On January 31, 2000, I led a discussion on this topic, hosted by the Center for the Advancement of Research and Teaching at Bridgewater State College.You can download the PowerPoint presentation I used, including my notes.
Tielhard Photo

Toward a Theology of the Web: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Cyberconsciousness

Revised: January 12, 2005

James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D.

What is cybertheology doing on a geography web site? First, because it happens to interest this geographer. More importantly, geographers cannot afford to ignore the ways in which the internet in general and the worldwide web in particular are reshaping spatial relationships. I certainly view the world in a much different way than I did just a few years ago, and I think most people who use the web would agree. The web also raises important equity issues, as physical location is superceded in some ways by proximity to the web itself. In 1996 I had the unusual experience of being in Porto Velho, Brazil, just as a few elites in that remote city were getting online. I think the same disparities exist in even the most-wired cities of the U.S.

These notes began in connection with a discussion I led at the First Parish Church, Unitarian Universalist, Bridgewater, Massachusetts. My interest in the meaning of the web, which began with Teilhard, continues to grow and to lead me to a variety of new ideas. Many thanks to my friend, librarian,and fellow net-head Luke Rosenberger both for the idea and for much of of what appears below.


Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) was a geologist, anthropologist, and Jesuit priest.

The following is a cyberbibliography of works related (some more directly than others) to Teilhard's theories on evolution as they relate to the world wide web. You may also find a number of books on the work and life of Teilhard in the Bridgewater State College Library.

If you only have time to read one article,start here:
Kreisberg, Jennifer Cobb. "A Globe, Clothing Itself with a Brain." Wired 6.03 (June 1995): http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/3.06/teilhard.html(Note:This page recently moved.)
Jennifer Cobb has also published a book, Cybergrace:  The Searchfor God in the Digital World.  (Crown publishers), which is an attempt to create  theology that includes computation in a deep and meaningful way. It also includes a chapter on Teilhard. It is available at Amazon.com.

Birx, H. J. "The Phenomenon of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin." Address to Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mobile, Alabama, May 4, 1997: http://entropy.me.usouthal.edu/harbinger/articles/rel_sci/birx.html

"Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Toward a Science Charged with Faith" Cross Currents, the Journal of the Association for Religion and Intellectual Life (ARIL): http://www.crosscurrents.org/chardin.htm

Ellis, D. "Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the Emergence of Machina sapiens." MiningCo. Guide to Artificial Intelligence: http://ai.miningco.com/library/weekly/aa042797.htm.This article makes the case that evolution must some day move beyond H. sapiens, and that AI is the beginning of that transformation.

Maria Luiza Glycerio's (translated) article on Teilhard's theories ofevolution: http://www.trip.com.br/teilhard/english.htm.

An internet company has been named for Teilhard because its founders were influenced by his ideas. They provide a brief biography.

Teilhard de Chardin Study Group, Academy of Caen, Normandy: http://www.baclesse.fr/~abbat/g-index.html

English translation of passages from Le Phénomène Humain:

For another point of view, Sir Peter Medawar's rather famous critiqueof Le Phénomène Humain: http://www.physics.wisc.edu/~shalizi/Medawar/phenomenon-of-man.html

Other web resources on Teilhard de Chardin:

Teilhard's work also reminded my friend Luke a lot of another mystic, the Nicaraguan poet-priest (and later minister of culture during the Sandinista years) Ernesto Cardenal. While he was at at the Trappist monastery in Gethsemane, Kentucky in the late 50s he wrote a work called Vida en el amor, published by Ediciones Nicarao in Nicaragua. One English translation To live is to love was published in 1972 by Herder & Herder and another, Abide in love, was published in 1995 by Orbis and is available through Amazon: Abide in Love

Oddly enough, the main character in Mike Liegh's 1993 film noir Naked outlines Tielhard's ideas in a tirade midway through the film.

In January, 2005, The Connection radio program included Free Culture Future, which covers innovation in the open source computer code movement, which some see as a way of bringing the Internet back toward its original, non-commercial community orientation.

The on-line Beauty Truth and Goodness project is creating a very interesting piece of cooperative cyber-art that embodies Tielhard's vision of the Noosphere.


EMOTIONAL COMPUTERS (Requires RealAudio) -- Commentator David Weinberger talks about the idea that computers can be built to mimic human emotions. He says that they are already emotional, because of how the computer desktop metaphor has become a distinct and identifiable place. It is now perceived as a place computer users actually go. Since places bring forth emotions, the computer is already an emotional tool. (3:00 minutes - NPR's All Things Considered, Monday, July 6, 1998)

If you really want to stretch your imagination, consider Tielhard's ideas in relation to the recent developments in DNA-based calculation. For the past 20 years or so, the speed of computers has doubled every 18 months. Most experts agree, however, that this trend will reach a physical barrier in another decade or so. That is, silicon-based calculators will reach their physical limits at around that time. So researchers are considering other materials, and DNA seems a strong possibility, since it already transmits such incredibly vast amounts of data. Visit Yali Friedman's paper, "Everyone'sGuide to DNA Computers," if you want to learn more about this endeavor. The relevance to Tielhard, I think, is that the continued evolution of non-living "intelligent" systems will reach a threshold that might only be surpassed with the use of computational materials from living systems.So the line dividing organic minds from inorganic might become increasingly blurred.


