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by Brian COWAN

with comments by Janice PAULSEN, Kris ROOSE and Chuck WIGGINS

Janeane Garofalo in Mystery Men (1999)


We cannot deny, it seems to me, that there are mysteries which remain at least partially unresolved within the Teilhardian system. Teilhard's reluctance to enter the realm of metaphysics, the realm of final explanations, is, no doubt, a contributing factor to the paucity of such explanations in his thought.

Another factor could be that some final explications are simply beyond his (and our) capacity to reach intellectually. Just as a comprehension of advanced mathematics lies beyond the psychic ability of chimpanzees or orang-utans, so too, some aspects of reality may simply be situated, at present, beyond our capacity to understand. Now the fact that higher mathematics makes no sense to chimpanzees and orang-utans is no indication that such mathematics makes no sense in and of itself. Following a similar train of thought, we might wish to say that just because certain aspects of reality are incomprehensible to us is not a sufficient reason for claiming that they are incomprehensible in and of themselves. More powerful psyches than those of chimpanzees and orang-utans have evolved which can understand advanced mathematics. Stronger minds than ours will, perhaps, evolve one day, minds which will understand what baffles us. Indeed, if we accept the Auvergnian Jesuit's view that the universe is moving in the direction of ever increasing consciousness, then it seems highly probable that the future will see the emergence of minds much more powerful than ours.

When you talk of  "Teilhard's reluctance to enter the realm of metaphysics" I would gather you mean "in many of his writings directed to those with a scientific, materialistic bent." During his close contacts with scientists, many of whom were atheists whom he respected for their scientific achievements, Teilhard chose to try to reach them by way of their predeliction for scientific evidence in order to convince them that creation's goal is to reach Omega (or in other words, that the ultimate purpose of creation is the spiritualization of the matter of which it is created). [Janice Paulsen, 30.01.03]
I think you are quite right here. And it is by way of my own predeliction for plausible evidence, scientific or otherwise, that the thought of Teilhard has touched me. From my perspective, there does seem to be a soundness to many of his arguments, and I do think he is on to something when he speaks of creation's convergence on Omega, a convergence which involves the spiritualization of matter.
(I would like to refer to) his "Hymn of the Universe".

When you say that "some final explications are simply beyond his (and our) capacity to reach intellectually" that probably was never his concern in the first place. Incredible spiritually felt experiences and intuitions were the source and inspiration of his life's work. For those who know God (in the sense of having personally experienced "God with us" in their own personal lives), being able to reach final explications intellectually   is the least of their concerns. How can one intellectualize the spiritual? Everytime one tries to clothe a spiritual experience or intuition with words, it becomes materialized. [Janice Paulsen, 30.01.03]

I would tend to concur to a significant degree. How, indeed, do we go about communicating personal spiritual experiences, using intellectual concepts, if the person to whom the communication is directed has no intuition of such experiences and so can make no sense of what we are trying to convey?
Therefore, I am not comfortable with your generalizing statement that his approach to reality (whatever that might be) was purely phenomemological, though I would agree that in many of his writings, such as the Phenomenon of Man,  that was the approach he used in when he was trying to reach the scientific, material world, in his effort to ultimately synthesize science and religion. [Janice Paulsen, 30.01.03]
Perhaps we are not as far apart, in this area, as may appear at first glance. I would be inclined to say that, in his more scientific works, the French Jesuit's approach is *mainly phenomenological* rather than *purely phenomenological*. If I gave the impression that I favoured the *purely* over the *mainly*, then I would certainly wish to correct that impression now, in that just the reverse reflects my actual thinking. Even in his scientifically oriented volumes, it seems to me, Teilhard does throw out, from time to time, hints of a non- phenomenological nature. And, indeed, as I believe you are suggesting, in such devotional / theological books as 'Le Milieu Divin', 'Christianity and Evolution' and 'Hymn of the Universe', non-phenomenological themes related to faith do come to fore.
(When you conclude) that for many of us intellectualizing our faith is not our prime concern, my hunch is that the gulf between our two outlooks may not be as wide as might appear at first sight. Let me go into a little bit of detail on this matter.

As I see it, religious faith, from a common parlance perspective, involves beliefs based on authorities (e. g. the authorities of scripture and of the Church) without plausible evidence, in support of such beliefs emanating from sources extraneous to the said authorities. I can say of myself that I lack a religious faith of this kind. In good conscience, I cannot bow to such authorities as scripture and the Church, in the absence of plausible supporting evidence extraneous to these authorities. Why? Well, because history shows that these authorities have been mistaken in the past, and I have a real concern that they could be mistaken again.

However, although I lack a religious faith, using the term "religious faith" in the common parlance sense outlined in the foregoing paragraph, I do, nonetheless, have religious opinions. Also, I have had what seemed to me to be religious experiences, for example, moments of inner peace. My religious opinions rest entirely on a foundation of phenomena and experience. Further, these opinions are theistic (or, more precisely, panentheisitic) in nature, and flow along lines not dissimilar to the theism (or, more precisely, the panentheism) of Teilhard de Chardin, with the important exception that, unlike him, I do not accept the notion that a specially favoured divine revelation has been accorded to Christians.

