Monthly Archives: April 2015

Summing Up: Human Evolution – Basic Teilhard Insights

Today’s Post

In the last two posts, we saw how the idea of increasing complexity as an ‘axis’ of evolution is disputed by the materialists, who insist that evolution has no direction.  We also saw how rejection of this fundamental principle of existence is necessary to keep ‘the divine foot out of the door’.  It still remains to address the final major issue in the continuation of evolution through the human, that of the energy which unites humans in such a way as to effect the continuing increase of complexity, but today’s post will sum up the unique perspective of evolution and universal ‘becoming’ as seen by Teilhard.

Teilhard in a Nutshell

Teilhard was certainly an evolutionist, but his insights go far beyond the traditional treatment of Darwin’s theory in several basic but important areas:

Living Things Evolve From Matter:

First, biologic evolution proceeds from the birth of living things using the materials perfected by, staged by, cosmic evolution for billions of years.  The complex atoms that make up our bodies came from stars long ago exploded and were grown and cultivated into the very complex molecules of amino acids, enzymes and proteins which continued the march to the cell through uniting into DNA strings.  Evolution therefore begins at the big bang and manifests itself into ever new and innovative forms as it continues its thread through living things.  Evolution is much more than Natural Selection.

There are critical points along this long journey where the birth of these new and innovative forms marks a step change in the process: radically new entities emerge with radically new and different capabilities and potentialities.

The atom provides a building block for millions of types of molecules that increase in complexity over time, and eventually form the cell.

The cell isn’t just a pile of molecules fused into something different, it’s an astoundingly new thing on the cosmic plate, just as were the subatomic, atomic and molecular formations that preceded it, and the conscious beings which follow.

Evolution expresses itself in newer and more complex forms in humans, which will lead to new ‘modes of being’ not available to the lower mammals, just as their capabilities could not be found in the reptiles which preceded them, and so on back to the most simple and ancient particles of “the stuff of the universe.”

At each new rung of complexity, the play of evolution develops new modes that could only be glimpsed in the potential of those which preceded it.     As Teilhard puts it, “Evolution can be seen as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes in a universe in which there is always more to be seen.”

And, of course, we humans are living out these new modes at the same time that we are becoming aware of them.  One of the key aspects of human maturity consists in the understanding of ourselves and our potential for fulfillment, at the same time that we are living out this process of understanding and fulfillment.  To stand back and objectively see the upwelling of the universe personalized within us is a very difficult task indeed!  We are building bridges to our future at the same time that we are standing on them.

Complexity-Consciousness:

Being of such vastly increased complexity over the pre-cellular molecules (which also consist of millions of atoms), cells represent an astounding capacity for unification, complexity, flexibility and further evolution compared to the molecules.  The rules and laws under which they make their way up the spiral of complexity, and the energies to which they are subject, are entirely new, but connected to the long upwelling of the cosmos through the underlying law of “complexity-consciousness”.

As Teilhard sees it, this upwelling of complexity as the mainspring of evolution can be seen in the following characteristics:

  • it rises through living things
  • it always results in increased awareness, potential and flexibility
  • it morphs through simple sensing and response to environment (bacteria and plants) into complex sensing and conscious reaction (animals)
  • it results in the awareness of this consciousness (humans)

Not a single step, nor any resulting stage, of this long process from the very simple “stuff of the universe” to the human person is taken except in response to this law of complexity-consciousness.  Complexity is hence the thread by which cosmic evolution can be traced from very simple particles of matter to conscious entities over long passages of time.  It provides the context in which we humans can be understood.  The human person is the most recent product of the universal process of evolution.

It’s Always Entities and Energy:

In each step of this process only two major aspects of the universe are active.  At every step, the entity which climbs the ladder of complexity (muons into electrons, electrons into atoms, atoms into molecules, molecules into cells, cells into the bewildering cloud of living things, one branch of which is the human person), does so under the influence of some sort of energy: a field which engages the new entity by its new potentials and powers the transition to the new form.  The universe is bathed in these fields (Higgs field, Strong and Weak nuclear forces, the mighty forces of gravity, the laws of cellular activity) which forge the unification of elements of the universe into ever more complex and ultimately animated forms.  This astoundingly complex but universal phenomenon is underlain by a single proposition, the law of complexity-consciousness, which Teilhard describes as “Fuller being in closer union, and closer union through fuller being”.

