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: