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Lesson 96- Tielhard De Chardin

            About one year before he died, Pope John Paul II announced that the theory of evolution might be true but if it was, the Catholic position was that at whatever moment a primate-like being became human it resulted from a special infusion by God of human intelligence that turned an arational animal to a rational being “made in the image and likeness of God.” Thus, the Church, as always, has delayed its final pronouncement on this theory for over 150 years. During this time, her experts have kept track of the gathering evidence both “for” and “against” it. And, as the evidence unfolded, the Church continued to compare the results against its own “deposit of faith” to see where compatibility existed and where it didn’t. In other words, the Church, like any good dialectician, refused to accept any new theory that was based upon incomplete or questionable evidence. Gradually, as it detected areas of compatibility, it began to formulate a Synthesis that accepted what was true in the new theory with what was true in its own position.

            In recent years, we have begun to see what this synthesis might be and even our Protestant brothers are beginning to realize that it is fruitless to argue a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible against a scientific theory. I have already explored the problems involved in misusing the Bible through our misunderstanding of what it was meant to be. However, one of the basic premises of the Church in particular and Christianity in general is that Truth is One and that there can’t be any conflict between the truths of religion and the truths of science, or for that matter, truth from any area of reality. Whenever a conflict arises, it is because either we have misinterpreted a religious truth or science has misread or misinterpreted what they have discovered in the natural world. In fact, most scientific theories go through an evolutionary process through which the original theory is gradually corrected and refined from its original statement. Those who jump in with both feet at the beginning of any new theory are destined to either modify their original position or else doggedly, like fundamentalist in any area, end up trying to defend what is indefensible. Once again, it is the moderates in the middle who follow the common sense position of weighing the pro’s and con’s of the original Thesis against the new Antitheses and attempt to sort out what might be true in both positions.

            Often it has been the experience of the Church that these seemingly contradictions between religion and science have ended up enriching both of them. Antitheses in any area of knowledge have a way of causing the defender of the Thesis to search deeper into the meaning of their own position and the ultimate result is a deeper, fuller, and stronger commitment to the essence of what they believe. I think that this can be said of the theory of evolution. In many ways, it describes a God who is even more impressive and wonderful than the one described by the Theory of Special Creation.

If evolution is true, then God is a “mind blower” who brought about all the wonders of the universe in a way that baffles our human intelligence. In fact, in recent years, physicists who once believed in a mechanistic universe that, like a clock, ran with mechanical precision according to the immutable laws of physics, are now saying that it operates more like an “idea” that through an interactive process is constantly adjusting itself to a inconceivable number of variables. In other words, as the physicists say, “every action causes a reaction” and thus everything that happens either adds to the “entropic” forces taking the universe back towards chaos, or the “negentropic” forces that exert pressure in the opposite direction towards higher forms of unity and order. In many way, the universe is self-correcting. This suggests that the major question before us, as rational beings, is whether we will become members of the “negentropic” or “entropic” forces. Will we be sons and daughter of the Living God by following Truth or will we become slaves of the devil, the Father of All Lies , by claiming that objective truth is an illusion  and that we belong to an accidental and absurd universe? Will we choose death, which is disintegration, or life, which is integration?

In the 1850’s, when Darwin first introduced his theory, unlike some of our Protestant brothers, the Church looked with suspicion upon the new theory but withheld any final judgment until its own experts could investigate the evidence supporting it and its implication for our own position. One of the most famous of these experts was Fr. Tielhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit who was also a paleontologist. Thus he was in a unique position to work on this issue. On one hand, he was committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Bible, and the Church. On the other hand, he was involved in the science of paleontology that dug up ancient fossils. Thus on both a personal and professional level, he had a great need to find a synthesis between what appeared to be two conflicting explanation of the universe and the world. For years, Fr. Chardin worked on the problem and, at the insistence of his Jesuit superiors, limited his findings to a small group of fellow priests and theologians who, like him, held both religious and scientific credentials. In doing so, he submitted himself to the authority of the Church, something that the “world” does not understand.

