Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit priest who died in 1955, offered the first Christian spirituality that fully integrated Christian doctrine with modern scientific and evolutionary findings.
For starters, Teilhard pointed out that divine revelation did not begin with Abraham or even the first humans. The discoveries of science show us, says Teilhard, that God has been revealing God’s self from the first moment of the Big Bang. We now know that that first burst of creation from God goes back almost 14 billion years, while human civilization has only been around for less than 30,000 years. (Civilized homo sapiens accounts for only about 0.000002 of that time, a two-millionth part of the whole divine revelation story.)
Only during the past century have we been able to “read” what God has been revealing all this time. With the great telescopes on Earth and the Hubble telescope in space we have learned that God’s creativity, starting with the Big Bang, has given birth to over 125 billion galaxies in deep space, and that each galaxy contains about 200 billion stars, and most of those stars, like our Sun, have planetary bodies orbiting around them. The universe is still in creation mode. Scientists estimate that new stars are being born at the rate of about one every three minutes.
That’s quite a lot of revelation.
We discovered that our Sun and it planets are relatively young, only about four billion years old. It took Earth its first billion years just to evolve to where life was possible, and another billion to evolve the simplest of single-celled creatures, and another billion to evolve complex single-celled creatures. Only within the last million years or so appeared the first forms of hominids that began to look a like us. Homo sapiens emerged about 100,000 years ago and human civilization took hold about 30,000 years ago.
Those are some of the facts that science is reporting to us. But where does God fit in this picture? And what might God be revealing during all this time? That’s where Teilhard comes in.
Teilhard figured out one of the important laws that God had implanted in creation from its first moment. Teilhard knew we live in a continually evolving universe and that evolution seems to have a direction or purpose, since in those 14 billion years evolution has taken us from the individual elementary particles of the Big Bang to continually evolving contemporary complex social systems on Earth. As Teilhard was fond of saying, we humans are “the rocks come to consciousness.”
Teilhard described this evolutionary trajectory as following the Law of Attraction-Connection-Complexity-Consciousness. He believed that God implanted this law in every particle emitted from the Big Bang. Everything is Attracted to other things, and wants to form Connections with them. We see this in the development of atoms from primary particles and molecules from atoms and so on through all the elements of the Chemical Table. Attraction is still at work in us humans. The drive of Connection is to make things more and more complex, from single-celled beings to more and more complex living things. Complexity leads eventually to Consciousness, which is itself an evolutionary process, moving in animals from sensory-awareness, to perceptions, concepts, language, abstraction, and self-reflection in humans.
The Law of Attraction-Connection-Complexity-Consciousness has been the same divinely implanted driving force of evolution since the beginning. So, if you want to ground your spirituality upon something basic, it’s this law of evolution. It will help take you where God wants you to go.
To practice it, first, make yourself Attractive in body, mind and spirit, then build good Connections. Promote Complexity in your life and expand your Consciousness. That is the way to move evolution forward, because certainly we are not yet done developing and evolving. Teilhard will tell you to practice those four things—attraction, connection, complexity, and consciousness—and you will be acting in resonance with the evolutionary law of the universe that God implanted in every particle of your being.
For Christians, this means you are helping build the Body of Christ.
Louis Savary, Ph.D., S.T.D., is the author of “Teilhard de Chardin The Divine Milieu Explained: A Spirituality for the 21st Century” (Paulist Press, 2007). He also has a website www.teilhardforbeginners.com.