Evolutionary perspective of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) is one of the greatest leaders of thoughts in last century to integrate pure scientific research with a religious vision. He was a Jesuit scientist, who made scientific research as his personal mission to reconstruct the most basic Christian doctrines from the perspectives of science and, at the same time, to reconstruct science from the perspectives of faith. He would be very critique to science and religions but deep love in them too. He, therefore, would single-handedly remake the dogmas of the Church and also would at the same time remake the world of modern science on the model suggested by his personal experience of God. Religion and science are the two sides of a coin.

Evolution is a philosophy or view that the universe and material realties within it did not come into existence as finished products; rather they appeared in the course of a gradual, continuous and process. Evolution has a direction and it is directed towards the Omega Point. Teilhard disagreed with Darwin- the evolution took place by a sheer chance.  Man is the result of evolutionary processes.

Physicists used to stand on their ground regarding the world as being unchangeable elements maintaining each other in equilibrium while biologists maintaining the evolution theory- beginning with Charles Darwin in his classic work ‘The Origin of Species’. “Darwin’s explanation of evolution as resulting solely from the natural section and the battle for existence was incomplete since the mutation factor was not yet known, but his basic theory that life on our planet had developed from a single source was correct.” This evolutionary theory has greatly challenged the creation story in the Bible. In other words the Christian concept of man as the unique, transcendental, spiritual and immortal image of God was threatened by this evolutionary concept of creation. But today we know both the above theories are not fully correct.

In this critical time of crises of faith in the Church, Pierre Teilhard De Chardin came to a stage of the world to reconcile and reunion between science and religion. “The scientist first turned his attention to the stage before life, in other words to the material of which the world is made up.”  Many of Teilhard's ideas have widely accepted; still his pioneering philosophy has been taken seriously only by a minority of thinkers who see science and religion entering into a new era of cross-fertilization and creativity. For the vast majority, Teilhard's thought seems to be neglected and his insights are not studied in the depth they deserve.

The world appears static only to our momentary view of it. In reality the world is changing and will be continually changing mass. “Everything in the world originated from an arrangement of a few elements and transforms itself according to the law of increasing complexification.” The material of the world has inherent natural tendency to move towards the complex. “Cosmic matter concentrates itself into increasingly highly or organised material form.” According to him there is only one sufficient, logical explanation. He calls it the “within” of things, which are the cosmic phenomena.

In man (human being) what makes him more complex and what makes stand at the summit of creation is obviously ‘within’ or ‘consciousness’’. We cannot even explain the conduct of insects without a ‘within’. “But we find this “within” less easy to grasp as soon as we move on to the planet world. The farther we go down the scale, the more difficult it becomes to establish the existence of this “within. Bacteriologists and, still more, physicists and chemists, only deal with the “without” of their subjects because, due to its low intensity, the “within” is no longer significant.”

The “within” or “consciousness” is a dimension that informs all cosmic matter. Just as the body goes back to the first atom so as the spirit goes back to its prime source which we cannot demonstrated experimentally. This “consciousness” is too complex in nature. In a similarly way G. Marcel says that mystery cannot be solved because we are part and parcel of it. Teilhard says that in so called inanimate matter, this “consciousness” is not a coherent structure, but similarly composes to the matter itself.

According to Teilhard nothing can suddenly come to light after various stages of evolution. In a lesser form everything in the world, including man, has existed sine the beginning of time.  That is cosmic embryo genesis. “An intrinsic part of the “within” of cosmic matter is a force that drives the universe toward an every more complex and centralized state. The cosmos is rising in a spiral towards an every denser inwardness.” He conjectured the every existence of similar conditions in the rest of cosmos, which are beyond the universe.

Teilhard after the evolution of comic matter turned his attention to the origin of life. In his opinion we will never know exactly “how the organic developed from chemical, the living from the not-yet- living, since the matter involved in the transition was so delicate that it has dissolved in strata long since transformed. The secret lies forever with God.” Life is the explosion of interior energy under the biological high tension in to the nest stage of development. The emergence of life from lower to higher form of life, the higher form of life is always more complex than lower form of life. This higher external complexity is always accompanied by a higher grade of “consciousness” or “interiority.”

Million of years ago, at once the most fateful moment arrived from the planet. Silently the most mysterious human being appeared, like a new bud on the tree of life, disrupting being in the cosmos. It was he, who turned the biosphere of the world into a new order of the noosphere. He made fire, fashioned stones etc. This man possesses knowledge but he did not only look around himself, he looks into himself.  This man is somebody, a personality.