In the world, the personal “ego” is supreme and intellectuals vie with each other to be the first to introduce a new insight or idea. The result often is the popularizing of “half-baked” or “erroneous” insights that enter the consciousness of the average person where they are accepted as “gospel truth.” However, it rarely turns out that way because scientific truth is always undergoing challenges and refinement. Among the experts, the attacks and counter-attacks among themselves is part of the process of discovery and thus little or no damage is done by these “half-baked” or “erroneous” guesstimations because these experts are either involved in or aware of the critiques on their validity. However, the average person rarely is aware of any of these critiques and often bases his life-perspective on flawed or discounted theories. Thus, the Church, whose role is to shepherd its flock, tries to protect us from this by insisting that its scholars withhold their intellectual speculations and theories from general circulation while, at the same time, encouraging them to freely speculate and discuss these issues among themselves. Thus, Fr. Chardin, while being encouraged to continue to explore the theory of evolution, was asked not to publish his findings for general consumption. Of course, this was a great test of his vow of obedience and his natural desire to be recognized for his findings. However, he was obedient and, it was only after years of private research and theorizing that his conclusions began to be accepted by the hierarchy of the Church and began to filter down to the general public.  Thus although his books,  “The Phenomena of Man” and “The Divine Milieu” were written in the 1920’s and 30’s, they were not published until 1955 and 1957 . Since then, his ideas have become more widespread and have found greater acceptance by the leaders of the Church. It can truly be said, that his theories provided the basis for the Catholic position on the theory of evolution and they are the basis for what I will describe in these talks.

Before proceeding with a description of his theories, however, allow me to say a little more about the man, himself. He was born in France on May 1st 1881 and he died in New York on Easter Sunday in 1956. Those who knew him and were aware of his natural disappointment over being forbidden to publish during his lifetime, said that he had often prayer that if what he was proposing was in accordance with God, he wanted to die on Easter Sunday. Although, the fact that he did is no absolute assurance of the correctness of his theories, it is interesting that this was exactly what happened.

Sometimes a poet can say it a lot better than a logician and Sebastian Temple is a poet and songwriter, who was greatly impressed by Chardin. Therefore, I am going to recite and comment on a few poems that he  wrote about Chardin and his theories:

 

I Sing a Song of Teilhard

 

I sing a song of Teilhard de Chardin

Of a poet, scientist, the priest and man

Who blended two opposing views to bring

A peace to Mankind’s endless squabbling.

Who harmonized the views of scientists

With the ardent faith of  religionists.

In his heart a fire burned, in his mind a light,

That gave a fourth dimension to our three dimensional sight.

 

The scientist found matter had a soul.

He showed its growth a part of Spirit’s whole

He saw that evolution is God’s plan

To free creation through the mind of Man.

That science and religion is a twin,

Science the “without”; religion the “within.”

He showed how Christ is everywhere; how Man was born to be

The channel through which matter finds its real identity

 

Yes, Teilhard was a prophet, mystic, priest

To whom the selfish ego almost ceased,

And when they stopped him publishing because

They said his work was wrong and full of flaws,

He prayed: “If what I write is in accord

With Your Truth, let me die Easter Sunday, Lord.”

And Teilhard died on Easter Sunday, God answered his call

It seems a seed must die before it yields its fruit at all.

 

And now his name lives on and seems to say

That the Cosmic Consciousness is our way.

It doesn’t seem to matter where we stand,

‘Cause every inch of earth is holy land.

All life is related and will be

Dependent on each other endlessly.

Teilhard is the master mind, prophet that can show

The mountain that each man must climb, the path he has to go.

 

Now let me comment on some of the concepts contained in this poem. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…for they shall be called the children of God” Many of us think that this is referring to those who stop wars but I believe that it is anyone who resolves any type of conflict between individuals or groups whether it be between a husband and wife or between nations. Thus, all moderates who, as the Synthesis in the Hegelian Dialectic, seek to resolve the conflict between the Thesis and the Antithesis, are truly peacemakers. Thus the lines:

Who blended two opposing views to bring

A peace to Mankind’s endless squabbling.

Who harmonized the view of scientists

With the ardent faith of religionists. …reveal Fr. Chardin was a peacemaker and a true child of God.

           

            Those who have been exposed to Catholic philosophy will recognize the next line that says, “the scientist (in him) found that matter had a soul.” Most of us are accustomed to thinking that only human beings have souls but according to Catholic philosophy all living things have souls, since the word “soul” means “the vital principle” or “whatever it is that causes living things to live.” When it leaves, all living things die.

