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The Order in the Universe
The general proof for the existence of God --- that the greater cannot come from the less --- we have made more precise by an examination of motion. We have seen how all motion, corporeal or spiritual, requires a mover, and in the last resort a supreme mover; for in a series of actually subordinated causes (for instance, in the series: the earth attracted by the sun, the sun by a more distant center), we must eventually arrive at a supreme mover who does not require to be previously moved, who must therefore possess activity of Himself if He is to confer it upon others. That is, He must be His action instead of merely receiving it. He acts without its being given Him to act. And as action presupposes being, and the mode of action follows upon the mode of being, the supreme mover of corporeal and spiritual beings, to be His action, must also be being itself, according to the Scriptural expression: "I am who am."
We must now speak of a proof that establishes at once the existence of God and His providence --- that based on the order prevailing in the world. Of all the proofs for God's existence, it is the most popular. Easily accessible to commonsense reason, it is susceptible of greater penetration by philosophical reason; and when it is applied from the physical to the moral order it may lead to the most sublime contemplation. We find it expressed in Psalm 18:2: "The heavens show forth the glory of God: and the firmament declareth the work of His hands."
The fact: the order prevailing in the universe
The fact is this, that in nature, in those things that lack intelligence, we have an admirable ordering of means to ends. "This is evident," says St. Thomas, "since those things which lack intelligence --- the heavenly bodies, plants and animals --- act always, or at least nearly always, in such a way as to produce what is best" (Ia, q. 2, a. 3).
Finality and order are apparent in the universal attraction between bodies. The purpose of this attraction is the cohesion of the universe. It is seen in the translational motion of the sun through space, carrying with it its entire system. It is again seen in the twofold motion of the earth --- the rotation about its axis every twenty-four hours, which is the cause of day and night, and its revolution round the sun in three hundred and sixty-five days, which is the cause of the seasons. In this constant regularity of the heavenly bodies in their courses, we have an obvious instance of means directed to an end, as the greatest astronomers declared, rapt as they were in admiration for the laws that they discovered. And many good things in this world would not be realized without the difference of day and night and the distinction of seasons, so necessary for the germination of plants and their development.
If we ascend a little higher and consider the plant organism, we see how admirably its arrangement enables it to use the moisture and transform it into sap, in a word, to nourish and reproduce itself in a regular and constant manner. If we but consider a grain of wheat put into the ground, we see that its purpose is to produce an ear of wheat, not of barley or rice.
We have only to consider an oak to see the utility of its roots and sap for the life of its branches and foliage. We have only to examine the collective organs of a flower to see that they all concur in the formation of the fruit which the flower is intended to produce --- a cherry, for instance, or an orange. A particular flower is intended to produce a particular fruit and no other. How is it possible not to see in this formation a designing idea?
If we ascend still higher and consider the animal organism, whether in its lower or higher forms, we see that as a whole it is adapted for the animal's nourishment, respiration, and reproduction. The heart makes the red blood circulate throughout the organism for its nourishment; then the dark blood charged with carbonic acid is again transformed into red by contact in the lungs with the oxygen of the air. Obviously the heart and lungs are for the preservation of animals and men.
Certain parts of the animal organism are truly marvelous. The joints of the foot are so made as to adapt themselves to every position in walking, and those of the hand are suited to a great variety of movements. A bird's wings are adapted for flight far better than is the best airplane. The smallest cell, which is related to thousands of others, is a masterpiece in itself. Of particular beauty is the harmonious arrangement of the many parts of the ear, for the perception of sound; and again, the very complex structure of the eye, in which the act of vision presupposes thirteen conditions, each of these again presupposing very many more, all of them adapted to this simple act of vision. In the eye we have an instance of an amazing number of means adapted to one and the same end, and this organ is formed in such a way as to produce always, or usually at any rate, what is
If now we consider the instinctive activity of animals, especially such as bees, we meet with fresh marvels. It would require the genius of a mathematician to invent and construct a bee-hive; and no chemist has yet succeeded in making honey from the nectar of a flower. Yet the bee is obviously not itself intelligent: it never varies its work or makes any improvement. From the very beginning its natural instinct has determined it to perform its task in the same way, and it will continue to do so forever, without in any way bringing it to perfection. On the contrary, man is continually perfecting the implements of his invention because, through his intelligence, he recognizes their purpose. The bee, too, works with an end in view, but unconsciously; yet it works in a way that excites our admiration.
Shall it be said that this wonderful order in the heavenly bodies, in vegetable and animal organisms, in the instinct of animals, is the effect of a happy chance? What happens fortunately by chance is not of regular or even frequent occurrence, but extremely rare. It is by chance that a tripod, when thrown into the air, falls on its three feet; but this rarely happens. It is by chance that a man digging a grave finds a treasure; but it is an unusual thing. On the contrary, the wonderful order we' have been considering as prevailing in nature is an order of fixed unchangeable laws, which are always applicable. It is a constant harmony and, as it were, the perpetual symphony of the universe for those who can hear it, that is, for great artists and thinkers and for the simple, to whom nature speaks of God.
