I noticed some writing that said that the idea of the noosphere began with the late 19th-century Russian, Vernadsky, which was then appropriated by de Chardin and taken into Catholicism before being declared a heresy. Of course, the story is a lot deeper than that. People have been inventing perfect, imaginary worlds for as long as there have been people. I suppose one of the most significant modern versions was the the 18th century Swedenborg’s “Celestial Kingdom” idea, which was taken up whole by the Mormons (and also by Star Trekkers).
There is, of course, an official Vatican warning or "monitum" against good Catholics even thinking about Chardin:
It is sufficiently clear that the above-mentioned works abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine. For this reason, the most eminent and most revered Fathers of the Holy Office exhort all Ordinaries as well as the superiors of Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers.
This is not something new for them. The Christian Church long ago decided (after a long period of nodding familiarity) that it didn’t really approve of the similar mystical ideas of Origen either. His theory of Apocatastasis was a bit too Matrix.
All of this is just intelligent design in drag, an excuse to set a direction for evolution. Proponents hold that we have in effect been controlling evolution through culture for millenia now, through control over mate selection and deliberate breeding.
My response to that is to say that conscious control over breeding has turned wolves into poodles and other dogs, and also created several breeds (“races”) of humans. Breeds of dogs have come and gone (and occasionally returned) and I suspect that human racial types will exhibit similar patterns. Trifling cosmetic specialisation is a long way from godhead. And I’d question whether such selection could maintain a consistent direction over long durations. I think it would resemble a stochastic process, a random walk shuffling cosmetic factors. Like genetic drift, in a small enough population this could prove maladaptive. Again, a long way from godhead. We are not controlling evolution, we are controlling a fun box of cosmetics.
One of the last significant evolutionary events in humans was the spread of lactase persistence in several populations. I don’t see how this could have been selected for intentionally or unintentionally by mating partners, except through the usual constrains of population dynamics.
I get flack for equating such progressivist ideas with intelligent design from people who tend to reject intelligent design but like the idea of becoming gods themselves, possibly because they spend too much time playing Second Life/World of Warcraft, playing with their many cats, or reading Singularity Porn.
They all seem like very similar concepts to me, just stronger or weaker versions of wish fulfillment. Some posit an intelligence located somewhere in the deep past (which may or may not have acted since then or be active now), while others posit an intelligence in the far future (which may or may not have acted already, may be acting now, and may act at some time in the future).
I’d love to hear someone explain how ID is different, expecially insofar as it argues for the existence of a guiding intelligence or drive because of the evident and increasing complexity of adapted forms.
Aquinas:if everything can not-be, then at one time there was nothing in existence. Now if this were true, even now there would be nothing in existence, because that which does not exist begins to exist only through something already existing. Therefore, if at one time nothing was in existence, it would have been impossible for anything to have begun to exist; and thus even now nothing would be in existence – which is absurd. Therefore, not all beings are merely possible, but there must exist something the existence of which is necessary. But every necessary thing either has its necessity caused by another, or not. Now it is impossible to go on to infinity in necessary things which have their necessity caused by another, as has already been proved in regard to efficient causes. Therefore, we cannot but admit the existence of some being having of itself its own necessity, and not receiving it from another, but rather causing in others their necessity. This all men speak of as God.
People keep having this idea over and over again. I suspect that is because we all experience life as helpless, mindless infants and then develop personalities under the tutelage of parental figures. That leaves a deep imprint on our minds. Hinduism pushes this idea, as does its teleogogical offshoots such as Jainism and Buddhism. I suspect that Plato and the Hellene Stoics derived much of their philosophy from a collaboration with Buddhist missionaries around 300 BCE.
The idea that humans exhibit form, consciousness and will as a reflection and development towards a central godhead was fundamental to classical Islamic metaphysics. One of my favourite exponents (and mean poets) of this idea was the 10th century Uzbek Islamic neo-Platonic philosopher, Ibn Sina (AKA Avicenna):
For an essence to be realised within time (as an existence), the existence must be rendered necessary by the essence itself. This particular relationship of cause and effect is due to an inherent property of the essence, that it is non-contingent. For existence in general to be possible, there must exist a necessary essence, itself uncaused – a being or God to begin a process of emanation.
This view has a profound impact on the monotheistic concept of creation. Existence is not seen by Avicenna as the work of a capricious deity, but of a divine, self-causing thought process. The movement from this to existence is necessary, and not an act of will per se. The world emanates from God by virtue of his abundant intellect.
I’m pretty sure that Aquinas and the other Scholastics pinched a lot of their teleology from the Arabs, but they would never admit to it in public.
Finally, I’ve always thought that Mormonism was quite similar to classical Islam, especially in its pronounced monotheism relative to the more polytheistic, trinitarian Christianity. Similar to classical Islam and early Christian theosis, Mormon Exalation, or Eternal Progression, holds forth that people’s souls can evolve to a state of godhead and final union or commingling so that they become able to create their own future universes.
Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.
So I guess the takeaway message is that you really don’t need to pinpoint the idea of the noosphere to some Russian progressivist ideology, but instead see it as a strand of thought stretching back millenia in human religious and cultural stories.