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By Brian COWAN

Introduction: Plausibility

A question we may wish to ask ourselves is whether or not it is plausible [1] to regard the Absolute, God, the Divinity, or as Teilhard sometimes puts it, 'the transcendent aspect of Omega' [2], or the 'Omega Point' [3], as exercising a pull of attraction on the cosmic process.

We must bear in mind, of course, that what is claimed as plausible need not be supported by ironclad proofs yielding indubitable certainty. As I see it, plausibility aims at probability and not certitude. From my perspective, a plausible argument is one which is coherent, that is to say, free of internal contradictions, which accounts for the known facts in a fashion perceived as not only possible but as also probable, and which is open-ended in the sense of allowing for self-correction and self-development.

If I am not mistaken, Teilhard de Chardin's approach to truth, at the ordinary human level, has about it the earmarks of a plausibility approach. He writes:

' ... the essential criterion of truth, its specific mark, is its power of developing indefinitely -- not only without ever producing internal contradiction, but also in such a way as to form a positively constructed whole in which the parts support and complement one another more effectively.' [4] 
We may wish to note that the foregoing approach to truth lacks any reference to irrefutable proof or complete certainty in the same that the route of plausibility omits dependence of rigorous demonstration and total certitude.


In this essay I would like to argue (supported by the Teilhardian outlook) in favour of the position that, to all appearances, the cosmic process behaves as though it is drawn to, attracted to, pulled toward an aspect of the Absolute. The aspect I have in mind is that of unity. Having, hopefully, established the viability of my conceptual position, I will then suggest that if the universe acts as though it is attracted to an absolute Unity, then, perhaps, it is quite plausible to also suggest that it may be, in fact, drawn to such a Unity.

One could, of course, choose other aspects of the Divinity, besides unity, to which the cosmic process might be drawn, for example, personality or intelligence. But in this essay I'll limit myself to the single facet of unity.

Unification / Integration / Convergence

How would a process involving initial multiplicity and attracted to the absolute unity of God behave? Well, might not such a process aim at reproducing in itself, to the best of its ability, something of the unity of the Godhead which, in the opinion of Plotinus, enjoys such supreme integration as to be 'without parts' [5]? A process attracted to union, to unification, it seems to me, would be a process that would tend to converge, moving, in so far as its powers allow, from multiplicity to unity.

As we contemplate the history of our tiny segment of the universe, that is to say, of our planet, it does seem that a trend away from the multiple towards the unitary presents itself to our consciousness. One example of such a trend, given by Teilhard himself, relates to the self-unification of a staggering number of atoms involved in the eventuation of an average adult human body. He writes:

'No one, so far as I know, has yet risked a calculation of the atoms contained in the simplest animal cell. Let us, to be on the modest side, put the figure at rather more than a thousand millions (1010). Since a man is formed of approximately a thousand billion cells (1012), the number of atoms grouped to form our bodies becomes something like 1022' [6]
Elsewhere, alluding to the self-unification of vast numbers of living cells on planet earth, the French Jesuit remarks that 'from the unicellular protozoon up to man (man with the million million cells of his body and the thirty thousand million cells of his brain) the sheer figures become astronomical'. [7]

I believe that, in some sense, it can be said of the atoms and cells just discussed that, through their very acts of self-unification, their preferential approach to union with one another, they behave as though they were drawn to, attracted to unity.

We can claim with confidence, I believe, that for Teilhard, the cosmic process is one in which convergence, that is to say, a drift and apparent inclination to unity occupies a place of honour. In this connection does he not write the following? 'From one extreme to the other of evolution, as we have defined it, everything in the universe moves in the direction of unification'. [8] Even human thought, as he sees it, has a uniate tendency. In this regard the Auvergnian paleontologist remarks on 'the instinctive tenacity by which man's thought tries to reduce the world to unity'. [9] So, from the French Jesuit's perspective, both reality, and human thought about reality, point to what he terms 'a realistic ultraphysics of union', a sort of advanced and deduced physics of convergence 'which can be checked in the phenomenal field' [10], in the real world of actual experience.

