Posted by: dacalu | 3 October 2014

Thoughts on Teilhard de Chardin

Many of my friends have asked for my thoughts on Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit paleontologist (1881-1955) who wrote compellingly on science and religion. He managed to fuse theology and evolutionary biology into a systematic and yet mystical view of the world.  I have great respect for his endeavor, his commitment, and his learning.  I find his system to be unhelpful.  Briefly, I would say this:

Chardin ran afoul of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Though I am unclear on the details, the gist is that he was too unorthodox.  He favored a weakening of the line between natural and supernatural, elevating the goodness of creation and de-emphasizing the Fall.  I’m on board for that.  It seems to me, though that he went too far.  He identifies Christ with the “Omega Point” the culmination of evolution in time.  I suppose I can wrap my head around that if I say that we will find, at the end of time, that we have come into complete harmony with Christ who is the all in all, and yet I feel this perspective takes something away from Jesus as a concrete human, found at a specific point in history.  Christ is more than we can ask or imagine, and yet it is by concrete meditation on the man Jesus that find hope.  That seems to be the greatest blessing of Christianity, that it is discrete, concrete, and tangible in it’s approach to God.  So, while Chardin may be right in this regard, I don’t believe he is useful.
As to science, Chardin’s paleontology may have been mainstream when he started, but the current shifted.  The 1930’s saw the rise of the Modern Synthesis and a very intentional rejection of progressive evolution (orthogenesis). Arguably, this was the defining moment for evolutionary biology as a science.  Modern biologists distance themselves from Herbert Spencer and others who saw evolution as evidence for improvement in the world.  The concept of improvement requires a concept of better, but It is unclear how a scientist would measure “better.” It is also clear that when we arbitrarily set “better” we find that evolution can not be relied upon to take us in that direction.
So, if Chardin’s major contribution is to reconcile faith with modern science, I fear he has failed. His consilience reaches neither applied theology nor respectable science.

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