Journal of Unification Studies Volume X (2009)

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the Quest for an Interface between Science and Religion

Mark D. Isaacs
Journal of Unification Studies Vol. 10, 2009 -- Page 141

"Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: how does one classify him?" -Philip Hefner[1]

"Find God in all things." -Dictum of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)[2]

Several years ago while attending a meeting of the Duchess County Clergy Association, there was a speaker from Fordham University and St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York. He was a well-know Jesuit scholar. He boldly claimed that "the most famous man buried in Hyde Park" was not Franklin D. Roosevelt -- he was merely the President of the United States during the Great Depression and World War Two! -- but "Pierre Teilhard de Chardin."

Teilhard de Chardin, who died on Easter Sunday in 1955, was buried at the cemetery at the Jesuit novitiate at St. Andrews-on-Hudson in Hyde Park, New York.[3] Less than a dozen people attended his burial. Within a few years the seminary was closed and sold by the Jesuits. It is now the world-famous Culinary Institute of America, and Teilhard's grave is hidden behind a locked gate among the tall grass with his Jesuit fellows.

Despite dying in relative obscurity, because during his lifetime his works were under an "ecclesiastical ban,"[4] and his now famous writings were published posthumously by friends, Teilhard de Chardin's books and ideas continue to be of interest to many people with questions concerning the interface between science and religion.

In addition, the image of a priest-scientist has captured the popular imagination. Teilhard was said to have provided the inspiration for Father Lankester Merrin, the elderly scholarly Jesuit Catholic priest and archaeologist character played by Max Von Sydow in the motion picture The Exorcist (1973).[5] Novelist Morris West reportedly also based the character David Telemond [Jean Télémond in the 1963 novel] in The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968) on Teilhard de Chardin.

Biographical Details

Who was this man? Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a controversial Jesuit priest, a paleontologist-present at the discovery of Peking Man-a geologist, a mystic, an author, an explorer, a theologian, and a philosopher fired with a cosmic vision of the universe. He was a contemplative man of deep faith who worshiped God with his mind and with is trowel while excavating archeological sites in far flung regions of the globe.

He was born in 1881 in Oscines, close to Clermont-Ferrand, in France.[6] He was the fourth of eleven children.[7] His father, Emmanuel Teilhard de Chardin, was an enthusiastic amateur naturalist and an incessant collector of rocks, fossils, insects, and plants. In his household he promoted the direct observation and enjoyment of nature.[8] As a result, Teilhard grew up savoring the wonders of the natural surroundings of his boyhood home. From his father he picked up, "a life long passion for rocks and stones."[9] Inspired by his father young Pierre developed the life-long habit of going for long solitary walks through the countryside armed with his acute powers of observation and his ever-present rock hammer.[10]

With Teilhard we recall the words of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1772) when he said, "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore and diverting myself every now and then by finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."[11]

His parents, and his entire extended family, were devout Roman Catholics. One of his sisters, Françoise, became a nun-and died (d.1911) at an early age while serving in China.[12] He grew up in an atmosphere of "an unswerving faith of great simplicity, marked by a fervent devotion to the Christian saints and mystics."[13] In addition, Teilhard's deep spirituality was further nurtured by his mother Berthe-Adele de Dompierre d'Hormoy.[14] She "conveyed to him a deep love of the Christian mystics and a lifelong devotion to the sacred heart of Jesus."[15] Hence, for Teilhard, his love of nature and his love of the Roman Catholic faith were not merely an option or a choice, but part of his inner character from the time of his birth.

At age eleven Teilhard was sent by his family to the Jesuit boarding school of the Ecole de Notre-Dame de Mongré, in Villefranche-sur-Saone.[16] Teilhard was a student at Mongré from 1892 to 1897.[17] At the time Mongré was "the leading French educational institution in the teaching of the natural sciences, especially physics."[18] It was located about eighteen miles north of Lyon. Because of the school's rigorous math and science programs many of his classmates went on to become military engineers and leading French scientists, i.e., young Teilhard did not attend a typical disconnected from reality "religious" preparatory school. He was trained among the elite with a solid foundation in science.[19]

At the same time, while a student at the academically rigorous boarding school at Mongré, Teilhard's Roman Catholic faith deepened. He joined a student religious society called "the Sodality [a charitable brotherhood of lay Catholics] of the Immaculate Conception."[20] King notes that, "throughout his life Mary was to hold a special place in his meditations and retreats, and he always remained faithful to the recitation of the rosary."[21]

Thus, at Mongré, the Jesuits taught their students "the sanctification of science by religion and the service of religion by science."[22]

Three important things are at play here. First, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a sincere and deeply religious Roman Catholic from an early age. Later in life Teilhard wrote, "To be Roman Catholic is the only way of being fully and utterly Christian."[23] Despite numerous faith statements such as this throughout his life and career, many of his critics both with in and outside the Roman Catholic Church have charged that he was a pantheistic heretic. This is not true.

Writing in First Things, the late Richard John Neuhaus stated that Pantheism, "the claim that God is all there is or that all is God [i.e., 'God is all, all is God']," is the perennial temptation among Western theologians who attempt to gain acceptance and recognition from opponents of the Christian world-view, with its "scandal of the cross." Yet Pantheism is incompatible with the Great Tradition of Christian thought because it denies the transcendence of God and ultimately makes even the existence of God superfluous.[24]

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.[25]

Although at times Teilhard's sweeping and poetic theological pronouncements sound pantheistic, especially when taken out of context, he was a faithful Roman Catholic and a loyal Jesuit until his death. When Teilhard speaks and writes it is not from a New Age foundation of relativism,

Eastern Mysticism and pantheism, but from his deep and total commitment to the Roman Catholic faith. Thus, Teilhard's foundation is deep and solid, not shallow and trite. He draws his Jesuit mysticism and his sweeping religious outbursts, such as those contained in his Hymn of the Universe (1961), from the deep well of Roman Catholic piety.[26] To truly under­stand Teilhard we need to read him within this context.

In addition, Teilhard was not a "Modernist" or a heretic. Modernism is the name given to the doctrinal and disciplinary crisis in the Roman Catholic Church in the early years of the twentieth century, a crisis that was created by the efforts of certain Roman Catholic intellectuals to reconcile Catholic faith with modern rationality. In 1907 Pope Pius X condemned as heretical these Modernist efforts to bring the Roman Catholic Church in line with modern thought.[27]

Alister E. McGrath explains that "Modernism... [as a movement with in twentieth century Roman Catholicism] was always more radical than [Protestant Classical] Liberalism. Modernism saw no difficulty in eliminating those aspects of [Roman Catholicism] Christian thought which they found inconvenient."[28]

Again, all of his life Teilhard was a very conservative traditional Roman Catholic who happened to have a passion for paleontology and archaeology. Unlike his many critics, Teilhard, standing on his faith, did not see a conflict or a contradiction between science and religion, i.e., between these two great spheres of thought. The key to Teilhard is to remember that he operates out of the premise of "the sanctification of science by religion and the service of religion by science."[29]

Second, beginning at Mongré, Teilhard received an outstanding scientific education. Many theologians in the protracted dialogue between science and religion attempt to speak on scientific issues without an adequate grounding in science. At the same time, to be fair, many scientists speak about religion with out an adequate grounding in theology, i.e., the naive pronouncements of the late Carl Sagan.[30] As a result, religion-the Christian religion-is often discredited in the public square depicted as being anti-intellectual, superstitious, and backward.[31] This is certainly not the case with Teilhard. When he speaks and writes on scientific issues his work is worthy of careful consideration. Hefner notes that "Teilhard the scientist wrote more than two hundred scholarly paleontological and geological articles... [he adds that] his work includes a wealth of scientific fact and at times even [theological] extrapolations from that fact."[32]