Evolution's Arrow: The Direction of Evolution and the Future of Humanity by John Stewart has been published in Australia and is available online until can be published elsewhere. Stewart argues that evolution is directional and progressive, and that this has major consequences for humanity. It argues that evolution moves in the direction of producing cooperative organisations of greater scale and evolvability - evolution has organised molecular processes into cells, cells into organisms, and organisms into societies. The book founds this position on a new theory of the evolution of cooperation. It shows how self-interest at the level of genes and individuals does not stand in the way of the movement of evolution toward increasing cooperation. Evolution progresses by discovering ways to build cooperative organisations out of self-interested individuals. (From the online summary)


David Weinberger (see Emotional Computers above) is the editor of JOHO,the Journalof the Hyperlinked Organization, an independent newsletter that considersthe Web's effect on how business works ... and the emergence of the hyperlinked organization.

Erica Jean Seidel of Brown University created an interesting hypertext entitled "Metaphor:from Plato to the Postmodernists." By its very nature, this document requires exploration, but I will point you to one particular part that is most relevant to our discussion: her list of computer metaphors.

Ms. Seidel's work pointed me to a fantastic resource at Brown, the cyberspace, hypertext and critical theory page, which points to extensive resources related to the web and literature, the web and politics, the web and economics, the web and well, you get the picture!

Keeping Cyberspace Free: Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web By E.J. Graff  (May/June1999 issue of UU World) Maybe it only stands to reason that something called the World Wide Web was developed by a Unitarian Universalist. But does computer genius Tim Berners-Lee’s invention of the Web make us more or less interdependent?

New Space

Cyber-Geography Research exploring the geographies of the Internet, the Web and other emerging Cyberspaces. It is an initiative by Martin Dodge at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London. It includes an An Atlas of Cyberspaces, which is an atlas of maps and graphic representationsof the geographies of the new electronic territories of the Internet, theWorld-Wide Web and other emerging Cyberspaces, such as the image at left.

Stanford linguist Geoffrey Nunberg's essay "How the Web Was Won" appeared on NPR's Fresh Air November 9, 1998. In the essay, he explores how the language we use to describe the Internet is changing. He also delves into the meaning of some new spatial metaphors now current on the web, such as "portal" and "hub."

The City of Bits Web site was created in the spring and summer of 1995 as the first full-text interactive book on the World Wide Web. It is a comprehensive introduction to a new type of city, a largely invisible but increasingly important system of virtual spaces interconnected by the emerging information superhighway. William Mitchell makes extensive use of concrete, practical examples and illustrations in a technically well-grounded yet accessible examination of architecture and urbanism in the context of the digital telecommunications revolution, the ongoing miniaturization of electronics,the commodification of bits, and the growing domination of software over-materialized form. Chapter 5, Soft Cities, is particularly rich in its exploration of the geographic implicationsof what I call New Space.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing geographic developments on the web is the emergence of a cottage industry in top-level domain names. The most extreme example is Tuvalu, a Pacific Island nation that would receive little notice on the Internet were it not for the domain name it has been assigned:.tv. A 1998 Reuters article describes the effort to capitalize on this name. The Canadianconcern that is directing the enterprise (and collecting a share of any profits) is internet.tv. So far, sales have been zero, perhaps because of the high fee internet.tv is charging for this modern-day flag of convenience. For a complete list of TLDs (top-level domains), visit NORID.

Chat Roomsand STD's - According to this story from National Public Radio (August 30, 1999 All Things Considered), chat rooms on the internet are the latest target of public health workers fighting sexually transmitted disease. The web has led both to new ways for disease to spread and to new approaches topublic health. This is a seven-minute story requiring RealAudio.

For an excellent critique of where this may be taking society, look and listen to Jeremy Rifkin's April 24, 2000 appearance on WBUR's The Connection.

Y2K Connections

Consider this, from a UUY2K, sitedevoted to the Y2K problem from a Unitarian Universalist perspective, hosted by Rev. Dacia Reid:

The y2k computer failure problem is like a massive intertwined ring of dominoes - one little nudge anywhere in the rings and you stand to witness an amazing chain reaction.   In this case the nudgeis the year 2000 and the intertwined rings of dominoes are those aspectsof our society - worldwide - that interact with computers.

Finally, I welcome any suggestions you might have about other resources related to Teilhard in particular or about the philosphical, theological, spatial, and social ramifications of the web. You can reach me by e-mail at jhayesboh@bridgew.edu orby phone at (508) 531-2118.

James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D.
Department of Earth Sciences and Geography
Bridgewater State College
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