Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Jesuit and the Skull

I have always been fascinated by Teihard de Chardin. Pere Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was a Jesuit priest, geologist, palaeontologist, theologian, scholar and Christian mystic. This book is about him and the circumstances surrounding his discovery of the Peking man.

Teihard de Chardin fascinates me because he tried very hard to reconcile science and religion. He felt a calling to the Church and joined the Jesuits or Society of Jesus at a very young age. In spite of his all conflicts and heartache with the Jesuits, he never did consider leaving the order. During his training as a priest, he spent 4 years as a stretcher bearer during the First World War. The horrors and inhumanity of war had a profound effect on him. He was ordained a Jesuit. Aside from a theological education, he also studied the science of geology and palaeontology. He received his PhD when he was 45 years old.

Unlike many Christians, Teihard de Chardin did not find any conflicts between his belief in his Christian faith and science. He sees a convergence of both. His main thesis is that God is a God of change and all creation is in a constant flux of change until it all reaches a point of union with the One which he called the Omega Point. This means that human beings are also changing as we evolve to a higher level of consciousness. What this also means is that he embrace the theory of evolution as a theory of change. Not only do animals change or evolve but the earth itself evolves. This brings him to consider these changes as the evolution of the Noosphere. More on his theories here and here.

His acceptance and teaching of the theory of evolution came to the attention of the Jesuits and the Vatican. Teihard de Chardin was commanded to stop his teaching. However he was such an established scientist that the Church decided to send him as far away from civilisation as possible. They decided to send him to China! It is the greatest of irony that in China, Teihard de Chardin discovered the remains of the Peking man. The Peking man is considered scientific proof that human beings have evolved from earlier hominids. All these support evolution and are against creationism. Thus in sending him away to China, Teihard de Chardin was sent to a place to discover something the Church has wanted to avoid.

Teihard de Chardin was censored by his order and not allowed to lecture and publish. Most of his books and writings are published after his death. Timeline for Teihard de Chardin here.


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