Iä! Iä! Teilhard de Chardin fhtagn!


I knew it. For years I’ve seen the “dinosauroid” trotted out as an illustration of how dinosaurs could have evolved, if only that little space rock hadn’t messed up their progression. To me, it was symptomatic of a deplorable strain of teleological thinking in biology, and I thought it was totally bogus from the first glance.

Why would anyone think a coelurosaur would gradually converge on an anthropoid form? So much of our morphology is a consequence of variations in our ancestors — ancestors that would not have been shared with dinosaurs. Yet here is this imaginary beast with ape-like details. How would it have acquired those?

Darren Naish has tracked down the history of this bizarre mannequin, and I am totally not surprised: we can blame Teilhard de Chardin, who had a pernicious influence on Dale Russell, the scientist who built it.

I’m confident that another factor contributed to the construction of the dinosauroid, but it’s something more controversial than everything discussed so far and is also harder to establish with any degree of certainty. I think that Dale Russell’s specific personal views on the nature of the universe and the position of humans within it played a role in everything that happened.

We know from the recollections of his colleagues that Dale Russell was religious, with an active spiritual life committed to Catholicism. We also know from statements made by Robert Bakker and others who discussed religion with him that Russell was fond of the ideas of Jesuit priest and palaeontologist Teilhard de Chardin (Campagna 2001, p. 7, Noble 2016, p. 41). Chardin (1959) argued for a directionality in evolution, that humans represent a point close to (but not at) the pinnacle of evolution, and that a humanoid stage was inevitable for those organisms approaching evolution’s final stage. Add to this the fact that Russell stated in correspondence his idea that “the human form might be a natural target for selective pressures” (as Russell wrote to anthropologist Noel Boaz in August 1984), and his implication – made several times in interview – that humans (and, by extension, other humanoids) are not simply additional animals (Russell 1987, p. 130, Psihoyos & Knoebber 1994, p. 252). We’re talking here about what’s been called the ‘inevitable humanoid proposition’, a concept often linked both to religiosity and to an anthropocentric view of the universe.

My personal opinion is that the dinosauroid was not, then, the honest experiment in speculative evolution that some authors have implied (e.g., Losos 2017; reviewed here at TetZoo). Instead, Russell had already decided that he wanted to showcase the possibility that human-shaped non-humans were ‘inevitable’, and that they might have a special place in the design of the universe.

Do not, under any circumstances, ever try to read Teilhard de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man. I did, and it was the closest real-world experience to the horror movie trope of reading the Necronomicon aloud in a cabin in the woods. It contains damnable prose and arcane leaps of logic that defy rational thought. It is infuriatingly stupid.

You’re all going to try and read it now, aren’t you?

Before you throw yourself into that pit of madness, at least read Peter Medawar’s review. Be forewarned. Make sure you have a chainsaw and a shotgun near at hand.

What’s weird, though, is how so many discussions of this idea are gentle, almost apologetic in addressing Teilhard de Chardin’s and Dale Russell’s strange religious bias. Don’t take this stuff seriously — it’s Time Cube level of wrong, pure garbage in defiance of the scientific consensus with no evidence to support their interpretation. Worse, that delicacy in treating the teleological imperative has had some embarrassing influence — Carl Sagan’s worst book, The Dragons of Eden, was rife with it.

Also infected with the Teilhard de Chardin disease: Simon Conway Morris. The tentacles of that mad Frenchman extend everywhere, bringing insanity to all who view them.

Comments

  1. birgerjohansson says

    If avians had regained the use of their forelimbs as manipulators instead of wings, they might have given the primates a run for the money, considering the cognitive abilities of some parrots and corvids.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    OT (good news)
    The tories have lost their lead over labour. This will make it harder for the corruption & incompetence party to call a snap election and benefit from a temporary lead.
    A few months ago, the tories had an 18- point lead and the future looked grim indeed.

  3. weylguy says

    One of the reasons I learned to detest the later Star Wars films and their progeny were creatures like the reptilian “Jar Jar Binks” character. No terrestrial or extraterrestrial evolutionary process would ever produce a creature whose eyes were so easily exposed to injury or loss, and that includes the large-eyed modern dinosauroid displayed in the mannequin.

