Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Brief History of Tielhard de Chardin

                                                                                                                        Series - 2nd

            I have frequently made references to Teilhard de Chardin in entries throughout this blog and as I now begin this series (mentioned here in my last entry two days ago) I will fill in a brief history of his life.

            He was born in France on May 1, 1881.  In 1892 he entered the Jesuit school of Notre Dame at Lyons; at age 20 he took his first vows as a Jesuit.  From 1905 to 1908 he taught physics and chemistry at a Jesuit secondary school in Cairo, Egypt.  In 1911 at age 30 he was ordained a priest, then in 1912 he was assigned to studies in scientific research in paleontology.  World War I interrupted his studies.

            From 1914 to 1919 Teilhard served as a stretcher-bearer on the front lines of the war in North Africa.  Being a priest, he could have served as a Chaplin but instead volunteered to go into the thick of battle to aid the wounded.  Witnessing bloodshed and death had a profound effect upon him, his notebooks from that time contain the seeds of his insights which were to appear later in his formal writings.

            In May 1918 he made his final Jesuit vows and after the War returned to his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris from 1919 to 1922.  Next, Teilhard secured a teaching position in the Sciences at the Institute Catholique and was later promoted to a professorship in Geology.  He also pursued religious and philosophical questions in the private papers he wrote.  He was a popular teacher, a good speaker, and a forward thinker who was an advocate of evolution; it made many traditionalists uneasy.  A colleague asked him to write a brief paper explaining his thoughts on original sin; in it he pointed out difficulties between traditional teachings and scientific discoveries and suggested new ways of understanding the concept.  The paper somehow got to the Vatican—it is not known how.  The Vatican censors and authorities of his order were sever.  In 1927 he was forbidden to teach and was exiled to China where he spent a total of 25 years working with celebrated paleontologists.

            In 1948 he visited Rome to request the lifting of the ban on his teaching and writing, presenting what he saw as his scientific work, The Phenomenon of Man.  All requests were denied.  Soon there was a new exile—to the USA where he lived out his life from 1951 to 1955.  He died on Easter Sunday April 11, 1955.

           Soon after his death in 1955 his books began to be published, first in French, then in English.  His two best known titles are: 'The Phenomenon of Man', (more recently retranslated as 'The Human Phenomenon'), and 'The Divine Milieu'.


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Challenges of 'New Thinking'

                                                                                                                         Series  -  1st      

            There are times in history when our understanding of the world and how it operates makes a giant leap forward and we are called upon to readjust our thinking.  As when Galileo (under the influence of Copernicus) defined the structure of the cosmos; when Pasture presented his germ theory; when Einstein re-defined time and space—each new concept met with opposition because it became necessary for people to let go of what they had previously believed and embrace new understanding.  Such reordering is arduous, painful and its veracity is vehemently denied.

            In this past century, human knowledge has been presented with another sea-changing concept that alters—not how we see the earth’s structures and functions—but how we see ourselves and our place in this vast universe.  This change began with Charles Darwin’s publication of On Origins of the Species in which he expounded the theory of evolution, postulating that all life developed by chance through random selection.   God was not mentioned.  A Jesuit scientist paleontologist, Teilhard de Chardin is the newer face addressing this revolutionizing concept of evolution.  Teilhard in no way disputes Darwin but rather develops what Darwin left out—the purpose and direction of evolution and man’s place in it.

            Originally the pursuit of knowledge was a comprehensive search for both a material understanding of the what and how of things but also a quest for cause and purpose—the why of being.  With the Renaissance there was a sundering, a separation wherein the search for what and how became the domain of Science while the search for cause and purpose was left to Religion.  Each specialty had little concern for the other.  Science increasingly won our attention. 

            As evolution came into public awareness the divide between Science and Religion widened, fueled by the question, ‘Where did humans come from? . . . did we evolve from lower species or were we created by God?’  In 1925 the Scopes ‘Monkey Trial’ became an international sensation when a new Tennessee law prohibited teaching evolution in schools and a teacher was arrested and tried for doing so.  The sensationalism of it had the effect of creating the illusion that Science and Religion are incompatible.

            Science does not oppose Religion—it simply ignores it.  Religion as a whole is not opposed to Science; it holds it in high regard.  It is only the religious fundamentalists, insisting upon literal interpretation of everything in the Bible, who stand in opposition to scientific findings.  A tenet of Fundamentalism is “the word of God is inerrant”.  I would agree that ‘the word of God’ is without error, but we have so few ‘words of God’!  I can think of only three.  In Exodus: the Ten Commandments; also in Exodus, to Moses in answer to his question about his name God said: “I Am who I Am; tell the Israelites ‘I AM has sent me to you’”.  Then in Deuteronomy: “I set before you life and death . . . Choose life.”  There are few other direct quotes from God, mostly the rest is from human attempts to preserve and relay perceived valuable information as it passes through the lens of that time.   

            I agree that the writings in the Bible are inspired and the inspiration comes from God, but the stories and narratives that we have, came through the minds and words of men.  God does not give dictation.  Our present understanding of the world and how it operates is light-years away from what was available to the Bible writers.  We need to respect the Bible’s great value and search out the kernel of its inspired wisdom and coordinate it with our advanced understanding because it is the best guidebook we have for navigating life.

            Throughout time humanity has had to adjust and re-define our knowledge.  Copernicus and Galileo paved the way to expanding our knowledge from a static geocentric world-model to a heliocentric model.  By changing our world-view it opened us out to the future.   Much to the shock and denial of the people of his day, Pasture described an unseen tiny world of microbes—germs too small for eyes to see yet causing diseases.  Initially even doctors couldn’t accept as so powerful, what they could not see, but eventually all had to readjust their thinking and Pasture’s discovery revolutionized the field of medicine.  Albert Einstein developed the theory of relativity and radically changed what we knew about space, time and matter; his ideas vastly changed the field of physics.  In later life he invested belief and his efforts into finding a Unified Field Theory which would incorporate all the laws of the Universe—although he died before reaching his goal, it continues to motivate research in theoretical physics . . . such a theory would substantiate the idea that all that is, is part of one whole interacting system.  That concept agrees with Teilhard’s views on evolution.

              * * *

PS  --With this entry I begin what is to be a series explaining aspects of Teilhard de Chardin’s work.  His is one of the 20th Century’s most brilliant minds—which he focused upon evolution and the human’s place in it.  His writings fill more than 20 volumes, all of which he was forbidden to publish in his lifetime, they were published after his death in 1955.  He is highly regarded in the intellectual community but many people fine his books daunting.  I have made a life-long study of his works, as a teacher I hope to make his ideas easier to understand.              (I recommend that you Google him)