Some Remarks on the Place and Part
of Evil in a World in Evolution


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

an appendix to
The Phenomenon of Man, 1955
trans. Bernard Wall, 1959

Page last modified: 02 Oct 2010, 23:52-0400

Throughout the long discussions we have been through, one point may perhaps have intrigued or even shocked the reader. Nowhere, if I am not mistaken, have pain or wrong been spoken of. Does that mean that, from the point of view I have adopted, evil and its problem have faded away and no longer count in the structure of the world? If that were so, the picture of the universe here presented might seem over-simplified or even faked.

My answer (or, if you like, my excuse) to this frequent reproach of naive or exaggerated optimism is that, as my aim in this book has been limited to bringing out the positive essence of the biological process of hominisation, I have not (and this in the interests of clarity and simplicity) considered it necessary to provide the negative of the photograph. What good would it have done to have drawn attention to the shadows on the landscape, or to stress the abysses between the peaks? Surely they were obvious enough. I have assumed that what I have omitted could nevertheless be seen. And it would be a complete misunderstanding to interpret the view here suggested as a sort of a human idyll rather than as the cosmic drama that I have attempted to present.

True, evil has hitherto not been mentioned, at least explicitly. But on the other hand it inevitably seeps out of every nook and cranny, through every joint and sinew of the system in which I have taken my stand.

First: evil of disorder and failure. Right up to the reflective zone we have seen the world progressing by means of groping and chance. Under this heading alone – even up the human level on which chance is most controlled – how many failures have there been for one success, how many days of misery for one hour's joy, how many sins for a solitary saint? To begin with we find physical lack-of-arrangement or derangement on the material level; then suffering, which cuts into the sentient flesh; then on a still higher level, wickedness and the torture of spirit as it analyses itself and makes choices. Statistically, at every degree of evolution, we find evil always and everywhere, forming and reforming implacably in us and around us. Necessarium est ut scandala eveniant. This is relentlessly imposed by the play of large numbers at the heart of a multitude undergoing organization.

Second: evil of decomposition. This is no more than a form of the foregoing; for sickness and corruption invariably result from some unhappy chance. It is an aggravated and doubly fatal form, it must be added, inasmuch as with living creatures, death is the regular, indispensable condition of the replacement of one individual by another in the phyletic system. Death – the essential lever in the mechanism and upsurge of life.

Third: evil of solitude and anxiety. This is the great anxiety (peculiar to man) of a consciousness waking up to reflection in a dark universe in which light takes centuries to reach it – a universe which we have not yet succeeded in understanding either in itself, or in its demands upon us.

Lastly, the least tragic perhaps because it exalts us, though none the less real: the evil of growth, which is expressed in us, in the pangs of childhood, the mysterious law which, from the humblest chemism to the highest synthesis of the spirit, makes all progress in the direction of increased unity express itself in terms of work and effort.

Indeed, if we regard the march of the world from this standpoint (i.e. not that of its progress but of its risks and the efforts it requires) we soon see, under the veil of security and harmony which – viewed from on high – envelope the rise of man, a particular type of cosmos in which evil appears necessarily and as abundantly as you like in the course of evolution – not by accident (which would not much matter) but through the very structure of the system. A universe which is involuted and interiorized, but at the same time and by the same token a universe which labors, which sins, and which suffers. Arrangement and centration: a doubly conjugated operation which, like the scaling of a mountain or the conquest of the air, can only be effected objectively if it is rigorously paid for – for reasons and at charges which, if we only knew them, would enable us to penetrate the secret of the world around us.

Suffering and failure, tears and blood: so many by-products (often precious, moreover, and re-utilizable) begotten by the noosphere on its way. This, in the final analysis, is what the spectacle of the world in movement reveals to our observation and reflection at the first stage. But is that really all? Is there nothing else to see? In other words, is it really sure that, for an eye trained and sensitized by light other than that of pure science, the quantity and the malice of evil hic et nunc [here and now], spread throughout the world, does not betray a certain excess inexplicable to our reason, if to the normal effect of evolution is not added the extraordinary effect of some catastrophic or primordial deviation?

On this question, in all loyalty, I do not feel I am in a position to take a stand: in any case, would this be the place to do so? One point seems clear to me, and is sufficient for the moment as an orientation: that in this case (just as in that of the 'creation' of the human soul – see note p. 169), complete liberty is not only conceded but offered by the phenomenon to theology, so that it may add precision and depth (should it wish to do so) to findings and suggestions – always ambiguous beyond a certain point – furnished by experience.

In one manner or the other it still remains true that, even in the view of the mere biologist, the human epic resembles nothing so much as the way of the Cross.

Rome, October 28, 1948