Science Without Religion is Like an Ocean Without Water

Science and Mysticism

Teilhard de Chardin was a scientist who thought of science as a process; he found joy in exploring the unknown mysteries of matter. In a small essay on the “The Spiritual Power of Matter,” he tells the story of two travelers in the desert, one seeks spiritual truth by leaving the world, the other is lured by matter as the realm of the Absolute. To survive, he must wrestle with Matter and see what it reveals. In the same way, Teilhard thought that the researcher wrestles with the world, and comes to understand it in a way that someone who simply gazes on it never can.[i] Should he return to society, he will find that many of its beliefs and claims do not hold up. For he has found a point d’appui, a place of support, in matter, away from the claims of the world and culture. Now that he knows God immediately, he can no longer return to his former life. Experience is a better teacher than abstract beliefs. In a commentary on this parable, Thomas King states:

Teilhard was challenged to wrestle with matter, and he did. This sets his mysticism apart from other mystical traditions. St Ignatius could gaze at the stars alt night and be at prayer, and so he advised other Jesuits that they could contemplate God in a blade of grass. Teilhard would sympathize with these passages in so far as they suggest an immanent God, but he would not go along with the quiet contemplation. His retreat notes make it evident that throughout his life he had difficulties with Ignatian prayer. When the traveler in the parable first encounters Matter, Matter tells him, ‘Your salvation and mine depend on the first moment’. The first moment is a moment of choice: which mysticism will he choose? His alternatives could be seen in terms of a distinction that the medieval philosophers made a distinction between intellectus and ratio. The intellectus rests passively, gazing at what is before it; while the ratio is the active power of discursive thought to search, abstract, refine and conclude. The medieval philosophers saw the intellectus as the basis of mysticism; and would-be mystics were advised to hush the busy ratio (mind) in order to gaze quietly. But in presenting a mysticism centered on research, Teilhard set the ratio (reason) at the center of the mystical. Here the mystical act involves the synthesizing work of the mind as it gathers facts and strives to form them into a wider synthesis.

Science was not a given set of truths about the universe for Teilhard. Science, like the mind itself, is a process, always probing into the unknown. Scientific research is a form of mysticism, a constant exploration into the infinite potential of matter in search of its secret life. King writes:

As scientists struggle to make sense of their findings—or, rather, as reality’s elements order and reorder themselves in the scientist’s mind until they fit—they are groping towards a unity and a form that will be new. The ‘fibers of the unifying universe’ come together in the scientist’s mind, which is essentially process. The scientist’s call to the love of God, to adoration, involves his or her research activity, an activity which is a  participation in the universe’s thought-fibers.[ii]

Teilhard’s mysticism is intellectually creative because it is the power of the mind or thought that pushes evolution forward toward greater complexity and unity. One begins with a world that is not understood and comes to know God at the point where experience lights up the fire of knowledge. Mysticism sets reason at the center of the mystical. Mysticism is not a matter of contemplating a truth already established but lay in the very act of discovery. That is, the mystic creates a new truth because the knower is a unifier. The mind searches its depths by extending beyond itself. “Each time the mind comprehends something, Teilhard wrote, “it unites the world in a new way.”[iii]

The Primacy of Thought

Thought undergirds evolution, according to Teilhard, because without real thought, the process of evolution cannot go forward. To think is to unify, to make wholes where there are scattered fragments; “not merely to register the fragments but to confer upon them a form of unity they would otherwise (that is, without thought) be without.”[iv] Thinking is a spiritual act. To think is to take a long, deep, hard look at reality where the knowing process becomes more than the vision itself. Thinking requires use of the intellect, as well as judgment, consciousness and connectivity to the object of thought. It is not a mere accumulation of information but the synthesizing of information into ideas and insight. Thinking is the work of the spirit, not only the human spirit but God’s Spirit; it is the dynamic engagement of the mind with the world as we know it. If knowledge is essential to the direction of evolution, then attentiveness and intelligence must be brought into encounter with physical reality.  The mind creates by perceiving the phenomena of reality and, in doing so, continues the fundamental work of evolution. Each time the mind comprehends something it unites the world in a new way.[v] Teilhard said:  “To discover and know is to actually extend the universe ahead and to complete it.”[vi]

