Evaluative Review of Chardin’s Concept of Man

The question of the ultimate origin of man has remained a problem which appears to be somewhat unsolvable by any definite solution as any point of view taken by any scholar is challenged by critics who see some loopholes therein. Both the idea of Creationism and that of Evolutionism have attempted to proffer solution to the ultimate origin of man in the universe. Proponents of either of this seem to be at dagger edge with the proponents of the other. Most often, what we observe in the ordinary sense is that the idea of creation is projected by religious adherents while evolution is most often borne by scientists who often turn out to be atheists. With this conception about evolution and creation, Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest surprisingly came up to the scene to create a union between science and religion via his Christian Evolutionism. He spent his whole effort while expounding on his evolutionary picture, to project man as the chief feature in the whole development of the universe. One could lay claim to the fact that Chardin concentrated much effort on examining man, how Chardin came to his present state, and what his future will look like. Though he shows much optimism for a better future for humankind, lots of criticisms have been levelled against his system. Hence an evaluative review is needed to either weed out or substantiate, as the case may be, those ideas which may not survive the much vituperation of scholars.

In the first place, the Teilhardian evolutionary system goes with much optimism which stands to be doubted. His scientific critics,

even those who agree that the course of evolution is
now partly under human management, find in rising
population, environmental pollution and decreasing
resources significant grounds for being dubious about
evolutionary optimism.

 

These critics are much disturbed by the fact that human life will, in the long run, be swallowed up by the state of disorder. It is also contended that the drive-by evolution to manifest in man an increasing specialization will reduce the quality of life. In all, the Teilhardian system is, in the main, perceived as possessing little or no justification in actual scientific theory. This is because it is only a Christian cosmic evolutionism.

Ordinarily, an evolutionary system should hold fast to its name by consisting of continuously unending processes of development. But Teilhard de Chardin postulated that his entire evolutionary system would come to an end when the thinking layer unites with the cosmic Christ in the Omega Point. Based on my initial construct while referring to evolution, the Omega Point, I should think, would be overtaken since evolution is continuous by the sense implied by the meaning of the term. Another feature higher than the Omega would arise.  Should evolution continue in the sense in which it is generally conceived, there will be continuous progress and somewhat endless ascent towards something greater than the Omega Point In this sense, therefore, evolution would keep to its meaning. Even if one accepts with Teilhard in his formulation that an end would be foreseen, not all would agree to that fact the Omega would have anything to do with the Christian Christ.

To a great extent, this notion is not pleasing to the evolutionist thinkers, especially the non-Christians among them. For them, there is nothing like a march towards the attainment of the end of evolution. Exuding much vehemence,

                   Critics argue that Teilhard de Chardin subordinates the role of the Christian Savior  and Judge to that of the Lord
of Nature in a way that trims the sails of Christian doctrine to fit the mast of evolutionary optimism

On their part, his Theological critics, for example, Smulders and Thielicke frowned at the place given to evil by Teilhard de Chardin. They are worried over the fact that the possibility of human evil manifested individually and institutionally, might not support our confidence in any immanent process leading to a cosmic kingdom (Omega Point). Teilhard, I should think, does not take account of the depth of evil in the human heart and in the institutions that man have founded. Unless there is a divine intervention of a sort, one does not ordinarily foresee that the future of man would be that transmogrified as Teilhard holds. From this fact, it could be stated clearly that the chief criticism levelled at the evolutionists and the evolutionist thinkers is based upon their tendency to forget that not all evolution means positive progress. They always take it for granted that evolution must yield into something better than the initial state. This is not always the case.

Even while asserting that his views arose naturally and with considerable evidential support from the sciences, Teilhard at other times emphasized the tentative and partial Nature of his perspective. At the least, he coherently placed a massive amount of scientific data within a theological perspective that most of his readers had dismissed or ignored. This illustrates the fact that scientific data, as philosophers of science say, ‘underdetermine’ the world views based on them.

Also, it is easy to find objections against Teilhard’s world vision as one can object to the fact that though the theory of evolution is accepted by almost all scientists, it still remains hypothetical. Added to that, it is ad rem to state very clearly that the scientific hypothesis is insufficient to carry the weight of the edifice which Teilhard builds on it. Based on the hypothetical Nature of evolution, an evolutionist Clark affirms that evolution cannot be called a scientific fact. He seriously asks:

                    what was the ultimate origin of man? Unfortunately  any answer which can at present be  given   to   this 
                   question is  based on indirect evidence and thus   is largely conjectural.

