Man, Evolution and Ethics: Teilhard De Chardin, Religion and Evolutionary Reality

By Matare, Herbert F. | Mankind Quarterly, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Man, Evolution and Ethics: Teilhard De Chardin, Religion and Evolutionary Reality


Matare, Herbert F., Mankind Quarterly


In considering the history of human achievement, the recent two- to three-hundred years of human development have specifically enriched the sphere of human knowledge. For the first time since the existence of Homo sapiens, nature, the environment, and man himself have all been subjected to a scrutinizing analysis. Modern science has brought about a "detached" objective study of the world around us and has eliminated many mythical and unclear ideas about the world and ourselves.

Yet the materialistic viewpoint merges with an almost "spiritualistic" thinking. There is a desire to preserve past forms of thought, to preserve old feelings, and a religious longing for a firm background to all our cosmic problems.

It is a necessary part of human evolution that we modify old concepts and seek to conceive new frameworks which can help to build a philosophical background that will give our existence a "humanized" and "friendly" role. A personified god-father figure is popularly desired. This is because it does not seem reasonable that a cosmic creation as unique as man could have developed as a mere product of chance.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote a much revered series of books in which he attempted to equate evolution with religion. As a Jesuit with an inclination for archaeological research, he touched on several fundamental facts. While his general argument was too vague and philosophical to deserve much analysis (see Monod's judgmentS), his desire to harmonize human values in accord with evolutionary reality was both remarkable and interesting.

In his book L'Energie Humaine2 (Vol. 6, p. 136), Teilhard de Chardin clearly formulates the basic issues arising from our understanding of science. He states that humanity is not seeking another god of infinite power, but rather an understanding of its own evolution. This was very significant as it is formulated by a man who still sought to isolate the skeleton of the god-father-and-son concept from the fleeting material world.

While Teilhard de Chardin still used such unwords as "mystic" in his quest for a merger of the drive behind evolution with "L'amour de Dieu," he eventually arrived at a clear expression of what should be humanity's goal. "In us as humans," he writes, "the spirit is inherent in evolution and all our perfection, drive, interest, etc., should be found and directed in the desire to push forward in our quest for a continued evolution."

At a later point in L'Energie Humaine, de Chardin discusses methods by which mankind may effectively maintain genetic hygiene and biological development. He proposed to utilize all scientific methods available not only for the control of sickness and counter-evolution (such as sterility and weakness in the physical sense), but also to apply methods of selection, hormone action, hygiene, etc. to continue evolution and develop an even more superior human type. Contemporary human society is occupied with everything except its own composition and form, and he asks his readers: Is it without importance how the future society is formed, what composition it will have? Are there ethnic groups who do not contribute to our progress or fulfill our needs and who will do nothing more than take up space on this earthly spaceship?

Here de Chardin clearly asks the fundamental question: What should be the attitude of the active part of humanity vis-a-vis stagnant populations of low ability and definitely low potential for progressiveness? The earth is, after all, a surface of fixed dimensions and is thus limited in the population it can carry! We also read in de Chardin's mind that as a religious man he believes that evolutionary principles should be considered when formulating the concept of human rights. If everything humanity has ever gained in the struggle for an understanding and organization of nature may be lost due to genetic deterioration, what is the purpose of love and tolerance without intelligent discrimination? …

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