 The major difference, according to Catholic philosophy, is that the souls of other living things are rooted in matter and therefore do not survive death. Whereas the human soul has a spiritual dimension that continues to live after death. Chardin took this one step further by suggesting that not only do living things possess a soul but so does matter itself at least in a potential form. One of the rules of logic is that “every effect must be proportionate to its cause” or, put another way, “you can’t give what you don’t have.” In other words, non-living chemicals, which are the foundation that underlies all living things, had to have a potential for becoming “living” and thus, in some limited way, possessed a “soul” that, through the Spirit of God, would evolve into a higher forms found in plants, animals, and, still further, in humans.

            The lines, “He saw that evolution was God’s plan to free creation through the mind of Man” are interesting when we compare them to St. Paul’s statement: “The whole creation groans, like a woman in childbirth, awaiting the revelation of the sons and daughters of God.” The scriptures also say that “creation was born to futility because, no matter how hard it tried, it could never please God. Why not? Because, lacking rationality, it acted and was driven by blind instincts, passions, and feelings to perform rational acts without understanding. In the Old Testament God exclaims, “I don’t want your sacrifices. What I desire is your love and understanding.’ In other words, a rational being like God wants a relationship with other rational beings with whom He can share the glories of His creation and that is why He made us in His own “image and likeness.” Sometimes when I am teaching inattentive or disinterested students, I say to myself, “This is like reading poetry to lizards. There is great wisdom and beauty in what I am saying and they sit there with blank eyes flicking their tongues.” I suspect that God must feel the same way with our own lack of attention and interest in the glories of His creation.

The next two lines, That science and religion is a twin: Science the “without”; religion the “within” is interesting from the point of view of our analysis of the right and left lobes of the brain. The left lobe is logical and scientific and the right lobe is intuitive and religious. I know that this might not sound plausible because in previous programs I made the point that the left lobe, because it is “goal directed” is moral while the right lobe, because it isn’t goal directed, is amoral. Don’t religion and morality go together and, if they do, how can the amoral right lobe be the source of religion? The answer is that “religion and morality” don’t necessarily go together. In fact, through most of history, they didn’t.

Albert Einstein said that the Hebrews or Jews were the first people to put them together because their God, Yahweh, was concerned with moral behavior while the Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods were not. In fact, the Greek and Roman gods were immoral by human standards. Yahweh, on the other hand, was concerned with “righteousness” and “social justice.” According to Him, there were “right and wrong” ways to do things and, after their love for God, he wanted His followers to “love their neighbor as themselves.”

In order to understand this separation between morality and religion, it is necessary to understand the difference that separates them. Morality is about “right behavior” and it is connected to the logical left lobe that says that a “thing is objectively good or bad according to how well it serve the purpose for which it was created.” In other words, how well it serves its primary purpose. Religion, on the other hand, is concerned with the worship and appeasement of a higher being and it is related to the non-verbal right hemisphere and our animal instincts. For example, animals follow the “laws of dominance” through which weaker animals show their respect and submission to dominant members of their group by lowering their bodies. We can see this instinct translated into human behavior in the bowing of Asians as a symbol of non-aggression and respect. In fact, in Japan, the depth of the bow is related to the degree of ranking difference between the two people. Kings and emperors always sit on thrones that makes them higher than anyone else. In Anna and the King of Siam, the king is always complaining when the English tutor, unaware of the customs, allows her head to be higher than his. And those who are old enough might remember how, when any adult enter the classroom, we were required to stand. Then the girls would lower their bodies by curtsying and the boys would do the same by bowing from the waist down. Thus, when we interact with God, who is the highest and most dominant being in the universe, we instinctually kneel, bow, genuflect, or prostrate ourselves before Him. By doing so, we mean to show respect and submission.