Shall it be said that, amid a large number of useless organisms, a fortunate chance has formed a select few capable of receiving life, with the result that these have been preserved while the useless ones have disappeared? Such is the evolutionist theory of the survival of the fittest. But this would be tantamount to saying that chance is the first cause of the harmony prevailing in the universe and all its parts, and that, surely, is impossible. To be convinced of this, we need only reflect on what is meant by chance. Chance and its effect are something accidental; it is accidental for the tripod, when thrown into the air, to fall on its three feet; it is accidental for the gravedigger to find a treasure. Now the accidental presupposes the --- non-accidental, the essential, the natural, as the accessory presupposes the principal.
Were there no natural law of gravitation, the tripod would not, when thrown into the air, fall accidentally on its three feet. If the man who accidentally finds a treasure had not had the intention of digging the grave at that particular spot, this accidental effect would not have come about.
Chance is simply the accidental concurrence of two actions that are themselves not accidental but intentional, intentional at least in the sense that they have an unconscious natural tendency.
To say, therefore, that chance is the first cause of order in the world is to explain the essential by the accidental, the primary by the accessory; it implies as a consequence the destruction of the essential and the natural, the destruction of all nature and of all natural law. There would no longer be anything but fortuitous encounters, with nothing to encounter or be encountered --- which is absurd. It is equivalent to saying that the wonderful order in the universe is the outcome of disorder, of the absence of order, of chaos, without cause of any kind: that the intelligible is the outcome of the unintelligible: that brain and intelligence are the result of a material, blind fatality. Once again it is to assert that the greater comes from the less, the more perfect from the less perfect. That is the substitution, indeed, of absurdity for the mystery of creation, a mystery that has its obscurities, but that is plainly in conformity with right reason.
The fact, then, that constitutes the starting-point of our proof holds good:
namely, there is order and finality in the world, that is, means ordered to certain ends; for beings without intelligence, such as plants and animals, always or nearly always act so as to produce what is best. Universal attraction is for the cohesion of the universe, the seed of a grain of wheat for the production of the ear, a flower for the fruit, the foot of an animal for walking, the wings of a bird for flying, the lungs for breathing, the ear for hearing, the eye for seeing. The existence of finality is an undeniable fact, as even the positivist Stuart Mill admits.
More than this: not only is it a fact that every natural agent acts for some end, but it cannot be otherwise. Every agent must act for some purpose since, for the agent, to act is to tend to something determinate and appropriate to itself, that is, to an end. If the agent did not act for some determinate end, neither would it produce anything determinate, one thing rather than another; there would be no reason why the eye should see rather than hear, why the ear should hear rather than see. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 1, a.2.)
Perhaps the objection may be raised, that we do not see for what useful purpose the viper and other harmful animals exist. True, the external finality of certain beings does frequently escape us, but their internal finality is plain enough. We are quite able to see that the viper's organs serve for its nutrition and preservation. Its poisonous effect upon us induces us to be on our guard, and reminds us that we are not invulnerable, that we are not gods. Faith tells us that, had man not sinned, the serpent would not have become harmful to him. In spite of obscurities and shadows, there is light enough for those who are willing to see.
The materialists say there is as much heat or motion or calorific energy in a kettle as in a gier-eagle. Ruskin retorts:
Very good; that is so, but for us painters, the primary cognizable facts, in the two things, are, that the kettle has a spout, and the eagle a beak; the one a lid on its back, the other a pair of wings; ... the kettle chooses to sit still on the hob; the eagle to recline on the air. It is the fact of the, choice, not the equal degree of temperature in the fulfillment of it, which appears to us the more interesting circumstance (The Ethics of the Dust, Lect. X).
The materialist does not perceive that wings are for flying, the eye for seeing; he will not recognize the value of finality of the eye. Yet, if he feels that he is losing his sight, he goes to the oculist like the rest of men, and that is at any rate a practical recognition of the fact that eyes were made to see with.
For those who are willing to see, there is light enough in spite of obscurities and shadows. The finality of nature is an evident fact, not for our senses of course, --- for these get no farther than the sensible phenomena --- but for our intellect, which is made to grasp the raison d' être of things. For the intellect, obviously the eye is for seeing, the ear for hearing.
A means cannot be directed to an end except by an intelligent designer
From the fact that there is order in the world, how are we to ascend to the certain truth of God's existence? By means of the principle that beings without intelligence can tend to an end only when directed to it by an intelligent cause, as the arrow is directed by the archer. More simply, a means cannot be directed to an end except by an intelligent designer.
Why is this? Because the end, which determines the tendency and the means, is none other than the effect to be realized in the future. But a future effect, which as yet has no actual existence, must, to determine the tendency, be in some way already present, and this is possible only in a cognitive being.
If nobody has ever known the purpose of the eye, we cannot say that it is made to see with. If nobody has ever known the purpose of the bee's activity, we cannot say that it is for making honey. If nobody has ever known the purpose of the lung's action, we cannot say that it is for the renewal of the blood by contact with the oxygen of the air.
