Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
A Bridge Between Creationism and Evolution
In the 87 years since the Scopes ‘Monkey’ Trial surprisingly little has changed. Of course evolution is now taught in our schools, but the divide between creationism and evolution still looms large.
The most visible battles continue to be fought in the courts, although the tables have been turned; creationists are now forced to sue for the right to have their beliefs taught in the schools. Perhaps even more telling of the enduring divide is an astonishing statistic brought to light by recent polls which suggest that almost half of adult Americans still don't accept evolution.
For its part, mainstream science remains intolerant of creationism, both as a literal interpretation of Genesis and in its modern guise as intelligent design. Indeed, it recoils from the merest suggestion of purpose in evolution as if it had been scalded.
And yet … and yet … it doesn't have to be this way. There are many Christians who not only accept evolution, but celebrate it. From the other side of the divide there are also scientists who see in evolution a clear direction or purpose.
In bridging the divide there are two men of particular importance. One is the Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin, and the other is the Russian chemist Ilya Prigogine. Taken separately their works are significant – indeed Prigogine won a 1977 Nobel prize for his; taken together they are more than that - they are two sides of a profound synthesis that could yet change the world.
With telling symmetry both de Chardin and Prigogine were inspired by the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Bergson is the author of Creative Evolution (1907), in which he put forward the concept of élan vital. Élan vital, he said, was the hidden force in the universe “which is responsible for self-organization and spontaneous morphogenesis.”
De Chardin described Bergson’s concept as the "catalyst of a fire which devoured already its heart and its spirit." Prigogine was hardly less effusive: “I still remember the spell L'Évolution Créatrice cast on me” he recalled during his Nobel Prize lecture.
For de Chardin, élan vital was the key that enabled him to reconcile Darwin’s theory of natural selection with a universe that he saw progressing toward "ever greater complexity and centricity." In de Chardin’s paradigm natural selection was not merely random change, but propelled by élan vital it was random change that presented chances for matter to combine in stable and coherent aggregates. The context was everything.
Humans occupy a special place in de Chardin’s vision by dint of our consciousness. Our consciousness, he said, was the absolute cutting edge development in the ongoing progression of the universe. He predicted that in time this layer of consciousness, which he called the ‘noosphere’, would also develop greater and greater coherence, until it eventually reached a point of perfect unity that he famously described as the Omega point - a time at which the universe would have progressed to Christ.
“Man is not the center of the universe as once we thought in our simplicity, but something much more wonderful - the arrow pointing the way to the final unification of the world in terms of life. Man alone constitutes the last-born, the freshest, the most complicated, the most subtle of all the successive layers of life” (The Phenomenon of Man 1955).
Read more on the Washington Times