For he past several weeks we have explored a ‘secular’ definition of religion from the perspectives of the human person’s understanding, evolving, acting, belonging, sense of transcendence and stability.
The fourth and final phase will address ‘reinterpretation’ of our Western religious teachings in the light of the first three phases:
Evolution, as understood by Teilhard
Science as an objective understanding of reality
Religion as seen as an agent in human evolution.
This week we will pause in pursuit of a “Secular God” to summarize what we have said in the first two of these three phases.
Evolution (October 2014 – May 2015)
In this segment, we saw how Teilhard’s unique approach to evolution opens a new door to not only understanding the basic forces at work in the unfolding of the entire universe, but understanding how God can be seen as active in them.
Teilhard simply notes that science has come to understand that a thread can be seen as rising through the process of evolution:
– The connections of entities at each stage can result in more complex entities at the next
– The more complex entities which result are capable of more complex connections
– Hence a key thread of evolution can be seen in this advancement of the complexity of entities and the energy which unites them
A key example of this dynamic can be seen in connections between simpler entities, such as electrons, the groupings of which result in the more complex atom. As in the case of atoms, the new entities at each stage of evolution contain the potential of effecting an increased complexity of the results of the unions produced at the previous stage.
Teilhard sees this as intuitively obvious, since if any stage did not have the potential for increased complexity (for example, if electrons could not have evolved into atoms), evolution would have come to a full stop billions of years ago. (Nov 29-Dec 11, 2014: The Teilhardian Shift)
Further, Teilhard notes that this phenomenon of ‘increasing complexity’ occurs in all three of the stages of universal evolution acknowledged by science: ‘pre-life’, ‘life’, and ‘human life’. He sees this phenomenon as a ‘thread’ which unites all three stages, and hence is the underlying principle at work in the evolution of the universe.
Teilhard offers a perspective on the universe in which the human person is neither afterthought, accident nor supernaturally inserted. Emerging through a natural process which began at science’s ‘Big Bang’, he is the latest manifestation of this thread of ‘increasing complexity’.
The human person is deeply rooted in cosmic reality.
Teilhard notes that as the human person emerges as the latest product of this long process of increasing complexity, the fundamental spiral of ‘more complex entities’ united by ‘higher levels of energy’ now manifests itself in the appearance of human entities united by the energies of love. (May 14, 28: Love as the Energy of Continued Human Evolution)
Once the phenomenon of ‘increasing complexity’ is recognized as the basic principle of evolution, the door is opened to a ‘Secular’ aspect of the ground of being, to “God”. (Jan 22- April 20, 2015: Looking at Evolution)
Science (June 2015 to August, 2015)
In this second segment, we explored many of the findings of science, particularly the Standard Model of Physics. We saw how the Cosmological Constants illustrate how the forces described in the Standard Model must have certain relationships to be able to effect the evolution of matter toward the increasingly complex states initially identified by Physics and Chemistry. (June 11 – 23 July: The Framing of the Universe)
We than saw how this increasing complexity continues in living things as expressed in the theory of ‘Natural Selection’.
We also saw that as excellent as are the theories expressed in the Standard Model and Natural Selection, they fail to address the underlying phenomenon of increasing complexity. As a result, the scientific understanding of consciousness, and particularly human consciousness, is without context and is therefore incomplete.
Teilhard sees traditional science as addressing neither ‘the phenomenon of man’ nor his place in the universe.
We saw how Teilhard observed that complexity can be seen to rise through the processes described by Physics, then by Chemistry, then by Natural Selection, then on through human inventions, such as cultural constructions. This rise is therefore the thread that not only connects the three eras of evolution, but provides the key context for understanding the later emergence of complexity in the form of neurological systems, consciousness and eventually the human person.
In this segment, the action of God can now be understood in the principle of rising complexity, as it completes and unites the family of laws as identified by Science. Initially, this principle is manifested in the laws of Physics (atoms), later in those of Chemistry (molecules), then in those of Natural Selection (cells), then in Biology (cellular animals), then in mammals with large brains (Neurology). It becomes more distinct in animals with brains capable of acknowledging their existence (humans). The conclusion of this segment was that once the principle of rising complexity is understood as active along with those principles acknowledged by science, the evolution from stardust to humans can be put in a single comprehensive context.
Without it, physics is powerless to advance. With it, the universe advances from pure energy to persons.
With the inclusion of complexity as a principle of universal evolution, the extension of the action of a ‘ground of being’ is transformed from ‘material’ to ‘personal’. In the words of Teilhard
“..I doubt that whether there is a more decisive moment for a thinking being than when the scales fall from his eyes and he discovers that he is not an isolated unit lost in the cosmic solitudes and realizes that a universal will to live converges and becomes human in him”
This is the basis for a “Secular Side of God”.
The Next Post
Next week I will conclude this summary of the blog with a summary of the third segment:
September, 2015 to March, 2016: Religion