  4. Bruce Fuentes says

    I had to look this up as this discussion prompted an old memory. I first heard of Teilhard de Chardin by way of Dawkins. Seems the pretentious old fool(Dawkins) has had a few nuggets.
    “Nevertheless, I was irresisibly reminded of Peter Medawar’s comment on Father Teilhard de Chardin’s THE PHENOMENON OF MAN, in the course of what is possibly the greatest negative book review of all time: ‘its author can be excused of dishonesty only the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.'”

  5. nogginscratcher says

    Well this just brought back some memories, from the Dinosaurs deck of “Top Trumps” cards.

    https://imgur.com/6yGnz1u has an image of the card – captioned as “how the Stenonychosaurus may have evolved”.

    Within the game it didn’t have great stats on the whole, but I think it was the only one they gave an Intelligence rating of 10 to – so it was useful so long as it came up on your own turn when you could pick what you were comparing.

  6. PaulBC says

    I did, and it was the closest real-world experience to the horror movie trope of reading the Necronomicon aloud in a cabin in the woods.

    Now I’m wondering what happens if you say “Teilhard de Chardin” five times into a mirror.

    (I’m not too worried. Based on 4 years of French in high school, I’m pretty sure I would fail at this summoning even if I gave it my best shot.)

  7. hemidactylus says

    Seems everyone just loves to beat up on poor old Teilhard and reflexively cites Medawar. Even Dennett does it. Poor form. To be expected here though…worst-casing. I’ve read the guy’s stuff and didn’t get infected. I did have Gould’s ideas as dialectic countermeasure (random walks and contingency).

    I think people should read Teilhard in light of where he fits into a weird bridge between science and religion, but read Gould too for counterpoints. Telihard violates NOMA big time.

    Just because someone gets inspired by Teilhard to develop a weird notion of dinosaurouds doesn’t necessarily implicate Teilhard. Did Teilhard want that particular bent? Illocution versus perlocution. His omega was Jesus (Christogenesis) not people per se. Flawed surely but upbeat to a fault. He does give theistic evolutionists an inspiration and an out. I might not like it, but that’s me.

    Teilhard inspired Julian Huxley to coin a proto-memetics called noogenetics. Probably not a selling point, but points to Dawkins’ ignorance of predecessors for his own flawed idea.

    But alas Teilhard had contemplated eugenics at some point in his career, though he and the Bulldog’s grandson Julian were perhaps more symptom than cause and embedded in their milieu. But still…bad optic:

    https://religiondispatches.org/pierre-teilhard-de-chardins-legacy-of-eugenics-and-racism-cant-be-ignored/

    Rebuttal:
    https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/trashing-teilhard

    Response:
    https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/teilhard-eugenics

  8. call me mark says

    I found Tielhard de Chardin indigestible enough second-hand via Julian May’s “Saga of Pliocene Exile” to bother going to the source.

  9. hemidactylus says

    In light of Teilhard’s views on eugenics and human inequality per John Slattery’s revelations of unearthed views I would add Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man as a counter.

    I recall something disturbingly negative about Thomas Huxley that recently made the news [ https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/reconsider-cancel-culture-target-at-wwu/ ], but he did critique a Spencerian view of ethics and ridicule a pigeon-fanciers polity (eugenics). But his grandson was a different story (even more warts and all):
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4366572/

  10. Artor says

    I would expect an uplifted dinosaur to have a keel-like breastbone. I don’t think the rattites would develop sentience, since their forelimbs are mostly vestigial. Corvids or parrots would be the most likely line. Assuming that feathers receded to allow for better heat dispersal from an enlarged skull, they might show scaly skin around the eyes, and I’d like to imagine a crest of colorful, sleek plumage, but they certainly wouldn’t have those giant sleestak orbs. They’d be diurnal, not nocturnal. Their posture would be vastly different, forward-leaning. I don’t know if the feet would change much. Their hands would be bizarre, as they would need to re-evolve fingers after fusing all those bones into wings. I expect nature would find some awkward workaround that the creatures manage to make work through ingenuity and dexterity, despite less-than-optimal biology. Perhaps they would still use their beaks and tongues for manipulation?