Given the preceding considerations, what you appear to see as inner faith experiences seem to approximate to what I regard as interior religious experiences (e. g. moments interior peace). And. apropos of these inner spiritual experiences, I concur that it may well be the case, as I believe you are suggesting, that they do not merit being over-intellectualized. So, perhaps we do have some measure of agreement on this point.

However, it does seem to me that there is a domain where it is appropriate, even obligatory, for us to apply our intellects in a critical fashion to what is generally called religious faith (in the ordinary usage of this term) and to which I prefer to attach the appellation of religious opinion. Here are three or four examples where it seems to me that the application of critical intellectual inquiry in the realm of religious faith / religious opinion has been beneficial to humankind.

- Critical intellectual inquiry usefully challenged the biblical faith (based, for example, on Joshua 10: 12-14) of those 17th century theologians who, against Galieo Galilei, held that the sun orbits the earth.

- Critical intellectual inquiry usefully challenged the faith (based, for example, on Leviticus 25: 44-46, Ephesians 6: 5-9, and Colossians 3: 22-24) of not a few 18th and 19th century Jews and Christians who viewed slavery as morally acceptable.

- Critical intellectual inquiry usefully challenged the faith (based on Genesis 1: 1-31 and 2: 1-4) of many 19th and 20th century Jews and Christians who considered the theory of evolution to be incompatible with Judaeo-Christian theology.

- Critical intellectual inquiry, engaged in by Teilhard de Chardin, usefully challenged the faith (based, for example, on Romans 5: 12) of senior ecclesiastics of the Catholic Communion who, in some instances at least, have been led reconsider the Pauline view that human malfeasance is the key to explicating the problem of evil. 

So I would not seriously quarrel with your position regarding the avoidance of intellectualizing inner spiritual experiences associated with faith. On this point, I think we are pretty close to agreement. But, at the same time, I do think that it is legitimate, even mandatory, to apply critical intellectual inquiry to articles of faith that do not seem to fit in very well with what one honestly sees as a plausible world-view.

Of course the faith-related controversies of yesteryear such as those surrounding Galileo's heliocentric theory, slavery, evolution and even original sin have faded away or are on the wane. But, in our time we have our own raging controversies connected to faith (in some sense of that term) -- for example, issues pertaining to militarism, to cloning, to stem-cell research, to abortion, to gay rights, and (within the some Confessions, at any rate) to church democracy. And just as humanity groped its way to solutions of the religious disputes of times gone by, so, no doubt, contemporary people will, little by little, find resolutions to today's discords connected with religious faith / religious opinion.

To put the minds of orang-utangs, of humans and "stronger minds that will evolve one day" in one linear list seems dangerous to me, insofar it suggests that there will be one day a post-human brain, a kind of superbrain in a kind of übermensch. It also suggests the global brain hypothesis, which assumes that one day human brains will behave as building blocks for a more powerful global brain, as brain cells are the building blocks for a biological brain. However humbly this hypothesis sounds, I think it's contrary to Teilhard's vision, which states, amongst others:
Surely it is within this generalized cosmic process that the noosphere, a particular and extreme case, has its natural place and takes its shape. The maximum of complexification, represented by phyletic infolding, and in consequence the maximum of consciousness emerging from the system of individual brains, coordinated and mutually supporting. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Formation of the Noosphere, 1947, in The Future of Man, New York 1964.)
I think we may assume that Teilhard was convinced that humans, within the Noosphere, are the last intellectual beings, and that our brains will have to suffice to yield a global view of the universe and its laws.

I think the clear distinction Brian Cowan makes between the brains of apes and humans is correct, but doesn't include, as he suggests, the final limitations he alludes to. The main difference between animal and human brain resides, at least as I understood, in the the frontal cortex, unique for humans, and enabling abstract thinking. Language, of course, extends this ability dramatically, both for internal symbolization of the abstract concepts as for communication, education etc. This communication is the essential tool for the Noosphere. The problems we experience in understanding "mysteries" is not that they are of a distinct nature than "logical" thinking, requiring more evolved brains, but that our actual hypotheses and models are still too simple to explain the non-obvious of daily experience. [Kris Roose, 31.01.03]

With regard to Kris's post in reference to "stronger minds that will evolve one day", this is a concept that I have picked up from Teilhard's writings all along, so we may be dealing in "interpretation". When viewed at the macro-level of natural history, we cannot say what "gropings" in the evolutionary path will occur as a result of our everyday actions as reflective individuals. As the trend toward higher consciousness is integral to Teilhard's model/overlay, I believe it is entirely consistent with his creative speculations. [Chuck Wiggins, 01.02.03]
Making "linear" predictions is dangerous, because it doesn't take Teilhard's levels into account. One of the conclusions of Teilhard's model is that biological evolution has come to an end. So, even when we can expect "higher counsciousness" it will, most probably, not be realized, as Brian suggests, by more powerful brains, but by higher levels of abstraction and integration with our actual human brains, of course assisted by computers. [Kris Roose, 01.02.03]
Teilhard was, himself, no stranger to mystery. On the subject of 'the problem of evil', he remarks that it 'will always remain one of the most disturbing mysteries of the universe for both our hearts and our minds. (1) Even within the boundaries of his religious belief system, he concedes that he walks 'in the shadows of faith.' (2) Within the obscurity of these shadows he admits to finding a 'dimness' (3) that may well 'call for the whole duration of the centuries' (4) to be illuminated. Also, still on the topic of his Christian faith, he alludes to a measure of perplexity which he experiences with regard to a key doctrine of Christianity, the Incarnation; in this connection, he writes of 'the mystery in which Christianity is summed up, the mystery of the Incarnation.' (5) 

I believe it is fair to say that, by and large, the Auvergnian paleontologist's approach to reality is a phenomenological one, that is to say, one that endeavours to stay 'within the framework of phenomenon and appearance.' (6) Because of his reliance on this approach, it seems to me, Teilhard is someone who helps us to see how things work but who also, sometimes, leaves us empty-handed when it is a question of perceiving why things work as they do.

