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Brother Astronomer [Hardcover]

Guy Consolmagno
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

1 Mar 2000 New-trade science series
Ever since Galileo was forced to recant his proofs of a sun-centered solar system, the Roman Catholic Church has been considered hostile toward science. Not quite true, argues Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno in his moving and intellectually playful memoir of a life lived in the active interplay of science and religion.

Blending memoir, science, history, and theology, Consolmagno takes us on a grand adventure. We revisit the infamous "Galileo affair" and see that it didn't unfold in quite the way we thought. We get a rare glimpse into the world of working scientists and see how scientific discoveries are proposed and advanced. We learn the inside story of the "Mars meteorite": how can we be sure it's really from Mars, and why can't scientists agree on whether or not it contains evidence of life?

Brother Astronomer memorably sets forth one scientist's conviction that the universe may be worth study only if it is the work of a Creator God.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Inc.,US; 1st edition edition (1 Mar 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 007135428X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0071354288
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 16.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 674,858 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


Despite its persecution of Galileo, the Catholic Church has supported scientific inquiry more often than not, says American-born Jesuit and Vatican astronomer Consolmagno in this collection of essays on planetary lore, theological mastications, and the pleasures of a well-spent youth. For this planetary research scientist, lecturer, and curator of the Vatican's collection of meteorites, life couldn't be better. In a charming day-in-my-life essay set in the tranquil hills around Castel Gandolfo (the Pope's summer residence and home of the Vatican Observatory). Consolmagno portrays himself working among a dozen scientists for whom Church dogms and the scientific method are the means employed "to find God in all things." Refreshingly sensible apologia, supported by relevant quotations from theologians, astronomers, and historical sources, depict the 21st-century Church as a haven for intellectual thought. Charming moments of humor, skepticism and die-hard faith in this best of all possible worlds.

From the Back Cover


"Congenially conveying both meaty science and meaty theology, Consolmagno contributes vitally to the rapprochement of science and faith." - Booklist

"Consolmagno spills the contagious cheer of a man happily married to two loves - religion and science." - The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Deft writing" - Library Journal

"Memorable" - Natural History Magazine

Brother Astronomer is a wonderful contribution to the ongoing science-and-religion debate, from someone living in both worlds. Blending memoir, science, history, and theology, Brother Guy takes readers on a grand adventure. Revisit the infamous "Galileo affair" and discover the circumstances and misconceptions of the times that influenced what really happened. Glimpse into a world of working scientists and see how scientific discoveries are proposed and advanced. Learn the inside story of the "Mars meteorite": how can we be sure it's really from Mars, and why can't scientists agree on whether or not it contains evidence of life? Through Brother Guy's recollections, science and religion fuse together in one individual, and by extension, explain how they both are needed in order to answer the big questions: What would it mean to us if we did find life elsewhere in the universe? How did the world begin, and does it follow natural laws?

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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MY FIRST reaction on arriving at the Specola Vaticana-the Vatican Observatory-was one of stunned astonishment. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This is a book I had been meaning to purchase for some time. The reviews talked about how Brother Consolmagno was able to reconcile religion and science, making them non-exclusive. This was something I really wanted to hear.
Be aware, this is only part of the book. The book is divided into 3 parts... Biography and work on the origin of meteorites, Religion & Science, and meteorite hunting in Antarctica. While all 3 parts are interesting it was the second part that I found most interesting, and, consequentially, is quite marked up with notes and underlines now!
Brother Consolmagno devotes many pages to an expository analysis of the trial of Galileo, the events leading up to it, other historic astronomers, and the Catholic Church's involvement in science, astronomy in particular. The results are enlightening! We tend to judge these events based on our 21st century norms, rather than taking time to understand what the world was like then and what the prevailing wisdom and scientific theories were.
Consolmagno's opinion is that science and religion are both seeking truth. If there is 'true truth' then there is no reason that a schism should exist between the two.
I heartily recommend this enlightening book to all.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a brief review of Brother Astronomer's book 22 May 2000
By Brad4d - Published on
(Brother)(Dr) Guy Consolmagno has given us a delightful book, obviously written by someone who has comfortably lived (and uncomfortably adventured) in the two worlds of scientific and religious inquiry. The author discusses his infectious enthusiasm for both "worlds," although he doesn't think there is an essential line between the two. During the course of this book, you will travel to the ends of the earth to look for fragments of another world, understand why serendipity (and a good high school English teacher) are often major parts of a successful big-league scientific presentation, and learn why the Vatican maintains one of the world's best meteorite collections (in a home built by the pope who helped condemn Galileo). You will also find how Dr C answered the "killer question" -- namely, why care a fiddle or a fig about the makeup of Jupiter's moons, when people are suffering on earth? (Dr C mentions he briefly gave up science, joined the Peace Corps to directly help starving people, wound up teaching science to Kenyan students, and came away convinced that scientific development can provide one of the soundest foundations for preventing ignorance and starvation. It can also provide a sound foundation for religious understanding). Dr C discusses how the established church helped found modern science and scientific thinking (Galileo's trial was a correctable aberration, just like the regrettable dark alleyways occasionally taken by scientific minds). The established church and science have traditionally been partners in seeking methodological and insightful understanding, appreciating truth in our world, and combating ignorance and superstition. I did have some editorial quarrels (examples: there is no index and no bibliography, and Father Lemaitre did not "invent" the Big Bang theory; he "proposed" it). Nevertheless, when I closed this book, I had improved both my understanding of why a sane person would risk his life for science, and why a sane scientist would want to become a good Jesuit.
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A multi-faceted book....... 20 May 2000
By JC - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Following are just some of the things this small book manages to be:
An autobiography tracing a career in science and a path toward a religious calling.
A discussion of meteor and planetary science.
An adventure set against the harshness of Antarctica.
A discussion of the Occidental attitude toward nature which has led to the historical development of the scientific method.
A meditation on life as a gift and love superceding both obligation and duty as a motive for action.
Finally, a gentle reminder that the threadbare proposition that science is incompatible with religious belief is far too facile and much too simple. Brother Consolmagno portrays a reality that is more complex, more ambiguous and flat out more interesting.
By the way, it's all related with a winning sense of humor
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Desire for Truth and Understanding -- and Mars Rocks 26 Jan 2005
By George A. Reynolds - Published on
Many of you have read - or have a copy of - Turn Left at Orion by Guy Consolmagno, an entertaining and instructive guide for amateur astronomers with small telescopes. No less entertaining is his book, Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist, in which Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno tells his life story in brief, and in more detail discusses Mars rocks, Antarctica adventures, and science/religion issues.

