Prophets of Pantheism

John B. Shea
Jan.31, 2000
Reproduced with Permission

In his Encyclical Letter, Fides et Ratio (Oct. l998), Pope John Paul 11 emphasized that the task of the Church, as bearer of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, to witness to the true faith, can and must challenge philosophy to recover its own full dignity. He defines the human being as one who seeks the truth. This truth comes first in the form of questions - does life have a meaning? where is it going? St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that our knowledge of the answer to those two questions matures into wisdom with the help of the Holy Spirit.1

The priority of this wisdom does not exclude the role of philosophical wisdom, a function of the intellect, and theological wisdom, which, based on Revelation, explores the contents of the Faith. The Church, accordingly, encourages philosophical and theological inquiry. The Pope makes an urgent appeal to humanity, and in particular to Catholics to bring philosophy, theology, and science back to the dialogue which they once knew. The Pope also states that philosophy must renew its search for the ultimate meaning of, the why of the universe. It must verify the human capacity to know the truth and in order to achieve this, it must extend its range to genuine metaphysics, and transcend the empirical data to attain something absolute in its search for truth.

Among the threats to the successful attainment of the truth is the idea of scientism. This is the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge, other than those of the positive sciences; and relegates religious, theological, ethical and esthetic knowledge to the realm of fantasy.2 In view of the teachings of Fides et Ratio and in view of the dangers of modern scientistic philosophies, I propose to examine some of the ideas which have been promoted in recent years by two prominent Catholic Jesuit scholars - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Bernard Lonergan .

Both wrote in a way that gave the impression that they possessed a profound knowledge and understanding of Theology, Philosophy and Science, when in fact, this was not so. Their ideas had great influence, even on experts in those fields, because those experts did not realize that they themselves were deficient in knowledge outside of their own area of specialization. Teilhard, and to a lesser extent, Lonergan, also had a tendency to use metaphor in an inappropriate way and to use the words of others in a sense different from that which was intended by their original authors.

Teilhard (l881-1955), based his world view on the fundamental assumption that the material universe has undergone a process of self organized complexity which has resulted in an entity, man, capable of consciousness, perception, thought, reason, and a free will. Teilhard goes further. He assumes that some form of consciousness is inherent in matter from the start; "We are logically forced to assume the existence in rudimentary form of some sort of psyche in every form of corpuscle, even in the megamolecules and below."3 This autonomous development harbours an ontological premise. It assumes the primacy of matter and denies the intervention of a spiritual, immaterial factor. It does allow 'spirit', but only as extracted from material.

The human soul is understood to be the result of the spontaneous complexification of matter during the course of the evolution of the universe.4 This law of complexity/consciousness he regarded as the result of an "as yet undiscovered and unnamed power". Two problems present themselves. No such power has been discovered, and the well founded law of entropy states that matter goes from order to disorder. Teilhard goes on to say that "the whole cosmic Event may be reduced in its essence to a vast process of arrangement ... governed by statistical necessity."5 Here, Teilhard failed to distinguish between spirit (the source of intellect and perception) and psyche or mind whose act is thought. The psyche is dependent on brain function, whereas the source of intellect is the human soul.

The law of complexity was said to lead to a process of 'psychic convergence', which in turn was to lead to the development of a collective psyche and to a super organism with its own psyche - the noosphere.6 Henri de Lubac dismisses the concern many have expressed about Teilhard's super organism, calling this pseudo biological language 'an analogy, whose shortcomings were recognized by Pere Teilhard himself.'7 Yet, in Teilhard's view, "... of all living things ... none is more really, more intensely living, than the noosphere."8 The noosphere is in short, a 'thinking planet'.9 The noosphere, or biosphere, has become 'the very soul of the earth'.10 Space-time, and the whole cosmos, we are told, 'contains' and engenders consciousness, and at some point will infold on itself to become a point " which we might call Omega".11

