The Vatican Astronomer

I went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science last night to hear a lecture by Fr. George Coyne, SJ, who for 28 years was the director of the Vatican Observatory. The highlight of the night was being able to sit with some friends, the Frs. Noble and David Russo.

As to the talk itself–the man’s a Deist. This has been pointed out by Catholics.

Forget theistic evolution, the idea that God has guided the evolutionary process. For Coyne, God watches from the sidelines. He will acknowledge very few miracles (yes to the resurrection, no to Marian apparitions)–for God to perform miracles and intervene in our lives would be, for him, like a parent trying to control their adult children.

Coyne argued that evolution proceeds by “a dance between chance and destiny” or necessity. Two hydrogen atoms, under certain conditions (chance) must (necessity) form a hydrogen molecule. That’s it. That’s what makes the universe a “fertile” place. God “made” the universe with “a creativity of its own.”

The question and answer period was annoying because a girl who didn’t know either scientific or religious terminology insisted on repeating the questions and consistently garbled them.

Did God design it? No; he’s no engineer. How did life arise? We don’t know. Is there life elsewhere? We don’t know.

“If God designed the universe he has to take responsibility for all the evil in the universe.” Seems like he needs to take a theodicy class or two.

There was no “before the universe,” he replied to someone. There was nothing, then there was energy, then there was matter. Time and space are within the universe, so you can’t talk about “before.” There was no “before.”

Someone asked about providence, and he reiterated his idea of God as loving parent. God doesn’t predetermine the outcome–that would be like a parent choosing your career.

At times banal, at times describing the immensity of the universe in  staggering ways, Coyne is at all times a patient teacher. Not grinding an axe. Not assuming the audience is hostile. Not assuming the church is against him. In fact, he talked this way throughout his career. It’s safe to see Coyne’s position as one the Vatican has no problem with.

Previous posts I’ve made on this subject:

2 thoughts on “The Vatican Astronomer

  1. Grrrr! So dissapointing. Coyne has always struck me as a typical Jesuit of today (sorry to make such a sweeping generalization) – having almost nothing in common with the founder of his order. I wonder what a conversation would be like between Ignatius and Fr. Coyne…

    Re: the Schornborn/Coyne debacle, which ultimately left a bad taste in the collective mouth of everybody, I tend to agree a lot more with Schornborn’s intuition and underlying theology (if not some of his more specific conclusions regarding ID as one of the better names for the process) than with what was almost a comical set of statements from Coyne.

    Thanks for posting about this, Bill. If I’d had more notice I would have liked to go, but alas, these days I tend to keep my head down and busy.

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