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Johannes Seidel
Teilhard’s Concept of Evolution


The concept of evolution is crucial to Teilhard‘s conception of the world. In general, his conception may be characterized as a Christian interpretation of an evolutionary world: Evolution and creation, cosmos and history of salvation are not contrasts but complementary aspects of the one reality. Teilhard‘s concept of evolution is not restricted to biological evolution, but it encloses both the history of the universe and the history of mankind. In my paper, I’ll focus on Teilhard‘s “physics,“ and in particular, on his understanding of the biological evolution. Teilhard‘s understanding of evolution differs from Darwinism in two ways: According to Teilhard, evolution has a direction, and this direction means “higher“. Complexity and consciousness continuously develop into higher levels, caused by planetary compression. The more complex an entity is, the more conscious it is. From this it follows that totally brute matter doesn‘t exist. Instead, all elements of the universe contain some germ of internalness or consciousness. Its importance increases corresponding to the increase in complexity. And finally, reflection, thinking and freedom emerge in man. According to Teilhard‘s “law of complexity and consciousness,“ life and consciousness are not accidental or anomalous phenomena in the universe but the intensification of an omnipresent property of the matter. With regard to the mechanisms of evolution, the question follows: Was Teilhard a Lamarckist or rather a Darwinist? Is evolution brought about by inner “psychic“ factors or by external “material“ factors? According to the law of complexity and consciousness, principally both internal and external factors are involved. But in detail, Teilhard changed his position in the course of time: In “Le Phénomène humain“ (1938/40) Teilhard explicitly rejects Darwinian principles like “natural selection“: Internal factors, rather than external mechanisms are responsible for biological evolution. But in the following years, he turned more and more from Lamarckism to Neo-Darwinism: In 1950 he accepts “natural selection“ as the only explanation for pre-human evolution. And in 1955 Teilhard explicitly rejects “certain vitalistic or finalistic conceptions.“ What about Teilhard’s concept of “orthogenesis?” Originally Teilhard defended the classical concept of orthogenesis, but in the course of time he tried to “correct” the traditional concept: In the end, his concept had more or less the same meaning as the English word “trend.” Nevertheless he insisted on the word “orthogenesis.” Finally in 1953, Teilhard framed a thesis in reaction to the encyclical „Humani generis“ where monogenism was decreed as an essential part of catholic faith. For Teilhard, “monogenism” is simply ridiculous: If matter has the tendency to create molecules, and if life is the natural prolongation of this process of “molecularisation;“ if there is a general trend towards more complexity and consciousness, i.e. if the emergence of reflection is the normal manifestation of a general property of matter; and if there are millions of galaxies in the universe, each of them with the same general evolution as in our galaxy: then—so Teilhard’s conclusion—it would be highly improbable that mankind is the only intelligent species in the universe.

Johannes Seidel has been a professor of “philosophy of nature,” “transdisciplinary questions of biology and philosophy,” and of “philosophy of science” at the Hochschule für Philosophie in Munich since 1995.

He was born in 1953 in Göttingen, Germnay.  In 1972, he entered the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and was ordained a priest in 1980.  He studied philosophy in Munich and theology at the Gregorian University in Rome.  Then he studied biochemistry in Göttingen and molecular cell biology (Isolierung und Charakterisierung durch Alpha-Faktor abgeschalteter Gene in Saccharomyces cerevisiae).  In 2007 he earned a doctorate in moral theology (Schon Mensch oder noch nicht? Untersuchungen zum ontologischen Status humanbiologischer Keime).

He is also a member of the Institut für naturwissenschaftliche Grenzfragen zur Philosophie und Theologie in Munich and he belongs to the Instituto de Investigación sobre Liberalismo, Krausismo y Masonería in Madrid.  His main interests are: transdisciplinary philosophical questions of molecular biology and neuronal biology; the thinking of the paleontologist and Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin; the philosophy of the German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause; and questions of biblical theology.


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