But Teilhard knew that all life on earth, and indeed all possible other life in the universe, will eventually vanish. His response was "We have finally to banish the spectre of death."12 He wants things both ways - he wants to be immortal on a materialist basis. He identifies the Omega point with the Risen Christ, and does so by amalgamating what Wolfgang Smith has called "his theological and scientific insights".13 Christ is, Teilhard says, the Prime Mover of the Complexity/Consciousness of the universe, and yet appears only at its end, the Omega point. But a Prime Mover must be there from the start and not just at the end of a process of evolution. He says that Christ is the center of attraction and influence, but that this "radiation" is physical, not what it really is, the Holy Spirit. Teilhard eventually came to the view that God too, along with the universe, was evolving, and that He, "transforms himself as he incorporates us."14 He also says that "I see in the World a mysterious product of completion and fulfillment for the Absolute Being Himself."15 The "Cosmic Christ" is a pantheistic concept, as indeed Teilhard openly admits.16 In truth, there is not just a single point of contact with God at the conjectured end of the universe. Christ was incarnated, lived, died and was resurrected so that He would provide a door ("I am the door" Jn.12: 32) in order that we may be recreated, born again, so that Christ may live in us, here and now, and, we hope, forever in eternity.

Bernard Lonergan's thought was, in many ways, remarkably similar to that of Teilhard. He too, failed to discriminate between spirit and psyche. He tells us that spirit is the content of cognition, perception, and understanding. But spirit is their source and not their content. He also defines spirit as "intelligent intelligibilty" - an abstraction which can make an act of understanding. He defines the idea of being as the content of an unrestricted act of understanding. The truth is that a spirit is a being, and is not an abstraction, or a form of information.

Lonergan's notions in regard to the origin of human spirits are problematic. " ... man's central form (that ordering principle... which perdures above... the changing, energy dissipating, ground of its biological substrate ) seems to be the point of transition from the material to the spiritual ... it emerges as spirit."17 This idea of the emergence of spirits suggests that they are not a separate creation by God, but simply the necessary result of what Lonergan calls the "emergent probability." Spirits are said to emerge as the result of a probabilistic process by which the universe is said to have evolved. The evolution of the universe is presumed to have led to the emergence of beings in whom a fundamental threshold of neurological complexity was crossed.

One can understand that God may well have designed the world so that through a process of 'self ordering complexity' has been the way in which living matter arose from the original matter/energy of the singularity which preceded the Big Bang at the origin of the universe. But does spirit arise from matter? Matter is a substance which was created ex nihilo by an act of God. A spirit is also a substance, also created by an act of God, but by a separate act, associated in the case of the human being with human biological procreation, but not contingent upon that procreative act. The existence of a soul does not depend on a putative self ordering complexity of matter.

According to Father Lonergan, "At each stage of world process, there is a profusion of schemes in process which make possible the appearance of higher schemes."18 "... the immanent order or design in world process seems to be that of emergent probability."19 "... the higher schemes that impose order, law, correlation of lower schemes achieve an increased degree of independence of the exact quantities that it systematizes in the lower scheme ... as one mounts from organism, to psyche, to intelligence."20 Father Lonergan states that "...Since cognitional activity is itself but a part of the universe, so its heading to being is but the particular instance in which universal striving towards being becomes conscious and intelligent and reasonable."21

He goes on to say "For spirituality is intelligent, while material intelligibility is not; and man's central form seems to be the point of transition from the material to the spiritual. As the centre of the transformation of sensitive experience, by the imposition of intellectual pattern, and as origin and ground of inquiring and insight, reflection and grasp of the unconditioned, it emerges as spirit."22 What does Lonergan mean and what does he propose by these statements? One might ask, does this mean that the process of transition is spirit, or does it mean that the point in time at which the transition occurs is spirit? Does it mean that the transformation of an experience is spirit? Does it mean that this change in experience is the origin of spirit? Finally, are any of these definitions of "man's central form" observables in an imperical sense? Lonergan's real position, simply put, is that spirits emerge from the universe, since cognitional activity, an attribute and a capacity solely of the spirit, is "but a part of the universe."

The truth is that cognition occurs only in persons and is an act of the spirit. It is not a 'part of the universe' in any material sense, nor is it a function of emergent probability/complexity. Lonergan and Teilhard both believed that the universe complexified as a result of atoms aggregating into chemicals, which aggregate into cells, which aggregate into organisms, which eventually develop intellectual functions and free will. Again, these ideas are pantheistic. Their doctrine held that, ultimately, the spirit of God Himself arose from matter at the Omega point.

