Christians v. Intelligent Design: Featured: George Coyne

George Coyne, a Jesuit priest and formed director of the Vatican Observatory has never hidden his dislike of “Intelligent Design”. Father Coyne holds a doctorate in astronomy from Georgetown University as well as a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Fordham University.

Father Coyne also has spoken out strongly against Cardinal Schoenborn’s comments on evolutionary theory.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn claims random evolution is incompatible with belief in a creator God. Here, in an exclusive rebuttal of that view, the Vatican’s chief astronomer says that science reflects God’s infinite purpose

I discussed Coyne’s position in 2006

Coyne, has a fascinating perspective on faith and science. First of all he is upfront that his faith comes from his parents education as well as the people who surrounded him. He also finds that science gives his faith a new dimension but he is also clear that science does not lead him God.

QUESTION: Father Coyne, has there been a conflict in your life in resolving your interest in science with your religious calling?

FATHER COYNE: I must honestly say, for me very personally, it’s never been a conflict, in fact, far from it. The two have been very supportive. Let me say a word about it, though, because it’s been my personal history, that my science has never led me to believe, to have faith. I haven’t come to believe because I have convinced myself it was the right thing to do by doing science. Far from it, faith to me is a gift, which I willingly received as a little child, and then questioned as I grew up. By a gift, I mean that God gave me the gift of faith. I don’t mean that in any miraculous sense, I mean through the parents who educated me, through the brothers and sisters I grew up with, the schools I went to, there was this influence upon me which was the faith, in the concrete. I accepted it, I questioned it, I grew up with it, and in the end, as a mature adult, I continue to accept it.

Now, having the faith, not having acquired it, but having been given it, as I do my science I find that it supports my faith, it enriches it, it gives it a whole new dimension. But, I have never come to know God, to see God, to believe in God through doing science. He’s not the conclusion of some sort of process of my personal scientific investigation. But, my scientific investigation, because God is reflected in the world in which me made, in some sense, my scientific investigation has always supported my belief in God in a very real sense. It helps me to pray better. I have more things to pray about, my prayer is enriched, et cetera. As a religious priest I find it a very enriching experience to do my scientific research. So far from there being any conflict, in that sense in which I explained, the scientific research, being a scientist helps to support both my life as a Jesuit and my belief in God.

More recently Coyne has come out strongly against Intelligent Design. On September 4, 2008, he gave a lecture

“I am going to, for better or worse, take on the intelligent design movement in this country,” Coyne began the lecture. “I’m not going to apologize on the statements I make.”

On the topic of “teach the controversy”, a religio-political motivated attempt to introduce the teachings of “intelligent design” into public schools, Coyne has the following to add

Coyne spoke briefly about the religious and political implications of the debate between intelligent design and evolution.

“The chasm between religious faith and scientific research is falsely created, especially in this country,” he said.


“You shouldn’t talk about God in a science classroom,” he said. According to Coyne, it is the parents’ duty to teach their child about God if they want, not the science teacher’s responsibility.

Finally, let me point to what I see as a very open position towards faith and science, where science informs faith, where faith should not be a restriction to do science and finally where faith goes beyond that which can be established rationally. In other words, while science can inform faith, science cannot prove or disprove faith.

FATHER COYNE: It’s a very real difficulty. There are many people who do view scientific research as alienating us from religion and from God, and when so many people do, there must be some reason for it. As a scientist I would address that in two ways. One is that at the very origins of modern science people like Isaac Newton, Descartes, and Galileo were all very religious people. So doing science is not inherently incompatible with religious faith.

However the great successes of science - Galileo’s telescopic observations, Newton’s law of gravity, etc - all of this great success caused people to sort of say, what if we could establish religion on that same successful basis? What if we could have a good rational foundation for religious belief. What if religion could be sort of like science. Of course, that can’t be. The whole dimension of religious belief requires transcendence, it requires going beyond what you can establish rationally.

Father Coyne is a voice of reason in the debates on faith and science and his word should serve as a focal point for resolving many of the unnecessary and foolish attempts to insist on science being subservient to our faith.

George Coyne at Meta-Library

Vatican astronomer rips Intelligent Design theory