The second thing that I notice when I study the cosmos is its complexity. Again, from the macroscopic to the microscopic level the universe is just unbelievably complex.
At the largest scale there are gravitational forces affecting everything—not just galaxies as they rotate, but galaxy clusters, and even the “great wall” macrostructures of galaxy clusters. Astronomers tell us that there isn’t enough visible matter—stars—in a galaxy to account for its rotation, and hence they postulate “dark matter” to account for it. We can see that the system is complex over unfathomable distances (boy, there’s an insufficient adjective if ever there was one), and invisibly so at that.
At the other end of the spectrum, quarks—several kinds of ‘em—and muons and fluons are doing their things at the minutest of scales, while electrons orbit, or populate shells, or something, and the strong nuclear force keeps all those protons in the nuclei from repelling one another, and the motions are frantic—and the elements appear to us to be pretty much standing still.
So is light a particle or a wave? And why not?
And we haven’t even talked about living things yet.
The more we learn about the cell, the more complicated we realize it is. And the DNA and RNA that it contains are equally complex, containing—and writing—instructions for all the characteristics that make one life form different from others, and from other examples of the same life form. Not to mention epigenetics.
(I have no idea what I’m talking about.)
One of my favorite examples of complexity is symbiosis—the mutually beneficial relationships between life forms. And my favorite one of those involves the termite.
As someone who has bought and sold a couple of houses, I’m no fan of termites. Pretty much all they do is eat. And they eat just one thing—wood. They’ll wreak havoc on the joists and other wooden components of your house—which is why you can’t sell a house without a “termite letter” from an inspector, confirming that there is no termite infestation in the house and that any damage from previous infestations has been properly repaired.
Interestingly, though, the termite’s digestive system is unable to digest cellulose—which is what wood is primarily made of. Which means that he could eat like a madman all day long and starve to death—his entire dietary intake would go right through him.
But as it happens, there live in the digestive tract of the termite a bunch of little microorganisms called flagellates. They excrete a substance that renders the cellulose digestible by the termite.
But there’s more to the story.
The flagellate is anaerobic.
What does that mean?
It means he never exercises.
It means that oxygen is toxic to him. If he’s exposed to the air, he dies.
So the flagellate keeps the termite alive, and the termite keeps the flagellate alive.
Which one of those little beasties do you suppose evolved first?
And it’s actually more complicated than that.
You see, both the termite and the flagellate reproduce sexually.
Without going into too much detail, that means that there has to be a boy flagellate and a girl flagellate. In the same place. At the same time. And they have to like each other.
Same with the termites.
And, of course, all four of them—actually much more than four—need to be together, because, as you recall, they’re keeping one another alive.
There are lots of other examples of symbiosis, little macrocosms that represent just a small picture of what the cosmos itself is—an infinitely complex system, in perfect balance, running smoothly for thousands of years, and so reliably that we can literally set our watches by it.
Whoever made this place must be really, really smart.
Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, [that] the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? [there is] no searching of his understanding (Is 40.28).