Man has emerged after a long evolutionary process. Every passage from one state to the other is one step forward towards the finishing of the final product of man. Man for him is nothing but evolution becoming conscious of itself. Man is till an unfinished product. Evolution is not stopped with man. Anatomically it is come to an end but psychologically, intellectually, socially and spiritually man has been growing. There are two phases in man’s evolution namely expansion and convergence

“Man is the peak toward which all biological efforts on this earth have been aiming, and without which the biosphere would have been remained a headless body, a mere torso.” He is the flower of evolution. The first and unique Being, who looks up heaven and try to comprehend everything existing on the universe and even tries to transcend beyond the matters. The rest of creation was only preparation for his habitation, making possible his existence. Man alone gives significance and meaning to every stone, every plant, every animal, indeed to the whole universe. “From pre-human times the new being had retained: sexual instinct, the law of propagation, the instinct to fight for life, the curiosity to see and to find out, the urge to hunt and kill for food. All this has survived in us and stems from the unfathomed depths of the biosphere. But everything is transformed by command for the thinking intellect and becomes human.” The human soul makes a body a human body.

Teilhard wrote what he called "a little book on piety" in this book he speaks of its very title suggests his theme:
All around us, to right and left, in front and behind, above and below, we have only to go a little beyond the frontier of sensible appearances in order to see the divine welling up and showing through. But it is not only close to us, in front of us, that the divine presence has revealed itself. It has sprung up universally, and we find ourselves so surrounded and transfixed by it, that there is no room left to fall down and adore it, even within ourselves. By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us and moulds us. We imagined it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.

Teilhard tries to remarriage or re union of science and religion.  “If religion has seen its purpose as raising human life to higher consciousness in a vertical dimension and if science has seen its purpose in moving humanity forward on a horizontal plane within the boundaries of the material world, the obvious frontier of consciousness involves a movement both upwards and forwards.” Again he emphasises on his faith, “Leaving aside all anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism, I believe I can see a direction and a line of progress for life, a line and a direction which are in fact so well marked that I am convinced their reality will be universally admitted by the science of tomorrow.

Science and religion will continue go hand in hand; “it becomes obvious that neither can develop normally without the other. And the reason is simple: the same life animates both. Neither in its impetus nor its achievements can science go to its limits without becoming tinged with mysticism and charged with faith.”  But in this contemporary he has become a hero and a role model for a whole generation of younger priests and theologians.

Teilhard tells us that since time began, even inorganic matter, evolution has been and will be an increase of “consciousness.” “Since this “conscious” has risen to the self-conscious in man, to personalization, man’s future course must follow a supper-personal.” It is very obvious that man’s spirituality is moving towards higher level of “consciousness” around one point, evolutionary goal, which he calls “Point Omega”. All the mental and spiritual energies are directed towards this Omega. There is an attractional force and energy causing this centripetal movement which he calls LOVE.

This Divine Love plays a vital part in uniting force of evolution towards Omega.  There is not an idea or mathematical point or not a thing it is a person. And LOVE can exist only between and among persons. It is independent. It does not depend on other being. It cannot go back. It cannot disintegrate. The worst case of disintegration is death, but the Omega point cannot die. There has to be point around which the individual centres can converge. They have to make themselves in love and freedom without loosing their personalities.

            Teilhard de Chardin, a man who was at once priest, scientist, mystic, prophet, and lover of life.  Teilhard sees three directions in the human advance towards the theoretical Omega Point: The first is the increasing improvement in the organization of scientific research. Everything must be explored and attempted. Man has capabilities to discovery new things. He has potentials and abilities to    produce a living organism. He has to made dangerous discoveries too.

The second line of approach towards Point Omega is towards mankind itself. He has hope for the better future that mankind is the goal of evolution, the science of man. Therefore through dept research the entire universe and even beyond to understand how the world came into being and how it will continue to develop. The third direction to Point Omega is the alliance of science and religion. They are two sides of a coin. They need to reconcile and reunion again. He insists “The more man becomes man, the more necessary will it be for him to worship and to deepen his religion.” 

Where can we find this Omega point? The Omega can be found only in the Christ of ST. John’s Gospel and Christ of St. Paul the apostle. And no other being or place can be found this Omega Point. Only Christ can be the Omega, because he satisfies all the requirement of the Omega. When Christ is brought in science and religion is reconciled. Prayer is the rising of the spirit to commune with the divine. Work also takes us to the Omega point, work is matter to God and prayer is spirit rising to God. It is through prayer and work we can achieve the Omega Point. From here on faith comes into system. Up to the Omega point, science can lead us, from there on religion or faith takes on. Here science and religion meet and reason and faith meet.

