Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pyĕr tāyär´ də shärdăN´), 1881–1955, French paleontologist and philosopher. He entered (1899) the Jesuit order, was ordained (1911), and received a doctorate in paleontology from the Sorbonne (1922). He lectured (1920–23) at the Institut Catholique in Paris. After visiting China (1923–24), he resumed teaching at the Institut, but in 1926 he was forced by his superiors to abandon teaching and return to China because of his controversial attempts to reconcile the traditional view of original sin with his concept of evolution; at that time it was also decided that his publications should be limited to purely scientific material, a limitation that continued throughout his lifetime. Shortly after his return to China, Teilhard was named adviser to the National Geological Survey, and in that capacity he collaborated on research that resulted in the discovery (1929) of Peking man (see Homo erectus). While in China (1926–46) he also completed the manuscript of The Phenomenon of Man (published posthumously, 1955; tr. 1959), in which he outlined his concept of cosmic evolution and his conviction that belief in evolution does not entail a rejection of Christianity. Evolution he saw to be a process involving all matter, not just biological material, the cosmos undergoing successively more complex changes that would lead ultimately to "Omega Point," which has been variously interpreted as the integration of all personal consciousness and as the second coming of Christ. Teilhard's evolutionism earned him the distrust of his religious superiors, while his religious mysticism made scientific circles suspicious; but despite much opposition—or perhaps because of it—there was an unusually broad popular response to his work after its posthumous publication. The interest may be explained by his boldly anthropocentric, and somewhat mystical, understanding of the cosmos: humanity for him is the axis of the cosmic flow, the key of the universe. Teilhard de Chardin's other works (all published posthumously) include Letters from a Traveller (1956, tr. 1962), The Divine Milieu (1957, tr. 1960), The Future of Man (1959, tr. 1964), Human Energy (1962, tr. 1969), Activation of Energy (1963, tr. 1971), and Hymn of the Universe (1964, tr. 1965).

See biographies by C. Cuénot (tr. 1965), R. Speaight (1968), and M. and E. Lukas (1981); studies by M. H. Murray (1966), R. Faricy (1967), R. G. North (1967), B. Delfgaauw (1969), P. Hefner (1970), H. J. Birx (1972), T. M. King (1981), E. O. Dodson (1984), W. Smith (1988).

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