Teilhard's Concept of Evolution

1. Introduction

The concept of evolution is crucial in Teilhard’s conception of the world; it is the most central concept in his “Weltbild”.

Considering the importance of this concept, a look at the secondary literature surprises: There are many books and articles on Teilhard’s spirituality, on his concept of love, on his relationship to women etc.; again and again it is affirmed that Teilhard reconciled Christian faith and modern science, and that he integrated the idea of creation and the concept of evolution. But strange enough: There are only very few articles on Teilhard’s concept of evolution.

It should not be forgotten that during Teilhard’s lifetime the traditional Darwinian ideas were replaced by the so called “new synthesis” of Theodosius Dobzhansky, Ernst Mayr, George G. Simpson etc. So questions arise like:

  • Was Teilhard inclined to neo-Lamarckism or rather to neo-Darwinism?
  • Did Teilhard on account of the “new synthesis” modify his concept of evolution?
  • What are the specific features of Teilhard’s concept of evolution?

Before discussing these questions, I would like to characterize the formal structure of Teilhard’s thinking:

2. Basic features of Teilhard’s thinking

Aside from Teilhard’s paleontological and geological papers, and concentrating on his philosophical works: What are the basic lines in his thinking?

In general his philosophical works may be characterized as a Christian interpretation of an evolutionary world: Based on his spirituality Teilhard wants to integrate faith and science. According to Teilhard, evolution and creation, cosmos and history of salvation are not contrasts but complementary aspects of the one reality, of the one process of reality. Within Teilhard’s “Weltanschauung” three levels of perception may be distinguished: physics or phenomenology, metaphysics of hyperphysics, and mysticism. Object of perception is always the entire reality. What does Teilhard mean by physics, hyperphysics and mysticism?

“Physics” in the context of Teilhard’s “Weltanschauung” does not mean physics as natural science but a kind of phenomenology: a phenomenology of the cosmos, of life, and particulary of mankind and its history. As Teilhard explains in the Preface of the “Phenomenon of Man”: The book “deals with man solely as a phenomenon. The pages which follow do not attempt to give an explanation of the world, but only an introduction to such an explanation. [...] But this book also deals with the whole phenomenon of man.” (1947b, 29)1 Because human beings as part of the cosmos ask about their future, questions about the future of mankind and universe are part of Teilhard’s “physics”. And because it is part of the human phenomenon to reflect and to formulate moral judgements, “physics” has to talk about values and systems of values.

“Metaphysics” or “Hyperphysics” according to Teilhard is not identical with classical metaphysics, but “hyperphysics” interprets the process of evolution as an effect of unification, as a process of creation and as a process of “Christification”. In all this the concept of evolution is not restricted to biological evolution, but it encloses both the history of the universe and the history of mankind.

And by “mysticism” Teilhard means the capability to foresee or to have a presentiment of the ultimate unity of the world. “The mystical sense is essentially a feeling for, a presentiment of, the total and final unity of the world, beyond its present sensibly apprehended multiplicity”. (1951d, 209) Furthermore: “What I mean here by mysticism is the need, the science and the art of attaining simultaneously, and each through the other, the universal and the spiritual. To become at the same time, and by the same act, one with All, through release from all multiplicity or material gravity: there you have, deeper than any ambition for pleasure, for wealth or power, the essential dream of the human soul”. (1948, 199)

In my presentation I want to focus on Teilhard’s “physics”, that is: on his phenomenology – and in particular on his understanding of the biological evolution.

3. Teilhard’s understanding of the biological evolution2

Teilhard’s understanding of evolution differs from Darwinism in two points: According to Teilhard, evolution has a direction, and this direction means “higher”: direction and “higher”.

In contrast, Darwinists like Ernst Mayr reject to characterize evolutionary processes by words like “higher” or “lower” following “Darwin, who reminded himself ‘never to use the words higher or lower.’”3 Darwinism admits an increase in number of forms. But what reason have we to decide that a vertebrate is “more” than a bacterium? “Many biologists, intent upon scientific objectivity, are reluctant to see in the development of terrestrial life anything more than an unlimited proliferation of forms, all on the same level. A steady increase of living creatures and living combinations, they agree; but, despite this, not more life. What reason have we for supposing that a mammal is more than a polypary?” (1950c, 291)

Teilhard objects to such an attitude: More convincing than this “flat” view of the living world is a “three-dimensional” perspective, where complexity and consciousness continuously develop into higher levels, caused by planetary compression. “Far more suggestive and convincing than this ‘flat‘ vision of the biological world is the three-dimensional concept of a heavenly body on which, through the effect of planetary compression, the state of complexity (or, which amounts to the same thing, the ‘psychic’ temperature of the biosphere) is continually rising.” (1950c, 291) This statement comprises three specific assumptions of Teilhard:

  1. Instead of a duality of spirit and matter Teilhard pleads for only one “Weltstoff” with two sides or faces: a “material” outside and a “psychic” inside.
  2. Evolution of such a “Weltstoff” means an increase in complexity and consciousness.
  3. Such an increase is caused by the fact that the earth as a globe has a finite surface.

4. The “law of complexity and consciousness”
4.1 The concept of complexity

Let us start with Teilhard’s concept of “complexity”. According to Teilhard the term “complexity” does not mean a simple collection of parts like a pile of sand or a star. Neither does it mean a simple repetition of units as found in a crystal. “I shall not [...] use complexity to mean simple aggregation, i.e. any assembly of non-arranged elements – such as a heap of sand, for example – or even such as the stars and planets [...]. Nor shall I use complexity to connote simple, undefined, geometric repetition of units [...], such as we find in the [...] phenomenon of crystallisation.” (1950b, 19-20) “[I]n the star or the crystal, there is nothing in the way of an inherent unity, confined within itself. All there it is simply the emergence of an accidentally ‘rounded-off’ system.” (1950b, 20)

Instead, according to Teilhard, the term “complexity” means that a certain number of elements is combined in such a way that they form a wholeness like an atom, a molecule or a cell – these are natural units characterized by signs of autonomy. “I shall strictly confine my use of the word to the meaning of combination, i.e. that particular higher form of grouping whose property it is to knit together upon themselves a certain fixed number [...] of elements, with or without the secondary addition of aggregation or repetition – within a closed whole of determined radius: such as the atom, the molecule, the cell, the metazoon, etc. A fixed number of elements, a closed whole: this twofold characteristic of complexity must be emphasised [...].” (1950b, 20) And: “Combination [...] produces a type of group that is structurally completed around itself at each moment [...]: the corpuscle, a unit truly and doubly ‘natural’ in the sense that while organically limited in its contours so far as its own existence is concerned it also, at certain higher levels of internal complexity, manifests strictly autonomous phenomena. We find complexity progressively giving rise to a certain ‘centricity’ – not of symmetry, but of action. To put it more briefly and exactly, we might call it ‘centro-complexity.’” (1950b, 20-21) Teilhard concludes: “Two different factors or terms are therefore necessary to denote the complexity of a system; one expresses the number of elements or groups of elements contained in the system; the other, much more difficult to represent, expresses the number, variety and closeness of the links”. (1942, 222)

