To understand the importance/relevance of Peking Man in the context of Teilhard’s life, it is helpful to recall that in the same summer (1925) that Teilhard was being disciplined for his advocacy of evolution in a Catholic context, a sensational trial was being held in Dayton, TN, popularly called the Scopes Monkey Trial, in the evangelical Protestant context in America.

In 1925, biology teacher John Scopes spiraled to fame in the legal battle that became known as the monkey trial. Whether a man was descended from the monkey or just making a monkey out of man, was fought in a courtroom that challenged the truth of Darwin’s theory of evolution. The existence of man in the prehistoric world was denied, for, according to the Bible, life began with Adam and Eve.

An American jury deliberated on the fate of a man accused of teaching evolution to his high school students. The state of Tennessee has passed the Butler Act, which forbids the teaching of evolution in schools.

The trial was contrived because they wanted to test the Butler Act.  John T Scopes volunteered to be arrested and the trial was held for about ten days in a hot July. William Jennings Bryan defended fundamentalism. Clarence Darrow defended the evolutionary framework.

A critical issue in the debate was the fact that there was no fossil evidence to prove that humans had evolved from primates.  This was called “the missing link.” And it was Peking Man that provided that missing link four years after the Scopes trial.

In the end, John T. Scopes lost because he had disobeyed the law. He was fined $100 by the judge. The Scopes trial mirrored Teilhard’s situation in that science was considered okay as long as it did not contradict Scripture, and evolution is seen as a threat that can pull down Christianity.  It wasn’t until 42 years later that the Butler Act was repealed.  The issue of science versus faith persists until today.

“And in 1941, fifteen years later, [Peking Man’s] precious remains were gone: stolen, lost or destroyed, no one knew.  Never in the history of the recovery of the fossil record of human evoution had there been a disaster of such magnitude, for these ancient bones represented a veritable population of at least 40 individuals – men, women, and children – from a stage of human evolution previously unknown.

At first the loss seemed incredible, because, since the publication in the nineteenth century of Darwin’s Origin of Species, fossils – as the sole tangible evidence of evolution – had taken on a kind of sanctity.  They were the rare fagments of successive worlds:  the keys to understanding the forms that life had taken in its tireless and unending adaptation to the environment.  And among these relics, none had a more iimmediate interest than those that marked the course of human evolution.

The Peking fossils were at the time of their disappearance the only representatives of this stage of human evoloution.  No others existed.
~ Peking Man, bby Harry L. Shapiro, 1974  Simon and Schuster, pp. 11-13

The Chinese Skeletons
The discovery in the deposits at Chou Kou Tien, China, of ten skeletons and one skull supposedly of the extremely interesting pre-human species described by Dr. J.G. Anderson and Dr. Davidson Black under the name of Siananthropus Pekinensis, as disclosed in dispatches from Pekin, may easily turn out, as its sponsors predict, to be the most important discovery yet made in human pre-history.  The long progress of evolution which must have stretched between the admitted apes and the admitted humans is represented in the collections of the   anthropologists by but four chief way stations: the famous Java man of Professor    Dubois, which may not be a man at all; the Piltdown Man of England; the Heidelberg man of Germany, represented merely b a jaw; and the Chinese man, presumably represented by the newly found skeletons. …this creature may be the first true missing link of human evolution….