Interview with Fr. George Coyne, S.J.

Syracuse.com (in conjunction with Syracuse's The Post-Standard) has published an interview with Fr. George Coyne, S.J., former director of the Vatican Observatory and one of the more well known of those scholars and priests trying to show the relationship (or, where appropriate, the lack thereof) between science and theology, between the achievements of reason and the teachings of revelation. (Many readers might know Fr. Coyne from his interview with Richard Dawkins, which you can see in full at YouTube. It's one of the rare times where Dawkins appears to take a believer seriously (or at least not scornfully), perhaps because of Fr. Coyne's academic credentials.)

Fr. Coyne, in the tradition of so many of the great intellectuals of the Society of Jesus (as well as other non-Catholic scholars like the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne), possesses expertise across academic categories, holding advanced degrees in theology as well as science. The article notes: 

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As a man of faith, the Baltimore native joined the Jesuits in 1951, studied sacred theology and became a Roman Catholic priest. As a man of science, he earned a doctorate in astronomy and became an expert on close binary star systems and Seyfert galaxies.
 
He soon found the perfect meeting place of faith and science: The Vatican Observatory.
 
For nearly three decades, he was the observatory's director, launching new educational and research initiatives and urging the Roman Catholic Church to base its decisions there on solid science. In addition to carrying out planetary research, he helped Pope John Paul II work through several endeavors that shaped the church's stand on key scientific questions.
 
He retired from the observatory at the beginning of 2012 and brought his expertise to Le Moyne College, where he is the McDevitt chair of religious philosophy. He continues his advocacy for the notion that a religious faith and the scientific method can not only coexist, but complement each other.
 

What exactly did Fr. Coyne study within the field of astronomy? He describes it thus:

I carried out a spectrophotometric study of the lunar surface for my doctorate in astronomy. I became interested in the evolution of stars and the complexities of evolution in close binary systems (a system of two stars orbiting around their common center of mass). I have published more than 50 scientific papers on interstellar space, binary systems, variable stars and the tools astronomers use to study them. I have also researched Seyfert galaxies, a class of galaxy characterized by extremely bright nuclei.

Always direct, Fr. Coyne has this to say about the theory of intelligent design: "I have been a vocal opponent of intelligent design. It is not science, although it pretends to be. I am concerned that fundamentalist religious beliefs might continue to influence the role of science in the modern decision-making process." Asked about his time at the Vatican during the papacy of John Paul II, Fr. Coyne said, "I would cite three epoch-making activities of Pope John Paul II: the review of the Galileo affair; the meeting of the church with the world of science; and the church's discussion of scientific evolution."

Click here to read the interview in full.

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