Letters to the Editor

Questioning Father Coyne

The April 9-15 news article “Vatican Observatory Head Calls Intelligent Design ‘Absurd’ Concept” contains rash and questionable commentary by Vatican Observatory head Jesuit Father George Coyne.

Father Coyne finds that “science is neutral regarding atheism or belief in God.” Father Coyne claims that “people who look to science to first find signs of God’s existence reverse the process by which believers can use the world around them to learn about God.” He even states that the Old Testament Jews “first had a personal relationship with a God who did things for them.” Father Coyne is very misleading about these points.

Perhaps over-impressed with modern scientific methods, Father Coyne overlooks a key epistemological fact — namely that, in the pursuit of “our personal bodies of truth,” all humans, broadly speaking, are forced to practice material science. Apprehension of the material world comes before comprehension of the material world, meaning that nothing can be found in the mind that is not first somehow in the material-apprehending senses. This is true for you and me, for those Old Testament Jews, and for fundamentalists.

Moreover, more important than the heap of physical data the researchers accumulate are the researchers’ extra-material “metaphysical” manipulations of that data, meaning the researchers’ hypotheses, analyses and conclusions — which are, strictly speaking, spiritual intellectual exercises.

This is where the Dr. Hwangs of Korean embryonic stem-cell research fraud appear. This is where anyone who has an agenda, and who doesn’t, can appear to turn public attention to their proclivities.

Natural theology teaches that we can infer about God’s existence through the order in the universe. The tools of modern science “sharpen our sense” to appreciate that order, or intelligent design, and to understand more about the intelligence of God. There is nothing wrong with that approach, and Father Coyne does a disservice by implying that there is.

Besides, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “The existence of God the Creator can be known with certainty through his works, by the light of human reason, even if this knowledge is often obscured and disfigured by error” (No. 286).

Frank Strelchun, Ph.D.

Canaan, Connecticut

As a designer of automatic control systems for 50 years, I know how difficult it is to control the various operations in power plants, oil refineries and such. And I also recognize the superiority of the control systems that operate all my bodily functions —respiration, cardiovascular operations, digestion, vision, motion — and, especially, my rational intellect and will.

How Father Coyne of the Vatican Observatory could fail to see intelligent design at work in creation is beyond me.

Evolution, on the other hand, is not science. It must be accepted on faith, because it has never been observed to take place on the scale Darwin and his followers propose. In fact, it runs counter to all our experience and violates the laws of thermodynamics, which apply everywhere and for all time.

I can say in all confidence: I was designed, and by an intelligence far beyond the reckoning of this engineer.

 F. Greg Shinskey

North Sandwich, New Hampshire

I was surprised, saddened and disappointed to read your puzzling article “Vatican Observatory Head Calls Intelligent Design ‘Absurd’ Concept.” Father Coyne seems to be completely unaware of the many developments in molecular biology, information theory and embryology over the last 40 years. These have not only cast serious doubt on the major tenets of Darwinism, but also have allowed the construction of a powerful empirical case for intelligent design. This is why a growing number of Ph.D. research scientists now dissent from Darwinism and support some form of intelligent design theory.

Moreover, many of these scientists are Catholics, including some of the most prominent intelligent-design theorists. I have worked on the problem of biological origins for more than four decades and can assure your readers that the scientific evidence favoring intelligent design is very formidable indeed. Just check Discovery Institute’s website (discovery.org) if you have any doubts.

Incredibly Father Coyne conflates intelligent design theory with “a religious fundamentalist movement.” He implies that intelligent-design theorists “are using the Bible as science, as a source of scientific knowledge.” His caricature of intelligent design is very far from the mark since intelligent-design theorists begin with empirical data and use scientific reasoning to reach the conclusion that living organisms must have had an intelligent cause. Actually Father Coyne’s charges are the “absurd concepts” that we should really be concerned about.

The article does a disservice to your readers. It is sure to confuse many sincere Catholics who (rightly) will not be able to distinguish Father Coyne’s views from those of many atheist and agnostic Darwinist scientists.

Dean H. Kenyon

Emeritus Professor of Biology,

San Francisco State University

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture

Discovery Institute, Seattle

Editor’s note: The article in question was a report on Father Coyne’s recent statements, which we deemed newsworthy. Our editorial position, as evidenced by the many columns we have printed about intelligent design, is very close to the Discovery Institute’s.

Medical Mayhem

Regarding “Massachusetts Says It Let Down Girl in Case” (April 2-8):

Lest we think Haleigh Poutre’s case some sort of legal anomaly, in 1994, the American Medical Association stated that it was “not unethical” to withdraw artificially supplied nutrition and hydration “even if the patient is not terminally ill or permanently unconscious.”

A short time ago, this would have been unthinkable. Now, due to the rising cost of caring for the severely impaired, bioethicists justify the removal of feeding tubes as humane. Today, life-prolonging medical treatment includes not only respirators and kidney dialysis machines but also tube-supplied food and water. Laws in all 50 states support this.

Last fall these laws almost ended the life of 11-year-old Haleigh. Last spring they succeeded in killing Terri Schiavo.

Haleigh’s biological mother has come to her defense. But objections to dehydrating Terri from parents, doctors, the governor and clergy couldn’t save her.

Without laws to guarantee their right to life, that is the reality these days for the severely impaired in hospitals throughout our country. It is common practice to euthanize those who cannot speak in their own defense, those deemed too costly to care for. Such is the shameful state of our medical ethics and laws.

Annemarie S. Muth

Bluffton, Indiana

Courage-Free Zones

I find it repugnant that any Catholic would claim that he has to toss his moral and religious obligations, as this Robert Casey Jr. seems want to do, so as to get votes and be a politician (“Casey Jr. Under Fire for Speaking at Fund-Raiser,” March 5-11). He is using the old argument “I am personally opposed to abortion, but …”

I am further disappointed and disgusted with Raymond Flynn, former ambassador to the Vatican, who stated in this article that average Catholic voters need to mobilize and demand that politicians focus on key concerns like quality health instead of things that matter only to a small minority, such as homosexual “marriage.” Then this pseudo-Catholic goes on to say that “A faithful Catholic is an active Catholic.” What a phony!

First off, we in the United States have the highest-quality health care of the world. The problem is that it’s not always affordable to all citizens.

But guess what? It is not the role of the federal government to provide health care to anyone. (Although, as an aside, illegal immigrants certainly know to go to hospital emergency rooms to get health care, and they can’t be turned away by law — and thus are bankrupting many hospitals.) It is up to people themselves to obtain health care insurance, or seek Medicare or Medicaid if they qualify.

On the other hand, this same-sex “marriage” issue is important to many of us faithful Catholics (and other Christians) as promoting or legalizing same-sex “marriage” will only destroy the sacrament of matrimony, and ever-more types of “marriage” will become legal — threesomes, foursomes and who knows what other arrangements? 

How can we justify discrimination against polygamy if we can no longer discriminate against same-sex “marriage”? For that matter, how can we discriminate against inter-species “marriage” if we cannot make distinctions? (Don’t laugh: A woman in Israel recently married a dolphin.) The Netherlands already has ruled that threesomes can get married.

Daniel Barton

Fayetteville, North Carolina