This is the first installment in a series. These notes help summarize Wolfgang Smith’s book, “Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy” and were prepared by Lorraine Davison. She has generously agreed to share them with us here given the significance of the geologist/theologian’s work on the Omega Point to our current post-human trajectory.
March 19, 2023
I would like to share with you my notes from a book that I am reading about the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
As you know, Teilhard is part of the Catholic story as is the author of this book, Wolfgang Smith. But Smith is also a product of the same academic and corporate structures that you have painstakingly traced in your mapping of the development of the ideas that are now shaping our world in ever more terrifying ways. He graduated from Cornell at eighteen with majors in physics, mathematics and philosophy and took an M.S. from Purdue. He then spent 3 years at Bell Aircraft Corporation as an aerodynamicist. He gained recognition for his pioneering papers on the effect of diffusion fields, providing a theoretical solution to the re-entry problem for space flight. He then got a Ph.D. in mathematics from Columbia University and became a professional mathematician.
So, Smith straddles both science and faith. I guess that it was the ever more obvious attempts to morph science itself into a faith that made him embark upon a critique of scientism and upon attempts to revive metaphysics as an authentic theological discipline.
In this light, he has Teilhard firmly in his sights. As you have often pointed to the Jesuit’s work as a central element in the potential endpoint that is driving many of the current developments in society, I thought it might be useful to precis the central points of this work. In the first chapters, the author is establishing how Teilhard’s theories depend upon the destruction of the thought of his own Catholic and all other major religious traditions. He also calls into question the scientific basis for his theories.
I think his insights will deepen our understanding of Teilhard’s work and why it so influential and dangerous for the entire human race. I hope that it is not too dry!
The book is called Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy (Angelico Press 2012).
Below, I provide a summary of the introduction and chapters one through three.
Smith locates Teilhard within the field of theistic evolution which argues that God creates through evolution that is driving us to a predestined endpoint. Teilhard devoted much of his work to promoting and describing this endpoint. His work combines science and theology.
The author provides a brief sketch of Darwin’s theory of evolution. He then highlights how subsequent discoveries, especially in biology, have cast increasing doubt on the theory.
- Microevolution. Although yielding observable effects, has never been shown to effect the transformation of one species to another
- Macroevolution. The famous gaps in the fossil records and all those missing links!
- Irreducible complexity. The practical and mathematical improbability that a complex system could evolve by chance mutations and be selectively assumed into a genetic line.
He highlights how fanatical adherence to Darwin’s theories can only come from a need to contain all explanations for life in a materialist framework.
Teilhard’s “theistic evolution” has infected nearly all the Christian world. Even worse, it is being used to shore up a tottering “scientific” theory by filling in its gaps with divine intervention.
Modernism has demythologised biblical interpretation and stripped it of ontological meaning (ontological as relating to all questions of what it means to “be”). This means that we interpret Eden as belonging to the same material world as that which we now inhabit. However, it is really a transcendent realm from which humanity “fell”. This fall has come to be seen almost entirely in moralistic terms and not as a movement from one realm to another.
The point is that the Christian creation story and theistic evolution cannot both be true. If mankind originated (body and soul) in a transcendent realm outside of our world, then it did not originate in our known world many millions of years ago.
Smith argues that in Christianity man is at the absolute centre of creation and the created world is tied to our fate because we have a unique relationship to God. Teilhard wanted to reinvent Christianity and create a new religion. But this does not just concern remote Catholic theologians as (after some kind of mystical vision) he felt that he was the only person to have seen the truth. He then set out to engulf all of humanity in this vision.
His work has replaced the idea of following Christ with the intention to create Christ by way of evolution. Christ is no longer Alpha and Omega but only Omega. All that remains of spiritual life is communal action – the kind that promotes “socialization” (apparently one of Teilhard’s own terms). What counts is not the individual but the species.
He created many scientific-sounding fictions and has convinced many people of the truth of his vision. Smith aims to look at the “scientific evidence” for theistic evolution which has allowed his doctrine to “attain dominion” in the educated Christian world and beyond.
Finally, he offers this book as a kind of homeopathic remedy for the infection of theistic evolution. He will go on to cover such topics as the nature of time and eternity, the twofold distinction between spirit, mind and matter and the meaning of history in light of revelation. Of course, his is obviously a Christian perspective.
