above all the rest; and this being we call God, The First Mover, Himself un-moved. The Pure Act. (Aquinas’s Shorter Summa; Chptr 3).” I might add we know the carpenter of the universe as Jesus. The book of Wisdom says God ordered all things according to measurement, weight, and number. God does geometry.

    I once read a fairy tale where the character in the story went to a house, and outside a broom was sweeping the stairs without an operator, once inside, he saw a mop, mopping the floor by itself, and there was an egg in a pan on the stove frying itself.

    The American Indians believed in the spirit world, it was their very essence like breathing. Everything in creation has a soul. Birds carried messages to the gods beyond the clouds, rivers sing, and rocks talk. Some clever animals such as the raven, raccoon, fox, beaver, and the spiders speak the language of the ancient tribes. They have never spoken of evolution, of spirits moving between creatures, or creatures becoming something they previously were not. The cycles that are dominant in the natural world, the path of the sun moving across the sky, the change of seasons, the germination of seeds, and the birth, growth, and death of all creatures evolve in an orderly fashion, day after day, year after year, generation after generation, under the control of unseen forces. All things living are tied together with a common navel cord. Even the unlearned believe in a higher force. Sitting Bull called this god “Wanka Tanka,” the Big Holy. Sitting Bull’s prayers were answered when his forces encountered Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn 1867).

  9. Erica says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    I am wondering if you read my resonse to the question you asked in the comments of your post “Can a Catholic Accept Evolutionary Theory Uncritically.”

    http://blog.adw.org/2010/10/can-a-catholic-accept-evolutionary-theory-uncritically/#comments

    You asked “What causes the second law of TD to be in reverse?” You stated that you are usually greeted with scorn when asked this question. I tried to answer your question and I gave several examples of how there can be an increase in order without violating the laws of thermodynamics. When I read this post today it seems to me as if you are saying that because you don’t understand how entropy can apply in a certain situation , it doesn’t apply and the situation is a violation of the laws of thermodynamics and an act of God. A few thoughts –

    1. If God is the creator of the universe He is certainly the creator of the laws of thermodynamics. Being able to explain a situation using thermodynamics should not, in my opinion at least, in any way decrease faith in God.

    2. I still believe you have a misunderstanding of the law of entropy. The second law of thermodynamics does not state that absolutely everything becomes more disordered but rather that the system as a whole becomes more disordered even if there are some increases in order. This occurs whether or not consious thought is involved in the reaction. I can try to give another example if the ones I gave in the previous post were not sufficient.

    3. Since in reality there are no isolated systems in the universe all reactions are causing the universe to become more disordered overall. If the big bang theory is true, all that is in the universe was together in an extremely dense state. Having everything all in one place is a huge amount of order, about as ordered as things can get. That it exploded and solar systems were formed in the process does not violate entropy because the solar systems are not nearly as ordered as the original mass was. All further reactions tend to make the universe more disordered overall.

    4. If the big bang theory is true the intial matter was created by God. So a modification of “I have no problem with God setting things up so that we started as one-celled organisms and slowly evolved into being human beings” could be, “I have no problem with God setting things up so that He would create an intial mass of matter and energy that would explode and continue to react, following certain laws created by Himself,so that life and the world as we know it would come to be.”

    5. As I explained earlier, I do not think this in any way would make it seem as if God is absent from the universe and does not sustain because God, the creator of time, is not limited or bound by time.

    6. All this does not apply in supernatural situations where the natural laws are suspended, such as miracles or apparitions. However, life and the world itself are not usually supernatural because they usually follow the laws of nature (or the laws of thermodynamics.) And I don’t think it is a good idea to claim that the laws of nature do not apply just becuase one does not understand how they could apply.

    Well, those are my thoughts. If I have in any way offended you, please let me know and I will refrain from commenting on this topic again.

    Thank you again for your blog- it has helped me in so many ways.

    Erica

    • Matt says:

      Very nice response, Erica. However, I do have a problem with the idea of ‘God setting things up’ as if meaning that after being ‘set-up’ they then go by themselves. They have no power to do that unless God holds what He has created in being. Their continual existence is dependent upon God. They did not bring themselves into being and therefore can not hold themselves in being.