And third, perhaps due to his Jesuit education, for Teilhard a grand synthesis between science and religion was not a difficult stretch or an alien concept. The separation-or compartmentalization-between science and religion is a consequence of traditional Protestant theology and especially the Calvinist maxim of Finitum non capax infiniti, (i.e., the finite is incapable of the infinite).[33] With the Calvinist world-view and related theologies,[34] infinite religion must operate with in a different sphere than finite science. The net result is "a war between religion and science"[35] typified in the Creationism vs. Evolution debate that has raged in America since at least 1925.[36]

It is important to note that with Teilhard there is no radical dividing line between consciousness and matter, or between humanity and other animals. Contrary to many influential theologians and philosophers in the Western tradition that tend to separate metaphysics [faith/religion] and physics [nature/science] Teilhard is a holistic thinker. Rather than getting bogged down in the "science verse religion" debate-the conflict model[37] typified by Andrew Dickson White's famous book A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology (1896),[38] Teilhard, because of his Jesuit mysticism, was able to view the cosmos as a unity. Thus, he thought of the world as a single evolving entity, linked together with a complex web of mutually interconnected events in which there is a natural progression from matter to life to human existence to human society.

For this reason, many American Protestants, who for theological and philosophical reasons (they accept the rigid bifurcation between faith/religion and physics/nature/science) Teilhard's ideas appear strange and foreign.

The Scopes Monkey Trial

From a cultural and a religious perspective, the most important trial in American history was Tennessee vs. John T. Scopes. "The Scopes Monkey Trial" began on July 10, 1925 and became a media circus as hundreds of reporters from all over the world descended upon Dayton, Tennessee.[39] Each day reporters dispatched an estimated 165,000 words providing detailed coverage of the case.[40]

The trial pitted Clarence Darrow for the evolutionists against three-time presidential candidate (1896, 1900 and 1908) William Jennings Bryan (Democrat-Populist) who championed the teaching of Creationism in the public schools.[41] Both sides accepted the legitimacy of the principle of tax-funded public education. The conflict was over which side would be able to exercise political power over the curriculum. But there was a fundamental difference in strategies. Bryan argued for a level playing field [equal time] in the public schools, while Darrow and the evolutionists demanded a monopoly. The trial ended on July 24 with Scopes being found guilty. Bryan won the case and lost the public relations war. His reputation -and the Creationist cause that he championed-had been destroyed by the media.[42] Thus, he is remembered by most Americans, not as a great and principled progressive politician, but as an ignorant Bible thumping buffoon.[43]

In a famous 1960 article in Church History, "The American Religious Depression, 1925-1935," Robert T. Handy dated the beginning of the decline in mainline church membership to the Scopes Monkey trial. According to Handy, in 1926, conservative and fundamentalist Christians began to withdraw from the mainline churches, and there was a corresponding increase in membership and church growth in independent, fundamentalist, and charismatic churches. Handy argues that the cultural war that began in 1925 with the Scopes trial continues down to the present time.[44]

Echoes of this conflict can be seen in the current Intelligent Design verses Darwinian Evolution debate.[45] For example, the August 15, 2005 Time magazine cover story was, "Evolution Wars: The Push to Teach 'Intelligent Design' Raises a Question: Does God Have a Place in Science Class?"[46] Thus, more than eighty years after the Scopes Monkey Trial, the core question in the debate remains the same.

Teilhard, because he was a European, a Jesuit, and a scientist, would have considered the entire American "Monkey Trial" debate -- and the current "Intelligent Design" controversy -- to be ridiculous. With Bryan verses Darrow in 1925-and their heirs down to the present day-the science [Evolution] verses religion [Creationism/ Intelligent Design] argument is a case of "either/or," while Teilhard thought out of a framework of "both/and." For Teilhard the so called "war between religion and science" is a false dichotomy. The war between religion and science is a peculiar American Protestant affliction.

At the age of seventeen Teilhard felt "the desire to follow a vocation to the religious life."[47] His parents encouraged Teilhard to take a year off to improve his health and to rethink and to be certain of his call. During this time Teilhard prayed and meditated and "collected more rock samples in the countryside of Sarenat."[48] In his long rock collecting walks he searched his soul in an attempt to discern God's will for his life. Again, here we see the fusion of faith and science that informs and animates all aspects of the life and career of Teilhard. For Teilhard, to collect rocks and to observe nature was an act of worship.

On March 20, 1899 Teilhard entered the Jesuit novitiate in their house in Aix-en-Provence.[49] Here Teilhard began his philosophical, theological, scientific, and spiritual career. On March 25, 1901 Teilhard took his first religious vows.[50]

In 1901, the French government passed the notorious Waldeck-Rousseau laws.[51] These laws, fueled by a new wave of anticlericalism that was first felt during the French Revolution (1789-1799), were intended to restrict the activities of religious orders such as the Jesuits.[52] These laws submitted the property of congregational associations to state control and they forced the Jesuits-and other orders-into exile. As a result, the Jesuits opened their houses of study for their French students in the United Kingdom. Teilhard and his fellow young Jesuit students continued their studies on the island of Jersey.[53]

King notes that Teilhard's stay on the Channel Island of Jersey from October 1901 until the summer of 1905 was "four important years that contributed much to the future direction of his life." On the island the Jesuit house of studies became "an important center for teaching and research in geology, and later also in archeology; it even had its own observatory." Here, for Teilhard and his fellow Jesuits scholars, "the study of scholastic philosophy and theology went hand in hand with instruction in the sciences, especially in geology and zoology."[54]

While in Jersey Teilhard's great mind was subjected to a great syntheses between scholastic theology, natural science, and "the natural beauty of the Channel Islands."[55] During excursions and meditations on the island Teilhard "became so immensely strong that it awakened in him a vibrant cosmic consciousness-an experience of such intensity that he felt divine vibrations running through all things."[56] Teilhard's communion and rapture with the natural wonders of the Channel Islands was as life altering as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's (1749-1732) trip to Italy,[57] which forever changed the poet's life and triggered the Romantic Movement in Europe.[58]

In addition, the link between theology and aesthetics has been highlighted by thinkers such as Rudolf Otto.[59] At a certain point-as when we talk about God and His creation-with art and beauty words breakdown and we are left speechless in awe of "the Wholly Other."[60]

From 1905 to 1908, Teilhard taught physics and chemistry at the Jesuit College of the Holy Family in Cairo, Egypt. His official duties at the school for young Muslim boys were to be a "teacher of physics and chemistry, curator of the school museum, and sacristan for the school chapel."[61]

During his stay in Egypt, armed with his rock hammer and driven by his thirst for greater knowledge and understanding of the natural world, Teilhard made frequent fossil hunting excursions into the desert.[62] In letters home he expressed great enthusiasm for the tremendous variety of Egyptian "flora, fauna, and fossils."[63] More "like a poet than a scientist," Teilhard wrote of the "the lonesome waste of the vast [Egyptian] desert whose purple plains rose and fell one after another to a vanishing point on the widely exotic horizon."[64]

In the life of Teilhard we repeatedly hear the phrase "more like a poet than a scientist" invoked to describe Teilhard's insights. Again, Teilhard is Roman Catholic and holistic in his world-view. Geology, paleontology, worship of God, philosophy, and theology are all one in his thinking. He expresses his feelings in poetic terms that tend to puzzle and perplex more scientifically orientated readers. And, again, his work also tends to be misunderstood by cultural Protestants who tend to limit themselves to the science/ religion dichotomy.

