Re: [asa] Cosmological Evolution?

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Wed Dec 27 2006 - 20:18:27 EST

Yeah, there's a lot wrong with Teilhard's views - which wasn't entirely his fault. (If you're not allowed to publish your theological ideas, you're not going to get the criticism you need.) Nevertheless, characterizing him as a "pantheist" or a "biocentrist" is inaccurate. You might look, e.g., at Paul Santmire's The Travail of Nature, & especially his last chapter, "The Triumph of Personalism," in which his two examples are Barth & Teilhard. Paul's book is a good treatment of the history of Judaeo-Christian attitudes toward nature. You would probably classify him as a "biocentrist." I won't debate the point, but the fact that from that standpoint he finds Teilhard to represent the triumph of personalism indicates that the 2 can hardly be put in the same category.

Please understand that I'm by no means defending everything of Teilhard. (E.g., the statement below that he "clearly does not know what to do with suffering" is on target. In fact it's clear that he would much prefer a Lamarckian version of evolution & feels compelled rather grudgingly to accept Darwinian views. This is not unrelated to the fact that he is in many ways a traditional Roman Catholic - a fact appreciated much more by Lutherans & Reformed than by many RCs.)

Nevertheless, he has some good ideas. Serious theological work has to be able to pick out the gold from the dross. In particular, the fact that he wants to understand evolution in a christological way (even if with significant flaws) rather than in a merely theistic way, puts him ahead of some other theologians who express their views more clearly. (As one of my seminary profs put it, "Teilhard did not major in clarity." But again that's partly due to the lack of critical review.)

  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Janice Matchett
  To: George L. ; Gregory Arago ;
  Sent: Wednesday, December 27, 2006 6:34 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Cosmological Evolution?

  At 04:26 PM 12/27/2006, George L. wrote:

    Of course it's impossible to know the thinking of everyone who buys into Teilhard's ideas - including many who haven't read him 1st hand! But Teilhard himself can't be characterized as a "biocentrist" in the sense in which you're using the term. ~ George L. Murphy

  @ I've copied and pasted the comments of two book reviewers who read him first hand. One buys into his ideas and one doesn't - giving reasons why.

  Since Teilhard thought of himself in pantheistic terms that would be the sense in which he would fit the characterization as a biocentrist. He thought even rocks had a certain consciousness, and that everything had a sacred quality. I'll let the reader decide how closely that fits this definition:

  Biocentrism is the belief that all life, or even the whole universe living or otherwise taken as a whole, is equally valuable and humanity is not the center of existence. Hence, humanity is no more valuable than say, mice.

  Two book reviewers' comments:

  [1] Are Science and Religion Inimical Opposites?, October 24, 2005
  Reviewer: Butch (From the American Heartland.)

  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a Jesuit priest and a paleontologist ...[and] had several mystical experiences during his lifetime. ...Though Teilhard thought of himself in pantheistic terms, I believe he would be better described as a "Pan'en'theist". Panentheism according to Charles Hartshorne is the belief that God is greater than the sum of God's parts. For the Pantheist Nature is God. For the Panentheist Nature is a part of God. The former is a monotheistic thus solipsistic view, the latter a manifold thus synergetic opinion. In the former God is playing Solitaire, hence the existential dread and nihilistic moroseness of Continental Philosophy. Rationality is a tool of awareness, not the be all to end all of understanding. In the latter God is playing a game of Hearts we all can play. God is more than one but less than two, a transrational whole number. With God all things are possible. Henri Bergson with his book "Creative Evolution" also had a profound impact on Teilhard. Bergson provided Teilhard a theoretical basis for his feeling of intimacy with nature. ...Teilhard was rewarded for his synthesis of Materialistic Science with his Faith with accusations of being a psuedo-scientist and a heretic.

  Today Teilhard is seen by many as a nature mystic, an ecological and evolutionary visionary, and even as a prophet. There is no doubt that Teilhard's holistic thinking inspired James Lovelock to come up with his "Gaia Hypothesis", that the Earth is a "Super" organism. An organic whole greater than the sum of its parts. For Teilhard even rocks had a certain but limited consciousness. Everything had a sacred quality. ...From the "Biosphere" comes the "Noosphere" [the "thinking layer"], and finally we arrive at the "Omega Point". The Noosphere is composed of all the interacting minds on Earth [global consciousness]. The Omega Point is the culmination of this process of evolutionary integration. "The Phenomenon of Man", more correctly translated "The Human Phenomenon", is Teilhard's magnum opus. .."

  [2] Deeply Influential, Deeply Flawed, May 14, 2006
  Reviewer: Rev. Thomas Scarborough (Cape Town, South Africa)

  Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit Father, and a highly regarded palaeontologist. This was an enormously influential book, which is still very much alive in theological circles today. .... he proposes a purposive process of evolution, which he refers to as "cosmogenesis". ...There is a twist in the tale, however. Teilhard de Chardin then defines "the conditions for advance". Cosmogenesis proceeds only "on condition that we increase our knowledge and our love".

  Let us apply this briefly to contemporary theology. In keeping with his ideas, one may posit a kingdom of God -- rather, a reign of God,...which marches forward with "impelling force" towards shalom (Van Engen 1991:26). As might be anticipated, this would entail the notion of "no privatized eschatology" (Newbigin 1989:113), and the need for our own participation towards the "final outcome" (Watson 2001:39). I offer these parallels merely as fleeting suggestions for further study.

