De Chardin’s work is scintillating – a brilliant piece of philosophical science. But, oh how difficult to access! It appears as a work of nineteenth century charismatic spirituality, language calculated to repel a positivist scientist. Yet it deals with concepts and theories that bring together quantum mechanics, relativity, geology, evolutionary biology and anthropology. One struggles to absorb the width of his landscape.
And he distils some compelling concepts.
Material evolution started at the big bang with occasional phase-shifts from plasma to atoms, from giant molecules to cellular life, from complex organisms to the birth of ideas. Evolution within the geosphere (the crystallising and polymerising worlds) leading to the biosphere and now the noosphere.
A duality of material and spiritual, which he calls the “without” and “within”. He traces the development of the “within”, an evolution of consciousness. He names man as a stage in that process associated with the phase-shift from the evolution of biology to the evolution of ideas.
He shows that everything, both material and spiritual in each phase has common properties – plurality, unity and energy.
His ideas have of course been widely adopted, but almost by stealth and by others. He was a Jesuit priest, and the church tried to gag him. He bowed to pressure, because of his vows of obedience, and much of his work came to light after his death. . De Chardin’s work gloriously and selflessly witnesses the growth of God within and between us. What an irony that the entombed treasury of his ideas was pillaged most famously by Richard Dawkins (memes? Noosphere…), who is of course the Ian Paisly of atheism.
It is meat and needs to be chewed, but it is rich meat and will repay the effort.