Meet the Scientist in Michael Curry's Royal Wedding Sermon

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin studied evolution, viewed consciousness as a mystic force, and waxed poetic on the "energies of love."

Published 23 May 2018, 13:53 BST

The British royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle arguably reached its apex on the soaring rhetoric of the Most Reverend Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church whose sermon included a riff on love and fire that referenced—of all things—a scientist.

“The late French Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, was at once a scientist, a Roman Catholic priest, a theologian, a true mystic,” said Curry in his sermon. “He suggested that the discovery and harnessing of fire was one of the great technological discoveries of human history.”

“In light of this, de Chardin said that if human beings ever harness the energies of love, then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire,” he added, after passionately listing the contributions that fire has made to human welfare. “Love is the very fire and energy of real life!”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was an influential Jesuit priest, paleontologist, and philosopher who for decades attempted to unify Christian teachings with the scientific revolutions of the 20th century.

As he promoted evolutionary theory and interpreted the story of Genesis as metaphorical, de Chardin stirred up considerable controversy. From the 1920s onward, the Roman Catholic Church and the Jesuit order disciplined the priest and barred his works from publication. In 1962, seven years after de Chardin's death, the Catholic Church formally warned its followers that his teachings were dangerous.

Despite a 1981 affirmation of the warning, the last four popes have approvingly cited de Chardin, including Pope Francis in his landmark environmental encyclical Laudato Si. In November 2017, a panel of scientists, bishops, and cardinals unanimously petitioned Pope Francis to rescind the warnings against de Chardin's work.

Scientifically, de Chardin is best known for his analyses of “Peking Man,” an influential set of Chinese fossils that belonged to Homo erectus, an early forerunner of modern humans. (Though casts of the Peking Man fossils remain, the original fossils disappeared in December 1941. Their vanishing act constitutes one of paleoanthropology's most enduring mysteries.

De Chardin is also well-known for his ideas on the nature of consciousness. In his works, the Jesuit priest argued that the universe was evolving toward what he called the “Omega Point,” when the interconnected web of consciousness and thought—what he called the noosphere—will divinely unify. In some ways, de Chardin's Omega Point anticipated today's talk of the “singularity”—the idea that the creation of super-powered artificial intelligence will usher in an unfathomable new age.

Though de Chardin died decades before the dawn of the internet, early computer researchers referenced his work as a metaphor for what they were building. We may be a ways off from harnessing “the energies of love,” which de Chardin discussed in the context of explaining the value of chastity, but, as the Most Reverend Curry noted, fire can drive so much—including a sermon from England broadcast around the world in real time.

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