The Future of Man is a magnificent introduction to the thoughts and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, one of the few figures in the history of the Catholic Church to achieve renown as both a scientist and a theologian. Trained as a paleontologist and ordained as a Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin devoted himself to establishing the intimate, interdependent connection between science—particularly the theory of evolution—and the basic tenets of the Christian faith. At the center of his philosophy was the belief that the human species is evolving spiritually, progressing from a simple faith to higher and higher forms of consciousness, including a consciousness of God, and culminating in the ultimate understanding of humankind’s place and purpose in the universe. The Church, which would not condone his philosophical writings, refused to allow their publication during his lifetime. Written over a period of thirty years and presented here in chronological order, the essays cover the wide-ranging interests and inquiries that engaged Teilhard de Chardin throughout his life: intellectual and social evolution; the coming of ultra-humanity; the integral place of faith in God in the advancement of science; and the impact of scientific discoveries on traditional religious dogma. Less formal than The Phenomenon of Man and The Divine Milieu, Teilhard de Chardin’s most renowned works, The Future of Man offers a complete, fully accessible look at the genesis of ideas that continue to reverberate in both the scientific and the religious communities.
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TEILHARD de CHARDIN (1881-1955) was a philosopher, paleontologist, and Jesuit priest. Born in France, educated in Jesuit schools, and ordained in 1911, he journeyed to various parts of the world on geological and paleontological expeditions and published several works on science. His renowned works, The Phenomenon of Man and The Divine Milieu, were published shortly after his death and today are regarded as classics of Catholic theology.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A Note on Progress
e pur si muove
The conflict dates from the day when one man, flying in the face of appearance, perceived that the forces of nature are no more unalterably fixed in their orbits than the stars themselves, but that their serene arrangement around us depicts the flow of a tremendous tide--the day on which a first voice rang out, crying to Mankind peacefully slumbering on the raft of Earth, "We are moving! We are going forward!" . . .
It is a pleasant and dramatic spectacle, that of Mankind divided to its very depths into two irrevocably opposed camps--one looking toward the horizon and proclaiming with all its new-found faith, "We are moving," and the other, without shifting its position, obstinately maintaining, "Nothing changes. We are not moving at all."
These latter, the "immobilists," though they lack passion (immobility has never inspired anyone with enthusiasm!)1, have commonsense on their side, habit of thought, inertia, pessimism and also, to some extent, morality and religion. Nothing, they argue, appears to have changed since man began to hand down the memory of the past, not the undulations of the earth, or the forms of life, or the genius of Man or even his goodness. Thus far practical experimentation has failed to modify the fundamental characteristics of even the most humble plant. Human suffering, vice and war, although they may momentarily abate, recur from age to age with an increasing virulence. Even the striving after progress contributes to the sum of evil: to effect change is to undermine the painfully established traditional order whereby the distress of living creatures was reduced to a minimum. What innovator has not retapped the springs of blood and tears? For the sake of human tranquillity, in the name of Fact, and in defense of the sacred Established Order, the immobilists forbid the earth to move. Nothing changes, they say, or can change. The raft must drift purposelessly on a shoreless sea.
But the other half of mankind, startled by the lookout's cry, has left the huddle where the rest of the crew sit with their heads together telling time-honored tales. Gazing out over the dark sea they study for themselves the lapping of waters along the hull of the craft that bears them, breathe the scents borne to them on the breeze, gaze at the shadows cast from pole to pole by a changeless eternity. And for these all things, while remaining separately the same--the ripple of water, the scent of the air, the lights in the sky--become linked together and acquire a new sense: the fixed and random Universe is seen to move.
No one in the world who has seen this vision can be restrained from guarding and proclaiming it. To testify to my faith in it, and to show reasons, is my purpose here.
It is clear in the first place that the world in its present state is the outcome of movement. Whether we consider the position of the rocky layers enveloping the Earth, the arrangement of the forms of life that inhabit it, the variety of civilizations to which it has given birth, or the structure of languages spoken upon it, we are forced to the same conclusion: that everything is the sum of the past and that nothing is comprehensible except through its history. "Nature" is the equivalent of "becoming," self-creation: this is the view to which experience irresistibly leads us. What can it mean except that the Universe must, at least at some stage, have been in movement; that it has been malleable, acquiring by degrees, not only in their accidental details but in their very essence, the perfections which now adorn it? There is nothing, not even the human soul, the highest spiritual manifestation we know of, that does not come within this universal law. The soul, too, has its clearly defined place in the slow ascent of living creatures toward consciousness, and must therefore in one way or another have grown out of the general mobility of things. Those who look reality in the face cannot fail to perceive this progressive genesis of the Universe, and with a clarity which leaves no room for doubt. Whatever the other side may say, clinging to their imaginary world, the Cosmos did once move, the whole of it, not only locally but in its very being. This is undeniable and we shall not discuss it further. But is it still moving? Here we have the real question, the living, burning question of Evolution.