The second part of the “laws of dominance” is to offer something to the higher being with the hope that one might win some favor or prevent some harm through appeasement. Thus, in ancient times, it was customary for visiting emissaries to bring gifts to the ruling emperor. The same is true of religious worship. Throughout human history, people have offered various types of sacrifices from animals to their own children to their gods because, by doing so, they would either win their favor or avoid their wrath. Initially the Hebrew did the same thing. Yet, as their relationship with God evolved, we suddenly hear from His prophets that He doesn’t really desire their sacrifices. To paraphrase Him, He says, “ Why do you offer me these sacrifices. Do you think that I, who created all these animals, need you to sacrifice them to me. If I needed any of them to eat, don’t you think that I am able to make My own. What I really want is righteous behavior.” Later, in the New Testament, the idea of sacrifice takes on an even higher meaning when Jesus, out of love for others, sacrifices Himself. The Church calls the Mass the Perfect Sacrifice because it reenacts Jesus sacrifice of Himself on the Cross and, just before Communion, the priest holds up the sacred host and says, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world!” Thus the inadequate sacrifice of animals is replaced by the true sacrifice of love.

With this in mind let us return again to the two lines in Sebatian Temple poem concerning Teilhard de Chardin. He wrote: That science and religion is a twin: Science the “without”; religion the “within.” In other words, science is the factual objective world that is “outside of us” and is related to the left hemisphere of the brain, while religion is the intuitive subjective world that is “inside of us” and it is related to the right hemisphere of the brain.

We have been raised in a culture that has placed a higher value on objective truth because it is based on demonstrable facts. However, there is one great limitation to science. By its own rules it limits itself to what can be seen, touched, weighed or measured. Thus, as far as it is concerned, anything that fails to meet this criteria, doesn’t exist. On the other hand, some of the greatest insights and discoveries have come from intuitive knowledge through which the solution to complex problems have occurred through flashes of inspiration. In fact, the greatest scientists are not those who stick to the empirical facts but those who theorize beyond the facts. As one scientist put it, “To have a great idea one must have many ideas!”

According to Karl Jung, a famous psychologist, there is a genetic unconscious mind that we all share that knows the deeper truths of the universe on the intuitive level. In these cases, we don’t discover the Truth, we recognize it as something that we always knew. These truths, he says, are so deep that they often are inexpressible in words and can be expressed only through religious symbolism. Obviously, it is the right lobe of the brain that is the source of this knowledge. This was expressed in another poem entitled “Where Shall We Hide the Truth?”, which I believe might have also been written by Sebastian Temple

Where Shall We Hide the Truth

 

Where shall we hide the truth from Man the gods all cried when he was made?

How can we guard our secret now, they asked each other, almost afraid?

          Hide it in the earth… he will mine it…

          Hide it on a mountain… he will climb it…

          Even in the sea, he will find it…

          Where shall we hide the Truth from Man?

 

Quite beside themselves they cried, “ This little guy will take our throne…

We have made him far too smart, not to claim our heavenly home…

          Hide it in matter, he’ll analyze it…

          Hide it in water, he’ll crystallize it…

          Even in hell, he’ll surmise it…

          Where shall we hide the Truth from Man?

 

They thought of stars in outer space; or in the nature of a tree…

But they knew that he could solve each and every mystery…

          Hide it in the wind, he’ll pursue it…

          Hide it in an act, he will do it…

          Even in an atom, he will view it…

          Where shall we hide the Truth from Man?

 

Then they solved the mystery of how the frightened gods should win

The wisest said, “Let’s take the Truth and hide it deep inside of him.”

          Hide it in his heart, he will doubt it…

          Hide it in his soul, he’ll live without it…

          Even if we should reveal and shout it…

          He won’t believe the Truth is within him…

           

            Thus, we should not discount the intuitive truths that come from the nonverbal, unconscious right lobe because often they contain insights that are unavailable to the verbal, conscious left lobe. At the same time, we need to test, wherever possible, these insights against objective reality and that is why the combination of science and religion in Fr. Chardin made him a perfect choice to deal with the theory of evolution.

            Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the lines that say:

 

Yes, Teilhard was a prophet, mystic, priest

To whom the selfish ego almost ceased,

And when they stopped him publishing because

They said his work was wrong and full of flaws,

He prayed: “If what I write is in accord

With Your Truth, let me die Easter Sunday, Lord.”

 

            I have already mentioned how his religious superiors stopped him from publishing and how devastating this must have been to his ego. Yet he obeyed and had to wait until a year before his death to see his first book published and he died before the second one was.