Summarizing, Teilhard defines “the ‘complexity’ of a thing [...] as the quality the thing possesses of being composed –
a of a larger number of elements, which are
b more tightly organised among themselves.” (1945, 105)

4.2 Parameters of complexity

How could complexity be measured? Teilhard proposes to measure complexity in a first approximation only by counting the elements of an entity, e.g. the “‘number of associated atoms’” (1942, 223; cf. 1950b, 21) in a molecule, in a cell or in an animal.

”So long as we remain in so-called ‘inorganic’ chemistry, this number is still small; in the largest molecules it remains about a hundred (102). But in organic chemistry, the figures rise rapidly. In the case of the simplest albumins, they reach, or even greatly exceed ten thousand. In the case of the filterable viruses (those enigmatic corpuscles of which one cannot say whether they are still chemical molecules or infra-bacteria), we are already in the order of millions (17 x 106) in the case of the tobacco virus”. (1942, 223) Given a lack of data, Teilhard supposes that a simple animal cell contains more than a thousand millions (1010) atoms. And assuming that a human body is formed of approximately a thousand billion cells (1012) cells – today we know that in fact it is formed by approximately 1013 cells – Teilhard calculates that it contains something like 1022 atoms – an inconceivable number. (Cf. 1942, 223) So, there are not only the two abysses, as Pascal thought, i.e. the infinitely great and the infinitely small, but there is a third extreme: the infinitely complex. (Cf. 1942, 219)

Visualizing in a diagram the small and the great by a vertical line, Teilhard adds a horizontal line to visualize complexity estimated only by the number of associated atoms, and he arranges into this diagram the natural corpuscles in relation to their linear dimensions and complexity. (1954, 213 figure 16; cf. 1942, 226 figure). The resulting curve needs to be interpreted.

First of all, Teilhard concedes, that it is a very rough approximation to define complexity simply by counting the number of associated atoms while neglecting the number, variety and closeness of the links between them. (Cf. 1950b, 21-22; 1942, 222) By determining only the number of elements, but not their combination, the degree of complexity is definitively underestimated, especially in the very complex corpuscles. Especially at the organizational level of higher beings “the actual number of atoms contained in complex units is of minor importance compared with the number and quality of the links established between the atoms.” (1945, 111) Complexity “is not, therefore, a matter of simple multiplicity but of organised multiplicity; not simple complication but centrated complication.” (1945, 105)

Second, Teilhard observes: The more complex an entity is, the more conscious it is; and the more conscious an entity is, the more complex it is. The degree of complexity and the degree of consciousness correspond to each other. “The more complex a being is [...] the more is it centred upon itself and therefore the more aware does it become. In other words, the higher the degree of complexity in a living creature, the higher its consciousness; and vice versa. The two properties vary in parallel and simultaneously. If we depict them in diagrammatic form, they are equivalent and interchangeable. So it comes to this, that when we have reached the point where complexity can no longer be reckoned in numbers of atoms we can nevertheless continue to measure it (and accurately) by noting the increase of consciousness in the living creature – in practical terms, the development of its nervous system.” (1945, 111-112) From this observation Teilhard draws several conclusions:

4.2.1 The “inside”/”interior” of matter (le dedans des choses; intÈrieur, face interne, intÈrioritÈ)

If in principle the degree of complexity and the degree of awareness correspond to each other, then it will follow, that all entities or corpuscles have a however described “inside” or “interior”.

To attribute an “inside” or “interior” to all matter, even where psychism is not perceptible, Teilhard justifies by analogy to certain phenomena in modern physics: In our everyday world experience “the mass of a body does not vary with its speed; space obeys Euclidean geometry; we can speak unequivocally of the simultaneousness of two events, and plot with no uncertainty the position and speed (simultaneously) of a moving object; [...] finally, inanimate objects are generally motionless [...]. [–] But what happens if we change zone ? [–] On the side of vastness, reason and experience first discover with astonishment, that it becomes more and more difficult, and finally impossible, to speak of simultaneousness. [...] Extended to years of light distances, the general time we imagine breaks up into particular times for each system. And, together with this (something still more shocking to our imagination), a new and general curvature seems to appear in space itself. Space becomes spherical [...] and the sum of the angles of a triangle is no longer equal to two right angles. In this direction we enter, as is said, into the realm of (generalized) relativity. [–] Let us return towards the infinitely small. Here the metamorphosis of the world is more disturbing still. First the corpuscles, as they diminish in size, are normally in continuous movement. [...] It is no longer possible to describe these ultra-small corpuscles in terms of temperature or colour – for it is by their ceaseless movement that impressions of heat and light are formed for our senses. [...] It is no longer possible even to give them (from our point of view, at least) a durable individuality. For, outside their fugitive appearances, they act only collectively, that is to say statistically. Here is what is called the realm of quanta [...]. [–] In fact everything happens as if at either end of the world, certain properties of matter became exaggerated and dominant, which at the other end of the world were so tenuous as no longer to make a mark on our experience.” (1942, 220-221) That is: “Every infinite, physics teaches us, is characterised by certain ‘special’ effects proper to that infinite: not in the sense that it is the only thing to possess them, but in the sense that those effects become perceptible, or even dominant, at the particular scale of that infinite. Such, for example, in the infinitesimal are the quanta, and relativity in the immense. Once we admit this, we have to ask what can be the specific effect proper to the vast complexes we have just recognised as constituting a third infinite in the universe. If we consider that question carefully, surely we must answer that the specific effect is in fact precisely what we call life – life, with its two series of unique properties: one, a series of external properties (assimilation, reproduction etc.) the other internal (interiorisation, psychism)” (1950b, 23), and in view of human life, precisely, consciousness and freedom (cf. 1942, 225).

