A House Of Order

My wife Angela is a veterinarian. She’s also apparently a really good Relief Society enrichment teacher (I’m not allowed to go to these things, but I have this on good authority). A few weeks ago the enrichment lesson subject was “A House of Order”, from Doctrine and Covenants 88:119: “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.” This scripture primarily refers to the temple, of course, but it’s also often used to reinforce the need to keep our own homes and lives neat and orderly. Angela’s take was that this is an incomplete interpretation. God’s house may be ordered, but it isn’t neat.

Angela pointed out that nature is governed by simple, elegant laws. Look, for instance, at Newton’s Law of Gravitation, which reads (warning! Math!)

F = G*m1*m2/r^2

where F is the gravitational force exerted between two bodies, m1 and m2 are the masses of those bodies, r is the distance between them, and G is the universal gravitational constant. This equation (with some caveats) describes the motion of all matter in the universe. It’s consequences include explanations for why things fall when dropped, how solar systems are formed, and what holds galaxies together. It’s surprisingly simple. But its results are seldom neat. Our galaxy has billions of stars and probably trillions of planets, each pulling on the others, and all orbiting along different paths. Even though each of them affects the others according to the simple equation above, it turns out to be impossible to come up with an equation that exactly describes how the motion of any body in the galaxy changes over time, and if you plot the motions of the stars they appear to be more or less random — nothing neat about them. It’s not until you take a big step backwards that you can see that galaxies have a breathtakingly beautiful structure. There is order at the very lowest level and the very highest level, and nowhere in between.

I’m not that up on biology but I’m told that similar principles hold. The basic laws of chemistry are are pretty simple, but their repercussions lead to enormous, unpredictable complexity. All trees have the same basic structure — roots, a trunk, branches and leaves — but the exact placement of the branches and leaves is basically random. The structure of the neurons in your brain defies description. But take a big step out and you get order again — you get bodies with identifiable organs and systems, ecosystems with interlocking, supporting species, and intelligent creatures with language, symbolic thought, and spiritual lives. You also get breathtaking beauty again.

I’m often reluctant to draw spiritual principles from scientific truths, but I think she has a good point. In this case maybe looking at the creation tells us something about the Creator. God implements simple laws from which He creates what appears to be disorder. And perhaps at one level that’s what D&C 88:119 is getting at: a house of order implies a life governed by God’s laws. But that doesn’t mean that life will be neat or even understandable while it’s being lived. Maybe the order only becomes apparent after the fact.

11 comments for “A House Of Order

  1. December 6, 2004 at 2:55 pm

    Very cool.

    I love tying science and spirituality together.

  2. Kaimi
    December 6, 2004 at 2:58 pm

    Far be it for me to disagree with a physicist over where order lies in physics, but I’ve always thought that the simplicity of the speed of light was a bit of a testament to God’s orderliness. Light is, after all, a manifestation of God. God has three persons. And the speed of light in a vacuum is 3.0 x 10^8 m/s.* That always struck me as a cute little sign of God’s orderliness.

    *I know, it’s actually 2.99something-or-other.

  3. December 6, 2004 at 3:13 pm

    I’m reminded of an article a friend recently sent me that tries to argue that the Empire was the good side and the Rebel Alliance was the bad, for reasons of “order”.

  4. December 6, 2004 at 3:14 pm

    Okay, I don’t know why sometimes my links work, and sometimes they don’t:


  5. December 6, 2004 at 3:16 pm

    Glen: Forget physics, what you are really talking about is chess. The openings tend to follow set patterns (no 1.a2-a4… lots of 1. e2-e4…) and end games tend to follow set patterns. (two rook’s mate, etc.). It is the middle game that is chaotic.

  6. David King Landrith
    December 6, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    One could, of course, take the Berkelian/Kantian/Machian view that what we’re studying is the structure of perception, in which case the fact that there’s order follows from the fact that we perceive it.

    (On the other hand, I’m happy to see that we’ve moved beyond using franchises as the epitome of God’s house of order.)

  7. Kaimi
    December 6, 2004 at 3:18 pm


    There’s nothing chaotic about my middle game. Just follow this formula (with slight variations): Sacrifice a bishop* to take a pawn. Sacrifice a rook to take a knight. Trade queens. And then we’re off to a quick checkmate. It’s really as orderly as can be.

    *A knight will do, in a pinch.

  8. Wayne Wells
    December 7, 2004 at 3:22 pm

    “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.”

    String theory says that there are at least 11 dimensions. What may seem disorderly to beings that can only perceive 4 dimensions may be perfectly orderly to a God. We may simply not be able to see how things are inter-related. For example, I can pick up the police band radio traffic, unless I line my baseball cap with aluminum foil. : )~

  9. Rosalynde Welch
    December 7, 2004 at 3:34 pm

    Glen, I have a feeling I’d really like attending your wife’s Enrichment lessons.

    I agree that the D&C 88 reference is misapplied to matters of housekeeping, and it always irks me a little when it’s uncritically cited. Still, although I’m totally impressed at your wife’s math, I’m not sure I agree with her conclusion. Try as we might, I just don’t think we can get the scriptures to comment on modern housekeeping practices (although, of course, the scriptures can act as a catalyst to personal revelation, which could, I suppose, deal with housekeeping).

    Furthermore, while I’m no neat freak, I think a modicum of neatness–perhaps even more than cleanliness–oils domestic life more than almost anything else, except love and humor.

  10. Glen Henshaw
    December 7, 2004 at 3:57 pm

    Wayne writes:
    “What may seem disorderly to beings that can only perceive 4 dimensions may be perfectly orderly to a God.”

    Yep, I think that’s exactly right. I guess that was what I meant when I talked about taking a big step back – sometimes to see order you need the right reference frame, and that can be hard to find as a human.

    As a complete side note, finding the right internal reference frame is in a sense the primary problem in modern science. Once you can figure out which facts are important and which one can be safely ignored, and then figure out a framework to place the important facts in so some sense can be made of them, you have gone a long way towards understanding a scientific phenomenon.

    Rosalynde writes:
    “Try as we might, I just don’t think we can get the scriptures to comment on modern housekeeping practices.”

    Heh. Point taken. I think her main thesis was that the scripture is mainly talking about a house of order being one where God’s laws are taught and implemented, and also that living those laws doesn’t necessarily guarantee you that life will turn out the way you expect. But I agree with your comment on neatness — she wasn’t saying that neatness is unimportant, just that its not what the scripture is referring to.

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