Order! Order in the Universe! – A Meditation on the Wisdom That Creation Reflects


In a courtroom, the judge can bring an unruly outburst to an end by shouting, “Order! Order in the court!” I often feel the same urge in the debates of our time about God’s existence and His role in the created universe. It is not so much that the debates can get unruly, but that I, with the  insistence of a town crier, want to shout, “Order! Order, there IS order the universe!” And I want to ask everyone to be quiet and listen to the universe herself declaring, “I am ordered! I am designed! I am remarkably complex, from the largest galaxies to the smallest atoms! And even what you think is chaos is but an order currently hidden from your limited view.”

As a prelude to a series of articles I plan to post this week on cosmology, liturgy, and Sacraments, I would like to begin with a summons to this call: “Order! Order in the universe!” I want to apply some of the insights of creation, a kind of root “sacrament” that underlies the seven Sacraments, and the reason for liturgy. For our seven Sacraments presuppose that matter and creation are not just dumbly present but that they bespeak order and purpose, and manifest God, their maker. Today I’d like to simply ponder order and then listen to a liturgical hymn that celebrates, in the Wisdom tradition, the One who in His wisdom designed and ordered the cosmos.

It is a strange and remarkable thing to me that in this day and age, when we have discovered magnificent realities that show a universe steeped in order and unbelievable size, increasing numbers of people claim that the whole thing is just dumbly there, that it’s all the result of a series of random mutations. In other words, to more and more people today, the obvious order of the universe is accidental; we human beings are simply the result of random, blind, unguided mutations. All the order of creation we can plainly observe and all the sophisticated, interdependent systems that give rise to complex life are all just accidental. We are asked to believe that all this obvious order, order that no one can miss, somehow leapt together, unguided and accidentally, from a primordial soup; that from disorder came order.

Although things tend to fall apart and go back to their basic components (the Law of Entropy), we are asked to believe that in this case, in a random and accidental way, things actually moved from disorder to order all on their own, even though, as some insist, no outside force, energy, or intelligence acted on them.

To me, this sort of belief requires more “faith” than simply believing that a higher and intelligent being (whom we call God) both created and introduced the order that is so obvious in the universe, not to mention in our bodies, down to the smallest cells and atoms. And to be sure, the atheist/secularist notion of random, unguided, accidental order is itself a belief, for its conclusion is outside of what science can study or demonstrate. For all the denunciation by many atheists of philosophy, theology and metaphysics, those who deny God’s role in creation are not making a scientific claim; they are staking out their own philosophical, theological, and metaphysical claim and asking others to believe it. To me, such a “belief” in the random, unguided, and accidental existence of things, in the face of such overwhelming and consistent order, is unreasonable in the extreme.

The whole universe shouts, “Order! Consistency! Intelligibility!” Our bodies and every delicately functioning system on this planet echo back the refrain, “Order! Consistency! Intelligibility!” And while I cannot, and do not, ask scientists to specifically affirm the biblical and Christian God and our whole Catholic theological tradition, the existence of consistent order in the universe is obvious and serves as the basis of the whole scientific method. For if things were truly random, rather than orderly, intelligible, and predictable, science could not propose theories, test results, or verify them. No experiment would produce similar results if everything acted randomly. The scientific method presupposes order and consistency within a verifiable range. Thus while science need not draw conclusions as to how this order came about, it is wholly inappropriate (as some scientists have done) to be dismissive of believers, who conclude from order that someone ordered it so.

Yes, what a glorious and magnificent thing creation is! And to this believer, it loudly proclaims the God who made it.

There is a beautiful hymn, one that I have seldom heard sung in Catholic parishes, that takes up the voice of creation, especially that part of creation we call the stars (firmament) and the planets. The hymn is based on Psalm 19, and I think it is a minor masterpiece of English poetry. It was written by Joseph Addison in 1712.

It comes from a time before skeptical agnosticism and hostility to the very notion (let alone existence) of God had taken deep root in our culture. And, frankly, it also comes from a more sober time, when people accepted the plainly obvious fact that creation is ordered, and therefore that it was ordered by someone in a purposeful and intelligent manner. That someone we believers call God.

Consider the beautiful words of this song and its reasoned conclusion that, as Psalm 19 notes, creation shouts its Creator.

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.”

Yes, the hand that made us is divine, and He has done a marvelous thing!