  11. cartomancer says

    Why not go further? Clearly if evolution tends towards the human form as the most perfect and sublime of all animal forms then once a lineage has reached humanoid it will continue to evolve to resemble the most perfect and sublime human form of all.

    Eventually all life on earth will look exactly like Harry Styles.

  12. hemidactylus says

    And interesting tidbits in that last article:
    “[Julian] Huxley stood to the right of the Marxist geneticist JBS Haldane (a communist party member from 1942-1950), but on the left of the geneticist (and racist biologist) Cyril Darlington (who condemned Huxley’s advocacy of cultural factors in evolution, replacing natural selection) and, his former student, the population geneticist, E.B. (“Henry”) Ford.” […] “ Huxley’s humanism remained firmly founded in evolutionary theory.63 It was at this juncture that Huxley coined the term “transhumanism”, a term that he used only intermittently.64”

    So an apparent reference to his Teilhardian “noogenetics” and also a positioning as forerunner to Kurzweil.

    Interested readers should note what appears to be a stark contrast to his brother Aldous per Brave New World.

  13. PaulBC says

    hemidactylus@9

    His omega was Jesus (Christogenesis) not people per se.

    Dino-Jesus! I like it. Enik the Altrusian on a crucifix? (Nvm… probably been done 100 times already.)

  14. unclefrogy says

    I can suspend my disbelief in the movies and TV when comes to space aliens and monsters actors are people and makeup is cheaper then science But I can not take serious the idea that the human form is the pinnacle and goal of anything. Those visiones come from the subconscious not from observation of the workings of evolution so I will not be reading any off it

  15. James Fehlinger says

    . . .we can blame Teilhard de Chardin, who had a pernicious influence. . .

    Which even extended to an episode of Star Trek: Voyager.
    https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Distant_Origin_(episode)

    I liked the glass paperweight of Earth that’s given to the
    alien scientist at the end of that episode. I saw a similar
    one in a gift shop a few years later (apparently, they’re
    a thing). It was expensive.

  16. KG says

    See The Drawing and Quartering of Bobby Lee, comment #33 onward, for a parallel discussion of contingency vs inevitability in human history. Personally, I think there’s a lot of contingency but also some weak directionality in both evolutionary and human history. In the former, the weak directionality results from the nature of an asymmetric branching random walk: life has to start out as simple as life can be, branches multiply, evolutionary change may lead any branch to either extinction, or to greater or lesser complexity (in biochemistry, anatomy, behaviour…) but at least until some constraint is reached or there is a catastrophic interruption, the complexity of the most complex organisms will tend to increase, even if most remain near the limit of simplicity. In human history, the directional factor is the tendency of technical knowledge to accumulate.

  17. jrkrideau says

    I had to google Teilhard de Chardin to remember who he was.

    I find it amusing that the wiki says that the Church forbad him teaching a number of times.

    What was he selling?

  18. James Fehlinger says

    I think there’s a lot of contingency but also some weak directionality
    in both evolutionary and human history.

    Musing on a book I read (or at least browsed in) some
    17 years ago:

    Would you believe, though, that there are still reputable
    paleontologists who believe in God? I was taken aback
    recently to discover a quite serious book about evolutionary
    biology ( Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe ,
    by Simon Conway Morris, Cambridge paleontologist
    and Fellow of the Royal Society
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521827043 )
    which, while making a case for the ubiquity of
    convergent evolution, manages to suggest, ever so gently,
    that there’s something about the universe which makes
    such convergence inevitable. The author seems to be
    arguing that intelligence on Earth may have been
    inevitable, in contrast with Stephen Jay Gould, who held
    that if you could restart the “movie” from the beginning,
    it’s extremely unlikely that intelligence would happen again.
    Morris tips his hand a little more by quoting (in a biology
    book!) from C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. ;->

    I can suspend my disbelief in the movies and TV when comes to
    space aliens and monsters actors are people and makeup is
    cheaper then science. . .

