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.