The Phenomenon of Teilhard: Prophet for a New Age (Macon, Georgia, Mercer University Press, 1996). 189 pages. ISBN 0-86554-498-0 MUP/P131
By David Lane, Wellington, New Zealand
In The Phenomenon of Teilhard, David Lane makes a thorough and well-documented case for the thesis that a relatively obscure Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), exerted a major influence on the evolving modernist theology of the church as well as the New Age movement within Western civilization. Teilhard de Chardin’s numerous writings of a philosophical or theological nature were considered so harmful by the Roman Catholic Church that they were banned in 1947. This only added to his prestige as Teilhard “seemed to delight in seeing himself as a modern-day Galileo” (p. 13). Throughout his life, Teilhard privately wrote a succession of essays and letters revealing his evolving synthesis of philosophy and theology with the theory of evolution. He wrote in a lyrical, evocative style laced with highly personalized neologisms and ephemeral imagery lulling his followers along a mystical pathway toward what he called the “Omega Point,” where allegedly all reality, consciousness, and mankind in general spirituality unite in perfect godhead. Chardin believed that: “Science, in all probability, will be progressively more impregnated by mysticism” (p. 83).
Teilhard’s marked influence as an “evolutionary natural philosopher” was largely due to his degrees in geology and paleontology (p. 11). He wrote at a time in history when society was fascinated by all that claimed to be “scientific.” Teilhard was determined to reconcile the doctrine of evolution with Christianity, and Lane shows how he changed the Christ presented in Scripture into a universal redeemer, the “cosmic emergence of the Spirit” (p. 20).
Although Teilhard de Chardin published some 200 scientific papers in geology and paleontology, his reputation within the scientific community was sullied by his involvement in the excavation of the Piltdown man, which was exposed as a hoax in 1953. In the three-volume collection of articles on evolution published in 1960 by the University of Chicago Press on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of Charles Darwin’s work, Teilhard’s name is not mentioned in any of the treatiss. Lane contrasts Teilhard’s writings with empirical science based on observations and experiments, and concludes that a science based on positivist and naturalistic presuppositions should be accepted as the full truth. Lane carefully critiques Teilhard’s theology showing that, in his determination to present a Christian evolutionism, he espouses a Divinity dependent on matter. Lane clearly reveals Chardin’s God as a pantheistic deity, a “Being who has emerged from cosmogenesis,” and not at all the God revealed in Scripture. He traces the ideas to Stoic pantheism and shows that writers like J. Lonsdale Bryan (1941) developed the concepts well before Teilhard, and quite independently of him.
Lane thoroughly documents his evidence that Teilhard’s perverse worldview has permeated contemporary society, propagated by Robert Muller at the United Nations, and influenced even Mother Teresa and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He points to the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and academics in diverse fields ranging from physics at Berkeley and Newcastle University, to pediatrics at UCLA, and philosophy at Northwestern University, and many others in positions of influence as active in the promotion of Teilhard’s New Age philosophy. Lane argues that the “Teilhardian vision of unity-in-diversity” is at the heart of the ecumenical movement in the United Nations and the increasing drive toward establishing the Parliament of World Religions (p. 93). He demonstrates the resemblance of Teilhard’s teaching to that of process philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead. Teilhard viewed the Roman Catholic Church as the only possible focus of unity which could mold humanity into a unified collectivity destined to converge upon God as its predestined Center.
Lane’s book should be of great value to all interested in a clear demonstration of the significant change during the twentieth century in the doctrinal base of what is still called Christianity. It should raise the level of discomfort for Catholics who watch their conservative Pope gather leaders of numerous religions, including the Dalai Lama and shamans, to pray with him for world peace. It should cause Protestants to wonder why Charles Colson, William Bright, and Billy Graham would gather at the Parliament of World Religions, and accept the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. And it should raise the level of discomfort for Evangelicals who watch the relational view of Providence move increasingly through the conservative church as InterVarsity Press publishes books entitled The Openness of God and The God Who Risks. It is a thoroughly documented book and, at times, reads like a reference text, but it is far from dry reading.
- Book Review by Gary L. Almy, M.D. – Loyola University School of Medicine
- Published in Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies Vol. 12 Issue 1/2, p184 – September 2000
- Accession No. 3918052
The Phenomenon of Teilhard: Prophet for a New Age.
David H. Lane.
Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press (1996).