For my part I would find it difficult to credibly deny that humanity has been drawn to self-unification, granted, for a very long time unconsciously and then, of recent centuries, more and more consciously. Very early on, indeed, probably from their first beginnings, humans found themselves united in hunter-gatherer bands. Then came tribes, and later still, city-states, nation-states, and empires. The twentieth century saw the formation of such unifying political organizations as the League of Nations and the United Nations. Today the disparate segments of thinking life on planet earth, under the tutelage of bodies such as the United Nations, may well be gradually moving, sometimes, admittedly, after the fashion of three steps forward and two back, towards a single planetary civilization, a unified noosphere. And might distant (or, perhaps, not so distant) tomorrows bring our terrestrial noosphere into contact with other noospheres leading to an eventual pan-cosmic confederation / commonwealth of noospheres? I, for one, would not wish to rule out the possibility of a future pan-cosmic, noospheric union of this sort. Further, like not a few others, I find the possible prospect of such a union to be an attractive one, and this very feeling of attraction may constitute an example of a felt and conscious pull or draw to unity which can be experienced by thinking beings.

Père Teilhard has no hesitation about proclaiming loudly and clearly his own outlook to the effect that humanity is self-unifying itself and that this self-unification has speeded itself up and presented itself more and more distinctly to terrestrial thinking consciousness during the past two centuries or so. He writes:

'In less than two centuries ... (that is, since the simultaneous birth of science, industry and research), it has become clear ... that the process of social consolidation, slowly set in motion in the course of several thousands of years, is suddenly beginning to come into the open in its full vigour and to enter its phase of rapid acceleration. One would have to be blind today not to notice this.' [20]
A Universal Apprehension

Teilhard makes the following interesting comment: 'In itself, the idea that the universe is moving towards some form of final unity has haunted the minds of all the philosophers; and there is nothing new in the idea.' [11] What he is saying here, I believe has merit. Three thousand years ago, and more, the Hindu sages were preoccupied with the effort to reduce all things to some kind of unity. Do we not read in one of the French Jesuit's own essays that 'the incomparable greatness of the religions of the East lies in their having been second to none in vibrating with the passion for unity'? [12] The Hebrew religious thinkers of old promulgated monotheism. And it cannot be denied that Greek philosophy accorded a place of high esteem to unity. Does not Plotinus tell us 'that all must be brought back to a unity', to a unity that is 'purely One, essentially a unity untouched by the multiple' ? [13] The Auvergnian paleontologist mentions, by name, five prominent Western thinkers who have applied themselves to the problem of trying to conceptually unify reality. Thus he speaks of 'the efforts hazarded' in the direction of reducing the cosmos to a unity 'by the greatest philosophers one after another (Aristotle, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hegel, Spencer)'. [14] Finally, we may note that a sort of feeling, or sense, or experience of unity is what Teilhard perceives as being at the core of mysticism. In this regard he says:

'The mystical sense is essentially a feeling for, a presentiment of, the total and final unity of the world, beyond its present sensibly apprehended multiplicity, it is a cosmic sense of "oneness".' [15]
The Attracting Pole

With all of the foregoing considerations in mind I think we do have grounds for supposing that the cosmic process is one which behaves as it were drawn to some form of unity, perhaps even to a divine, absolute Unity. The process of the universe appears to be a development in connection with which the attraction to unity, to self-unification, is so strong that every chance for an in-coiling self-convergence is seized upon and made the most of by that development. In this regard Père Teilhard remarks on how, in his opinion, 'the stuff of the world, by the preferential use of chance, twists and coils upon itself ever more tightly in more complex and fully centred assemblies.' [16]

To be sure, what seems to be the case may not always represent the actual prevailing situation, and so we cannot enjoy any ironclad guarantees that what seems to be an attraction to unity, even to absolute Unity, really is such. Perhaps, at the pre-human levels of the cosmic process, attraction has no role to play in the unification that takes place there. Maybe the pull towards a Principle of unity felt by thinkers, mystics and others resembles more the deceptive lure of cheap baubles of coloured glass and less the veritable draw of genuine gem stones of high value.

