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Sunday, September 02, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Phenomenon of Teilhard

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Phenomenon of Teilhard:

N.B. This is not really a book but a series of interviews with people about Teilhard's work.

I had more than a passing interest in Teilhard de Chardin when I was in high school in Switzerland and tried reading some of his stuff in French. I suspect I was more taken with the controversy between his writings, which were for a while placed on the Index, and the Catholic Church.  The formal condemnation occurred in 1962 just as I was entering high school:

"The above-mentioned works abound in such ambiguities and indeed even serious errors, as to offend Catholic doctrine... For this reason, the most eminent and most revered Fathers of the Holy Office exhort all Ordinaries as well as the superiors of Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers". (^ Warning Considering the Writings of Father Teilhard de Chardin, Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, June 30, 1962.)

One might argue that the antipathy of the Church is what made Teilhard famous and of interest.  Certainly that was true in my case, and I suspect many other. Teilhard was trained as a paleontologist and priest who struggled with the interaction of faith and science. He came to believe that evolution was a straight line with the endpoint, or Omega, as being God. “The end of the world: the overthrow of equilibrium, detaching the mind, fulfilled at last, from its material matrix, so that it will henceforth rest with all its weight on God-Omega.” (The Phenomenon of Man) Unfortunately, we now know a great deal more about evolution and understand its way-points, dead-ends, fits and starts, and branches.  He also became embroiled in the infamous Piltdown Man scandal.

The idea of the Omega Point is interesting in light of Watson (the IBM supercomputer) and Ray Kurzweil’s concept of the singularity. Now that I’m older, I still have a lot of respect for Teilhard’s scientific work and his attempts to reconcile what he learned in science with what he had been taught as a Jesuit. Regretfully, most of  resolves into just wishful thinking.  Teilhard’s search for a unifying theory  (reconciling the material and the spiritual) echoes that of many others. I fear (not really a fear since I find it quite satisfying) that ultimately we will discover we are nothing more than chance random associations of molecules.

What’s interesting about his thought is the preeminence of evolution and its importance in the progression of man to the Omega Point. a linear progression toward complexity and greater consciousness, humans become responsible for evolutionary progress and continuity (interesting given his experiences in WW I.)   To reach our mature form requires a self-reflection and understanding of our evolution and consciousness. Matter was not an inert substance to be manipulated but has a “luminous” quality that’s important to the unification, the ultimate singularity which is God.   Nonsense, but interesting from the point of view of idea evolution.

This a a short audiotape that presents a commentary on Teilhard’s life and beliefs.   I have it as an mp3 file if anyone wants a copy, I could mail a CD.

My review of his biography is at

Also reading[book:The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man|208930]

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