Thus, for Teilhard to have built his wonderful theory on the idea of evolution, which have been accepted by scientists but still stands to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, smacks of some inefficiency on his part. He needs to adapt his theory unto another structure which possesses a firm foundation that has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The further objection can be made by asserting that in stating his optimistic world-vision, Teilhard devotes too little attention to the negative side, to the facts of evil and suffering and the possibility of shipwreck and failure. No wonder he sees evil as serving the great purpose of letting evolution actualize itself. However, one would also, in objection, aver that if Teilhard regards evil as positively as he paints in the little space given to it at the end of his magnum opus, he would have given much space to it. He would have treated it extensively. Also, from man’s daily experience, it has not been proven that disorder necessarily and directly leads to any form of order or organization. This conception seems somewhat utopic.

The evolutionary picture of Teilhard also aroused much criticism in the camp of Theologians who see in it an outright denial of the doctrine of original sin as taught by the Church. He postulates a situation whereby the soul is not created by God but has evolved to its present state. For him, every existent possesses a psyche, and this is its consciousness. This concept of psychism is what Teilhard refers to as the souls of the various existents. Even tiny elementary material particles possess souls. The doctrine of original sin stems from the fact of the biblical account of the fall of Adam and Eve. It affirms that man is guilty. Man’s guilt is based on the fact of the stain of sin he inherited and partially contracted from his first parents, Adam and Eve. Teilhard postulation about things in the universe evolving from tiny material particles immediately stamps out that biblical account of creation in which man’s first parents as already seen, committed sin. In the sinful state of man’s earliest parents, a man was born into the world tainted by sin –original sin. Theologians are very much uncomfortable with the suppressive mechanism Teilhard manifested in his system.

Furthermore, Teilhard’s law of Complexity-Consciousness sounds very appealing but to some extent, beclouded by some inadequacies. In this law, it is asserted that evolution happens along the axis of complexification. Consciousness increases with an increase in the complexity of the existent. In this Teilhardian claims that the more complex a being is, the more conscious it becomes, a fault is registered. Complexity in the context of his work is used in a broad sense such that one may not be too clear about what it describes in being; what is meant by the use of the term becomes vague to one. If a man is a highly complex being with increased consciousness, what can be stated about highly complex beings structure-wise, as seen in the class of primates, which lack consciousness to a greater extent when compared to man? Who and what accounts for their consciousness as a look at these other existent does not expose the link between an increase in consciousness and complexity as such? Wherein lies the fact of the increasing complexity in being? If Teilhard answers that it is the brain, would the brain solitarily account for complexity in animal, plant and organic element? In fact, his notion of both complexity and consciousness is somewhat vague. These questions arise because Teilhard maintains that a richer and better-organized structure will correspond to the more developed consciousness. His explication of both consciousness and complexity is extensive such that their meanings appear too evasive to be grasped. With this partial grasp exposed, one may be tempted to point out that the entire institution of the Teilhardian system is a mere projection of vague thought. This is also buttressed by the fact that Teilhard is not able to account for all the gradual transformations witnessed in his exaggerated optimism which he promulgates –his evolutionary system ruled by the law of Complexity-Consciousness. For instances,

                   Teilhard compares the change from anthropoid to homosapiens to the awakening of intelligence in a child. Can
we ever know how and when precisely a child begins to think?    Similarly,  we  can never  know how and when
precisely the transformation from the anthropoids to homosapiens took place.

This smacks of pessimism and a poor grasp of the task Teilhard has set before himself to carry out. Hence to a large extent, his views are obfuscated by this somewhat manifestation of lack of expertise.

Again, one is also faced with a problem in what Teilhard avows about the confluence of thought. While discouraging isolation, he makes it clear that man realizes himself more in union with others. He refers to this as the ‘natural confluence of grains of thought’, which is needed for evolution to fully attain the Omega Point. Giving further analysis, he makes it clear that the union of man with other men results in nations, societies, organizations, etc. These, for him, are necessary for the goal of evolution to be realized.

                   Anthropologically, ethnically, socially, morally, we Understand nothing about the man and can make no valid
                   forecasts of the future, so long as we fail to see that in his case,  ‘ramification’  works  only with the aim of agglomeration and convergence.

