Rebecca Reads Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy

Before I Start Reading / First Impressions

Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy by Wolfgang Smith is my parents’ book, lent to me by my elder sister-in-law to try to convince me that evolution is false. (But will she read a pro-evolution book for me? Of course not…) Judging by the title and the chapter titles, I’m guessing that this is more focused on how evolution and Christianity (possibly just Catholicism) contradict. I already agree with that conclusion, which is why I stopped being Christian. Unfortunately, I’m sure it will argue that evolution is false and therefore Christianity is true. As most of my readers will recognize, this is a false dilemma. Even if evolution were not the best possible theory to fit the available evidence, which it certainly is, Christianity is not necessarily true. Islam could be the one true religion, or Hinduism, or any of the hundreds of others.

Wolfgang Smith, predictably, is not a scientist studying a field relevant to evolution. His expertise is in physics, mathematics, and philosophy, according to the biography on the back of the book. Therefore, his opinion on the subject of evolution is not an expert one, and should not be trusted. Even if he were an expert in a relevant field, expert opinions can be wrong, which is why we go by expert consensus. At least 97% of experts in relevant fields agree that evolution is correct; it’s hard to have a more conclusive consensus than that!

Note: I am not an expert in evolutionary biology or a related field, which is why I will be citing sources from those who are. It is entirely possible that I will make an error, and that fault will be entirely my own and no sign that the scientific consensus of real experts is flawed.

Preface

“Although it is not just a single tenet but an entire syndrome of scientistic myths that presently befuddles the faithful, I surmise that evolutionism plays a central role in this collective process of subversion. In its theistic form, at any rate, it is doubtless the aberrant teaching which today most profoundly impacts Christianity. And this brings us back to Teilhard de Chardin, the architect and most ardent proponent of that hybrid dogma, who in the sixties came to be seen as a kind of modern-day prophet. It was he, moreover, who clearly perceived what most observers fail to see: the fact, namely, that a theistic evolutionism is irremediably incompatible with orthodox Christianity. For the French Jesuit it was however the latter–and not the heresy–that needs to go: the present stage of “human evolution,” he thought, demands as much. And as he confided to a few of his most intimate friends, he perceived it to be his mission to usher in what he euphemistically termed “a new Christianity.” We shall leave unconsidered the delicate question to what extent that objective has in fact been realized: it suffices us to defend the “old” Christianity which goes back, through the Fathers of the Church, to Christ Himself.” -pg. 1-2

As I think I’ll repeat many times in this review, I agree that evolution and orthodox Christianity are incompatible. However, I agree with Teilhard de Chardin, who after all is one of those lucky enough to have helped discover the evidence for our human evolution, that evolution is true. Given that evolution is true, orthodox Christianity cannot be. I disagree with Teilhard and this author because I am willing to discard Christianity wholescale.

For more information on Teilhard de Chardin, I recommend you check out a book titled The Jesuit and the Skull. It’s much less biased for Christianity, though not biased against it.

Also, it should go without saying for my readers, but I must point out that “scientistic” and “evolutionism” are words with no place in the “debate” about whether evolution is true. In fact, there is no debate; there are those who deny, ignore, or are ignorant of the evidence, and there are those who accept evolution as true because it is the best fit for the available evidence.

Introduction

“Let us begin on the side of science by recalling the gist of Darwin’s famous theory. The basic idea is as simple as it is bold: one species, supposedly, can give birth to another by way of small random mutations. The stipulated scenario is obviously “slow” and hence of enormous duration, and requires a principle of selection to determine which mutations are incorporated into the line of descent. And here again the idea is simple: it is summed up in the phrase “survival of the fittest.” Let me further recall that Darwin supported his theory in Origin of Species by citing copious examples of species inhabiting the Galapagos Islands which had deviated from their mainland ancestors through the acquisition of characteristics needful to survival in the new environment.” -pg. 3

This is a promising start. The author appears to have a good basic understanding of what evolution is, at least.

“More than a century and a half has now elapsed since this theory was first promulgated, and apparently it has taken about that length of time for the inherent difficulties to manifest. One must remember that, in Darwin’s day, the science of biology was as yet in its infancy. […] And it turns out that the more biology we know, the more difficult it becomes for the Darwinist to stand his ground. The interested reader may consult the serious anti-Darwinist literature–which in recent decades has been growing by leaps and bounds–to learn exactly what the problems are that now threaten the theory, and in the opinion of many, have rendered it untenable.” -pg. 3

I thought this book was going to go into some of the alleged “problems” with “Darwinism” itself. No matter, I have already examined anti-evolution literature (evolution is not Darwinism, for those of us who accept evolution as the truth based on the evidence do not worship Darwin, any more than those who accept gravity as the truth based on the evidence worship Newton and are deserving of the label “Newtonists”). I have found it severely lacking. Not only does it typically misunderstand what evolution actually is and the claims made by the theory, but almost none of it is by an expert in a relevant field, and certainly it is rare for this “literature” to be an actual scientific study of the kind that can be used to show evolution is true.

