Teilhard de Chardin's Evolutionary Theism

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Robert Kleinman:

"Our last example of a non-mechanistic theory is the type of evolutionary theism found in the writings of Teilhard de Chardin. He was not a professional philosopher like Bergson and Alexander, but a paleontologist and Catholic priest. This dual vocation led him to a lifelong endeavor to reconcile the claims of biology and Christianity in an all-embracing evolutionary synthesis. He accepted evolution as a fundamental fact, while differing from Darwinism by claiming that everything in the universe has dual aspects, the inner psychic and the external material. Accordingly, there is an evolution of consciousness going on simultaneously with physical evolution. The entire universe, from elementary particles to man, is governed by a “law of complexification” that carries it in the direction of greater complexity and increasing consciousness. Like Bergson, he saw a special nonmechanical agency at work in evolution, which he called “radial energy.” It is an internal psychic force that intensifies with the development of more complex forms. Radial energy causes things to become more integrated, both “within” and “without,” being responsible for the major transitions from matter to life and mind. When a physical system becomes more highly organized, its psychic interior will be more fully developed. Man is the most recent form to appear in the evolutionary progression of nature. His capacity for self-conscious thought and the formation of cultures has added a new layer to the earth’s ambiance — the “noosphere,” or layer of reflective thought. The noosphere is a unique environment that sets man apart from other creatures, characterizing the “phenomenon of man.” Through the noosphere, all human societies are projected to unite in a single world culture.

Teilhard believed that evolution converges toward a point called “Omega” where it reaches its final goal. The “Omega Point” is a mystical concept, but it is not wholly unworldly, since the physical and the psychic aspects of the universe are inseparable. Omega is the focal point of their convergence, corresponding to God in so far as it determines the direction of cosmic evolution. The process is orthogenetic, though not in a finalistic sense, because Teilhard makes some allowance for chance events. The culmination will be reached when all individuals unite in a single community through love. He invests his vision with religious significance by identifying it as the “Divine Milieu,” during which the spirit of the “Cosmic Christ” becomes fully manifested in the universe. In this way, he hoped to unite his personal religious convictions with science. Teilhard’s interpretation of evolution — a view he hoped to ground in science — fails to connect with mainstream scientific practice, which knows nothing of a psychic interior of physical matter. Ideas like “radial energy” and the “Omega Point” seem to be more fiction than science. They may have been intended to support his belief that the scientific view of evolution was not in conflict with Catholic theology. On the religious side, however, there was some uneasiness about Teilhard’s emphasis upon God as the end (Omega) of cosmic history rather than its initiator (Alpha). His ideas also conflicted with theological dogmas regarding the fall of man and original sin. As a consequence, they were not widely accepted in orthodox Catholic circles. Teilhard’s vision of an evolving universe remains purely speculative without having much support from either science or theology. But his optimistic faith in the future progress of humanity is praiseworthy and still has many avid adherents.."