An Ordered Universe: A Common Theme Across All Religions
Wednesday November 23 is Fibonacci Day, celebrating the natural wonder and mystery that is the Fibonacci sequence: a sequence of numbers that appear very frequently and unexpectedly across mathematics and in many natural patterns such as the number of petals on flowers, the configurations of tree branches, and much more. The Fibonacci sequence is just one reminder of how harmonious the order in the universe seems to be.
We see it in the precision with which the sun rises every morning and sets every evening. We see it in mathematics and in rhyming poetry. We see it in the way we look for railway timetables or in the regularity of our daily newspaper. Something as small as packing a child’s bag every morning gives us order in our day. Even those who spend their days chaotically find an order within the chaos.
As a biological species, human beings at all times and places have been equipped with essentially the same cognitive and neurological makeups, and thus our brains are all inclined to perform certain operations — for instance, seeing order in the universe.
A human life without meaning and some sense of order is a life defined by terror, anxiety, and existential dread. The ability to see order in the universe is vital to our survival. Thus, the need for order has catalyzed the creation of society, nations, corporations — institutions created in order to fill the void of chaos and meaninglessness that we would be prone to experience.
But even an anthropomorphic species like ours has realized that there is an extraordinary order in the universe that exists independent of us — the tides, the stars or, closer home, the ways in which our cells divide and multiply. It is this kind of natural order that just about all religions have pointed to as signs of an intelligent God. Regardless of our religious affiliation, we tend to spontaneously feel a deep sense of mystery and awe when witnessing this quality of order around us. This sense of order transcends all faiths.
My own stance is that seeing the universe as ordered helps me see myself from a broader perspective, recognizing my own limits of knowledge: I do not understand death, but I have faith that death is part of the natural order of the universe and is an important feature of how my life is meant to be. I was not responsible for my birth, nor will I be for my death, but I am peaceful with the idea that I will die one day, following the order in the universe.
For me, faith is less about having blind and dogmatic beliefs about unanswerable questions and more about trusting the natural order of things beyond my control.
The faith I have in the ordered universe brings me peace in life. While I do maintain my own beliefs about things, they have changed and evolved throughout life due to new experiences and interactions with people who are very different from me. Scholar of religion Marianne Moyaert writes that, “Mature faith is post critical faith. This faith is grounded in the conviction that truth emerges in the space opened up in the dialogue between conflicting perspectives,” and this is the kind of faith I try to cultivate in my own life.
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
— The New Testament (Romans 1:20), Christian text
“It is He who made the sun a shining radiance and the moon a light, determining phases for it so that you might know the number of years and how to calculate time. God did not create all these without a true purpose; He explains His signs to those who understand.”
— The Qur’an (10:5), Muslim text
“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.’”
— The Hebrew Bible (Genesis 1:14–18), Jewish text
“Under my watchful eye the laws of nature take their course. Thus is the world set in motion; thus the animate and the inanimate are created.”
— The Bhagavad Gita (9:10), Hindu text
“Even naturalistic, ‘secular’ Buddhism does, I’d argue, posit a kind of ‘unseen order.’ As enlightenment begins to dawn, reality, which had seemed all chopped up, turns out to possess an underlying continuity, a kind of infrastructure of interconnection.”
— Robert Wright, journalist and religion writer
“Taoism is the search for the Tao, the Way of Nature which, if you could become part of it, would take you to the edge of reality and beyond.”
— Martin Palmer, translator
“Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.”
— Baha’u’llah, Baha’i prophet
“We are predisposed to see order, pattern, and meaning in the world, and we find randomness, chaos, and meaninglessness unsatisfying. Human nature abhors a lack of predictability and the absence of meaning. As a consequence, we tend to “see” order where there is none, and we spot meaningful patterns where only the vagaries of chance are operating.”
— Thomas Gilovich, scholar of Psychology
“[Religion is] the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto”
— William James, philosopher and psychologist
I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals Himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns Himself with fates and actions of human beings.
— Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist
To learn more about other common themes across religions, visit us at uef.org/weekly-wisdom.