This implies: Totally brute matter does not exist. Instead all elements of the universe contain some germ of internalness – that is consciousness – despite the fact that in the very simple and numerous corpuscles this property is imperceptible. The importance of consciousness increases corresponding to the increase/degree in complexity or centredness. And in man finally reflection, thinking and freedom emerge. “[W]hy not say this: ‘Absolutely inert and totally brute matter does not exist. Every element contains, at least to an infinitesimal degree, some germ of inwardness and spontaneity, that is to say of consciousness. In extremely simple and extremely numerous corpuscles (which only manifest themselves by their statistical effects) this property remains imperceptible to us, as if it did not exist. On the other hand its importance grows with its complexity – or, which comes to the same thing, with the degree of ‘centration’ of the corpuscles on themselves. From an atomic complexity of the order of millions (virus) onwards, it begins to come into our experience. [...] Finally in man, after the critical point of ‘reflexion’, it takes the form of thought and thereafter becomes dominant. Just as in the infinitely small, great numbers explain the determinism of physical laws; and just as in immensity, the curvature of space explains the forces of gravity, so, in the third infinite, complexity (and the ‘centredness’ resulting from it) gives rise to the phenomena of freedom’.” (1942, 225)

According to Teilhard, coherence and productiveness are the two criteria of scientific truth. (Cf. 1942, 227; 1947a, 182) In this sense, he adduces several arguments in favour of his “hypothesis” (cf. 1942, 227):

First epistomologically, it sets psychology, biology and physics in a coherent context. Hitherto “the whole of biology has been left out on its own, with no intelligible connection with the rest of physics. This is corrected if (as suggested by my curve of corpusculisation) life is, in scientific experience, no other than a specific effect (the specific effect) of complexified matter: a property in itself co-extensive with the whole stuff of the cosmos, but perceptible to us only where (after stepping over a number of thresholds that we shall later specify more exactly) complexity exceeds a certain critical value” (1950b, 24). From this point of view “biology [is] simply the physics of the very highly complex” (1950b, 24). Furthermore “a natural connection is drawn between the two worlds of physics and psychology, hitherto supposed irreconcilable [...] in the sense that it becomes organically and physically rooted in the same cosmic process with which physics is concerned.” (1942, 227)

Second, in this perspective, life and consciousness appear no longer as merely accidental or mysterious phenomena in the universe. (Cf. 1942, 227) Life and consciousness are not accidental or anomalous phenomena in the universe, but they are the intensification of an omnipresent property of the matter. “[L]ife is not a peculiar anomaly, sporadically flowering on matter – but an exaggeration, through specially favourable circumstances, of a universal cosmic property” (1950b, 18), and “the appearance of consciousness ceases to be a chance, strange, aberrant, fortuitous occurrence in the universe.” (1942, 227).

4.2.2 Cerebration as a parameter of complexity

Measuring the degree of complexity solely on the basis of the associated elements, such as atoms, neglecting their combination, i.e. the number and nature of their links, there is particularly in highly complex entities like animals the problem that the level of complexity or centredness cannot be adequately determined. But if complexity and consciousness correspond to each other, and if increase of consciousness in higher animals corresponds to “the cerebral perfection of the nervous system” (1954, 214) – or, more exactly, to the perfection of its cephalised portion (cf. 1950b, 48) – then there is a very precise parameter for determining the complexity of these higher forms of life: cerebration or cephalisation.

4.2.3 Complexification as historical vector

The curve of increasing complexification gives us, according to Teilhard, “a natural classification” and “an order of birth, and so a line of genesis.” (1950b, 25) – a sequence of the emergence of increasingly complex corpuscles: Whether it is the formation of the chemical elements, of the molecules, or of the living creatures: Degrees of complexity correspond to a historical order: More complex forms only come into existence when less complex forms already exist for a long time.

The process began with cosmic energy, which “taken in the most primordial, the most extended, the most ‘radiant’ form we know, appears already granulated”. (1954, 211) Then this granulisation was “‘materialising’ rapidly in an extremely numerous swarm of elements, extremely small and often alarmingly brief in their existence: the positive, negative or neutral elements of the atom.” (1954, 211) But “[t]his initial corpusculisation is only the beginning or outset of an endless process of ‘ultra-corpusculisation’”. (1954, 212) “The whole atomic series, first of all, much longer than we think; and yet (despite its isotopes and its transuranians) relatively limited in its combinations of electrons, protons and neutrons. [–] The whole molecular series, in which, on the level of organic chemistry, the number of atoms associated in each particle [...] rapidly achieves astronomical figures. [–] And, lastly, inevitably connected by way of the largest proteins, the whole zoological series formed by living beings: since, to the observant, the cell (and so, stage by stage, man or the whale) is nothing else but an enormous supermolecule.” (1954, 212)

“Whatever instance we may think of, we may be sure that every time a richer and better organised structure will correspond to the more developed consciousness. [–] The simplest form of protoplasm is already a substance of unheard of complexity. This complexity increases in geometrical progression as we pass from the protozoon higher and higher up the scale of the metazoa.” (1940, 60) And: “Among higher living beings [...], the nervous system (studied in the most diverse phyla) shows the single perfectly clear tendency to gather cephalically into increasingly large ganglia. Whether insects or vertebrates, it is rare for a living group of any kind, provided one can follow it over a long enough space of time, not to show a notable advance in what we can call indifferently either cephalisation or cerebration.” (1954, 220)

Summarizing these ideas Teilhard formulates his famous “law of complexity and consciousness”: In the long run matter manifests the property to arrange more and more complex and at the same time more and more conscious entities. This double movement accelerates. It exists in the world of atoms and molecules, and it is evident in the world of life. Or in the words of Teilhard: “[T]he ‘Law of complexity/consciousness’ [...] can be expressed as follows: ‘Left long enough to itself, under the prolonged and universal play of chance, matter manifests the property of arranging itself in more and more complex groupings, and at the same time in ever-deepening layers of consciousness; this double and combined movement of physical unfolding and psychic interiorisation (or centration) once started, continuing, accelerating and growing to its utmost extent.’ [–] This tendency towards complexity-consciousness [...] is easily recognisable on the atomic plane, and it is confirmed on the molecular. But it is patently on the plane of life that it is revealed in all its clarity – and all its additiveness; and here it can, at the same time, be translated into a convenient and simplified formula: the tendency to cerebration. [–] In the growing perfection and cephalisation of the nervous system, we seem really to have a concrete and precise parameter which allows us to follow, through the jungle of living forms, the absolute and effective variation of cosmic corpuscularity.” (1951a, 139)

So far the description. And now the question: What type of impetus or pressure causes this complexification?

