The Evolutionary Thought of Teilhard de Chardin

  • Francisco J. Ayala


It is only with considerable reluctance that I have accepted to present a summary of the evolutionary cosmogony of Teilhard de Chardin at this Colloquium. It appears hardly possible to condense in a few pages a system of ideas which attempts to provide a comprehensive account of the history of the universe and of the place of man in the scheme of things. The difficulty arises not only from the wide scope of Teilhard’s undertaking but particularly from the individual characteristics of his writings. Teilhard’s language is in fact largely poetic rather than philosophical or scientific; he frequently introduces neologisms and uses other terms with a different meaning than is commonly attributed to them. Teilhard is at times inconsistent—words are employed in different contexts with disparate meanings, not always specified. Finally, he freely uses poetic metaphors and analogies that are sometimes placed in contexts which represent them as proofs, and often extended beyond their original application.


Inorganic Matter Material Complexity Reflective Thought Reflective Knowledge Internal Construction 
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  1. 1.
    Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, New York and Evanston: Harper Torchbook Edition, 1961, 318 pp. Like most of the significant works of Teilhard, The Phenomenon of Man was published posthumously. During his lifetime the publication of Teilhard’s writings was largely suppressed by his superiors of the Jesuit Order. Unfortunately, the suppression of his writings still continues after his death in 1955. There is a volume of his letters to be published in the coming months by the New American Library, developed under the following four headings: (1)time: the fourth dimension; (2) universal evolution; (3) the parameter of complexityconsciousness; (4) Omega: the goal of evolution.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    E. S. Barghoorn and J. W. Schopf, “Microorganisms three billion years old from the Precambrian of South Africa,” Science, v.152 (1966), pp. 758–763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Scientists have synthesized in the laboratory biologically active deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the chemical carrier of hereditary information. The synthesis of DNA, however, is accomplished by using a molecule of DNA as a template or primer. In any case, the artificial synthesis of an organic cell remains at best a remote possibility. The classical discussion of the origin of life from inorganic matter is A. I. Oparin, The Origin of Life, New York and London: The MacMillan Company, 1938. For a modern discussion of the problem, see Gösta Ehrensvärd, Life: Origin and Development, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1962, and Sydney W. Fox, ed., The Origins of Prebiological Systems, New York and London: Academic Press, 1965.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    As it is explained below, Teilhard assumes that traces of life, or as he puts it, of consciousness, are present in inorganic matter.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    To understand Teilhard’s concept of the parameter of complexityconsciousness one must read, besides The Phenomenon of Man, one of his latest long essays, Le Group Zoologique Humain, Paris: Albin Michel, 1956, 172 pp.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    When Teilhard speaks of the “internal” and “external” side of things, he is obviously using a metaphor. The same idea is sometimes described by him by means of other metaphors, like the “within” and “without” of things, their “tangential” and “radial” energy, etc. It is not always clear whether “material complexity” and “consciousness” are, for Teilhard, two different “principles of being,” to use an expression from scholastic philosophy; or rather they represent two different ways of describing the same phenomenon. The idea that some traces of mind are universal has also been proposed by some philosophers, like A. N. Whitehead and C. Hartshorne, and by some biologists, such as B. Rensch, L. C. Birch, and Sewall Wright.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1972

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francisco J. Ayala
    • 1
  1. 1.The Rockefeller UniversityUSA

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