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Teihlard De Chardin on the Evolution of Man: a critique 1/2
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-06-27 09:51:33
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Some scholars consider Teilhard De Chardin none other than the greatest of modern Christian humanists, and with good reasons. For indeed De Chardin is the thinker/scientist who more than any other within modernity confronted the ongoing and open-ended process of evolution, which some positivists had seen as the final proof of the irrelevance of Man in the cosmos, to place Man right back into the center of the picture. He reaffirms value and quality within a positivistic science dedicated to quantifying and measuring and reducing Man to a mere function.

De Chardin has a genial intuition which has global universal implications, elaborates it into a scientific mystique of sort, and, not unlike Pascal, gambles on it. The intuition is this: God needs Man, since without Man God's creative plan cannot be fulfilled. Umberto Eco who was one of my professors at Yale University in the 70s, would like us to think that he is the first with this insight of "God's need for Man," but as somebody who wrote a dissertation on Thomas Aquinas and considers himself post-modern and post-Christian, he ought to know better. For the idea is as old as Aquinas and as modern as De Chardin: it is novantiqua. Both thinkers affirm that without Man God's face cannot be fully manifest in his evolving creation. For De Chardin Man is the locus of the divine epiphany. For in Man the universe has become conscious of itself.

At first, the official Catholic Church looked unfavorably upon De Chardin doctrine. In so doing if failed to perceive (as it had failed with Galileo and Giordano Bruno) that the doctrine more than being a challenge to Christian theological thought, was a challenge to scientific positivism and its Cartesian underpinnings. As it turned out, scientists were better predisposed and more friendly toward De Chardin's doctrine than the theologians who saw him as a revolutionary of sort. And so paradoxically it was the Church's opposition and censorship which conferred on De Chardin the aurea of a charismatic authority championing those who were fed up with indexes and imprimaturs and inquisitions, those abuses which lent credence to those who had an ax to grind against religion in general and Christianity in particular and whose mind-set predisposed them to throw out the baby (religion, of Faith) with the dirty bathwater (the abuses and corruptions of religion) .

Henri De Lubac wrote what could be considered the summa of De Chardin's spiritual doctrine: the book La pensée religieuse de Theilhard De Chardin who was infelicitously translated in English as The Religion of Teilhard De Chardin, seems to suggest that De Chardin devised his own brand of Christianity, thus playing into the hands of his detractors. In any case, De Lubac was eminently qualified to examine De Chardin's religious thinking. He was a bona fide Catholic theologian whose specialization was the origins of Christian Humanism beginning with Origen, the Greek Fathers, all the way to Thomas Aquinas. De Lubac points out that in De Chardin you have a providential combination of the scientific and the mystic; almost a novelty at the time. Even his humanism is quite orthodox in the sense that he has made Man once again the center of the universe, not just spatially or metaphorically but "structurally." For De Chardin, not only religion but science itself confirms that "Man is the greatest telluric and biological event of our planet; the supreme achievement of the organizing power of the cosmos." Which is to say that Man is none other than the key to the whole of nature.

Neither De Chardin nor De Lubac knew Vico, but had they known him they would have more than welcomed Vico's constant insistence that "self-knowledge" was not only the key to Man but also the key to nature; which is to say, knowledge of Man to himself, man narrating to himself his own story as he develops cosmologically and historically from the Big Bang to today. Man is his own history. Indeed Francis of Assisi had it right all along when he affirms that the sun is literally our brother (see his poem "The Canticle of Brother Sun" which is learned by every grammar school child in Italy and is none other than the cornerstone of post-medieval Italian humanism). To know Man and his historical evolution is to know everything. This is De Chardin's (and Vico's) great challenge to scientific positivism. This is science that unlike positivism has not forgotten its humanistic roots.


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Sand2007-06-27 10:35:41
For those who would like a less prejudiced view of De Chardin with more detail on his scientific validity see http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Medawar/phenomenon-of-man.html

Sand2007-06-27 10:47:00
Incidentally, Pascal did not gamble on the belief in God. He stuck his tail between his legs and scurried into the possibility that God might exist. He didn't want to be caught with his intellectual pants down and end in a possible Hell for frankly admitting that God might not exist. He tried to cover all bases. That's not gambling, that's cowardice.

