Monthly Archives: October 2017

October 26 – Grace and the DNA of Human Evolution

Today’s Post

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.

The Noosphere

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.

October 12 – Spirituality, Grace and the Sacraments

October 12 – Spirituality, Grace and the Sacraments

Today’s Post

In the last two weeks, we have taken a look at the Christian idea of ‘spirituality’ in the light of our ‘Secular Side of God’.   We saw how in this secular mode of reinterpretation, ‘spirit’ is neither supernatural nor ‘other-worldly’, but simply a word for the energy that propels evolution in the direction of increasing complexity.  We saw how Teilhard sees ‘spirit’ as neither an ‘epi’ nor a ‘meta’ phenomenon, but instead the critical phenomenon in the evolution of the universe.  Although, as Richard Dawkins acknowledges, science has not yet addressed it per se, the religious term for the energy “which eventually raised the world as we know it into its present complex existence”, is ‘spirit’.

This week we will move on to some consequences of understanding that spirituality not only underlies the evolutionary process by which the universe becomes more complex, it is the milieu in which we live.

The History of Grace

Grace is one of the basic concepts of Christianity, which understands the ‘love of God’ as a tangible thing by which God interacts between his supernatural divine life and our natural human life.

As we will see, the church teachings on this interaction with God can be seen to have much in common with our secular understanding of spirituality.  Not that the traditional dualisms of supernaturalism and otherworldliness are not present in these teachings, but the idea that grace makes up the milieu in which we live is pervasive in them.

The church teaching on grace, however, can also be seen to be tarnished by the gradual drift of Christianity towards a hierarchy which effects social stability and a system of beliefs necessary to secure successful promotion into heaven.  This can be seen in the Baltimore Catechism’s description of grace as a “Supernatural gift of God bestowed on us through the merits of Jesus Christ for our salvation.”  It goes on to say, “The principal ways of obtaining grace are prayer and the sacraments.”  In this teaching, grace is less a milieu in which we exist than a gift, not gratuitously given by God but ‘earned’ by Jesus and mediated by the church.  Grace is a ‘gift’ necessary for our ‘salvation’ which must be ‘obtained’ by asking for it (prayer) and participation in church-provided rituals (sacraments).   To a large extent, it is seen as necessary commodity to be obtained from the church.

Sacraments, as defined in the Baltimore Catechism, are “outward signs, instituted by Christ, to give grace”, and are conferred (dispensed) by church hierarchy.  In this teaching, the sacraments only ‘work’ (only dispense grace) if they are performed by the correct rank of church hierarchy (eg ‘Confirmation’ by bishop) and according to the established ritual (eg Baptism by water).

The excesses of the medieval church which led to Luther’s reformation are well documented, but one of the more egregious practices that Luther attacked was the ‘selling’ of sacraments.  To the church of this era, grace had become a hierarchy-controlled commodity without which salvation could not be accomplished but from which the church could profit.

So,  What is Grace, and Where Do The Sacraments Come In?

As we saw last week, spirituality is fundamental to the process of evolution, from the ‘big bang’ to (so far) the human.  From this secular perspective, grace is simply the quantification of this energy of evolution.  Paraphrasing Richard Dawkins, we can say, “There must be an energy of evolution, and we might as well give it the name Spirit, but Spirit is not an appropriate name unless we very explicitly divest it of all the baggage that the word ‘Spirit’ carries in the minds of most religious believers. The energy that we seek must be that which eventually raised the world as we know it into its present complex existence”.

Just as we saw in our discussion of God, the ‘axis of evolution’ rises through every branch of the tree of life.  The specific branch that rises though each human person is a continuation of the basic energy of evolution and it is manifest in its potential in our lives.

The long legacy of dualism that has risen in Christianity came to understood sacraments as a means by which the spiritual energy of God could be delivered across the wide gulf between spirit and matter, and that this aperture was opened by ‘the merits of Christ’ and therefore contributes to ‘our salvation’.

Setting aside the issue of ‘salvation’ for now, we can see how our secular approach to the idea of the energy of evolution, and our understanding of God as ‘supremely’ natural (as opposed to ‘super’ natural) permits the idea of the sacrament to be seen in a secular context.  While we may well be immersed in this milieu of grace, the very nature of its intangibility calls for reminders, ‘signposts’ of its activity in our lives.  The sacraments are religion’s attempt to erect these signposts.  They are, in Teilhard’s words, examples of “articulation of the noosphere’.

The Sacraments and Evolution

As we have suggested many times in this blog, the continuation of evolution through the human species can be understood as the development of tge skill of using our unique human neocortex brains to modulate the instinctual stimuli of the ‘lower’ limbic and reptilian brains.  In the post of February 2, 2017  – “Relating to God, Part 7: Loving God, Part 2”  (, as well as several others, we saw this skill requiring two actions.  The first action was to recognize the rise of this axis of evolution in us, and the second was to learn how to cooperate with it.  In religious terms, this is expressed as “finding and cooperating with God”.

In the posts which addressed ‘finding God’, beginning with “Relating to God – P1: Opening the Door” ( we addressed the concept of meditation as a process for finding God as understood by Teilhard, and how it has been carried through to the current day by psychology.  In these posts we saw how the idea of ‘finding God’ happens in the quest to find ourselves.

The second step is less obvious, and less treated by psychology.  To ‘cooperate’ with this manifestation of the ground of being in our lives, it is necessary to see how the energy of evolution is specifically manifested in our life so that we can cooperate with it and enhance its effects in us.  Effectively, to cooperate with the energy of evolution, we need to learn to recognize how the ‘articulations of the noosphere’ occur in our lives.

This is where the sacraments come in.

The Next Post

This week we saw grace as the manifestation of the ‘energy of evolution’ as it flows through our lives, and addressed the idea of ‘sacrament’ as articulation of how the action of grace can be seen if we know how to look.  Next week we will look at the sacraments in more detail to better understand how the seven traditional sacraments can be seen as active in our personal evolution.