But in arguing plausibly, as I see it, we are not setting out to employ rigorous proofs that eliminate conclusively every possible doubt. No, in my opinion, the plausibility bar, which we mentally have to jump over, is set significantly lower than the certainty bar. We can legitimately say, I believe, that if something appears plausible in a coherent, non-contradictory way, then it is appropriate to go along with it in a tentative, provisional fashion as being the most probable hypothesis we can come up with at the moment. A plausible point of view, in my estimation, is a kind of mental approximation of how things really are. Here I tend to agree with Teilhard whose view is that, in our thinking, we humans grope 'our way forward, one approximation following upon another.' [17]

So, on the basis of the cosmic process appearing to be attracted to a Principle of unity, and on the basis of serious thinkers, mystics and others actually experiencing an attraction to what appears to be ultimately uniate, I am inclined to think that it may not be implausible to regard such a Principle and such an attraction as probably real. In other words, the attraction may well be an actual force and that force may well emanate from an absolute One.

Does Teilhard think there is an Absolute, a sort of ultimate magnetic pole drawing the cosmic process to itself and grounding human thought's tendency to unification as well as the human mystic sense of oneness? Yes, beyond a doubt, he does, I would say. Consider, for example, the following passage.

'The multiple rises, attracted and incorporated by the "Already One". In the first phase -- before man -- the attraction was vitally but blindly felt by the world. Since man, it is awakened (at least partially) in reflective liberty which sustains religion.' [18] 
And elsewhere, envisaging, before his mind's eye, a mental picture of the entire cosmic process, the French Jesuit writes:
'Governing the whole picture in the first place, the absolute necessity of a divine principle is evident, since it is that existence alone which can provide the universe, outside time and space, with a transcendent point of attraction, of convergence, and of irreversible consolidation: God, the prime psychic mover ahead.' [19]
From my perspective it does not appear at all implausible to suggest and to suppose that the human attraction to unification and convergence may be an instance of a general inclination to, and over-all pull towards, an Absolute, a First Being, who is also a One. Teilhard, too, sees God as a 'First Being', an 'Omega Point' who acts as an 'initial and final centre' of everything and who lives as a solitary, transcendent Unity 'in its splendid isolation'. [21] To be sure, in conformity with what he regards as a '"revealed datum' the divine Unity, for the French Jesuit, is also a divine Trinity in possession of a 'triune nature'. [22] 

In my opinion, the divine Unity may well be a plausible philosophical conclusion. I, personally, tend toward this theological outlook. From my perspective, though, the doctrine of the divine Trinity (at least in its traditional form of one divine Nature enveloping three co-equal Persons, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) stands on somewhat shaky ground. Why? Well, it is a doctrine that rests entirely on scripture with no extra-scriptural support. And a troubling question that arises at this juncture is: Can we feel reasonably assured, apropos of the Trinity, that scripture is not mistaken here as it is on not a few of its other pronouncements? I do not think we can enjoy some reasonable measure of such assurance, and so I am rather sceptical about the existence of a triune Divinity. On this point of the Trinity, then, I do, respectfully, diverge from Teilhard's outlook. So, I do tend to agree with the French Jesuit on God's unity, and to disagree with him that the said unity is of a triune nature.


As this essay draws to its close, let me try to sum up the main points which I have touched upon. The cosmic process, at all its levels, appears to be a process involving unification. The universe behaves as though it were attracted to an ultimate Principle of unity, to an absolute One. At the level of thinking life there can even emerge a conscious attraction to unification and convergence. Given the appearance of attraction to unification in the cosmic process, as well as the conscious feeling of attraction to unity experienced by some humans, it does not seem implausible to suggest that such attraction may be a genuine fact of reality. Further, if that attraction is real, it may not be implausible to suggest the existence of an Absolute from which such attraction emanates as a kind of force drawing the cosmic process to itself as a sort of 'centre ... of universal convergence' [23], as Teilhard de Chardin puts it.

