Well, I have a late summer vacation to the State Fair and to Branson over the next week. Then I should be free to blog consistently for three or four weeks before family events in late September and early October again take my attention away.
I am reading a new book on Teilhard de Chardin’s spirituality by Louis M. Savary. I am also rereading The Divine Milieu in conjunction with this. Savary’s book is The Divine Milieu Explained.
My relationship with Teilhard’s thinking is difficult to express. The idea of reading Teilhard for his take on spirituality appeals to me. Puritan, pietist, and traditional Catholic spiritualities do not appeal to me. Faith in this age seems to call for something different. This is because we should not separate our new knowledge of the age of the earth, the vastness of the universe, and the evolution of humans from our devotion.
Yet I am aware that I am not on board with some of Teilhard’s philosophy. He shares with process theologians the idea of panpsychism. See here for an in depth discussion. I am oversimplifying below.
Most of us make a common sense distinction between organic and inorganic. I sometimes make fun of those who seek to eat only organic food. Everything we eat is organic except for pure minerals like salt. Grains, vegetables, and meats all are organic. I understand the point that processed food is less pure. I try to avoid it myself. But there should be a clearer way to speak about it than to imply that such food is not organic.
What is organic is alive or was once alive. It participates in our distinction between animal, vegetable, and mineral.
The problem is that there seems a huge gap between what has never been alive and life. To use a biblical story, Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt was a transition from the organic to the inorganic. It is just a story. But if it had happened, it would have been big magic. But imagine it the other way around. To turn a pillar of salt into Lot’s wife would be even bigger magic.
When Genesis tells us that God created man from the dust of the earth, that is just what it is saying. The primal matter of the universe somehow became alive, mindful, and human. That is also what theories of evolution say. Somehow life and consciousness arose from the building blocks of inert matter.
The transformation from inorganic dust to sentient humans is a huge leap. And it is a big problem for naturalistic evolution. Especially, the path from mere matter to consciousness seems impossible.
So panpsychism denies that anything is mere matter. Every particle of the universe has mind. That is what pan (all) and psyche (mind or soul) mean. Everything must have mind. Thus there was no leap from non-mind to mind.
The idea that mind emerged from life and life emerged from matter is very vague. Emerged how? Was there a supernatural assist at the crucial juncture? Is there some kind of unknown natural catalyst that could cause such huge changes? Or was there some kind of mind in everything all along, even in the primal material?
I am still with the supernatural assist, even though I believe in an ages-long series of events, dead ends, and advances that we may call evolution.
Teilhard’s view of this has some possibilities, though, I think it has possibilities that process theology, which puts metaphysics before revelation, does not. My big problem with process theology has always been the incarnation. Since process theologians think the world already embodies God, the divine Word has always been flesh. The Word did not historically “become” flesh in Jesus. Jesus is just an example of what Alfred North Whitehead says has always been true.
However, in Teilhard, the cosmic Christ becomes an extension of Paul’s idea that the church is the body of Christ. The whole cosmos is becoming the body of Christ.
This, it seems to me, has to be connected to the history of Jesus. There should be a real becoming here, not just a disclosure of what has always been.