Just as the human can be seen to be the first product of evolution to be aware of evolution. Through the action of complexity-consciousness the universe is growing the capacity for understanding itself.

Humans Emerge from Evolution:

Lastly, and this is the central theme of this blog, the human person is the latest manifestation of this cosmic process.  Not only are we “the stuff of the stars” (with the atoms in our body emanating from some nova billions of years ago), but also, and more importantly, we can now be seen as the logical outcome (thus far) of the process of the evolution of the universe.  If the human person is the most recent (and more importantly the most complex, and hence most conscious) appearance of the stuff of the universe, the newest entity, then love is the most complex energy, and hence the most important influence, on our evolution.  The phenomenon of love, understood as the energy which unites us in such a way as to continue evolution’s march toward greater complexity, is the last issue to be addressed in our inquiry before we can begin to understand God from the perspectives of science.

The Next Post

We’ve followed Teilhard’s vision to the core concept of complexity-consciousness: increased complexity is now seen as the prime fruit of evolution which leads to the self-aware phenomenon of the human person.  The next post will continue this enquiry into the unique manifestation of energy in which the human person continues this cosmic rise of complexity:  Love.

Human Evolution, Part 7: Natural Selection in the Human Person?

Today’s Post

Last week we saw how the idea of increasing complexity as an ‘axis’ of evolution is disputed by the materialists, who insist that evolution has no direction.  Today we will look at the assertion that, in the human, evolution is just a continuation of the process of Natural Selection.

Natural Selection Before Life

Dawkins admits that there is not a correspondence in physics to the biological concept of Darwin’s Natural Selection, but believes that eventually one will be found and will open the door to the same sort of godless natural selection at the level of ‘pure’ matter that is so visible in the realm of biology.  He acknowledges that science thus far has had no success in explaining the evolution of matter in the ‘pre-life’ stage.

This does not prevent him from speculating on how such rearward application of Natural Selection might be possible.  Considering that Natural Selection requires large populations of entities over long periods of time to work its magic of replication and survival, Dawkins buys into the hypothesis of many universes (known as the multiverse hypothesis), each with its own set of unique laws and initial conditions.  Given a large enough population, according to this hypothesis, it is easy to imagine that one or more of them might by chance hit on the conditions necessary for evolution.

Dawkins goes easily from the denial of an unprovable God as the ground of being to the purely speculative and equally unprovable concept of multiple universes as fodder for a sort of Natural Selection process in the realm of pre-life.  In addition to their un-detectability, most of these fanciful universes would extinguish themselves at the moment of their birth due to the lack of sustainable laws and fruitful initial conditions (if they were different from ours, they would have other values for the six cosmological constants discussed in the last post).  This concept is never thought through, but as long as it keeps the ‘divine foot out of the door’ (see quote from Harvard geneticist Richard Lewointin in the previous post) it is loudly proclaimed.  Even further still, the possibility that some such universe would evolve to the complexity seen in ours still leaves the question unanswered: “where did the value of the six constants and the corresponding potential for complexity come from?”  Even further still, any such universe would be expected to evolve, and the issue of complexity would be just as valid (and problematic to the materialists) as it is in our universe.

Is Human Evolution Just More Natural Selection?   

At the stage of human life, as would be expected, most of the materialistic Darwinists continue to try to apply the laws of Natural Selection.  Just as Darwin’s Natural Selection makes little sense when applied rearwards in time (to the realm of physics) it applies poorly forward in time into the realm of reflective consciousness.  As Kenneth Miller notes,

“The successes of the natural sciences have led one analyst after another to extend Darwinian thinking into a series of distinctly non-biological enterprises, even to the study of religion.  Notorious among these was the social Darwinist movement of the late nineteenth century.  Comparing social and political units to living organisms, Herbert Spencer (late eighteenth century “Social Darwinist”) argued that the state should not interfere with the social equivalent of natural selection.  This meant, according to Spencer, that aid to the poor, universal education and laws regulating factory working conditions were all bad ideas because they might interfere with the natural order of social competition.”