Plausibility, of course, involves no indubitable proof and no irrefutable certitude. A plausible notion is one that betokens possibility because it is free of internal contradictions. Further, a plausible account finds a place for all currently known facts relating to whatever is being accounted for. An explication for a set of phenomena is plausible if it presents itself as the most probable explication as well as one that is open-ended, disposed to self-correction if, and when, new facts come to light necessitating such correction.

I began this article with the question as to whether or not it is plausible to regard the Absolute as exercising a pull of attraction on the cosmic process. My personal reply to this question is: Yes, I think this is plausible. And, of course, my outlook here is, I believe, similar, in many ways to Teilhard's outlook.

Comments [Kris Roose]

I'm not sure there is really an attraction, although I recognise all the tendencies you describe. I think that the fact of forming a higher level system ("uniting", "converging") is just a (successful) attempt of nature to "appease" or "fulfill" the needs of the "lower" systems. Just to give one typical example: atoms "need" to have a complete outer shell ("octet structure"), but just adding or ejecting electrons (and making ions) doesn't really resolve the problem, because this solution isn't stable because the electric load is disturbed. But just combining atoms with "too much" electrons in the outer shell with atoms with "not enough" electrons yields a very stable situation. But at the same time the atoms "created" the molecular level!

Of course, defining the laws of nature so that, at a certain moment, atoms start combining into molecules to optimally comply with these "laws", is a kind of design that eventually yields the same effect as if there would be a sort of attraction. But I think, this is only an image, not a reality.

I think that Kris is right to suggest that it is difficult for us to get our minds around the notion that it is a true attraction (as opposed a sort of imaged or metaphorical attraction) to unity which brings, say, an atom of sodium into union with an atom of chlorine to form a molecule of sodium chloride.

By habit and tradition we may well be a lot more comfortable seeing the formation of the sodium chloride molecule (or any other molecule) in simple mechanical terms involving such purely physical adjustments as the stabilizing of the outer electron shells of the atoms converging into the molecule.

It may well be that by age-old custom we are inclined to look upon true attraction as a phenomenon only associated with conscious beings. We might agree that, in some sense, ants and bees prefer, are attracted to, living within the unity of the ant hill colony  or the bee hive colony as opposed to living on their own. It may make sense to talk about antelopes and zebras liking, being attracted to, being within the unity of their herds and disliking being separated from the said herds. It would be difficult to deny that chimpanzees and gorillas are attracted to social life within their groups.Humans too, are attracted to social unities in the form of hunter-gatherer bands, tribes, city states, nation states, empires, federations and world-wide groupings such as the United Nations. Lovers are drawn to unite with each other. Many people love their work. Scientists are drawn to their fields of study. Mystics have a passion (i. e. a strong attraction) for whatever they regard as the Absolute.

Perhaps we would be willing to concede that all of the examples mentioned in the above paragraph are instances of true attraction involving unification of some sort. And, if we are so willing, maybe one of our reasons for doing so lies in the fact that in all these instances conscious beings are involved.

But can we really talk meaningfully of true attraction between things like sodium atoms and chlorine atoms? Well, it does seem to me that, if we are willing to accept Teilhard's theory of a conscious within pervading the cosmos, just maybe we can. My reason for saying this is that if we accede to an all pervading within that is conscious, then, in some rudimentary and minimal sense, things like sodium atoms and chlorine atoms enjoy a very attenuated form of consciousness. I, personally, am open to the French paleontologist's theory of the within, a theory which puts forward the notion that there exists, as part and parcel of the cosmos, 'a conscious inner face that everywhere duplicates the "material" external face' (24) of the universe. So, just conceivably, if things like sodium and chlorine are minimally conscious, then, perhaps they might, in some extremely attenuated sense of the term, be attracted to one another.