Teilhard supplemented his scientific excursions into the desert with readings of the desert fathers from the early centuries of Christianity "when asceticism, monasticism and Christian mysticism first began to flourish in the desert regions of North Africa."[65] Like the Essenes, John the Baptist, and Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, the desert fathers discovered a profound and mysterious connection with the divine in the vast silence and emptiness of the desert.[66] Thus, while in Egypt, Teilhard "discovered as yet unknown aspects of Christianity." This included Eastern Orthodoxy, Coptic, and Maronite forms. Teilhard enhanced his education by experiencing different Christian liturgies and by "reading on the rich legacy of Byzantium."[67]

Also while in Egypt, Teilhard developed a true appreciation for the East and for Islamic Arab culture. Contacts with his Muslim students, and their families, helped Teilhard to develop a more universalist world-view of God and culture. For many dogmatic Western Christians a broad interfaith and ecumenical outlook is viewed as a threat to their narrow orthodoxy. Teilhard's internationalism and broad theological views, rooted in his love for humanity and God's creation, present a threat to many people that hold more traditional orthodox views.

Again, here we see that Teilhard was not limited and afflicted with the Western European Protestant tendency to separate and compartmentalize science and religion. For Teilhard, his faith in the Creator and love for the creation were hard wired into his world-view virtually from the time of his birth. And this beautiful harmony continued as he grew and blossomed into a young geologist, paleo-anthropologist, and Christian mystic. For Teilhard fossils and faith are complements not contradictions.

Reading Henri Bergson

In 1907 during his stay in England, Teilhard read Henri Bergson's l'Evolution Créatrice [Creative Evolution][68] This book changed Teilhard's world-view and represents a major turning point in his intellectual development.[69]

Henri Bergson (1859-1941) was born in Paris in 1859.[70] This was the same year that John Dewey (1859-1952) was born and that Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species.[71] Bergson has been described as an irrationalist, anti-intellectual, a metaphysician, a dualist, and "a creative evolutionist."[72] He rejected the idea that science could be the main source of knowledge and argued that intuition was more important. His concept of the intuition [emotion] over intellect [Reason/mind] goes back to the thought of J.J. Rousseau (1712-1778) and nineteenth century Romanticism.

Bergson argued that evolution can best be explained in terms of the élan vital, i.e., "the vital or life impulse."[73] For Bergson "the élan vital continually drives all organisms toward more complicated and higher modes of organization [lower to higher forms]."[74] The élan vital is the "inner element of all living things and is the creative power that moves in unbroken continuity through all things."[75] He further argues that the intellect can only grasp static concepts. And since the élan vital is dynamic, intuition and consciousness, not analytic intellect, are capable of grasping "the fundamental reality" of the élan vital.[76] In this book, Bergson argues that "evolution is truly creative, like the work of an artist."[77] Bergson concludes that the élan vital is "of God, if it is not God Himself."[78]

Bergson's brilliant book, Creative Evolution, is interesting because it was not based on scientific observation or scientific research and field investigation. Rather it is a philosophy of evolution based on his own internal reflections on this problem.

Bergson argued in favor of "orthogenetic evolution," i.e., the hypothesis that life has an innate tendency to move in a unilinear fashion toward ever greater perfection.[79]

While Darwinism tended to dominate scientific thinking in England, in France and on the Continent, "orthogenetic evolution," which had been earlier taught by Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829),[80] had a significant-but waning-following toward the end of the nineteenth century. It is a mistake to assume that because Teilhard often spoke and thought in Darwinian evolutionary categories that he was just another Darwinian. Teilhard-educated in France by the Jesuits-was influenced by Lamarck not Charles Darwin.[81] To the French scientific establishment of the day Darwin was merely a gauche Victorian English thinker. Lamarck, on the other hand, was a famous French scientist who first used the term "biology" in the modern sense. He also coined the term "invertebrate." Lamarck argued that "organisms can pass on to their offspring the properties which they acquire during their life times. There properties can be enhanced generation after generation, until new forms emerge. For example predators which make a greater effort to run down their prey will get faster and pass on that greater speed to their descendents."[82]

Thus, Lamarckism held that traits acquired -- or diminished -- during the lifetime of an organism can be passed on to the offspring. Lamarck based his theory on the concept of "use and disuse." This is the belief that individuals tend to lose characteristics they do not require-or use-and they tend to develop characteristics that are useful.

Ian Barbour argues that in his writings Teilhard agrees with Lamarck "in assigning a major role to the organism's own efforts and interior life-the rudimentary forms of sentience and purposiveness that he calls 'the within of things.' These internal forces are said to use change variations... There is a slow progress toward greater complexity and consciousness, but not a simple straight-line development."[83]

Lamarck also believed that with inheritance of acquired traits individuals tend to inherit the traits of their ancestors. Lamarckism is the idea of passing on to offspring characteristics that were acquired during an organism's lifetime.[84]

Charles Murray notes that while Lamarck's theory of evolution was "mistaken," and "ultimately proven wrong," his writings "founded modern invertebrate zoology" and "was pivotal in stimulating other's thinking about evolution."[85]

Lamarck saw spontaneous generation as being ongoing, with the simple organisms thus created being transmuted over time-by his mechanism-becoming more complex and closer to some notional idea of perfection. Lamarck believed in a teleological-goal-oriented-process where organisms became more perfect as they evolved. Indeed, the English the word evolution (from the Latin word evolutio, meaning "unroll like a scroll") began to be used in to refer to an orderly sequence of events, particularly one in which the outcome was somehow contained within it from the start.

Bergson's 1907 work breathed new life into the older Lamarckian theory. In addition, orthogenesis was particularly accepted by many paleontologists who believed that the fossil record indicated a gradual and constant unidirectional change.

Thus, it must be emphasized that it was not Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) but rather Henri Bergson's 1907 interpretation of "creative evolution" that convinced Teilhard that species are mutable through an organic and purposeful unfolding of geo-history. Hence, unlike Darwinian concepts of natural selection and "the survival of the fittest" driven by random chance [i.e., God and/or the gods are excluded], with the process of creative evolution Bergson saw intension, order, and purpose in the process of evolution. Unlike Darwin's naturalistic schema, with in Bergson's metaphysical system God [in a generic "philosophy of religion" sense[86]] plays a central role. This concept had a tremendous appeal to Teilhard.

Bergson's evolutionary philosophy and concept of the élan vital helped Teilhard to forge the synthesis of his own scientific, philosophical and theological knowledge in the light of the new scientific theories of evolution. Hence, since it resulted in his lifelong commitment to the fact of evolution, Bergson's sweeping metaphysical work had an enormous influence on Teilhard,

While Bergson's thought had a major influence on Teilhard and more progressive and liberal-minded theologians with in the Modernist and Neo-Catholic Party in his own country, the establishment Roman Catholic Church perceived Bergson as a threat. Clinging to the thirteenth century theological-philosophical system of St. Thomas Aquinas the Church placed Bergson's books on the Index of Prohibited Books (Decree of June 1, 1914).

In the years after his death in 1941 Bergson's works became less well known. However, as Copleston notes, "in recent years the stir caused by the writings of Teilhard de Chardin has triggered a revival of interest in Bergson, in view of the affinities between the two thinkers."[87]

Hence, in the tradition of Lamarck and Bergson, Teilhard can be thought of as a vitalist who saw the spiritualizing and personalizing universe as a product of an inner driving force manifesting itself from material atoms through the host of life forms on Earth. Instead of chaos driven by random chance Teilhard viewed the cosmos as being unified by purpose and meaning unfolding in the sweeping drama of creative evolution. For Teilhard this was particularly true with the emergence of the human race.