Spencer conceived a vast 10-volume work, Synthetic Philosophy, in which all cultural and behavioral phenomena were to be re-interpreted according to the principle of ‘evolutionary progress’.  It was he that coined the phrase, “survival of the fittest”.  His work was required reading by the early communist state leaders, who attempted to install his principles into the basics of their atheistic states.

Not that the process of Natural Selection comes to a halt in the human.  In the same way that the evolution of early cells was influenced by the same forces of chemistry and physics that effected the complex molecule, we can understand that those biological forces which gave rise to the increased brain capacity (as discussed in the March 5 post) continue with us today.  These activities can be seen in the instinctual influences of the reptilian and limbic brains on our everyday activities.  But, as with all of Teilhard’s other ‘changes of state’, the human person’s ‘knowledge of awareness’ and his neocortical ability to modulate instinctual reactions, goes beyond the forces of pure Natural Selection.  The unique capability of the human person to ‘know that he knows’ opens new doors to the continuation of evolution beyond the basics of replication and survival so well described by the theory of Natural Selection.

This insistence on something as straightforward as Natural Selection being at the basis of the first and third stages of evolution, Pre-Life and reflective consciousness, has been compared to materialists, armed with the ‘hammer’ of Natural Selection, now seeing all aspects of reality as ‘nails’.  To a materialist armed with the hammer of Darwin’s Natural Selection, all ontological questions appear as a nail.

“Rewinding” the Tape of Evolution

Another concern expressed by Dawkins revisits the statement by Stephen Jay Gould, noted atheistic anthropologist, who asserted that “rewinding the tape of evolution” would not necessarily result in the emergence of the human.  He believed that the many accidents which occurred in history, such as asteroid impacts which, by effectively wiping out entire species, cleared the way for the rise of mammals.  He suggests that other, different, accidents could have had different outcomes, which would not have necessarily led to the emergence of humans.

This line of thinking reflects the belief that evolution would have still proceeded through any combination of such disasters, and would therefore have continued to produce new and advanced species, but not necessarily mammals.  It does not take into account that such continuation of life would have also continued the rise of complexity, and eventually, conditions permitting, would have the potential to produce an entity of sufficient complexity to have been aware of its consciousness.

A different play of the tape of evolution in which man does not emerge is only part of the picture.  Recognizing that the creature which would have inevitably emerged could have been one endowed with consciousness is the other part.  This potential for ‘rising complexity’ which eventually effects consciousness is a phenomenon of the universe itself.  While entities recognizable as ‘human persons’ may not be evolving elsewhere in the universe, the probability of the appearance of entities aware of their awareness is not insignificant.

There are many other objections to the idea of religion and the hand of God in the process of evolution which have been posed by Professor Dawkins and other materialists, and today we have focused on the objections specifically directed at the concept of complexity.  Later in this blog I’ll address how this concept is a necessary step toward an understanding of God that does not rely on conventional religion, but is compatible with, even reinforced by, the findings of science.

The Next Post

The next post will sum up Teilhard’s perspective of evolution as confirmed by scientific findings in the second half of the last century, and lay the groundwork of understanding how the play of energies and entities continuously uniting to increase complexity continue the onward march of evolution through the human person.

Human Evolution, Part 6: The Problem with Complexity

Today’s Post

In the shift in perspective that we have charted, the main thread of evolution emerges as ‘complexity’ rather than ‘Natural Selection’.  While it provides a much more cohesive perspective on the evolution of the cosmos, it nonetheless causes significant heartburn on the part of ‘materialists’.  As we have seen in previous posts, the insistence that “we are all just molecules” underlies a purely material approach to reality.   Such a viewpoint seeks to understand the cosmos by looking at it from the perspective of the “behind and below”, making sense of things by digging deeper and deeper into the smallest fragments of matter as they appeared further and further back in time.  Teilhard looks in the other direction, understanding the universe to be actually evolving forward.  Thus he grasps that true understanding is to be found by looking “above and ahead”, and this opens the door to the concept of God.  As we will see in today’s post, his perspective quickly becomes very dangerous.

