The Vatican has appointed a Jesuit priest to head the Vatican Observatory, Argentine Fr. Jose Funes. The appointment follows the retirement of Fr. George Coyne, another Jesuit astronomer who had vehemently opposed the Catholic Church’s stand on materialist Darwinism.I suppose one of the side benefits of preistly celibacy is that the author was restrained from adding "It is unclear whether or not Fr. Coyne has stopped beating his wife" but the thought is clearly there.
Fr. Funes, speaking to Catholic News Service, the official news outlet of the US Bishops Conference, denied that Fr. Coyne had been removed by the Vatican for his opposition to Catholic teaching.... He did say however, that he would be restricting his own work to his field of expertise, which is disk galaxies and had no plans to make any statements on biology or Darwinian theory.
Coyne has certainly kicked the creationist/intelligent design ant nest a few times, but to say that he "vehemently opposed the Catholic Church’s stand on materialist Darwinism" is patently false. The Church has a stand against materialism, which Coyne has vocally supported on a number of occasions, and the Church has no stand at all on the scientific issue of "Darwinism" or more properly: evolution. There are those who have felt that some of Coyne's philosophical/theological statements have bordered on process theology, and that would constitute a violation of Catholic teaching. But whether Fr. Coyne actually endorses such a position is far from clear, one certainly could not say that he does so vehemently.
All of which got me curious to see what the CNS had originally said in their article. The tone could hardly be more different:
ROME (CNS) -- The new director of the Vatican Observatory said it's important to distinguish between the scientific study of natural causes and the religious beliefs of faith.A rather saner take on it all.
At the same time, science can sometimes help people "arrive at a knowledge of God," said Argentine Jesuit Father Jose Funes....
Father Funes said he thought it would be an almost impossible mission to match the "wonderful work" of U.S. Jesuit Father George Coyne, 73, who was leaving as the observatory director after 26 years.
Father Funes dismissed speculation that Father Coyne had been forced out of the job because of his strong comments in support of evolution and criticism of the "intelligent design" movement.
"It's simply not true that this was the reason he left," Father Funes said. He said the appointment was a natural development after Father Coyne's long tenure and one of many personnel changes being made at the Vatican under the new pope.
As for his own views on evolution, Father Funes emphasized that he was an astronomer specializing in galaxies, not a biologist, and so did not plan to make statements about Darwinism and intelligent design.
He said the role of the observatory is first of all to "do good science in astronomy," and in this way favor the ongoing dialogue between faith and science.
Father Funes, who has taught an introductory course in astronomy at the University of Arizona, said he emphasizes to his students that science is about natural causes....
"I don't see any contradictions between science and religion. What I see are tensions. But it is healthy to have tensions in life. Sometimes tensions allow us to mature," he said.
Father Funes' specific field is nearby galaxies, which he described as galaxies "only" 50 million or so light years from Earth. It's part of an exciting area of astronomy, he said. Astronomers now estimate there are more than 100 billion galaxies in the universe, and some hypothesize more than one universe.
The discoveries about the universe certainly raise the possibility of life on other planets, he said.
"Even in our own galaxy, the Milky Way, we have 100 billion stars. It's possible some stars have planets similar to Earth, and that life could develop, could evolve -- it's OK with me to use the word 'evolution,'" he said.
The idea of discovering intelligent life elsewhere in the universe does not trouble Father Funes from a faith perspective.
"I don't see that this would pose a problem to theology or to our faith, because these creatures, or beings, or 'ETs' if you want, could also be creatures of God," he said.