Evolution presupposes the development of higher forms of life from lower ones that came before. This point of view is accepable to most scientists today, and it is generally agreed upon that the human species is the highest developed on our planet. The human being has been generated from lower classes of mammals over eons of time, and they, in turn where generated, came into being from even lower forms, back to the most simple forms of life. Scientifically speaking this could only happen as a result of the change in genetic properties in the course of time.
The history of Evolutionary Theories
In order to clarify Teilhard de Chardin's view on this matter it is necessary to give a brief history of evolution theories.
De Lamarck (1744-1829) - The theory of adaptation
The first scientist to raise the discussion was De Lamarck. He wrote that in case of changes in the environment, like climate, food supply, etc. the organs of the different species would be compelled to change and to adapt in order to survive. Through intensive use of certain parts of their bodies, limbs for instance, these parts would have to adjust and become stronger, whereas other parts would atrophy or disappear eventually through lack of use. These newly acquired properties would become hereditary and so the species could survive. We'll call, this the theory of adaptation.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) - The selection theory
Darwin however, had a slightly different view. His so-called selection theory, although still in use, has become more and more the subject of strong criticism. How did he see evolution? Within each species of plants and animals, dogs for instance, we have many different varieties. Because of the intense struggle for life in nature only the fittest would be able to survive and propagate. Nature has its own laws of elimination, and so we''ll call this the theory of natural selection.
Huge de Vries (1848-1935) - The theory of mutation
However it was the well-known Dutch scientist Hugo de Vries who came up with a new view: not a gradual slow process of development, but sudden abrupt changes in genes and form were the reason for evolutionary changes towards higher and better adjusted species. Sudden leaps of change called mutations. This is called the theory of mutation.
In the meanwhile all these theories seem to have some truth. Scientists generally accept that lower forms tend to generate higher forms of life - which is what evolution is about. It is acknowledged that the influence of the environment, like climate, food, radiation etc. do affect ecological changes. But... the great enigma remains: why does this evolution have a tendency to ever higher forms of live, towards ever greater sophistication?
The modern scientist does not accept a directing force, something that cannot be established or proven by traditional means of research.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) Theory of Complexity-consciousness
It is here that the paleontologist and priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin enters the scene. Both a scientist and a philosopher, he came up with an explanation for the puzzling trend in nature to develop into higher forms. His broad view that slowly developed through careful research, observation and thought, gave rise to new laws. After life-long study and meditation he suggested a grand new answer to science.
This is why all his work should be seen as relevant and not only his best-known work 'The Phenomenon of Man'. Summarizing, Teilhard sees evolution as one great process of ever-increasing spiritualisation, interiorisation of matter. He is the first scientist to carry forward, or rather backward, these mutations, these sudden changes that took place in the distant past, to a time when neither plant-life, let alone animal-life existed, only so-called dead matter. Here he recognized these same laws of mutation at work. Even the tiniest particles have a mutual force of attraction, the potential for building larger units.
Their inner psychic forces join together into more complex designs. He proposes that at certain stages this process comes to a sudden halt when the 'construction' has become so complex, so intricate, that it has reached a point where the accumulated energy 'escapes'. The most complicated, largest and most-charged molecule becomes alive!
True enough, the most primitive form of life, but now the same law forces its companions into further cooperation or - alternatively - there is destruction. The cooperation leads to the building of more and larger cell constructions and their inner energy accumulates irresistibly giving them the chance to escape the dilemma, this impossible end, so that cells develop into organisms, eventually.
And again the dance goes on, fusing, avoiding destruction, and thus producing ever more complex organisms until, again, the limit is reached and a breakthrough occurs.
At the moment of crisis there are three possibilities:
a. perishing to extinction
b. stagnation, maintaining a status quo (bees for instance)
c. jumpinq to a higher level of consciousness by mutual effort.
Thus simple matter with a minute inner force gives rise to ever higher forms with a stronger psychic interior. Like this ever higher species of animals develop with increasing life force. This explains the trend for larger brains to form in order to retain a higher consciousness.
The most miraculous and stunning mutation took place about one million years or so ago. The ape-like primate became human. A mutation that did not affect the outward form as much as the inner essence, the mind, by intense psychic tension. Primal matter, by its long way of 41/2 billion years, 4500 million years, reached a point of a mental/spiritual mutation: the ape became man, the primate became human.
Now why was this happening so important? This now-called human being became self-conscious, he knew himself to be somebody. For the first time he realised that he could understand, he had become self-reflective. This self-consciousness had incredible consequences: awareness of good and bad, and free will so that he could consciously choose. Although paradise lay at his feet he often made the wrong choices, because he had not yet discovered the natural law of 'cooperation or perish'. He often chose for his own ego-interests and harmed or even killed his fellow-man.
His world, though became more and more complex. As the population increased the need for togetherness and joining became evident. Families joined and became clans/villages which in turn grew into nations and unions of nations. At the same time a new web of complexity formed around the globe, an intensive web/network of psychic, spiritual force, transcending normal science, religion, art and politics. The complexity of this spiritual impulse and the increasing urgency for mysticism is tangibly present in our present 'global village'.
On page 214 of 'The Phenomenon of Man' (Perennial Library, Harper & Row, New York, London, 1975) Teilhard ascribes all present unrest, haste and the complicated ways of our society, churches, sciences etc. to the crisis (phenomenon) which precedes every new mutation. ln Teilhard's view the entire force in the total process of evolution is one and the same force of love, of amalgamation leading to a higher form of life.
Teilhard sees how God, Alfa, the Primal Impulse manifested in matter. And from this enormous explosion, the Big Bang, perhaps 10 billions of years ago, he observes the propelling force of this primal Creator pressing all of matter into an ever greater spiritual consciousness, also for the future.
And in ever increasing speed, faster and faster, attracted irresistably by the final point Omega, humanity, in its greatest crisis ever, gathers her forces in order to reach a higher and better reality. And always there is the force of love, omnipresent, speeding us on our way to the same primal Source: God.