Herein I make references to the concepts of Teilhard de Chardin, a scientist, Jesuit and Theologian who has stated that evolution is God’s plan ‘which is the underlying principle of all that is.’ Evolution is transformation.
It is easy to see how we have made progress with our technology. In the life span of our oldest senior citizens society has moved from horse drawn carriages to supersonic jets for transportation; and from the cumbersome stationary telephone to smart phones that we carry in our pockets for communication. The without—the material things—are so much more obvious, right there before our eyes. We can weigh, measure and take apart the ‘things’ of the world and come to understand them and make improvements, but that isn’t evolution, it is production. The evolution is represented by the inventiveness. In the within—the non-material thoughts and feelings—which are out of sight, there is nothing to weigh and measure so until recently they have been overlooked—yet in that within is the driving force of our advances.
So what is that driving force? Let’s call it consciousness—a word bantered around much these days but is still ill defined. The agreed definition is that the word refers to ‘awareness by the mind of itself and the world.’ (Teilhard calls that reflective awareness.) It was Sigmund Freud (1856 -1939) who initiated interest in the study of the mind by dividing the mind into two parts: the conscious and the unconscious. Later Carl Jung added the concept of the collective unconscious, defined as ‘the part of the unconscious mind which is derived from ancestral memory and experiences that are common to all mankind. (The way our humanness preserves consciousness).
Let’s return to our question: Is humanity evolving? It’s an important question. I postulate that if the question were asked in a survey, answers would fall into 3 groups. The smallest group would be those who say ‘yes’; the next group, a bit larger but more emphatic, would say ‘NO!’ and the remaining largest group would be made up of those who just shrug or say ‘I never thought about that.’ It’s an important question because a ‘yes’ answer opens the door to hope whereas the ‘no’ answer keeps company with fatalism.
The essence of evolution is transformation from a lower state to a higher state. Here we need to consider the law of complexity-consciousness. This law reflects the tendency for creatures to become more complex and at the same time to increase in consciousness. We can see this operative in species development which, over billions of years, simple one-cell creatures grew increasingly more complex eventually developing spinal cords and brains which enabled them to have more freedom while rudimentary awareness increased to allow a choice of reacting patterns. Initially evolution focused more on the without until Homo sapiens appeared, then evolution turned inward. The within in humanity became the focus for evolution.The human is not merely ‘another creature, the human was God’s plan from the beginning. Teilhard calls mankind ‘the flower on the tree of life.
From 800-400 BC a major evolutionary step was represented by the Axial Age when, throughout the then inhabited world, clusters of humanity simultaneously and independently produced thinkers and philosophers who laid spiritual groundwork which became the foundations of human civilization.
It is easier to see evolutionary advances from a distance . . . look all the way back to the early Homo sapiens. The emergent humans came with the inherent ability for speech, but speech had to be invented . . . and they found ways to turn their grunts and vocal sounds into words—a gigantic evolutionary step forward without which civilization could not have been accomplished. Those sounds-become-words needed ways to be captured and preserved . . . marks on objects became letters which became permanentized words . . . with time, more and more ways to preserve words came into being . . . writing on clay tablets, parchment, paper . . . all came to be from human effort. Then came the marvelous invention of the printing press which hundreds of years later gave way to the computer. We take those long-past innovations for granted, but stop for a moment and realize how transformative each of those steps was. Those were evolutionary advances because the scope of what was possible had expanded. The without of the shapes and forms are only incidental, the wonder lies in the non-material—the expansion of consciousness within the human mind.
It seems hard to accept that humanity is evolving when we can see so much humanly produced evil . . . but it make sense from the point of view of our freedom. God gave the human free will. That means God does not control us; we can choose our ‘next step’. The important thing to remember is that with the expansion of consciousness comes the advancement of knowledge.
Let’s think of an early human taking a new path and coming upon a tree with red objects hanging down. His tribe hadn’t encountered apples before. He picks and bites into one and finds it tasty and good to eat. He has three choices: He can take some back and share them with his tribe; he can eat his full and return to his tribe saying nothing thereby keeping this secret pleasure to himself; or he can lie to his people, telling of his encounter with a tree with large red berries and many dead animals around who must have eaten the poison berries—thus insuring no one else will eat them. Humans are free to use their knowledge in any way.
Is humanity advancing? Clearly that is the case, but because of equal opportunity between the negative and positive uses of our abilities we are now in a precarious position unless and until we consciously and collectively choose for the good.