Here is a sung version:

23 Replies to “Order! Order in the Universe! – A Meditation on the Wisdom That Creation Reflects”

  1. If you ask an atheist what is his premise, I think he would say: Everything happened by chance and the universe has no maker. If you ask him what is the conclusion that he draws from his premise, I think he would say: Everything happened by chance and the universe has no maker. His conclusion is the same as the premise from which he draws his conclusion. Getting an atheist to admit that is a good starting point, if he will admit that.

    1. Some atheists/agnostics for example Bertrand Russell took the view that it was illegitimate to ask the question of the cause of the world.
      In 1948 there was a debate on BBC Radio between Fr. FC Copleston SJ and Bertrand Russell (The Right Honourable The Earl Russell )

      Here is that part of the transcript.

      C denotes Fr. Copleston
      R denotes Bertrand Russell

      C….But your general point then, Lord Russell, is that it’s illegitimate even to ask the question of the cause of the world?

      R: Yes, that’s my position.

      C: Well, if it’s a question that for you has no meaning, it’s of course very difficult to discuss it, isn’t it?

      R: Yes, it is very difficult. What do you say — shall we pass on to some other issue?

  2. Coincidentally, I was just thinking about this right before I read your post! It is amazing to me how we can look up at the sky and see the same constellations that the Greeks and the Egyptians gazed at 4000 years ago, and nothing has changed! We can still gaze up at various times of the year, and know exactly where the Big Dipper will be, or Orion’s Belt. If everything has been a matter of chance, how is it that these bodies’ positions are FIXED in relation to each other for thousands of years? What is This Power that keeps them in place?

    Also, it is amazing to me that with all the discoveries man makes as time goes on, we become more arrogant. The fact is, these discoveries prove that man has lived in ignorance (of many, many things) for all time. This should humble us! It should tell us that man’s knowledge is limited and intellectual powers flawed! Instead, we clap ourselves on the back, tell ourselves how great we are, and that only the unstable need God.

    I’m so grateful to God for the gift of faith. So grateful.

    1. Actually, the stars are not fixed in space but are swirling around our galaxy like vegetables in a soup. However, the distances between stars are so vast that we do not notice any significant change in position over thousands of years.

      The relationship is governed by gravity and the masses of the stars. However, if we look at physics, one thing depends upon another which depends upon another, and so on. We must eventually get to a first cause. This first cause would be dependant upon nothing else at all. It would be subject to nothing and therefore have no limits to which it is subject. It would then be infinite. This would be the same as the Judeo-Christian God.

        1. Yes, I was speaking phenomenologically! I know that stars move…. Iol! But it is as you say – there is order in our universe.

  3. This brings to mind the opening of F.J. Sheed’s Theology and Sanity: “My concern in this book is not with the Will but with the Intellect, not with sanctity but with sanity. … There is the will: its work is to love – and so to choose, to decide, to act. There is the intellect: its work is to know, to understand, to see: to see what? To see what’s there.”

  4. Excellent article Msgr, I’m actually steep in Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas on the concept of reality and being, to quote Heidegger “is being a mere word and its meaning a vapor (as Nietzsche called it), or does what is designated by the word ‘Being’ hold within it the spiritual destiny of the West”.
    One of things I love about Aristotle is his philosophy of common sense, which we seem to have lost, you are absolutely correct that it takes more faith to believe that at one time in the past there was nothing; non-being, and then all of a sudden space/time created itself and then particle physics just appeared, not sure how something that does not exist can somehow preexist and create itself.

    I love this quote from St Thomas from his Commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics
    “As the Philosopher says in the beginning of the Metaphysics, it is the business of the wise man to order. The reason for this is that wisdom is the most powerful perfection of reason whose characteristic is to know order. Even if the sensitive powers know some things absolutely, nevertheless to know the order of one thing to another is exclusively the work of intellect or reason”.

  5. As a college science major (premed) in the late 60’s, we learned in Physics of the impending “Entropic Doom”
    that would see the universe disintegrate.
    The forest can’t be seen thru the trees.
    Accidental, designed itself ? Dr Hawking types so confused.

    1. That reminds me of something I’ve often wondered about. The big boys use this reasoning to proof that there can’t be an infinite regression of cause and effect: if there is no first cause then there can be no intermediary causes, and if there are no intermediary causes, then there can be no causes at all. This is what I’ve wondered about: if there is no final effect, then there can be no intermediary effects, and if there are no intermediary effects, then there can be no future at all. Does that make sense?