In this submission I would like to consider areas in Teilhard's thought which, to my mind, leave us with unanswered, or incompletely answered questions. I'll investigate this topic under the following three headings (without in any way wishing to suggest, of course, that these three constitute an exhaustive list of such headings). 

1. Why is there creation?
2. Why is there evil?
3. Why was Jesus of Nazareth born into our terrestrial noosphere rather than into some other noosphere?


Why is there something rather than nothing? Why is there a universe rather than simply a void? Why is there creation? These are puzzling questions that human beings have asked since time immemorial.

Teilhard has a good deal to say about creation. He does accept that there exists, as the Fount of creation, an 'Ens a se' (7), a Being from itself, an eternal, sourceless Source of all that was, is and will be. This Source, which depends upon nothing outside of itself, is, of course, the Absolute, God. The French Jesuit also accedes to the view that there exists what he calls 'participated being' (8), a technical term derived from medieval philosophy and theology. This technical term signifies created being, that is to say, being that is entirely dependent upon the Ens a se for both its emergence out of nothingness, in the first place, and for its continued existence, from instant to instant, through time. Participated being, created being, for the Auvergnian thinker, is being that 'God ... sustains and animates and holds together', and, in relation to which, God 'is at the birth, and the growth and the final term'. (9)

Teilhard rejects the notion that creation took place in the past and is now done and over with. No, for him, creation is 'co-extensive with duration and the totality of the world' (10), with the term "world" here being used, I believe, in the sense of "universe". Yes, God did cause 'nature', the cosmos, 'to emerge from "non-being"' (11), and God also keeps it from falling back into non-being from moment to moment. But, once the original emergence of nature from non-being had occurred, from then on it has been the case that 'God creates by uniting'. (12)

As I understand it, to say that God creates by uniting means that the Divinity has set the cosmos on the path of unification and convergence, a path along which 'God, as one might say, does not so much "make" things as "make them make themselves".' (13) From the perspective of the Auvergnian paleontologist, things in nature have an innate propensity for a kind of self-creation, involving self-arrangement or self- development, which impels these things to ongoingly transform themselves by combining with one another into entities of ever increasing organization, unification, synthesis, involution and complexity. And this continuous augmentation of unified and organized synthesis, of involuted complexification in nature moves that nature always in 'a single direction which is that of the greatest consciousness.' (14) As Teilhard sees it, within the material cosmos, organized unification, synthesis and involution make for complexification, and out of complexification arises consciousness.

All this is very well, we may say, but why does the Supreme Being bother to create in the first place, what is the Supreme Being's motive in creating? Teilhard would, of course, view this question as a metaphysical one, and so beyond the scope of phenomenological inquiry. Thus, so far as I can tell, he does not treat of it in any sort of systematic way. But he does, I believe, throw out some hints. Let's consider a couple of these.

In speaking of the 'divine centre' at the core of Omega, the Auvergnian Jesuit expresses the opinion that 'in that centre ... every activity is "amorized"' (15), is done out of love. Now it would seem to follow that, if every activity of the divine centre, of God, is done out of love, then the activity of creation is also done out of love. And, elsewhere, Teilhard states that he agrees with the scholastic philosophers and theologians who assert 'that God creates by love'. (16) So, somehow love is associated with creation in the mind of the Jesuit thinker, but just exactly how appears to be left somewhat unclear. Maybe he is of the view that love, like goodness, perhaps, has a tendency to diffuse itself, to overflow beyond its boundaries; and possibly the cosmos, from his perspective, is an expression of such an overflow of love, of divine love.

List member Tony Kelly has also suggested that love is associated with creation. If I have understood Dr. Kelly correctly, his view is that the creation process is a matrix for ongoing free, human self-creation (in the sense of self-development) in the direction of ever more ethically righteous stages, stages that by advancing morally also progress toward becoming ever more God-like. At some culminating point in this ongoing process of self-creation, if all goes well (i. e. if the appropriate moral choices will have been made by the human community), humanity will have earned, will have become worthy of God's love. What God will then love in the human community will be humankind's likeness to God.

Tony Kelly's thesis, as just summarized, may well, in my opinion, be one that is viable, provided it is not pushed to the point of claiming that the Divinity needs an object (for example a human community which has made a series of ethical choices to the end of becoming God-like) to love. I do not think there is any trace of need or neediness in the infinite plenitude of Being which constitutes the make-up of the Divinity; and my understanding is that such is also the viewpoint of Père Teilhard as I believe the next paragraph will illustrate. In this following paragraph we will see that the Teilhardian God is presented as a transcendent Divinity who "is entirely self sufficient", who "subsists in himself".