If this book really is just about showing that evolution contradicts orthodox Christianity, I need not read it, for I already agree with that conclusion, which is precisely why I left Christianity in the first place.

Regardless, the introduction continues with three points meant to show the “weakness” of evolution as a theory. The first one, of course, shows that this author understands evolution no better than I used to when I was so ignorant as to deny it, because he makes the bogus distinction between “microevolution” and “macroevolution”, claiming the “microevolution” is within species and “macroevolution” is without. (For the record, evolutionary biologists do use these terms, but differently than the creationist does.)

“The Galapagos finches, notwithstanding their unusual plumage and beaks, are still finches; and as a matter of fact, no bona fide “transformation of species” has ever been observed.” -pg. 4

Considering there are thirteen species of finches living on the Galapagos Islands, one of which researchers actually did witness emerging (source), this statement is either extremely ignorant or willfully misleading. Either way, we can trust nothing this author has to say about biology. This is, of course, ignoring the dozens of other finch species that live elsewhere on the planet.

Not only that, but there have been several other observed instances of speciation, and there are in fact scientific studies about it. A simple Google Scholar search has 172,000 results for “observed speciation events”. I’m not a math expert, but I’m pretty sure 172,000 is a larger number than zero. (Yes, I’m aware not all of these are actually about a specific observed speciation event and some are probably wrong in their conclusions. My point still stands.)

“And here the theory runs into two main problems, the first being what some have termed “fossil stasis.” Not only are the intermediary forms demanded by Darwin’s theory nowhere to be found, but it happens that the fossil record is characterized throughout by a pattern of stasis, interrupted here and there by the sudden emergence of new morphological forms. In a word, the paleontological evidence unquestionably repudiates the Darwinist theory: that is the first major problem, which has been recognized for a long time.” -pg. 4

Ok, first of all, the very term “intermediary forms” is misleading. Yes, we would expect to see animals with characteristics of both crocodiles and ducks if ducks evolved from crocodiles (*cough*), which they didn’t, but technically all animals that live now and have ever lived could be intermediary forms. In fact, the platypus is almost certainly an intermediary form between reptiles and mammals, for it retains reptilian hips, venom, and lays eggs, although it also is covered in fur and produces milk (source).

This leads directly into the problem with claiming that a pattern of stasis is a problem for evolution. Evolution never claims that change must always be happening! Indeed, the crocodile, sharks, and some species of fish are, per the fossil record, the same today as millions of years ago (those are just the ones I can name offhand). Evolution only claims that an accumulation of changes can cause new species to form, and nothing about how frequent such speciation events would be for any given population. Anyone who actually understands evolution would know this. Further, evolution often happens when one population of a species is isolated from another population of that same species. The isolated population, say finches on an island, might diversify and evolve into several new species, while the mainland population remains unchanged, because it does not face such selection pressures.

In case you missed it before: this is not a problem with evolution, but a misunderstanding of the claims of the theory.

The author goes on to discuss “irreducible complexity”. I’ll assume my readers are familiar with that concept, and share just this gem:

“More cogently perhaps than any other discipline, ID research demonstrates the impossibility of the evolutionist claim.” -pg. 4

I urge my readers who wish to learn or might be skeptical of evolution to look through the Google Scholar results for “irreducible complexity”. The first result is a paper titled “The flagellum unspun—the collapse of ‘Irreducible Complexity’”.

In general, every time a specific biological entity (be that an organ like the eye or whatever) has been declared irreducibly complex by the Intelligent Design movement, actual scientists have found how it could easily have evolved without any need for magic. Half an eye is half as useful as a full eye. The trick is that each stage is just slightly more of a survival advantage than the last. Further, the very fact that octopuses have eyes better than our own (ours have blind spots built in; theirs don’t) is a clue that there certainly wasn’t a designer who favored us involved.

There’s some bullshit about how “Darwinists” (should we call people who accept heliocentrism “Galileoists”?) deny the mounting evidence against evolution (all none of it, for those of us who actually understand what evolution is) because they don’t want to believe in God. Well, I must be a very rare breed, because I accepted evolution based solely on the evidence, and it is this very willingness to accept the truly mounting evidence that caused me to cease being able to believe in any god. This is the part of my story that most shows what type of person I am, and to read claims like that is frankly insulting, for it denies that people like me even exist. Further, it is arguably projection, for it is creationists who deny the mounting evidence for evolution because they don’t want to accept that any tenets of their religion might be false.

