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EVOLUTION-COYNE (CORRECTED) Aug-5-2005 (760 words) xxxn

Vatican astronomer says evolution important for insights into God

By Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- The theory of evolution, rather than negating the need for God, helps believers understand that God's relationship to the universe is that of a nurturing parent, said Jesuit Father George Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory.

But there is a "nagging fear in the church" that evolution is incompatible with a divinely planned universe and this fear has historically created "murky waters" in the church's relationship to science, he said in an Aug. 6 article in The Tablet, an independent Catholic weekly newspaper published in London.

The article criticized a July 7 article in The New York Times by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna. The cardinal said that an "unplanned process of random variation and natural selection," both important parts of evolutionary thinking, are incompatible with Catholic belief that there is a divine purpose and design to nature.

In clarifying comments made afterward in Austria and reported by Kathpress, an Austrian Catholic news agency, Cardinal Schonborn said that evolution as a body of scientific fact was compatible with Catholicism, but that evolution as an ideological dogma that denied design and purpose in nature was not.

Father Coyne said that science is "completely neutral" regarding the philosophical and theological implications of its findings, but this does not prevent believers from using the best scientific data available to improve their understanding of God.

Evolution is not only compatible with Catholicism but also "reveals a God who made a universe that has within it a certain dynamism and thus participates in the very creativity of God," said Father Coyne.

"God is working with the universe. The universe has a certain vitality of its own like a child does," he said.

God "is not constantly intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves," he said.

Based on the results of modern science and modern biblical scholarship, "religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator or designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly," he said.

"Perhaps God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words," he said.

This view is compatible with the Bible, which gives God human characteristics and presents divinity as "a God who gets angry, who disciplines, a God who nurtures the universe, who empties himself in Christ the incarnate word," he added.

Father Coyne criticized Cardinal Schonborn for saying that the scientific processes of "chance" and "necessity" cannot explain the presence of purpose and design in nature. He gave the example of two hydrogen atoms meeting in the universe.

"By necessity (the laws of chemical combination) they are destined to become a hydrogen molecule. But by chance the temperature and pressure conditions at that moment are not correct for them to combine," he added.

"And so they wander through the universe until they finally combine," he said.

"By the interaction of chance and necessity, many hydrogen molecules are formed and eventually many of them combine with oxygen to make water, and so on, until we have very complex molecules and eventually the most complicated organism that science knows: the human brain," he said.

"Chance" and "necessity" are continuously interacting and must be understood as being tied to the scientific process of "fertility" by which the universe is constantly generating matter, he said.

"The classical question as to whether the human being came about by chance, and so has no need of God, or by necessity, and so through the action of a designer God, is no longer valid," he said.

"The meaning of chance and necessity must be seen in the light of that fertility," he said.

The universe contains trillions of stars and they "release to the universe the chemical abundance of the elements necessary for life," he said.

"There is no other way, for instance, to have the abundance of carbon necessary to make a toenail than through the thermonuclear processes in stars. We are all literally born of stardust," he said.

Evolution is a continuous process and "has a certain intrinsic natural directionality in that the more complex an organism becomes the more determined is its future," he said.

"It is precisely the fertility of the universe and the interaction of chance and necessity in the universe which are responsible for the directionality," said Father Coyne.

He said a 1996 speech to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences by Pope John Paul II and a 2004 document by the papally appointed International Theological Commission firmly established that evolution and Catholicism are compatible.


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