The Jesuit thinker makes the following interesting comment: 'God is entirely self-sufficient; and yet the universe contributes something that is vitally necessary to Him ...'. (17) And, elsewhere, Teilhard remarks that, as regards the creation process, the christian believer is capable 'of contributing, through his eagerness to live, something irreplaceable to God'. (18) Now it is difficult to see how an immutable Divinity, 'the Great Stability ... at the top of the ultra-synthetic sphere' (19), 'the transcendent aspect of Omega' who 'subsists in himself independently of time and space' (20) could receive a contribution from outside of that Divinity. To receive something, in the sense of taking in something, is to change, to be modified in some fashion, to have been one way before the modification and another way after the modification. For any change to occur there has to be a before the change and an after the change; there has to be, in other words, succession, seriality. However, a before and an after, a serial succession can only occur in time, can only appertain to beings in time. Consequently, if as Teilhard claims, God is a non-serial, non successive Being who is independent of time and of time's befores and afters (the sine qua nons of change), it does appear to follow, on the Auvergnian paleontologist's own premises, that God transcends change. 

And if the Divinity is beyond change, how can that Divinity receive the contributions from created beings which Teilhard also mentions? My best guess is that the French Jesuit is speaking in a sort of symbolic sense when he speaks of created beings "contributing" to their Creator. Maybe the purport of the Auvergnian thinker's language here is that the universe at its reflective level of life, and the believer buoyed up by his or her religious faith, can choose to make a contribution to the creational effort to push evolution forward. So, what Teilhard's words may be indirectly and symbolically saying, in our present context, is that contributions can be freely made at the level of thinking and believing life, not to God as such, but to God's plan and God's work, a plan and a work that are associated with the advancement of cosmic evolution. Speaking not of God per se, but of God's plan and God's work, it does, in my view, make sense to talk of contributions that are "vitally necessary" and uniquely "Irreplaceable" being made by created beings, at the thinking and believing levels of creation, to the furtherance of the plan and the work of the Divinity.

I have the impression that Brian still uses the "old", "secundary" definition of God. And within this definition God is self-sufficient, so receiving a contribution from His creatures cannot be essential for Him. Furthermore, it is unconceivable that there should be a before and an after a certain moment, God being timeless. Such an approach makes it difficult to combine the idea of God's selfsufficient being with creation as a kind of need of Him. But it is possible to define God in a tertiary way, as in process theory, as a kind of developmental Being, of course not the same dramatic development as human race. The "Mystery" of Trinity is at least a hunt that God isn't an isolated, selfsufficient Being, but at least an intensive interaction between several Divine "persons". Moreover, Teilhard doesn't stop qualifying the Universe as a Christogenesis, suggesting an intensive link between Christ and the created Universe, indicating, at least for me, that the (completed) Universe may act as a part of this Divine Trinitarian Being.

For me, the act of creation is a part of the Divine nature. As if He can't do anything else but create, this being His very nature. The "need" to create is, at least to me, a part of His divine, loving nature, and I don't consider, as the Hellenistic-Augustinian view implies, that "feeling" a "need" to create and hence being "dependent" of the completely evolved Universe should diminish in any way His grandeur. For me, the act of Loving and Interacting seems greater than the quality of being "Independent" and isolated.

Altready Freud, in his description of the phases of human development, mentioned that being dependent (phase 2, oral) is effectively surpassed by phase 3 (independent, resistent to influences, anal), but that there are still phase 4 (narcissistic, conscious of one's own qualities and Glory) and eventually phase 5 (genital, mastering a harmonious relationship with the environment, each making the other happy). So, for me God will probably function at level 5 or higher, not at the Old Testamentic level 3 (a severe and jealous Lord) or the New Testamentic level 4 (resplending His Glory). For a more detailed description of these phases, see . [Kris Roose, 01.02.03]

So, apropos of the reason for creation, of God's motive for creation we do find, it seems to me, Père Teilhard offering at least the following hints.

1. Amorization or love is somehow involved.

For me it is much more than "somehow involved": it's of the essence, an essential quality of existence, probably also for God (hence Trinity and Creation). [Kris Roose, 01.02.03]
2. The opportunity is afforded to thinking beings to freely chose to self-create, self-actualize themselves by way of making vitally important, unique and irreplaceable contributions to the task of pushing the creational process forward.
For me, self-creation (autopoiesis) is the most fundamental characteristic of existence, although it doesn't exclude heteropoiesis (the construction of something else). But even in man made computers, we tend to render them as autonomous and self-programming as possible... [Kris Roose, 01.02.03]
These hints, in my opinion, do constitute worthwhile insights and valuable discernments as regards the mystery of creation. But I am by no means persuaded that they clear up the mystery entirely. From my perspective, some of the questions, associated with this mystery, which remain but partially answered are the following.

- How do we reconcile divine amorization or love with all of the unmerited suffering experienced, on our planet, by the animals, over the past several hundreds of millions of years, and by human beings, over the past few million years?