            It was in his second book, “The Divine Milieu” where he spoke of his mystical experiences. Speaking in the “third person” he began his description with the words “there was a man…” However, it becomes clear that he is speaking of himself. He tells of meditating on a picture of the face of Jesus when suddenly it became alive. He was drawn to the beauty of the face but as he moved towards it, it began to recede into the picture away from him. He began to pursue the face and found himself falling into the picture. As it continued to recede, he continued to follow by falling deeper and deeper into the picture drawn by the beauty of the face of Christ. As he pursued it, scenes of the beauty of creation crisscrossed in front of him threatening to distract him. But he pushed them aside and continued his effort to reach the face. Then suddenly the face came to a stop and it went through a multiple transformation in which every expression that the human heart if capable of feeling appeared on the face of Jesus and they it came to rest on one final expression that, according to Fr. Chardin, was either an expression of the greatest joy he had ever seen or the greatest sorrow. They both were present in equal balance.

            As I read this description, I tried to imagine what he was seeing and I wondered where in our human experience this type of expression could be found. Years later, after being prayed over by a Catholic Charismatic group I had a mystical experience myself. I was reading Proverbs 8 concerning Wisdom when suddenly I began to cry. The tears were streaming out of my eye in waves but they seem to be coming from the center of my chest. It took my more than a half-hour to finish the reading because every time I read a line, another wave of tears would hit me. It was very strange because I couldn’t decide whether my tears were “tears of joy” or “tears of sorrow” because there seemed to be an equal mixture of both. Then I realized that I was feeling what Fr. Chardin had seen.

            For months after this  I continued to wonder where in human experience we could find this type of mixture and then one day it came to me. A woman in childbirth has an equal mixture of joy and sorrow. Joy because she is bringing a new life into the world and sorrow because of the pain and struggle she must endure to do it. And then I remembered St. Paul’s words: “The whole creation groans like a woman in childbirth waiting for the revelation of the sons (and daughters) of God.”

            What does it mean? Is it possible that God is like a woman in childbirth and that from the beginning of time His Wisdom, Jesus, has been struggling to give birth to the plan of His Father. Is that why the Old Testament refers to him as the Suffering Servant? If this is so, then the whole creation of the universe is a birth process that has continued to the present day as God’s craftsmen, His Wisdom, struggles to bring His Father’s plan to completion. If this is so, then the Passion and Death of was simply a reenactment of a drama that has been going on from the beginning of time. A drama that involves struggle, pain, suffering, death and rebirth to a higher level. It’s a theme that is contained in many of the mythologies of the ancient religions. However, it is not a myth in Christianity. It is the real tale of a God-man who entered history to show us the way to eternal salvation rather than just telling us. Our left lobe, which is underdeveloped in most of us and in most people throughout most of history, might be able to understand a verbal explanation but our right lobe has to be shown.

            And what is this revelation that, according to St. Paul, the sons and daughters of God are suppose to reveal to creation? It may be that we may finally come to realize what the overall plan of God is and how it is suppose to be implemented.

Up until this time, the Logos of God, Jesus the Divine Wisdom, has been “carrying the ball” as He struggled through the various stages of evolution selecting out of the accidental and mentally blind events those things that furthered the plan of His Father, the Creator. Eventually this led to rational beings who, possessing a logical left lobe that, according to St. John is the Light of Jesus found in every person, were capable of reflecting on their own behavior and making choices that led to rational ends. In a sense, at that moment “evolution became aware of itself” because a creature involved in the process suddenly understood it and was capable of steering the process towards its final goal. However, the gift of rationality did not guarantee success because when it was linked with pride and our animal nature, it was use to serve the creature rather than the Creator. And thus something more was needed: a new heart and a new spirit. And thus, Jesus, following His resurrection and before His ascension, promised that He would send His Holy Spirit to lead us. And from that time on, the Church has sensed that it is the living Body of Christ that has been commissioned to reach the goal set by the Creator.

And what is that goal?  According to St. Ireaneas, a bishop and martyr in the Early Church,  “The glory of God is Man fully alive”. When this realization final dawns upon Mankind, “the lion will lay down with the lamb; justice and peace will kiss and men will beat their weapons of wars into tools for farming,” and God’s Wisdom will come to live with Mankind.

In future programs I will discuss Fr. Chardin’s theory of evolution and address the question of why it has taken us so long to reach its final goal.

Well, I see that my time is up. Here’s Dom!