Bannan Visitors

The Bannan Visitors program was a program designed to invite individuals to SCU to engage in issues or activities that support the Jesuit and Catholic character. While the program is no longer active, past visitors provided a rich array of resources to the University.

Reaching for the Heavens, At the Vatican Observatory

God’s Fertile Universe

by George V. Coyne, S.J. |

Since the 17th century, the epoch of Galileo, astronomers at the Vatican have been studying the universe. Today they are engaged as scientists in the dialogue on many issues at the intersection of science and religious faith. One of those is the much discussed scientific evolution of the universe in light of the religious belief that God created the universe.

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? Indeed, for one who believes in God this marvelous universe in evolution says a great deal about the God who created it to share in his love.

The Lecturer
George V. Coyne, S.J.

Director Emeritus of the Vatican Observatory

George Coyne was born January 19, 1933, in Baltimore, Maryland, and became a member of the Society of Jesus the age of 18. He obtained his bachelor's degree in mathematics and his licentiate in philosophy at Fordham University, New York City, in 1958, and completed the licentiate in sacred theology at Woodstock College, Woodstock, Maryland. He was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1965.

For his doctorate in astronomy at Georgetown University in 1962, Coyne carried out a spectrophotometric study of the lunar surface. 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.

Coyne was visiting assistant professor at the University of Arizona (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 was appointed Director of the Vatican Observatory by Pope John Paul I in 1978, and in that same year he also became 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, and thereafter he continued as an adjunct professor in the UA Astronomy Department.

As Director of the Vatican Observatory he was a driving force in several new educational and research initiatives, including the Vatican Observatory Summer Schools and the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson, Arizona. He retired as Director in August 2006; after spending a sabbatical year as an Associate Pastor at St. Raphael's Catholic Church in Raleigh, NC, he remains on the staff of the Vatican Observatory and continues as President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation.

Coyne has been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by Boston College, the Jagellonian University in Krakow, Poland, Loyola University Chicago, Marquette University, St Peter's College Jersey City and the University of Padua, Italy. Also among his honors has been the naming of an asteroid after him.

Research: 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. 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.

He has been active in promoting the dialogue between science and religion and pioneered the series of conferences on "Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action" which the Vatican Observatory organized in collaboration with the Center for Theology and Natural Science, Berkeley, California. He has also been active in the continuing debate about the religious implications of scientific evolution. Together with Alessandro Omizzolo he has published the book, Wayfarers in the Cosmos: The Human Quest for Meaning.

Coyne is a member of the International Astronomical Union, the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America and the Pontifical Academy of Science.

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