Ordination into the Priesthood

In 1908 Teilhard returned to Europe for the Jesuit's customary four year study of theology. Again, because of the Waldeck-Rousseau laws,[88] Teilhard was sent to the Jesuit house at Ore Place, Hastings, in the South of England.[89] Teilhard, studying for his degree in theology, stayed in Hastings from 1908 to 1912.[90] At the time Jesuit education was grounded in Scholasticism, especially in the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).[91] Thomism provided much of the foundation and background for Teilhard's later thought. In 1955 he stated that he stood "on the shoulders' of Plato, Aristotle, and St. Thomas."[92] Also, at Hastings, Teilhard used his knowledge of Koine Greek to do a close study of Christ in the Gospel of St. John and the cosmic creation hymns of St. Paul. "In these texts he found his own experience of the oneness, the ultimate unity of the whole creation confirmed."[93] At Hastings, on August 24, 1911, at the age of thirty, Teilhard de Chardin was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest.[94]

The Piltdown Man Controversy

By chance, while on one of his many field trips in England, Teilhard became enmeshed in the controversy involving the Piltdown Man (Eoanthropus dawsoni). In November 1912, Charles Dawson, a solicitor and amateur archaeologist, claimed to have discovered an ancient hominid skull in Piltdown Quarry, near Uckfield in Sussex in England.[95] Teilhard was drawn to the sight by scientific curiosity. During one visit to the site in the summer of 1913 Teilhard "discovered" a canine tooth that appeared to fit Dawson's reconstruction of the Piltdown Man. At the time Teilhard felt "puzzled" and uneasy about the find.[96]

For forty years Piltdown Man was heralded as "the missing link" between humans and their primate ancestors. Piltdown Man was used "to prove" that humankind began to evolve not in Africa or Asia, but in Europe [the Euro-centric view]. In addition to misleading anthropologists and scientists for nearly two generations, the discovery had important racist and imperialist implications. But in 1953 scientists concluded it was a forgery. Piltdown Man was a fraud which was evidently perpetrated on paleontologists and the scientific world by Dawson and others. Like many past hoaxes, it was widely believed and accepted because many Europeans wanted to believe that it was true. It conveniently provided verification for Darwinian evolution and provided the long sought after "missing link."

On November 21, 1953 Kenneth Oakley and a scientific team using radiocarbon dating proved that the Piltdown remains were a composite of a 600 year old human skull with a jawbone from a modern orangutan stained to make it look old.[97] Thus, Dawson's Piltdown Man was exposed to be an elaborate fraud.

The Piltdown Man episode is important in the life of Teilhard for three reasons. First, although questioning the validity of this fossil evidence from the very beginning, one positive result was that the young geologist and seminarian now became particularly interested in paleoanthropology, i.e., the science of fossil hominids. Thus, Piltdown Man, despite being dubious, provided Teilhard with a lifelong interest in human origins.

And second, Teilhard's many conservative critics and opponents lift up the Piltdown hoax as an example of his dubious scientific work and worse of his character.[98] For example, Intelligent Design thinker Phillip E. Johnson charges that Teilhard "played and important role"[99] and was "closely involved" in the Piltdown hoax.[100] Both of these assertions are incorrect. In 1953, when the fraud was finally exposed by solid scientific investigation Teilhard wrote a letter to Kenneth Oakley thanking him for solving the "Piltdown problem." Teilhard, as a young and enthusiastic student was not the perpetrator of the hoax. Instead, he was a victim caught up and used by older more established "scholars." Teilhard's role in the most infamous scientific fraud of the twentieth century was minor.

And third, Piltdown Man became an evolutionary anomaly after the discovery of "Peking Man" in China in the 1930s.[101] With the discovery of Peking Man the skull of the Piltdown Man no longer fit with in the evolutionary schema established by scientific consensus. It is interesting to note the Teilhard played an important role in this discovery.[102] Thus, in his own way, Teilhard helped bring Piltdown Man into question by presenting compelling new evidence of the existence of "Peking Man." By transcending the earlier Piltdown "discovery" Peking Man helped raise enough questions that ultimately exposed the hoax.

Field Work in Spain

From 1912 to 1914 Teilhard worked in Paris at the laboratory of paleontology in the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. Here Teilhard benefited from being permitted to conduct a close study of early mammals. At this time, Marcellin Boule, professor of paleontology at the Museum and an expert in Neanderthal studies, gradually directed Teilhard toward human paleontology.[103] Boule is best remembered for his argument that Neanderthals were not humans, but that they were ape-men or "cavemen." Subsequently, the "cartoon" image of brutish hunched over primitive cavemen has been "immortalized"[104] in the minds of most lay people. The consensus view among present paleoanthropologists is that Boule's conjecture was incorrect. Further study of Neanderthal remains-including many new finds not available to Boule-has led to the conclusion that Neanderthals were fully human and that they made tools and "walked upright just as modern humans do."[105]

At the Institute of Human Paleontology, Teilhard became a lifelong friend of Abbe Henri Breuil.[106] Teilhard joined Breuil in 1913 in an excavation and study of prehistoric painted caves at the Cave of Castillo in the northwest of Spain.[107] In addition to providing Teilhard with valuable field experience, it provided him with another opportunity to reflect on the place and meaning of humankind with in the cosmos. In a June 16, 1913 letter to his parents Teilhard wrote:

I can assure you that seeing these traces of mankind earlier than any known civilization really gave us something to think about: it's wonderful to stand in front of the excavation site, alone, in an absolute silence that is broken only by the sound of water dripping from the stalactites.[108]

At the time that Teilhard wrote these words he had no idea that European civilization stood on the edge of an abyss, or that Teilhard himself would be pulled into the vortex of death, destruction, and meaningless slaughter. One year later the roar of the "Guns of August"[109] would shatter the "absolute silence" of the ancient Spanish caves that Teilhard savored, contemplated, and cherished. By November 11, 1918 more than ten million people had been slaughtered on the battlefields in addition to an estimated thirty-fifty million deaths caused by the "Spanish Flu" epidemic of 1918-1919.

For Teilhard, interest in the development of ancient man and service to our transcendent God was shoved aside as he was swallowed up in the desperate struggle between men and nations. Mobilized in December 1914, Teilhard served in the First World War as a stretcher-bearer in the 8th regiment of Moroccan Riflemen. This regiment was composed of Islamic troops recruited from the North African French colonial empire. Because of his experience in Egypt Teilhard felt at home with these troops. His regiment took part in the battles of Ypres, Arras, Dunkirk, Verdun, Doaumont, and the Marne.[110] For his valor, he received several citations including the Médaille Militaire and the Legion of Honor.[111]

Teilhard was not an armchair theologian who sat out the war in the comfort of his study far from the death and destruction of the battlefield. By his own choice, Teilhard refused to become a chaplain with the rank of captain.[112] Instead of this relatively safe assignment Teilhard chose to serve as a common stretcher bearer. The Rev. Phillip J. Cunningham writes,

As a stretcher bearer during the ghastliest battles of that conflict, Teilhard's personal faith was severely challenged. I believe it was his effort to understand this human tragedy -- thousands of men killed and maimed in minutes to no purpose -- that led Teilhard to begin developing a vision that combined both his religion and his science.[113]

Remarkably, despite serving in the trenches and experiencing the absolute worst aspects of the war, Teilhard emerged from his horrific experiences with an increased level of optimism. He came to believe that Evolution, directed by God, was preparing the Earth for a new direction and a new purpose.[114]

For Teilhard the final goal of history would be the spiritualization of the human layer of this planet. King notes that rather than making him bitter and disillusioned, "the turmoil of war clarified his inner vision."[115] During the World War, while at the front, Teilhard had several mystical experiences which he recorded in his letters for posterity. It was his emerging mystical vision that would allow him to reconcile science and theology within an evolutionary interpretation of spiritual reality.[116]

Teilhard Contrasted with Karl Barth

Teilhard's optimism stands in sharp contrast to the writings of Karl Barth (1886-1968) and the Neo-orthodox [Protestant] movement.[117] As a parish pastor in Safenwil, Switzerland, Karl Barth found that the nineteenth century Classical Liberal theology of Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889), Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930), and Johann Wilhelm Herrmann (1846-1922) was irrelevant and sterile in his weekly task of preaching the Gospel to the people in his congregation.

