Page 6, 8th October 1965

8th October 1965
Page 6
Page 6, 8th October 1965 — No decline in the Teilhard Vogue

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Locations: Paris


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No decline in the Teilhard Vogue


THE publication of Te6 hard de Chardin's The Appearance of Man (Collins, 25s.) with the re-issue of The Phenomenon of Man in a paperback (Fontana, 5s.) shows that there is no decline in his extraordinary Vogue. A fashionable philosophy will readily find its critics, and Teilhard is not always well served by his acolytes.

Nevertheless, it is high time, I think, that somebody brought out a "Layman's Guide" to Teilhard, because the range of his thought is so wide that the reader who is primarily interested in his evolutionary theories may well he lost when it comes to the finer theological distinctions, and the reader who finds no difficulty about the "total Christ" may still want to know the difference between the Tertiary and Quaternary eras of the earth's development.

In The Appearance of Mari we have Teilhard on his professional terrain. His biographer, Claude Cuenot, has reminded us that Teilhard was a geologist first, and a palaeontologist afterwards: he was interested in the earth before he was interested in the hominisation of the people who lived on it. These were his special diciplines.

He was not, essentially, either a philosopher or a theologian, and his limited competence in these fields was one reason, no doubt, why he excited the suspicion of authority. His was a poet's mind, with deep mystical intuitions, and he leaped to conclusions which others would have taken greater pains to elaborate—if indeed they arrived at them at all.

Most of the essays collected in the latest book were published in Teilhard's lifetime. They are highly technical, and although they have been well edited in the light of later discoveries, the reader would still be grateful for a glossary.

In the first of them—a tribute to the work of his first teacher, Marcellin Soule —Teilhard is already, as early as 1912, viewing the universe in a vast perspective. Europe, the centre of modern civilisation, was never in the past anything but a blind alley, in which the grand movements of life, born in the broad continents, came to die, he writes. He would not have been surprised, or unduly alarmed, by the suggestion that it might become so again.

The most interesting chapters in the book are those in which Teilhard describes the discovery of Sinanthropus in a fossilised layer of soil 50 kilometres south of Pekin. It has been carelessly asserted that Teilhard himself discovered these traces of pre

Neanderthal man, whereas he was merely one of an international team engaged in the expedition.

Always anxious to trace the progress of Immo faber to homy sapiens, he was uncertain whether Sinanthropus was either; and to "appreciate even scientifically, the prodigious event represented by the appearance of thought in the world's history", one had to look further than fossils.

Writing seven years later, he did not dispute that some intelligent being had been at work in that ancient cave, but was it certain that this being was Sinanthropus of whose existence only a skull could be produced in evidence? Teilhard was very cautious at jumping to premature conclusions, and he merely conceded that the results favoured "at least in a general way, the transformists views on the origins of the human species". They in no way threatened "a sniritual conception of humanity".

In other chapters we follow Teilhard's search for these origins in Australia and South Africa. Although he thought and wrote in solitude, he liked to work in company because he knew that scientific truth is arrived at by the interaction of several minds. He pretended to omniscience in nothing—and least of all in paleontology where the data arc so fragmentary.

Time brings its correction to the most absurd conclusions, and in a useful Preface, Mr. Desmond Collins traces the developments, in certain fields of paleontological theory since Teilhard's death. It remains to note that in his lifetime they brought remarkable confirmation of his belief in a guided evolution of life, The reader who follows his scientific method through these pages will follow him with a fortified confidence when he treats, with an occasionally disconcerting audacity, of the mysteries of faith.

A friend of mint likes to recall a visit to the Maison des Etudes in Paris shortly after Teilhard's return from China in 1946. The young Jesuits had their heads hanging out of the windows to catch what he was saying in the garden. After elaborating on some idea he rose from his chair and returned into the house. "Of course". he said, "/ may he wrong" and then added, "hut I don't think so."

His convictions had the strength of his humility.

Robert Speaight

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