4.3 Globosity of the earth and complexification

With regard to the biological evolution I think Teilhard gives an amazingly easy and yet plausible answer: Complexification is caused by the fact that the surface of the globe is finite. “Two quantitative factors are recognisable at first sight as partially explaining this very remarkable sliding of cosmic energy towards more and more complicated corpuscular states. On the one hand, the effect of compression, in which the role of gravity reappears (in so far as that with each star that it engenders it brings into existence a closed surface on which the particles can ‘arrange themselves’ and thus avoid ‘crushing one another’). And, on the other hand, a play of large numbers, capable of bringing out, among an unimaginable number of elements constantly jostled together under pressure and during immense periods, the most improbable combinations.” (1954, 214)

Only under pressure (and as the pressure increases) does vitalised matter react, in order to survive, by ultra-organising: such is the general primary condition of the cosmic tendency towards Improbability.” (1954, 159) In other words: The emergence of more complex forms is a function of more variety. More variety is a function of increase in biomass per square meter. Increase of biomass per square meter is a function of the fact that the surface of the planet is finite. Or negatively spoken: According to Teilhard life would not evolve on an infinite surface – because there would be no pressure to evolve. “On an indefinite or indefinitely extensible planetary surface, life would no doubt have remained stationary, supposing that it had ever been born.” (1954, 159 footnote 1)

5. Was Teilhard a Lamarckist or rather a Darwinist?

When we discuss Teilhard’s concept of evolution we have to ask with regard to the mechanisms of evolution: Was Teilhard a Lamarckist or rather a Darwinist? Is evolution brought about by inner “psychic” factors or by external “material” factors?

In a first step of answer it should be emphasized that according to the “law of complexity and consciousness” principally both internal and external factors are involved. By a more detailed analysis of the works of Teilhard, however, it turns out that Teilhard’s conception of evolutionary mechanisms changed in the course of time.

In “The Phenomenon of Man”, written 1938/1940, Teilhard explicitly rejects Darwinian principles like “struggle of life”, “natural selection”, “survival of the fittest” and “adaptation to the environment”: Internal factors, rather than external factors are responsible for biological evolution. “The Impetus of Life. This is a question hotly debated by naturalists ever since the understanding of nature has been hinged on the understanding of evolution. Faithful to their analytical and determinist methods, biologists persist in looking for the principle of vital developments in external stimuli or in statistics: the struggle for survival, natural selection and so on. From this point of view, the animate world could never advance [...] otherwise than by the automatically regulated sum of all the efforts it makes to remain itself.” (1940, 148) Furthermore: “It is all very well to say that a mutation 4 occurs at the point where the stem leaves the verticil. But what then? [...] [W]e are definitely forced to abandon the idea of explaining every case simply as the survival of the fittest, or as a mechanical adaptation to environment and use.” (1940, 150) In a first attempt Teilhard asseverates: ”Far be it from me [...] to deny the important, indeed essential, role played by this historic working of material form.” (1940, 148) But one page later he declares: “The impetus of the world [...] can only have its ultimate source in some inner principle”. (1940, 149) And two pages later: “[W]e are confronted with an effect not of external forces but of psychology. According to current thought, an animal develops its carnivorous instincts because its molars become cutting and its claws sharp. Should we not turn the proposition around? In other words if the tiger elongates its fangs and sharpens its claws is it not rather because, following its line of descent, it receives, develops, and hands on the ‘soul of a carnivore’?” (1940, 150) In short: According to Teilhard, biological evolution has to be explained by psychology, not by external mechanisms. This was Teilhard’s position in the year 1940.

Special attention deserves a half-page footnote to his remarks – presumably Teilhard formulated this footnote later than the main text of “The phenomenon of Man” –, in which Teilhard on the one hand feels urged to defend his remarks, but in which on the other hand he modifies his ideas: “In various quarters I shall be accused of showing too Lamarckian a bent in the explanations which follow, of giving an exaggerated influence to the Within in the organic arrangement of bodies. But be pleased to remember that, in the ‘morphogenetic’ action of instinct as here understood, an essential part is left to the Darwinian play of external forces and to chance. It is only really through strokes of chance that life proceeds, but strokes of chance which are recognized and grasped – that is to say psychically selected. Properly understood the ‘anti-chance’ of the Neo-Lamarckian is not a mere negation. On the contrary it appears as the utilisation of Darwinian chance.” (1940, 149 footnote 1) While according to the main text of “The Phenomenon of Man” Darwinian ideas are (more or less) without any explicatory value, according to this footnote Lamarckian and Darwinian ideas are complementary. While in the main text the contrast “Darwinism versus Lamarckism” is explained by the contrast “external versus internal forces”, in the footnote this same contrast is explained by the contrast “chance versus anti-chance”, with “anti-chance” as selective factor. Insofar as Teilhard identifies selection and “anti-chance” he describes selection as a Lamarickian mechanism, i.e. psychism! Teilhard continues this footnote: “It may be added that if we give its proper place to the essential distinction [...] between a biology of small units and a biology of big complexes [...] we appreciate the advisability of distinguishing two major zones of the organic world, and treating them differently. On the one hand is the Lamarckian zone of (above all, man) in which anti-chance can be seen to dominate; on the other hand the Darwinian zone of small complexes, lower forms of life, in which anti-chance is so swamped by chance that it can only be appreciated by reasoning and conjecture, that is to say indirectly.” (1940, 149 footnote 1) While the main text does not even mention the existence of a “Darwinian zone”, according to the footnote the world of small complexes is dominated by Darwinian mechanisms, and the “Lamarckian zone” is restricted to the world of big complexes like man.

In 1947 Teilhard had already diverged considerably from his former Lamarckian position, when he wrote: ”[I]f the neo-Darwinians are right (as they possibly and indeed probably are) in claiming that in the pre-human zones of Life there is nothing but the play of chance selection to be detected in the advance of the organised world, from the time of Man, on the contrary, it is the neo-Lamarckians who have the better of the argument, since at this level the forces of internal arrangement begin to be clearly manifest in the process of evolution. Which amounts to saying that biological purposiveness [...] is not everywhere apparent in the living world, [...] but [...] with the attainment of a certain value in the ‘axis of complexities’. Below this critical point everything happens (perhaps?) as though the rise of Life were automatic. [...] In the present state of hominisation [...] the statistical influence of chance and the part played by natural selection continue to be enormous. Compared with this immense passive field (the Darwinian) it may seem that the (Lamarckian) ground gained by our inventive efforts amounts to very little. But [...] however small the seed, it is precisely here that the power of renewal and rebounding of the living world is concentrated. Born under the appearance and the sign of Chance, it is only through reflective purposiveness, slowly acquired, that Life can henceforth hope to raise itself yet higher, by auto-evolution, in the twofold direction of greater complexity and fuller consciousness” (1947c, 200-201) – particulary by increasingly complex social structures. And some pages later Teilhard contrasts “the ‘Darwinian’ zones of Life” and “the ‘Lamarckian’ or human zone, where biological evolution, from being passive, becomes active in the pursuit of its purpose.” (1947c, 204)

