This blog will primarily focus on the philosophical and theological aspects of Teilhard de Chardin’s life and contemporary applications of those themes. Although Teilhard is most widely known today as a leading spiritual visionary, during his lifetime, he was also a highly respected paleontologist. This post will touch on that aspect of Teilhard’s life.
Teilhard is perhaps most famous in paleontology for his involvement in the discovery of Peking Man, which is outlined in the 2008 book The Jesuit and the Skull. Peking Man, discovered by an international team led by Davidson Black and Teilhard de Chardin, was one of the earliest discoveries of homo erectus, who lived approximately 750,000 years ago.
In the latter half of the 20th century, Teilhard’s scientific work was questioned by paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould when Gould accused Teilhard of being a participant in the Piltdown Man Hoax, one of the greatest paleoanthropological hoaxes ever perpetuated. Most serious scientists and researchers exonerated Teilhard but Gould’s accusations generated a lot of publicity for Gould in the early 1980s and cast a shadow over Teilhard. Never mind that Teilhard was only tangentially involved with the Piltdown site and that scientific fraud was completely out of character for Teilhard, who by all accounts, had the highest integrity and honor.
A recent paper in LoS Biology by Jason Lewis and colleagues reveals that it was Stephen Jay Gould who was involved is massive scientific fraud. In the outstanding blog by anthropologist John Hawks, Hawks summarizes Lewis’ paper. Key quotes from the blog analysis include:
“Some of Gould’s mistakes are outrageous, with others it is hard for me to believe that the misstatements were not deliberate misrepresentations. . . Gould made up the whole thing. It was an utter fabulation (sic). It is disgraceful that later authors have cited this idea as fact. . . With numbers like these, it is natural to wonder exactly where Gould came up with his idea that Morton’s numbers were fudged. Here’s how: Gould fudged his own numbers! (emphasis in original)”
To the extent that Gould had any defenders left for his accusations against Teilhard de Chardin, hopefully they will be now put to rest.