The universe demands an explanation

The universe in which we live demands an explanation outside itself

One of the oldest arguments for the existence of God rests on the fact that the universe itself, like any of its component parts, requires an adequate explanation.

“Look around you”, Greek philosophers would say. “The world displays astounding order. The sun, the moon, the stars, plant life, the animals and human beings: all belong together in an intricate pattern of co-existence. It could not be there without a Maker. Neither would it be what it is without a plan”.

Who of us, when we look at a statue or picture, does not at once think of the sculptor or painter?
When we see a new dress, ship or house, don’t we at once reflect on the designer, the shipbuilder, the architect?
On entering a well ordered city, in which everything is well arranged and regulated, will we not recognise at once that it is controlled by wise and efficient authorities?
When we then look around us at what is surely the greatest of cities, namely the world;
and when we see all the land, both mountains and valleys full of vegetation and animal life;
and the rivers and streams, overflowing at times, and then depending on the supplies of the rainy season;
and the steady tides of the ocean;
and the marvellous temperature of the air;
and the regular cycle of the seasons of the year;
and then too the sun and the moon and the regular courses run by the planets and the fixed stars
would any one of us who sees all this not naturally, or I should rather say, of necessity,
conceive the notion of the Father and Creator and Governor of all this system?
For there is no artificial product that can exist of its own accord, and the world is the most artificial and skilfully made of all things.

PHILO OF ALEXANDRIA (20 BC – 54 AD), in Works of Philo Judaeus, London 1890, vol. 3, pp. 182-183 ( I have modernised the translation).>

This spontaneous argument based on order in the world still has its appeal, even for sophisticated thinkers. Some years ago I heard Fred Hoyle, the famous astronomer, give an interview on BBC radio. At the time, Hoyle had retired to the countryside. “I know a Creator exists”, he said, “because the world bears the marks of one. When I walk through country lanes here, I see stone walls round the fields. I know the walls did not make themselves. They were constructed by farmers. All the more so when I meet a tractor on the road: it could never assemble itself. In the same way the universe bears the stamp of a Mind.”

Both Philo and Hoyle were using two-tier world language here. Today we realise that the image of a Supernatural Architect does not really fit the bill. But they point they were making remains valid. The universe requires a Cause.

The world requires an explanation

Now you might object that evolution explains everything. The point is, it doesn’t. Evolution explains connections within the universe, not the universe itself.

papua

Suppose an uneducated tribal head hunter of darkest Papua New Guinea finds himself suddenly in an aeroplane. He might, of course, restrict his attention to individual items he has never seen before: his passenger seat, the overhead lamp, the music-playing earphones, the windows of the cabin, other passengers. He may also, if he is intelligent, begin to ask wider questions – and discover that everything, including himself, is part of one extraordinary artificial bird: the aeroplane. The inner connections inside the plane do not explain how the whole plane came about, or why it can fly in the air.

The same applies to our universe. It is its totality that requires an explanation. The physicist Paul Davies expresses the situation in these words:

Look around you. See the complex structure and elaborate organization of the universe. Puzzle over the mathematical formulations of the laws of physics. Stand perplexed before the arrangement of matter, from the whirling galaxies to the beehive activity of the atom. Ask why these things are the way they are. Why this universe, this set of laws, this arrangement of matter and energy? Indeed, why anything at all?

Every thing and every event in the physical universe must depend for its explanation on something outside itself. When a phenomenon is explained, it is explained in terms of something else. But if that phenomenon is all of existence – the entire physical universe – then clearly there is nothing physical outside the universe (by definition) to explain it. So any explanation must be in terms of something non-physical and supernatural. That something is God.
P.DAVIES, God and the New Physics, Pelican 1984, pp. 46-47.>

Even with all our latest scientific insights, the main question remains.

P.DAVIES also highlights specific features of the universe that demand an explanation: the anthropic principle, for instance, the fact that a universe producing conscious life requires physical laws that do not deviate from ours by an extremely fine balance (to a precision of trillions times trillions times trillions of a degree), ib. p. 171; see his books The Edge of Infinity, and recently The Mind of God (London 1980, 1994) in which he says: “From a study of the universe we can see that “we are truly meant to be here”.

Why a universe at all?

The same applies to our inter-connected, evolving universe: it requires an explanation for its totality. Even if we know all causality within the world, we still do not know why all of it exists to begin with. It requires an explanation from beyond the universe.

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CREDITS

The text in this chapter is from How to Make Sense of God by John Wijngaards, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995. Tom Adcock designed the cartoons. The Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada awarded the book a prize on 25 May 1996.

View the following film on the meaning of creation