Chapter One – Evolution: A Closer Look
Whilst there is some evidence for microevolution this is not the case for macroevolution. Smith means the latter in this discussion. For instance, there is no evidence of a continuous evolutionary chain and there are many temporal gaps in the fossil record. Also, no evidence has been found for the intermediate creatures that had been proposed in order to complete that chain (such as Ernst Haekel’s protovertebrates). In addition, DNA shows that idea of the genealogical tree is mistaken as the biosphere does not show a sequential progression but rather is divided into well-defined and widely separated classes. This separation is clear and mathematically verifiable at the molecular level. There is no evidence that this was any different in the past.
Even more convincing is the complexity of living organisms even at their most basic level. Mathematical calculations based on the makeup of the simplest of life forms show the improbability of Darwin’s scenario. The author gives the example of flagellum.
Smith then puts Darwin’s increasingly shaky theory of evolution up against what he calls “authentic theology.”
St Augustine said “beyond a doubt the world was not made in time but with time.” Evolution takes place in time so this is not how God created. Scripture rules out the objection that the world might have been made with time but creatures in time.
“He that liveth in eternity created all things at once”. – Ecclesiasticus 18:1
This is known as the omnia simul doctrine.
“God creates the world and all things in the present now” explains Meister Eckhart.
This “now” coincides with eternity.
So Teilhard’s assertion that “God creates through evolution” is untenable metaphysically, or at least it should be for Christians!
God creates the creature before he creates time: being has precedence over time.
In fact, time derives from the creature. This seems strange to us. But the Church Fathers taught that created beings are birthed in time and then each manifest being has its own spatio-temporal locus. It fits into a “universal network of secondary causes” but its roots extend beyond the visible cosmos and into the timeless instant of the creative act.
This means that your being does not coincide with the visible “you”. Smith says that even the tiniest plant is “vaster than the entire cosmos in its visible form” because its roots extend into eternity.
This doctrine is difficult for us to understand – it is from God’s perspective.
Creation from the point of view of Anthropos (Adamic or primordial man) is contained in the hexaemeron or six days of creation. This is the first effects of the creative act as they are expressed within (and not without) the visible cosmos.
Smith argues that our world has effectively shrunk because we no longer understand the old teachings about the extra dimension where the primary act of creation takes place–that which is above. This is the invisible realm that is beyond the detection of science and has therefore been dismissed as fantasy. So, we have now become “denizens of the flatland”: the land that has lost its verticality. Consequently, we can now dismiss the ancient doctrines altogether (atheism) or reinterpret them to fit into the horizontal plane (heresy).
Thus, according to Smith, the Darwinist is seeking the origin of the species where it cannot be found as being preceded time. But the theistic evolutionist both commits this error and adds another. He locates these origins within time and then asserts that God creates through evolution. Omnia simul has disappeared and every supposed movement of evolution is attributed to God. We have been deracinated and cast onto the shifting sands of time. In short, we have been robbed of our essential being.
But there is a true evolution of creatures. A first birth takes place in the “above” and then a second as the creature moves “downwards” (as it were) into the visible cosmos. This is the manifestation or “unfolding” in space and time of a created being.
Evolution is central to the work of Teilhard as he says all other theories and systems must bow before it. However, he does not explain how this came to be established. In other words, he is claiming an evidential base for Darwin’s theory that does not exist.
Smith shows that Teilhard abandons the argument that Darwin’s theory can be proven by empirical evidence in favour of the argument that it can be established on a priori grounds – that is through the exercise of reason. No one has ever been able to observe a genuine action of evolution or transformation of species from one state to another. So, Teilhard enthrones evolution as the king of theories on the grounds that reason can see no other way that the development and transformation of species could occur.
Even though Teilhard, the Christian, has to include God in his theories, the operations of chance predominate in his work. Moreover, everything, even Christianity, must now be reinterpreted in the light of a universe fuelled by random chance. The biblical creation story and the whole idea of God has to be recast as He may only now create through the mechanism of evolution.
Smith concludes that Teilhard became fascinated by the theory of evolution because he wanted to be able to contain all explanations for the causality and transformation of life within the visible cosmos. He wanted to rule out “the intervention of an extra cosmic intelligence” and to see a self-sufficient nature “as a seamless garment of organic interrelationships in which every living form can be regarded as the resultant of preceding forms.” This is the biological counterpart of Newtonian physics applied to the biosphere.
Teilhard identifies that there must be a “physical agent” that connects and explains the transformative movements of nature. His dream seems to have been to define, name and presumably use this agent. It is the philosopher’s stone of the transformist’s cause. Smith points out that if they have not, after so much time, identified this agent of transformation and thus of evolution how can they say that evolution itself is established fact?
