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Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

(1881—1955) French Jesuit philosopher and palaeontologist


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(1881–1955)

French Jesuit theologian, philosopher, and scientist who developed a synthesis of evolutionary theory and Christianity, which although unacceptable to the Vatican has had a considerable influence.

Teilhard's family were landowners and had associations with the Church. He studied at the Jesuit College at Mongré and in 1899 began his training for the priesthood, as well as studying philosophy and science. He spent some time in Cairo teaching physics and chemistry at a Jesuit college (1905–08) and in 1911 was ordained as a priest. But increasingly his studies were devoted to palaeontology. After serving as a stretcher-bearer during World War I and receiving the Légion d'honneur for gallantry, Teilhard returned to Paris and in 1922 received his PhD in palaeontology from the Sorbonne. He joined the Catholic Institute in Paris as assistant professor of geology but, because of his unorthodox views, was requested to leave in 1926. Teilhard travelled to China to study the fossil-bearing rocks and in 1929 discovered the fossil remains of a hominid, later known as Peking Man (Homo erectus). He returned to Paris in 1946. The final three years of his life were spent at the Wenner-Grenn Foundation for Anthropological Research in New York.

From his knowledge of palaeontology and evolution, Teilhard proposed three key steps in evolution: the evolution of matter into a ‘geosphere’, namely the earth; the evolution of living organisms (‘biosphere’); and the advent of thinking man, thereby giving the world an intellectual dimension, or ‘noosphere’. He visualized this progression of complexity culminating in an ‘omega point’ – when the natural and supernatural will achieve unity in God. Although he was a devout Catholic, the Church refused him permission to publish his books during his lifetime. His major full-length works were published posthumously and drew wide attention and considerable acclaim. The best known are Le Phénomène humain (1955; translated as The Phenomenon of Man, 1959) and Le Milieu divin (1957; translated as The Divine Milieu, 1960).


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