The suffering topic will be commented below. [Kris Roose, 01.02.03]
- If conscious, free self-creation (in the sense of self-development) is important to the creational process as a whole, why has free self-creation emerged, in a significant way, only within the past few thousand years in our corner of the cosmos, a cosmos which has been in process for, possibly, fifteen billion years or so? In other words if free, conscious self-creation is such a key factor in evolution why did it take so long to appear?
I think an answer to this question could provided rather easily. First of all, I think that auto[poiesis already occure from the first momemnts of the existence of Universe: if one considers the several layers of the evolution of universe, each layer created the next (see a webpage on the laws of evolution). Conscioius self-creation appeared rather late in the universal evolution, but it couldn't start before consciousness was developed. Furthermore, the time perspective ("take so long") is an anthropomorphism. There is a dramatic acceleration in the time "speed", making recent developments surprisingly quick, which implies that the "speed" of the previous evolutionary layers only seems long with todays' eyes. [Kris Roose, 01.02.03]

Evil, for Teilhard, is the unavoidable accompaniment of a creation that unfolds via evolutionary mode. He remarks that 'at whatever point during the process of unification the created is considered, it represents a portion of residual non-organization or disorganization (actual or potential) which is the determining factor in all forms of evil.' (21) And he goes on to assert that, 'in one sense, if to create is to unite (evolutively, gradually) then God cannot create without evil appearing as a shadow'. (22)

From the Teilhardian perspective, evolution presents itself as ever striving for increased levels of organization and yet it also continuously manifests itself as falling back from some of the organizational peaks which it does attain. Living bodies reach a certain optimum of organizational development and then begin to recede from that optimum in the direction of illness, frailty and death. The most skilfully built machines, the products of thought's ingenuity, eventually begin to wear out, to lose their organizational order, until, in due course, they no longer work. Not a few nations and empires have gradually advanced to the stage of functioning with an impressive, organized efficiency, only to disappear or lie in ruins a few generations or centuries later. As a consequence of some unfortunate ethical choices, the orderly life of an individual, heretofore organized under the tutelage of principled values, can slip away into the disorder and disorganization of life, bereft of a moral compass. 

As the French Jesuit sees it, evils like those mentioned in the foregoing paragraph are pretty well unavoidable in a universe that is evolving, that is engaged in a process of cosmogenesis. In this connection, he writes: 'Physical and moral disorder, of one sort or another, must necessarily be produced spontaneously in a system which is developing its organic character, so long as the system is incompletely organized.' (23) Evil, in the mind of Teilhard de Chardin, is associated with shortfalls in organization, which shortfalls are, in his view, inevitably part and parcel of the evolutionary creational process in which we participate

We may not forget that notions as "evil" and "unmerited" are anthropomorphisms: we project some desires and notions, typical for a certain level of development, into nature, suggesting that nature ought to behave along lines we consider as being the best. I think we can dissociate "evil" (and related notions including "pain") as a combination of several aspects:
- the incompleteness of each ongoing developmental process, as long as the eventual result isn't reached. In this sense each form of evil, i.e. not yet realized integration, is unavoidable as long evolution is not yet completed. This is, at least, what Teilhard clearly states.
- the fact that evil and conflicts do "hurt" is a constructive aspect of nature, to motivate us to elaborate completion and integration. Apparently, nature doesn't trust too much our intelligence to realize the essential activities to secure existence. Important activities, including feeding and procreation, are provided with strong direct motivators.
- without becoming sadistic, we may not forget that the major factor making pain so hurting, is our frontal brain. Apparently animals suffer much less than we do, because they lack such forebrains, reducing pain to a much weaker, "objective" experience. That's why neurosurgeons apply frontal lobotomy to reduce intractable pain. And, effectively, this dramatically reduces the sensation of pain.
- on the other hand, the important subjective factor in pain enables us to experience pain in another way: Tibetan monks and also some christian monks often are famous in their re-interpreting pain and other tragic perspectives, as were fakirs and the first Christians. Perhaps, a kind of self-hypnosis was applied. This "technique" isn't very popular in modern culture (excepted in masochists...), but recent transcultural research indicates that the experience of pain is most pronounced in modern western culture.
- of course, we may not forget that in nature's evolution there are, as an effective precaution, always more trials than successes: more flowers than fruit, more fruit than new trees; more spermatozoids than children, more births than marrying adults. In the course of evolution this success-to-trial ratio tends to 1, without ever reaching it. So it could be very probable that Earth is one of the doomed, unsuccessful trials of Universe to create intelligent noospheres.
- I think that the notion of "fair" and "balanced" is a subjective anthropomorphism, and not an objective law of nature. It does illustrate, of course, very well our efforts to realize an integration on earth --happiness for everybody, without sacrifying the happiness of some others--. But nature seems to be very unwilling to take our rules into account. [Kris Roose, 01.02.03]
Perceiving evil as inseparably associated with the kind of evolution that is afoot in our cosmos, Teilhard, refers to that evil as "evolutive evil". In this connection he remarks that evolution 'as a statistical effect of chances, ... can advance in its tentative constructions only by leaving behind it al all levels (inorganic, organic, and psychic) a long trail of disorder, suffering and error ("evolutive evil").' (24) Evolution, in the view of the Jesuit thinker, is a developmental movement which makes use of 'the fundamental technique of groping' (25), a trial and error technique of 'countless fumblings' (26), from which flow many mistakes, false starts, dead ends, unrewarded efforts, distress, pain and chaotic absences of order and organization. As Teilhard scrutinizes, so to speak, the great "book" of cosmogenesis, evolutive evil is simply a feature of things that phenomenologically jumps off the "pages" of that "book", a feature to which he cannot avoid adverting because the phenomena themselves present it.

