The Vatican’s chief astronomer, Father George Coyne, has spoken out against the ID movement again. Read here.
Father Coyne’s well-known opposition to ID is not really the controversial part of his statement. The position that design inferences do not belong in science as a strict empirical discipline is one that can be held by Catholics without a problem. (It is, to be clear, certainly not a position which MUST be held.) Unfortunately, though, Father Coyne’s further statements reveal his continued theological and philosophical confusion:
“If (the universe) was created by chance, who needs God?” Coyne asked. “If by necessity, then someone had the necessity. Someone designed it.”
However, Coyne said this argument is not adequate enough for him.
He said although he believes in God, and believes God created the universe, he cannot believe in intelligent design as a scientist.
“God gave the universe a certain structure so we could come about, but he didn’t predetermine it,” he said. “He created the universe and then let it go.”
First, Father Coyne appears to be confusing the role of chance in the development of the universe after its creation and the act of creation itself. The rolls of a pair of dice are determined by chance; the existence of the dice themselves is not. Unless the universe is eternal (which it is not according to both Catholic doctrine and a strict interpretation of currently available cosmological data), it couldn’t have been “created” by chance, as Father Coyne here says, anymore than a pair of dice could come into existence by chance. If Father Coyne simply means that the current conditions of the universe developed by chance and law interacting within the existing universe, his argument makes more sense.
(Some scientists have postulated that the Big Bang was an event that occurred inside of a larger, possibly eternal super-universe, but such is still speculation. Empirical evidence goes only back to the beginning, the Big Bang, and not any further.)
Further, Father Coyne’s statement about God not “predetermining” the development of the universe is ambiguous, even contradictory with his previous statement that God designed the universe in such a way that mankind would develop. Is that not “predetermining?” In the most charitable reading he is making a statement against special creationism, the idea that God directly intervened and miraculously created things like the Earth, animals, and the human body. One may hold that He did, but it is also possible to believe that God allowed them to develop by natural processes.
However, when coupled with Father Coyne’s previous statements that the Scholastic philosophers’ conceptions of God as omniscient and omnipotent have been “proved wrong by modern science”, his statement seems more problematic. God’s omniscience and omnipotence are matters of doctrine, not merely Scholastic philosophy. Furthermore the appearance of chance and randomness from a human perspective are not evidence of randomness and chance in the eyes of God. To imply that the development of the universe is not along God’s plan would not be compatible with Church teaching.
Father Coyne’s statements are ambiguous and inconsistent. As his expertise appears to be mostly in scientific matters, it would be helpful to the faithful if he were to clarify his meaning and fit his statements into the larger historical, theological, and philosophical understanding of Catholicism’s views on creation.