The Rev. George C. Coyne, a Jesuit astrophysicist who as the longtime director of the Vatican Observatory defended Galileo and Darwin against doctrinaire Roman Catholics and challenged atheists, too, by insisting that science and religion could coexist, died on Tuesday in Syracuse, N.Y. He was 87.
His death, at a hospital, from complications of bladder cancer, was announced by the Jesuit-run Le Moyne College in Syracuse, where he had been a professor of religious philosophy after retiring from the observatory in 2006.
Recognized among astronomers for his research into the birth of stars and his studies of the lunar surface (an asteroid is named after him), Father Coyne was also well known for seeking to reconcile science and religion. He applauded Pope Francis for addressing the role that humans play in climate change and challenged alternative theories to evolution like creationism and intelligent design.
“One thing the Bible is not,” he told The New York Times Magazine in 1994, “is a scientific textbook. Scripture is made up of myth, of poetry, of history. But it is simply not teaching science.”
Brother Guy Consolmagno, the current director of the Vatican Observatory, said in an email that Father Coyne “was notable for publicly engaging with a number of prominent and aggressive opponents of the church who wished to use science as a tool against religion.”
Among those he engaged on the debate stage and in print were Richard Dawkins, the English evolutionary biologist and atheist, and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, who, in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times in 2005, defended the concept that evolution could not have occurred without divine intervention.
During Father Coyne’s tenure, the Vatican publicly acknowledged that Galileo and Darwin may have been correct. Brother Consolmagno said it would be fair to say that Father Coyne had played a role in shifting the Vatican’s position.
While the church formally acknowledged in 1992 that it had “erred in condemning Galileo” in 1633 for promoting the theory that the Earth revolved around the sun, Father Coyle was among the critics who complained that the admission was not only too late, but also too little.
In 1996, Pope John Paul II said that evolution, without defining it, was “more than just a hypothesis.” His statement that Darwin’s views had “progressively taken root in the minds of researchers, following a series of discoveries made in diverse spheres of knowledge,” suggested that at least in public schools, religious faith and the teaching of evolution could coexist.
In an article in the English Catholic weekly The Tablet in 2005, Father Coyne sought to reconcile religion with evolution. “God in his infinite freedom,” he wrote, “continuously creates a world that reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity. He is not continually intervening, but rather allows, participates, loves.”
He went further by finding fault with intelligent design.
“If they respect the results of modern science, and indeed the best of modern biblical research,” he wrote, “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.”
He added, “Perhaps God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words.”
George Vincent Coyne was born on Jan. 19, 1933, in Baltimore, the third of nine children of Frank and Elizabeth (Brune) Coyne. His father was a traveling clothing salesman, his mother a homemaker. He is survived by two brothers, Thomas and Francis.
After being tutored by a nun on weekends (“no Saturday afternoon baseball or basketball for me,” he recalled), he won a scholarship to Loyola High School in Blakefield, Md.
He joined the Society of Jesus when he was 18 and attended a Jesuit novitiate northwest of Philadelphia, in Wernersville, Pa., where his Greek and Latin literature professor imparted a passion for math and astronomy.
Father Coyne earned a bachelor’s degree in math and a licentiate in philosophy from Fordham University in 1958 and a doctorate in astronomy from Georgetown University. He completed a licentiate in sacred theology at Woodstock College in Maryland and was ordained a priest in 1965.
He joined the Vatican Observatory as an astronomer in 1969, taught at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and directed its Catalina Observatory. He was appointed director of the Vatican Observatory by Pope John Paul I in 1978 and was its longest-serving director, for nearly three decades.
Father Coyne presided in 1993 when the observatory mounted a new Advanced Technology Telescope on Mount Graham in southern Arizona. (Light pollution at the observatory’s historic headquarters in Castel Gandolfo outside Rome had prevented the telescope from being installed there.) He established a research group at the University of Arizona and organized a summer program for graduate students.
In the 1990s, Father Coyne arranged conferences at the Vatican Observatory in collaboration with the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, a program of the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, Calif.
“Father Coyne oversaw the modernization of the observatory’s role in the world of science,” Brother Consolmagno said. “He essentially re-founded the Specola Vaticana,” using the Italian name for the observatory, which dates to at least the 18th century.
After retiring in 2006, Father Coyne was president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation until 2011, when he was appointed to the McDevitt chair of religious philosophy at Le Moyne, a position he held at his death.
“George was one of the pre-eminent figures in the Catholic world who could speak intelligently and articulately about both science and faith,” said the Rev. James Martin, editor-at-large of America, the Jesuit magazine. “And George, by nature a humble man, could often dazzle.”
In The Times Magazine interview, Father Coyne was asked, “How can you describe the universe as a vast empty infinitude, largely uninhabited, and still believe in—.”