In this text, written in 1947, the “Lamarckian zone” is clearly restricted to man and his inventive activity. For the rest of the biological evolution, the neo-Darwinian explanation is “possible” or “probable”. Furthermore, in this text selection is no longer described as a Lamarckian mechanism, i.e. it is no longer ascribed to psychism. Finally, Teilhard’s remarks on finality in this article are ambivalent: sometimes he assumes that all biological processes have to be interpreted in terms of finality despite the fact that finality is not perceptible in the zone of lower complexity; sometimes he restricts finality to man and his inventive activity. In short: In 1947 Teilhard maintains that the theory of neo-Darwinism possibly or probably may be correct for the pre-human zones; but for Homo sapiens neo-Lamarckism is correct. On the other hand, in the same text Teilhard’s ideas on biological purposefulness or finality are ambivalent.

Three years later, in 1950, according to Teilhard neo-Darwinism is not only “possibly or probably” correct, but “natural selection” is the only explanation for pre-human evolution. “One may say that until the coming of Man it was natural selection that set the course of morphogenesis and cerebration, but that after Man it is the power of invention that begins to grasp the evolutionary reins.” (1950c, 293) And in 1955 Teilhard explicitly rejects “certain vitalist or finalist conceptions”. (1955a, 270)

Let me summarize: According to Teilhard, principally each corpuscle, i.e. each entity, each living being has an “inner” and an “outer” side. Increase in complexity is at the same time increase in consciousness. But with regard to the mechanisms of evolution Teilhard turned from Lamarckism to neo-Darwinism within a period of 10/15 years.5

6. Teilhard’s concept of orthogenesis

With regard to the mechanisms of evolution Teilhard turned over the years from Lamarckism to neo-Darwinism. But with regard to the directedness of evolution Teilhard remained Anti-Darwinist: While “orthodox” Darwinists deny that there are directions in evolution, Teilhard defends that there are directions in evolution, and that there is an evolution from “lower” to “higher”. Because of this the question arises: Is it justified that Darwinists like Ernst Mayr characterize Teilhard’s conception as an “orthogenic theory”?6 Is it true when Mayr alleges that Teilhard defends a “concept of a teleological determination of evolution”, and that his “entire dogma is built on such a teleology”?7 Superficially considered it seems that Mayr was correct: Throughout his life Teilhard defended the term “othogenesis” and even some month before his death his wrote “A Defense of Orthogenesis” (155a, 268-274).

6.1 Traditional meaning of the term “orthogenesis”

What does the term “orthogenesis” mean? Mayr states that “anti-Darwinians proposed [...] the existence of finalistic mechanisms in nature, such as orthogenesis”8 , which commit evolution to a specific future goal.9 Similarly, by contemporary encyclopedias and modern textbooks “orthogenesis” is defined by ideas or underlying theories like these:

  • that some teleological mechanisms direct evolution towards perfection;
  • that some mysterious inner forces are invoked;
  • that evolution runs in a straight line from an original to a higher stage of development;
  • that life has an innate tendency to move in an unilinear fashion to one specific goal;
  • that the evolution of a species is not subject to natural selection or, at least, that natural selection is unimportant – all in all ideas refuted “[b]y the time of the evolutionary synthesis”.10

Keeping in mind this traditional understanding of “orthogenesis” we have to ask: Defending “orthogenesis”, did Teilhard reject or neglect natural selection? Did he instead invoke some mysterious inner forces or finalistic mechanisms directed to specific future goals? Did he hold the opinion that evolution runs in one straight line to a perfect stage of development? In other words, did he defend the concept of orthogenesis as it is defined in modern text books – a concept which is “decidedly out of date” (1955a, 270)?

6.2 Teilhard’s usage of the term “orthogenesis”

First of all we have to prove the usage of the term “orthogenesis” in the works of Teilhard. Although throughout his life Teilhard used this term, he altered the meaning of the word “orthogenesis” in the course of time – according to his turn from Lamarckism to neo-Darwinism. In his early works Teilhard applied the term in its classical sense. Later he “corrected” the term and altered its meaning.

For example: In “The Phenomenon of Man”, written 1938-1940, he assumed that mutations proceed “in a pre-determined direction” (1940, 108) and that mutations are summed “with the precise orientation of a specific target” (1940, 110). In contrast to that, in 1954, Teilhard remarked that orthogenesis “does not in itself convey any idea [...] of monophyletism” (1954, 215 footnote 1). And in 1955 the idea of “an almost magical straightness of the phyletic lines” seemed “unacceptable” to him (1952, 270).

Another example: In “The Phenomenon of Man” Teilhard defined orthogenesis as “law of controlled complication” (1940, 108) and he did not dissent the “metaphysical flavour” of “the word ‘orthogenesis.’” (1940, 108 footnote 1) He spoke of “directed chance” (1940, 110) and concluded somewhat later “that in interpreting the progressive leaps of life in an active and finalist way we are not in error.” (1940, 222) In contrast, in 1955 he distanced himself from “certain vitalist or finalist conceptions which are decidedly out of date” (1955a, 270) – “[n]o ‘mysticism’” (1955a, 272). And despite of the fact that he maintained his “law of complexity and consciousness”, he declared in a letter, dated 29. January 1955, that “orthogenesis [... ] does not mean finality” (1955b, 361).

Given the fact that Teilhard altered the meaning of the term “orthogenesis” in the course of time, I will focus on his usage in his late works.

