Volume 21, Issue 1, 2011
Studies of Civilizations
Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo
Fire and Force
Civilization as Noosphere in the Works of Teilhard de Chardin
The French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote provocatively about world civilization from his dual expertise as paleontologist and Catholic priest. This paper will extract from his many writings references to civilizational process in terms of his concept of the noosphere, that is, the transhuman accumulation of knowledge. Basing himself on the notion of a geogenetic process that he described in his important publication, Le Phenomenene Humain (1955), de Chardin considered the evolution of humankind to involve not merely the change of individual members of the species, but in the development of the capacity to shape the earth and its forces by the invention of technology. He foresaw the human creation of a new level of understanding (some would say this is the cyberspace of the Internet) that would be the achievement of a unifying human civilization. The impulse to contribute to and benefit from this wealth of shared knowledge constituted for the Jesuit a quasi-magnetic force that brought together disparate human experiences. Borne in part by his religious faith, de Chardin described in a second masterpiece, Le Milieu Divin (1957) this unifying force as “love”. When a new world civilization learned to harness this kind of love in common purpose, said de Chardin, “for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire”. Possibly because of his religiously tinted language and mystical orientation, Teilhard has not always been viewed a contributor to the field. This paper will offer suggestions for ways to incorporate the French Jesuit among the sources for civilizational analysis.