A Jesuit tries to
By Fr. J. D. CRICHTON
THE PHENOMENON 0 F MAN, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, with an introduction by Sir Julian Huxley (Collins, 2.5s.).
IF Dr. Arnold Toy nbee ("Observer," November 22) finds this is a difficult book,
ordinary mortals like the present reviewer will be in no way inclined to disagree.
Some parts of it go right over my head, largely for lack of scientific knowledge, and what follows can be no more than an attempt to give a general idea of Pere Teilhard de Chardin's point of view. It will be for the experts both theological and scientific to pass judgment on it.
First, a word about the author. He was a priest, a member of the Society of Jesus, who in his lifetime earned an exceptional reputation for himself as a scientist, especially in the fields of palaeontology and anthropology.
He had a penetrating mind and the soul of an apostle. He could not be content merely to heap up further knowledge. He was always seeking to integrate it into the Catholic view of reality and to bridge the gulf that exists between the theologian and the scientist.
He wrote much during his life, but at the behest of his superiors he published none of his great works, "The Phenomenon of Man" is brilliantly translated by Mr. Bernard Wall, the first to appear in English.
WHAT is nte de Chardin trying to do? What sort of literary genre is he writing in? It would seem that he is attempting to write "an integral science of nature", a philosophy of science of the sort that St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Middle Ages.
At that time the science of Aristotle revealed a picture of the world that had hitherto been unknown to the mediaevals and it caused, as is well known, a great ferment. Since then the world picture has entirely changed and, as Pere de Chardin acutely felt, the world of the spirit and the world of science which had developed in a rationalistic and an unduly analytic way have gradually drawn apart, so that "dialogue" between the theologian and the scientist has gradually become more difficult.
Moreover, the total picture of reality had become falsified. Is reality to be divided up into noncommunicating compartments? Is there just a discontinuous world of inanimate. animate and human "objects"?
DERE DE CIIARDIEN was not I satisfied with this, and he sought to build bridges. Taking the whole sweep of modern science for his field-though disclaiming any special competence in physics. for instance he seeks to construct what might be called an evolutionary philosophy of the cosmos.
Scrutinising the physical constitution of matter, he seems to find there adumbrations of the organic world and in the organic world foreshadowings of the world of man. He would go further, I think, and say that there are links between them, though he is careful to mark off the essential differences between man and the lower world.
As a priest and a Christian he of course agrees that there cannot be a completely homogeneous development throughout the whole order of reality. and in one place he shows that he is conscious of
MORE than this, he goes on to say that, since there has been a discernable evolution, it would seem to be indicated that that process has not yet stopped, and he looks on to the development of what he calls the "noosphere". a sort of super-pluralist cosmos in which thought takes "precedence over all other forms of life . . and Mind deploying and convoluting the layers of noosphere. This effort at multiplication and organic expansion is, for him who can see, the summing up and final expression of all human pre-history and history, from the earliest beginnings down to the present day" (p.I90).
It is this last part of the book that is the mistiest and perhaps the, most questionable, but it must be admitted that the vision Pere de Chardin sets before us is a magnificent one.
Whether it is a true one, whether) all the factors have been taken into account, whether the author is always sufficiently aware of the limits of the analogies he uses-for such they must often be regarded-are matters that will no doubt be debated by those competent to do so.
FOR my own part, 1 dss not find that Pere de Chardin's thesis is dangerous, provided one keeps in mind exactly what he says. In the matter of the evolution of man, he makes the necessary distinctions and, as Sir Julian Huxley frankly recognises in his introduction, the author's point of view in this and similar matters is far removed from the monist's.
Perhaps, as I have already suggested, Pere de Chardin's view of the cosmos is a little too univocal -I wonder whether it is not an abuse of language to call the physical universe "conscious" in any sense of the word-but this could he easily corrected without detriment to the whole book.
It is surely a portent that a Sir Julian Huxley should write an enthusiastic introduction to a book by a Catholic priest. Sir Julian, who enjoyed the friendship of Pere de Chardin, pays graceful tribute to him as a priest and scientist.
It looks as if one of Pere de Chardin's dearest hopes-that the theologian and the scientist should be able to engage in a real dialogue -has achieved at least the beginnings of a realisation. For the nonscientist, at any rate, he has rewaled something of the vast dimensions of the universe in which we live, and it is this that we must take into account when we arc talking to modern man.