“Which brings us finally to our proper subject, namely “theistic evolution”: a new kind of Darwinism, which not only does allow “a Divine Foot in the door,” but maintains that “a Divine Foot” is in fact needed if evolution is to take place. Instead of replacing God as Creator by the evolutive process, theistic evolution affirms that this process is actually the means by which God does create: “God creates by evolution,” so the dictum goes. Strange as it may sound, Darwin’s atheistic theory has thus metamorphosed into a theistic doctrine, espoused today by major segments within the Christian world. The fact is that theistic evolution, in conjunction with the so-called big bang scenario, is nowadays taught in seminaries and widely disseminated to the faithful as the enlightened up-to-date cosmology, which in effect replaces what is waved aside as the “literal sense of Genesis.”” -pg. 5

Darwin’s theory of evolution is no more “atheistic” than Newton’s theory of gravity. Also, the Big Bang is a proven event. We can see the cosmic background radiation it caused. It’s much better supported than the existence of Jesus as a historical figure, and evolution is even better supported than that.

The next paragraph is a diatribe against mixing “bad science” (which evolution isn’t) “with spurious theology” (which theistic evolution is) to create heresy. I’m going to sound more and more like a broken record as this review continues, because I can’t stress enough how much I agree that orthodox Christianity contradicts evolution.

“Remember: Christ is the Second Adam, who came into this fallen world to redeem mankind from the Sin of the First. Let us understand it well: Redemption presupposed the Fall! And it matters not a whit whether Darwin, Einstein or Hawking concur: this is what Christianity teaches, and what Christians believe.” -pg. 7

That sure is Christianity. I’m annoyed by your lack of Oxford Comma, though.

“So too consider the episode of the Fall: God’s commandment not to eat the fruit of a certain tree “lest ye die,” followed by Adam’s transgression and expulsion from Paradise. What conceivable sense does any of this make from an evolutionist point of view? How does a theistic evolutionist, in particular, interpret “the tree in the midst of the garden,” by means of which death entered the world?” -pg. 7-8

This is precisely why I do not understand those Christians who accept evolution. This section of the introduction continues in this same vein, but I’ll not bore my reader with further quotes.

The next section focuses on Teilhard de Chardin and his recognition that accepting evolution requires greatly changing Christian theology (or rejecting it entirely, but I think he missed that option). Again, I’ve little to say on these points, except of course to remind my readers that this author naturally totally ignores the fact that Teilhard de Chardin discovered the evidence proving human evolution, either through ignorance or in a willful attempt to lie for Jesus.

This is hilarious! The author is referring to this book “as a kind of homeopathic remedy, a medicine distilled, if you will, from the very teachings that have brought on the disease.” (pg. 13) How can I take such a man seriously?

I am very much outside of the proper audience for whom this book is meant, for it is clearly meant for Christians only. Not that that ever stopped me before, and I do try to keep an open mind, but there’s no way someone who understands evolution so little is going to be able to convince me it is wrong – and as I’ve said several times already, I left Christianity precisely because I agree that it is contrary to evolution, which is his primary conclusion.

Chapter 1: Evolution: A Closer Look

This chapter starts with talking more about the distinction between micro- and macro-evolution, so I decided to look up how biologists use the term, and I found a good discussion here. It turns out, to my chagrin, that this particular creationist book actually has the distinction defined the way biologists do: microevolution is changes within a species, and macroevolution is change at or above the species level (dinosaurs evolving to birds would be an example, but so would the speciation event of a new finch).

On page 16, this book cites paleontologist Colin Patterson saying we don’t really know that the polar bear descended from the brown bear. Sadly, Colin Patterson is here misrepresented, as he is so sure evolution is the fact that he wrote an entire book about how it happens. It seems creationists have been taking a quote from one of his lectures out of context for decades now to make him appear to be one of them. Great. What honest people these are.

The evolution of the polar bear in particular is still being studied, although DNA and fossil evidence definitely point to it being descended from the brown bear (source). I did find 29 evidences for macroevolution in case my list of observed speciation events from the Introduction isn’t enough.

Once more for those in the back: the creationist claim that macroevolution has no conclusive evidence is conclusively false. In fact, I would go so far as to call it a lie.

And yes, finches turning into different finches counts as macroevolutionary even though they are “still finches” – just as brown bears turning into polar bears is macroevolutionary even though they are still bears.