6.3 Teilhard’s “corrected” concept of orthogenesis

Teilhard is conscious of the fact that “orthogenesis “ is a “much disputed term” (1955a, 269; cf. 1954, 215), “harshly discussed by biologists” (1951b, 250), and “that in the last twenty years no self-respecting palaeontologist has uttered the once classical word orthogenesis except with embarrassment or disdain.” (1955a, 270) Teilhard concedes: “I am of course the first to recognize that particular meanings were originally attached to this term [...] which seem to us unacceptable today” (1955a, 270), but nevertheless he insists that it is “a term […] which […] is [...] impossible to dispense” (1954, 215 footnote 1). Furthermore: “But there is a vast difference between correcting and rejecting.” (1955a, 270)

By his “Defense of Orthogenesis”, written in 1955 (1955a, 268-274), Teilhard opposes “the present day tendency of the Neo-Darwinists (particularly in the United States) who will not recognize in the history of living forms anything but a vast phenomenon, planetarily extended, of diversification pushed to its extreme.” (1955a, 270) He opposes the tendency “to reduce the whole mystery of animal morphogenesis to a pure mechanism of dispersion” (1955a, 270). That evolution is diversification pushed to its extreme, is not denied by Teilhard, on the contrary: “Placed symbolically in a single diagram, the innumerable phyla today recognized by palaeontology invariably distribute themselves under all circumstances along a multitude of radii pointing in all directions” (1955a, 272). And: “From this point of view one might say that life, in its fumbling advances, behaves very like a wave spreading up the beach. Truly, it seems to have tried everything.” (1955a, 273) But beyond the phenomena of dispersion Teilhard perceives phenomena of phyletization or “orthogenesis”: “Let us now consider, over a sufficiently long time, the sum of all the species issuing, by successive fissions, from a determined (or a natural group of) species. Are these various daughter-species distributed purely by chance, equally in all directions around the mother-species? [...] No. But, by the effect of large numbers, they [...] tend to group themselves within a certain ‘field of fire’: the type Equus, the type Felis, etc. [...]. Observed in a sufficient number of cases and over a sufficient interval of time, repeated speciations give birth [...] to general alignments: the effect, we say, of phyletization – or, which comes to the same thing, of orthogenesis; this latter word meaning simply in this context the appearance in time within related species, of a statistically oriented distribution.” (1951b, 249-250)

From this point of view it seems irrelevant to Teilhard whether p.e. “the genealogy of the equids, instead of being capable of representation as formerly by only two or three lines, has taken the form of a sheaf of more or less short and discontinuous fibres[.] From the moment when, above the fibres, the sheaf continues to exist [...] orthogenesis (even if disguised under the names of ‘trend’ or ‘ortho-selection’) continues to function.” (1955a, 272) This means, evolution “over time-spans of the order of millions of years [...] is not confined to a simple diversification of characteristics. [...] But [...] by a succession of mutations relaying one another by addition always in the same direction, a central axis of morphological progression (a trend, as the English say) is formed, both statistically and selectively, in the complex of related lines: an axis which may reveal either a ‘preference’ or on the contrary an ‘inertia’ of a special type in living matter – the case is arguable – but an axis of which we can invariably see the existence in ‘groups of related species’, provided that we can observe the history of these groups over a sufficient length of time.” (1954, 218) Therefore “in one way or another, must we not inevitably have recourse to vectors – that is to say ipso facto to reintroduce orthogenesis”? (1955a, 271)

According to Teilhard’s “corrected” definition of the term, “orthogenesis” means “a purely ‘vectorial’ quality (without which one could not speak of trends or phyla)” (1954, 215 footnote 1). Therefore: “Taken at a certain degree of generalization, orthogenesis (so harshly discussed by biologists) is [...] a perfectly simple and obvious notion.” (1951b, 250)

But the real difficulty and the true interest begin, according to Teilhard, when “one comes to ask [...] whether (and in what proportions) the indisputably directed additive quality of ‘speciating’ mutations [...] is seated:

  1. in a particular structure of the external milieu within which the successive mutations operate: passive orthogenesis or ortho-selection.
  2. or, on the contrary, in an internal (conscious or unconscious) ‘preference’ of the living being to follow one direction rather than another: active orthogenesis or ortho-election.” (1951b, 250)

In order to understand Teilhard’s position it should be mentioned that according to him the phenomena of mutation and of orthogenesis are in no way contradictions – “as if there were the least contradiction between the play of chance and the existence [...] of certain fundamental orientations or preferences!” (1951a, 140) But how are then to explain the phenomena of phyletization or orthogenesis: by ortho-selection or rather by ortho-election? “Should it be (as the Neo-Darwinists believe) in the automatic and blind action of some external regulator [...]? Or, on the other hand, (as the Neo-Lamarckians maintain), should it not be rather in the play of some internal factor of arrangement [...]?” (1951b, 253).

According to the “law of complexity and consciousness” in evolution principally both internal and external factors are involved. Teilhard’s “‘orthogenetic’ view of animal evolution [...] only achieves full validity, in terms of my argument, to the extent that it implies a continuous psychic ‘chain’ going back to the beginning of life.” (1950c, 292) But according to the same “law of complexity and consciousness” it has to be assumed that the internal factors are perceptible only in the very complex entities like humans. This implies with regard to the question of ortho-selection and ortho-election: “One may say that until the coming of Man it was natural selection that set the course of morphogenesis and cerebration” (1950c, 293) In the pre-human zones, ortho-selection seems to be “the principal factor [...] choosing from outside the most successful and adaptable products of a process of expansion that is disorderly in itself.” (1950c, 292) But “since man and in man [...] the mechanism of ortho-selection tends increasingly to give place to the effects of ortho-election in the expansion and accentuation of the life-phenomenon [...]. Since man and in man, simple evolution tends gradually to mutate into auto- (or self-) evolution.” (1951b, 254) More precisely: It is reflection which “ensure[s] in man the gradual transition of life from the state of passively experienced evolution (ortho-selection) to that of directed evolution or self-evolution (ortho-election).” (1951c, 316). So far to the problem of ortho-selection and ortho-election.

In a further step Teilhard raises the question, “whether under the generic term ‘orthogenesis’ or ‘phyletization’, two processes of unequal importance and depth [...] have not been fortuitously confused:

(a) the first of speciation, leading to the birth of increasingly divergent and differentiated forms.

(b) and the other of complexification (or complexity), this latter producing, along all the azimuths of specialization (with more or less success but in every case) zoological types increasingly centred and cerebralized.” (1951b, 250-251)

Thus, Teilhard differentiates between two types of “orthogenesis”: on one hand “the orthogenesis of speciation, orientated, though following an incredible number of different directions, towards the most differentiated, in all its forms” (1954, 219); and on the other hand the “‘basic orthogenesis’” (1954, 219), “[f]undamental orthogenesis” (1955a, 272) or “the general orthogenesis of corpusculisation” (1954, 219), i.e. the cosmic drift of matter to increasingly complex and conscious forms, or as Teilhard formulates, “the growth, globally irreversible and constantly accelerated along certain favoured lines, of ‘cerebration’ from the beginning of life up to the present time. The quantity and quality of cephalised nervous substance on earth have indeed never been as great as they are today.” (1950c, 291-292)

Let me summarize: At least in his later works Teilhard gives the word “orthogenesis” a meaning which differs significantly from the normal meaning of the term “orthogenesis”: According to encyclopedias and modern textbooks the term “orthogenesis” connotes

  • that evolution is directed by teleological mechanisms – Teilhard rejects this;
  • that evolution proceeds in an unilinear fashion – but not according to Teilhard;
  • that evolution is not subject to natural selection or, at least, that natural selection is unimportant – not so according to Teilhard.

