The Idea cell phone company proudly boasts that ‘an idea can change your life’. How true is it and yet how it underestimates the power of an idea! It is the most resilient parasite and the most contagious virus. A fully formed idea, once taken hold of the mind, can lead the person down any road in order to make things happen. It can not only change one’s life but even family, society, culture and generation. A gentle peek at history is sufficient enough to realize how ideas have changed the course of the world. One such idea that sought to break barriers and cause a revolution in both science and religion is the evolutive creation of the Jesuit-Priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Though the name is widely known, Teilhard’s works are neither easy to read nor can be sufficiently understood. He remains one of the least understood and most misquoted thinkers of the twentieth century. Probably, the difficulty of the ideas communicated with unfamiliar vocabulary is the reason for this miscomprehension. Teilhard abandoned the traditional interpretation of creation in the Book of Genesis for a less strict interpretation wherein he grapples with the mysteries of the universe discovered by science, and Christian revelation. Achieving a synthesis of these two, he humbly submits to the Church only to be rejected by the Roman Curia. The 1950 encyclical Humani Generis condemned several of his opinions. Only about a decade after his death in 1955, do we see the Church willing to explore this theory and Teilhard’s thoughts were influential in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. More recently, Pope John Paul II indicated a positive attitude towards some of Teilhard’s ideas and in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI praised his idea of the universe as a “living host”.
According to my conception, the study of Teilhard is important because he places the human person at the centre and helps humanity find meaning in its existence. His was an attempt of instilling a ray of hope to a despairing world plagued with catastrophes. He provides us a reason to love the world in its materiality and also love its Creator. He draws the line of evolution from non-life to life, from life to consciousness and then to final unity of creation with its Creator. He patched the rift between science and religion by reconciling Christianity and evolution.
I have chosen the theme ‘Human Being: Then, Now and Hereafter – The Vista of Evolution Proposed by Teilhard de Chardin’ for my final paper for primarily two reasons. In the first place, philosophy has interested me during these years. And to me among the three basic realities – the World, God and the Human Being – I find my fascination for the human being and I feel myself drawn towards a greater understanding of anthropology. Secondly, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is someone I have begun to like and admire and I feel that his thought is captivating and interesting. Though I had already worked on his thought last year in a modest way, I see this as an opportunity given to deepen and seek better knowledge as I try once again to understand the greatest living mystery – the human being in the light of his views.
My paper consists of four chapters. The first one provides a general sketch of Teilhard’s life and the context in which he worked out his theories. The second chapter deals with the emergence of matter until the advent of consciousness in matter. The third chapter, a rather lengthy one, contains the crux of human evolution – the past, present and future. The final chapter is a personal one – my little contribution – which is a critical appraisal of all that I have learned from these few months of research and analysis.
Right at the outset I wish to place on record my sincere thanks to the people who in their generous ways have helped me in this academic endeavour. I thank Fr Tom Parecattil SDB, our principal, for patiently supporting me all through this paper. Also thanks to all my companions and to those who made time for me in spite of their busy schedule. I also thank with a sincere heart my guide, Cl. Neelam Naresh SDB, for his brotherly understanding, constant encouragement and frank corrections that have enabled be to perform better. Finally, I thank our librarian, Mr Subramaniam, for readily making available the books which are the backbone of this paper.
To start on the right note, I would prefer to quote four statements from Teilhard’s paper entitled What I Believe. In this is the soul of his thought and of this paper:
I believe that the universe is an evolution
I believe that evolution proceeds towards the spirit
I believe that spirit is fully realised in a form of personality
I believe that the supremely personal is the universal Christ.
TEILHARD IN HIS TIMES
This opening chapter is a window to the making of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Short glimpses of his life, the situation in Europe during his times, the theories that influenced him and the stand he took against them are made clear in this chapter.
1.1 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
The life of Teilhard is a great fascination to the Christian reader singularly. It is a journey of revelation, at every stage, leading him to a greater understanding of the mystery of Christ. His life events can be summarized in four parts.
1.1.1 Early Years
To Emmanuel and Berte-Adéle Teilhard de Chardin, natives of Sarcenet in the ancient French province of Auvergne, was born Marie-Joseph-Pierre Teilhard de Chardin on first May 1881. He was the fourth of the couples’ eleven children. Emmanuel, a rich farmer and an amateur naturalist, promoted the observation of nature in the household. It was from his father that he learned to appreciate the natural beauty of the world and creation. Moreover the landscape of Auvergne moulded his heart with its rich historical, biological and geological antiquity; this he confesses in his spiritual autobiography The Heart of Matter. His mother – a great-grandniece of Voltaire – was a pious and modest woman, gentle and firm with her children. Thus, we could say that, if Pierre’s love for the universe had its roots in his father then surely the foundation of his love for God was built by his mother.
Pierre’s formal education began in April 1892 in the Secondary School at Notre-Dame de Mongré run by the Jesuits. He was a bright student during his five-year course. In religious subjects he scored low; not because of any lack of interest but rather due to his non-conformist attitude to the narrow minded catechetical instructions. During these years he felt impelled to join the Jesuits in order to achieve perfection. He could not do so immediately because of ill-health and so entered the Jesuit Novitiate at Aix-en-Provence on 20 March 1899.
1.1.2 Formative Years
On 25 March 1901, he took his first vows at Laval where he began his Juniorate. Here too he proved to be an excellent scholar in classics. In 1902, he and his community had to flee to Jersey where he continued his studies. He would use his spare-time for scientific excursions. In 1905, he was sent to teach in Cairo. He was there for three years and then at Ore Place in Hastings for a four-year theology course. He was ordained on 24 August 1911, about a year before his theological studies would end. His formation to priesthood provided him an opportunity to pursue scientific investigation of the earth and also cultivate a life of prayer. They helped him see Christ as the core of the world.
During 1912-14, he applied himself to studying science in Paris. In 1914, he was called to serve his country in the First World War as a stretcher-bearer. Even here, as in every other field, he showed great determination and bravery which won him the Médaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre. Moreover he was popular with both officers and people. From 1919-22, he studied at the National History Museum in Paris and completed his doctorate.