“One should also bear in mind that what Darwin’s theory actually demands are not vestigial but “nascent” organs, such as eyes that do not yet see and wings that do not yet enable flight. But it appears that no living species exhibits a structure of that kind: not a single such “organ to be” has ever been identified.” -pg. 17

There are species of flatworms that have “eyes that do not yet see”, light sensitive eye-spots that only allow the planarian to know what direction light is coming from but not true sight. As for “wings that do not yet enable flight”, what about flying squirrels? Or sugar gliders, which look like flying squirrels but are marsupials? Or the common flying gecko? It’s hard to take someone seriously who is so ignorant of zoology as to claim these animals don’t exist. Surely he’s heard of flying fish, at least. There’s a whole list of animals who can glide on Wikipedia, and it’s not like this was hard to find.

The platypus does not have teats but secretes milk through pores, almost as if it has an intermediary form between not producing milk and full nipples.

The mudskipper is a kind of fish that can use its front limbs as legs to walk across land.

How many more examples countering this insane claim would you like?

“Along with his genealogical tree, Haeckel has left us a famous principle known as the biogenetic law, which proclaims that the embryo is its ontogeny recapitulates the evolutionary stages through which the species itself has passed.” -pg. 17

As the paragraph goes on to say, this is largely rejected now. Why? Because evolutionary biologists found that the evidence did not well fit the claim. There is still fact that certain embryonic development does develop past structures, such as a tail in human embryos (which sometimes is not absorbed; rarely, humans are born with tails) or hind limbs in dolphins. The gills thing is pretty defunct now. In any case, this is an example of the fallacy whereby one rejects an argument because a minor point can be debunked. Regardless of how many scientists are wrong about whether embryos go through all evolutionary stages of their ancestors, or what species is ancestral to another, the fact of evolution is not changed. Even if we are sometimes wrong about how an evolutionary change happened or presents itself, evolutionary change in general is a fact of the history and present day and future life of this planet.

“[T]he biosphere breaks up into well-defined and widely separated classes, organized according to a hierarchic (as opposed to a sequential) principle.” -pg. 18

Well-defined and widely separated classes? I’m not sure if he means the taxonomy level of class, where literally all mammals are one class, or some other definition. Either way, I’m going to point to the platypus again, which straddles the line between reptiles and mammals. As you know, the platypus lays eggs, so it lacks the characteristic mammalian live birth. It also has its legs on the side of its body like a reptile, not underneath like mammals. I’d say that’s quite enough to show that these classes are hardly “widely separated”.

“It happens that on a molecular level these separations, and this hierarchic order, stand out with mathematical precision. Consider, for instance, that a carp is 13 percentile sequence differences (based upon cytochrome C) removed from a horse, 13 from a turtle, and 13 from a bullfrog. Now, the fact that a fish is thus “equidistant” from a mammal, a reptile and an amphibian is hardly compatible with the evolutionist postulate that mammals have descended from reptiles, reptiles from amphibians, and amphibians from fish. In light of such recognitions it becomes apparent that a “tree model” fits the taxonomic facts about as well as a “chain model” suits a lattice, which is to say, of course, that it fits not at all.” -pg. 18

There is no source cited for this claim whatsoever, so I’m not even sure it is true (unlike my claims that the platypus is weird, this cytochrome C is not common knowledge). Even if it is, however, it could just mean that cytochrome C has not been pressured to change for a long time. It’s obvious that much more of the DNA of a carp is much more divergent from a horse than from a turtle and from a turtle than a bullfrog. Comparing species in this way is ludicrous. A carp, a turtle, a bullfrog, and a horse all have eyes; should we consider them all part of the same class based on that? Some genes change more than others.

Also, the evolutionary model doesn’t even really claim that all species are sequential, and many evolutionary scientists have moved away from the tree as a model for the history of life. (I still consider it a useful metaphor, although I understand why the more modern circles are preferred.) Yes, evolution does claim that amphibians evolved from fish, reptiles from amphibians, and mammals from reptiles. This does not mean bullfrogs evolved from carp, turtles from bullfrogs, and horses from turtles. It means horses and turtles share a relatively recent common ancestral species, turtles and bullfrogs share a more distant common ancestral species, and carp and bullfrogs share an even more distant common ancestral species. Nowhere does the process necessarily stop, nor does it necessarily proceed in any given direction, just what works well enough for the current environment.

The section continues to describe the flagellum so often lauded as impossible by pure chance by creationists. The author says (again, without citation) that “about two hundred forty different proteins are needed to make a functional flagellum” (pg. 19). Of course, nowhere does the author specify which species he’s talking about, and as many species of bacteria have flagella, and of course they aren’t all the same, it’s hard to say what he’s actually trying to claim. Further, it has been observed that not every protein in existing flagella is necessary for functionality (source).

“What confronts us in the Darwinism of our day is thus no longer science, properly so called, but proves to be, ultimately, a kind of religion: a counter-religion, to be exact.” -pg. 20

Correct, Darwinism is not a science, or even a thing. Evolution is science. Those of us who accept the scientific evidence for evolution are no different than those of us who accept the scientific evidence for gravity.

