i n t e g r a l   c o u n s e l i n g   i n s t i t u t e

                        e n e r g i z i n g    t r a n s f o r m a t i o n    t  h r o u g h    i n q u i r y ,   i n s i g h t ,   a n d   i n t e g r a t i o n


                          March Book Review and Quotes Archive


                                                “The Jesuit and the Skull”
                    Teilhard De Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man
                                                       By Amir D. Aczel


                                          Guest Review by Kyle Gribskov

“ The Jesuit and the Skull” is a short biography of De Chardin concentrating on the strength of his belief

system and how that system allowed him to understand and further the growth in knowledge of ancient

man while both being oppressed by the Church and following its dictates faithfully.

The saga follows Pierre from his childhood in a rather privileged family, growing up experiencing the

outdoors as a laboratory, which fitted him well for further growth in his scientific understanding and

describing the other side of De Chardin which arose from his devout upbringing that led to his Jesuit

training. While earning his various degrees in anthropology and geology and expanding his knowledge

of paleontology, anatomy and other related fields; he was at the same time following the course of

becoming a Jesuit. These were not contradictory paths for him and he felt that his scientific knowledge

went hand in hand with his religious beliefs. He ended up feeling that the church was too literal in its

teachings about the time line of creation of the world and of mankind; and yet at the same time, his faith

led him to consistently follow the instructions of his superiors and limit the expression of what his scientific

exploration led him to. The journey takes him back and forth between France and his exile in China where

he was instrumental in the discovery and authentication of Peking man and that fossils’ place in the

understanding of early humans evolution. The central result of his scientific study is his acceptance of the

force of evolution and that this belief in no way interfered with his essential religious beliefs. The book

follows his journey, directed by his superiors in the Jesuit community; and shows a remarkable ability to

grow and learn in both scientific and religious fields while the scientific community generally supported his

views and the religious community wanted his ideas kept under wraps.

I enjoyed learning about the variety of experience he had, and his unique ability to include intensely

opposing pressures to form a positive outlook on his faith and still successfully contribute in his areas

of scientific expertise. His ability to include conflicting philosophies in his sense of the world and to select

the positive parts of those opposing ideas to form his perspective show an impressive equanimity under

difficult circumstances. A rare ability.