In 1920, Teilhard had secured a post as professor of Geology at the Institute Catholique. His teaching was lively and kept proposing ideas that puzzled students and instilled curiosity. He kept this post till 1923 when he sailed to China.
1.1.3 Travelling Years
In 1923, he set sail for Peking in China. He returned in 1924 and continued teaching in Institute Catholique. In 1928 he returned to China. The next twenty years of his life were spent mostly in China, broken by several visits to France and Europe, several expeditions to India and many to America. In China, he had a major role in the find and interpretation of the ‘Peking Man’ in 1929-30. The war between China and Japan brought him to France where he was in the midst of controversies surrounding his thought. He was called to Rome in July 1948 to discuss the same. After several meetings with his Superior General, he realised that he would never be allowed to publish his work in his lifetime nor granted permission to accept the position at the College de France.
1.1.4 Final Years
When he returned from Rome, he was clearly frustrated and felt powerless. During the next two years, he travelled in England, Africa and United States trying to look for an appropriate place to live. In 1951 he was elected as a member of the Academie des Sciences and soon after that went to live in New York and was a member of the Wenner Gren Foundation. His last visit to Paris was in 1954: the restrictions imposed by his superiors made him to cut short his stay and returned to New York.
His last four years in America were a culmination of his intellectual and spiritual pursuits. In 1955, Teilhard was old but he did not fear death. He prepared himself to meet the God he found in the heart of matter. Thus this great mystic and witness of the risen Christ passed away on Easter Sunday, 10 April 1955, in New York due to heart failure.
1.1.5 Major Works
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin constantly put down in writing his thoughts and ideas. But he was not given permission to publish anything in his lifetime. Of his many books here are two of his major works that have had a great impact on the world.
188.8.131.52 The Phenomenon of Man
Teilhard wrote the final words of The Phenomenon of Man in 1938, but it was published only after his death, seventeen years later. This book is an attempt to reconcile the supernatural elements in Christianity with the facts and implications of the evolutionary theory. It is anti-scientific in temper as Teilhard does not even preserve the common norms of scientific writing, though his book is professedly a scientific treatise. In this book, Teilhard takes the readers for a journey along the origin of the cosmos, the advent of life and of humans, and to the bosom of the Christ crafted by the religio-scientific temper of his evolutionary theory.
184.108.40.206 Le Milieu Divin
Le Milieu Divin was first published in 1957 by Editions du Seuil. Teilhard has not addressed this book particularly to Christians who are strong in faith but to those who are unable to coherently see the Christian religious ideals and the ideals of the world. The book puts forward a way of teaching people how to see the world. By dividing human experience into that which we do (the active) and what which we have done to us (the passive), Teilhard attempts to trace the course by which all human action can be sanctified. The person has the ability to make work meaningful in its own right, for as we build, design, write, organize and serve we are ushering the Kingdom of God amidst humankind.
1.2 The Situation in Europe
The nineteenth century and the early twentieth century had brought about a paradigm shift among the people of Europe. The outburst of scientific thought was an important factor ushering forward enlightenment among the people. Auguste Comte (1798-1857) advocated Positivism which held that only the factual or scientific knowledge is genuine. Karl Marx and Ludwig Feuerbach also accused religion of fettering human power and the former labels it as the ‘opium of the people’.
As science and technology forged ahead in rapid strides, it posed a challenge to the traditional religious assumptions. Darwin’s proposed theory of evolution and the religious belief in the book of Genesis were as distinct as chalk and cheese, and thus the Church saw no way to reconcile with that theory. But Darwin’s theory appealed to a much wider audience.
The Church also faced severe criticism from the society. Abbé Lamennais wrote against the Church’s neglect and disinterest in social justice. Döllinger affected one of the severest attacks on the Holy See as he resisted the doctrine of papal infallibility. Søren Kierkegaard wrote and criticized the cosy practices and lifestyle of the ministers of the Church of Denmark. Secularization slinked in across Europe and it was manifested in the decline of Church attendance, reduction in state-provided religious education, opting for civil rather than religious marriage ceremonies, declining influence of the Church’s teachings in matters of divorce and abortion, and in such other areas.
The Roman Catholic Church was by no means immune from these revolts and her main drawback was her reluctance to move with the times. The higher echelons of the Church’s hierarchy had been shocked to the roots by these rapid revolutions and also by the war Italy declared on the Papal States. Thankfully the Church came closer to modern thinking on political and social issues in the last decade of the nineteenth century during the papacy of Leo XIII.
1.3 Etymology of Evolution
The term “evolution” is derived from the Latin word volvere which means ‘to turn’ or ‘to roll’. The prefix ‘e’ adds the notion ‘out of’ or ‘from’. Thus evolution means a turning out from, an unfolding or a development. When it is applied to the world of creatures, it implies a development that entails a leap from one species to another. Evolution, as a concept, has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy and it has been developed down the ages. Organic evolution, what we are now particularly concerned about, is the contribution of the nineteenth century.
1.4 Theories of Evolution
Let us have a look at four theories of organic evolution.
1.4.1 Jean Baptiste Lamarck
Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) was a French biologist and formulator of the first comprehensive theory of evolution. His geological and paleontological studies made clear that the earth and also animal life have existed for a long period of time and have undergone gradual changes.
Lamarckism, thus, is a theory of evolution which holds that an organism’s response to environmental pressures result in morphological changes and these changes or acquired characteristics can be inherited. Living beings have adapted and evolved in a continual struggle towards increasing complexity. This increasing complexity is a process through which living beings are perfected. Animals have been developed in succession: from the most simplest or imperfect to the most perfect. The human is a being who exemplifies the highest excellence of bodily organisation and thus is the standard of judgement of perfection in nature.
1.4.2 Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was an English philosopher who attempted to apply evolution theory to all branches of knowledge. In 1850, he published Social Statics and in it advocated a theory of evolution similar to that of Darwin but with a Lamarckian bent.
According to him, every state of being evolves from a simple or primitive stage in which only elementary functions are performed to a stage where more complicated functions arise. This is found everywhere but as far as one can know, there are no final goals that everything is striving towards. What we see as having beginnings, middles and ends are processes that occur in finite space and time. But we can never know if the universe is undergoing this process. Thus for Spencer, evolution is relative rather than absolute.
