Aristotle, Teilhard de Chardin, and the Explanation of the World

Aristotle, some three hundred years before Christ, noted the fact that everything which existed in the world was contingent, that is, it depended on something else for its existence. From the contingent nature of everything in the world he argued that there had to be a non-contingent or self-existent entity, a God, to account for those contingent things. He also argued that God could not love man. He had analysed friendship and love and he concluded that the only true love or friendship was between beings who were similar and equally good. This ruled man out. God could only love another being, another entity, who was similar to God.

While Aristotle was able to argue from the world up to God, he was unable to argue his way back down again from God to the world. God had to be perfect, but the world was obviously imperfect. Why would a perfect God make an imperfect world? Aristotle could not find a satisfactory explanation for our imperfect world.

The imperfection of the world has also been a problem for religion. A common religious explanation has been that God made the world perfect but that man messed it up. Now that we know that the world has evolved, this explanation no longer works. It never really worked. The buck would still have stopped with God, who made man.

A self-existent and good God could only love another self-existent and good entity, in effect another god. How could there be another god? God could not create another God. A created entity, a creature, would not be self-existent.

So we have a complex problem. A perfect God could need nothing. Love, not need, can be the only motive for God to act, for God to do anything. God could only love another self-existent and good entity. But the only explanation of the existence of our contingent world is God. So why would God make an imperfect world?

There is a possible resolution to this problem. While God could not create another god, He could initiate a process which could possibly lead to the self-creation of such an entity. A process involving self-creation, particularly one which extended its self-creation to the sphere of goodness, could possibly lead to the production of an entity which was both self-created and good, and so appropriate for God to love. Such a process of self-creation would have to be largely free from Divine interference, and would have to have the potential to lead to the production of an entity similar to God.

While God is spirit, and something which also had a spiritual nature would be the desired outcome of the process, a self-creating process which aimed at a spiritual outcome would have to be initiated at a lower level than spirit. It could then possibly work its way towards a more spiritual outcome by stages.

Something would have to be created as the basis upon which the self-creating process could be initiated. This initial stage would not need to be able to exercise very much freedom. It could be made subject to rigid deterministic laws, but the interaction of these deterministic laws could lead to a variety of possible outcomes. If initiated on a sufficiently large scale, and extending for whatever time was necessary, this initial stage could eventually produce an appropriate platform for the initiation of a subsequent stage, or stages, which in turn could exercise greater degrees of freedom.

A series of such stages could eventually provide a platform for the introduction of a spiritual stage which could exercise total freedom in the sphere of goodness. Such a totally free stage could possibly give rise to an entity which was perfectly good, a self-created and good entity which it would be appropriate for God to love.

Aristotle failed in his attempt to provide an explanation of man and the world. He did not have a progressive concept of the world and he did not have an accurate picture of the world, such as we have gained from Science.

What do we know that Aristotle did not know? Two things come immediately to mind. Most obviously, Aristotle did not know about the Big Bang or about evolution. Less obviously but more importantly, he did not possess the concept of a progressive process. His world was a static world, where any processes were circular rather than progressive, being based on the circular biological model, from seed to tree to seed.

We owe our progressive evolutionary perspective on the world primarily to Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard was a Palaeontologist and a Jesuit Priest. His vision of the Cosmos is dynamic rather than static. As might be expected of such an original and groundbreaking world-view, his dynamic vision still contains elements of the static world-view within which Christianity was established.

He was the first to understand the universe as an evolutionary process of ever increasing complexity and ever increasing consciousness, moving from Alpha, the beginning, to Omega, the final consummation. But he also saw matter as always imbued with spirit, which emerged from time to time through certain thresholds.

This view reflects the static world-view of early Christianity, which saw God as exercising an all-pervading control over the world. Teilhard did not provide any explanation as to why God would initiate a process which took an inordinate time to reach a pre-determined objective. The only explanation of the size and time scale of the cosmos is that it is involved in an essentially free process of self-creation, which has a desired but not a determined outcome.

We do not need to import spirit into matter to account for its later `emergence'. The matter which emerged from the Big Bang was not imbued with spirit. It was subject to the deterministic laws of chemistry, physics and geophysics. It had the potential to develop in accordance with these laws, but as these deterministic laws could interact with each other, no specific outcome could be predicted. The only thing that could be predicted with some confidence was that at some time, in some part of the cosmos, given unlimited time, those laws could result in a planet which could provide a platform for the emergence of life. Matter is the first emergent. The evolution of matter is the first stage of the process of the cosmos. This stage is subject to deterministic laws but the outcome is contingent. Contingency falls between rigid determination and freedom.