With his profound knowledge and deep love for Christ made him to bring together science and religion. He, therefore, tried to reconstruct some basic Christian doctrines from the perspectives of science which could not go alone with science; at the same time, to reconstruct science from the perspectives of faith. He would be very critique to science and religions but deep love in them too. He, therefore, would single-handedly remake the dogmas of the Church and also would at the same time remake the world of modern science on the model suggested by his personal experience of God. He comes to reconcile science and religion as Immanuel Kant to reconcile between the idealists and empiricists- the claiming of the objective knowledge. He also suggested a program for the reconstruction of science. He put forward equally a systematic critique on traditional science and religion. Religion and science are the two sides of a coin.

Teilhard tries to prove that life didn't come out by accident, but was a product of evolution. Therefore man has own place in the evolution of the universe. Heraclites has rightly said that everything is flux- changing and all is becoming. Heraclites says “We cannot step into same river twice, for the fresh waters are flowing in upon you.”  And thus this dynamic nature of the universe is nothing but evolution of inorganic matters to a highly complex being of consciousness.  There is nothing permanent in the universe. Everything is in the constant process of change, and a particular kind of change - evolution.

           According to Teilhard, God is the God of cosmic synthesis, in whom we would evolve, and in union with whom we will preserve and magnify our personalities. This reflects the philosophy Indian that everything is emerged from God like a spider emits its web. For him Love is the force of attraction.  Yet a few renounce scientists have taken his ideas seriously enough to structure their own work on Teilhard’s model, but the majority of scientists have reacted as defensively as the Vatican theologians.

Each theory has its draw back and strength like the co-existence of the opposites- light and darkness, good and evil and above all there is not so called absolute theory as Teilhard rightly says, because  the cosmos is striving towards the more and more complex consciousness. The universe is ‘flux’ as Heraclites says and ‘nothing is permanent’. This does not mean we have to neglect their drawbacks but critically analysis will help us to stand on our own feet.

When analysed critically Teilhard’s evolutionary theory is more of transforming of the universe from the primordial atom to the present state rather than the origin of the universe. ‘Where did the primeval atom come from?’ is another question to be explored? The scientist at last landed in faith. He was over optimistic without considering the pain and suffering of mankind. He mixes science and philosophy. It is vague and not exact and mixes with science and religion. Some scholars criticise on his illegitimate generalisation- consciousness co-exists with matter on the basis of brain and nervous system.  There is a discontinuity in his evolutionary perspective on beings below human undergo divergence, then process of convergence starts. All beings have within and without, at Omega Point only within.

Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ. (Eph. I, 4-5). These powerful words of St. Paul in his first letter to the Ephesians, I think, best characterize the spirit of Teilhard the Chardin, his idea of man and man's place in the universe, and of the common goals of humanity. He is a man who was at once priest, scientist, mystic, prophet, lover of life and Christ. He considered the problems of man’s continued existence after death as seen from the evolutionary perspective.

 To appreciate his unique place in the science of Physical Anthropology- discovery of Peking man in China, we must bear in mind he was far ahead  of his time regarding to his ideas. Due to his far sightedness, the Church failed to see his ideas and visions leading him to banish from preaching and even expelled him from native country.

His evolutionary theory has some empirical evidence that is the expansion of universe, forming of stars, forming of other elements, e.g. a few weeks ago we saw in the newspapers that scientists has discovery another planet which is much brighter and bigger than the present sun.

His evolutionary theory of brain and nervous system has some evidences by our present scientists- the gradual development of brain system in all living being. The present scientists agree with his theory that psychologically, intellectually and mentally evolution is continuing

Every being has got with aspect and without aspect. Within aspect refers to the concourse aspect or immaterial aspect while without aspect refers to measurable and material aspect. The more developed a being the more developed or noticed the within aspect and vice versa.

Emergence of consciousness was indeed a breakthrough in the evolution of the world. There is a direct relationship between the complexity and consciousness of the organism. The more complex an organisms is the higher the level of consciousness as well.

The evolutionary movement of transition from one sphere to other- Lithosphere to Biosphere; Biosphere to Noosphere and Noosphere to Omega- the centre of everything, is incredible uniting science and religion as two sides of a coin. Here he reconciled science and religion when Christ, Omega, is brought in.

The fundamental energy is love which attracts the matters to unite and leading towards the Omega Point. The horizontal energy of love unites beings or the cosmos and the vertical energy of love unites being and systems upwards or forwards.

1. Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de, 1968, The Divine Milieu: An Essay on the Interior Life, New York:            Harper and Row.
2. Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de, 1961, The Future of Man, New York: Harper and Row, 1969.
3. Chardin, Pierre Teilhard de, 1961, The Phenomenon of Man, New York: Harper and Row
4. Kopp, Joseph V., 1964, Teilhard de Chardin Explained, The Mercier Press, 4 Bridge Street, Cork.
5. Cosmology, II Bph class notes 2011.

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