I think this is the last page where this author actually tries to talk about whether evolution is true. He seems to think he has neatly proven it false, even though he obviously is extremely ignorant of the topic. He doesn’t even know what evolution really claims, or even basic animal information that would help him from making embarrassingly ignorant claims such as there not being “wings that cannot yet fly” when flying fish exist without true wings. If I’m right that this is the last time we really talk about whether evolution is true, I’ll likely have little to say for the rest of the book.

The next section describes the theological origins of life. Not super interesting.

“For Teilhard de Chardin, evolution is not simply a scientific theory, but an established and henceforth irrefutable truth.” -pg. 25

Teilhard’s not wrong, for a scientific theory can also be an established truth. This author does know that for a hypothesis to graduate to scientific theory it has to pass extensive testing including multiple attempts by multiple scientists to falsify it, right?

The chapter goes on to claim that we are missing all transitional forms, which is “not only misleading, but undeniably false” (pg. 27), to use the author’s own words against him. As I said previously, every form is potentially transitional. Also, we have many transitional forms from the fossil record, including human ancestors, dinosaurs evolving to birds, fish becoming tetrapods, land animals becoming whales, and the evolution of snakes. No, we don’t have fossils from every species that ever existed, and we wouldn’t expect to because fossils aren’t actually common. This isn’t a problem for evolution because we still see a definite picture of change over time. Just as we are able to tell what a picture is from a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces, so we can know that evolution is real without a complete map of all species throughout all time.

This book claims, on page 28, that an electron is “definitely not ‘empirically perceivable’”. That’s a strange thing for a physicist to say, as we can by any reasonable definition empirically verify the electron.

The rest of the chapter talks about Teilhard de Chardin establishing, or trying to establish, a new Christianity based on evolution. It is ultimately not very interesting to me, so I have nothing I particularly want to say in response.

Chapter 2: Forgotten Truths

This chapter is primarily trying to convince the reader that dualism is necessarily true. I’ll agree we certainly have an intuition for it. I’ll also point out that there doesn’t appear to be actual evidence for it; we just can’t yet completely explain it naturally. I have much more to learn on the topic.

This guy never uses one word if he can say the same thing in ten, and it’s actually super annoying.

In a footnote on page 47, the author refers to “authentic alchemy”. That’s been known to be pseudoscience for literal centuries, guys. I can’t trust this author on any scientific topic.

Chapter 3: Complexity / Consciousness: Law or Myth?

“Evolution, according to Teilhard de Chardin, is a directed process: it proceeds from the material to the spiritual.” -pg. 53

That is not how evolution works. It is not directed, nor does it proceed in any given direction. It’s simply change over time to whatever helps–or doesn’t hurt–a population’s survival.

The whole rest of this chapter is based on this misunderstanding of how evolution works.

There are several things that I could respond to in this chapter (such as pointing out that consciousness almost definitely is a spectrum that does appear to line up with the admittedly poorly defined complexity of animals, as best as we can tell without being able to truly test for these things), but this one stands out:

“The fact is that Teilhard has not brought forth a single cogent argument against the traditional dualism.” -pg. 57

You are the one claiming dualism is real; prove that it is. Those denying it do not have the burden of proof. Why do religious people always do this?

“There is, then, an evolution of individuals; but is there not also an evolution of species? In a sense there is. There has obviously been an evolution of mankind. Each of us has in fact been formed in part by a cultural development going back to remote times: the species, too, may thus be said to “evolve.” But strictly speaking, what thus evolves is not the species as such, but its manifestation, which is to say that the stipulated evolution cannot transgress the limits imposed by the species as such. There is in that sense an evolution of species–which in fact constitutes a microevolution–but there’s no such thing as Darwinist transformism, for the very simple reason that nothing can become what it is not.” -pg. 60

Shockingly, this is yet another fundamental understanding of evolution. Nowhere does evolutionary theory make the claim that anything becomes something it isn’t. Each generation looks much like its parents, and it is only through looking at many generations that we see a change. For a more detailed explanation, see this 4 minute video.

Also, there is no evidence for anything keeping the sort of gradual changes that constitute microevolution from accumulating into a speciation event. So, if you accept micro but not macroevolution, you have a pretty heavy burden of proof to find that magic barrier and explain how it works.

“Thus, even if it were possible to transmute the body of an ape, say, into that of a man, that transformation could at best produce another ape, and indeed a very sick one at that. For we must remember that the bodily form, with all its complexities, is marvelously adapted to the powers of the soul. And that is the reason why beyond a certain point, mutations of structure result–not in a Darwinian evolution–but precisely in that separation of body and soul that constitutes death.” -pg. 60

For the record, men are apes. I’m not sure what the rest of the quote even means, because there are no examples given or anything, but it’s a good example of the type of writing in this book, and at least part of why I’m skipping so much of it in this review.