So the question arises: What does of the traditional concept of “orthogenesis” remain when Teilhard uses this term? Teilhard comments: “I am of course the first to recognize that particular meanings were originally attached to this term [...] which seem to us unacceptable today: an almost magical straightness of the phyletic lines, implying certain vitalist or finalist conceptions which are decidedly out of date. But there is a vast difference between correcting and rejecting.” (1955a, 270)

What should we think of this? Teilhard‘s intention is to “correct” the concept. If it is so, there would be no objection to it. But is it true that Teilhard “corrects” the concept, or does he rather change the meaning of the word “orthogenesis”? Correcting and changing are not the same. Instead of the misleading term “orthogenesis”, the unproblematic term “trend” would be more adequate to Teilhard’s intention. And insofar as Teilhard himself sometimes uses the term "trend", he is wrong when he presumes that “the much discussed term ‘orthogenesis’ [...] is [...] impossible to dispense”. (1954, 215 footnote 1) So, why did he insist on the usage of this term? Did he suffer from something like senile stubbornness? Or did he want to provoke certain “Neo-Darwinists (particularly in the United States)” (1955a, 270)? We do not know. But for sure misunderstanding and rejection of Teilhard’s ideas are in part due to the fact that he insisted on the term “orthogenesis”.

7. Many worlds

Finally a consideration of Teilhard, based on his concept of evolution:
If “[l]ife [...] appears [...] as a material effect of complexity” (1950b, 19);
if consciousness is “a regular and general phenomenon connected with the global drift of cosmic matter towards increasingly high molecular groupings” (1942, 227);
if therefore “life is not a peculiar anomaly, sporadically flowering on matter – but an exaggeration, through specially favourable circumstances, of a universal cosmic property” (1950b, 18);
and if therefore “the appearance of consciousness ceases to be a chance, strange, aberrant, fortuitous occurrence in the universe” (1942, 227);
if, in short, life and consciousness are not accidental or anomalous phenomena in the universe, but the intensification of an omnipresent property of the matter,
than life and consciousness will appear “wherever it becomes possible in the universe.” (1942, 227)

“In the narrow domain of our planet (still the only one within the scope of biology) the structural relationship noted here between complexity and consciousness is experimentally incontestable and has always been known. What gives the standpoint taken in this book its originality is the affirmation, at the outset, that the particular property possessed by terrestrial substances – of becoming more vitalised as they become increasingly complex – is only the local manifestation and expression of a trend as universal as (and no doubt even more significant than) those already identified by science”. (1950a, 300) This is Teilhard’s position in the forties and fiftith of the last century.

 

In 1950, Pope Pius XII published the encyclical “Humani generis”. In this encyclical Pope Pius XII decreed that the idea of monogenism is an essential part of catholic faith. For Teilhard the idea of monogenism was simply ridiculous: Populations in evolution contain thousands of individuals; and the same is true in hominisation. But not only this: If all matter has an “inside”, and if there is a general trend towards more complexity and consciousness, then life, reflection, freedom are not accidental or anomalous phenomena in the universe, but the intensification of an omnipresent property of matter. What does this implicate?

In reaction to the encyclical “Humani generis” Teilhard wrote in 1953 a brilliant polemic paper titled: “A Sequel to the Problem of Human Origins: The Plurality of Inhabited Worlds” (1953, 229-236) posing the question whether life and consciousness are restriced to our planet or whether it is possible or probable that there exists a plurality of living or conscious planets.

In order to answer this question Teilhard formulates three propositions. Each single proposition is harmless, as Teilhard declares, but linked together they are “explosive” (1953, 230); explosive or more precisely: disastrous for the traditional Christian doctrine of the original sin.
“Proposition 1. Left to itself, under the influence of chance, matter tends to group itself into as large molecules as possible. And, experientially, life stands as the natural and normal continuation of this ‘moleculization’ process. [–]
Proposition 2. In the same conditions, and once it has emerged from the inorganic, life continues naturally, and in a combined twofold movement, to become both complexified externally and more conscious internally; and this extends up to the psychological emergence of reflection. In other words, the [...] fact of the appearance of man on earth in the Pliocene is simply the normal and local manifestation (in specially favourable conditions) of a property common to all ‘terminally evolved’ matter. [–]
Proposition 3. There are millions of galaxies in the universe, in each of which matter has the same general composition and is going through essentially the same evolution as that inside our own Milky Way.” (1953, 230)
Teilhard concludes: If these propositions are true the assumption of a plurality of “noospheres” is unavoidable. It is highly improbable that the human race is the only intelligent species in the universe.

Because each one of these propositions belong to different disciplines – biochemistry, anthropology, and astronomy, respectively –, up to now no one was “professionally aware of the need to connect them” (1953, 230).
“And yet: If it is true that the proteins (similar in this respect to every other chemical element) appear in the universe as soon as it is possible for them to do so, and wherever it is possible,
And if, when life has once taken hold on a star, it not only propagates itself on that star but carries itself as far and to as high a degree as possible (that is, up to ‘hominization’ if it can),
And if, in addition, there are thousands of millions of solar systems in the world in which life has equal chances of being born and becoming hominized,” (1953, 230-231)
then we cannot resist the inevitable conclusion that the assumption of a plurality of “noospheres” is “by a long way the most probable alternative. In other words, considering what we now know about the number of ‘worlds’ and their internal evolution, the idea of a single hominized planet in the universe has already become in fact [...] almost as inconceivable as that of a man who appeared with no genetic relationship to the rest of the earth’s animal population. At an average of (at least) one human race per galaxy, that makes a total of millions of human races dotted all over the heavens.” (1953, 231-232)

Science fiction? Or esotericism? In order to avoid misunderstandings of this thesis Teilhard adds some footnotes of which especially two are important:

First, what does Teilhard mean by “human race”or “mankind”? “‘Mankind’ (‘humanity’, ‘human race’) and ‘hominized’, it must be clear, are used here as synonymous with ‘psychically reflected life’. We have, it is true, no idea either of the chemistry or the morphology peculiar to the various extra-terrestrial forms of life.” (1953, 231 footnote 4)

Second, will we ever have contact to these extra-terrestrial mankinds? Teilhard believes that this is impossible “[b]ecause of excessive distance in space, or non-coincidence in time.” (1953, 232 footnote 5)

Three final comments on Teilhard’s speculation:

First, the idea of a plurality of mankinds underlines the specific features of Teilhard’s concept of evolution: all matter has an inside and an outside; and all matter has a tendency towards more complexity and consciousness.