But this importance given to the union among men in the universe may, after all not be binding when one looks at the various manifestations of injustice and partiality witnessed in these unions in men come together. Would it not be better if nations do not go into such unions of organizations like the UN, IMF, etc. where some group of nations are seen as gods? How can Teilhard account for this discrepancy? Hence, everyone speaks about virtues but scarcely does anyone practice them. For instance, in the economic institutions where men are brought together for the sole purpose of exchanging goods and services, there are lots of instances of injustices. The manifestation of injustice does not encourage any good union. Considering this point, I wonder how feasible this statement of Teilhard would be: ‘No evolutionary future awaits man except in association with all other men.’ If this is the case, going by the fact of everyday experience as seen in man’s daily activities one may not be wrong to conclude that mans evolutionary future, may after, all not come about. This is based on the fact of injustice which repels any formation of a good association. Added to that, the observation of injustice by man and to man when he is in association with another has often led to quarrel, distress, chaos, anarchy and internecine struggles. I also do not, in my opinion, think that any evolutionary picture would come about in the jumbled state of disorder despite Teilhard’s conception of the good role played by disorder as evil.

On his idea of love, Teilhard expresses a form of contradiction which needs to be examined. In the first place, he adduces that

                   man’s capacity, it may seem, is confined to giving his affection to one human being or to very few. Beyond
that radius, the heart does not carry, and there is only room for cold justice and cold reason. To love all and
everyone is a contradictory and false gesture which only leads in the end to loving no-one.

Thus for Teilhard, love is better reduced to the barest minimum of people so that its effectiveness is experienced. On the other hand, he goes on to contradict his initial premise by stating that

                   …….the most fundament form of passion is missing from this list, the one which, under the pressure of an involuting
                   the universe, precipitates the elements one upon the other in the whole –cosmic affinity and hence cosmic sense. A universal
love is not  only    psychologically   possible;    it is  the only a complete and final way in which we are able to love.

The latter view contradicts his initial statement about man limiting his love to one person alone. Even when considered from man’s daily experience, it would be noticed that for any union, whether small or large there would be some form of attraction –love even in its least amorphous Nature. An accurate investigation into the ethical meaning and implication of love would show the term to be two-pronged. It is bifurcated into love for fellow man and entire humanity at large. Both are very important as none is more important than the other. They are both paramount. Hence no upper arm should be given to one to the detriment of the other. Also, no form of contradiction exists between love for fellow man and love for the entire humanity as Teilhard unknowingly manifests.

Conclusion

It may seem useless to repeat a fact already stated. But all said and done, Teilhard wrote that the living world is constituted by consciousness. He said that man is evolution becoming conscious of itself. He spent the bulk of his life trying to integrate religious experience with natural science, most specifically Christian theology with theories of evolution. In this endeavour, he became absolutely enthralled with the possibilities for humankind, which he saw as heading for an exciting convergence of systems, an “Omega point” where the coalescence of consciousness will lead us to a new state of peace and planetary unity. Long before ecology was fashionable; he saw this unity as being based intrinsically upon the spirit of the Earth.

To this end, he suggested that the Earth in its evolutionary unfolding was growing a new organ of consciousness, called the noosphere. The noosphere is analogous on a planetary level to the evolution of the cerebral cortex in humans.  It is a “planetary thinking network” –an interlinked system of consciousness and information, a global net of self-awareness, instantaneous feedback, and planetary communication. In these precious moments, the planet is developing her cerebral cortex, and emerging into self-conscious awakening. We are indeed approaching the Omega point that Teilhard de Chardin was so excited about. But the pricking questions are: When will that be? Will that surely be the end of evolution? This convergence is not a convergence of merely minds or bodies –but of heart, a point that he made most fervently clear.
It is not our heads or our bodies which we must bring together, but our hearts. Humanity is building its composite brain beneath our eyes. May it not be that tomorrow, through the logical and biological deepening of the movement drawing it together, it will find its heart, without which the ultimate wholeness of its power of unification can never be achieved.         

In his productive lifetime, Teilhard de Chardin wrote the man.

 

 

                                      BIBLIOGRAPHY       

BALDRY, H.C.,             The Unity of Mankind in Greek Thought, London: Cambridge University Press, 1965

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Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
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