I think many will agree that Teilhard's phenomenological approach to the problem of evil is an improvement over the more theological and biblical approach to the same problem taken by Paul of Tarsus, and following Paul, by traditional Christianity in general. Letís briefly try to see why this is the case.

Teilhard views evil as an unavoidable correlate of incomplete organization in a universe which grows ever more organized and conscious by means of trial and error groping and fumbling. Along this route of groping and fumbling the cosmos searches out and latches onto what works, what serves the purpose of increasing its level of ordered unification and awareness.

Of course, for every approach that works, a great many do not. As the French Jesuit poignantly puts it:

'Right up to its reflective zones we have seen the world proceeding by means of groping and chance. Under this headline -- even up to the human level on which chance is most controlled -- how many failures have there been for one success, how many days of misery for one hour's joy, how many sins for a solitary saint?' (27)

The theologically and scripturally based approach to the problem of evil adopted by St. Paul and traditional Christianity lacks, in my estimation, the plausibility exhibited by Teilhard's approach. The French Jesuit himself was well aware of a want of plausibility associated with in the Pauline / traditional Christian theory of evil. In this regard the Jesuit thinker writes:

' ... St. Paul is categorical: "Per peccatum mors". Sin (original sin) does not explain the suffering and the mortality of man: for St. Paul it explains all suffering. It is the general solution of the problem of evil' (28)

Now, Paul, of course, relying on scripture, believed 'in one week of creation and a past of 4,000 years'. (29) Further, the Apostle to the Gentiles had no suspicion, as Teilhard definitely did, that 'in the depths of the heavens', on the surfaces of distant planets, 'far from any moral influence of the earth, death also exists.' (30) Very likely Paul was of the view that in the one week of creation prior to the sin of Adam and Eve, no living thing had died and no creature had suffered. Also, we can be practically certain that there never occurred to him the idea that there might be cases of suffering and death occurring on worlds great distances from us across the abysses of interstellar space. 

It would have seemed quite natural to St. Paul and the early Christians to regard their 4,000 year old world (a world which they also considered would soon end with the second coming of Christ) as in a rather sombre state of 'doing penance for a fault committed in the past.' (31) Today, of course, we know that death and suffering were present on our planet for hundreds of millions of years before humanity appeared on the scene, and we suspect, too, that death and suffering are quite likely to be found on life-endowed worlds located parsecs away from planet earth. In the light of our new knowledge and our new hypotheses Paul's theory of evil does not appear to hold up very well. It just does not seem to make sense for us to think of the animals on our planet, long before the emergence of humanity, as "doing penance" for a sin not yet committed. Nor, to all appearances, is it logical to regard creatures possibly living in far away biospheres / noospheres as living in penitential mode because of a moral malfeasance perpetrated here on earth.

I do think it is fair to say that Teilhard has delved more deeply into the mystery of evil than did Paul and traditional Christianity. But does the French Jesuit's approach to the problem evil dissipate all of the mystery surrounding this problem? I, for one, am not convinced that it has. In my view, at least two perplexing difficulties, pertaining to evil, are not entirely resolved by the French paleontologist and these are as follows.

1. Why is it that evolution, cosmogenesis advances by the indirect and circuitous route of groping and fumbling (with sometimes very bad and tremendously tragic consequences) rather than by some more direct route (with less toxic outcomes)? Granted, as Teilhard argues, if God chose the groping, fumbling, trial and error method as the way of implementing his / her plan of cosmic evolution, then, yes, bad, tragic and toxic outcomes are bound to eventuate. But the big question here, from my perspective, is why did the Divinity select the groping method in the first place? And, as far as I can tell, the Teilhardian system does not answer this question.

On the contrary, Brian, I think Teilhard's theories provide us with a rational answer for these questions, at least with a begin of answer. In some earlier articles (The Mechanisms of Evolution, Teleology) I discussed these aspects of evolution to some extent. In the intelligent, conscious phase of evolution we can leave the trial and error and the natural selection principles, and replace it by conscious creativity. But inevitably we start this approach by taking into account (1) short term effect rather than long term effect, and (2) rather our phantasms than objective reality. As our intelligence / consciousness increases, we may expect to develop more integrative, i.e. less destructive forms of intelligence.  [Kris Roose, 02.02.03]
2. As Teilhard sees it, humans are destined to enjoy a happy afterlife in Omega, and so for them there can be an equitable counter-poise of felicity that sets right again the imbalance, manifested on the scales of fairness, arising out of unmerited distress endured during this life. But, from the perspective of the French Jesuit, there is no afterlife for animals in whom 'the radial is reabsorbed into the tangential'. (32). Now animals are always innocent and so can never deserve or merit suffering. This being the case we are left wondering, it seems to me, why unlike in the case of humans, the scales of fairness never get balanced out for the animals. A young puppy is sold to an abusive owner who mistreats the animal until, after a few years, it dies. In the scheme of things, within the Teilhardian system, there is an unfairness here that never gets rectified, never gets brought back into balance on the scales of fairness. I would be less than honest if I were to say that I am able to remain untroubled in the face of this kind of unrectified unfairness that appears to perdure into forever.
Yes: it appears so. But it is our mission to complete evolution at every level, and especially at this Noospheric level.