Other reasons include it covering things Teilhard says that I’m not particularly interested in. At best, this book is responding to an outdated understanding of science. What about evolution as described by a biologist who is still alive and has an understanding informed by the latest evidence? And why bring a discussion of consciousness into it at all?

The dozen pages I’m skipping all argue against Teilhard specifically, which is just irrelevant to everything I care about, because I don’t expect him to be anything more than a discoverer of a human ancestor. (By the way, that is naturally the one thing this book refuses to admit he is.)

Chapter 4: In Search of Creative Union

“What Teilhard would like to say, but can’t, is that there is Evolution [sic] and nothing else.” -pg. 82

Well, that’s a fairly stupid position.

“But getting back to the logical point: what Teilhard has manifestly failed to recognize–and what persistently plagues him–is the fact that there can be no movement without a corresponding stasis, no evolution, if you will, without something that does not evolve.” -pg. 84

Wait, why not? Other than the fact that we appear to have some things in this universe that do not evolve, and definitely many things that don’t evolve in the sense of biological evolution, why would evolution require that?

“[W]hat the new physics has in fact discredited is not the presumed immobility or substantiality of being as such, but rather the Newtonian idea of atomic particles: little bits of ponderable matter, namely, which supposedly preserve their self-identity or sameness within an ever-changing universe. It is in essence the old atomistic doctrine of Democritus and Leucippus that has been thus disqualified. And it is interesting to note that neither Parmenides, nor Heraclitus, Plato, or Aristotle, nor indeed a single Doctor of the Church has ever upheld that view! On the contrary: what is sometimes termed the perennial metaphysics has always been adamantly opposed to atomism in any of its forms. It was in fact Galileo and Descartes who reintroduced this heterodox ontology, and its subsequent overthrow at the hands of modern physics is thus to be viewed as a partial return to the traditional teaching: a step in the right direction if you will. Nothing could be more misleading, therefore, than Teilhard’s claim to the effect that the findings of physics have disqualified the elements of Christian ontology.” -pg. 92-93

Is… is this guy actually saying that atoms aren’t real? Is he literally retarded? I know it is no longer polite to call someone retarded, but I truly think this person might have a mental condition where he is incapable of learning. He has a degree in physics! He is old enough that the atomic bomb is at least recent history for him! What is wrong with him? Who could possibly think, in this century, that atoms aren’t real?

The large chunks of this chapter that I have skipped have all to do with metaphysics and the nature of the spiritual, about which I don’t care. I have a feeling the rest of the book will be similar.

Chapter 5: The Omega Hypothesis

“It was Teilhard’s cherished conviction that cosmic evolution must tend towards a universal center of convergence, and that this could be verified on purely scientific grounds.” -pg. 94

That’s clearly wrong because it is not how evolution works. It sounds like a classic example of a misapplication of a valid theory.

“Quite apart from the fact that the stipulated “power” remains admittedly undiscovered, one does know, in any case, that matter as such exhibits a universal tendency to move precisely in the reverse direction: from the complex, namely, to the simple. There is a well-founded thermodynamic law concerning entropy–one of the most solid in all of modern physics–which affirms that a system of particles under the action of physical forces will tend towards a homogenous state, a state of equilibrium: from order to disorder, as one can say from a kinetic point of view. There are no scientific grounds, moreover, to suppose that this law is somehow abrogated within a living organism. Now it is true, of course, that living organisms tend to complexify during the ascending curve of their life-cycle, and that they maintain a stupendous degree of order; but they do so by ingesting energy from their environment. That is just why we need to eat and to breathe: it takes energy to maintain order. And in the process of maintaining its own order, the organism inevitably causes a corresponding disorder in the environment. We have reason to believe, therefore, that when it comes to the total system–organism plus environment–the thermodynamic law concerning entropy is by no means violated. And this means that it is indeed the universal tendency of matter as such–not to “complexify” as Teilhard believes–but to do the very opposite: to into disorder, namely; and the phenomenon of life does not alter this fact.” -pg. 96-97

First of all, I’m not sure the second law of thermodynamics deserves the title of “one of the most solid in all of modern physics”, although I could well be wrong.

Secondly, this entire paragraph ignores the fact that living organisms, even including their earthly environment, are not part of a closed system. The sun is continuously pumping energy into the system of the Earth, because it is a giant nuclear reactor. Therefore, increases in entropy on this planet are not only possible, but expected.

