Pope Benedict XVI has named a new director for the Vatican Observatory. Father José Gabriel Funes will succeed a controversial American, Father George Coyne.
Father Funes, an Argentine Jesuit, is already a member of the Vatican Observatory team. The outgoing Father Coyne, also a Jesuit, has been director of the Observatory for more than 25 years, and now steps down at the age of 73.
Last year Father Coyne drew worldwide attention for his public comments on the topics of evolution and the theory of intelligent design. In an August 2005 column for the London Tablet the Jesuit astronomer criticizes arguments put forward by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn questioning the Darwinian theory of evolution. A few weeks later, speaking at a conference in Florida, Father Coyne said that “intelligent design isn’t science, even if it pretends to be.”
Coyne has been a strong force for sanity in the Church’s relationship with science, a voice which seems increasingly overwhelmed. As Beliefnet reports:
In early September, Benedict will conduct a weekend seminar on the impact Darwin’s theory has on the church’s teaching of Creation. Schonborn, who has described evolution as “incompatible” with church teachings, will speak at the event, along with evolution advocate Peter Schuster, president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
Other speakers at the event include the Rev. Paul Erbrich, emeritus professor of natural philosophy from the University of Munich, who has described evolution as a “fundamentally inadequate” explanation of the origins of life; and Robert Spaemann, a conservative German philosopher who has challenged “evolutionism,” or the philosophical applications of Darwin’s theory.
Not the most balanced of lineups, alas.
There is a still hope though, as the new director previously said:
“When I teach at the University of Arizona, I tell students, I am a priest, a Jesuit, but my class is a science class … and Science is about natural, not supernatural causes.”
The Church is fully entitled to promote supernatural frameworks for understanding why certain things ought to be as they are, but to claim that science is wrong because it doesn’t match religious dogma is a path that has lead to too much strife and error by religious groups.