Teilhard spoke of two types of knowledge: one is an abstract and timeless knowledge of “the world of ideas and principles” which he instinctively distrusted. The second is a “real” knowledge that is in constant development–the conscious actuation of the universe about us. The first type of knowledge leads to geometry and theology, while the second leads to science and mysticism; mysticism not based on possession of a complete truth from heaven but part of the ongoing process of earth.[vii]  He warned against any abstract knowledge that is divorced from physical reality, since abstract knowledge is a faded reality compared to boundless presence. Abstract knowledge is conceptual understanding that undergirds a will to power since only the individual can hold concepts. Such knowledge cannot further evolution nor can it deepen love because it is isolated in the knower. It forms individual ideas but leaves the physical relational world adrift. Even among physicists, Teilhard notes, the advent of quantum physics and the non-deterministic nature of reality has led to the imposition of the investigator’s mind on shifting patterns of phenomena.[viii]  The imposition of mind on nature thwarts the energy of evolution.

True knowledge, according to Teilhard, must engage physical reality because reality is the basis of who we are. Discovery of the world is ultimately self-discovery, and the openness of the self to the infinite is the openness to God. The human’s evolving consciousness must be seen as integral to the physical world and the physical world must be seen as integral to the human’s desire to know. As a scientist and believer in physical reality, Teilhard rejected knowledge divorced from experience.  Abstract knowledge is sterile and lifeless, he thought. Rather, knowledge must deepen and make whole that which is real and, in turn, lead to greater unity of the real. Faith begins with trust in the ultimate goodness [or love] of matter. In this respect, faith and thought belong together; the one who believes “forms an intellectual synthesis.” It is not so much an inner spiritual experience detached from the real but a whole-hearted surrender to the ineffable depth of matter, that is, a faith in matter itself. Although we may think of faith as separate from reason, it is the basis of reason. To have faith is to commit oneself to that which is not seen but believed, and to believe invites one to understand. Faith and reason are two sides of the same reality, according to Teilhard, and are built into the fabric of evolution.

In this respect, Teilhard saw that the work of the scientist is a spiritual pursuit of the secrets of nature, a mystical quest of the unknown. Just as the Christian spiritual journey is one of purgation, illumination and union, so too, the scientific endeavor is the relentless pursuit of matter’s mystery. One must pass through the difficulties of failed experiments and hypotheses until one reaches a breakthrough that opens up to new insights. The success of a scientific endeavor can lead to a major discovery that can be ultimately transformative for humanity or planetary life. Teilhard spoke of scientific truth as “the supreme spiritual act by which the dust-cloud of experience takes on form and is kindled at the fire of knowledge.”[ix] As the scientist struggles to make sense of one’s findings, s/he is searching for new truths, grasping for new horizons of insight. The fibers of the unifying universe are seeking to come together in the scientist’s mind. He called the work of science, “dark adoration,” because the mind is drawn to a power hidden of matter. Thomas King states:  “This supreme spiritual act is an act of dark adoration, homage to the unifying Power. Drawn back to the moment of adoration, the scientist feels a holy mission to continue the process.”[x] To enter the world of matter disturbs the mind because one is confronted by the unlimited potentials of matter, the basis of discovering new insights never before imagined or conceived Scientific work is “troubled worship” in so far as one is disturbed by the unknown.[xi]When the mind opens up to matter, we lose our sense of control, everything becomes muddled, and rightly so. The scientist, whether explicitly or implicitly, finds oneself in the midst of nature’s elusive organization. The experience of matter leads one to new understandings of matter’s hidden life, yielding new horizons of insights and new realities. Science is an ongoing journey of evoking the secrets of matter through observation and determination, forming these into new insights and furthering the overall process of evolution. This relentless pursuit of questioning matter is a type of love or passion for the real. We might think of scientific research as creative evolution driven by love. It begins with a world not understood and comes to know a depth of mystery at the moment when the dust of experience lights up with the fire of knowledge.[xii] To think and discover, in Teilhard’s view, is to be an artisan of the future.

