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.
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.