Friday, November 20, 2009

(2) Encountering Teilhard

After taking this course on Teilhard, I had occasion in my remaining
years at Georgetown to attend some major conferences presented
there by various Teilhardian societies. At some of these meets
elite scientists from all the world came and talked not only about
Teilhard's theological concepts, but also made mention how his
thought oft directed their own scientific careers. I had heard enough,
in that then and there I decided to pattern my own career into a
Teilhardian mould.

However I must confess right off that I did not intend simply to be
a Teilhardian clone. I was not interested in rocks or fossils, not
even much when it came to Evolutionary Theory. Rather back in
my time at Georgetown, the New Physics was becoming popular.
I decided to major in Physics, with a minor in Mathematics. And
following Georgetown, I trekked up to Princeton where I took a
Phd in Physics. At this point I had to keep in mind my own career
track as well as to provide for myself. Luckily I secured a position
at the University of California, at Berkeley, as an Assistant Professor.

Need I say that Berkeley was a great place for a fledgling physicist.
Lots of famous physicists had worked there, are still there, so the
scientific environment was truly enriching. After a few years there,
after I was safely settled academically, I began to look around
where I might acquire a theological education--part time. Like
Teilhard I not only wanted to be a scientist, but also a theologian.
But the kind of theology I was looking for might be hard to find.
However, residing in Berkeley, I was fortunate in this case.

The Graduate Theological Union, located in Berkeley, is basically
a Consortium of different denominational schools. Though I had
no intention becoming a priest or joining the Jesuit Order, I checked
out the Jesuit School of Theology located not far from where I lived.
Beforehand I had checked out the school's offerings, and frankly
I wasn't sure it could provide what I wanted to do--mainly link
Teilhard's cosmic spirituality with the theoretics of modern physics.
The school's M.A. program in Theology was two years full-time,
four years part-time. And looking at the Jesuit school's brochure,
there was an area of study called "Christian Spirituality" that could
focus on contemporary understandings of such.

So I made an appointment and talked with a Jesuit official at the
school. He was fascinated that a physicist would even be interested
in a theology degree. I told him of my encounter with Teilhard's
spirituality when an undergraduate at Georgetown, and how I would
like to blend Teilhard's thought with contemporary physics. After all,
it might fit the upcoming theological field of "Science and Religion."

The Jesuit official bit the bait, and I was given application forms with a
temporary proviso of acceptance after review. Fortune was with me,
and once again I was studying under the tutelage of the Jesuits!

Interestingly, too, at the same time I was about to embark on my
theological degree, I made a significant move as a physicist.
Leaving my teaching duties at the university, I took a research
position at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory which was
situated on a hill overlooking the university. So I hadn't moved far.
However, this government laboratory--under the management of
the University of California--gave me much more freedom to pursue
my studies at the Jesuit School of Theology. On top of that, talking
one day with a new found friend, I discovered that David Bohm,
the "Father of Quantum Mechanics," who once worked at the
Laboratory, had developed a theory that he called the "Implicate
Order." His theory, mostly based on the New Physics, allowed for
a corresponding inner universe in relation to an outer universe.

Immediately I realized that Bohm's theory about an universal
Implicate Order also might relate to Teilhard's idea of a "Within"
that was an inner lining of the universe. I decided that I would
pursue a comparative study of Teilhard and Bohm's respective
theories as my thesis subject.

And beyond this, there were other theological subjects that I had
to pursue. Outside of Teilhard, I felt the most helpful courses
should relate to Christology, which simply put is the study of
"Who is the Christ." I needed a historical approach, if you will,
when it came to this question. I needed to understand the
theoretical territories covered by Christology, from Early
Christianity to the Christ of Faith through the centuries down to
the the present day. No mean task taking these courses. They
proved to be an eye-opener, however,and they brought me to
Teilhard's doorstep.

But before I could dip deep into the intricacies of Teilhard's
religious thought about the Cosmic Christ, I first had to work into
his scientific theory of "Cosmogenesis"-- which alone proved
a rigorous challenge.