Third, and closely related to the above, because the sun provides a constant source of more energy than can possibly be consumed by all creatures alive today (although it is theoretically possible that the human population will consume all energy from the sun eventually), the second law of thermodynamics is in no way contradictory to the fact of evolution!

Fourth, nowhere in modern evolutionary science does anyone claim that complexity is inevitable, only that it has happened. It doesn’t have to have happened very often for this to be true, and there is no way for thermodynamics to disprove or contradict what we clearly see in the fossil record. Sorry, creationists, thermodynamics and evolution do not need to be reconciled. Not even a little bit. It simply doesn’t apply.

“[T]he notion of chance is opposed to the idea of innate tendency.” -pg. 98

Agreed. Luckily, nothing in the scientific theory of evolution argues for an innate tendency towards any goal.

“To speak of consciousness or thought as though it were a spatial entity, and do so in purportedly scientific (and hence non-allegorical) terms, is therefore absurd.” -pg. 104

I tend to agree, here. Fortunately, Teilhard’s peculiar hypotheses are not related to the question of whether the scientific theory of evolution actually reflects reality, which it clearly does.

“Yet one knows full well, on seemingly incontrovertible scientific grounds, that our planet will eventually become uninhabitable, and that terrestrial life will cease. All these organic complexities, said to have evolved out of primordial matter in the course of so many millions of years, will eventually be broken down, leaving the Earth every bit as barren and inanimate as it was at the start. And if there be other planets in the universe on which life has evolved, one can say with scientific certainty that the same fate awaits them all.” -pg. 106

This book goes on to say that “this well-known fact poses a formidable problem for the Teilhardian theory”, but fails to point out that it most certainly does not pose even a small problem for Darwin’s theory.

“The question remains how Teilhard’s doctrine stands from a theological point of view: must it really be admitted that “one cannot object to the piety and mysticism of his book”? And on this score, too, there is much to be said: it is in fact a question which will concern us for the remainder of this monograph.” -pg. 109

Uuuugh nooooo. I don’t care about Teilhard’s theology. I already know I can’t make evolution and Christianity go together and that’s why I left Christianity. This book is such a totally pointless read for me.

Chapter 6: The God of Evolution

The whole point of evolution is that it is a natural explanation of a phenomenon previously thought to require the intervention of a deity. This chapter title is therefore nonsensical on the face of it, like “The God of Lightning” would be now that we understand the natural explanation for lightning. No gods are needed for these! Of course, I expect that this either is a problem this author has with evolution, or is a fact entirely glossed over.

“[N]othing could be more obvious than the fact that the idea of God is not an empirical notion.” -pg. 124

That certainly isn’t obvious from the Bible, where Yahweh indeed shows his ass off (Exodus 33:23), appears in pillars of cloud and fire (Exodus 13:21), smites armies (numerous), and floods the entire goddamn planet (Genesis 6-9). This is not even mentioning the fact that Jesus allegedly showed his alleged god-nature empirically by healing the sick, making blind men see, lame men walk, and raising the fucking dead. Not only that, but he explicitly did these things, according to the only sources we have, for the exact purpose of proving that he is god (John 10:24-25). Not an empirical notion? Nothing could be more obvious than the fact that the god of the Bible clearly claimed to be empirically detectable.

“And again the fact remains that there are no empirical grounds on which to dispute theological propositions.” -pg. 125

Unless the existence of a literal Adam, a global flood, or the existence of miracles are theological propositions, because all of those can be disputed and indeed disproved on empirical grounds.

“No matter how irrefutable and scientific what Teilhard terms “the truth of Evolution” may be, his claim to the effect that this discovery invalidates the tenets of orthodox theology is patently false.” -pg. 126

WHAT! Isn’t that the thesis of this book, that evolution contradicts orthodox theology? I’m in shock, here. Looking back at my notes, I see that it is only theistic evolution which contradicts orthodox theology per anything I quoted. But it can’t possibly be that this author thinks that a non-theistic evolution is in accord with orthodox theology! This is very confusing! He said on page 7 or 8 that death came into the world through the Fall, and the Fall certainly contradicts evolution. I think this is a clear contradiction; this author is speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

“Proverbs 8:27. It is not without interest to note that a similar text is to be found in the Rig Veda (VII.25.18), which reads: ‘With His ray He has measured heaven and earth.’ It appears that this doctrine is indeed universal to mankind.” -pg. 128 (footnote 33)

An idea in TWO WHOLE BOOKS is universal to mankind? At least cite three books before making such grandiose claims. Indians and those who accept Proverbs don’t make up the whole of mankind!

The rest of the chapter (so far as I know; I started skimming the last few pages) is back to arguing that evolution and Christianity contradict, even though this author just said they don’t.