Given an environment, every animal has a disposition to structure itself to fit in it. These changes will gain expression as inherited acquired habits. So, evolution is not by chance but by choice aided by a disposition to adapt. Spencer, not Darwin, is the founder of the philosophy known as Social Darwinism and it is he who coined the concept “survival of the fittest” that well describes Darwin’s concept of natural selection.
1.4.3 Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was the grandson of the English poet, physician and botanical gardener Erasmus Darwin. His interest in natural history led him to his friendship with botanist J.S. Henslow and through him he made a five-year cruise (1831-36) around the world on HMS Beagle as an official naturalist. The data accumulated resulted in the formulation of his conception of evolution.
Darwin’s meticulous observations led him to question the Church’s belief in special creation of each species. The existence of variations in same species is a help to survive the conditions and the favourable variations are passed on to the offspring and over time to the entire species. This is called the principle of natural selection or, as Spencer puts it, the survival of the fittest. According to Darwin, the human is an advanced animal. Mental and moral aspects which were traditionally associated with the soul are already present in animals. Many of our mental activities are governed by instincts imprinted by evolution. Similarly, intellectual and social behaviour is also seen in animals. In the human, it is present in a higher level.
Darwin’s books Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871) initiated a revolution in scientific thought which was more widespread than that of Copernicus.
1.4.4 Henri Bergson
Henri Bergson (1859-1941) was born in a rich Jewish family. He was brilliant in studies and was elected to the French Academy in 1914. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927. He was deeply influenced by Darwin and Spencer.
Bergson rejected the mechanistic or materialistic explanation of evolution. What he advocated was an outcome of French vitalism and is presented in his most famous book Creative Evolution. At the heart of evolution, he says, is élan vital that determines its course. It is the cause of the emergence of new species and it carries life to a higher level. Opposed to it is the resistance of matter and thus the life force is not able to fully complete what it tries to produce. He believes that at a certain point in evolution, there has been a leap into freedom and only the human has cleared it.
There is no pre-determined plan or purpose in creation. It depends on the human person to create his/her destiny. The vital impetus, though affects progress, is not finalistic. It is thus opposed to the theories of radical finalism and mechanism.
1.5 Position Taken by Teilhard
Lamarck, as we have seen, puts forth an evolutionary theory with many loose ends. Spencer was agnostic in his approach to the outcome of evolution. Darwin robbed the human of his uniqueness while Bergson proposed evolution as a constant struggle between the life principle and matter but failed to elucidate the purpose of creation. And as such, many other thinkers had their shortcomings. Teilhard, as we have already known, was curious by nature and his interest for science and love for God led him to synthesize many such theories while adding a flavour of his own.
Teilhard’s thought is less of novelty and more of co-ordination of the ideas already known. It is clear that he had both apologetic and communicative interests – he wanted to defend his faith and also make his faith intelligible in a modern scientific world. Added to this, he thought that his worldview was a natural and fitting convergence of evolutionary science and the doctrine of Orthodox Catholicism. Evolution, according to him, first perfects the human with his fellow beings and the world and then ultimately to Christ which includes the unification of all things. Opposed to Darwin, he believes that the human is unique and has the power of co-operating or even working against evolution. The human is not the end of evolution but on the way to evolving into a higher being. This higher being unites with Christ – the beginning and the end of creation. Thus science prepares the way for “the coming of Christ”.
Thus Teilhard, unlike his predecessors, shows that the very evolutionary theory that makes the human no more unique than the beast, if understood clearly and articulated properly, places the human at the centre of evolution with dignity and honour as the vanguard of evolution.
THE EVOLUTION SAGA
Geology, as a historical science, evolved around mid eighteenth century because the earth was discovered to be in the process of growth or becoming. In the various layers of the earth, fossils of earlier living creatures were found and this led many geologists turn to palaeontology. Such has been the case with Teilhard. This intersection, palaeontology, where geology meets biology leads the seeker to a fork in the road: one way leading to the past whereas the other to the future. The former’s primary concern is about the origins – of the world, of life, of the solar system etc. – while the latter questions about the outcome of evolution, of life and of the human race.
Though there is no science of the future, just as we have a science of the past, Teilhard travels both the roads till their ends – the Alpha and the Omega. In this chapter we shall consider the path leading to the past.
2.1 The Formation of the Earth
By the advent of the twentieth century, astronomy had established itself as a historical science. Though Teilhard was not an astronomer himself, he was influenced by the thought of Professor Lemaître van Leuven that the astral bodies are moving away from each other at an ever increasing speed. He does not cling on to this theory as such. For him, the point of importance is that the universe is not static but dynamic. He also adapts the prevailing thought that the earth is one of the fragments of the sun. With these two points, he reverts back to his field of expertise: Geology.
Teilhard says that the earth, like all other planets, is a cooled-down portion of the sun. Now this cooling-down is a process of complexification. At extremely high temperatures, molecules and atoms cannot exist in their normal form but as protons, electrons and neutrons. As the temperature cools down, these three elements form atoms, and then at lower temperatures atoms form molecules and thus goes on to more and more complex structures. Thus it is a slow and gradual process of ascent from simple stuff to complex bodies.
2.1.1 The Formation of the Without
During its formation, the energy of the earth – terrestrial energy as we call it – in the process of liberating itself, gets burned up and neutralised by atomic decomposition of radioactive substances or in association with other elements like solar rays. This leads to the crystallisation of this terrestrial energy and thus we have a wide range of minerals.
But the mineral world is unable to form compounds due to their internal structure which limits their association. If the entire world were to be crystallised, then there would not have been complex structures. How then did the complex beings come about? The process of crystallisation had not taken place completely. Initially when the earth broke off from the sun, the energy it released was powerful and that got crystallised. But in due time it became weak and it acted upon itself or concatenate, grouping particles so as to form molecules that are complex. This phenomenon that forms organic compounds Teilhard names as polymerisation. In this manner, after a long period of time, the earth’s surface – barysphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere – was formed.
