Saturday, August 06, 2005


Vatican Astronomer Responds to Cardinal Schonborn

Father George Coyne, an American Jesuit priest and a distinguished astronomy professor, has responded to the New York Times Op-Ed written by Cardinal Christoph Shonborn supporting intelligent design. Coyne is reported to have written privately to Shonborn and the Pope, protesting at the New York Times article soon after it was published last month.

These excerpts are via the Catholic News Sevice:

"God is working with the universe. The universe has a certain vitality of its own like a child does..."

[God] "... is not constantly intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves,"

"... [R]eligious 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."

"Perhaps God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words."

"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."

According to the Catholic News Service, 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. And so they wander through the universe until they finally combine."

"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."

"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being came about by chance, and so has no need of God, or by necessity, and so through the action of a designer God, is no longer valid," he said."The meaning of chance and necessity must be seen in the light of that fertility," he said.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.

Please note that RSR is relying on a secondary source for these quotations. We have not yet been able to read Father Coyne's letter in the original.


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