Life then emerges on earth. Instinctive and vegetative life provide the second stage of the cosmic process. As was the case with matter, life is initiated in its simplest possible form. Life evolves with greater freedom than does matter. We are only just discovering the laws of life, but we know life enjoys this freedom to evolve. This is why some species have locked themselves into evolutionary dead ends, while others have kept their evolutionary options open. Eventually some forms of life evolve to the stage where they are capable of bearing consciousness.

Conscious life then emerges and continues to evolve. From about 100,000 years ago the evolution of Homo sapiens moves from the physical to the cultural sphere. This form of evolution, cultural evolution, enjoys almost total freedom. Culture is the most obvious form of self-creation. Cultures form humans and humans form cultures.

Finally, some 3,000 years ago, we see the beginnings of moral or spiritual evolution. This occurs first within cultures which have developed an appropriate rational base, capable of supporting a moral consciousness. Prior to this evolution, cultures had mores rather than morals. They had rigid tribal rules, but those rules were not subject to moral challenge.

The significance of this recent moral stage of cultural evolution is found in the fact that humans are totally free in relation to the moral law. The moral law commands, but it can not compel. The moral law tells people what they ought to do, but they are totally free as to whether they do it or not. This free stage of the process of the cosmos opens the possibility of a fully moral culture, but it does not determine such an outcome.

The process of the cosmos thus involves the extension of self-creation to the sphere of goodness. It could possibly lead to the production of an entity which was both self-created and good, and so appropriate for God to love. This thesis is extensively argued in my 'The Process of the Cosmos: Philosophical Theology and Cosmology' (1999A)

Teilhard de Chardin, Nicolai Hartmann and the Role of Freedom

Nicolai Hartmann, (1882-1950) is a Latvian Philosopher. He was a contemporary of Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Both men were phenomenologists, that is, they sought to understand and describe the phenomena which they encountered. Their perspectives on the world, however, were quite different. Both studied mankind, but while Teilhard sought to situate mankind within the broad sweep of cosmogenesis - the evolution of the cosmos from its initiation - and from a religious perspective, Hartmann studied mankind at much closer quarters and from an atheistic perspective. Despite this bias, Hartmann focussed particularly on understanding man's spiritual nature. Sydney Hook, the philosopher who reviewed Hartmann's 'Ethics', recognised Hartmann as the greatest analyst, since Aristotle, of the ideals by which men live, and for which they live. (Stanton Coit, 1932,11)

It would appear that neither Teilhard nor Hartmann were ever aware of the other's work. Nevertheless the spirit of their phenomenological work is closely related. By combining their insights we may be able to take Teilhard's work a step further and even to postulate the nature of the next phase in cosmogenesis, to follow the noosphere.

The differences between the work of Teilhard and Hartmann stem primarily from their different perspectives. Teilhard was a priest and scientist working in the field studying fossils and seeking to understand the overall process of the cosmos. Hartmann was a philosopher, concerned solely to accurately describe the results of his more detailed phenomenological investigations into the nature of humanity. Teilhard speculated as to the meaning of the fossil record but Hartmann refused to speculate concerning any conclusions which could be drawn from the results of his study of humanity.

From his phenomenological investigations Hartmann devised a new ontology, a new way of describing and categorising the reality which he encountered. His ontology enabled him to determine the nature of spirit and the activity of spirit in relation to the being of the rest of the world. (Hartmann 1953,13-24)

Hartmann distinguishes four strata of being, the physical, the biological or organic, the conscious or psychic and the spiritual. Of the four strata of being, the lowest ontological stratum is the physical, which is subject to the laws of physics and chemistry. This stratum supports the organic, which is also subject to the same laws as the physical stratum, but in addition, has its own biological laws which are not reducible to the physical laws. The next stratum is the conscious or psychic, which in turn is supported by the organic. This psychic stratum is subject to some extent to the laws which apply to the organic stratum, but these do not entirely dominate it, as it has its own laws, as in the laws of logic. The highest stratum is the spiritual, which in turn is supported by psychic life and the laws applying to that stratum, but it is not dominated by those laws, as it also has its own autonomous laws, as in the moral law.

