Pope Fires Pro-Evolution Jesuit Head of Vatican Observatory


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.

NEXT: When Johnny Lindh Comes Marching Home

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  1. Maybe. Or it may be because Coyne has cancer and asked to step down, as has also been reported. Or maybe both.


  2. Hi Ken: Thanks for the link with the worrying news about Father Coyne’s cancer. Let’s keep an eye on the Pope’s upcoming seminar on evolution with senior clergymen.

  3. I should warn you that the spin that Coyne was fired seems to not have an official source and instead to come from the interpretation of the Intelligent Design movement itself. Coyne was quite old and is in treatment for cancer: reasons enough on their own for him to step down. And he’s being replaced by Jose Funes, who is also an opponent of ID. So, basically, the claim that he was sacked for his views seems pretty weak. It’s down to unknown “sources” but who knows what their motives are, and ID people boosting that line. Contrast that with the fact that Coyne is old and very sick atm, and his replacement is hardly a biblical creationist, and I think this story bears some serious skepticism.

    OT: Why is the comment system here so incredibly buggy? How hard can it be? I know perl, php, apache most scripting languages: you need someone to tool it up?

  4. The comment system here has been buggy for as long as I can remember. The rest of us moved on from TI-994As long ago, but not, evidently H&R. Is Reason oblivious, imperious, unserious, delirious, or deletirious? And what about Naomi?

  5. Old? He’s six years younger than the pope.

  6. Sorry, that should have more strongly linked his cancer to his age, not have made his age a factor on his own.

    And I see that my wrestling with the comment system for so long has left my comment as being redudant. 🙂

  7. Personally, I’ve always favored the “Dumb Design” theory. It explains a lot more.

  8. Belligerent design: the theory that the whole of creation was put here just to piss me off.

  9. plunge,

    You fail to realize how difficult it is for Mr. Bailey to pass up an opportunity to beat up on the Catholic Church, however implausible the basis. I wonder if he’d rush to link to an article that claimed that GM foods were unsafe on the basis of three anonymous sources at Monsanto.

    That said, if he really did fire him over not toeing the ID line, Pope Benedict would lose a lot of respect in my eyes.

  10. Here’s a report on the conference, suggesting not too much happened:


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