“The centrality of man in the universe?” he interjected, completing the reporter’s thought.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he went on. “To our own knowledge of ourselves, we are unique in creation because of our self-reflexivity. I can know myself knowing. I am having a conversation with you, and I can remember that conversation. To this, the Catholic Church comes along and says, ‘The reason this is true is because you have an individual soul.’”
From Dubai to Mars, With Stops in Colorado and Japan
“I think the atmosphere has been understudied,” said Philip R. Christensen, a planetary sciences professor at Arizona State University, which built the infrared spectrometer for Hope. That instrument will capture data on the dust particles and ice clouds and track the movement of water vapor and heat through the atmosphere.
The spacecraft is to spend at least two years in orbit, monitoring a full cycle of Martian seasons.
“I think we’re going to learn a tremendous amount,” Dr. Christensen said.
Brainstorming their way to Mars
Hope will be a well-traveled vehicle even before it heads to space in July.
Until Monday, it had never been anywhere near the United Arab Emirates. That day, the finished spacecraft landed in Dubai, after a 7,800-mile trip from Denver inside a Ukrainian Antonov cargo plane.
After another round of testing in Dubai, one of the seven city-states that make up the U.A.E. federation, the spacecraft will take another long plane trip, to Japan, for the rocket launch to leave Earth.
The Emirati Mars strategy replicates what the country did in the 2000s when the Dubai government wanted to build its own earth observation satellites. For that project, Dubai turned to a South Korean satellite manufacturer.
The first product of the collaboration, DubaiSat-1, was built in South Korea, with Emirati engineers spending months there, essentially learning as apprentices. The Russians launched it in 2009. The 400-pound satellite’s camera has been used for urban planning, disaster relief and environmental monitoring.
Its second satellite, DubaiSat-2, included a sharper camera and a faster communications system. It was also built in South Korea, but the work was split more as an equal partnership between the Emirati and South Korean engineers. A third satellite, KhalifaSat, was the first to be developed and built in the U.A.E.
Is the US Ready for Centralized Data Privacy Enforcement?
The recent news about a proposed bill to create a central data privacy enforcing body shines another spotlight on the high-risk, high stakes shifting ground that many businesses operate their engines of growth on – consumer data collection, analysis, and retention. The news will no doubt be a hot topic at the forthcoming RSA show where the theme of “Human Element” couldn’t be more relevant to this proposed bill – almost everything businesses collect today is about the human being and our mind-boggling data relationship, and many of the biggest data risks come from humans, human data handling, and human failures.
So, what about this new proposed bill? Despite years of debate and data security regulations enacted by the US States over a very long 16 years from 2002, we still see massive compromises from willful attackers, human error, and nation-state exploits. Now, privacy concerns stretch the need for security controls and appropriate operational processes even further to avoid the risk of identity data bleeding from “traditionally secure” operations, data stores and applications. Even the best intentioned organizations are at risk to privacy incidents like the recent WAWA case. In that scenario, investigators recently revealed the double-edged nature of data privacy risks with breached consumer analytic data reported to be available on the dark web – well beyond narrow scope payment data as originally suspected and under traditional data security regulations like PCI DSS. But to a modern retailer, personal and behavior data collection is critical and essential to compete – a critical ingredient to the future success of a business and the consumer relationship. It’s the very data that can drive innovation and optimize consumer experience but also brings privacy breach risks to a boiling point if modern data security controls are not in place for contemporary and constantly evolving threats.
So perhaps it is time for the equivalent of the European GDPR’s Data Protection Authority (DPA) approach for the US as a call to action to embrace a comprehensive privacy-by-design method to data protection, security, and privacy. The EU DPAs have shown their very effective teeth in the last 12 months, issuing fines exceeding $100M, with even bigger ones pending for the airline and hospitality industry breaches that are three times that early total – in just the UK. That’s enough for enforcers to re-invest in more action and change business behavior, and we will no doubt see increasing actions into 2020 and beyond. But is more enforcement really the answer to stem the tide of data compromise putting consumer privacy at risk?
Fines aren’t the only concern to the enterprise when the impossible becomes possible and mass consumer data finds its way to the dark streets of the criminal exchanges for a quick illicit buck at the expense of innocent victims. Business integrity, reputation, litigation, disruption, and reparation costs are all familiar unwanted and unplanned budget grabbers and massively burdensome. It’s no surprise then to find CISOs’ stress levels are at an all-time high given what is expected of them with limited resources, and so something has to change to help empower them to defend their data assets and find budget to innovate at the same pace as attackers. Can any business really afford not to? The shadows of the $2Bn Equifax breach are long, with effects still deeply resonating across the political and regulatory landscape. That breach, the trigger for States enacting tougher privacy laws, is a CISO’s worst nightmare – and all too possible without new security and risk reduction strategies.
