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July 21 Marcelo Glasier - Wonder and Cosmology

Today Marcelo Glasier, published a fascinating book, The Prophet and the Astronomer: Apocalyptic Science and the End of the World. It was a sequel to his first English language book The Dancing Universe

Glasier was the first Latin American to be awarded the Templeton Prize in 2019 for his writings (see the podcast July 8). and he works as a theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College and specializes in particle cosmology—mixing the physics of the very smallest constituents of the universe with the physics of the universe as a whole.

His ability to see connections between the infinitely small and the infinitely large has led him to offer a new template to understand the cosmos and our place in it. It has been argued that his worldview of ‘human centrism’ could be as significant as the Copernican revolution in providing a new frame to answer and understand the big questions Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance polymath, and Catholic priest, who in the 16th century had formulated a model of the universe that placed the Sun rather than Earth at its centre, ( pod Feb 19). This heliocentric model had been proposed by an ancient Greek astronomer Aristarchus of Samos, eighteen centuries earlier. However with the advance of telescopic technology, in Copernicus time, it was a major event in the history of science, making a pioneering contribution to the Scientific Revolution.

Marcelo Glasier, writing in the 21st Century, with access to a vastly larger field of research has been able to build on knowledge of neuroscience, cosmology and other scientific fields, to reframe how we understand the cosmos. To make sense of the world and our place in the grand scheme of things, he explores what he calls the “three origins”: cosmos, life, and mind and proposes the idea of “humancentrism”. This he says is a new way of understanding our place in the universe which is an inversion of Copernicus heliocentricism. In an age when we are discovering exoplanets all the time, and multiple suns and solar systems, we still have not discovered intelligent life elsewhere. Modern science has brought humankind back to the metaphorical center of creation. humans are peculiar creatures, curious animals capable of imagining the infinite, at once exhilarated and perplexed by what we don’t understand. Describing his life as a scientist as one of devotion: devotion to my fellow humans, to our rare planet, to the mystery that surrounds us and that inspires us to want to know. Echoing Francis of Assisi and the papal encyclical Laudato Si (pod Feb 24 & June 18) Glasier argues for a new cosmic morality where the sacredness of life is extended to the planet & all living beings

Glasier was the first Latin American to be awarded the Templeton Prize in 2019 for his writings that explore science taking into account this sense of wonder and awe, that we feel when confronting the mystery of creation. He argues that at the core of the scientific quest is the same dynamic that moves the religious spirit: to cope with our most profound existential questions. As science reveals the improbable uniqueness of our planet, and the exceptional rarity of humans as intelligent beings capable of understanding the importance of being alive. His book The Prophet and the Astronomer: examines “end-of-the-world” ideas in different religions and in astronomy and physics. In essence, it is an exploration of time and loss. He specifically looks at how phenomena in the skies became portents of “end-of-times.” (Comets, solar and lunar eclipses, meteor showers, planetary alignments, auroras…) Inspiring past and present scientists to apply their equations to reconstruct Biblical events (e.g. Edmond Halley and his theory that the Flood was due to a cometary impact at the Caspian Sea) The book is a cultural history looking at how many astronomers and physicists play the role of modern “prophets of doom,” devising possible “end of the world” scenarios based on cutting-edge science. The book examines the odds for the end of life on Earth by asteroid or comet impact, the end of the sun as an ordinary star, the end of other stars that become black holes, and the future of the Universe as a whole, given current cosmological knowledge.

A self-confessed agnostic, he feels that science must be much more humble, and the aggressive atheism of people such as Richard Dawkins he is sharply critical of, Anglo-Saxon scientists meddling in people faith, which he had seen how precious faith was, especially amongst the poor of his country Brazil. Galziers understanding of the interconnection of religion and science is refreshing in an age where aggressive secularist try to discredit religion using science. As he says in his The Prophet and the Astronomer

“ Science may not offer eternal salvation, but it offers the possibility of a life free from the spiritual slavery caused by an irrational fear of the unknown. It offers people the choice of self-empowerment, which may contribute to their spiritual freedom. In transforming mystery into challenge, science adds a new dimension to life. And a new dimension opens new paths toward self-fulfillment