Teilhard is quite clear, it seems to me, that, from his perspective, the cosmos is pervaded by a conscious within. He agrees, of course, that, on planet earth, 'consciousness is completely evident only in man', but he goes on to say also that 'it has a cosmic extension, and as such is surrounded by an aura of indefinite spatial and temporal extensions.' (25) He also gives it as his opinion that 'co-extensive with their Without, there is a Within to things.' (26) The French Jesuit further spells out for us, in the following passage, something of the nature of the ubiquitous within which he is proposing.

'The "within" is used here ... to denote the "psychic" face of that portion of the stuff of the cosmos enclosed from the beginning of time within the narrow scope of the juvenile earth. In that fragment of sidereal matter which has been isolated, as in every other part of the universe, the exterior world must inevitably be lined at every point with an interior one.' (27)

As Teilhard sees it, 'the psychic temperature of the earth' (28) is at its highest point in humankind. This temperature gradually lowers as we move backward down the line of the non-human primates, the mammals, the birds, the reptiles, the insects, the amphibians, the fishes, the lower animal forms, the plants, the single celled creatures and the viruses But that temperature never reaches absolute psychic zero, in his opinion, not even when we reach the level of pre-life. He does concede that at the level of pre-life, the within, consciousness, constitutes 'a "biological" layer that is attenuated to the uttermost' (29), but there is a layer there, in place, nonetheless, and this keeps the psychic temperature above absolute zero. 

So, for the French paleontologist, no matter how far down the scale leading from the complex to the simple we go, and no matter how far back in time we cast our thoughts, we never come to a non-conscious, dead universe. No, from his perspective, the within is always there imperceptibly conscious and what may seem dead 'is in fact "imperceptibly alive".' (30) 

So, getting back to our friends the sodium and chlorine atoms, as Teilhard sees it, not only are they conscious in an extremely minimal way, but they are also alive in an extremely minimal way. And so, if we agree with the French Jesuit, just conceivably, we might feel we have grounds for supposing that in some very attenuated fashion, sodium and chlorine atoms, like other living, conscious beings may be capable of experiencing something like a very faint degree of attraction for union with one another with this attraction being a contributing factor to their forming molecular sodium chloride.

We are not used to thinking in the manner suggested by the foregoing paragraph. Such thinking feels strange to us. But it may be that Teilhard is suggesting, by way of his theory of an all pervading, conscious within, that we really ought to try doing so.

The following comment by Père Teilhard is an interesting one.

'In the world, nothing could ever burst forth as final across the different thresholds successively traversed by evolution (however critical they be) which has not already existed in an obscure and primordial way.' (31)

If the French paleontologist is right here, his remark may present us with a question to ponder. And this question is: If attraction, in some exceedingly primitive, obscure and primordial form, had not existed way back at the time of the formation of the first molecules (and even earlier), would the more advanced forms of attraction, which we know today, ever have eventuated? 

Teilhard was very much a pioneer in introducing into scientific thought his concept of a conscious within perceived as co-extenxive with all time and all space. As he readily admits it is 'the "material" external face' of phenomena 'which alone is commonly considered by science.' (32) But as I think is suggested by the following passage he is optimistic that in the future science will take more account of the within, a within that a phenomenological approach to reality seems to disclose to us. He writes:

'In the eyes of the physicist, nothing exists legitimately, at least up to now, except the without of things. The same intellectual attitude is still permissible in the bacteriologist, whose cultures (apart from some substantial difficulties) are treated as laboratory reagents. But it is already more difficult in the realm of plants. It tends to become a gamble in the case of a biologist studying the behaviour of insects or coelenterates. It seems merely futile with regard to the vertebrates. Finally, it breaks down completely with man, in whom the existence of a within can no longer be evaded, because it is the object of a direct intuition and the ubstance of all knowledge.' (33)