This pantheistic philosophy is consistent with, and may actually have been derived directly from, the work of Georg Wilhelm Hegel (1770 1831). Hegel described the Absolute as Totality, as the whole of reality, and as the universe. Further, this totality or whole is infinite life, a process of self-development. Hegel also taught that the The Absolute is "the process of its own self expression or self manifestation, the process of its own becoming."23, 24 As Frederick Copleston, S.J. says, quoting from Hegel, "the Absolute is 'essentially a result'".25 For Hegel, "the true form in which truth exists can only be the scientific system of the same".26 Teilhard agrees in that he speaks of a "creative transformation" of energy into personality, and that this is an "irreversible phenomenon."27 This exaggerated trust in the efficacy of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (e.g. philosophy and even religion) is aptly called 'scientism'. It ultimately reduces man's stature to that of a computing machine.

Certain reasonable scientific theories of self-ordering complexity have been developed during the last ten years. They claim to throw light on how the universe evolved following its origin from the initial singularity in the Big Bang, and also to explain the origin of life, and the evolution of life forms. Stuart Kauffman developed computer models of statistical patterns involved in evolution of life forms, which include theories about self-catalytic systems of life, cell metabolism at the edge of chaos etc. These theories do not however, assume that the biological has evolved into the spiritual, as do Teilhard and Lonergan.28 Moreover, these modern complexity theories are open to serious scientific criticism.29,30 It is important to note that the thinking of Teilhard and Lonergan has a powerful influence today. Michael Kellman has written " I am still utterly terrified ... by the prospect ... of performing the experiment for real, not only to construct human beings, but complete artificial spiritual beings, not machines, designed de novo."31

Even more shocking, a Jesuit priest, George Coyne, who is the director of the Vatican Observatory in Rome, recently stated that gene manipulation and computers exceeding human intelligence may result in human beings, whose relationship to God is the foundation of faith, being superseded or altered beyond recognition. "What will change," he said, "is that we will acquire an ever-richer likeness of God. The self realization of God in the universe is still going on."32

Neither Teilhard nor Lonergan appear to have believed in the fall or the redemption. Both said little about the Sacrifice of Calvary, the sacraments, prayer, sin or virtue. In fact, for Lonergan, each person should act in such a way as to perfect himself or herself, and thus transcend the self. "Human authenticity is a matter of following the in-built law of human spirit. Because we experience, we should attend. Because we understand we should inquire. Because we can reach the truth, we should reflect and check. Because we can reach values in ourselves and promote them in others, we should deliberate. In the measure that we follow precepts ... we ... achieve self transcendence, both in the field of knowledge and in the field of action."33 Lonergan allows that the ultimate end and appropriate destiny of man is to be in love with God in heaven, the beatific vision.34 He errs, however, in holding that one can "fall in love" with God in this life, and be in the state of grace by human effort alone.

The truth is however, that no amount of careful study, thought and prudent action is the source of that which is most important and necessary for salvation - divine grace. The philosophy of both Teilhard and Lonergan is frankly Pelagian. Speaking of grace, Teilhard tells us, "From the Christian, Catholic and realist point of view, grace represents a super-creation. It raises us a further rung on the ladder of cosmic evolution. In other words, the stuff of which grace is made is strictly biological."

Neither Teilhard nor Lonergan speaks of the teaching authority of the Catholic Church or of its tradition. In fact, Lonergan goes so far as to say that the state of the Church is similar to the state the Jews were in at the time of Christ, when, according to Lonergan, the chair of Moses was occupied by scribes and pharisees. He seems to call for a restoration of the Church by a puzzling process of solipsistic spirituality in which the individual Catholic has to fend for himself or herself - each acting on his or her own authority, and by a process of self improvement.

Finally, Teilhard and Lonergan do not seem to realize that God does not exist in time and that time exists only in the material universe, the created order. Worse still, they placed God at the end of time. They regard Him as the end product of evolution. St. Augustine observed, "God, therefore, in His unchangeable eternity, created simultaneously all things whence times were to follow."35 We read in Ecclesiasticus (18:l). "He that liveth in eternity created all things at once."

The teaching of both of these Jesuit scholars contradicts the basic metaphysical position of St. Thomas Aquinas that " God is an unreceived nature, and is therefore an infinite act of existing".36 Their teaching also contradicts the Judeo-Christian revelation, and is based on cosmological scientific theories which are both unproved and philosophically absurd.

