The Sheer Silliness of Teilhard de Chardin
Thomas L. McFadden on Teilhard
“It could be said that Père Teilhard was as much a poet and mystic as he was a scientist.
It is no small thing to be a poet and a mystic (St. John of the Cross managed it impressively), but poetry and mysticism are not fit substitutes for empirical science”.
Dennis Q. McInerny
Evolution, theology and the Teilhardian heresy
The book’s treatment of the relation between evolution and theology, which is the subject taken up in Chapter 7, is especially noteworthy for its discussion of the thought of Père Teilhard de Chardin. His not entirely felicitous influence, especially among Catholic intellectuals, has had the effect of leading them, many of whom were clearly unacquainted with the relevant scientific data, to see in the whole way of evolutionary thinking an intellectual hardiness, and a potential for beneficial wide-ranging applicability, which it simply doesn’t have.
It could be said that Père Teilhard was as much a poet and mystic as he was a scientist. It is no small thing to be a poet and a mystic (St. John of the Cross managed it impressively), but poetry and mysticism are not fit substitutes for empirical science. In any event, Sir Julian Huxley, in the Introduction he wrote for the English translation of The Phenomenon of Man, revealingly refers to Père Teilhard as a strong visualizer, and does not seem to have much to say about the strictly scientific aspects of the Jesuit’s thought.
A particularly perspicacious critique of Père Teilhard’s ideas appears as an appendix to Jacques Maritain’s The Peasant of Garonne; the French philosopher ends his short essay with this pointed sentence: “He was without a doubt a man of great imagination.” (269) The best book length study of Père Teilhard’s thought to date is Wolfgang Smith’s Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy, which was published in 2012. Mr. McFadden weaves much pertinent information into this chapter, and in doing so builds a commanding case against evolution as a viable scientific theory.
Humani Generis and evolution
But for that matter the entire book is chock full of pertinent information regarding evolution and its many ramifications, specifically as affecting Catholic faith. I was particularly struck by the studied treatment the author gives to Pope Pius XII’s encyclical, Humani Generis, a document which is especially important for what it has to say about evolution. It is often read without proper care, unfortunately, with the result that the ways in which it is sometimes interpreted are not consonant with the text itself. Mr. McFadden sets the record straight in that respect, and thereby performs a valuable service. He is quite right in saying that in the encyclical the pope is by no means giving anything like a blanket endorsement of evolutionary theory. The larger concern of the encyclical, as Mr. McFadden points out, has to do with the problematic aspects which are to be found in modern philosophy as a whole. The pope discusses evolution as a particular instance of what is worrisome about much contemporary thought. ….
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And, regarding philosopher Jacques Maritain’s opinion of Teilhard de Chardin in Maritain’s classic, The Peasant of the Garonne, John B. Killoran will write in “FALSE AND GENUINE KNOWLEDGE: A PHILOSOPHICAL LOOK AT THE PEASANT OF THE GARONNE: http://people.stfx.ca/wsweet/EM/08-%201992/No.%208%20John%20B.%20Killoran.pdf
Ironically enough, the most powerful salvos of The Peasant of the Garonne were reserved for a thinker who cannot be considered an ideosopher, viz., Pere Teilhard de Chardin. For the generation of Catholics that came to maturity in the 1960’s, Pere Teilhard was more than just a distinguished Catholic paleontologist. He was rather the living embodiment of aggiornomento, Catholicism’s opening to the world of modem thought. Maritain writes that Teilhard had a healthy sense of reality — indeed Teilhard’s thought is permeated by an incarnational view of the universe. Nevertheless, like many of his scientistic contemporaries, Teilhard fell prey to the cardinal error of the modern era, the failure to make distinctions, for “the idea of a specific distinction between the different degrees of knowledge was always completely foreign to him.”39 In Teilhard writings poetic intuition masquerades as theology, with the result that the line between nonconceptual and conceptual knowledge is obliterated. What emerges is a sort of “theology-fiction.”4O How else is one to interpret the neologisms such as “noosphere” that abound in the Teilhardian vocabulary than as the consequence of an effort to marry a profound poetic vision to an “up-to-date” scientifically based metaphysics? While Maritain, of course, has no objection to a metaphysics that takes into consideration to discoveries of modern science, he points out to the disciples of Teilhard that if the appropriate distinctions are not made the consequence will be the proliferation of a false knowledge that purports to answer the most fundamental questions of the human mind but which, in the end, leaves it entirely barren. This intellectual emptiness is what false knowledge has instilled into modern life. ….