He concludes this chapter by wondering at the fanatical faith of the transformists in the self-sufficient “one organic physical interaction of living beings.” They seem to be obsessed by establishing evolution as a way of precluding the “intrusion” of an extra cosmic intelligence”. This is the great paradox. It seems that Teilhard’s express aim was to reintroduce the Christian God into the scientific world view. But Smith argues that the God of Teilhard is not the Christian God. He wishes to enthrone a new deity who is more suited to the needs of the evolving “ultra human”. This is a new religion and Teilhard is its self-appointed prophet.
Chapter Two – Forgotten Truths
For Teilhard “spirit” is an evolutionary process in consciousness and thought. It is the unconscious unfolding into the conscious and onto the self-consciousness unique to humanity and which includes our capacity for language.
“Once symbols have taken the place of things, one is able to manipulate these symbols, move them about at will; and by virtue of this inner freedom, one finds oneself, as it were, in a new space: the space of concepts, the inner world of thought.”
Spirit has become a “thing” that can be “observed” within ourselves and related to other things (such as the brain). It is “a variable connected to other variables.”
If this process of spiritualization is channelled through “socialisation,” it will lead, according to Teilhard, to hyperconsciousness. This is the collectivisation of thought of Teilhard’s super-organism in which each of our brains is but a neuron in the over brain.
Following Descartes, Teilhard reduces spirit to a “thinking entity”. This departs from the ancients who distinguished the thought processes of the mind from the intellect which was associated with the spirit.
Particularly after Descartes, the higher concept of “intellect” was subsumed into “mind” and forgotten. For Descartes, “mind” was a spiritual substance whose activity was thought. Teilhard goes beyond this and declares that mind/thought is spirit. This amounts to a radical transformation in our view of what it is to be human.
Traditionally, thought was seen as an activity arising from the interaction of spirit (or soul) and body – like a pianist (spirit) playing a piano (the body). For Teilhard there is only the piano (body). He insists that our dynamic humanity arises from one single phenomenon and not the interaction of two. Thus, for instance, personhood arises only from the neuronal activity of the brain. This is not universally accepted even by many neurologists.
Smith maintains that Teilhard has failed to grasp that spirit and matter are situated on different levels of reality – the two poles on a vertical axis that contain existence. he argues that Teilhard’s single cosmic substance does not exist.
Creation began with a duality – heaven and earth which can be understood in a number of different ways, but underlying them all are two elements—spirit and matter.
In the past, thinkers have tried to represent the invisible spiritual reality through metaphors and images, but eventually these attempts (such as Ptolemy’s cosmology) were ridiculed because they contained elements that could not be observed and hence were deemed to be untrue. These attempts to portray a dual reality have been obliterated from the modern mind.
This obliteration becomes especially problematic when we try to grasp the immaterial elements of our own inner worlds. It was widely understood that the spiritual (the heavenly) interpenetrated the human person. Spiritual and material elements worked together in order to produce the created world and the self-conscious “I” but each kept their separate identity. For Teilhard, however, there is only one indistinguishable substance.
In physics there is no empty space or a totally material particle. The cosmos is full of immaterial spiritual content that gives life and renders the universe comprehensible. So, as we comprehend the world we see it with a spiritual eye – it is this that makes us human.
For Teilhard, our world is not the lowest level in a hierarchical, metaphysical cosmology but is the whole cosmos that includes even God. Spirit and matter are two sides of the same coin –
“All that exists is matter becoming spirit”.
This is the core of Teilhard’s thought.
The “arrow of time” is propelling this substance “spirit-matter” on a one-way evolutionary journey.
The implications of Teilhard’s theories for Christian anthropology are immense. Traditionally man is seen as reflecting the duality of heaven and earth as he consists of body and soul. However, we depend on three elements for our existence. Soul (psyche) is not strictly speaking the spirit(pneuma) which exists in a level above our individual forms. It is the spiritual element from which our individual soul is derived – the soul of our soul. So, the individual soul occupies an intermediary position between the spiritual realm from which we derive life and the material body. In this way we are technically made up of body and soul but linked through the soul to a higher reality. The psychic knowledge of the soul is not self-contained. It derives its “knowing” from a higher spiritual plane. The intellect is thus ultimately spiritual.
But Teilhard does not distinguish between spirit and psyche. In fact, He replaces both these “old” concepts with another evolutionary process – that of psychogenesis.
