What is evolution? Some say it is the scientific theory that explains how species became what they are through changes over long periods of time. Some say it is the ‘crazy idea’ that claims our most distant ancestors were apes. Others say it is an idea expounded by atheists to prove there is no God. And still others say it is a lie spawned by the devil to lead people astray. A dictionary describes evolution as the gradual development of something, especially from simple to complex form.
Darwin’s explanation of evolution did not include pattern, direction and goal; that is what Teilhard’s work shows us. From atoms clustering to form molecules, then cells; to human consciousness continually building to greater awareness, there is movement toward increasing complexity. The goal is realization of the interconnectedness of all that exists.
Although evolution is implicit in all of Teilhard’s writing, he actually uses the word sparingly. As a scientist he worked with the data that discloses the pattern that is hidden behind all life-struggles at all stages: the simple moves to the complex and so opens to new and greater possibilities.
Evolution is the underlying principle of all that is.
Nothing in the known world materializes in a ‘poof’ from nothing; development comes through gradual change programmed in the pre-existing state that holds the blueprint for the final product. Throughout Teilhard’s life-long study of development in all aspects he came to realize that everything unfolds in a direction from simple to complex that expands possibilities for the organism evolving. Within the earliest stage of the simplest form there exists the possibilities of the ultimate form . . . within the acorn is the potential oak tree, within the egg is the potential bird, within the DNA is the blueprint of the person, and within the energy leading to the explosion of the ‘big bang’ was the universe that came to be. There is direction: movement is always forward from simple to complex. We can search all the way back to the ‘primordial soup’ wherein we see and recognize a pattern emerging: elements with affinity join to form new units. As pointed out in my last blog, our material world took shape through the building of layer upon layer moving from the inorganic foundation to developing the layers necessary to support the emergence of life, then the layer of teeming life forms, and ultimately life that birthed thought which enables humans to discover, evaluate and create.
Evolution is the name for the process by which all comes to be.
Even thinking is an evolving process. We have discovered so much about how our world works! How do we discover what we know? By beginning with the simple and expanding to the complex. We see and wonder, we ask questions and follow leads; we have new thoughts and ideas and test them against what we understand from previous discoveries . . . and if the new discovery contradicts what we thought we knew we re-define our knowledge. All that thinking, analyzing and concluding takes place in a realm that is not material. Our ability to think and reason is a quality of our being—a unique human quality. In the modern world we’ve come to over-value the material—the ‘things’ of life that can be weighed and measured—but we take for granted and overlook the non-material, yet it is with those non-material qualities we have changed the earth we occupy.
Teilhard de Chardin calls us to consider the non-material realm of our existence that he calls the ‘within’ of things, and he does so by study of the material substances that he calls the ‘without’ of things. He maintains “the internal aspect of things as well as the external aspect of the world [need] be taken into account.” He was a respected scientist devoted to the study of science but also a Jesuit—a man of faith. He believed in evolution and believed in God as the author of the process. He saw no conflict between them. The world has order and is intelligible, that bespeaks design by an intelligent source.
Not a random happenstance; Teilhard sees meaningful order in life. We see all of nature as balanced and purposeful. The earth and sky provides conditions for trees and plants to produce their yield; all living creatures are provided with the means necessary to develop and flourish. When given the freedom to exist in their environment there is a natural balance between predator and prey and each species instinctively knows how to self-protect and seek appropriate shelter and sustenance.
Only the human, gifted with intelligence, has the ability to alter the course of nature . . . and/or to disrupt it so as to threaten the planet’s very existence. That quality—intelligence—must have a better purpose! It will be discovered when humanity comes to truly recognize that all of life is interconnected—with that realization we will ‘learn to think in a new way’.