George V. Coyne, S.J. (January 19, 1933 – February 11, 2020) was a Jesuit priest, astronomer, and director of the Vatican Observatory and head of the observatory's research group which is based at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. Since January 2012, he served as McDevitt Chair of Religious Philosophy at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY.
1 Scientific education
2 Priesthood and theological study
3 Director of Vatican Observatory
4 Scientific research
5 Intelligent design
7 See also
Coyne completed his bachelor's degree in mathematics and his licentiate in philosophy at Fordham University, New York City, in 1958. He carried out a spectrophotometric study of the lunar surface for the completion of his doctorate in astronomy at Jesuit Georgetown University in 1962. He spent the summer of 1963 doing research at Harvard University, the summer of 1964 as a National Science Foundation lecturer at the University of Scranton, and the summer of 1965 as visiting research professor at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (UA LPL).
Priesthood and theological study
A member of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) since the age of 18, he completed a licentiate in sacred theology at Woodstock College, Woodstock, Maryland, and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1965. Coyne was visiting assistant professor at the UA LPL in 1966-67 and 1968–69, and visiting astronomer at the Vatican Observatory in 1967-68.
Director of Vatican Observatory
Coyne joined the Vatican Observatory as an astronomer in 1969 and became an assistant professor at the LPL in 1970. In 1976 he became a senior research fellow at the LPL and a lecturer in the UA Department of Astronomy. The following year he served as Director of the UA's Catalina Observatory and as Associate Director of the LPL.
He became Director of the Vatican Observatory in 1978, and also Associate Director of the UA Steward Observatory. During 1979-80 he served as Acting Director and Head of the UA Steward Observatory and the Astronomy Department. As Director of the Vatican Observatory he has been a driving force in several new educational and research initiatives. He spends five months of the year in Tucson as adjunct professor in the University of Arizona Astronomy Department. Coyne was succeeded as Director of the Vatican Observatory by Fr. José Gabriel Funes in August 2006.
Coyne's research interests have been in polarimetric studies of various subjects including the interstellar medium, stars with extended atmospheres and Seyfert galaxies, which are a class of spiral galaxies with very small and unusually bright star-like centers. Polarimetry studies can reveal the properties of cosmic dust and synchrotron radiation regions in galaxies and other astronomical objects. Most recently he has been studying the polarization produced in cataclysmic variables, or interacting binary star systems that give off sudden bursts of intense energy, and dust about young stars. He also has the asteroid 14429 Coyne, named for him.
He is an active member of the International Astronomical Union, the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America.
Further information: Evolution and the Roman Catholic Church
Coyne has been a vocal opponent of intelligent design since at least August 2005, when he was published in The Tablet. This opposition was further publicized in November 2005, when he was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying "Intelligent design isn't science even though it pretends to be. If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science." He was also interviewed for the BBC documentary A War on Science where he criticized intelligent design as being unscientific, and suggested that the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn was pressured by the think-tank the Discovery Institute to publish an article in the New York Times critical of evolution.
Coyne has discussed that he doesn't, and other Christians shouldn't, have problems reconciling his faith in Christ with scientific topics like the multiverse, Big Bang, stellar nucleosynthesis, solar nebular theory, geological time scale, abiogenesis, symbiogenesis, evolution, neuroscientific and psychological studies of consciousness, and evolutionary psychology. Regarding environmental issues, Coyne has applauded Pope Francis for openly discussing the importance for caring for the environmemt and addressing the need for Christians to tackle the issue of climate change caused by human activity. Coyne has stated that he's open to the existence of extraterrestrial life, and that Christianity could coincide with those potential discoveries. He has been forthright in criticizing the Church's lukewarm admission of responsibility for its prosecution of Galileo in the early seventeenth century.
He retired from the position in 2006, at the age of 73, and was replaced by the Argentine astronomer José Gabriel Funes. As this followed closely Coyne's prominence in the debate over intelligent design, speculation arose that he was replaced due to his criticism of it and its supporters, particularly Cardinal Schönborn, a friend of Pope Benedict XVI. During a 2008 interview with Richard Dawkins, Coyne praised a pre-publication version of a new book by Schönborn. Coyne summarizes the book as a distinction by Schönborn between evolution and "evolutionism", the latter of which extends evolution beyond the science and into reductionist judgements of human worth. Coyne states that the controversy would not have arisen had Schönborn shared those views before.
In a statement to the Arizona Daily Star, Funes publicly rejected the idea that Coyne's retirement relates to his views on Intelligent Design. Coyne himself has said the idea was "simply not true".
Coyne was featured in the movie Religulous, by political commentator Bill Maher, commenting that all of the scriptures are written around/between 2000 BC and 200 AD, and modern science has only come into existence in the last couple hundred years, and thus the scriptures in no way contain any science and should not be taught as such. He said:
Coyne was granted an honorary doctorate by Le Moyne College of Syracuse, NY, a Jesuit institution, on May 17, 2009 in recognition of "his tireless effort to promote an open dialogue between philosophy, theology, and the sciences" as part of his work "to bridge the gap between faith and science."
Coyne died on February 11, 2020 at a hospital in Syracuse of cancer at the age of 87.
List of Jesuit scientists
List of Roman Catholic scientist-clerics
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