The dominant teaching of Teilhard and Lonergan is the law of Complexity/Consciousness. It is a new gnosis, a new saving knowledge. This gnosis, they tell us, will lead us to the Kingdom of Heaven. In short, they teach a new religion, which has become the religion of a new society. This society is in danger of becoming dominated by a globalist oligarchy composed of an elite, who have mastered the emerging biomolecular and quantum computing technologies. This new religion worships humanity, and it is one in which morality is determined by the powerful alone. In the year l949 Etienne Gilson had written, "To judge the state, there is no one left. In every land and in all countries, the people wait in fear and trembling for the powerful of this world to decide their lot for them."37 This holds true today in our society, which has become, in many ways, a totalitarian pseudo-democracy. Its characteristics, which are daily becoming more evident, are population control (contraception, abortion, and euthanasia), eugenics (selective abortion and genetic engineering), corporate control of the world economy, and psychological manipulation of the individual by the educational system and the media.

We have been warned; "For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect". (Matt. 24: 24).


1 Summa Theologiae, Cf. I, 6 [Back]

2 Fides et Ratio. 88 - Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul ll [Back]

3 The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard de Chardin (New York. Harper and Row, l965) p.301-2 [Back]

4 The Heart of the Matter, Teilhard de Chardin (New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, l979) p. 33 [Back]

5 Ibid. p.51 [Back]

6 Science and Christ, Teilhard de Chardin. (London: Collins.1968) p.82 [Back]

7 The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin. Henri de Lubac, (New York, Desclee, l967) p. 208 [Back]

8 Activation of Energy, Teilhard de Chardin, (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich l970), p.288. [Back]

9 Ibid. p. 290 [Back]

10 The Heart of the Matter, p.32 [Back]

11 The Phenomenon of Man. p.259 [Back]

12 The Future of Mankind, Teilhard de Chardin, (New York, Harper and Row, l964) p.126-7 [Back]

13 "Teilhardism and the New Religion. Wolfgang Smith (Rockford Illinois, Tan Books and Publishers Inc. l988) p.95" [Back]

14 The Heart of the Matter, p 52 - 53 [Back]

15 Ibid. p.54 [Back]

16 Christianity and Evolution. Teilhard de Chardin. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, l979) p. 171 [Back]

17 Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, London: Longman Green and Co. l958. Reprinted in Series "Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan." E, Frederick E. Crowe and Robert Doran. Published by the University of Toronto Press for Lonergan Research Institue of Regis College, Toronto, in sequence, Vol. 3, 4. 5 and 10. Pg. 519. [Back]

18 Ibid. p. 118. [Back]

19 Ibid. p. 171. [Back]

20 Ibid. p. 463. [Back]

21 Ibid. p. 445. [Back]

22 Ibid. p. 519. [Back]

23 A History of Philosophy, Vol. 7. Frederick Copleston S.J. (New York: Image Books .Doubleday and Co. Inc. l965) p. 207. [Back]

24 Ibid. [Back]

25 Ibid. [Back]

26 Works.(of G.W.F. Hegel) Stuttgart, Herman Glocken, l928. 11. [Back]

27 Human Energy, p. 160. [Back]

28 At Home in the Universe. The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. Stuart Kauffman (Oxford University Press. Oxford. l995) p.61 [Back]

29 Evolution's Hand. John Cafferky (Toronto: East End Books, l997) p.88 [Back]

30 Darwin's Black Box. Michael Behe. (New York: The Free Press. 1996) [Back]

31 Letter to the Editor. Michael Kellman. Institute of Theoretical Science, University of Oregon. First Things (Jan. 2000, no.99) Publishers, New York: Institute on Religion and Public Life. [Back]

32 The Toronto Star. Jan.26, 2000. [Back]

33 Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan. Third Edition P.170 [Back]

34 Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan. (first collection) p.39. New York: Herder and Herder, U.S.A., l967. [Back]

35 De Gen. ad Litt. 8:39. [Back]

36 Religion and Philosophy in Canada, Fr. Leonard Kennedy. C.S.B. Toronto, Catholic Insight, Vol. Vlll, no. 1, Jan-Feb. 2000 [Back]

37 The Terrors of the Year Two Thousand. Etienne Gilson, published by the University of St. Michael's College. First publication l949. Re - issued l984. p.16. [Back]