In the old system, the product of the intellect was cognition and that of the psyche/mind, thought, “thought is the quest of which cognition is the end.” In other words, the intellect guides us through mental movements (often not without some considerable pain!) in order to arrive at an understanding (the stasis of an authentic vision, or cognition). The two are not the same. Indeed, the mind never stops moving and, more often than not, this random thought movement is not guided by intellect or concluded by cognition.
The author explains that cognition does not involve movement because it takes place outside of time. It is only outside of time that we achieve the unity necessary for true cognition as time implies dispersion and multiplicity. An unperceived timeless stillness enables us to perceive a landscape as an undispersed whole. Here, our senses are saved from being overwhelmed by the millions of individual elements that make up the scene.
However, Teilhard is welded to movement as he sees everything as process. He confuses cognition and thought because his system requires it. He cannot afford to perceive the immutability and stillness of timeless spirit.
Smith is keen to emphasise that he is not talking about the Spirit of God but spirit with a small ‘s’. This is the highest tier of the created world. It is not subject to time but neither is it eternal. It occupies a middle ground between time and eternity. This is essential to Christian metaphysics which has to include this realm of intellect. This is the created heaven that belongs with earth as the centre belongs to the circumference of a circle. It is this mysterious union of opposites that constitutes creation.
Creation then consists of the material world and several levels of the psychic world which is crowned by the spiritual. Logic dictates that the nature of time changes as the levels progress. A thousand years on earth can be as a day in heaven. Indeed, at the summit ‘before’ and ‘after’ merge into a timeless now. For Teilhard, man is trapped in the temporal zone as he denies the intellectual soul that pulls us to the timeless heaven and which defines our humanity.
Chapter Three – Complexity/Consciousness: Law or Myth?
In Teilhard’s directed evolution matter is becoming spirit. It is being spiritualised into life, consciousness and intelligence. This is happening through a process of complexification in which particles become molecules which become cells and eventually Intelligent multi-cellular organisms. Higher levels of complexity produce entities with an interior or psychic life that we call consciousness. So, consciousness is the product of increasing complexity.
In an attempt to establish laws in the biosphere that mirror those of Newtonian physics, this idea is called the Law of Complexity/Consciousness. Teilhard claims that it is empirically verifiable and it forms the foundation of his thought.
However, we are only able to observe the behaviour and not the consciousness of beings outside of ourselves. Neither is it simple to measure, in any meaningful way, living organisms in terms of their degrees of complexity. Therefore, it is not clear how one would asses to what extent consciousness is proportional to complexity. And even if this Law held good does it establish Teilhard’s thesis?
Smith argues that it does not necessarily establish what Teilhard wishes to establish – that the spiritual factor is derived from matter. But this is fundamental to his work. He must deny dualism at all costs in order to establish that the cosmos is comprised of one substance— spirit-matter.
We have at least one mental power, however, that does not seem to be a product of our organised complexity. This is the ability to take the extremely fragmentary elements of our sense experiences and unify them into single or ordered comprehensible perceptions. In some way, we turn these many elements into one. For instance, one photograph may be made up of over a million dots. Yet there are no structures in the brain dedicated to the unifying function that makes these dots into one comprehensible image or the multiple elements of a street scene into a streamlined and coordinated sensory experience. Thus, some other element is at work that is not a spatial entity. It’s position “above” space enables it to combine all the elements of spatial experience so that we can make sense of them.
Consciousness is seen in traditional thought as a power of the soul that is independent of the body. However, some aspects of consciousness (here called empirical consciousness) clearly arise from the interaction of the body and soul as in the processing of sensory perceptions in the waking state. But as we saw above, the processing of the multiple inputs to the senses relies upon the powers of the soul.
The author argues that this power of the soul is created and has not arisen from evolution. However, it does evolve in the sense that it is unfolded progressively through the body. Thus, the body and the soul need each other. This unfolding of the powers of the soul also results in the development of species. But this only takes place within prescribed boundaries—dogs will probably never compose symphonies. So this unfolding does not result in the transformation of one species into another—“nothing can become that which it is not”. This is why mutations of form more often than not result in the death and not the evolution of the organism.
Sometimes Teilhard is self-contradictory in arguing that a primitive kind of psyche must exist in every corpuscle and precedes complexification. This is mystifying as not only does it undermine his own argument but is completely without the scientific verification necessary to establish the credentials of his allegedly science-based theories.
Smith argues that Teilhard will use any argument available to him (no matter how scientifically weak) in his efforts to abolish traditional dualism because it is the one thing that stands in the way of his radical evolutionism.
Teilhard does however retain some Christian teaching such as the doctrine of immortality as the survival of the entire human consciousness. But can this doctrine really survive within his framework?