It is the fundamental paradox of Nature as we see it now that its universal plasticity seems suddenly to have hardened. Like an ocean-wave caught in a snapshot, or a torrent of lava stiffened by cooling, the mountains and living things of the earth wear the aspect, to those who study them, of a powerful momentum that has become petrified. Nature seen at a distance appears to be malleable and in motion; but seek to lay hands on it, to deflect by force even the least of Life's directions, and you will encounter nothing but absolute rigidity, an unshakably stubborn refusal to depart from the preordained path.
But let us note that this present rigidity of Nature does not, as some people believe, in any way lessen the certainty of its past mobility. What we regard as the fixity of present organisms may be simply a state of very slow movement, or of rest between spells of movement. It is true that we have not yet succeeded in shaping life to our requirements in the laboratory; but who has shaped or witnessed the shaping of a geological stratum? The rock which we seek to compress crumbles because we work too fast or with oversmall fragments. Calcareous matter, if it is to be made malleable, needs to be embedded in a vast mass, and perhaps its reshaping is a process of immense slowness. If we have not seen the upward thrust of mountain ranges it is because their rise was accomplished either in widely spaced jerks or with so slow a rhythm that since the coming of Man nothing of the kind has happened, or at least nothing that has been perceptible to us. Why should not Life, too, be mobile only in great masses, or through the slow action of time, or in brief stages? Who can positively affirm that at this moment, although we perceive nothing, new forms are not taking shape in the contours of the earth and of Life? . . .
The plasticity of Nature in the past is an undeniable fact; its present rigidity is less capable of scientific proof. If we had to choose between transformism and fixism, that is to say between two absolutes--everything incestantly in motion, or everything for ever immovable--we should be bound to choose the first. But there is a third possible hypothesis, namely that everything was at one time fluid but is now irrevocably fixed. It is this third alternative that I wish to examine and dismiss.
The hypothesis of a definitive halt in terrestrial evolution is, to my mind, suggested less by the apparently unchanging nature of present forms than by a certain general aspect of the world coinciding with this appearance of cessation. It is most striking that the morphological change of living creatures seems to have slowed down at the precise moment when Thought appeared on earth. If we relate this coincidence to the fact that the only general line taken by biological evolution has been in the direction of the largest brain--broadly speaking, of the highest state of consciousness--we are compelled to wonder whether the true fundamental impulse underlying the growth of animal forces has not been the "need" to know and to think; and whether, when this overriding impulse eventually found its outlet in the human species, the effect was not to produce an abrupt diminution of "vital pressure" in the other branches of the Tree of Life. This would explain the fact that "evolving Life," from the end of the Tertiary era, has been confined to the little group of higher primates. We know of many forms that have disappeared since the Oligocene, but of no genuinely new species other than the anthropoids. This again may be explained by the extreme brevity of the Miocene as compared with other geological periods. But does it not lead us to surmise that the "phyla" possessing higher psychic attributes have absorbed all the forces at Life's disposal?
If we are to find a definitive answer to the question of the entitative progress of the Universe we must do so by adopting the least favourable position--that is to say, by envisaging a world whose evolutionary capacity is concentrated upon and confined to the human soul. The question of whether the Universe is still developing then becomes a matter of deciding whether the human spirit is still in process of evolution. To this I reply unhesitatingly, "Yes, it is." The nature of Man is in the full flood of entitative change. But to grasp this it is necessary (a) not to overlook the biological (morphogenic) value of moral action, and (b) to accept the organic nature of interindividual relationships. We shall then see that a vast evolutionary process is in ceaseless operation around us, but that it is situated within the sphere of consciousness (and collective consciousness).
What is the difference between ourselves, citizens of the twentieth century, and the earliest human beings whose soul is not entirely hidden from us? In what respects may we consider ourselves their superiors and more advanced than they?
Organically speaking, the faculties of those remote forebears were probably the equal of our own. By the middle of the last Ice Age, at the latest, some human groups had attained to the expression of aesthetic powers calling for intelligence and sensibility developed to a point which we have not surpassed. To all appearance the ultimate perfection of the human element was achieved many thousands of years ago, which is to say that the individual instrument of thought and action may be considered to have been finalized. But there is fortunately another dimension in which variation is still possible, and in which we continue to evolve.
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