I believe we need to engage in a discussion of Teilhard de Chardin’s thought as it cuts through some of our other discussions. This is both difficult (because much has been written, and spoken, about his writings and thought) and easy (because much has been already said!). A lot of people think they understand his thought (I have sometimes thought so myself), but I think he is not so easy to understand . Also, there has been a lot of criticism for the details of his science, especially in the area of evolutionary biology - the Dawkins and Dennett’s of the world are not kind in their remarks about his work. He is also deeply grounded in the Christian worldview, even if his ideas are thought of as heretical by some, and this casts his thought into very specific modalities with which I am sometimes uneasy. Paradoxically, our modern understanding of mind and spirit is coloured by Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas, even though much of it is dismissed by a range of people for diverse reasons, by both scientists and theologicians.
I’ve thought about a reading project for “The Phenomenon of Man”, but I’m not sure that is the best way to go. I think I prefer the more open forum discussions which have become the norm here, although I think we might organize a Cosmos Cafe session on Teilhard’s larger vision, but perhaps after we’ve tossed his ideas around for a while. What do other folks think?
I’ve looked up some videos on his ideas. There are several videos, but many of them disappointed me. The one I prefer is the 60 minute Thomas Berry interview, which I found much more nuanced and perhaps closer in spirit to our ongoing discussions on Infinite Conversations :
Berry points out that the original French title of Teilhard de Chardin’s book “The Phenomenon of Man” represents the book better - “The Human Phenomenon”. He later links Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas to those of other writers such as Tillich or the scientist and writer, Ilya Prigogine, who wrote about the self-organizing properties of the universe (e.g. “Order Out of Chaos” - itself a remarkable book in my opinion).
Later in the presentation, Berry goes onto a more critical stance in dealing with Teilhard de Chardin’s writing, particularly his tendency to be Anthropocentric. I found Berry’s remarks about ecology really interesting and insightful. At one point Berry suggests that we have to figure out what the Earth needs as a sustainable vision, and figure out where the human fits within this, rather than the other way around. As he says, “the trees have to vote… and the birds have to vote”. He also says that Economics is a part of Ecology, just as Religion is a part of Ecology… with an implicit Teilhard de Chardin-like foundation which views matter as “luminous” and having a “psychic life”.
One of my difficulties with Teilhard’s vision is his idea of an “omega point” as the destination towards which the universe is evolving. I think this supports a return to absolutism of a different kind, but I find I am allergic to all forms of absolutism (I have an absolute dislike of absolutism ). On the other hand, I am also interested in how Teilhard’s thought can serve to bring different religious viewpoints together.