For Teilhard, if I have understood him correctly, humanity and the higher life forms constitute a sort of phenomenological window in the cosmos though which can be seen the within writ large, so to speak. This window discloses the within in concentrated form with the said concentration being a function of organic complexification. The greater the organic complexification the more luminously shines the within. He then deduces, I believe, that what gets concentrated originates in what is diffuse. How could complexification, he seems to be asking, concentrate consciousness if consciousness were not spread out thinly, diffusely in that which gets complexified? I think this may be, at least in part, why he says (as we have already noted) that "nothing [for example, consciousness] could ever burst forth as final across the different thresholds successively traversed by evolution ... which has not already existed in an obscure and primordial way.' (31)


[1] To use a term that Kris Roose has introduced into our e-group discussions. If I have understood Kris correctly, for him, a plausible account is one that is coherent and takes into consideration all known facts, but it is also an account that does not make any claim to the last word on the subject being accounted for. A plausible explication, from his standpoint, is amenable to change should new facts arise which justify an altered point of view; a plausible explanation, in other words is an explanation that is open ended. My usage of the word "plausible" in this submission is, I believe, similar to that employed by Kris.
[2] 'Outline of a Dialectic of Spirit' in 'Activation of Energy' [Harvest Book, 1970], p. 146.
[3] 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Towards the Future' [Harvest Book, 1975], p. 185.
[4] 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Towards', p. 165.
[5] Plotinus, 'The Enneads', VI, 7, 18.
[6] 'Man's Place in the Universe et. al.', in 'The Vision of the Past' [Collins, 1966], p. 223.
[7] 'Universalization and Union, An Attempt at Clarification', in 'Activation', p. 87.
[8] 'Centrology, An Essay in a Dialectic of Union', in 'Activation', p. 115.
[9] 'Centrology, An Essay in a Dialectic of Union', in 'Activation', p. 99.
[10] 'Centrology, An Essay in a Dialectic of Union', in 'Activation', p. 99.
[11] 'Centrology, An Essay in a Dialectic of Union', in 'Activation', p. 111.
[12] 'Let Me Explain' (Harper & Row, 1970), p. 90. (Original Source: Science and Christ)
[13] Plotinus, 'The Enneads', V, 5, 4.
[14] 'Centrology, An Essay in a Dialectic of Union', in 'Activation', p. 99.
[15] 'Some Notes on the Mystical Sense: An Attempt at Clarification', in 'Toward', p. 209.
[16] 'The Convergence of the Universe', in 'Activation', p. 290.
[17] 'The Evolution of Chastity', in 'Toward', p. 60.
[18] 'The Spirit of Earth', in 'Building the Earth' (Dimension Books, 1965), pp. 62-63.
[19] 'The Spiritual Contribution of the Far East et. al.', in 'Toward' p. 142.
[20] 'The Mechanism of Evolution et. al.', in 'Activation', p. 306. 
[21] 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', p. 193-194.
[22] 'My Fundamental Vision', in 'Toward', p. 194.
[23] 'The Atomism of Spirit', in 'Activation', p. 45.
[24]   'The Phenomenon of Man' (Fountain Books, 1977), p. 63. 
[25]   'Phenomenon', p. 61.
[26]   'Phenomenon', p. 61.
[27]   'Phenomenon', p. 78.
[28]   'On the Probable Existence Ahead of Us of an 
       "Ultra-Human"', in 'The Future of Man' (Harper & Row, 
       1969), p. 289.
[29]   'Phenomenon', p. 62.
[30]   'The Planetisation of Mankind et. al.', in 'Future', p. 135.
[31]   'Phenomenon', p. 77.
[32]   'Phenomenon', p. 63.
[33]   'Phenomenon', p. 60.

Posted on 4 Dec 2002, on the Teilhard eList, by Brian Cowan