Review, Wolfgang Smith, Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy, Angelico Press/Sophia Perennis, 248pp. plus index
I was wondering about Teilhard de Chardin’s pervasive influence on the modern Catholic Church, or perhaps more accurately, on modernists in the Catholic Church. It would not be an understatement to say that I think his ideas are among the most maleficent elements affecting the Church. I have non-Catholic friends who like Teilhard’s work – but it is precisely because they are not Catholics that they can ignore what I cannot – that he intended to not just revolutionise the Church, but replace it with a new one.
I cannot recall how, but I came upon a favourable reference to this book, as having been written by an orthodox Catholic who was also a scientist, and debunked Teilhard’s notions. It was available in Australia, so I ordered it in. I did not have great expectations, and causally began reading it. To my pleasant surprise, it has turned out to be one of the best books I have read this year. I can highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to better understand the faith, and why Teilhard is such a menace to it. But what Smith writes about the faith, as he calmly and impartially dissects Teilhard, is even more significant than the critique.
At the age of eighteen, the precocious Smith graduated from Columbia with three majors, in philosophy, mathematics, and physics. He obtained a Masters in Physics, and a doctorate in Mathematics. Oddly enough, he gave me the impression that he belongs to the Traditionalist School of Guenon and Schuon. As it transpires, he is admirer of some Traditionalists = Perennialists, but if he was ever one, he had definitively left. I have never liked their work, but Smith’s work is, nonetheless, brilliant. If he really believes what he has written here, then he is indeed an orthodox Catholic.
Smith sets our Teilhard’s ideas, and as he works through them, shows that Teilhard’s true religion is not Catholicism, but a bizarre evolutionary faith of his own devising. I do not call it a “faith” because there is anything supernatural about it. As Smith shows, Teilhard denies the supernatural, turning his scorn on the miracles, and naturalising all that even hints at the truly divine. Teilhard is effectively a pantheist, which means that he really has no God other than the world. He has no Christ other than a sort of “cosmic Christ,” and even his attempt to assert his belief in the historical Jesus is a feint. As von Hildebrand noted, there is no reason why the cosmic force Teilhard believes in should be identified, in any way, with Jesus (236).
This is an important point: the fundamental logic of a person’s position will always have its effect, sooner or later. Let us take a belief which one may assert as a fundamental principle, e.g. the reality of class struggle and the rightness of overthrowing the ruling class, by any means necessary. One may then graft onto that eirenic notions that violence is wrong. However, there is now a tension between the foundation and the superstructure, and should the question of violence for the cause arise, the fundamental principle will probably win out, because that is more basic to the entire philosophy. So, too, when what purports to be a religion or religious approach is based on a secular philosophy, then the secular philosophy will win out, and the religious dressing will fall away.
This has been borne out time and again in modern Catholicism. Teilhard’s philosophy is a parade-ground example of this. As Smith shows, Teilhard describes his entire intellectual structure as being scientific, yet in the event, his inspiration is not science – it is diabolic (this is the burden of the last pages of the book).
Even if one discounts the diabolic aspect, as being literally true, Teilhard’s system still leads to the evils of Marxism: the sort of things Teilhard says in praise of Marxism are eerily reminiscent of the sort of thing being said by modernists today (202-204). Hence, Teilhard has this almost astonishing sentence about Catholicism and Marxism: “Is it not incontestable … that despite all ideological differences they will eventually … come together on the same summit?” (202) Teilhard speak of their “equal faith in Man” (203), and here, too, his humanism foreshadows the modern rise of that among some contemporary clerics. He saw himself as the prophet of a new Church which would completely supersede the old, and his idea of an ever-evolving Church has definitely gained the upper hand in many parts of the Latin Church, especially (37).
Teilhard introduced all sorts of new terms, and popularised others. Some of these have proved successful: e.g. the emphasis on “convergence” and “consciousness,” whether this was due to Teilhard alone or not. Others are less well known in the words Teilhard used although the concept is somewhat currant, e.g. that all of creation is heading towards consummation in the “Omega Point” (a sort of cosmic Christ) during which what we naively call “sin” is merely an unavoidable statistical by-product created as multiplicity converges towards unity (e.g. 12, 111, 155).
Smith elegantly points out self-contradictions in Teilhard’s writings (70, 132), his fondness for word-tricks which provide the illusion but not the substance of demonstration (70-71, 88), and what is more than the lack of scientific rigour, an actually anti-scientific bent (95-97, 172-173).
In the end, the only reason Teilhard is important is because of the prevalence of his errors. But this book will abide not only because of the masterly demonstration of the fallacies and foolishness of Teilhard and his “evolutionist Christianity,” but more, because of Smith’s insights. For example, on p.6, one reads this deep and powerful statement:
… if, indeed, there was a Creation, and if Adam and Eve did initially reside in Paradise, then that part of the story, insofar as it transgresses the categories of the post-Edenic realm that constitutes our world, must evidently be in a sense “mythical.” (6)
Smith also states, as truly as unfashionable, that: “we must never forget that the primary object of authentic Christian charity is to brings souls to Christ” (205). In the end, Teilhard was delusional megalomaniac, e.g. he wrote of himself that: “… Truth has to appear only once in one single mind, for it to be impossible for anything ever to prevent it from spreading universally and setting everything ablaze” (205). Were that true, why is the world in the state it is today?
To conclude: an excellent book, highly recommended, not only for its brilliant critique but even more for its positive teachings.