VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s chief astronomer said yesterday that “intelligent design” isn’t science and doesn’t belong in science classrooms, the latest high-ranking Roman Catholic official to enter the evolution debate in the United States.
“If you want to teach it in schools, intelligent design should be taught when religion or cultural history is taught, not science,” said the Rev. George Coyne, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory.
“Intelligent design isn’t science even though it pretends to be,” the ANSA news agency quoted Father Coyne as saying on the sidelines of a conference in Florence, Italy.
Mixing the two, he said, is akin to mixing apples with oranges.
His comments were in line with his previous statements on intelligent design — whose supporters hold that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher power.
Proponents of intelligent design are seeking to get public schools in the United States to teach it as part of the science curriculum.
Critics say intelligent design is merely creationism — a literal reading of the Bible’s story of creation — camouflaged in scientific language, and they say it does not belong in science curriculum.
In a June article in the British Catholic magazine the Tablet, Father Coyne reaffirmed God’s role in creation, but said science explains the history of the universe.
“If they respect the results of modern science, and indeed the best of modern biblical research, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God or a designer God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly.”
Rather, he argued, God should be seen more as an encouraging parent.
“God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity,” he wrote. “He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves.”
The Vatican Observatory that Father Coyne heads is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. It is based in the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI waded indirectly into the evolution debate by saying the universe was made by an “intelligent project” and criticizing those who in the name of science say its creation was without direction or order.
Questions about the Vatican’s position on evolution were raised in July by Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.
In a New York Times column, Cardinal Schoenborn seemed to back intelligent design and dismissed a 1996 statement by Pope John Paul II that evolution was “more than just a hypothesis.” Cardinal Schoenborn said the late pope’s statement was “rather vague and unimportant.”