Friday, July 31, 2015

Teilhard Series - 4th

If we are to realize the contribution of Teilhard de Chardin to our contemporary perspective, the most fundamental point of departure is: ‘Everything is interconnected’.  From the Bible to St. Francis of Assisi to Albert Einstein, to Pope Francis we’ve been told of the connectedness in different ways, yet it seems to not reach our understanding.  In 1972 scientist James Locklove originated the Gaia Theory that tells us that the entire earth functions as a single living organism; in living organisms injury or damage to any one part affects the entire organism.  He sounded an alarm we have failed to heed.  Einstein’s search for a Unified Field Theory arose from his conviction that all forces of nature answer to a single law—clearly he believes everything is connected.

Through his life-work in geology and paleontology, Teilhard came to realize the key to understanding how ‘everything is interconnected’, lies in understanding evolution and he presents scientific data that discloses the underlying pattern that ties all orders of development together.

Perhaps since the dawn of consciousness the human has been dimly aware of life’s interconnectedness but the demands of survival narrowed his focus to that part most critical to survival in that place at that time—yet stirring within the collective unconscious, has been the desire to know and understand more about ‘the big picture’—the everything.  That impulse led to the development of philosophy, the search for Wisdom—the true, the right and the just.  The search was once of a whole but at the time of the Renaissance the wisdom search split into seemingly opposing camps—Science and Religion.

It was a combination of necessity, circumstances and habit that led us to consideration of life from a narrow focus.  As knowledge advanced, uncountable pieces of information accumulated and it became necessary to compartmentalize it into manageable units.  Now, in the modern era we’ve been conditioned to see our world in separate units and that inhibits our wider vision.  When confronted with a problem we look only at the ‘box’ from which the problem arises.  We have a box for economics, a box for government, a box for technology, a box for psychology, a box for industry, boxes for religion and multiple boxes for science . . . we make our choices from within the box of the problem; we haven’t developed the means for dealing with that bigger picture of ‘everything is connected’.

Einstein said, “We must learn to think in a new way.”  To help us learn that new way Teilhard gives us the study of evolution.  He first brings us back to the beginning, when the earth was being born.  There is a pattern: we see movement from the simple to the complex.

       Geologists have defined the zonal composition of our planet; each layer necessarily            
       preceded the subsequent one and transformed it, and only because they developed
       as they did, was it possible for life to ultimately emerge:
            (the lifeless inorganic layers)
-       barysphere: central and metallic
-       lithosphere: it rocky surrounding crust
(the layers necessary for evolving and sustaining life)
-       hydrosphere: the fluid layers—earth’s waters
-       atmosphere: the air or gaseous surroundings
     to these 4 concentric layers, science identified another layer
            (the living membrane)
-       biosphere: living organisms
    Teilhard recognized and named another layer of transformation
            (the thinking layer)
-       noosphere:  of mind or mental processes

It is this quality of mind, mental processes or reflective awareness that sets the human apart, not a mere changes of biological state but a change of ‘being’.  The awakening of thought “marks the transformation that affects the state of the whole planet” (Teilhard’s words).  The presence of the human species has changed the face of the earth.  That is what we are called to fully recognize; we must expand our vision to see the whole picture because our collective choices set the course we travel.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Teilhard Series - 3rd

            Why Teilhard?  Teilhard’s insights work to reunite Science and Religion.
            In Paleontology, digging through the rocks and debris to uncover evidence of the origins of life on our planet, one of the earliest signs of human habitation (along with the presence of tools) is the evidence of some form of worship . . . of ceremonial burying of their dead, of choosing to revere some objects as sacred, of establishing rituals; in this we see hints of reaching for ‘more’.  This points to an inherent quality in humans: the need to search out a ‘why’ to explain existence.  That quality is so fundamental that to deny it is to fail to understand the creature.

            Darwin was the first to bring evolution to our awareness.  As a botanist/biologist his concern was with the what and how of species development.  Teilhard, as a geologist/paleontologist was convinced of the validity of the scientific facts of evolution.  As a priest/theologian he brought to the theory his concern for purpose and direction—the ‘why’ of it all.  Whereas Darwin and his followers postulate that evolution progressed by random chance—without purpose and direction, Teilhard shows us a pattern and direction that emerges from his study of the phenomenon.  He calls the pattern Complexity-Consciousness and, for rational creatures, he identifies the direction to be perceived as realization of the interacting  wholeness of being.

            Let’s explore evolution with a simple overview of what Science has found to be the stages of our world coming to be.   
            From the earliest phase of evolution (the ‘primordial soup’) when only chemicals and particles were in existence (I will call it micro-evolution) random chance was operational as elements sharing affinities ‘found each other’ to unite and gradually form molecules and cells.  The direction of the movement was always from simple to the more complex. (complexification).
            Jumping ahead, but still in pre-history and looking to how life advanced (macro-evolution), many incipient species came into being.  For a time each developmental line underwent changes in appearance through random interbreeding.  The strongest models survived to finalize identifiable characteristics for a category while the earlier prototypes failed to continue and dropped off the phylum.  As species evolved we can see a continual advancement toward more and more complex neural networks and ultimately creatures with functioning brains appeared on the planet. 
Over eons of time the brain in the hominid species continued to evolve until it birthed thought, with consciousness and reflective awareness.  The human emerged as a rational being able to look back to the past and forward to the future thus having the ability to shape his environment. 

           Consciousness is not a random accident, but rather the axis and goal of the evolutionary process.  The emergence of consciousness changed the course of evolution from an external mechanical process to shape the structure and appearance of creatures, to an internal psychological-spiritual process that gives the power of change to the humans possessing it.  Evolution turned inward.  With reflective awareness we have the ability to shape the course of our world by our choices.  If we look back to discern the pattern life has traveled to get us to NOW, we can foresee and shape the direction ahead.  A central aspect of that direction is to see and realize that our world is one interacting system of which we each are a part. It is unfolding in a rational sequence and at this time it has become necessary for us to realize the part we play.

           Why Teilhard?
           His ideas present a challenge to our thinking.  Some of our knowledge and much of our religious understanding must readjust to fit with the expanding universe of which we are now aware.  Teilhard wrote during the first half of the 20th Century.  The world, and especially his Church was not yet ready for his forward thinking.  It is now the 21st Century and, if we are to avoid self-destruction, we must begin to learn the lessons he teaches.