Term Paper: Teilhard De Chardin Pierre

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[. . .] (Phenomenon 294)

Of course Saint Paul himself invites the reader of his epistles to think allegorically about what is being said: the famously gnomic Pauline statement that "now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face-to-face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as I am known" seems to express a limitation or mediation to our ability to understand anything (including Christ) except through a secondary reflected picture which offers an intimation rather than a portrait of the eventual divine consummation (1 Cor. 13:12). To a certain degree, Teilhard fully employs the Pauline heuristic approach. But overall Teilhard seems most occupied with solving what Mooney calls the "Christological problem," in which "the theology of the Incarnation confronts modern man's understanding of the world in which he lives" (Mooney 92). In other words, if one accepts that God became man in Christ, and accept the Darwinian view of the descent of man, then evolution does indeed become a new ground on which to debate the Christian meaning of the actual human suffering of Jesus.

I have concentrated in this discussion on situating Teilhard within the proper context of mainstream Roman Catholic theology, and found that -- despite the warning given by the Vatican regarding the orthodoxy of his work, Teilhard's basic understanding is perfectly in line with the traditions of his own Christian denomination. From the standpoint of situating Teilhard within overall science, it is worth noting that Ruse compares him with the contemporary British evolutionary biologist Simon Conway Morris, perhaps best known for his investigation of the unusual Burgess Shale fossils of the pre-Cambrian explosion. Conway Morris is one of the few outspoken Christians among contemporary Darwinian biologists, and Ruse thinks the comparison is illustrative:

With humankind as its highest point and apparently inevitable product, Darwinian evolution seems not merely something compatible with Christianity, but positively supportive. Certainly there have been those who have backed such a view. Famously (or notoriously) in the last century, the French Jesuit palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin claimed that there is an upward progression to life, ending at something he called the "Omega Point," which he identified with Jesus Christ. More recently, the Anglican palaeontologist Simon Conway Morris has suggested that life is bound to move upwards towards the human form. "Although there may be a billion potential pathways for evolution to follow from the Cambrian explosion," he has argued, "in fact the real range of possibilities and hence the expected end results appear to be much more restricted." Consequently, "within certain limits the outcome of evolutionary processes might be rather predictable." It is important to note the extent to which both Teilhard and Conway Morris do not belong to the mainstream of evolutionary thinking. Telhard was much influenced by the vitalist philosopher Henri Bergson, who in turn took much of his evolutionism from Herbert Spencer. Teilhard's science was strongly criticized by biologists, especially Peter Medawar. Conway Morris' thinking is more in line with non-Darwinian sentiments about non-adaptive constraints, and also very controversial. (Ruse 338-9)

This, I think, provides us with an apt summary about where Teilhard de Chardin seems most controversial -- not within his religious ideas, but with any claim to scientific authority that his theological speculations may bring. Yet Ruse manages to remind us that Teilhard himself was part of a secular tradition of using Darwin to construct a philosophical system -- Henri Bergson, who was Jewish, certainly had no specifically Christian angle on his use of Darwin in Creative Evolution to define an "elan vital" or vital force that corresponds closely with the "energy" that Teilhard sees as pervasive. But it is more important to note here that, while Simon Conway Morris may be a "controversial" scientist, he is a legitimate one, and his own sense of the divergent and then convergent logic of the evolutionary process is quite similar to Teilhard's own. But ultimately science is not the means by which Teilhard justifies his own reading of evolution: instead, evolution provides him with a form of revealed religion, and his religious justifications are well within the tradition of Roman Catholic theology in which he worked. In any case, to judge Teilhard's theories by scientific standards is to mistake their primary intent: I am inclined to agree with the judgment of Frederic Flach, who states that Teilhard's central "thesis stands…encouraging theologians and philosophers to acquire a more dynamic, kinetic approach to the study of man's relationship to man and God" (Flach 179).

Works Cited

Aersten, Jan A. "Aquinas's Philosophy in its Historical Setting." In The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas, edited by Norman Kretzman and Eleonore Stump. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 12-37. Print.

Flach, Frederic R. "The Phenomenon of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin." Journal of Religion and Health, 4:2 (1965): 174-9. Print.

Mooney, Christopher F. "Teilhard de Chardin and the Christological Problem." Harvard Theological Review, 58:1 (1965): 91-126. Print.

Ruse, Michael. "Belief in God in a Darwinian Age." In The Cambridge Companion to Darwin, edited by Jonathan Hodge and Gregory Radick. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 333-56. Print.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper Perennial, 1958.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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