There can be no doubt that Teilhard thought it highly probable that there are (or will be) numerous noospheres in the cosmos. He comments, for instance, that 'since life is under pressure everywhere around us, there is nothing to prevent the universe from producing (in succession or even simultaneously) several thinking peaks' (33), that is to say, several noospheres. Elsewhere he remarks that he is 'practically certain' that there is 'a cloud of thinking stars' in the cosmos. (34) I take "a cloud" to mean "a multitude" and "stars" to mean "planets" in this present context. Further, the French Jesuit speculates as follows:

'At an average of (at least) one human race per galaxy, that makes a total of millions of human races dotted all over the heavens', yielding as a possibility, a 'fantastic multiplicity of astral centres of "immortal life"'. (35)

From Teilhard's perspective, Jesus of Nazareth, the historic Christ is the 'incarnate God' (36), and an 'object of love and worship' (37). There can be no doubt, therefore, that the French Jesuit accepts 'the divinity of the historic Christ' (38), of Jesus.

Now, if as the Auvergnian scientist believes, there are millions of noospheres in the cosmos, does this mean there are likely to be millions of divine Christ's being born into these millions of worlds? No, says Teilhard; only one Christ is needed for the entire universe. And this Christ is referred to by the French Jesuit as 'the cosmic Christ of faith'. (39) It is this single cosmic Christ who is 'the shepherd (the animator) of the universe' (40), who is 'the prime mover and controller, the "soul" of evolution.' (41) From the Teilhardian standpoint, Christ, in his totality as human, cosmic and divine, is the 'principle of universal vitality' who has assumed 'the control and leadership of what we now call evolution' throughout the cosmos. (42)

So, in the view of Teilhard, millions of Christs are not needed to animate and shepherd millions of noospheres. One single Christ, a cosmic Christ, is adequate to be the soul of evolution with respect to these 'multiple "centres of thought'" distributed throughout the world' (43), with the term "world" here being used in the sense of "universe". The notion of one Christ being sufficient for the entire cosmos is spelled out quite clearly in the following passage.

'For the universe is so perfectly one that the Son of God has only to enter into it once to occupy and permeate it in its entirety with his filiating grace.

By taking a human nature, the Word was "cosmified". He had to be born but once of the Virgin Mary to make his own and divinize the whole of creation.' (44)

It is clear then, that on Teilhard's premises of a single Christ, who is not only cosmic but also human and divine, there need be only one Jesus of Nazareth in the universe. No requirement exists, in the mind of the Auvergnian Jesuit, for Jesus to have millions of counterparts in millions of worlds.

It is at this point, it seems to me, that a perplexing question arises, and it is formulated as follows: If there are "millions of human races dotted all over the heavens" why was Jesus of Nazareth born into the particular human race located here on earth and not on some other planet light years away? Teilhard himself poses this very question when, alluding to Christ's role as the Redeemer, he asks: 'How, then, is it that, against all probability, this particular mankind was chosen as the centre of the Redemption?' (45) And what response does the Jesuit thinker offer to his own query? Well, he honestly replies that he does not know the answer. He says: 'As far as I can see, this question is still unanswered.' (46) 

It does appear to be legitimate, therefore to say, that for Teilhard de Chardin, the reason for Jesus of Nazareth being born into our terrestrial noosphere and not some other noosphere is a reason that is not known by us, that is a mystery to us.

For me, there are probably not enough objective data available to answer this question, so it will remain a mystery for quite a long period I fear, unless ETs visit us sooner. Still, we have some arguments by analogy. As Christ lived in one specific period and place in our history, and didn't incarnate in every continent or region on earth, it could make sense that  the same thing occurs in universe. But other hypotheses are possible, including some more attractive to agnostics. The pre-Teilhardian, Christian hypothesis is that humanity was desperately lost, until God sent in His own Son to put us back on the right trail, by (1) providing us with some new useful insights about optimal human functioning --concepts we ourselves had never been able to think about--, (2) an act of deliverance to re-open the doors of Heaven locked since Adam, and (3) installing a line of bishops, priests and the like to transmit his Grace, the ultimate energy for salvation.

This widespread vision progressively proved too simplistic for a number of reasons, including scientifical and evolutionary, but probably most of all because it presupposed Divine interventions in history, which are not only offensive for man's fundamental freedom that God wanted to respect, but also for His own wisdom and perfection, because it proved that His former act of creation had been so clumsy that He had to correct it with some new interventions, some continuous (the sacraments providing us with His grace on a day-to-day basis).

Teilhard tried to transcend this mythical vision by his theories but, of course, the phenomenon of Christ remained a serious logical obstacle to his evolutionary and autopoietic, self-realizing approach. There was also the ever looming danger to be labeled as heretic --a danger he eventually couldn't avoid. To resolve this paradox he used to paradigm of the mystic body of Christ --Christogenesis--, which had the advantage that this image was launched by "apostle" Paul himself (1Corintians, 12). Paul had extended this notion of Christ's (mystic) body to the whole young Church, Teilhard extended it to the Noosphere, the enlightened humanity. Without saying it so clearly, he reduced the historical Christ to a kind of prototype of the Noosphere --at least, that's the way I understood it. At the same time, he included the whole created Universe into the Trinity. The first movement of love from the Father towards us (the Son) came at point Alpha, our response will come at point Omega. For us, there is an enormous lapse of time between Alpha and Omega --in fact, all of time--, but for God, both moments are (supposed to be) synchronous.