As a result, Barth undertook a careful and painstaking study of the Scriptures. Through this study he discovered, "the strange new world with and the Bible."[118] In the Bible Barth found not human religion -- and not even the highest and best thoughts of pious people -- but instead God's Word. Reflecting on his discovery Barth wrote "it is not the human thoughts about God which form the content of the Bible, but the right divine thoughts about men."[119] With the return to the Scriptures Barth found a relevant message for his parishioners in the transcendent Word in the Bible and not in the philosophical theology of the Classical Liberal School of Neo-Protestantism in which he had been trained.

The second factor that turned Barth away from the dominant Classical Liberal Theology of his day was the outbreak of the First World War. The Great War shattered the very foundations of Western European civilization.[120] Barth had been shaken when he read a published statement by 93 leading German intellectuals supporting Kaiser Wilhelm's war policies. Among these 93 intellectuals were nearly all of his former theological teachers that he had previously held in high regard.[121] At the top of the list was the great German historian of dogma Adolf von Harnack. Harnack was deeply enmeshed in the Wilhelmine social and political matrix. Harnack was so deeply enmeshed in the Kulturprotestatismus matrix in Germany that he actually wrote the Kaiser's speech when Germany declared war.[122]

Barth came to believe that because his former teachers were willing accomplices in the events leading up to the disastrous World War something had to be terribly wrong with their theology. Barth was perplexed at how their teachings were so quickly compromised in the face of the ideology of total war. Thus, disillusioned by his teachers conduct, Barth concluded that he could no longer accept their ethics, their dogmatics, their biblical exegesis, and their interpretation of history.

The Classical Liberal view of history was based on a positive view of human nature and human potential and that there was linear progress through human history. For Barth, in view of the killing fields of France, the entire naively optimistic Liberal theology of the nineteenth century had no future. This trauma drove Barth to turn his intellectual and literary powers into a full-blown attack on nineteenth century Classical Liberal German Theology. Barth's goal was the total demolition of the theological house that Ritschl and his disciples had built during the nineteenth century. For Barth, their view was "not only defective and wrong, but it was sinful."[123]

During the war, Barth began to work on his radical new commentary on Paul's epistle to the Romans, i.e., Der Romerbrief. This landmark commentary, published in 1919, created an uproar because of its brutal attack on Classical Liberal Protestant Theology. Barth's commentary shook the Establishment theologians and struck a chord with the younger generation of scholars who had survived the war. In his commentary Barth affirmed the validity of the historical-critical method, and at the same time, he embraced the conservative doctrine of verbal inspiration. He stated that if he was forced to choose between them he would choose the latter.

Barth criticized Classical Liberal Theology for turning the Gospel into a religious message that taught sinful humans of their own a divinity instead of recognizing it as the Word of God, a message that humans are incapable of anticipating or comprehending because it comes from a God distant and distinct from them. Barth called for a revolution in theological method, i.e., a theology "from above." And this theology was to replace the old Classical Liberal human centered theology "from below."[124] In his famous commentary Barth emphasized the Holy otherness of God and the Gospel. Barth argued that these great truths cannot be built up from universal human experience or reason, as the Liberals argued, but one must be received in obedience from God's revelation.

Teilhard and Barth make interesting contrasts. While Teilhard, because of his traditional Scholastic and Jesuit world-view, saw harmony and possibility in Natural Theology, Barth, because his target and enemy was German Classical Liberal Theology that argued for the reasonableness of Christianity "from below," was bitterly hostile toward Natural Theology. Barth a Reformed theologian and a Democratic Socialist, and Teilhard a Jesuit paleontologist-while they were both Europeans who lived through the horrors of the Great War-arrived at radically different conclusions because of the world-view, theological training, and their particular denominations.

While the First World War worked to make Teilhard more optimistic about God working in and with humankind, for Barth World War One exposed the intellectual bankruptcy and the sinfulness of human beings. Barth's theology is pessimistic about mankind and the potential of Natural Theology, but optimistic about God as revealed in the Scriptures.

Throughout the war Teilhard developed his reflections in his diaries and in letters to his cousin, Marguerite Teillard-Chambon, who later edited them into a book: Genèse d'une pensée, i.e., Genesis of a Thought. He confessed later: "The war was a meeting... with the Absolute."[125] Thus, like Barth, the horrors and sufferings of the Great War drove Teilhard into a deeper reflection of theology. However, unlike Barth, Teilhard emerged from this experience as an optimist.

After the war Teilhard attended the Sorbonne and took three additional unit degrees of natural science, i.e., geology, botany, and zoology. His thesis was a study of the mammals of the French Lower Eocene.[126] After 1920 he lectured in geology at the Catholic Institute of Paris, and he became an assistant professor after being granted a science doctorate in 1922[127]

Teilhard in China

In 1923 Teilhard traveled to China with Father Emile Licent, who was in charge of a laboratory in Tien Tsin which collaborated with the Natural History Museum in Paris and with the Marcellin Boule Laboratory. Licent carried out important work in China accumulating and processing specimens and scientific data that had been collected by Western missionaries in their spare time.[128]

During this time Teilhard wrote several essays, including his famous La Messe sur le Monde, i.e., "The Mass on the World," in the Ordos Desert. In October 1924, he returned to Paris and continued to lecture at the Catholic Institute and participated in a cycle of conferences for the students of the Engineer's School.[129] At this time Teilhard wrote a now famous theological essay on "original sin."[130] This essay, "Notes on Some Possible Historical Representation of Original Sin," questioned traditional Roman Catholic teachings on the subject and proposed some possible alternatives.[131] Somehow, Teilhard's essay found its way to his superiors in Rome. Once in Rome, Teilhard's essay was misunderstood. Teilhard's visionary work was considered of dubious orthodoxy and viewed as a threat to the Roman Catholic Church.

In response to the Teilhard threat, King states that "the Roman censors were severe, and so were the authorities of his own order."[132] In 1926, after a hearing, his license to teach at the prestigious Catholic Institute was permanently revoked, and he never taught there again.[133] In addition, while he was permitted to write on scientific subjects, the Church hierarchy ordered Teilhard not to publish anything that contradicted or questioned traditional doctrines of the Church. Throughout his career Teilhard was unable to gain permission from his religious superiors to publish his theological writings.

For most Americans -- and for American Protestants -- the suppression of Teilhard's theological writings raises issues of censorship, freedom of speech, freedom of self-expression, and freedom of the press. It conjures up dark images of the Inquisition and of the notorious Index of Forbidden Books. However, we must never forget that Teilhard was a loyal member of the Jesuit Order and a faithful Roman Catholic. Recall again Teilhard's statement that "to be Catholic is the only way of being fully and utterly Christian."[134] Thus, agreeing to submit to his superiors, Teilhard wrote "I weighted the enormous scandal and damage that an act of indiscipline on my part would have caused."[135] King reports:

In spite of his disappointment he was without rancor, for he felt supported and encouraged by the sympathetic attitude of his immediate superiors and friends. They all agreed with him on what he knew deep in his own heart: that he could live and grow in that particular spiritual life that he had chosen as his special vocation.[136]

Teilhard was deeply disappointed, but instead of leaving the priesthood, the Jesuit Order, or resigning from the Roman Catholic Church, "he submitted to his superiors."[137] Later he called this crisis, "the moment of the great choice of my life."[138] As a result, in 1926 he departed for China to continue his geological research where he spent the remainder of his career-in a form of scientific exile from Europe.

