Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Reconsidering Teilhard

I've been reading John F. Haught's God After Darwin, and he has an interesting section on the life and work of Teilhard de Chardin, the Jesuit paleontologist. I must confess I've never looked deeply into his career. I knew that he envisaged a sort of progressive direction to evolution which, while understandable at the time he wrote, is no longer taken seriously.

What I did not know, however, is how shabbily he's been treated by scientists like Stephen Jay Gould and Daniel C. Dennett. Dennett's attitude doesn't surprise me (most militant atheists are reflexively anti-clerical). But Gould's attitude is surprising.

Haught writes:
The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, for example, was so certain that evolution is devoid of the directionality Teilhard discerned in it that he attempted to destroy completely the famous Jesuit's scientific reputation by making him appear to be an accomplice to the notorious Piltdown hoax. Gould's scurrilous attack, incidentally, has been thoroughly debunked; but, to my knowledge, he never publicly retracted his claims, in spite of clear evidence that Teilhard could not have been involved. (p.88)
Certainly takes my regard for Gould down a notch.