The Daily Mail is reporting that Pope Benedict XVI has fired Father George Coyne, head of the Vatican Observatory, apparently because the good Father thinks that "intelligent design" is bunk. Coyne's sin? He contradicted Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, who wrote an editorial in the New York Times last year that "the Catholic Church will again defend human reason by proclaiming that the immanent design evident in nature is real." In contrast, Coyne has attacked intelligent design theory as a "religious movement" lacking any scientific merit. He reportedly added, "intelligent design isn't science, even if it pretends to be."
Worryingly, Pope Benedict XVI seems to be stepping back from a 1996 declaration by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences authorized by Pope John Paul II, which stated:
[N]ew knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.
It seems that when it comes to faith, reason must again take a back seat. As a nonbeliever, I suspect believers will likely reject my criticisms, but perhaps they will heed St. Augustine, who 16 centuries ago wrote:
If we come to read anything in Holy Scripture that is in keeping with the faith in which we are steeped, capable of several meanings, we must not by obstinately rushing in, so commit ourselves to any one of them that, when perhaps the truth is more thoroughly investigated, it rightly falls to the ground and we with it.
The ground will get a lot closer, if Benedict XVI embraces intelligent design.
Disclosure: Father Coyne featured prominently in the PBS documentary Faith & Reason that I co-produced back in 1998.
Addendum: I thought I would include a comment by Father Coyne from the PBS documentary:
I see God and an evolutionary Universe as a really a very stimulating thing. It's generally looked upon as an evolutionary universe sort of leads us to a disbelief, atheism. I think far the opposite because an evolutionary Universe to me allows me to see a God who deals and works in the Universe, in a sense, in the way he works in me. That is, a Universe that participates in freedom, that has a development of its own from the inside out. It doesn't have a built-in design, but it has the ability to develop according to degrees of uncertainty, et cetera. Not according to strict deterministic laws.