  Teilhard de Chardin has great breadth of thought, and an extraordinary talent for expressing his ideas clearly. However, I found that I ran into a great many obstacles of thought, among them the following:

  1. He points out that science, by and large, would oppose his views: "The majority of `scientists' would tend to contest the validity of [my views]". Yet the book is intended to "reconcile Christian theology with this evolutionary philosophy". What would be the purpose of such reconciliation, if his views are largely denied by science?

  2. He continually expresses fundamental doubt or reserve about his own ideas. He states: "The views I am attempting to put forward are . . . largely tentative". In fact, he posits them "in spite of all evidence to the contrary". Surely one would desire more of a "science" one is to stake one's life upon.

  3. On the one hand, he writes about "mankind in its march" of emergent evolution. On the other, this evolution "can give itself or refuse itself". In fact, if our own attitude is wanting, "the whole of evolution will come to a halt". On what basis, then, should we assume that such evolution is anything more than a contingent or surface phenomenon?

  4. He clearly does not know what to do with suffering. As though as an afterthought, he relegates this to an Appendix. He writes: "Necessarium est ut scandala eveniant. . . . Suffering and failure, tears and blood: so many by-products . . . begotten by the noosphere on its way." At best, he states cryptically that suffering may "add precision and depth" to theology.

  *<>* More *<>*

  "...The most extreme form of Gaia hypothesis is that the entire Earth is a single unified organism....

  ...Another strong hypothesis is the one called "Omega Gaia". Teilhard de Chardin claimed that the Earth is evolving through stages of cosmogenesis, affecting the geosphere, biogenesis of the biosphere, and noogenesis of the noosphere, culminating in the Omega Point. ...

  In Lovelock's latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, he argues that because of global warming the world population should brace itself for the inevitable: most of the planet will become ___uninhabitable___ by the end of this century (Anon., 2006). ... [cough, cough, cough]

  ~ Janice

  At 03:02 PM 12/27/2006, Janice Matchett wrote:

    At 08:24 AM 12/27/2006, Gregory Arago wrote:

      Could someone at this ASA list please provide a definition or link to a definition of 'cosmological evolution'? My curiosity connects with a comment I made earlier this year: "Frivolously applying 'evolution,' for example, to societies, runs the danger of reductionism, just as raising biological ideas to cosmological explanations suffers from idealistically inappropriate transferability." It would seem that the way a theist speaks about 'cosmological evolution' would be dramatically different from the way a non-theist speaks about it. Or is this not so? Would it be inaccurate to say that theistic theories of cosmological evolution are likewise "shrouding in scientific words" their own particular interpretations of God's creation? ~ Arago

    @ It wouldn't be inaccurate to say that in many cases, I'm sure. You may have had more luck if you had used search words like Cosmogenesis or Gaia philosophy or Gaia "science" :)

    For instance:

    Cosmogenesis - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin a Jesuit priest-theologian and a distinguished geologist-paleontologist

    "..The main thrust of Teilhard's gnosis was a foundational understanding of the Universe, which was expressed in his theory of Cosmogenesis. According to Teilhard, the universe is no longer to be considered a static order, but rather a universe __in process__. And it is a continuing, upslope trajectory of evolution that Teilhard declares a cosmogenesis. The process of Teilhard's holistic cosmos is broken into the following categories: the Without and Within of things; the evolution of matter, life, consciousness; and the Omega Point. ..

    "..As Teilhard said, "the universe is no longer an Order but a Process. The Cosmos has become a Cosmogenesis." For Teilhard the long dreamed-of-higher life, that which has been considered as holy, had hitherto been sought Above now directs itself toward the Ahead. ... The Ahead is present in the cyclical process of the universe. ...

    Teilhard especially considers that the deeply engrained notion of *original sin* "translates, personifies...the perennial and universal law of imperfection which operates in mankind in virtue of its being in the process of becoming." ...the creature... along with the in process. ...Teilhard notes that "Evil, in all its forms...injustice, inequality, suffering, death...ceases theoretically to be outrageous from the moment when *Evolution becoming a Genesis*... displays itself as the...price of an *immense triumph.*" ...For Teilhard, the tragic, real evil in this life occurs when humanity fails to acquire a sense of the true value of the universe. ...

    ..Using Teilhardian language: the "process cannot achieve stability until, over the entire globe, the human quantum has not merely closed the circle upon itself... but has become organically totalized." Only through collectivization (collective cooperation) can humanity achieve this total, planetary development of the noosphere. It cannot be built by people who think only of themselves; yet every person "on earth shares, in (*hirself*), in the universal heightening of consciousness." And finally, using anthropomorphic terms, Teilhard believes that the noosphere is not only the "stuff of the Universe...not only of *men,* but of the *Man* who is to be born tomorrow." And through the efforts of humanity building the noosphere, the earth "finds its soul." .."

    ~ Janice ... who would bet the farm that those who buy into this Cosmogenesis theory are the same sorts of "Greenie" mentalities who embrace Biocentrism (the belief that all life, or even the whole universe living or otherwise taken as a whole, is equally valuable and humanity is not the center of existence. Hence, humanity is no more valuable than say, mice. )

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Received on Wed Dec 27 20:19:05 2006

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