Paparella2007-06-27 19:11:00
Not surprisingly and true to form Mr. Sand, who obviously considers himself the knight champion of the ideology of secular atheism in this forum (to be defended with a big well ground ax at any cost and by any means) has once again pre-judged a piece by only half of its content. This time, he has resorted with panic to some heavy cannon (as Napoleon said: victory belongs to those with the heaviest cannon): a Nobel winner for medicine and a decorated knight to boot. He of course follows in the collective charge with a few lines and a pearl of wisdom of his own denigrating Rene Pascal. Nither of the two nights are in any way experts in Humanism and philosophy and theology but since when has that been an obstacle to a good satisfying clever by half charge? Sir Midwar, whose name rings no bells in most people’s mind, wrote a memoir in 1986, just before his death, titled “Memoirs of a Thinking Radish.” Need we to add more? He was probably in that august body of Nobel laureate who came together a few decades ago to discuss the problem of children’s hunger in the world under the auspices of a famous journalist and interviewer, Sir Frost. I still think that Octavio Paz, a Mexican Nobel prize winner for poetry but no Knight alas, had by far the better insight on the issue in that forum. As Pirandello, another Nobel prize winner, said once: to each his own. He also said in regard to Six Character in Search of an Author that sometimes after we have worn a mask for a long time we become our masks and forget our faces.

Sand2007-06-27 19:49:37
Goodness, such fury! Evidently one must not even contemplate opposition to Paparella.

Sand2007-06-27 20:21:04
The vision of Paparella foaming at the mouth and whimpering expletives as he pounds out his hysterical repartee replete with typos should at least arouse a bit of curiosity as to what Medawar said to arouse such panic.

Paparella2007-06-27 20:49:02
I see, now we are down to attacking the typos: desperate situations call for desperate measures. Voltaire the Deist, said once that he had made only one prayer in his entire life: Lord let my enemies appear ridiculous and he had answered it. Who says that God is dead?

Paparella2007-06-27 20:58:37
The title should have given Mr. Sand some pause; since it is a critique in its entirety but of course once he mounted his horse for a cavalier egregious charge he could not stop it. I think he would have mounted the horse if only one line of the piece had been published. In fact I think he would have mounted it if only my name had appeared. To change metaphor, that was also Voltaire's experience: whereever his name appeared there was a bull foaming at the mouth ready to charge the red caper. Not very rational indeed, in fact, quite ridiculous.

Sand2007-06-27 21:05:01
Let's see, now. Would that last remark of Mr.P be classified as attacking the messenger? The antidote? Read the message.


Paparella2007-06-27 22:23:41
But did you not inform us some time ago that nobody reads my submission because they are not clear, just you so that you can attack them? So what is the fuss all about? Rational it ain't. Perhaps just ridiculous?

Paparella2007-06-27 22:35:57
By the way, Mr. S. you picked on the typos but failed to nocice that Pascal's name is incorrect, it is not Rene' but Blaise. A missed opportunity there! Not to worry, there'll be others. For now let's stay with the aspersions and slanders on great men such as Pascal and De Chardin who were able to harmonize science, the humaniies and religion, and the apotheosis of Sir Medawar who happens to agree with you as a "thinking radish." Actually the Wizard of Oz or Godot would have done as well as long as it conformed to your views. In any case, given that nobody reads my submission it is all a waist of time, logically and rationally speaking. Isn't it?

Sand2007-06-27 22:47:26
Since you have given me the choice, Mr.P, between you and a thinking radish, guess who I am sure is the superior intellect?

Paparella2007-06-28 05:00:25
You forgot the third and fourth choices, Mr. S.: the Djo and her offspring, the humbot.

Paparella2007-06-28 16:17:30
As a follow-up to my first comment on your comments, the point was simple but it was lost on you. The point is that there is a spectrum of interpretations on De Chardin running from the two extremes from complete agreement to complete disagreement. Mine is a critique and therefore not complete agreement. The one you went to look for was one that completely disagrees with De Chardin postion on the extreme side of the spectrum with no comments to mitigate the criticism in any way, and therefore conforming to your own position. When one exhibits an inveterate habit of doing that kind of intellectual operation Mr. S., it intimates to me that we may be dealing with an ideological fanatic who has made rationalism his ideology. It ought to intimate to you that your objectivity is at best flawed, more likely bogus. But it propbably will not, since the ideological lenses you have on will not allow it.

bystander2008-08-19 16:39:56
Mr. Sand, Do you really think the link you provided reveals "a less prejudiced" view? At least Mr. Paparella does not go by such false pretenses.

Stephen Theron2009-01-05 13:44:41
"All the way to Thomas Aquinas" is not that far. De Lubac does not seem to do much more than patronise those who come after and who are still originating "Christian humanism". Let Teilhard rather speak for himself.

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