2.1.2 The Formation of the Within
The “within” does not refer to the depths of the earth but to the psychic face of matter. Teilhard believes that in every part of matter, its exterior should inevitably be lined at every point with its interior. As we have seen in the formation of the “without” or the external of the earth, matter which was diffused became complex and collective. What effect could this phenomenon crystallisation and polymerisation have on the psychic side of the earth?
The within of the earth is formed due to the double involution that takes place on the without. Firstly, the atomic particles fuse upon themselves and secondly, the earth coils upon itself from as a diffused planet to a fused one. Here the consciousness of the terrestrial world is formed. This is not formed by chance or by grouping of particles but it is a correlated mass of many centres structurally bound together by the conditions of their origins and development. This is the stage where the earth is nurturing a pre-biosphere.
Now, while we may be confused on hearing about consciousness in matter, let us understand Teilhard. He says: “In the world, nothing can burst forth as final across the different thresholds successively traversed by evolution which has not already existed in an obscure and primordial way.” So, if we are to say that we have consciousness now, it must have existed before. We are caught up in the confusion as regards this due to our understanding of consciousness as what we experience now. Rather, we have to understand it in the sense of primordial consciousness which increases in complexity as the ages pass.
2.2 The Beginnings of Life
When we scroll down the history of the earth, we encounter the sprouting of life at a certain point. We shall see how Teilhard looks at this same phenomenon from a dual perspective: scientific and philosophic.
2.2.1 The Scientist Teilhard
As a natural scientist, Teilhard accepts that life indeed has evolved out of lifeless – the living from the non-living. This hypothesis comprises of three aspects: that what is alive is subsequent to what is without life, what is alive is as much a construction of matter as what is without life and finally, what is alive originates from what is without life. A careful observation of the above three statements will reveal that the first two statements can be scientifically proved whereas the third statement is a hypothesis. This is because we cannot actually observe living things produced from what is without life.
This hypothesis brings about unity in terrestrial evolution for it regards life as a result of non-life. To say that life has an origin of its own would mean a complete dualism of life and non-life, and then we are out of range of experiential science which attempts to link phenomenon and we clearly see that life following non-life. Thus the traditional Christian stand that life is ‘a new act of creation’ is not attractive anymore.
2.2.2 The Philosopher Teilhard
If as a natural scientist Teilhard accepts that life has evolved out of lifeless matter and has not different origin, then as a philosopher, he postulated that in this case what is lifeless cannot be wholly without life because living matter has been developed out of it. Though this appears to be a contradictory statement, this has to be the solution if we fail to explain how else life could come of what is lifeless. Thus he believes that matter has life in a primordial sense.
To better understand the beginnings of life and the philosophic-cum-scientific analysis of what Teilhard postulates, let us refer to his own text:
“In every domain, when anything exceeds a certain measurement, it suddenly changes its aspect, condition or nature. The curve doubles back, the surface contracts to a point, the solid disintegrates, the liquid boils, the germ cell divides, intuition suddenly bursts on the piled up facts …Critical points have been reached, rungs on the ladder, involving a change of state – jumps of all sorts in the course of development. Henceforward this is the only way in which science can speak of a ‘first instant’. But it is none the less a true way.”
What Teilhard is trying to say is that at a particular time when the conditions were favourable, matter took a sudden leap into the realm of life. Over a long duration the earth cooled down, molecules were formed, water layers came into existence and this scenario would remind one of an inanimate desert. But then at a given moment, these waters give rise to minute creatures and this gentle osmosis of life grew into now what we call the ‘tree of life’ or the biosphere.
2.3 The Advancement of Life
Looking back over the ages of evolution we could be misguided by two prejudices. The first: evolution of the multitude of species is unsystematic, chaotic and entangled in utter confusion. Or the second: evolution proceeded in a continuous and systematic manner like a ripple caused by a stone in water. But, according to Teilhard, what actually happens is that as life advances, it splits spontaneously into large, natural, hierarchical units.
Life began with the advent of unicellular creatures from which we have the formation of the two great branches: plant kingdom and animal kingdom. Various species have succeeded one after another in an orderly fashion; what systematic biology arranges as classes, families, genera and species. Well, though this is accepted by biologists after empirical studies the point at which they differ is in the understanding of the phenomenon as a whole. At the time of Darwin, shaped by the intellectual atmosphere, evolution was regarded as a progress. But during the nineteenth century, the idea of progress was associated with the idea of decline and fall and thus made people unwilling to accept it. Since the history of life shows that earlier species were being replaced by others, it need not be concluded to be progress or regress but rather it could be simply be seen as change. But Teilhard swam against the tide and was among the few who regarded evolution to be a progress – with a goal to attain.
2.3.1 The Law of Complexity-Consciousness
These are Teilhard’s own words in his book The Future of Man and they give the reason why he regards evolution as a progress. He says:
“Left long enough to itself, under the prolonged and universal play of chance, matter manifests the property of arranging itself in more and more complex groupings, and at the same time in deepening layers of consciousness; this double and combined movement of physical unfolding and psychic interiorisation (or centration) once started, continuing, accelerated and growing to the utmost extent.”
It mainly rests on his understanding of the development of consciousness throughout evolution. Let us remember that he postulates that even matter has a primordial degree of consciousness. In the light of this hypothesis we shall understand further the Law of Complexity-consciousness advocated by Teilhard. He says: “Virtually homogenous among themselves in the beginning, the elements of consciousness, exactly as the elements of matter which they subtend, complicate and differentiate their nature, little by little, with the passage of duration.”
Here Teilhard makes two points: firstly, throughout evolution, matter has a tendency to increase in complexity of organisation and secondly, with an increase in material complexity, there is a corresponding rise in the consciousness of the matter or of the organism. The scale of complexity runs from atoms to humans and beyond and, even so the scale of consciousness runs in a similar pattern from atoms to humans and beyond. For Teilhard well postulates: “Whatever instance we may think of, we may be sure that every time a richer and better organised structure will correspond to the more developed consciousness.”
Complexity-consciousness implies material and psychic aspects. It is an activity of the without and also of the within. We have seen that as the material complexity increases, so does the consciousness increase. Yet the phenomenon is one. How then do we reconcile these two dual aspects?
