Dr George Coyne was born on January 19, 1933, in Baltimore, Maryland, and completed his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and his licentiate in philosophy at Fordham University, New York City, in 1958. He obtained his doctorate in astronomy from Georgetown University in 1962. In 1976 he became a senior research fellow at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) of the University of Arizona (UA) 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. Dr Coyne became Director of the Vatican Observatory (VO) 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, and thereafter he continued as an adjunct professor in the UA Astronomy Department. He retired as Director of the VO in August 2006. He remains on the staff of the VO as Director Emeritus and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. 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.
Dr 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 a 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. He has been awarded the following Ph.D. degrees honoris causa: 1980, St. Peter’s University, Jersey City, New Jersey, USA; 1994, Loyola University, Chicago, USA; 1995, University of Padua, Padua, Italy; 1997, Pontifical Theological Academy, Jagellonian University, Cracow; 2005 Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; 2007 Boston College, Boston, Massachusetts, USA; 2009, Le Moyne College, Syracuse, New York, USA and the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA; 2010 Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California. He was awarded the Mendel Medal by Villanova University in September 2008.
Parallel to his scientific research Coyne has developed an interest in the history and philosophy of science and in the relationship between science and religion. Thus he founded the series of studies concerning controversies about Galileo, entitled: STUDI GALILEIANI, and he is one of the principal organizers of a series of conferences on the theme of SCIENTIFIC PERSPECTIVES ON DIVINE ACTION. He served as the head of the section on epistemology and science of the Galileo Commission, constituted by John Paul II in 1981. He has lectured widely on the results of that Commission.
Recent selected publications in science and religion
- Wayfarers in the Cosmos: The Human Quest for Meaning, 2002, G.V. Coyne and A. Omizzolo (New York: Crossroad Publishing) 184 pp.
- Seeking the Future: A Theological Perspective, 2002, in The Far Future Universe: Eschatology from a Cosmic Perspective, ed. G.F.R. Ellis (Philadelphia & London: Templeton Foundation Press) pp. 12-19.
- Religion and Science: Roman Catholic Issues, in Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, ed. J. Wentzel Vrede van Huyssteen, (New York: Macmillan Reference USA), in press
- The Church’s Most Recent Attempt to Dispel the Galileo Myth, 2005, in The Church and Galileo, ed. E. McMullin (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press) pp. 340-359.
- Destiny of Life and Religious Attitudes, G.V. Coyne, in Life as We Know It, ed. J. Seckbach (Dordrecht: Springer Science 2005).
- God’s Chance Creation, G.V. Coyne, The Tablet, 8 August 2005, pp. 6-7.
- Infinite Wonder of the Divine, G.V. Coyne, The Tablet, 3 December 2005.
- A Comprehensible Universe. The Interplay of Science and Theology, G.V. Coyne and M. Heller (New York: Springer 2008)160 pages.
- Galileo Judged: Urban VIII to John Paul II, G.V. Coyne, Galilaeana, 2009, in press.
- Galileo’s Telescopic Observations: The Marvel and Meaning of Discovery, G.V. Coyne, Galileo’s Medicean Moons, Proceedings of IAU Symposium 269, eds. C. Barbieri et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2010).