Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit priest and polymath whose books covered the waterfront from anthropology and paleontology to philosophy and theology. He was born in 1881 in France and died in 1955 in New York City. He also, to my delight in view of this earlier post on the Kingdom of Heaven as organism, held a view of the church as organism, which he elaborated at length in some of his books, including especially The Phenomenon of Man.

Although the evangelical protestants take most of the lumps for their opposition to evolution in the U.S., it’s worth pointing out as a historical note that The Phenomenon of Man was published posthumously because the Catholic church found its evolutionary theory heretical at the time it was finished (in the 1930s).

I’m going to quote directly from the Wikipedia article on the book here:

Teilhard views evolution as a process that leads to increasing complexity. From the cell to the thinking animal, a process of psychical concentration leads to greater consciousness. The emergence of Homo Sapiens marked the beginning of a new age. Reflection, the power acquired by consciousness to turn in upon itself, raises humankind to a new sphere. Borrowing Julian Huxley’s expression, Teilhard describes humankind as evolution becoming conscious of itself.

Eventually, trade and the transmission of ideas increased. Traditions became organized and a collective memory was developed. Knowledge accumulated and was transmitted down the ages. This led to a further augmentation of consciousness and to the emergence of a thinking layer that enveloped the earth. Teilhard called the new layer the “noosphere” (from the Greek “nous,” meaning mind). Evolution is therefore constructing, with all minds joined together, mind.

The development of science and technology caused an expansion of the human sphere of influence, allowing a person to be simultaneously present in every corner of the world. Humanity has thus become cosmopolitan, stretching a single organized membrane over the Earth. Teilhard described this process as a “gigantic psychobiological operation, a sort of mega-synthesis, the “super-arrangement” to which all the thinking elements of the earth find themselves today individually and collectively subject.” The rapid expansion of the noosphere requires a new domain of psychical expansion, which “is staring us in the face if we would only raise our heads to look at it.”

Remember, this was written about 60 years before the Internet was widely available. This is quite a vision.

Teilhard de Chardin should be credited for his implicit grasp of the applicability of evolutionary theory to religion, and especially to Christian doctrines of salvation. I’m grateful to David Sloan Wilson for mentioning him in Evolution for Everyone.

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