Still other hypotheses, some of them using no God at all, are possible, as I explained in the Procreation Hypothesis ( ). These will please to agnostics, but the practical implications for us and our theories are exactly the same.

For those who need the hypothesis that the Ultimate Wisdom, as expressed in e.g. Christianity, can only come to us by divine revelation, I refer to Francis of Assisi who explained us that God's message can simply come to us by the means of nature. So, non-terrestrian noospherians in Outer Space can elaborate the Ultimate Wisdom by deduction from the observational data they uncover in their natural sciences. Because God's Ultimate Wisdom led Him to the details of creation and universe, it is obvious that intelligent people could and will reconstruct one day His Wisdom by induction from the observed reality.

Hence I conclude that (1) it sounds plausible that only one incarnation of Christ should have occurred in Universe, but (2) this question is probably not that important because God can send his message by the way of creation itself, without having to intervene directly. For me, Teilhard featured this vision, and I suppose Christogenesis occurs in every cosmic Noosphere, with or without historical, humanoid Christ. [Kris Roose, 02.02.03]

(1) 'Le Milieu Divin' (Fontana Books, 1978), p. 85.
(2) 'How I Believe', in 'Christianity and Evolution' (Harvest Book, 1974), p. 131.
(3) 'How I Believe', in 'Christianity', p. 131.
(4) 'How I Believe', in 'Christianity', p. 132.
(5) 'How I Believe', in 'Christianity', p. 126.
(6) 'The Phenomenon of Man' (Fountain Books, 1977), p. 35
(7) My Fundamental Vision, in 'Toward the Future' (Harvest Book, 1975), p. 208.
(8) My Fundamental Vision, in 'Toward', p. 208.
(9) 'Cosmic Life', at the Conclusion of 'The End of the Species', in 'The Future of Man' (Harper & Row, 1969), p. 318. 
(10) 'Historical Representations of Original Sin et. al.', in 'Christianity', p. 53.
(11) 'From Cosmos to Cosmogenesis et. al', in 'Activation of Energy' (Harvest Book, 1970), p. 263 (In footnote # 4).
(12) 'The Names of Matter', in 'The Heart of Matter' (Harvest Book, 1978), p. 226.
(13) 'The Transformist Question et. al.', in 'The Vision of the Past' (Collins, 1966), p. 25.
(14) 'Hominization', in 'Vision', p. 72.
(15) 'Let Me Explain', (Harper & Row, 1970), p. 123 (Original Source: 'Science and Christ'). 
(16) 'The Contingence of the Universe et. al.', in 'Christianity', p. 226.
(17) 'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al.', in 'Christianity', p. 177.
(18) 'The Contingence of the Universe et. al.', in 'Christianity', p. 228.
(19) 'Phenomenon', p. 298.
(20) 'Outline of a Dialectic of Spirit', in 'Activation', p. 146.
(21) 'Some General Views on the Essence of Christianity', in 'Christianity', p. 134.
(22) 'Some General Views on the Essence of Christianity', in 'Christianity', p. 134.
(23) 'Christ the Evolver et. al.', in 'Christianity', p. 149.
(24) 'What the World Is Looking for from the Church et. al., in 'Christianity', p. 218.
(25) 'Phenomenon', p. 121.
(26) 'Man's Place in Nature', in Vision', p. 181. 
(27) 'Appendix, Some Remarks on the Place and Part of Evil in a World in Evolution', in 'Phenomenon', pp. 339-340.
(28) 'Fall, Redemption and Geocentrism' in 'Christianity', pp. 39-40. (The Latin expression "Per peccatum mors." transaltes in to English as "Death [comes] through sin.")
(29) 'Fall, Redemption and Geocentrism' in 'Christianity', p. 37.
(30) 'Fall, Redemption and Geocentrism' in 'Christianity', p. 39.
(31) 'Christology and Evolution', in 'Christianity', p. 81.
(32) 'Phenomenon', pp. 298-299.
(33) 'Man's Place in Nature' (Harper & Row, 1966), p. 114 (In footnote # 1).
(34) 'A Sequel to the Problem of Human Origins: The Plurality of Inhabited Worlds', in 'Christianity', p. 231.
(35) 'A Sequel to the Problem of Human Origins: The Plurality of Inhabited Worlds', in 'Christianity', p. 232.
(36) 'Introduction to the Christian Life', in 'Christianity', p. 151.
(37) 'Introduction to the Christian Life', in 'Christianity', p. 152.
(38) 'Introduction to the Christian Life', in 'Christianity', p. 152.
(39) 'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al., in 'Christianity' p. 180.
(40) 'A Note on Progress', in 'Future', p. 24.
(41) 'Suggestions for a New Theology et. al., in 'Christianity' p. 180.
(42) 'Phenomenon', p. 322.
(43) 'A Sequel to the Problem of Human Origins: The Plurality of Inhabited Worlds', in 'Christianity', p. 232.
(44) 'A Sequel to the Problem of Human Origins: The Plurality of Inhabited Worlds', in 'Christianity', p. 235 (In footnote # 11).
(45) 'Fall, Redemption, and Geocentrism', in 'Christianity', p. 44.
(46) 'Fall, Redemption, and Geocentrism', in 'Christianity', p. 44.

Posted by Brian COWAN on the Teilhard eList on 30 Jan 2003