  6. May it please the Court:

    Order does imply an organizer, particularly since order must precede the sort of development on which theories of evolution rely, and as you point out, so does the entire scientific enterprise. That is, “natural selection” as described by Darwin only works if species reproduce in a way sufficiently orderly that advantageous characteristics are replicated persistently enough to improve the population. Were the primordial ooze entirely random, it still would be, as the law of entropy would tend to destroy any order emerging simply on a random basis. Thus order is a condition precedent for any sustained development, regardless of time.

    Which brings us to another consideration. It has been memorably said that saying that the cosmos is merely a random event is like saying a group of monkeys, given enough time and keyboards, would eventually type out “Hamlet.” Such assertions blandly ignore that a) it can be shown that past time is not infinite and b) even if it were, the probability of such a highly organized outcome, which gets progressively smaller with every character, word and page, could ever occur on an entirely random basis is so minute (in calculus this would be a limit), it cannot possibly be an organizing principle at all, much less one on which the cosmos depends.

    Even if these objections could somehow be overcome, the atheist must still explain how if there was ever absolutely nothing, how is it there is not still absolutely nothing. Or alternatively, demonstrably prove that some identifiable matter has eternally existed. But of course that would still be contrary to their theory.

    It seems to me that all science can do is answer the questions of WHAT and HOW; it can describe and name observable and even inferred phenomena (the what) and their behavior, development, and interaction (the how). It cannot possibly, within any means of observation currently or conceivably available, explain WHY there is anything at all (much less the indescribably complex human person) or WHO it was and is that creates, governs and sustains its existence. Simply put, if God could be put in a test tube or under a microscope, by definition that wouldn’t be God.

    There is a remarkable YouTube video of a debate between Richard Dawkins and George Cardinal Pell in which Dawkins makes what fundamentally is a statement of faith – in Science! He admitted that at present Science did not have all the answers, but was confident that in time it would.

    In so exalting science, Dawkins and others actually debase it. Not only are they expecting answers beyond the proper ambit of the scientific method, they are drawing conclusions that cannot be supported by the evidence currently available. I happen to believe that we have barely scratched the scratch in our knowledge of the known universe, to say nothing of the potentially much larger knowable, but not yet observable, universe Ior multiverses).

    ON the basis of the foregoing, this party prays the court rule that such matters are beyond the jurisdiction of the discipline of science and indeed beyond its own jurisdiction, except with respect to its duty to preserve and protect the liberties of citizens under the First Amendment to the free exercise of religion.

    God save this honorable court!

    1. Just to randomly pick six letters from the alphabet and have them spell “Hamlet” with proper capitalization is 52 to the sixth power: 1 chance in 19,770,609,664 attempts.

      1. Evolution is not random. So in the first instance, nature does not ‘randomly pick’ anything. It especially doesn’t discard anything that has even the slightest benefit – or rather, the fact that something has a slight benefit means it is more likely to survive and pass on that benefit. That’s how evolution works. If it didn’t work like that then it wouldn’t work at all.

        To use your Hamlet example (even with the capitalisation), consider millions of selections being made every minute of every day for millions of years. Well, OK, it’s actually too difficult to envisage. So just imagine me picking the letters myself. 52 lower case and 52 upper. It would take me on average, 52 attempts to come up with ‘H’. Now let’s say that having the letter H is a tiny advantage over not having it. So I get to keep it (to pass it on).

        Now I take another 50 something attempts to get an ‘a’. And that is another very slight advantage so I get to keep that as well. You can see quite easily that it’s only going to take about 300 selections to get the word ‘Hamlet’ in the correct order. At one selection a second your system would take over 6 years. Using the system that evolution uses would take you 5 minutes…

        Let’s extrapolate. There are 100,000 words in Hamlet (a little less actually). Let’s say 6 letters per word gives us 600,000 letters. if it takes 5 minutes to do 6 letters, it would take 500,000 minutes to do all of them. In the correct order. With capitalization.

        You managed the title in 6 years. Evolution gives you the complete play in one.

  7. Father (or moderator):

    I get your blog and others from New Advent, from which I just read Joseph Pearce’s essay at http://www.theimaginativeconservative.org/2015/02/science.html. Pearce got it right; I got it wrong – my attempt at an artful post above overlooked Newman’s contention that Theology is the “Queen of the Sciences”. I should have been more restrictive and qualified that above I am speaking of the empirical sciences, not its broader and more proper meaning that Pearce elucidates so well.

    So if you like the piece above, please just change “science” in the first sentence of the fourth paragraph to “the scientific method” and to “disciplines of the empirical sciences” in the last. There is something to be said for after-post editing capability, which is a feature of Disqus and perhaps others (if you ever revisit the issue of your blog platform).

