Jesuit and the Skull

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Jesuit and the Skull

Post by Lausten » Thu Jul 21, 2011 12:20 am

Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man by Amir Aczel

I was looking for something on Chardin and picked this up. It spends about half the time discussing the discoveries of early hominid fossils and the other half discussing the lives and around their discovery. This is a rare and interesting approach to history. Included in the sub-stories are the romantic adventures of Chardin, (a celibate Jesuit monk) and some theories on how the bones of Peking Man were lost.

When studying history, normally you have to piece together your knowledge of events that were occurring at the same time, but this book stops and gives a thorough coverage of the Scopes Trial, just when you need it to understand how Darwin’s ideas were being accepted, and how it affected actions of the paleontologists discussed and the actions of the Vatican. It gave me a better sense of what it was like to live through the time before evolution was a fully developed theory.

The Vatican is not treated sympathetically, but the book doesn’t dwell on them either, except for how it treated Chardin. Chardin’s new age ideas on the noosphere and his attempts to reconcile faith with science are given more play, but this is a book about his life, so you need to know a little about that to understand him and why he was exiled to China and not allowed to publish his works during his life.

If you know your Australopithecus from your Homo habilis you may find it too rudimentary, but for an introduction to 20th century paleontology and how the world reacted to it, it would be hard to beat. Anyone who says that the church has not had a problem with science recently should take a look at this. It is a short and pleasant read.
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