As a government response to data collection concerns and continued breaches, contemporary US data privacy regulations, starting with California’s ground-breaking CCPA, have pushed from an enterprise-as-owner-of-data approach to a consumer rights centric model. This in itself adds a huge list of new processes to the already stressed compliance budget. The right to deletion, the consumer right to data, children’s data handling, new data safeguards and de-identification, data minimization, and retention policy loom large on the compliance roadmap. With each state creating their own “CCPA” variation, the regulatory matrix for compliance gets more expensive to meet. A central enforcement body could, potentially, bring a cohesive approach to compliance that could ease its implementation, assuming laws remain strong and in line with threats – which is key. Avoiding State-by-State privacy compliance is desirable as well as potentially a way to fuel simpler privacy budget requests for CISO’s. But that cannot come at the expense of dilution of intent, and ultimately the protection of the weary and oft-breached American consumer.
If regulations alone aren’t enough for today’s stressed CISO, there are new even more complex risks to juggle. Enterprises are on their second phase hybrid cloud journey that’s another seismic shift for compliance strategy: juggernaut-level digital transformation projects pushed by the pressure of business model innovation and competitive aggression are moving data into new risky territory. The dynamic, agile, hybrid cloud migration fueled by cutting edge technologies like Kubernetes and serverless compute create a very attractive platform for growth and change with great economics, but bring new risks. Gone are the days where data had a convenient boundary, a place where it lived, and clarity over controls. Today’s consumer-facing applications collect and push massive amounts of data into transient compute instances, they burst to the cloud, move it into a machine-learning pipelines for instant results, and store it for on-going analysis like never before. The sheer quantity and exposure risk of private data is at the very heart of CISOs’ stress, not to mention the concern in governments world-wide from exposure risk and potential for inappropriate use pushing regulatory envelopes even further.
So, what should be done? Are we ready for technologies like homomorphic encryption at the pace digital transformation demands? Long term, perhaps, but today – not yet, and its eventual use might be very limited. However, new data security and privacy methods exist right now that are proven and effective that take data out of reach of compromise as well as reduce regulatory burden while enabling cloud-native initiatives and modern machine learning systems. Advances in contemporary data tokenization have made it possible to live in the “new normal” of privacy-aware processes – at scale, in the cloud, and with massively reduced risk – and CISO stress. It’s an effective weapon of choice for risk reduction, compliance, and enterprise defense.
While tough new privacy laws and corresponding enforcement bodies can bring the stick and carrot to business responsibility, no forward-thinking business today can endure the risk of data compromise, litigation, espionage, and reputation damage from human error or direct attack, especially those well into their modern hybrid journey. Business units riding the new crest of powerful yet emerging technologies to compete and grow puts data into completely new risk states if it’s not thoroughly protected at its most fundamental level – data itself, so that’s precisely where protection – and privacy – must stay too.
Come meet us at RSA!
Visit Booth 5671E at the RSA show to talk to privacy experts who’ve already taken the world’s leading companies through their privacy and cloud journey spanning the strict and pioneering German Data Privacy Laws (BDSG-new), PCI DSS, HIPAA, HITECH, GDPR, and now CCPA.
Elon Musk calls Bill Gates underwhelming for buying Porsche over Tesla
Elon Musk isn’t impressed with fellow billionaire entrepreneur Bill Gates.
After Gates said he bought himself an all-electric Porsche Taycan, Tesla’s CEO took to Twitter to throw shade at the Microsoft co-founder.
“My conversations with Gates have been underwhelming tbh [to be honest],” Musk tweeted.
Gates revealed his purchase in an interview with popular YouTuber Marques Brownlee. Brownlee, mentioning Tesla, asked the billionaire about efforts to address climate change with clean energy products like electric cars.
The 64-year-old responded by saying that electric vehicles would still fall behind gasoline cars when it comes to range, but added passenger cars are “one of the most hopeful” factors in bringing down the cost of environmentally friendly alternatives.
“And certainly Tesla, if you had to name one company that’s helped drive that, it’s them,” Gates said. But he’s not buying one of the company’s cars just yet: “I just got a Porsche Taycan.”
“I have to say, it’s a premium-price car but it is very, very cool,” Gates added. “That’s my first electric car and I’m enjoying it a lot.”
Porsche’s Taycan Turbo retails at $150,900 in the U.S. while the more pricey Turbo S costs $185,000. Tesla’s cars are also known to be expensive, but its entry-level Model 3 at least comes at a much lower standard price of $39,490.
Musk reacted to Gates’ purchase by responding to a Twitter user wondering why the Microsoft co-founder “decided to go with the Taycan instead of a Tesla.”
It’s not the first time Musk has challenged one of his tech billionaire peers on Twitter. The Tesla chief challenged Mark Zuckerberg’s optimistic stance on artificial intelligence in 2017, claiming the Facebook boss’ “understanding of the subject is limited.”
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