For Hartmann, spirit is the specifically human in the human being, in contrast to the individual's other material, organic and conscious or psychic aspects. The common limitation of the essence of man to the rational, in his view, overlooks the active side of spiritual life which manifests itself in man's willing, acting and reacting, loving and hating, and in knowing, thinking and reflecting. (Werkmeister 1990,157)

Hartmann also shows that individual humans grow into a common spiritual sphere which is more than the sum of the individuals which comprise it, a sphere of historical or objective spirit. This is the sphere of human culture. This second form of spirit, objective spirit, has a history. It is the spirit of a living group, a community or nation, which exists and vanishes with the group. This common spiritual sphere is the fundamental basis of a human culture. Spirit, in Hartmann's view, exists in its accomplishments. It is continuously seeking and finding new ways of expressing itself, and is always creative and in process. (Werkmeister 1990,159-60) T

he human individual is a creative factor in the world, in a process in which man is both forming and being formed. Man's spiritual consciousness, which provides his anticipatory insight, is for Hartmann `the Archimedean point' from which spirit begins to move the world. Spirit, he argues, is essential to man, and the superiority of spirit is to be seen in man's power to direct the forces of nature, and in his ability to set goals and to select the means for their realisation.

The forces of nature, Hartmann maintains, cannot oppose the action of spirit, as long as man understands those forces and respects their nature. It is this superiority of spirit which enables man to undertake purposive actions. (Werkmeister 1990,165-8)

Spirit is the highest stratum of being. Hartmann argues that if the categories of one stratum are applied without careful examination to lower or higher strata, the world may be simplified in thought, but the whole world picture can be falsified. He derives the four ontological strata of reality through his analysis. (Hartmann 1953,28) He finds that every one of these four strata has its own peculiar ontological categories. These nowhere simply coincide with the categories of the other strata. It is the difference between the dominant ontological categories in each stratum, which distinguishes the strata from each other. (Hartmann 1953,47) He argues that a lower ontological form could not give rise to a higher emergent form unless it already contained the categories of the higher. Nor could the higher form evolve out of the lower one unless the highest categories were already contained in the lowest forms. (Hartmann 1953,110) His research excludes the possibility of spirit being contained in matter.

Hartmann distinguishes his four ontological strata from the levels of actual structures in the world. It is a characteristic of the ontological strata of reality that they do not coincide with the levels of actual structures such as inanimate objects, organisms or man, but cut across them. Man, for example, is not only a spirit, he has a spiritless conscious life as well. He is also an organism and a material structure. Ontologically, a tree consists of two strata but man consists of all four of the strata of the world.

Hartmann emphasises the importance of freedom. He insists that the novel aspects of any emergent higher stratum are completely free in relation to the lower stratum, despite being dependent upon it. The autonomy of the higher stratum is the result of the emergence of higher categories, which are not to be found in the stratum from which it has emerged. Despite this autonomy he recognises that all higher strata are dependent for their existence upon the lower. The animate world existed in a multitude of forms prior to the emergence of consciousness, and consciousness had existed in early man, he recognises, `through whole geological periods without the luxury of a spirit'. (1953 85-91) Spirit is a recent emergent. Teilhard de Chardin had also recognised the increase in freedom throughout the emergent stages, noting that: 'complexity (and the centeredness resulting from it) gives rise to the phenomenon of freedom' (1974,43)

While recognising that the higher strata depend on the lower strata for their existence, Hartmann also derives a law of freedom whereby the higher stratum maintains its independence and freedom. Where there had been no emergence of novelty, Hartmann maintains, there could be no freedom. He points out that freedom enters wherever a categorial novelty enters. Every higher determination, which raises itself above a lower one, is free. In a world which consisted of only one stratum, Hartmann argues, freedom would be an impossibility. In such a world only one type of determination would have to rule all. (1953,128) The organism exhibits autonomy in relation to the laws of physical nature, the conscious animal in relation to the instinctive organism and the spiritual human in relation to his non-spiritual ancestors. Every serious attempt to justify freedom against determinism, in a world which was not recognised as stratified, had failed. (1953,124-7)

Dealing with the problem of emergence, he points out that the categories of organic life, metabolism, assimilation, self-regulation, self-reproduction, and so on, must all emerge together. The most elementary living species cannot maintain itself if any one of these basic functions is missing. It is this fact that establishes the qualitative distance between the emergent higher stratum and the lower one. The categories of any ontological stratum form a self contained whole. The emergence of one such category necessarily involves the emergence of all the others. (1953,108)

The most significant distinction between Hartmann and Teilhard is to be found in their understanding of the transition from one stage or stratum of being to a later stage, as in the transition from matter to life. Hartmann argues that a lower ontological form could not give rise to a higher emergent form, nor could the higher form evolve out of the lower one. (1953,110) Teilhard, on the other hand, resists any disjunction between the inorganic and the organic. For him, matter and spirit are but different aspects of the same cosmic stuff, and evolution is simply 'the progressive spiritualisation of matter'. (Allison 1995,790)

For Teilhard, all physical and spiritual matter existed from the beginning in an embryonic state. There is only one creative act of God, which is still happening and will always continue to happen. There is no particular intervention by God because 'A creation, which is unthinkable without the hand of God in even the minutest phase of its course, needs no intervention'. (Kopp 1964,42-3) Such a view reflects the concept of God exercising an all-pervading control of the world, in effect a constant state of intervention. Teilhard's position is a matter of faith rather than of science. Whilst he is a critic of the static world-view, and an advocate of a more dynamic view of the world, he contradicts this attitude by the adoption of faith position which is essentially based on a static world view.

