Scandalous Coyne

I wish someone would shut Fr. George Coyne up. I hate to be so blunt, but the man is doing far more harm than good in his position as director of the Vatican Observatory. One would think that as a priest and perhaps the most prominent spokesman for the Church’s teaching on science and faith, that he would at least get his theology straight. But, somehow, I think he’s a scientist in clericals, not a cleric in a labcoat or some mix of the two. And, not only is he just a scientist, but one who would rather bend, stretch, or break de fide teachings of the Faith than look beyond scientistic (not scientific) orthodoxy.

Prof. Stephen Barr takes issue with Coyne in today’s “On the Square.” He writes (referencing an article also objecting to Coyne in the latest Touchstone):

In the June issue of Touchstone magazine, Martin Hilbert puts his finger on a real problem with Coyne’s views on evolution. On the one hand, Coyne says that science is “completely neutral with respect to philosophical or theological implications that may be drawn from its conclusions.” On the other hand, he says, “If we take the results of modern science seriously, then what science tells us of God must be very different from God as seen by the medieval philosophers and theologians.” One cannot have it both ways. What Coyne means by “medieval” conceptions are the doctrines of God’s omniscience and what theology calls God’s “immediate providence” over all events in the universe. These are clearly de fide teachings of the Catholic Church, and someone who has the word Vatican in his job title, even if he has no magisterial authority, should really be more careful.

Coyne feels that the newfangled God who does not direct the course of events, but plays a more advisory role, is both more biblical and more scientific. He is wrong on both counts. The Bible asserts both the role of chance and that God directs all things: “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord,” says Proverbs 16:33. Nor is there a single thing modern science has taught us that would force us to abandon those supposedly “medieval” notions of God (which, in fact, were clearly and unanimously taught by the Church Fathers). On the contrary, the process theology that Coyne seems to embrace is notoriously at odds with the insights modern physics has given us about the nature of time (many of which were brilliantly anticipated by St. Augustine).

One can in fact have it both ways: stochastic processes do play a role in Creation, and God still directs them. Our measly human intellects can barely get a hold of that notion, but who are we to say that an omnipotent God can’t use what we see as randomness for a particular end? But, if we were to think like Fr. Coyne, I suppose we would declare, “If I can’t understand it, I can’t believe it.” On the contrary, credo ut intelligam.


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