Second, Teilhard’s intention of this speculation is to demonstrate the absurdity of the traditional Christian doctrine of the original sin.

Third, the assumption of a plurality of living planets or of mankinds was pure speculation even some years ago, but today this assumption becomes more and more a legitimate subject of debate because of
- the discovery of planets outside of our solar system;
- and because of the discovery of water on the planet of Mars and elsewhere.
The British paleologist Simon Conway Morris has recently propounded similar ideas as Teilhard in book "Life’s Solution – Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe" (Cambridge 2003) – without referring to Teilhard.

 


References:

Important note to the readers of this paper: Years in citations of Teilhard’s articles and books do not refer to the year of publication but to the year of completion of the manuscripts – N.B.: most articles of Teilhard only were published years after his death. Teilhard’s conception was never completed, but during his life it was “in evolution”. Doubtless, Teilhard’s basic intentions remained the same over the years, but in detail he changed his views significantly over the years, as he himself indicated several times, p.e. in the postscript of “The Phenomenon of Man”: “Since this book was composed, I have experienced no change in the intuition it seeks to express. Taken as a whole, I still see man today exactly as I saw him when I first wrote these pages. Yet the basic vision has not remained – it could not remain – stationary. By the irresistible deepening of reflection, by the decantation and automatic patterning of associated ideas, by the discovery of new facts and by the continual need to be better understood, certain new formulations and articulations have gradually occurred to me in the last ten years. They tend to emphasise, and at the same time to simplify, the main lines of my earlier draft.” (1950a, 299) For this reason a diachronic reading of Teilhard’s works is required. Synchronic reading inevitably results in the – mistaken – impression that Teilhard’s thinking was somewhat ambiguous, vague or imprecise.

Teilhard de Chardin, P. 1928: The Movements of Life, 1928. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Vision of the Past. New York 1966, 143-150.

– 1940: The Phenomenon of Man. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Phenomenon of Man. New York 1959, 29-298.

– 1942: Man’s Place in Nature. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Vision of the Past. New York 1966, 216-233.

– 1945: Life and Planets. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Future of Man. New York 1964, 97-123.

– 1947a: The Formation of the Noosphere. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Future of Man. New York 1964, 155-184.

– 1947b: Preface. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Phenomenon of Man. New York 1959, 29-30.

– 1947c: The Human Rebound of Evolution and its Consequences. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Future of Man. New York 1964, 196-213.

– 1948: My Fundamental Vision. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: Toward the Future. New York 1975, 163-208.

– (circa)1950a: Postscript: The Essence of the Phenomenon of Man. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Phenomenon of Man. New York 1959, 299-308.

– 1950b: Man's Place in Nature. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: Man's Place in Nature. London 1966.

– 1950c: From the Pre-Human to the Ultra-Human: the Phases of a Living Planet. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Future of Man. New York 1964, 289-297.

– 1951a: The Phyletic Structure of the Human Group. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Appearance of Man London 1965, 132-171.

– 1951b: Note on the Present Reality and Evolutionary Significance of a Human Orthogenesis. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Vision of the Past. New York 1966, 248-255.

– 1951c: A Major Problem for Anthropology. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Activation of Energy, London 1970, 311-318.

– 1951d: Some Notes on the Mystical Sense: An Attempt at Clarification. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: Toward the Future. New York 1975, 209-211.

– 1952: Hominization and Specification. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Vision of the Past. New York 1966, 256-267.

– 1953: A Sequel to the Problem of Human Origins: The Plurality of Inhabited Words. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: Christianity and Evolution. San Diego 1974, 229-236.

– 1954: The Singularities of the Human Species. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Appearance of Man London 1965, 208-270.

– 1955a: A Defense of Orthogenesis in the Matter of Patterns of Specification. In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: The Vision of the Past. New York 1966, 268-274.

– 1955b: (To Marguerite Teillard-Chambon). In: Teilhard de Chardin, P.: Letters from a Traveller. New York 1962, 361.

 


Endnotes

1 Years indicated do not refer to the year of publication but to the year when the manuscripts were completed; cf. “References”. Cursive type corresponds to the texts of Teilhard.

2 When discussing evolution four questions are strictly to be distinguished :

  1. Is evolution a fact of natural history?
  2. How do we have to reconstruct the genealogical tree?
  3. What are the mechanisms of evolution?
  4. Are there directions in evolution?

Evolution as a fact of natural history is undisputed among scientists today. To reconstruct the genealogical tree enormous progress has been made in recent years, but reconstructions remain hypothetical. It is widely accepted that variation and selection are evolutionary mechanisms – at least when not reduced to chance and necessity. The question whether there are directions in evolution is controversially discussed.

3 Mayr, E.: Toward a New Philosophy of Biology. Cambridge 1988, p. 43.

4 By the way it may be noticed that the meaning of the term “mutation” in the early works of Teilhard and even in “The Phenomenon of Man” differs from the meaning in his late works. For example in “The Phenomenon of Man”: “The concept of fanning out applied to the phylum involves a forest of exploring antennae. And when one of these chances upon the fissure, the formula, giving access to a new compartment of life, then instead of becoming fixed or merely spreading out in monotonous variations, the branch finds all its mobility once more. It enters on mutation.” (1940, 118; cf. 1928, 145-146) First there is a new formula giving access to a new compartment of life, then there is a mutation. In contrast, in his late works Teilhard uses the term as we do today: mutations are advantageous, neutral, or disadvantageous variations of the genome, and as a result advantageous mutations give access to new compartments of life. (Cf. 1951a, 137-138)

5 This conversion was so radical that Teilhard was not aware of the fact, that when psychic factors are supposed, a phenomenon could be explained, which is difficult to explain by Darwinism: sexual selection.

6Mayr (endnote 3), p. 457.

7 Mayr (endnote 3), p. 42; cf. p. 3.

8 Mayr (endnote 3), p. 133.

9 Cf. Mayr (endnote 3), pp. 43, 58.

10 Cf. Mayr (endnote 3), pp. 149-159.

 

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