Last week we introduced the concept of spirituality from a secular perspective, and saw how spirituality can be understood as underpinning the continuation of human evolution as seen in the development of human ideals. This week we will broaden out look to see the essential part played by spirituality in universal evolution.
The Spiritual Basis of Evolution
We have seen in our secular perspective of God how the principle metric of evolution is the increasing of complexity over time, and how this increasing complexity has yet to be quantified by science but yet is critical to science’s understanding of how the universe unfolds. We have also seen how this increase in complexity underpins the principle by which entities of a given order of complexity can unite in such a way that the ensuing entities are of a higher order. Teilhard sees an energy at work by which this happens at every rung of evolution. At the rung of fundamental particles, it can be seen in the effecting of electrons from bosons, the effecting of atoms from electrons, and the effecting of molecules from atoms. At the rung of the human person, it is the energy which unites us in such a way that we become more complete. At the human level this energy manifests itself as ‘love’.
It is at work, therefore, to an increasingly lesser extent as we look backward in time at all previous steps of evolution. While science does not yet have a term for this energy, the religious term is ‘spirit’.
As Teilhard points out, in the collection of his thoughts, “Human Energy”, therefore, the roots of this essential ‘complexifying’ energy of evolution are deeply embedded in the ‘axis of evolution’.
“Spirituality is not a recent accident, arbitrarily or fortuitously imposed on the edifice of the world around us; it is a deeply rooted phenomenon, the traces of which we can follow with certainty backwards as far as the eye can reach, in the wake of the movement that is drawing us forward. ..it is neither super-imposed nor accessory to the cosmos, but that it quite simply represents the higher state assumed in and around us by the primal and indefinable thing that we call, for want of a better name, the ‘stuff of the universe’. Nothing more; and also nothing less. Spirit is neither a meta- nor an epi- phenomenon, it is the phenomenon.”
As Teilhard sees it, this ‘secular’ approach to spirituality overcomes yet another dualism that is common to religion: spirit vs matter.
“Spirit and matter are (only) contradictory if isolated and symbolized in the form of abstract, fixed notions of pure plurality and pure simplicity, which can in any case never be realized. (In reality) one is inseparable from the other; one is never without the other; and this for the good reason that one appears essentially as a sequel to the synthesis of the other. The phenomenon of spirit is not therefore a sort of brief flash in the night; it reveals (itself in) a gradual and systematic passage from the unconscious to the conscious, and from the conscious to the self-conscious.”
Teilhard is making an essential point about spirit and matter here. He sees matter evolving to higher levels of complexity (‘synthesizing’) under the influence of the energy of complexification (‘spirit’), and the increased complexity which results from such synthesis is therefore capable of more complex interaction. This increased material level of complexity is a manifestation of an increased level of spirit. To Teilhard, spirit is “Nothing more; and also nothing less” than the energy of evolution.
Universal Spirituality and Dualism
He goes on to elaborate how the ‘spirit/matter’ dualism so endemic to religion is overcome by the realization that instead of spirit and matter in opposition to each other, they are simply co-operative aspects of reality as it emerges and continues to evolve to levels of greater complexity:
“The problem of the world, for our minds, is the association it presents of two opposed elements (spirit and matter) in a series of linked combinations covering the expanse between thought and unconsciousness. Now if consciousness is taken to be a meta-phenomenon, this dualism in motion is simply and verbally noted, without any attempt or even any possibility of interpretation. If this dualism is pushed aside as an epi-phenomenon, it is conjured out of sight. But it is simply and harmoniously resolved, on the other hand, in a world in which consciousness and its appearance are regarded as the phenomenon. Everything then takes its natural place in a universe in process of changing its spiritual state…And hominization (the appearance of the human) merely marks a decisive and critical point in the gradual development of this change.”
In Teilhard’s perspective, therefore, the basic process of evolution can now be seen as a process of matter “changing its spiritual state’. ‘Spirit’ can now be seen as that which underlies the very axis of evolution, finally becoming fully tangible in the human person and his society.
The Next Post
This week we took a look at the concept of spirituality from our secular perspective, and saw how spirituality is a phenomenon essential to the process of evolution as it lifts the universe to ‘its current level of complexity’.
Next week we will continue our exploration of Christian concepts by applying this perspective to the Christian concept of ‘grace’.