From 1926 to 1935 Teilhard made five major geological research expeditions deep into the sparsely populated interior of China. Among other things, these expeditions enabled him to create the first accurate general geological map of China.[139]

In 1926-1927 he traveled in the Sang-Kan-Ho valley near Zhangjiakou and made a tour in Eastern Mongolia. In this desolate wilderness Teilhard wrote Le Milieu Divin (translated as The Divine Milieu). He also prepared the first pages of his best known work Le Phénomène humain (translated as The Phenomenon of Man). Again, because of the ecclesiastical ban, his two most famous books were published by his friends after his death in 1955.

As an advisor to the Chinese National Geological Survey,[140] Teilhard supervised the geology and the paleontology of the excavations of Choukoutien near Peking.[141] Thus, in December 1929 he took part in the discovery of Sinanthropus pekinensis, or "Peking Man."[142] Henri Breuil and Teilhard discovered that the Peking Man, the nearest relative of Pithecanthropus from Java, was a worker of stones and controller of fire.

World Travels

In addition to expeditions in China, during his career Teilhard participated in scientific investigations in Somalia, South Africa, Rhodesia, India, Burma, and Java. Unlike Bergson, Teilhard was no armchair philosopher; he was a man of action who loved the excitement and challenge of field work. Teilhard's field experience makes his religious and mystical writings unique. He was a practical man of science that spoke of godly things with dirt under his fingernails and with ancient fossils in his hands.

In 1937 Teilhard traveled to the United States. In recognition of his work on human paleontology he was awarded the Mendel Medal by Villanova University.[143] During this visit to the United States Teilhard also gave a speech about evolution and on the origins and destiny of humanity. On March 19, 1937, reporting on this speech, The New York Times ran an article stating that Teilhard de Chardin was "a Jesuit who held that man descended from monkeys."[144] A few days later, he was to be granted a Doctorate honoris causa from the Jesuit Boston University. When he arrived in Boston to receive his degree he was told that the distinction had been cancelled. Despite admiration from his scientific peers, Teilhard was still viewed as a threat to the orthodox Establishment.

The Japanese invasion of China, and the outbreak of the Second World War, disrupted Teilhard's scientific work.[145] In addition, in late 1941, in one of history's worst outrages against science, the fossils of Peking Man that had been carefully placed into strong boxes, and moved to the Peking Medical College for safekeeping, were confiscated by Japanese military officials. There after, these "important fossil specimens disappeared without a trace."[146] Thus, Peking Man, Teilhard's most famous discovery, became another casualty of the Second World War.

With the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949, Teilhard was excluded from China. In addition, he was not welcome in France due to continued opposition from conservatives with in the Roam Catholic Church. Hence, Teilhard ended his career with "an American exile."[147] After spending more than half of his life in exile from Catholic European institutions because of his unorthodox ideas,[148] he died in the faith in New York City on Easter Sunday, April 10, 1955.

Understanding Teilhard's Weltanschauung

At the risk of over simplification, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is known for two major interrelated concepts. These are the "Noosphere" and the "Omega Point."

The word "Noosphere" is a neologism coined by Teilhard employing the Greek word [noos] for "mind." For Teilhard, the Noosphere -- like the Atmosphere and Biosphere -- is the "sphere of human thought" being derived from the Greek meaning "mind." Just as the Biosphere is composed of the interaction of all living organisms on Earth, the Noosphere is composed of all the interacting minds on Earth. Teilhard sometimes uses the word to refer to a transhuman consciousness emerging from these interactions. Teilhard taught that the Noosphere was evolving toward an ever greater integration. In the near future this integration would lead to unending progress and human development. Recent thinkers have argued that the Internet is a concrete manifestation of Teilhard's Noosphere.

The Noosphere concept is related to "the Omega Point." Teilhard's optimism -- even after the trauma of the First World War -- and hope for the future of the Noosphere and the potential of the human race is found in the "Omega Point." For Teilhard, the Omega Point is the ultimate goal of history. He explains, "We are faced with a harmonized collectivity of consciousnesses to a sort of super-conciousness. The Earth not only becoming covered by myriads of grains of thought, but becoming enclosed in a single thinking envelope, a single unanimous reflection."[149]

Yet such unanimity of consciousness implies a condition that humans generally resist and reject, i.e., depersonalization. With Teilhard, the conclusion seems inevitable that "at the world's Omega, as at its Alpha, lies the Impersonal."[150] At this point, "Omega," the last letter in the Greek alphabet, simply refers to the final stage of evolution. At the end the Noosphere becomes an "all" that absorbs all.

Employing these concepts, in The Phenomenon of Man, Teilhard states that, "in truth, a neo-humanity has been germinating around the Mediterran­ean for the last six thousand years."[151] He thought that a "new layer of the Noosphere" was being formed. He adds, "the proof of this lies in the fact that from one end of the world to the other, all peoples, to remain human or to become more so, are inexorably led to formulate the hopes and problems of the modern Earth in the very same terms in which the West has formulated them."[152]

Teilhard was convinced that the shape of the Noosphere's future would be determined by those developments he saw taking place in Europe and in the U.S. Two important things are at play here.

First, Teilhard's argument is supported by books such as How the West Grew Rich: The Economic Transformation of the Industrial World (1986) by Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzaell; The Rise of the West: A History of the Human Community (1963) by William McNeil; and Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 (2003) by Charles Murray. These books tend to support Teilhard's claim that something has happened to human culture and development during the past 6,000 years. He views this leap ahead as a God directed evolutionary progression. Thus, this helps to explain Teilhard's persistent optimistic world-view.

Second, Teilhard de Chardin's argument challenges the near sacred politically correct assumption that all world cultures are equally valid and virtuous. It was his view that "we are, at this very moment, passing through a change of age. Beneath a change of age lies a change of thought."[153] That hidden change would at first influence only a few groups of people in the West, in time it would expand to the entire world. While he appreciates and understands oriental and "developing world" cultures, Teilhard sees Western educational, economic, and technical progress as a glorious human achievement that is destine to spread and enlighten the entire world. He wrote, "I know of no more moving story nor any more revealing of the biological reality of a Noogenesis than that of intelligence struggling step by step from the beginning to overcome the illusion of proximity."[154]

Teilhard also wrote, "Is evolution a theory, a system, or a hypothesis? It is much more: it is a general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, as systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforth if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light illuminating all facts, a curve that all lines must follow."[155]

Teilhard develops this theme with particular reference to the "Omega point." In his earlier writings, he tends to think of the Omega primarily as the point towards which the evolutionary process is heading. The process clearly represents an upward ascent [lower level to higher level]; Omega defines, so to speak, its final destination. Teilhard regards evolution as a teleological and directional process. As his thinking developed, however, he began to integrate his deep Christian understanding of God into his thinking about the Omega point, with the result that both the directionality of evolution and its final goal are explained in terms of a final union with God.[156]

For Teilhard, the Omega point is to be seen as a God fired force which attracts the evolutionary process towards it. It is "the Prime Mover ahead," the principle which "moves and collects" the process. Unlike gravity, which attracts downwards, the Omega point is "an inverse process of gravitation" which attracts the evolutionary process upwards, so that it may finally ascend into union with God. The entire direction of the evolutionary process is thus not defined by its point of departure, by where it started from, but by its goal, by its final objective, which is the Omega point.

His Theological Books Finally Published

Following Teilhard's death in 1955 the way was opened for the publication of his theological writings by his friends. Within months of his death, Le phenomene humaine, which had been written between 1938 and 1940, was published in French, and in 1959 the English translation appeared as The Phenomenon of Man.