    From http://www.accelerationwatch.com/laws.html :
    ++++
    [I]n a controversial astrobiological example,
    while you would go broke quickly trying to predict
    the exact shape of humanoid life forms on other
    Earth-like planets, or the styles of cars that
    will sell best in those worlds, you can make an
    excellent developmentalist bet that those planets
    must all produce computationally dominant humanoids,
    that the humanoids will all be highly likely to have
    two eyes, bilateral symmetry, jointed limbs
    (possibly with an average of five fingers on each limb),
    and large number of other predictably convergent
    developmental features. Furthermore, there are great
    developmentalist arguments that all such planets will
    be very likely to invent internal combustion-based,
    automobile-like machines as swarm computing time-compression
    devices, that the dominant car body plans will involve
    four wheels, and that the environment must include a vast
    number of other universal technological archetypes,
    or developmental optima, such as electronic computers.
    And if you find any of that hard to believe, you’re
    in good company.
    ++++

    ;->

  19. whheydt says

    Re: hemidactylus @ #9…
    If find Gould’s NOMA to be one of those ideas that looks good in theory, but utterly fails in practice. Exhibit #1: Ken Ham.

  20. Snidely W says

    Artor @13 touched on this, and Naish cites a number of paleo colleagues’ objections (including his own) to Russell’s model. But there was always something missing from the ‘explanation’ for any evolutionary transition from theropod dinosaur to the dinosauroid.

    Back in the day, I tried to find out how he (Russell) proposed this transition to have possibly occurred. How was this even plausible? What selection pressures would promote all these radical physical changes, literally from head to toe? (See Naish for a summary of these).

    I never found any “just so” story to “explain” it.
    It was just:
    Theropod –> yada, yada –> dinosauoid.

    Naish’s conclusion explains why:

    Russell’s plan … was to encourage discussion about the evolution of intelligence and the ‘inevitability’ (or otherwise) of humanoids. …the dialogue it has encouraged on speculative evolution, hypothetical big-brained dinosaurs and imaginary post-Cretaceous dinosaurs … has to be considered an extraordinary success.

  21. James Fehlinger says

    What did any of that have to do with the sentence of mine that you quoted?

    “Everything is deeply intertwingled.”

    — Ted Nelson

    ;->

  22. davidc1 says

    What’s that silly looking thing ,and what’s that thing in front of it?
    @2 I should not get too carried away with that poll ,we are dealing with the great English voting public ,plus FPTP .
    The Pollsters might have asked a lot of old farts who are likely to be hit by the temporary halting of the triple lock on their pensions .
    Then again the plan to end the £20 extra paid to the poor sods on universal cockup might have a bit to do with it .
    People suddenly realising that that twat faced twat johnson is a gormless berk ,not likely .

  23. says

    Well, we know there is a certain amount of inevitability in morphology in evolution. Carcination is a real thing, and apparently there’s a similar tendency to end up with ferret-like body shapes as well. The error here isn’t “without the meteor dinosaurs would have eventually developed certain inevitable body shapes”, it’s “the human body shape is inevitable”.

    (Obviously, real dinosauroids would have been scaly ferrets! With claws! Because that is totally how all of this works!)

    My favorite “dinosauroid” fiction is the old game Chrono Cross, where there’s a parallel timeline in which the evil (literally, in the game) meteor never hit and the dinosaurs eventually developed a utopian green supercivilization with a world-spanning AI somehow “running” on nature itself, which took the physical form of a gigantic dragon. And then humans, who are the corrupted result of the (again, actually literally) evil meteor interacting with the earth’s ecology in the other timeline where it hit, eventually developed time-control technology in the far future and caused a catastrophe known as the “Time Crash”, leading to the far future city of Chronopolis (housing a corrupt military research base) being thrust into the dinosaur timeline and having an epic battle with the dinosauroid city of Dinopolis, ending with the victory of the humans and the control of history and the dragon AI falling under the (sinister, treacherous) human AI, FATE, which seeks to destroy humanity but can’t risk disrupting the timeline which led to its own construction. Meanwhile, the (reminder: literally evil) meteor is actually an egg of a Chthulhu-like alien entity which seeks to siphon off biological energy (which is of course a thing), grow into its adult form, and consume all life on the planet, and which is plotting to subvert FATE (which uses it as a power source to manipulate time) and merge with the dinosauroid AI.