In place of the soul, Teilhard argues that it is “radial energy” that draws the organism to ever greater levels of complexity and which also survives death. For Teilhard, this scientific soul has evolved out of the primeval stuff of the universe and was not created ex nihilo by God. It develops through complexification until it becomes the self-reflective soul/radial energy of man. At death this energy rises upward carrying its “incommunicable load of consciousness.”
It is clear that Teilhard has now abandoned all pretence of scientific rigour and has entered the realm of the metaphysical. For if consciousness depends on the material complexity of the body, how can it survive the death of the organism that produces it? In traditional teaching the body is made for the soul but the soul is not derived from the body. St Thomas Aquinas explains “The intellect is a faculty of the soul and the soul is the form of the body.” But intellect does not correspond to any bodily organ in the way that sight obviously relates to the eyes.
Thus, whilst the soul may be a weaker entity without the body, there is no reason that the intellectual part of the soul should not survive. This is true in most religious traditions. These traditions may be based on revelation or the pronouncements of mystics but they have an undeniable logic. The soul survives because it is perfectly simple and not because of its complexity!
The idea of immortality does not fit so neatly into Teilhard’s theories.
The author makes the point that outside of his own field (palaeontology) Teilhard’s “scientific” theories have received a mixed reception in the scientific community. He has been most warmly received in so-called theological circles and amongst thinkers such as Julian Huxley who introduced his work to the English-speaking world. He has been charged with self-contradiction and the overuse of metaphor which should obviously be used sparingly in scientific treatises mainly concerned with empirical verification of observable phenomena.
Finally, there is the hint of despair in the voice of the author who notes that:
“To the admiring multitude the Teilhardian pronouncements have become oracles of Science; and the more flagrantly far-fetched, the more earth-shaking do these pronouncements appear.”
Notes prepared by Lorraine Davison
3 thoughts on “Guest Post – Insights Into Teilhard de Chardin, Part 1”
This is not the book from 2012, but If it is of any help, below is a direct epub link to a (what looks like) 1991 predecessor:
Wolfgang Smith – Teilhardism And The New Religion_ A Thorough Analysis of the Teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin-Tan Books and Publishers (1991).
Excellent. de Chardin’s God demasked is a Cybernetic God. Precise hit.
Great post. Thank you for these insights and sharing them with us. Looking forward to your next installment of notes.
I am still studying Teilhard so I find this most beneficial. Especially as I am just about finished with Ithzak Bentov’s book ‘Stalking the Wild Pendulum’ (1977) that explores consciousness and the noosphere from a decidely jewish perspective, as Bentov was the lone survivor of his family during WWII. His book is a quick read — I highly recommend it.
Also, as your notes are so detailed, i was reminded of another book so critical to my early ideas on this subject. The book is called The Photodrama of Creation: Science History Philosophy, Springing From the Word of God (1914). We found an original copy at an estate sale in 2008 for $1.00, the original price in 1914. A paperback was reissued in 2014 on amazon. The book features many photographic plates and was the work of Charles Taze Russell.
The book was an adapted product of the slides and movie he made, a considerable feat at the time. Here is a description from Google Books:
“In 1912 Charles Taze Russell and his associates embarked on a bold educational venture that was far ahead of its time. It was a combination motion picture and hand painted slide presentation, synchronized with musical recordings and phonograph recorded talks. In the last three years of his life approximately eight million people all over the world saw and heard Pastor Russell on film as he introduced his epic motion picture, THE PHOTODRAMA OF CREATION. It broke all records in attendance and technology. Never before had sound and color been incorporated into motion pictures. It was the crowning feature of his ministry. This book features the a reproduction of the complete text and photographs of that film.”
Please consider taking a look at the work of Charles Taze Russell as you investigate Teilhard. At first blush, I could not find a direct link to Teilhard, but the timing of their work suggests at least an influence.
And similarly for Itzhak Bentov, who set up shop in the basement of a catholic church when he immigrated to the US, and in addition to his experiments with consciousness, was also a famed inventor. One of his inventions was a seismographic instrument that could record the heartbeat.
John Abele, the MEdi-Tech founder, said this of Bentov:
“He was a very inventive person, but also a person who was not the type you would normally think would be an inventor. He was a very spiritual person, he did meditation, he was a very soft-spoken person. He was interested in how the brain worked and actually attached electrodes to his head which were connected to a function generator in which he could change the wave shape and the power and learned about how the brain interprets these different frequencies.”
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