What orthodox theology really is doesn’t ultimately matter. Evolution is a fact of life, and any theology it contradicts is therefore false. It doesn’t matter how “orthodox” that theology is; it doesn’t matter how many people have believed it for how long; it doesn’t matter who teaches it. Any theology that really contradicts evolution is automatically false. The recognition of this obvious fact is, again goes the broken record, why I left Christianity.

Obviously, it does not follow that any theology which does not contradict evolution is automatically worth thorough examination. Many, including, apparently, Teilhard’s theology, can be discarded out of hand as nonsensical. Evolution merely gives us reason to add to the list of nonsensical theologies.

Chapter 7: Biblical Fall and Evolutionist Ascent

“What displeases Teilhard, among other things, is what he terms ‘the jealous maintenance, as a dogma, of strict monogenism (first one man, and then one man and one woman), which it is in actual fact impossible for science to accept.’” -pg. 147

Teilhard is correct, although he might not yet have had enough evidence to make that conclusion with such certainty. Nowadays, with genetic analysis and other evidence, we can say with absolute certainty that the monogenism in the Bible and required by paragraph 37 of the 1950 papal encyclical Humani Generis by Pope Pius XII is impossible, especially in the 6000 years young earth creationism claims.

“Now it is questionable, first of all, whether the Biblical ‘monogenism’ can be legitimately interpreted as an ‘actual fact,’ by which Teilhard obviously understands one that can be verified by scientific means. There are other kinds of facts, to be sure, unless it be assumed from the start that theology and metaphysics are void of sense.” -pg. 147-148

It is not a matter of assuming that theology and metaphysics are non-sensical, but of not having a reason to assume they are sensical. Of course, no such reason is offered in this book, because as is so common in works of this kind, the burden of proof is confused and the null hypothesis is misunderstood.

“But even if one should conceive of Adam and Eve as people more or less like ourselves, who lived so many thousand or million years ago in a valley near the Euphrates, the resultant picture of human origins would still not be in conflict with any ‘actual fact.’ When it comes to the historical origin of man–or for that matter, of any other species–we find ourselves, scientifically speaking, in a realm of conjecture, of untested and indeed untestable hypotheses. There are no ‘instruments’ to register the advent of a species; and as Teilhard himself admits by his so-called ‘law of automatic suppression,’ it appears that not even a fossil record of the earliest progenitors can be found.” -pg. 148

This is ridiculous. We can, using DNA analysis, comparative anatomy, the fossil record, and other lines of evidence, show that it is absolutely impossible for Adam and Eve to have been real in the literal sense. Here’s a start on that research, at least a claim by an actual expert on the topic.

Also, Paul says, “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.” (Romans 5:12). So Paul clearly has an understanding of a literal Adam, and he wrote much of the New Testament. Back around page 7, this author knew that; now, he denies it?

“Rarely are we told, for example, that in light of the Michelson-Morley experiment, all of classical physics stands in fact on the side of that ‘disproved’ tenet. The choice actually lies between geocentrism and Einsteinian relativity.” -pg. 148 (footnote)

First of all, one experiment disproves (or proves) nothing. Only when there are repeatable experiments, preferably from multiple lines of evidence, can we say anything in science is proven.

Secondly, the experiment was setup to detect “ether”, and it failed. Because it is repeatable, it shows that there isn’t any such ether. (See here for more detail.)

Thirdly, if you ran the experiment on the moon, which we know for a fact circles the earth, you would find the same result. So it does not show that the earth is still or any such nonsense.

Fourthly, Newtonian physics and Einsteinian relativity are both true. They are true in different circumstances. When astronomers found differences between the predictions of Newtonian physics and the movement of planets, they correctly predicted that we would find another planet and where. When they found more such differences, it was because the inner planets are so close to the sun that relativity comes into play.

Fifthly, I now believe this person’s alleged physics credentials are a lie, because he should know better if they aren’t.

Takeaways / After I Finished Reading

I’m done. I tried to read this book, I really did, and I got more than halfway through. I’m not finishing it, skipping the last few chapters. I might even throw it away (no I won’t, because it isn’t mine). It’s possibly the worst book I’ve ever tried to read. It contains not one scrap of real science, and with these sorts of book on the market, it is no wonder scientific illiteracy is so rampant.

Geocentrism was debunked literally four centuries ago. Get your shit together and stop being an idiot, Wolfgang Smith.

Avoid all of his books at any cost.

I really need to figure out what to say to my family about this book, because I can’t avoid this conversation. I think I need to go all the way back to basics. How do we know what is real? What is the scientific method? What is the difference between science and pseudoscience? Anyone with suggestions on how to talk to people who think this is somehow a good book, please let me know. Don’t just say “don’t” because that isn’t actually an option at this point.


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