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Options in evolution: Teilhard de Chardin’s evolution – “Poetry and not philosophy”

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It’s often said that many European non-Darwinian evolutionists are fans of the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Here’s something to know, however:

The Catholic thinker most identified with evolution, the French Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin … des not loom as large on the Catholic intellectual landscape as he did a generation ago.

Teilhard concocted from evolutionary theory a kind of process theology that, among other things, implicitly denies the doctrine of original sin. Pope Pius XII once asked the great French thelogican Etienne Gilson to write a critique of Teilhard’s work. Gilson replied that such a task was impossible because Teilhard’s books were poetry and not philosophy You cannot “refute” a poem. Even Teilhard’s serious defenders, like Henri de Lubac, make constant apologies for his imprecise use of language. But habitual imprecision with words is a kind of primal offense in a theologian. Teilhard is one of those seductive thinkers, like Montaigne, who bristle with assesting insights and turns of phrase. But if you search their writings for a coherent metaphysics, yo find yrself pursuing a vapor. “”You cannot get any benefit or any enlightenment from thinking about Teilhard,” Gilson wrote to de Lubac, “The ravages he wrought, which I have witnessed, are horrifying.”

– Catholic writer George Sim Johnston, Did Darwin Get It Right?: Catholics and the Theory of Evolution (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 1998), pp. 126-27.


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