Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881 – 1955), a Jesuit priest trained as a paleontologist and geologist, was one of the most prominent thinkers who tried to reconcile evolutionary theory, religion, and the meaning of life. In his magnum opus,The Phenomenon of Man, he sets forth a sweeping account of cosmic unfolding.
While Teilhard’s philosophy is notoriously complex, the key notion is that cosmic evolution is directional or teleological. Evolution brings about an increasing complexity of consciousness, leading from an unconscious geosphere, to a semi-conscious biosphere, and eventually to conscious sphere of mind. The arrival of human beings on the cosmic scene is particularly important, signaling that evolution is becoming conscious of itself. As the process continues, the human ability to accumulate and transmit ideas increases along with the depth and complexity of those ideas. This will lead to the emergence of what Teilhard calls the “noosphere,” a thinking layer containing the collective consciousness of humanity which will envelope the earth. (Some contemporary commentators view the World Wide Web as a partial fulfillment of Teilhard’s prophecy.)