It’s all about seeing

Teilhard’s The Human Phenomenon (previous translation title The Phenomenon of Man) begins with the following prologue:

These pages represent an effort to see and to show what the human being becomes, what the human being requires, if placed wholly and completely in the context of appearance. . . .

We humans cannot see ourselves completely except as part of humanity, humanity as part of life, and life as part of the universe. From this stems the fundamental plan of my work: prelife, life, and thought – three events that outline in the past and command for the future (superlife!) one same trajectory: the curve of the human phenomenon. (HP: 3, 5)

For Teilhard the paleontologist, the context for understanding ourselves and our place in the universe includes the fossil record of prehistoric eras and data from biology and anthropology as well as more recent information. He viewed the evidence as clearly showing the earth has evolved in successive stages: prelife, life, humanity and ultimately human thought. The evolutionary process can be described as having formed three concentric spheres: the geosphere, biosphere, and noosphere.

Moreover, evolution is not a random process or a mechanism of natural selection (e.g., “survival of the fittest”) but a trajectory, a curve, that echoes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s equally hopeful statement (borrowed from the 19th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker): “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” For Teilhard, the arc is shaped by love and directed by ever greater love toward God.

Love is going through a “change of state” in the noosphere; and, if what all the great religions teach us is correct, it is in this new direction that humanity’s collective passage to God is being mapped out. (PTC: 158)

Teilhard certainly had his critics who believed him far too optimistic in his ideas about human evolution and progress. I’ll focus on this criticism in a future post.

Note: The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) refers to Teilhard in its definition of noosphere:

The part of the biosphere occupied by thinking humanity; spec. (with reference to the writing of P. Teilhard de Chardin) a stage or sphere of evolutionary development characterized by (the emergence or dominance of) consciousness, the mind, and interpersonal relationships, postulated as following the stage of the establishment of human life.

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2 Responses to It’s all about seeing

  1. Katie Lee Crane says:

    Thanks for crediting Theodore Parker (and the Rev. Dr. King) for reminding us that “The arc of the universe… bends towards justice.” At Theodore Parker Church in West Roxbury, MA., where I am a parishioner, we are challenged by Parkers’ and Kings’ words regularly and often: the arc is shaped by love, action is compelled by justice. – Katie Lee Crane


  2. Pingback: Teilhard in the Trenches | Ecozoic Cafe

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