Teilhard proposes a solution. He says that all energy is psychic in nature and in each particular being, this energy is divided into two distinct components: radial energy and tangential energy.
220.127.116.11 Tangential Energy
According to Teilhard, tangential energy is the energy that “links the element with all others of the same order (that is to say of same complexity and centricity) as itself in the universe.” It is a mechanical energy, empirical, can be measured and is concerned with outward development. It obeys the laws of physics and especially the law of entropy.
18.104.22.168 Radial Energy
Radial energy is that component in a being that draws it to an ever greater complexity. It is the energy that takes evolution forward. Evolution is nothing but the growth of radial energy in the course of duration beneath and within the tangential or mechanical energy which remains practically constant to observation. It is metaemperical and does not obey the law of entropy. It cannot be measured but its effects are observable over a period of time. It is similar to Bergson’s ‘élan vital’. As far as humans are concerned, tangential energy has nearly stopped but the radial energy continues to intensify the psychic of the being.
2.4 Hominisation: The Birth of Thought
Just as we have seen that life was infused into matter just when the situation was ready and the time was ripe, so did thought penetrate the psychic organ of the being. We have already seen that life has originated from unicellular beings and as it developed from layer to layer, the nervous system increased in complexification and concentration. And with anthropoid, the instrument was fashioned by evolution for the inception of thought. Just as when water is brought to its boiling point, it gets transformed into vapour, so too when in the anthropoid the cerebral organ had been brought mentally to its “boiling point”, the whole animal psychic was recast and reorganised and the radial energy took and infinite leap forward. Though outwardly the structure and organs had not changed, inwardly a great revolution had taken place as the human was born! This instantaneous leap from instinct to thought is called hominisation according to Teilhard. In a narrower sense this phenomenon could be applied to the birth of thought at the individualistic level but on a wider basis it can be said of the birth of thought of the entire phylum.
THE JOURNEY OF THE HUMAN
This is going to be a rather lengthy chapter but this is pregnant with the real concern of Teilhard de Chardin. Mapped out here is the entire progress of humanity – from hominisation to the final stage of evolution, the Omega Point. Here we shall find many new words coined by Teilhard in the process of unfolding his evolutionary theory. We shall also realise, in due time, that the future of the human is uncertain unless certain values and elements find their place in humanity. Finally, we shall see the synthesis of faith and science as we delve into his thought.
3.1 Hominisation Onwards
With the inception of thought – or hominisation as we call it – the human was born. Though physically it looked like the primates, but interiorly he was transformed from beast to human. Let us take a look at how the human moves on with history.
The history of humankind does not begin when the human began writing it down, as it is popularly conceived. The earliest expression of human history can be traced to 30,000 years back by the civilization, clothing, tools etc. found by the archaeologists. And when we see all data – both historic and prehistoric – in a single perspective, it becomes clear that by time and progress consciousness is intensified.
Since the time the human became a thinking being, his way of life changed. Slowly and steadily the transformation from animal to human was taking place – all at the right time when things were in place. Let us scroll down the pages of empirical history of humankind and see how until the present age the person has developed as the situation demanded.
22.214.171.124 Nomadic Life to Animal Husbandry
For thousands of years, in the first stage of its existence, humankind was a race of nomads living in small groups wherever they found the basic essentials for survival met. They survived on whatever could be dug or picked out like tree fruits and tubers, or they depended on hunting. From here we see the humans take up cattle breeding of a primitive sort. And this phase of domestication of animals implies the advent of a higher culture or a higher consciousness. This paved the way for the first major revolution in the history of humankind: the changeover from a nomadic life to animal husbandry, which means that humans had to settle down at least temporarily in some place.
126.96.36.199 Agricultural Revolution
In about 8000 B.C., there began the practice of farming in Iraq, Turkey and the Jordan Valley. Several thousand years later, it began in the valleys of the rivers Nile, Indus and Hwang Ho. As population increased, people had to adopt a more methodical way of producing food. They had to use the fertile soil of the valleys to a great degree by a systematic cultivation of crops. Using the soil in a methodical manner meant that the other supplementary elements needed to be catered to: agricultural implements had to be made and the soil had to be preserved from exhaustion. Thus, handicrafts and technical skills made their appearance and the first hydraulic techniques were developed for controlled irrigation of the land.
This transition profoundly affected the entire organisation of society. People had been radically divided as rulers and ruled, free persons and slaves, rural and urban, and so on. These divisions give rise to the tensions issuing in the dynamic onward movement of history. According to Teilhard the two phenomena, an increase in the population and progress of human culture, run parallel. Humankind gradually becomes more aware of its potentialities and develops as the situations and the times force it to.
Having seen as to how humankind has developed over the centuries accompanied by two major revolutions in the social dimension of life, we shall see in our present day as to how have humans responded to the changes demanded by nature and time.
188.8.131.52 Industrial Revolution
The agricultural revolution was most far reaching as consequences are concerned. It resulted in the division of labour and emergence of skilled crafts and this imposes a grander design on the organisation of techniques, governmental administration and economic life. In the established centres of habitation, man comes to acquire scientific knowledge – at first practically and then of a theoretical kind.
Meanwhile we see a revolution far more drastic and widespread in all aspects of human life taking place: the industrial revolution. Agricultural society has truly been a dynamic one and due to it we have the development of art, science, philosophy, social structures and so on. But the basis of this society is still land cultivation. Now we have the industrial age setting in and this has sped development at a much faster rate.
The industrial revolution was actualised by two important developments: the techniques made possible by natural science and the accumulation of capital in the hands of enterprising businessmen. To Teilhard, this has indeed been the biggest event since agricultural revolution.
184.108.40.206 The Present Concern
This revolution has left its mark on humanity not only in its material sphere but also in its spiritual and intellectual sphere of activities. The atmosphere created around them is of unrest and anxiety. People are losing assurance as far as matters of religion are concerned and people find no meaning in their existence.