In 1957 Le milieu divin,[157] originally written between November 1926 and December 1927, was published in French. King states, "This work was a most creative way of working through his own inner crisis [the interrelationship -- or conflict -- between orthodoxy Roman Catholic doctrine and geology and paleontology] since this book bears such vivid testimony to his active spirituality of transformation and adoration."[158]

The title Le milieu divin is notoriously difficult to translate into English. The French word "milieu" is a rich and loaded term. McGrath explains that "The English word 'medium' conveys at least some of [the nuances], but not all... of the rich connotations" of this complex French term.[159] Another way to understand the term milieu is the idea of "both a center and an environment of transformation."[160]

King explains that, "in a biological and social context, a milieu can refer to an environment of growth, of influence, a web of relationships, something that can be at once organic, personal, and collective."[161]

The divine milieu takes this biological and social idea to a higher spiritual level. When Teilhard refers to the divine milieu he means "the universal influence of Christ throughout God's incarnation in the world, in its matter, life, and energy."[162] Thus, for Teilhard, the term milieu is fired with a sweeping cosmic understanding of the incarnation of Jesus Christ that "transcends the historical limitations of time and space"[163] typically asso­ciated with the person of Jesus in the Western Christian tradition. Thus, Teilhard's writings are deeply Christocentric.

Together, Teilhard's The Phenomenon of Man and The Divine Milieu attempted to establish a fusion of evolutionary biology, philosophical theology, and mystical spirituality. In the years since their publication his writings have "captured the imagination of many working in the field of science and religion."[164]

In these works, and in his other writings, Teilhard envisions the cosmos as being one "evolutionary process which was constantly moving towards a state of greater complexity and higher levels of consciousness."[165] That is, like Lamarck and Bergson, Teilhard tends "to regard evolution as a teleological and directional process"[166] driving all things in the cosmos from a lower to a higher stage. To Teilhard, evolution unfolded from cell to organism to planet to solar system and into the entire universe. And again, Teilhard was a proponent of "orthogenesis," i.e., the idea that evolution occurs in a directional, goal driven way.

Within this God driven process of evolution a number of "critical points" of transition can be discerned. For Teilhard, two "critical threshold points" in this process are the origination of life on Earth and the emergence of human consciousness. These "critical points" can be understood as being like rungs on a ladder. Each successive rung leads to a new higher stage in a continuous process of growth and development.

In this system, the world is viewed as a single continuous organic process. There is a "universal interweaving" of various levels of organization. Each level has its roots in earlier levels, and its emergence is to be seen as the actualization of what was potentially present in earlier levels. Behind it all is the loving Creator.


What can be learned from the life and the thought of Teilhard de Chardin? First, for a host of reasons, the American academic community tends to suffer from the affliction of hyper-specialization. As a result, theologians study theology, biologists study biology, and geologists study geology. The social science building is on one end of the campus, and natural science department is on the other, and never do the twain meet! Teilhard's broad trans-disciplinary approach offers a refreshing alternative to this narrow American academic affliction.

As we have seen Teilhard's early life and academic training inspired a fusion and harmony among and across disciplines. Thus, with Teilhard rather than a contradiction and a "war between science and religion" we see a compliment and a harmony between these two disciplines. Indeed, this transdisciplinary approach is both enlightening and refreshing. As a result, with Teilhard's life and thought, we see not a narrow and restrictive "either/or," but an open and broad "both/and." With Teilhard's work we see a clear example of what Ian Barbour calls the "integrationist" approach to the problem of the relationship between science and religion.[167]

However, the problem with this Integrationist approach is that any thinker attempting to construct a grand synthesis between two opposing camps [e.g., science and religion] sets himself up to be ridiculed and rejected by ideological extremists on both sides.

For example, Sanrmire states that while "Teilhard's universalizing vision scandalized the Church of his time, it all the more scandalized many natural scientists of his day."[168] This helps explain the harsh reaction of many of Teilhard's critics.

From the Roman Catholic Church side, because his ideas were considered unorthodox, he was forbidden to publish during his lifetime. Teilhard, who died in 1955, had the misfortune of living, working, and writing in the decades prior to the Second Vatican Council (1963-1965).[169] Perhaps if he had lived after Vatican Two his ideas might have found a more favorable reception.

On the scientific side, going against the hard-boiled and entrenched Darwinian consensus, Teilhard boldly postulated that life on Earth was moving toward the Omega point via the Noosphere. As Daniel C. Dennett argues in Darwin's Dangerous Idea (New York: Touchstone, 1995) most scientists believe that evolution is not being directed to any type of goal or purpose.[170] With the naturalistic Darwinian model there is no need for God or spiritual direction.

In contrast to this Teilhard maintains that evolution has a purpose and direction. Needless to say Teilhard's "metaphysical speculations" tend to be rejected by most scientists. Phillip E. Johnson writes that "more rigorously materialistic Darwinists dismiss Teilhard's philosophy as pretentious claptrap."[171] Ian G. Barbour adds that "some scientists dismiss Teilhard as a mere poet and a mystic."[172] Thus, in the scientific community Teilhard's theories tend to be generally regarded as not scientifically rigorous. In defense of Teilhard Barbour states that this criticism "neglects the seriousness with which he took the scientific data."[173]

In the end Teilhard should be remembered as a faithful Roman Catholic, a bold and creative thinker, and a heroic scholar whose work was tragically and foolishly suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church Establishment. Among other things, this suppression caused Teilhard's work to suffer from a lack of feedback from his critics and peers. If Teilhard had been permitted to publish and publicly debate his "dangerous ideas" perhaps he would have been forced to make his arguments more precise and less "cosmic" and ethereal. We are left to wonder what might have been had he been allowed to publish during his own lifetime.

Selected Works by Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Divine Milieu. New York: HarperCollins, 1960, 2001.

The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959.

Christianity and Evolution: Reflections on Science and Religion. New York: Harcourt Harvest Book, 1969.

The Heart of the Matter, his spiritual autobiography.

The Future of Man. New York: Harper and Row, 1964.

Letters from Egypt. New York: Herder and Herder, 1965.

Writings in the Time of War. New York: Harper and Row, 1965.

The Vision of the Past. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.

Man's Place in Nature. New York: Harper and Row, 1973.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Selected Writings. Ursula King, ed. Maryknoll, NY, 2004.


[1] Philip Hefner, The Promise of Teilhard: The Meaning of the Twentieth Century Christian Perspective (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1970), p. 13.

[2] Richard P. McBrien, ed., The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1995), p. 694.

[3] Hefner, p. 13.

[4] Ibid.

[5] The movie was based on the William Peter Blatty's best-selling theological-horror novel, The Exorcist (1971).

[6] Hefner, p. 13.

[7] Ursula King, Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998), p. 2.

[8] Ibid., p. 4.

[9] Ibid., p. 13.

[10] Jeanne Mortier and Marie-Louise Aboux, eds., Teilhard de Chardin Album (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 18.

[11] Quoted on the title page of Albert Jay Nock, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1943).

[12] Mortier and Aboux, p. 42.

[13] King, p. 2

[14] Mortier and Aboux, p. 8.

[15] King, p. 4.

[16] Ibid., p. 10.

[17] Mortier and Aboux, p. 16.

[18] King, p. 10.

[19] Mortier and Aboux, p. 20.

[20] King, p. 11.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., p. 12.

[23] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution: Reflections on Science and Religion (New York: Harcourt Harvest Book, 1969), p. 169

[24] Richard John Neuhaus, "Christ and Creation's Longing," First Things (December 1997): 20-25. <> Accessed July 4, 2005. He continues: "In pantheism, God engulfs all, which theoretically results in negating what is not God. The practical result, somewhat paradoxically, is the negation of God as an unnecessary hypothesis. When all is God, there is no need for God."

