Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre

(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 erectusHomo erectus
, extinct hominin living between 1.6 million and 250,000 years ago. Homo erectus is thought to have evolved in Africa from H. habilis, the first member of the genus Homo. African forms of H.
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). 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).

Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre


Born May 1, 1881, in Sarcenat, Puy-de-Dôme, near Clermont-Ferrand; died Apr. 10, 1955, in New York City. French paleontologist, philosopher, and theologian. Member of the Paris Academy of Sciences (1950).

Teilhard de Chardin began his studies at a Jesuit college in 1899. From 1920 to 1923 he was a professor at the Catholic Institute of Paris. As a result of a conflict between his views and official Catholic doctrine, Teilhard was removed from his teaching position and was prohibited from publishing his philosophical works. Teilhard lived in China from 1923 to 1946. He carried on geological, paleontological, and archaeological research in China, India, Burma, Java, and elsewhere.

Teilhard was one of the original discoverers of the Peking Man (Sinanthropus pekinenis). Drawing on the achievements of modern science, he attempted to create an integral world view, “scientific phenomenology,” in which the conflict between science and religion is supposed to be eliminated. His chief methodological principle is the concept of evolution, to which he gives a teleological interpretation. He depicts the evolution of the universe (cosmogenesis) as a series of stages in the growing complexity of a single substance, the “stuff of the universe,” which represents a modification of a special radial energy having a psychic nature. The ultimate goal and, at the same time, the regulator of cosmogenesis is the “Omega point,” the spiritual center that influences the course of things through radial energy that is manifested as a form of divine grace.

Teilhard sees the key to understanding the evolution of the universe in “the phenomenon of man.” Man is the summit of evolution that is directed into the future. In transforming matter, man becomes included in the creation of evolution. According to Teilhard, the history of humanity is the crowning stage of cosmogenesis. The prerequisite of the history of humanity is “personalization,” the appearance of personality and thought, and the formation of the noosphere (an ideal, spiritual layer, or “skin,” surrounding the earth). The further improvement of evolution is possible only on a collective basis. Technological progress and economic development are prerequisites for this process, but the spiritual factor is supposed to play the decisive role. Religion, while laying the foundations of morality, is supposed to unite with science and provide a new interpretation of its own principles, becoming a religion of action. Thus, Teilhard developed a Christian variation of evolutionist ethics.

The doctrine of Teilhard is extremely self-contradictory. On many points, his Christian evolutionism proves to be a variety of pantheism. The optimism, humanism, and collectivism of Teilhardism distinguish it from the predominant currents in contemporary bourgeois philosophy. The life-affirming spirit of Teil-hard’s philosophy won him considerable authority among the contemporary Catholic intelligentsia. His supporters continue to exert a reforming influence on official Catholic doctrine.


Oeuvres, vols. 1–9. Paris, 1955–65.
Hymne de I’Univers. Paris, 1961.
Blondelet Teilhard de Chardin: Correspondance. Paris, 1965.
Lettres intimes .... Paris, 1972.
In Russian translation:
Fenomen cheloveka. Moscow, 1965.


Levada, Iu. A. “‘Fenomen Teiiara’ i spory vokrug nego.” Voprosy filosofii, 1962, no. 1.
Zenkovsky’, V. V. Osnovy khristianskoi filosofii, vol. 2. Paris, 1964.
Płiżański, T. “Nekotorye cherty vozzrenii Teiiara de Shardena.” In the collection Ot Erazma Rotterdamskogo do Bertrana Rassela. Moscow, 1969.
Sovremennaia burzhuaznaia filosofiia. Moscow, 1972. Chapter 16.
Guénot, C. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Les Grands Étapes de son évolution. Paris [1962],
Guénot, C. Ce que Teilhard a vraiment dit. Paris, 1972.
Hengstenberg, H.-E. Mensch und Materie: Zur Problematik Teilhard de Chardins. Stuttgart, 1965.
Płiżański, T. Marksizm a fenomen Teilhard. [Warsaw] 1967. (References.)
Polgar, L. Internationale Teilhard-Bibliographie, 1955–1965. Freiburg-Munich, 1965.
Poulin, D. Teilhard de Chardin: Essai de bibliographie (1955–66). Quebec, 1966.
Baudry, G.-H. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Bibliographie (1881–1972). Lille, 1972.