Experiments are being carried out in scientific, socio-economic, political and military spheres. Moreover, liberty in communication has led to the rapid and widespread of thoughts, ideas and sentiments. The underprivileged peoples demand their rights and new powers are replacing old structures. People are bewildered and confused by the seemingly disastrous course of events. They are not sure about the future. The calm and serene life of the agricultural period has given way to a chaotic and pessimistic living in the present era.
220.127.116.11 Teilhard’s Optimism
Teilhard’s diagnosis of the present situation does not deter him. He says that the problem the world faces is due to the transition from an agricultural to an industrial world. Just as the agricultural revolution was needed in order to fend for the population, so the industrial revolution is most desirable in order to meet the needs and provide opportunities for a growing world’s population. At the same time it is in the hands of the human and it’s the person’s freedom to get out of the crisis and to build a new society. Thus closely seen, this crisis is no catastrophe but holds the promise of new possibilities.
3.2 The Outcome of Self-consciousness
In the previous chapter we have seen the birth of thought. Hominisation has never left creation the same as before. It has brought about a new branch of creatures that are blessed with altogether otherwise strange faculties. Let us take a look at some of them.
3.2.1 Reflection: I Know That I Know
We have already seen that the advent of the human brings unto the universe the power of reflection and thought. It’s a gift of awareness on the second degree. The animal feels and perceives but it does not appear to know that it feels and perceives. Humans know and know that they know. They are the master of their actions and dominate them. He can abstract, combine and foresee for he reflects. By being “reflective” it is not only a change of degree as compared to other creation but a change of nature from animal to rational.
Reflection has given rise to many new attributes in humans: the freedom of choice, foresight, the ability to plan and construct, and so on. It is the faculty that has put the human at the head of all other evolved creatures on earth. Due to this he tends to increasingly detach himself from the rest of terrestrial life and forms a separate planetary envelope – a human realm, a human society.
3.2.2 Co-reflection: We Know That We Know
The human reflects. This is only partial and rudimentary when it is restricted to the individual alone. Human being is a social animal and cannot fulfil itself holistically when by itself. Only when in relation with other humans does one discover and encounter his own depth and wholeness. Though at its origin reflection is personal and incommunicative, it can be only developed in communion with others. It is basically a social phenomenon.
In human history, the coming on of language and speech indicates the stage of co-reflection. Through it the human being has the power to intentionally communicate his plans, insights and ideas with other members of his species. Co-reflection has also been instrumental in developing science, culture and civilization through the ages. Because of it, one generation has been able to continue from where the other generation has stopped. That is why we see the daily technological improvements in the world whereas animals practically live the same way for generations. Now, the complexity increase is not in the person’s brain but in the brain-products, and the consciousness increase is not in the individuals but within groups. The transition of reflection into co-reflection is the transformation of human into humanity, of individual consciousness into collective consciousness.
It is noted from history that with an increase in the progress of humankind, the human acquires increasing consciousness and freedom. Freedom gives the human the right to choose between doing good or evil, constructing or destroying. And so while evolution has been impelling matter towards a final goal, with the gift of freedom that the human is adorned with, it ceases to coerce the person towards progress. It no longer remains an irresistible force. In this light, with the dawn of humankind, the character of evolution is redefined: evolution becomes conscious and volitional.
3.2.4 The Noosphere
Teilhard coined the term noosphere to indicate the sum total of all the elementary human intellectual energy accumulated over the earth’s surface. Compared with the magnitude of the universe, this layer – which is a thin film over the biosphere – is insignificant. But this is the most progressive form of organisation that has given us the power to comprehend, apprehend and contemplate the entire universe!
The noosphere stands as a crown over the previous layers that already appeared on the earth during its long history of evolution: the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere. It is more resourceful than the previous spheres, for it comprises of human culture, art, commerce, science, technology, communication – anything that bears the evidence of humanity possessing an intellect.
3.3 Human Organisation
We have already seen in the previous chapter that along the course of evolution, complexity increases. Along the line of progress, we notice a rise in consciousness and an increase in consciousness implies the phenomenon of organisation. The human being, as part of evolution, has followed a trend similar to matter – initially isolated and gradually grouping. As the groups become more intense, the collective psychic also increases. We shall see two levels of human organisation – one which is current and the other which is subsequent.
3.3.1 Socialization: A Current Phenomenon
It was observed by Aristotle that a person’s mind can develop to the full only when society is organised in a manner that liberates him/her from the constant worry and problem of contriving to stay alive. For philosophy, art and science to develop in the person’s culture, it is done in the person’s ‘free time’ when one is not preoccupied with the fundamental and necessary demands of human existence. The mental and spiritual development of the person, presumes a measure of co-operation or shared activity. This is what Teilhard calls the phenomenon of socialization.
The history of humankind exhibits a process of increasing socialization, in the course of which the mind is set free more and more from the pressure of material cares and is able to open itself to what transcends material things. The initial stages of human development show similar tendencies to animals. There is the process wherein the being branches out into various races and peoples. While in the animal kingdom this phenomenon leads to the formation of new species between which we see no further communication possible, the human displays a new phenomenon.
As the human species grows, it spreads over the entire globe and they get withdrawn from each other. But in the course of time, with an increase in the world population, these branches need to resume contact with each other. Peoples and races are forced into some kind of a mutual relationship and its establishment had been a Herculean task for the bonding between different tribes and races find its beginnings in hostility.
3.3.2 Planetisation: The Subsequent Phenomenon
If we closely observe the route of evolution traced until now, we see certain complexes being formed that take evolution to higher levels. First, we had the grouping of molecules that led to the vitalisation of matter. Then we had the super-grouping of cells that gave rise to hominisation. Now we stand at the threshold of planetisation which is the closed grouping of people: humans born on the earth and spread over its entire surface, gradually coming closer to form a single, major organic unity, hyper complex and hyper conscious in nature.
Before humans came on the scene, evolution seemed to be fanning out over the earth. But in the course of human existence, this phenomenon has been arrested on account of two main reasons: due to the curvature of the earth and of the human mind. The curvature of the earth limits living space and thus the human is forced to converge rather than fan out while the curvature of the human mind that is endowed with reflection causes people to come together with the generation of language, communication and so on. This increasing unification of humankind is called planetisation. Let us now take a look at the elements that help the human reach this stage.