[25] Photo Source: American Museum of Natural History, Division of Paleontology

[26] Ignatius of Loyola, translated by Anthony Mottola, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (New York: Image Books, Doubleday, 1989). The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540 by the remarkable Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), a Basque nobleman and former soldier. Ignatius of Loyola was more than a soldier turned priest, he was a profound mystic who "found God in all things [The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, "Jesuit Spirituality," p. 694]."

[27] The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, p. 877.

[28] Alister McGrath, Science and Religion: An Introduction (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1999), p. 37.

[29] King, p. 12.

[30] "The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be." Quoted by Ian G. Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1997), p. 79.

[31] Helen Ellerbe, The Dark Side of Christian History (San Rafael, CA: Morningstar Books, 1995), pp. 139-164.

[32] Hefner, p. 21.

[33] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), p.119.

[34] See Max Weber, translation by Stephen Kalberg, The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism (Los Angeles: Roxbury Publishing Company, 1904-1905, 2002) for a broad and inclusive "ideal type" of Protestantism, p. lxxix.

[35] Cf. Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology (New York: Appleton, 1896).

[36] Thomas C. Reeves, The Empty Church: The Suicide of Liberal Christianity (New York: The Free Press, 1996), pp. 112-113.

[37] Barbour, pp. 24-29.

[38] McGrath explains that Andrew Dickson White's famous two volume diatribe defending progressive science against conservative and superstitious religion grew out of White's efforts to establish and provide funding for the fledgling Cornell University. As Cornell's first president White felt threatened by competing and well established denominational schools. White was not an atheist, or opposed to religion, and he later lamented that his warfare metaphor captivated "the popular mind." McGrath, pp.45-46.

[39] Terry Teachout, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), pp. 213-220.

[40] Reeves, p. 112.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid., p. 114.

[43] Michael Kazin, A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006).

[44] Robert T. Handy, Christian America: Protestant Hopes and Historical Realities (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

[45] For the essentials of this argument in a popular form see Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2006).

[46] Time, "Evolution Wars" Claudia Wallis, August 15, 2005.

[47] King, p. 14.

[48] Ibid.

[49] King, p. 15 and McGrath, p. 221.

[50] King, p. 15.

[51] Mortier and Aboux, p. 26.

[52] King, p. 16.

[53] Ibid., p. 17.

[54] Ibid., p. 18.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid., p. 19.

[57] Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, J.W. von Goethe: Selected Works (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), p.383-720. In The Italian Journey is interesting how Goethe periodically comments on the geological peculiarities of various regions as he travels. Goethe, a Renaissance man, was a keen observer of nature.

[58] Emil Ludwig, Goethe: The History of a Man (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1928), p.223.

[59] Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1923).

[60] Ibid., p. 25.

[61] King, p. 24.

[62] Mortier and Aboux, pp. 36-37.

[63] King, p. 25.

[64] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Letters from Egypt (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965), pp. 33-35.

[65] King, p. 27.

[66] The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, "Desert Fathers and Mothers," p. 411.

[67] King, p. 27.

[68] Henri Bergson, translation by Arthur Mitchell, Creative Evolution (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1911, 1998).

[69] King, p. 27.

[70] Fredrick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy (New York: Image Books, 1946-1974), vol IX, pp. 178-215.

[71] Samuel Enoch Stumpf, Socrates to Sartre: A History of Philosophy (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988), p. 396.

[72] Bertrand Russell, History of Philosophy and Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances for the Earliest Times to the Present Day (London: The Folio Society, 1946, 2004), pp. 753-754.

[73] Bergson, p. 27.

[74] Stumpf, p. 402.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid.

[77] Russell, p. 754.

[78] Ibid., p. 203.

[79] King, p. 37.

[80] Barbour, p. 50.

[81] H. Paul Santmire, Nature Reborn: The Ecological and Cosmic Promise of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), p. 48.

[82] Murphy, p. 74.

[83] Barbour, p. 248.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Charles Murray, Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), p. 123.

[86] Bergson was a nominal Jew who nearly converted to Roman Catholicism late in life. The God of his metaphysical system is not dependent on orthodox Christian theology.

[87] Copleston, vol. IX, p. 180.

[88] Mortier and Aboux, p. 26.

[89] King, p. 30.

[90] Ibid., p. 31.

[91] Ibid., p, 32.

[92] Ibid.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Mortier and Aboux, pp. 42-44, and King, p. 35.

[95] King, p. 45.

[96] Ibid., p. 46.

[97] John Evangelist Walsh, Unraveling Piltdown: The Science Fraud of the Century and Its Solution (New York: Random House, 1996), pp. 128-148.

[98] Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution is Wrong (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2000), pp. 217-218.

[99] Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 131.

[100] Ibid., p. 203.

[101] Ibid.

[102] King, pp. 126-133.

[103] Ibid., p. 42.

[104] Wells, p. 216.

[105] Ibid.

[106] Mortier and Aboux, p. 48.

[107] King, p. 44.

[108] Mortier and Aboux, p. 49.

[109] Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (New York: Macmillan, 1962).

[110] King, p. 50.

[111] Ibid., p. 52.

[112] Mortier and Aboux, p. 54.

[113] Rev. Phillip J. Cunningham, C.S.P., CMC Magazine, mag/1997/mar/cunning.html. Accessed July 5, 2005.

[114] King, pp. 65-71.

[115] Ibid., p. 54.

[116] Ibid., p. 53.

[117] Stanley J. Grenz and Roger E. Olson, 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), p. 63.

[118] Ibid., p. 66.

[119] Ibid.

[120] Peter Toon, The End of Liberal Theology: Contemporary Challenges to Evangelical Orthodoxy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1995), p. 63.

[121] Grenz and Olson, p. 66.

[122] Toon, pp. 54-55.

[123] Ibid., p. 63.

[124] Grenz and Olson, p. 67.

[125] King, p. 77.

[126] Ibid., p. 83.

[127] Ibid., p. 84.

[128] Ibid.

[129] Ibid., p. 104.

[130] Reprinted in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution: Reflections on Science and Religion, pp. 187-198.

[131] King, p. 106.

[132] Ibid.

[133] Ibid., p. 107.

[134] Christianity and Evolution: Reflections on Science and Religion, p. 169

[135] King, p. 108.

[136] Ibid.

[137] Ibid.

[138] Ibid.

[139] Ibid., p. 118.

[140] Ibid., p. 126.

[141] Mortier and Aboux, pp. 88-91.

[142] King, pp.126-133.

[143] King, p. 164 and Mortier and Aboux, p. 142.

[144] King, p. 164.

[145] Ibid., p. 177.

[146] Ibid., p. 183.

[147] Ibid., p. 212.

[148] Ibid., p. 230.

[149] Ibid., pp. 251-252

[150] Ibid., p. 258

[151] Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1959, 1961), p. 212.

[152] Ibid.

[153] Ibid., pp. 214-215.

[154] Ibid., p. 216.

[155] Ibid., p. 219

[156] King, p. 176.

[157] King, p. 116.

[158] Ibid., p. 109.

[159] McGrath, p. 222.

[160] King, p. 110.

[161] Ibid.

[162] Ibid.

[163] Ibid.

[164] McGrath, p. 222.

[165] Ibid.

[166] Ibid., p. 223.

[167] Barbour, p. 98.

[168] Sanrmire, p. 48.

[169] Peter McDonough, Men Astutely Trained: A History of the Jesuits in the American Century (New York: The Free Press, 1992), p. 1.

[170] Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea (New York: Touchstone, 1995).

[171] Johnson, p. 131.

[172] Barbour, p. 248.

[173] Ibid. 

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