When the first Christians adopted a static world-view, they simply reflected a view which was universal and which remained essentially unchallenged until the scientific revolution. There is an inherent contradiction in Teilhard maintaining a faith position based on such a static world view whilst advocating cosmogenesis. As he himself says, the very concept of cosmogenesis is 'opposed to the ancient and medieval concept of a static cosmos' (1974,18)

This faith position arose when Christianity adopted the Hebrew view of God's creative role, which the Hebrews had derived from Ancient Mesopotamia. This view not only held that God created everything, it also held that God governs the whole universe, exercising an all-pervading control over everything. (Kelly 1960,83) This all-pervading control has been held to make God responsible for the Holocaust and the Gulag. It also initiates the Problem of Evil.

Christian circles had initially felt Darwin's teaching to be an attack on the very heart of their philosophy. They felt obliged to defend not only the theological content of the Mosaic account of creation but they 'also fought disastrously for the original static theory of life, in which the ingenious author of the Book of Genesis had wrapped up his theological statements' (Kopp 1964,14-15). Having begun to realise that man has evolved, their reaction became one of fear. They had previously arranged and classified everything so nicely and so permanently in their static world, and they felt themselves at home in it. And then they found it was all an illusion. (Kopp 1964,48)

Hartmann adopts a position which is based on evidence rather than faith. His more scientific approach tells him that there is no inevitable development from one stratum of reality to another. He does not attempt to explain the findings of his phenomenological investigations. However those findings clearly support cosmogenesis as the evolution of the cosmos at the same time as they reject any automatic transition from one stratum of reality to another, through Teilhard's thresholds.

Teilhard's rejection of any particular intervention by God in the process of cosmogenesis rests on his belief that God already constantly intervenes 'in even the minutest phase' of the world's course. I have argued elsewhere that this belief is not supportable. (Kelly 1999B) Teilhard also recognised the increase in freedom throughout the emergent stages, noting that the increase in complexity had been accompanied by an increase in freedom. Hartmann's more detailed investigations reveal the increasing freedom from stratum to stratum. Freedom begins when the deterministic laws of the physical stratum permit of contingency. It increases with the greater freedom of the biological stage to evolve, with the even greater freedom of the conscious stage. Freedom reaches its climax with the complete freedom of the human spiritual stage in relation to the law of that stage, the moral law.

Hartmann's analysis enables us to observe that there is only one possible explanation for the phenomenon of Emergence, the initiation of new strata of reality, which supervene on the earlier strata. They have to be externally initiated. This is consistent with the necessarily external initiation of the Big Bang, the resultant of which is the first emergent.

I have argued elsewhere that a Post-Copernican natural theology shows the Cosmos as a process directed towards the possible self-creation of an entity similar to God. (Kelly 1999A) This could indicate that the next stage of cosmogenesis, following the noosphere, could be the human creation of an ethosphere, the sphere of a fully moral community of all mankind.

Bibliography:

Allison David (1995) 'Teilhard de Chardin' in the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy

Coit Stanton (1932) Translator's preface to Hartmann's Ethics (see below)

Hartmann Nicolai (1932) Ethics London, Geo. Allen & Unwin

Hartmann Nicolai (1953) New Ways of Ontology Chicago, Henry Regnery Co.

Kelly Anthony B. (1999A) The Process of the Cosmos USA Dissertation.com http://www.dissertation.com/library/ 1120605a.htm

Kelly Anthony B. (1999B) 'Rethinking Christianity' in Quodlibet, July 1999 @ http://www.quodlibet.net

Kelly J.N.D. (1960) Early Christian Doctrines London, Adam & Charles Black

Kopp Joseph V. (1964) Teilhard de Chardin Explained Cork, Mercier Press

Teilhard de Chardin P. Let Me Explain London, Fontana. (1974)

Werkmeister W.H.(1990) Nicolai Hartmann's New Ontology Tallahassee, Florida State University Press.

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