To Teilhard, love is the most universal, tremendous and mysterious of the cosmic forces. Though in the daily business and living we pretend to overlook it, love is the sole force that binds people together. It runs beneath our civilisation. When life was in its most primitive form, love could not be distinguished from molecular forces. Later, love was confused with reproduction. With hominisation, it was no longer restricted to a periodic attraction of sexual intercourse but to a continuous possibility of contact between minds rather than bodies. Hominised love is a seeking for mutual sensibility and completion. Here the preoccupation is of persons creating a world rather than preserving the species.
The unification of humankind is brought about not by an individual contemplation or desire of a single thing but due to a common attraction exercised by a single Being. This is brought about through a meeting of human units and this is realised in mutual love. Thus for planetisation, love is the binding force. This is impossible as long as we see the other as a closed fragment following his respective course. We, in love, discover and complete oneself in someone else only when we realise that we are all elements of the same Spirit in search of it.
Though love exerts an irresistible attraction, humans instinctively repel from each other. If they were to remain in isolation, they would suffer and vegetate. The sense of the earth is the higher impulse that wields overpowering pressure which comes at any given moment to unite them in common enthusiasm. By revealing to each one that a part of oneself exists in the other, the sense of the earth brings a new principle of universal affection among all human beings.
It is a common experience that unity enhances, enriches and liberates the individual. True union does not enslave, nor does neutralise the uniqueness of the individuals but rather awakens to a sense of universal solidarity based on their profound community which is evolutionary in nature and purpose, then will mechanisation and brutalisation end.
The transition from individual to the collective is the present crucial problem the person faces today. The more we desire this phenomenon, the more difficulties it presents. While the planetised world is pressing one to the other, one feels that in this process the most precious part of the person – spontaneity and liberty – gets dissolved.
Teilhard proposes as a solution planetisation without depersonalisation. It is an attempt to save both the assemblage and the units simultaneously. Referring to Communism, Fascism and Democracy that puts community over the individual, he says that these situations arise when one places as its goal a “something”. An impersonal goal leads to the devaluing of all the units that forge towards it irrespective of all the efforts to the contrary. Teilhardian thought on the other hand puts the person of Christ as the goal of humankind. Thus they become increasingly personal as they are geared towards a personality. And love facilitates the personalisation of the individual as it engenders unity with uniqueness among them.
3.4 Humans Today: A Launching Pad
Teilhard divides the evolution of the earth into four threshold points: first, the emergence of life; second, the emergence of consciousness; third, the emergence of self-consciousness or reflection and fourth, the emergence of super-consciousness or ultra-reflection. He believes that humanity today stands at the fourth threshold and not crossed it. Thus humanity today is yet a becoming not a being, a launching pad and not a landing site; a comma on the pages of evolution and not a full stop! Let us then have a look at what is in store for the human according to Teilhard.
3.4.1 The Superhuman
Teilhard believes that the rise in consciousness is heading towards a mega-synthesis which will be caused due to a leap forward of the radial energy leading to more complexity and consciousness. And yes, the super-human is a state of hyper-consciousness. But this is not only for an elect few but rather the entire humanity ought to transcend in consciousness – a combined growth.
On united in love, humanity will not become the super-human all at once. This is just an assemblage. But this assemblage will serve as the channel or as an organism in which the higher level of consciousness will be transmitted. Just as our body, an organized collection of cells, is capable of receiving the human soul so will be humanity, united psychically, will be capable of supporting the supreme consciousness.
The phase of the superhuman which is the constant tightening of all social and psychic bonds will leave the person with the impossibility of thinking, acting or being alone. The process is a tedious one and a communitarian one. We have to work as one, build up a network of love, consciously proceed towards the Omega, open wide our minds to accept peoples and cultures, and then will the human race be one. Then will no one see oneself as the centre – a selfish attitude. Then shall we become super-human.
3.4.2 The Omega Point
“All our difficulties and repulsions as regards the opposition between the All and the Person would be dissipated if only we understand that, by structure, the noosphere (and more generally the world) represent a whole that is not only closed but also centred. Because it contains and engenders consciousness, space-time is necessarily of a convergent nature. Accordingly its enormous layers, followed in the right direction, must somewhere ahead become involuted to a point we might call Omega, which fuses and consumes them integrally in itself.”
Teilhard believes that since evolution has traversed a long journey from primordial matter to the human, it has found its purpose and direction. What now remains is the culmination of the human or rather the superhuman on the Point Omega. This is the final, converging point of the material and spiritual world. It is a central, autonomous focal point which is the convergence of all the human units: it is a distinct centre that radiates at the centre of the planetised world. It is the peak of hominisation based on a personalised humanity, on love, on sympathy and mutual respect. The Omega safeguards the highest products of evolution: the human’s personal consciousness and freedom.
Evolution in humans is one vast movement towards the highest possible consciousness which is communion with God. The cosmos and humans themselves will find the full attainment of their being at the Omega. If the Omega is to be a fusion of hearts in love (socialization), all human hearts must be pre-oriented towards one transcendent spirit to which they can bind themselves in infinite love. Passionate love can be directed only to persons and so the centre and heart of the Omega Point must be a transcendent and loving person. The Omega is autonomous, active, actual, irreversible and transcendental. It is the impetus that drives us forward, the guiding hand behind evolution and the thirst of creation.
According to Teilhard, the Omega Point is synonymous with four things. Firstly, it is the end of evolution. Secondly, it is the super-human that will come into being. Thirdly, it is God the pre-existing centre of this super-human and lastly, it is similar to Christ. At this point, as he says, God will be All in All. The world, the human and God – all will blend in perfect harmony.
3.5 Blending Opposites
We already have known that Teilhard was on a mission to fuse religion and science, fact and faith. Let us then particularly see some underlying currents in his thought that display this great effort.
3.5.1 Salvation through Matter
In his works, Teilhard speaks of the spiritual power of matter. It is a faint reminder to us of the élan vital of Henri Bergson. Since the beginning of time, there has been the creative power of God in matter and this accounts for the divine activity in matter. Thus the universe is in a new relationship with God because it tends through its own activity to attain the goal God has set as its destiny.