While scientific research is often described in reductionistic terms, the observation and measurement of empirical facts, scientific research is a form of devotion, a relentless pursuit of matter’s potentials, exploring the infinite secrets of matter.  Scientific research is driven by a passion or thirst for the real, which is why reducing science to mere empirical knowledge or treating it as a highly technical field otherwise irrelevant to the overall quality of life thwarts the fact that science is the basis of philosophy and, in turn, theology. We need to retrieve the integral relationship between science and religion in order to make sense of our rapidly evolving world. Teilhard thought that science and religion are two phases of the one and the same complete act of knowledge; that is, knowing matter in its depth, breadth and organization is an integral act of knowing on the levels of both science and religion. Teilhard saw the insufficiency of science by itself to bring about a new type of superconsciousness or a higher level of thought on the level of interconnected, planetary life. “It is not tête-à-tête or a corps-à-corps we need; it is a heart to heart,” he wrote.[xiii] To contribute to the overall welfare of planetary life, science needs to acknowledge the essential role of spirituality and mysticism in the pursuit of knowledge. It is the power of the mind that pushes evolution forward toward greater complexity and unity, but it is the power of love that draws life onward toward more unitive life. Thought can lead us to create new horizons of insight, but love draws all together and leads us into the future.


[i]  Thomas M. King, Teilhard’s Mysticism of Knowing (New York: The Seabury Press, 1981), 27.

[ii]  King, Mysticism of Knowing, 29.

[iii] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “The Spiritual Power of Matter,” in Hymn of the Universe, trans. Simon Bartholomew (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 36.

[iv] King, Teilhard’s Mysticism of Knowing, 36.

[v] King, Mysticism of Knowing, 36.

[vi] King, Mysticism of Knowing, 35.

[vii] King, Mysticism of Knowing, 40.

[viii] King, Mysticism of Knowing, 5.

[ix] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Activation of Energy, trans. Rene Hague (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1963), 9.

[x]  Thomas King, S.J. “Scientific Research as Adoration: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ (1881-1955),” The Way 44/1 (July 2005): 21-34 at p. 29.

[xi] King, “Scientific Research as Adoration,” 29.

[xii] King, “Scientific Research as Adoration,” 29.

[xiii]  Teilhard de Chardin, Future of Man, 75; W. Henry Kenny, A Path Through Teilhard’s Phenomenon (Dayton, OH: Pflaum Press, 1970), 138.

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  1. Ronald Gauthier on October 15, 2023 at 3:05 pm

    Good Afternoon

    I have 3 boys and my youngest one just turned 30. I am very close to all 3 of them. They all believe in God but they are quite cold at talking about religion, mainly because of old traditional Catholic Church doctrines that they were taught at the elementary school. The medieval point of view that Ilia talks about. (And recent years scandals and other things such as patriarchal stuff etc etc.
    But the other day I had a pleasant surprise with my youngest son when we started talking about …”from the big bang , creation and nature having the same atoms and molecules as human beings in their DNA”…”God being love and energy” etc etc and then him quoting one of Theillard ‘s quote without knowing who he was ….”we arent terrestrial beings having a spiritual experience , we are……”
    Then he said , “if thats what you call spirituality and understanding God , then I would have a tendency to be less agnostic ! WOW WOW WOW. Then I proceeded to briefly talk about my studies in eco-theology and some of the areas such as nature, environment and the connection with God. Then he got more interested.

    Then he said : Thats fine and great, I subscribe to that kind of spirituality. But how do you explain some of the stuff we were told in our religion class in school such as “the devil”…”hell”….”the purgatory” . My only answer unfortunately (not sure if its the right one !)… are examples of what we mean regarding medieval stuff!

    How do you explain “hell” for example when God is love. How do you explain it from a Christogenesis point of view

    I look forward to your enlightment !


