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Vatican Observatory head clashes with cardinal on evolution

London, Aug. 05 (CWNews.com) – The director of the Vatican Observatory has distanced himself from the perspective on evolution put forward by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (bio – news).

Writing in the British Catholic newspaper, The Tablet , Father George Coyne, SJ, says that Cardinal Schönborn “darkened the waters” in discussions of faith and science when the cardinal said that Darwinian evolutionary theory is incompatible with Christian faith.

In a column that appeared in July in the New York Times , and attracted worldwide attention, Cardinal Schönborn explained that while the Church can accept some aspects of evolutionary theory, the notion that human life evolved through “an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection” contradicts the belief that God created human life.

Father Coyne, in his Tablet essay, contradicts the cardinal’s position, claiming that a Christian can recognize God’s providence while still holding the belief that life “evolved through a process of random genetic mutations and natural selection.”

Father Coyne, an American Jesuit, is an astronomer who divides his time between two posts: teaching astronomy at the University of Arizona and directing the Vatican Observatory, which is located on the grounds of the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo.

Cardinal Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, is a theologian, and the chairman of the editorial committee that produced the Catechism of the Catholic Church.



Vatican astronomer says evolution important for insights into God

By Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) — The theory of evolution, rather than negating the need for God, helps believers understand that God’s relationship to the universe is that of a nurturing parent, said Jesuit Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory.

But there is a “nagging fear in the church” that evolution is incompatible with a divinely planned universe and this fear has historically created “murky waters” in the church’s relationship to science, he said in an Aug. 6 article in The Tablet, an independent Catholic weekly newspaper published in London.

The article criticized a July 7 article in The New York Times by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna. The cardinal said that an “unplanned process of random variation and natural selection,” both important parts of evolutionary thinking, are incompatible with Catholic belief that there is a divine purpose and design to nature.

In clarifying comments made afterward in Austria and reported by Kathpress, an Austrian Catholic news agency, Cardinal Schonborn said that evolution as a body of scientific fact was compatible with Catholicism, but that evolution as an ideological dogma that denied design and purpose in nature was not.

Father Coyne said that science is “completely neutral” regarding the philosophical and theological implications of its findings, but this does not prevent believers from using the best scientific data available to improve their understanding of God.

Evolution is not only compatible with Catholicism but also “reveals a God who made a universe that has within it a certain dynamism and thus participates in the very creativity of God,” said Father Coyne.

“God is working with the universe. The universe has a certain vitality of its own like a child does,” he said.

God “is not constantly intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves,” he said.

Based on the results of modern science and modern biblical scholarship, “religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator or designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly,” he said.

“Perhaps God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words,” he said.

This view is compatible with the Bible, which gives God human characteristics and presents divinity as “a God who gets angry, who disciplines, a God who nurtures the universe, who empties himself in Christ the incarnate word,” he added.

Father Coyne criticized Cardinal Schonborn for saying that the scientific processes of “chance” and “necessity” cannot explain the presence of purpose and design in nature. He gave the example of two hydrogen atoms meeting in the universe.

“By necessity (the laws of chemical combination) they are destined to become a hydrogen molecule. But by chance the temperature and pressure conditions at that moment are not correct for them to combine,” he added.

“And so they wander through the universe until they finally combine,” he said.

“By the interaction of chance and necessity, many hydrogen molecules are formed and eventually many of them combine with oxygen to make water, and so on, until we have very complex molecules and eventually the most complicated organism that science knows: the human brain,” he said.

“Chance” and “necessity” are continuously interacting and must be understood as being tied to the scientific process of “fertility” by which the universe is constantly generating matter, he said.

“The classical question as to whether the human being came about by chance, and so has no need of God, or by necessity, and so through the action of a designer God, is no longer valid,” he said.

“The meaning of chance and necessity must be seen in the light of that fertility,” he said.

The universe contains trillions of stars and they “release to the universe the chemical abundance of the elements necessary for life,” he said.

“There is no other way, for instance, to have the abundance of carbon necessary to make a toenail than through the thermonuclear processes in stars. We are all literally born of stardust,” he said.

Evolution is a continuous process and “has a certain intrinsic natural directionality in that the more complex an organism becomes the more determined is its future,” he said.

“It is precisely the fertility of the universe and the interaction of chance and necessity in the universe which are responsible for the directionality,” said Father Coyne.

He said a 1996 speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope John Paul II and a 2004 document by the papally appointed International Theological Commission firmly established that evolution and Catholicism are compatible.

Sorry. Regarding the controversy on evolution/creation between Cardinal Schoenborn and Father George Coyne, SJ, director of the Vatican Observatory ... Why not read what the boss of both Pope Ratzinger said about? Pope Ratzinger in the oration at the first Mass said literally: "We are NOT random and senseless products of evolution. Each of us is fruit of a God's DESIGN" More clear than so ! ... niwrad
All in all, Fr. Coyne's argument is so much cow manure. It is more neo-Darwinian handwaving, with no details and no evidence. Aquila
It seems to me we have two dimensions to this debate: one theological and one scientific. On the theological level, the Catholic Church, through Cardinal Schoenborn, reaffirms that to claim human life is the result of blind processes is excessive at the supernatural level. That is the bone the Church has to pick with Darwinism. On the scientific level, intelligent design asserts that Darwin's scientific claims of human evolution are excessive at the natural level. That is ID's bone to pick with Darwinism. Either way, Darwinism doesn't stack up. Q.E.D. PaV
What I want to see is a debate between Cardinal Schonborn and Kenneth Miller strictly on the science. Certainly would be entertaining. Evolution is indeed compatible with Catholic teaching, and Popes from Pius XII to Benedict XVI have noted such. Ultimately the Church does not define scientific issues, we leave that to the scientific community. And Fr. George Coyne can be considered part of that community, while Schonborn (correct me if I'm wrong) is not trained in science. So I think the Cardinal was out of line in his NY Times editorial speaking on science matters. For the current Pope's view on how to interpret Genesis, see http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p81.htm As I've said, both pro-evolution and pro-ID statements can be attributed to him, and he's been quoted by Mike Behe and Ken Miller affirming both sides. Phil P PhilVaz

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