But why must there be an intelligent designer? Why does not the imagination suffice? Because only the intellect knows the raison d' être of things and consequently the purpose, which is the raison d' être of the means. Only an intellect can see that the wings of a bird are made for flying and the foot for walking; only an intellect could have designed wings for flying, the foot for walking, the ear for hearing, etc.
The swallow collecting straws to make its nest does so without perceiving that the building of the nest is the raison d' être of the action it performs. The bee, as it gathers the nectar from the flower, does not know that the honey is the raison d' être of its gathering. It is the intellect alone that reaches beyond mere color or sound down to the being and the raison d' être of things.
Only an intelligent designer can have directed means to an end; otherwise we would have to say that the greater comes from the less, order from disorder.
But why is an infinite intellect necessary, one strictly Divine? Why, asks Kant, should not a limited intellect, like that of the Angels, be sufficient to explain the order in the universe?
It is because a finite or limited intellect would not be thought itself, intellection itself, truth itself. Now an intellect that is not truth itself always known is merely directed to the knowledge of the truth; and this passive presupposes an active direction, which can come only from the supreme intellect, who is thought and truth itself. It is in this sense that our Lord declares Himself to be God, when He says: "I am the way, the truth and the life." He does not say merely, "I have received truth," but, "I am the truth and the life" (John 14:6).
This, therefore, is the conclusion to which our proof leads us: a transcendently perfect intelligent designer, who is truth itself and consequently being itself, since the true is being that is known. It is the God of the Scriptures: I am Who am. It is providence or the supreme reason of the order in things, by which every creature has been directed to its own particular end and finally to the ultimate end of the universe, which is the manifestation of the divine goodness. This is the way St. Thomas puts it (Ia, q. 22, a. 1):
We must necessarily suppose a providence in God; for, as was pointed out above, whatever goodness there is in things has been created by Him. Now in created things not only in their substance is goodness to be found, but also in their order to some end, and in particular to the ultimate end, which, as we concluded above, is the divine goodness. Hence this goodness in order apparent in created things has also been created by God. Now since God is the cause of all things through His intellect, in which therefore the conception of everyone of His effects must pre-exist, there must also pre-exist in the Divine mind the conception of this ordering of things to an end. But the conception of the order of things to an end is strictly providence.
Providence is the conception in the Divine intellect of the order of all things to their end; and the Divine governance, as St. Thomas observes (Ibid., ad 2um), is the execution of that order.
We now understand more fully the significance of those words of the Psalm: "The heavens show forth the glory of God" (Ps. 18:2). The wonderful order of the starry skies proclaims and extols the glory of God, and reveals to us His infinite intelligence. The harmony of the universe is like a marvelous symphony, the sweetest and most effective chant of the Creator. Blessed are they who listen to it.
Is there not a great moral lesson in this proof for the existence of God from the order prevailing in the world? Yes, an important one that is taught us in the Book of Job and more clearly later on in the Sermon on the Mount.
It is this lesson that, if there is such order in the physical world, much more must it be so in the moral world, in spite of all the wickedness human justice allows to go unpunished, as it also leaves unrewarded many a heroic act giving proof of God's intervention in the world.
It is the Lord's answer to Job and his friends. As we shall insist later on, the purpose of the Book of Job is to answer this question: Why so often in this world are the just made to suffer more than the wicked? Is it always in expiation of their sins, their secret sins at any rate?
Job's friends declare that it is, and they blame this poor stricken soul for complaining. Job denies that the trials and tribulations of the just are in every case the result of their sins, even their secret sins, and he wonders why so much suffering should have befallen him.
In the latter part of the book (chaps. 32-42), the Lord replies by pointing out the wonderful order prevailing in the physical world with all" its splendors, from the life of the insect to the eagle's flight, as if to say: If there exists such order as this in the things of sense, much more so must there be order in the dispositions of my providence concerning the just, even in their most terrible afflictions. There is in this a secret and a mystery which it is not given to men to fathom in this world.
Later on, in the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord speaks more plainly (Matt. 6:25): "Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat. ... Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap ... and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? ... Consider the lilies of the field: ... they labor not, neither do they spin. But I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field ... God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith." If there is order in the world of sense, a providence for the birds of the air, much more so will there be order in the spiritual world and a providence for the immortal souls of men.
And lastly, to the question put in the Book of Job, our Lord gives the final answer when He says (John 15:1-2): "I am the true vine: and My Father is the husbandman ... and everyone that beareth fruit, He will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit." God proves a man as He proved Job, that the man may bring forth the splendid fruits of patience, humility, self-abandonment, love of God and one's neighbor --- the splendid fruits of charity, which is the beginning of eternal life.
This, then, is the important moral lesson taught us in this sublime proof for the existence of God: If in the world of sense such wonderful order exists, much more must it be so in the moral and spiritual world, in spite of trials and tribulations. There is light enough for those who are willing to see and march on accordingly to the true light of eternity.