“To repeat: by virtue of the Creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see. On the contrary, everything is sacred to the men subject to Christ’s drawing power in the process of consummation. Try, with God’s help, to perceive the connection – even physical and natural – which binds your labour with the building of the Kingdom of Heaven; try to realise that heaven itself smiles upon you and, through your works draws you to itself; then, as you leave church for the noisy streets, you will remain with only one feeling, that of continuing to immerse yourself in God.”
The above text written by Teilhard is self-explanatory. It gives us certain deep insights that counter those of the traditional religious. Firstly, matter is not at all sinful – it is made holy by the Incarnation of Christ. Secondly, it is an intermediary to draw humans to Christ. Thirdly, all our work is a help in building God’s Kingdom and this is the basis of our salvation. Finally, God is not only to be found in the places of worship but also in the heart of society. Thus, we could say that, matter is sacred and a means to salvation for the one who has the right understanding of it. The authentic existence of a Christian involves not in renouncing the world but in accepting it. We find God not by running away from our task in the world but by giving our self up to it completely. By this he does not mean turning away from God towards the earth but rather turning towards the earth to find God through it, for He is its Creator and Redeemer. He cannot be known and loved apart from this world. To know and love this earth and to expand our energies upon it is the only way of reaching God in the fullness of our humanity. Then will the earth become a divine realm: the centre in which we live and the medium through which God discloses Himself.
We are in our rightful place and the cosmos is a source of strength and light to the spirit. The words of Teilhard himself sum up his thought on matter: “Bathe yourself in the ocean of matter; plunge into where it is deepest and most violent; struggle in its currents and drink of its waters. For it cradled you long ago in your pre-conscious existence; and it is that ocean that will raise you up to God.”
3.5.2 Christifying Evolution
When science speaks of evolution in a biological sense, religion speaks of an evolution of the person from the aspect of faith – a process wherein one moves from unbelief to belief to union with God. So then, are there two evolutions? It is precisely in this context, and in his ardent love for both the world and for his God, Teilhard brings about the unification of the two dimensions in order to do justice to both.
With history there is a Christogenesis going on: the process by which Christ will possess completeness or fullness which is the end of the world. Simultaneously, we know that humankind is proceeding towards higher forms of psychosocial existence – anthropogenesis. Teilhard believes that the universe can find its fulfilment only in Christ and that Christ can be attained in a complete universe. Christ is the initiator, the maintainer and the end of this immense movement of material and organic evolution. Christifying evolution is an effort to see the grandeur of and evolving universe illumined from within by Christ, the Evolver.
Evolution proceeds both from an attraction from on high and from a thrust from below. It is ever onward and upward. When under Christ the forces of the natural evolution converge with the forces of the supernatural world, the world will have reached the purpose of its existence and the end of the world will take place. Now Biblically, the end of the world is supposed to be preceded by catastrophic events and will come at any given moment. But Teilhard says that these catastrophic events are spread out over history throughout the progress of the human and the end of time will be when humans have finally become superhuman and are ready for union with Christ. Thus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega of creation and also leading it to its supernatural goal.
Is Teilhard a poet, scientist, prophet, theologian or a philosopher? In the light of this paper, how shall we address him? Which title best suits Teilhard?
The category of poet need not be taken seriously as it is used by those who regard his work as something emotional mumbo-jumbo. Teilhard never claimed that he wrote poetry in any of his works. The category of scientist has a more serious claim for consideration since he was an eminent scientist and a distinguished palaeontologist. But this is fine in only one sense for his claims as regards evolution’s course is not entirely scientific. Thus we cannot regard him as a scientist appropriately. Then was he a philosopher? Yes, we could call him a philosopher of religion or a process philosopher. But in the strict sense we cannot, because he did not pay attention to the technical side of philosophy for instance epistemology. We could call him a theologian as his doctrine on God hold a prominent place in his system and his idea of the cosmic Christ was a trend initiated by him. But more so, he shines out in the category of prophet for he reconciles two apparently opposing streams – matter and spirit, science and religion. He postulated a course where openness and fundamentalism meet. Therefore, we could call him the prophet of the post-modern world.
It is of this prophet that we have spoken thus far. He encourages us to explore the wide areas of knowledge and belief with which the world confronts us. He teaches us to be optimistic about the purpose of creation. He persuades us to meet God in the daily struggle with the world. He made us realise that Christian faith is not a fortress to defend, but a light to illumine whatever human history may have in store for us. He always remains as a perfect example of a serious confronter, a dialoguer and a seeker of truth. That’s what philosophy is all about – the search for truth. He was never an “ivory tower-philosopher” but a person deeply in touch with humankind. He was always confident that his ideas were valid and would be accepted by all in due time. Yet we see great humility in this priest who in the final lines of his major work recognises:
“Among those who have attempted to read this book to the end, many will close it, dissatisfied and thoughtful, wondering whether I have been leading them through facts, through metaphysics or through dreams… To make room for thought in the world, I have needed to ‘interiorise’ matter: to imagine an energetic of the mind; to conceive a noogenesis rising upstream against the flow of entropy; to provide evolution with a direction, a line of advance and critical points; and finally to make all things double back upon someone.
In this arrangement of values I may have gone astray at many points. It is up to others to try and do better. My one hope is that I have made the reader feel both the reality, difficulty, and urgency of the problem and, at the same time, the scale and the form which the solution cannot escape.”
Yes, Teilhard’s work is a pointer and is up to us to do better. He has not claimed this to be the ultimate but a response to the observations of science and revelation of faith. St Augustine’s words are truly echoed: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts will know no rest, until they have found their rest in Thee.” The human being’s destiny lies in reaching God and is restless until likewise. And so for humanity the Teilhardian thought challenges it to discover God at the heart of matter and of the world and strive towards Him. But as for Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, we could salute him and say, “Bravo Teilhard! Well done.”
This was my paper written in 2014 for my Bachelors in Philosphy.
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 The branch of science that deals with extinct and fossil animals and plants.
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Refer to the previous chapter “The Formation of the Without” and “The Law of Complexity-Consciousness”
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