So, Why the Pushback?

As explained earlier, Teilhard takes issue with several aspects of the materialistic understanding of evolution:

  • The main action of evolution isn’t replication and survival (as asserted in Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection), but increasing complexity
  • Using complexity as a metric to track the progress of evolution more completely addresses the whole gamut of evolution, as opposed to just the biological segment
  • The metric of complexity also offers a more complete and comprehensive understanding of the human person, from origins to destiny. Further, unlike the sideline role which humans play in Natural Selection, their place in the universe can now be properly understood.

However, as believed by Richard Dawkins and others that view evolution as a purely materialistic process, these are very dangerous ideas.  As Harvard geneticist Richard Lewointin asserts,

“It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations.  Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

Effectively, a materialistic point of view is necessary if one is to avoid belief in God.

Since the phenomenon of rising complexity over time opens the door for such a “divine foot”, it becomes very dangerous indeed.  And sure enough, although Dawkins acknowledges the phenomenon of increasing complexity in evolution, he argues strenuously against its importance:

“If God is a creator/designer, then he had to be in existence at the beginning of time.  To be able to endow his creation with the potential for complexity, he must have been very complex indeed.  But since complexity only unfolds with time, and assuming God to be a product of complexity, God couldn’t have been available since he hadn’t evolved yet.”

His insistence that the potential for complexity must be a product of evolution is contradictory.  He has no problem with the existence of the basic growth potential of the cosmos at its birth, otherwise the big bang would have been ‘dead on arrival’.  Science (and Dawkins agrees) articulates this potential in the form of six numbers, known as the ‘cosmological constants’.  The values of these constants are critical to the unfolding of the universe.   Had the value of even one constant been slightly different, any evolution of the universe would not have happened.  For example, if the ‘strong force’ of the atom (a measure of the atom’s binding force) had varied even slightly from its value of 0.007, the fusion necessary for the evolution of the atom would have been impossible, preventing the development of simple forms of matter from the initial quantum of pure energy.  Would Dawkins argue that the values of these six constants must have themselves first evolved?  Did they evolve from different values to those necessary to insure the evolution of the universe?  He fails to explain the birth of these underlying ‘principles of evolution’, but has no problem asserting that the existence of a ‘principle of complexity’ requires the insertion of a prior era of evolution which is even less explainable.  He settles for assuming that the values of the cosmological constants (and by the same logic, the potential for complexity) were in place on ‘day one’ and sees no need for them to have evolved.

A further contradiction: the materialists strongly believe that the six ‘cosmological constants’ were necessary for the unfolding of matter.  However, as noted by Teilhard, they fail to acknowledge that each of the evolutionary plateaus mapped by the standard model of physics (quarks, electrons, atoms, molecules) is accompanied by an associated increase in complexity.  This associated increase, while difficult to quantify, contributes at least as much to the ‘rise’ of matter as do the six ‘cosmological constants’.

Dawkins’ idea of the necessity for the source of complexity to itself evolve also needs to be extended to characteristics other than the ‘cosmological constants’.  Were the forces through which the earliest particles came together required to first evolve?  Did the Higgs Field evolve?  The strong force?  Gravity?  Magnetism?  These are only a few examples of the many forces through which particles have united in such a way as to increase their potential for unity (their increasing complexity), and are hence ‘engines for complexity’.  Nowhere is their origin addressed by these materialistic thinkers: they seem comfortable in assuming them also to be present at the very beginning, as long as we overlook the potential for complexity.

The Next Post

In the next post we will continue to address some of the materialist’s heartburn with the concept of the rise of complexity as an axis of evolution.