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: