Center of Science, Policy and Society Programs: AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion
AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion
News & Events: Public Lecture
George V. Coyne, Director of the Vatican Observatory
The Dance of the Fertile Universe: Chance and Destiny Embrace
Monday, 27 March 2006
1200 New York Avenue, NW
The universe we live in is full of a vast variety of objects: gas, galaxies, frogs, us. What is the best scientific understanding of how they came to be? Are they related to one another? If we order them from the simplest: quarks, protons, to the most complex: the human brain, is there a unified explanation of their coming to be. A tentative answer is found in their emergence as chance and destiny danced away in a fertile expanding universe. Does God have something to do with it?
Keynote presentation by George Coyne, with introduction by Connie Bertka
- Vatican Astronomer Discusses the Harmony Between Science and Faith
In a lively lecture on big questions about science, faith and the evolution of the cosmos, the director of the Vatican Observatory told a packed auditorium at the AAAS on 27 March that science is quite capable of explaining the remarkable complexity of the natural world without reference to an intelligent designer... read more
Father Coyne, born January 19, 1933, in Baltimore, Maryland, 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 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.
A member of the Society of Jesus since the age of 18, he completed the 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 Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) in 1966-67 and 1968-69, and visiting astronomer at the Vatican Observatory in 1967-68. He 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.
Coyne 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. Among his honors has been the naming of a comet after him.
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 group of spiral galaxies with very small and unusually bright star like centers. (Polarimetry is the technique of measuring or analyzing the polarization of light. When light rays exhibit different properties in different directions, the light is said to be polarized.) 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 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.