    (…the game’s plotline is an incoherent mess, the battle mechanics are terrible, and they put in so many optional playable characters that none of them have any depth or utility, but the soundtrack is pleasant and won awards and the graphics were astonishingly well done for something running on the original PlayStation. And it has a lot of neat little bits of high-concept sci-fi if you play long enough, even if they don’t actually fit together very well.)

  24. birgerjohansson says

    The human form is far from optimal.
    If an amphibian ancestor had relied on six instead of four fins for locomotion it could have led to centauroid land animals with six limbs, opening the possibility for ‘angelic’ animals with legs, arms and wings.
    .
    There is also no reason to stick to just two optical organs.
    And the big tendons of kangaroos enables them to ‘recycle’ some of the energy of their hopping locomotion, moving a distance at a fast pace does not use up so much more energy than a slower pace- certainly an advantage over placental mammalian locomotion.

  25. drsteve says

    @11

    Mine, on the other hand, went to the Silurians, those iconic lizard people mysteriously named for a time before any tetrapods yet existed. . .

    Now I wonder if perhaps they were actually arthropods that quickly evolved to the inevitable humanoid form as soon as they colonized land?

  26. stroppy says

    So the ultimate and optimal form (for the meaning of everything?) can be represented by a tiny speck of chemistry on the surface of a mote floating in the vastness of space and time. Awesome. But I suspect The Universe is underwhelmed, especially as we already know that it’s the mathematical constant 42, without which reality would cease to exist.

  27. chrislawson says

    Evolutionary convergence is very real. Eyes, fins, wings, C40 photosynthesis are all convergences with abundant evidentiary support. But the humanoid body shape? It’s only arisen in a minor branch of primates, once in the entire history of the planet.

  28. chrislawson says

    chigau–

    Upright bipedalism is perfectly cromulent. Just ask kangaroos, cassowaries, emus, and theropod dinosaurs. It was also an excellent adaptation in humans once we shifted to co-operative group hunting in open grasslands.

  29. birgerjohansson says

    OT
    Human – looking life forms…
    One reptiloid brushed aside an intelligence warning about a pending Al Quaeda attack on American soil 20 years ago.
    Another reptiloid helped a virus kill half a million Americans. And is spending the 9/11 anniversary refereeing a boxing match, because, classy.
    Suggestion: try Identifying reptiloids before they do massive damage.

  30. James Fehlinger says

    James Fehlinger@28,

    So, nothing in particular.

    How about:

    “I think there’s. . . directionality in. . . evolutionary. . . history.”

    . . .in your comment and:

    “ubiquity of convergent evolution. . . argu[es] that intelligence on Earth
    may have been inevitable”

    . . .in my 17-year-old description of Simon Conway Morris’s book? Is that
    a sufficient bridge?

    Morris is also mentioned at the end of Myers’ original post —
    a fact I’ll admit I missed until after I posted my comment:
    “Also infected with the Teilhard de Chardin disease: Simon Conway Morris.”
    linking to:
    https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/04/16/simon-conway-morris-and-lifes/
    a review of the selfsame book.

    I certainly didn’t expect my comment to get up anybody’s nose!

  31. PaulBC says

    James Fehlinger@40 I too find that people take umbrage at my throwaway comments. Are you new to this wonderful thing called the Internet?

  32. James Fehlinger says

    Are you new to this wonderful thing called the Internet?

    Not unless 35 years counts as “new”. New in Elf-years, maybe.

    ;->

  33. James Fehlinger says

    To take another slice out of that earlier comment:

    “I think there’s. . . directionality in. . . human history.”

