Are we controlled by nature?

Nature is under no requirement to meet our ideas of what is logical. All life is doing is existing within the parameters that allow it to exist.

I read this fascinating statement in an online science forum. It was in response to a question asking, essentially, why amoebas (single-celled organisms) have so much more DNA than humans, when, ‘logically’ we should have so much more (because humans are much more complex and intelligent life-forms).

The thing I found interesting about this conversation was not so much the answer itself, but the reminder of a prevalent philosophical stand wpoint today: that Nature (often semi-personified or quasi-deified) acts in its own interests, and has parameters – rules – that life has to obey. In this scenario, Nature is in charge.

In nature there are laws – natural processes in which a particular event always leads to a particular result. Some are seen and understood by us, some not. Since the beginning of humanity we’ve been observing these rules of reality – discovering systems, processes and design within nature. As Einstein said:

We see a universe marvellously arranged, obeying certain laws, but we understand the laws only dimly. [1]

Law requires order. And the opposite of order is chaos – a state of total confusion. So far, so good. But shouldn’t we be a little more surprised? After all, whatever spun this universe into motion did so in a measurable, consistent manner, theoretically observable all the way back to the point of origin. We don’t live in a random universe. We live in an ordered universe.

An ordered universe is required for us to exist, let alone to contemplate our existence. Take a moment to let that sink in for a moment. Why should we expect the universe to have even the slightest element of formality and structure, and not be in utter chaos? Or even partial chaos?

This is all grand theoretical chat, but what relevance does this have for the daily experience of the human condition? The saying goes, ‘in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes’, but fortunately for us, this is entirely false, and thank God for that.

The natural laws are certainties that can be understood as universal constants, and these constants are what enable us to live and experience life to the fullest.

If the rules of physics were constantly changing, music would not exist, or at least it would be incomprehensible. Paintings would change colour – or melt, or redraw themselves every second. If gravity was flexible, your car might float away in a breeze – or considerably worse, the earth might spontaneously fall off its axis. If the universe was chaotic, you might very well wake up tomorrow as a meringue. Joking aside, life would be an impossibility in a chaotic universe.

Science itself – the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world – only makes sense in a universe where the rules are set. Modern medicine works because we are able to reliably test and prove findings. We can enjoy food, dancing, lego, books – because our universe is ordered.

I find this very comforting. A pretty depressing viewpoint today is that of the harsh, cold reality of existence, in which we are nothing but bits of matter floating in a meaningless void. But for me, this just doesn’t line up with the everyday miracle of living in an ordered universe. The design is evident, and the natural laws cannot be anything but a gift that we have been given to discover and play with.

When you sit gazing at the stars on a clear night, you can see the grandeur of the natural laws displayed on an unfathomable scale. Science shows us the ordering of nature, and helps us to discover, observe and probe the rules. But it can’t then begin to answer the philosophical question of ‘why’ the rules exist.

This is where science and religion are not inherently incompatible: they simply ask different questions about the universe. Once we have the ‘what’ (the order and rules of nature), we must ask the why (how can something so ordered not be designed? If so, who designed it?)

I think the Bible offers us a rational explanation for this ‘why’.It says that we are without excuse: that the beauty and wonder of the natural world are evident for all to see, and should clearly reveal to us God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature [2]. The natural world reveals the ‘why’ — God.

It’s not such a huge step to move from our implicit faith in the constant laws of nature to recognising the rules as something made for us. In fact, it takes more faith to believe that the natural laws exist without any design than to believe that they sprung out of nowhere.

Rather than having faith in nature, the reality of nature and our ordered universe should instead direct us towards a faith in something far greater.

[1] Glimpses of the Great by George Sylvester Viereck, 1930.
[2] Romans 1:20 – the Bible (New International Version)

Photo by Daniil Silantev on Unsplash

Graham Ormiston

Graham Ormiston
Graham works in television production, with experience in various creative industries, especially video, photography, design, web development and music. He puts the rest of us to shame.

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