One of the things that most amazes me about the universe is its order. And its order is even more striking for its context of another widespread force: disorder, the tendency of things to fall apart. Let me explain.

When we look at things we can observe that, left to themselves, things tend to fall apart and and become disorderly.

Consider for example a house in Detroit (Photo upper right). 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 and other structures that supply electricity, ventilation, water and so forth. 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 in the natural order we observe the tendency of things to fall apart or revert to less complex states. For example, mountains erode, compounds breakdown into elements, living organisms and systems die and return to dust.

And yet we ALSO observe the exact opposite. All around us is order and purpose. Somehow natural things have sprung up into orderly systems. Explosive disorder (the big bang) where things moved rapidly apart, have 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. And yet, from a purely natural perspective order seems to exist in the midst of a lot of disorder and a strong tendency of things to fall apart.

So where does order come from and what and directs the purpose and complex interaction and order of all things? Order points to purpose, purpose points to intelligibility, intelligibility points to intelligence. To every atheist I know, which is not very many, I ask, why is there order, rather than disorder? Why is there order even in the midst of disorder. What causes it. Why do things seem to work for a purpose and attain an end. The universe manifests a tendency to fall into basic elements. What causes complex interactive systems that are intelligible, manifest a purpose and attain to an end, to emerge out of things that otherwise tend to fall apart? Frankly, why is there existence at all? And whence does order and complexity have its origin.

To me, as a believer, Creation shouts the existence of one who orders and directs it. 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 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 in a way that is intelligible and rational since we see order and purpose in it. Creation shouts out God.

Of course all my feeble musings point to a much better articulation of the point by St. Thomas advanced in the Summa:

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. Such beauty, such order, such glory, the glory of God:

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12 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    Hello Msgr
    I was wondering how mercy is to be understood in the modern world. A few days ago you wrote about St-Johns’ hard spiritual truths, and quoted James 2:13 “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy”.

    I’m wondering if the western world today equates permissiveness to mercy. Everyone knows what rectitude is, but we all fall short of it. We’re even taught there’s a school of thought that says perfection is impossible, so expecting perfection is unreasonable. So if I’m permissive to my brothers failed attempts at rectitude, will I be treated mercifully in my failed attempts at it ?

    • I agree your distinction is a valid one. Mercy does not equal approval or permission to do evil. Sadly the world often interprets even the slightest amelioration of punishment with approval. Nevertheless, we cannot fall into its error and must still strive to be clear about right and wrong, while also counseling patience for the sinner/offender and seeking lesser remedies before severe ones are used.

  2. Anne Marie says:

    One can learn about how God orders creation by the reality that we have 4 seasons each year. Excellent article. Thank-you and God Bless.

  3. RichardGTC says:

    That house house in the picture looks like it must have been very lovely and well-crafted at one time.

    ” The best illustration is a doctor doctoring himself: nature is like that.”–Aristotle

    The entire paragraph is worth quoting and that beautiful sentence is worth quoting twice:

    “It is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present because we do not observe the agent deliberating. Art does not deliberate. If the ship-building art were in the wood, it would produce the same results by nature. If, therefore, purpose is present in art, it is present also in nature. The best illustration is a doctor doctoring himself: nature is like that.”–Aristotle, Physics, Book II, Part 8.

    • JohnR says:

      Yes, Richard, Aristotle did put it most beautifully. One thing which struck me many, many years ago, is that those pagan philosophers worked out for themselves that there is a God, an unseen creator, who made everything and gave it order. They did not have the benefit of revelation but they certainly knew how to use their reason and to work out that order requires a creator and a mind behind the creation.
      The world owes much to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Giants, every one of them!

      • Fr Hugh MacKenzie says:

        Only problem is that Aristotle did not clearly believe in such a designing and deliberating God – and the quoted paragraph actually shows him moving away from this. He in fact set up final causation as just one thread of the causative world (cf .his four causes, final, efficient, material and formal). This lack of ubiquitous finality opens up gaps in the cosmos where design is not so obvious. Atheism has simply tried to show that these design-gaps are the norm – after all science is increasingly showing the physical cosmos as a fundamentally homogenous, law-full whole.

        Whilst Aquinas and the scholastics uses Aristotle’s four causes, in the fifth argument as quoted above he affirms finality as “acting always, or almost always”. This ubiquitous reality, with the help of modern science’s gradual unification of the physical world, needs to be more strongly asserted to justify the argument from order.

  4. Maria says:

    The way I humbly look at it is that God can not exercise mercy without exercising justice. Mercy and justice are two faces of one coin, sort of speak. To separate one from the other is like separating breath from life, no can’t do.

  5. Anna says:

    Thank you for the short , to the point image , words and beautiful video ; today’s Gospel readings
    http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/102313.cfm – also seems to go with same message , how The Lord expects order in His household, thus , the one put in charge , to be diligent , is also to be made master of more – as seen in the growth of The Church , esp. compared to the divided ones .

    Peter is the one who asks the question that brings the more vivid explanation from The Lord ; wish many of the heads of the divided Churches, that need to accept that sense of order , through the ministry of unity
    ( Popr Francis’s words ) , entrusted to Peter , would do so soon enough , thus protecting the people , from the trials /beatings by the powers set against them !

    May The Queen of Peace help to make it easy , simple orderly !

  6. Zen says:

    I recall a line I read about the Chaos Theory: There is order in chaos! Look up the beautiful images related to this field.

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