    The hypothesis that there’s directionality (weak or otherwise)
    in either evolutionary or human history (or both) is a deservedly
    fraught one. Any supporting arguments are all too likely to be
    tainted by a heavy dollop of “motivated reasoning”. Some people
    (de Chardin, Morris) are motivated to get God into the picture.
    Other folks (for instance, in another book I read a couple of decades
    ago: Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright)
    are likely motivated by an emotional need for an optimistic
    (at least ultimately optimistic) take on human history.

    The “transhumanists” are big on the latter view.

    I described this position a couple of decades ago to a friend,
    back when I was considerably more sympathetic to it than I am
    now. (I can still dig it if I’m reading Olaf Stapledon or
    Iain M. Banks, but it can be an eye-roller when translated
    to the “real world”. ;-> )

    ++++
    Ray Kurzweil (see
    http://www.kurzweilai.net/articles/art0012.html
    [defunct, but try
    https://www.kurzweilai.net/a-simple-model-of-unbounded-evolutionary-versatility-as-a-largest-scale-trend-in-organismal-evolution ])
    claims that all evolutionary processes (beginning
    with the first appearance of life on Earth, though perhaps the
    trend could be extrapolated back to the Big Bang [or earlier —
    but that’s getting into very speculative cosmology!]) are
    characterized by a growth curve of complexity (the precise
    definition of which remains elusive) with respect to time
    whose order is at least exponential, and perhaps even
    greater than exponential.

    To speak of the advancing complexity of life on Earth
    is not to imply that this effect is homogeneous — that
    would be nonsensical. In terms of sheer biomass,
    the bacterium is still the most successful form of
    life on this planet, just as it was a billion years ago.
    It’s only the outer envelope, the high-water mark of
    information-processing capacity, that has followed
    the curve.

    Kurzweil calls this the “Law of Accelerating Returns”:
    “Evolution applies positive feedback in that the more capable
    methods resulting from one stage of evolutionary progress are used
    to create the next stage. As a result, the rate of progress of an evolutionary
    process increases exponentially over time. Over time, the “order” of the
    information embedded in the evolutionary process (i.e., the measure of
    how well the information fits a purpose, which in evolution is survival)
    increases… Technological evolution is another such evolutionary process.”
    Or to paraphrase Luke, them as has, gets.

    So similarly, in the domain of human cultural evolution,
    which has outrun the limits of change imposed by biological
    evolution and has thus kept the curve accelerating
    (according to Kurzweil and others), it is the outer
    envelope of technological advancement, as exemplified
    by the inheritors of the European commercial, scientific,
    and industrial revolution of the past 600 years, which
    is being tracked by Kurzweil’s exponential curve. In his
    recent book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny
    ( http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0679442529/qid=984436037/sr=1-1/ref=sc_b_1/104-9323357-7519923 )
    Robert Wright argues that while the details of which
    particular linguistic, political, or geographical region
    holds sway at the leading edge of technology is subject
    to the vagaries of historical accident, the practical intellectual
    capital accumulated by a faltering civilization or empire has
    always been passed on to a successor at the forefront of
    cultural evolution. A single Chinese emperor’s xenophobia
    and paranoia may thus be responsible for the ascendancy of
    European culture on the world stage during the past half
    millennium.

    Just as there are biological species that have remained
    unchanged for hundreds of millions of years, there have
    (until recently, anyway) been some human societies that remained
    static and culturally similar to ancestral human groups of
    tens of thousands of years ago, and others whose development
    did not keep pace with those at the far edge of the global
    envelope. And yes, these unfortunates have suffered terribly
    at the hands of their more technologically developed
    conspecifics when the bubbles of geographical isolation
    protecting them have been pierced.

    The increasing rate of technological change at the edge of the
    envelope also magnifies the gradient between the leading-edge
    and the more sedate regions, and to the extent that the latter are
    aware of the disparity, certainly adds to the perception that
    “from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him.”
    This is clearly a dire source of political unrest, unfortunately.
    ++++

    Yadda, yadda, yadda. Stay tuned, sportsfans.

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