Last week we saw how the energy of evolution is manifest in the milieu in which we live our human lives, ‘grace’, and how the concept of ‘sacrament’, in our secular context, is simply identification of some of the ways that this energy can be encountered. In Teilhard’s vernacular, they are examples of ‘articulation of the noosphere.’
This week I’d like to look a little more at the way that Teilhard viewed the ‘noosphere’, and how such articulation is necessary to light the path to the advance of evolution through our lives.
As Teilhard sees it, the evolution of our planet can be seen as the appearance of ‘spheres’, layers of evolutionary products which have appeared in succession on our planet. He sees these spheres as:
– The ‘lithosphere’, the conglomeration of molecules which pack together under the influence of gravity, the same force by which our planetary disk precipitated out into distinct planets surrounding the Sun.
– The ‘atmosphere’ which forms as the gas molecules separate from the solids
– The ‘hydrosphere’ which forms as the atmosphere evolves into water and air
– The ‘biosphere’ which emerges as some molecules become complex enough to form cells
These ‘spheres’ are well recognized by science, and their appearance in evolutionary history is well established.
To these fundamental spheres, Teilhard adds the ‘noosphere’, literally the ‘sphere of thought’. He sees that with the appearance of the human, our planet acquires a new layer. As humans emerge and begin to cover the planet, he sees it as obvious that the planet takes on a new form. Today’s controversies over such subjects as ecology and global warning are evidence of the emerging awareness of just how significant the noosphere has become.
The Articulation of the Noosphere
As we have seen, Teilhard sees evolution proceeding through the human as a continuation of the increase of complexity that can be observed over the preceding fourteen or so billion years. He also notes that in each phase of evolution, from the ‘physics’ phase, through the ‘biological’ phase, this increase of complexity ‘changes state’. In his view, the energy which drives complexification itself becomes more complex. The Standard Model of Physics is still evolving (note the emerging theories of Quantum Physics and ‘dark’ matter) and thus offers new paradigms by which complexification in this phase can be articulated. The theory of Natural Selection is also still evolving as it addresses the increasing complexity of living things. However, when it comes to understanding, much less measuring, the process of how the continuation of the rise of complexity can be seen in the human person and his culture is much less clear.
Teilhard notes that all religions attempt to identify ‘how we should be if we would be what we can be’. With the strong infusion of myths, superstitions, dualities and cohesive value to the state that are inevitable over such longs periods of development (arising in the prescientific world of thousands of years ago), we are left today with inconsistent and even contradictory guidelines for our continued development. Science does not offer much help in this area. Those expressions of belief that claim scientific foundations are simply attempts to derive meaning from empirical data, and offer little support for the faith needed to deal with the daily effort of human life.
But as Teilhard sees effective human life as requiring us to ‘set our sails to the winds of life’, the skills of reading the wind and tending the tiller are first necessary to be learned. As he sees it:
“And, conventional and impermanent as they may seem on the surface, what are the intricacies of our social forms, if not an effort to isolate little by little what are one day to become the structural laws of the noosphere.
“In their essence, and provided they keep their vital connection with the current that wells up from the depths of the past, are not the artificial, the moral and the juridical simply the hominized versions of the natural, the physical and the organic?”
It seems obvious that moving the human enterprise forward comes down to ‘trial and error’. At the base, this is simply ‘survival of the fittest’: those things that we learn which enhance our life are collected, refined through the development of our culture, and encoded in morals and laws. Those which don’t atrophy over time as they become seen as less valuable.
These skills that we accumulate in our culture are ‘articulations of the noosphere”. They can be understood as the ‘genetic material’ of human evolution, weaving their way into the thread of universal evolution as it rises through the human person. By this criterion, sacraments can be understood as examples of behavior that are passed from generation to generation via the cultural ‘tissue’ of religion.
Religion is not the only place that such noospheric articulations can be found. As we saw in the post of September 14 on the secular basis of spirituality, a secular example of spirituality can be found in a fundamental axiom of our government. It is at the basis of the idea of a ‘representative government’, and often described as the ‘will of the people’ so essential to democratic governments. While not finding articulation per se in the new American constitution and bill of rights, Thomas Jefferson was very clear in his concept of the validity of this ‘consensus in government’ as an ‘articulation of the noosphere’:
“I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be other that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master. I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves.”
This exercise of ‘trust of the people to govern themselves’ is a secular example of an ‘articulation of the noosphere’. When we engage in such activity as the process of voting, we are implicitly connecting with one of the threads of evolution as it runs through human evolution. This activity is effectively a ‘secular sacrament’.
The Next Post
This week looked a little deeper into Teilhard’s insights; the evolving understanding of ‘how we should be if we would be what we can be’, which he refers to as ‘articulation of the noosphere’, and saw how such insights contribute to the continuation of the thread of evolution as it rises through the human. We saw that such articulations are essentially the ‘cultural DNA’ of our evolution, and that the sacraments can be seen as examples.
Next week we will move onto reinterpreting sacraments in the light of this secular perspective.