      • Martin Mallon says:

        Really enjoyed Msgr. Pope’s article and Erica’s reply. Good articles and posts are inspirational whether complex or simple. Keep up the good work everyone.

  10. Bob Henry says:

    The body decays and eventually dies, it is Jesus however that can resurrect what has been reduced to dust; and if He can resurrect the body he can do likewise to the whole of creation. This is something that is hidden from the wise but only revealed to the children of faith. And so like our Master says, our burden becomes light and our yoke easy.

  11. Vijaya says:

    Lovely post and video.

  12. PHILIP says:

    Just my own thoughts, Definition of a mirical,” No questions asked”.
    Definition of creation,”A prophecy of both the passion and the resurrection of JESUS”.

  13. Ricky says:

    Great post, I like it!

  14. Steve P in Madison, Wis. says:

    Reminds me of Joseph Addison’s hymn:

    The spacious firmament on high,
    with all the blue ethereal sky,
    and spangled heavens, a shining frame,
    their great Original proclaim.
    The unwearied sun from day to day
    does his Creator’s power display;
    and publishes to every land
    the work of an almighty hand.

    Soon as the evening shades prevail,
    the moon takes up the wondrous tale,
    and nightly to the listening earth
    repeats the story of her birth:
    whilst all the stars that round her burn,
    and all the planets in their turn,
    confirm the tidings, as they roll
    and spread the truth from pole to pole.

    What though in solemn silence all
    move round the dark terrestrial ball?
    What though no real voice nor sound
    amid their radiant orbs be found?
    In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
    and utter forth a glorious voice;
    for ever singing as they shine,
    “The hand that made us is divine.”

  15. Howard says:

    First of all, you are confusing entropy with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, and (if you will pardon me for saying so), the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics for Will Rogers-style cowboy philosophy.

    Entropy is a property of a substance, like temperature. Like temperature, it has units and can be quantitatively measured. This is different from “messiness” — if you say, “This bedroom is twice as messy as the living room,” you are just using a figure of speech.

    The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics can be stated in terms of entropy, but it can also be stated in terms of heat flow. Heat only flows spontaneously from a high temperature to a low temperature, just as water only flows spontaneously from a high elevation to a low elevation. Of course, water can be pumped, and so can heat — in heat pumps or refrigerators, for example. And just as the flow of water may or may not turn a wheel and do useful work, the flow of heat may or may not do something “useful”.

    The energy the earth gets from the sun comes from mostly yellow light, and eventually it gets re-emitted as infrared light into the depths of space. Each photon of yellow light contains the energy of something like 7 infrared photons, and this increase in the number of photons increases the entropy carried by the light. When you count this contribution to what happens on earth, there is no problem with the 2nd Law. The local decrease in entropy is analogous to water flowing over an obstacle in a siphon; this behavior is permitted only because it is part of a larger whole.

    • Erica says:

      Howard, thank you for this clarification. In my comments above I was not being as precise in my use of terms as I could have been. I do think about the second law of thermodynamics primarily in terms of entropy so I tend to use the terms “entropy” or “the law of entropy” when it would be more scientifically correct to use “second law of thermodynamics.” However I think (at least hope) it is clear what I was refering to.

  16. murtheol says:

    God could be the condition of nothingness; but without God there could not even be nothing.

    • Howard says:

      The closest I could come to agreeing with that “exists” cannot be used univocally of God and of any or all of His creation.

  17. Howard says:

    Ugh. I meant:

    The closest I could come to agreeing with that is that “exists” cannot be used univocally of God and of any or all of His creation.

  18. Tom says:

    I enjoyed the simplicity of this post, but for really understanding things I have to kind of roll around in them, like a pig in mud, and get it all through me. I liked Dubay’s book on the Evidential Power of Beauty, and the relationship shown between beauty, order and truth. Truth is orderly; truth is beautiful.

  19. Chuckles says:

    A simple and intelignlet point, well made. Thanks!

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