Orville Jenkins's Reviews > Man’s Place In Nature

Man’s Place In Nature by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
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This paleontologist, Philosopher, Theologian and Missionary is an impressive thinker, even looking back now after a century on his early work. This volume was first written in his native French in 1944, but was not published till 1956, after his death, and in this English edition only in 1966.

I was privileged to find this rare original edition in a library book sale in Arlington, Texas in September 2016. Having read de Chardin in philosophy in my university studies, I was thrilled to see this unmarked copy of his final volume!

De Chardin had been working as a paleontologist under Jesuit sponsorship and was considered a missionary in China. He was interned in a prison camp by the Japanese and was released by the liberation of China only in 1944, when the first thing he faced was a recall to Vatican to face censure for his thoughts in this book.

The delay in publication was the result of a proscription of this work by the Vatican, the last in a series of censures and limitations put on this competent Jesuit scholar, because the Vatican thought he was straying too far away from the prescribed range of Catholic thought. De Chardin was allowed to work as a scientist, with the understanding that his work in science was not to bleed over into the dogma of his Faith in Christ and work in the framework of the Church.

De Chardin writes his science like philosophy. His philosophical science takes a different approach from the medieval scholastic theology developed by Thomas Acquinas. De Chardin's attempt to correct the static, non-personal concept of God in Aristotle's abstract philosophy, which never adequately accounted for a Living, interactive relational God as revealed in the biblical texts.

Medieval European thought that came to be known as Scholastic, and the early modern thought of the Reformers and other European intellectual leaders over the next couple of centuries after the Reformation retained the Scholastic format of Roman Catholic Thomas Aquinas' attempt to adapt Aristotle's philosophy to a Christian format, the later minds could not overcome the impasse Acquinas never was able to overcome. The static materialist pre-Christian pagan philosophy of Aristotle could not represent meaningfully the dynamic Covenant making God revealed in the Hebrew scripture.

De Chardin tried to bridge that gap by speaking in terms of modern thought with a dynamic approach to science that focused on the growing picture of unity in the physical creation as a format to reconcile scientific findings about the natural world with Hebrew-Christian claims about the revealed relational Covenant God of the Bible.

De Chardin's system of Process handles very well the collection of knowledge up to his time from various disciplines and later up to our time. His thoughts on the unity of the Creation fits well with Process Philosophy and the resultant Process Theologies in the 20th Century. His personal sense of Faith in the One and the concept that all of Creation comes from one source is clear in his presentation and analysis of this own findings and the collective findings of archaeology and paleontology.

He writes before the discovery of DNA, but he references genetics up to that point with great insight on the unity of all Life, which has been definitively affirmed by recent comparative DNA studies on virtually all species of life and all modern varieties of humans, and extensive prehistorical human remains that contained viable DNA.

But his dynamic approach to knowledge as a scientist, and his robust concept of the Unity of creation on the model of his faith, and the concept of the processes discovered in the world and ourselves as humans, all enable his dynamic and rewarding presentation here of the Place of Man [Humanity] in Nature.

This volume was a refreshing read and a good review of the state of human knowledge up to WWII.

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Reading Progress

October 19, 2016 – Started Reading
October 20, 2016 – Finished Reading
October 24, 2016 – Shelved

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