    By the way, my point in the penultimate paragraph is that given the rapid growth in research and technology, I believe we likely will appear quite stone-age by the turn of the 22nd century. Of course to do science one has to measure, and no amount of data can bridge the gap between our finite limits and the infinite majesty of God.

    I don’t comment nearly as often as I would like, so I will take this opportunity to tell you that I find your posts, lucid, inspiring, and provocative, particularly when you illuminate an area where undetected or rationalized sin exists in my life – and this occurs far too often! Thank you so much for your priesthood and willingness to teach.

  8. Msgr. I found Dnish D’Souza’s book “What’s So Great About Christianity” to be an excellent exploration of this subject.

  9. Msgr. Pope, you have made an admirable first step. It is a huge topic. The entire idea of randomness is tough to nail down, and a scientist would have to dig *deep* to really tackle it.

    For instance, if the universe were really random, then there’d be no electrons or protons, because they interact electromagnetically, and that interaction has a definite structure. “OK,” answers the randomist, “then the universe to be truly random would have to consist of neutrons only, no electrical charge.” But again, a scientist would then answer, “No, there is a structure to a neutron; it is not random at all, but a well defined set of three quarks, two DOWN quarks and one UP quark.” And so on.

    So this entire claim of the universe being random is very hard to support scientifically.

    And the whole idea of laws of nature! Is it reasonable to expect that laws of nature exist?

    As always, if one has read Stanley Jaki, one gets a very good grasp of the claims and counterclaims concerning science.

    So thanks for the nice article. I will try to read the rest of your series!!

  10. The one thing, probably the ONLY thing I find valuable about the atheistic/secularist point of view is that from it science became a little more “pure” in its reasoning and proofs, meaning that not needing to accommodate religious belief freed (some) scientists to explore questions and find answers that perhaps they would not have dared had religion inhibited them. Since the scientific revolution we have made huge and magnificent strides in our understanding of God’s creation and how to use it for the betterment (and alas, also for the destruction) of mankind. Without the atheistic point of view, science could have been mired in needing to accommodate a view of God that would have inhibited discovery rather than facilitated it.

    Personally, however, I think they went too far, and sometimes I wonder what God may have revealed to them if they HAD acknowledged and sought Him while they worked. After all, Louis Pasteur and Gregor Mendel did wonderful work and so no conflict between their work and belief in God.

  11. A bit of humor that seems to fit this topic:
    The priest at our Ash Wednesday Mass told the following joke:
    One day a scientist came to God and said, “We have discovered how to create man.” God was surprised and curious, and He said, “Well, this I’d like to see!” And so the scientist proceeded to reach down and take a handful of dirt from the ground, and God stopped him and said, “Oh, no you don’t. Get your own dust.”

  12. Thank you, Msgr. Pope for these words about Order. Surely these kinds of words will greatly help turn the tide to more orderly thinking, and, therefore, away from such disorderly thinking that is so prevalent in the world today. It is past time for our prayer intentions to be such that we include “Please help us to be orderly on our thinking.”

  13. Why would a scientist spend his energy, time, or life pursuing the make-up / activity / nature of the AIDS virus or Ebola or anything at all if he or she did not assume inherent and hopefully soon detectable ordered nature and activity? Is it not an act of faith in the probability of order?

  14. Reading the several small books that Stephen Hawking wrote for laymen (non-cosmologists), outlining the motions of many of the observable galaxies over time, and projecting them backward in time to about 13 Billion years ago, when all matter can be shown to be clustered in a very small volume of space, at an extremely high temperature – think hundreds of millions degrees, possibly billions!
    Now if all that stuff was clustered at a point:
    – Where did it come from?
    – How did that hot matter acquire the properties that allowed it to separate, cool and form clusters of stars, eventually planets, and the various elements and compounds that are required for life, both plant and animal?

    Dr. Hawking’s own writing show him rather disturbed by hearing a cardinal, (at a meeting in Rome to discuss the “Big Bang Theory) state that the Catholic Church had no objection to the Big Bang Theory. Hawking’s first reaction to this statement was … “In developing this theory, I must have done something wrong!!”
    Applying the principle of William of Ockham (when several possible explanations exist to an observed phenomenon, the explanation requiring the fewest variables is probably the correct one) leads inevitably to the existence of a Creator who specified the properties of His creation.
    Or, in the words of Genesis, “And God said, ‘Let there be light!’, and there was light.”
    So the professed atheists in scientific professions can be accused of violating the principle described as “Occam’s Razor”.

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