  2. George Marsh on October 3, 2023 at 11:17 pm

    Ronald, it’s not unusual to feel ambivalent about prayer in the 21st century.
    Since the first-century Jesus told his disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer, it does make sense to imagine God as out of sight (in heaven), though not necessarily far away “up there.” Yet you may recall Jesus saying the the realm (kingdom) of God is within people. References to space such as “within” and “in heaven” can be appreciated in simple, first-century language as metaphoric, or figurative, not literal, but not wrong, just different.

    Ilia Delio has a deep appreciation of Teilhard De Chardin, who understood the realities of evolution, which is accepted by most people who accept what science accepts. She also has a rich understanding of Franciscan spirituality and theology, which has been and is still expressed in terms of a Godhead, Creator, Incarnate Son and Spirit. For Ilia Delio and many who frequent the Center for Christogenesis, the deity we love as one or three persons can also be imagined as mysterious energy, Divine Love personified, the power that holds every thing, “the ground of all being” which sustains and inspires or draws all to the ultimate good, what Teilhard calls the Omega point. God as all in all.

    Somehere in Scripture are the words, “God’s ways and ideas are not humanity’s ways and ideas” This is to express the mystery of God beyond biblical revelation and much Western thought. As a graduate student, you should feel free to explore a variety of ways to understand how to think about and pray to God, the saints, angels and the Mother of God.

    When a holy person is reverent toward some awesome reality, God has given that one grace–in traditional language. Tat person is responding to a force field, in scientific language, another way to consider the same experience. The person who feels awe about the ongoing creation of galaxies, holons within other holons within one mysterious Holon, that person may be inspired to worship wordlessly, or even use the word, “wow!”

    As Hamlet said, there is more to life than philosophy (or theology) can tell us. As Richard Rohr and others have taught, creation, the world, is the first revelation (even the first incarnation), where anyone can worship without a temple. Daily meditation (more than once a day), frequent prayer, and simply being quiet are all good ways to present oneself to ultimate reality, i.e., God. Recall the expression, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
    Peace and all good is my Franciscan wish for you.

  3. Ronald Gauthier on October 3, 2023 at 9:02 am

    Good Morning.

    I have a question that has been bugging me for quite some while. My name is Ron Gauthier.

    I read whatever I can put my hand on from and from Ilia s books and articles. I am part of a christogenesis group. I command your work and website.
    I am presently studying part time towards a Masters degree in eco-theology at Regis College of the University of Toronto.

    I am a 70 year old cradle Catholic and of course have been brought up in the old “medieval style” of prayer. In other words when I prayed or still pray today, I pray addressing my prayers to God, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary directly. As if I am talking to a person. This is going to sound weird as questions…..Can you still pray with this new “Theillard” style of the universe in evolution. ? Can my prayers have as much importance?

    I lost my parents at the age of 30 (both of them) and have prayed or talked to them on a daily basis since then.. Can I still do that in a christogenic sense ?

    I feel that praying in the medieval way to whomever (“up there”) and changing that way of thinking of prayer requires a different understanding of prayer. But hopefully it has as much efficacy !

    I look forward to anyone s response.


    • Christogenesis on October 4, 2023 at 12:39 pm

      Dear Ronald:

      Thank you for your beautiful sharing and questions. As George states, sometimes the prayer is just “wow!” At the Center for Christogenesis we believe in the power of all prayer. Your love fuels this world and all creation. If you are looking for additional reading resources our team suggests:

      Teilhard de Chardin, A Book of Hours, by Kathleen Deignan and Libby Osgood.

      The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, by Louis Savary

      Peace and blessings to you on your journey.

  4. Mary Pat Jones on September 21, 2023 at 11:09 am

    My favorite mystic/scientist quote is Einstein’s: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination”. ????

  5. John Zemblidge on September 20, 2023 at 8:21 am

    Nan C. Merrill’s translation of Psalm 137 in “Psalms for Praying” came to mind when reading Ilia’s beautiful discourse:

    “Plunge into the Ocean of Love, where heart meets Heart. Where sorrows are comforted and wounds are mended. There melodies of sadness mingle with dolphin Songs of Joy; past fears dissolve in deep harmonious tones- the future – Pure Mystery. For eternal moments lived in total surrender glide smoothly over troubled waters.”

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