With grace and good humor he tells of his becoming curator of the Vatican's collection of meteorites, one of the oldest collections in the world, mostly amassed in the nineteenth century by French nobleman Marquis de Mauroy. Consolmagno and his associates devised a method to determine the mass, the density, and the porosity of meteorites, which lead to theories on where meteorites come from - asteroids and other planets. He calls them his outer space "aliens" at the Vatican.

His real adventures are recounted with good-natured wit in the section titled "Wide Wild Whiteness", a meteorite-hunting expedition with other scientists on the bottom of the world in Antarctica. He makes the vast, cold continent seem to come alive in its bleak expanse and extremes of cold and wind. The personal interaction among the small group of individuals forced to spend six weeks together in that harsh frigid environment is insightful, at times poignant and other times hilarious. Everyone on the team has a specialty, and he often wonders, "Why am I here?" They bring home a treasure trove of 390 meteorites. It is fascinating to learn how they go to great pains to preserve the pristine condition of the space rocks. To collect them without contaminating them is a real challenge, especially under subzero temperatures, where the cold dulls the mind and freezes the fingers.

Perhaps most enlightening and enjoyable are Consolmagno's discourses on science and religion. He reminds us that only recently, in our popular culture, has there been an apparent schism between science and religion; that indeed, the great thinkers of ages gone by were men of renown in the church, men of great religious faith. The search for truth is and always has been the goal of both good religion and good science. "God gave us brains; He expects us to use them," he says.

"To understand why" science and religion are thought to be opposed, says Consolmagno, "we need to look not at science, nor at religion, but at the popular culture." He explains that science in school is often a turn-off for kids, and many leave the church as teenagers, "before they are old enough to appreciate it." The result is a childish view of both science and religion.

The popular media - news, TV, movies - present a distorted view of both science and religion as well, he contends. If there is no action, no drama, no conflict, it doesn't make good copy or good video. Scientists are often portrayed as "mad", and preachers are stereotyped as extremists. Fear and confusion of the roles and relationships of science and faith are the result. "It's a fundamental misconception of how both science and religion work." He goes on to say that Christianity does not start with faith, it starts with experience; and that science does not begin with experiment or logic, it begins with intuition.

He recounts the timeworn story of Galileo and the Church, and contends that that situation was largely a matter of pride and politics, not strictly religion and science. The ill-feeling produced by Galileo's trial set back science for years, and sparked the thinking that the church was anti-science, though the Church has since repeatedly admitted the mistakes it made there almost 400 years ago.

In his "Confession of a Vatican Scientist" section of the book, Consolmagno presents many wise arguments explaining the deep connections between science and religion. You'll have to read it to appreciate it. He says, "Good science is a very religious act. The search for Truth is the same as the search for God." Of the "unexplainable", he says, "Our theology prepared science to accept the seeming contradictions of quantum theory, for instance; just because something doesn't seem to make sense, is no proof that it must be false."

He sums it up by saying, "The desire for truth and understanding, including understanding the truth of the natural world, was given to us by God, in order to lead us to God. It is the desire for God. It is why I am a scientist; it is why the Vatican supports me."
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful romp 25 Jun 2004
By B. F. Mooney - Published on
Brother Astronomer is a delightful romp into the life of a joyful and spirit-filled man. Brother Guy exemplifies the bridging of the purported gap between faith and science; in his writing and his life and his combination of these two vocations he belies the simplistic and all-too glib pronouncements so many trot out about the rift between science and religion. Whether you come to this book from the religous or scientific side, read it with an open mind and heart, the way it was written.
Brother Guy writes with considerable insight and frankness, and will certainly make some people most uncomfortable as he demonstrates some convincing parallels betweeen science and religion. Those who quickly dismiss his comments on this similarity simply reveal that they were ready to do so a priori, even before opening the pages of this book. He handles science and religion in an even-handed, balanced and refreshingly gentle manner, and I admire his intellectual and spiritual integrity, how he never forgets there is one truth underlying everything, and that this truth will be what it is, and not simply what we want it to be.
His book is undoubted going to be equally unacceptable to both scientific as well as religious fundamentalists, two groups which possess in common a remarkable ignorance of both religion and science.
As a professional academic scientist and believer in God who has never had any problem reconciling the two equally profound sides of my life, I may be prejudiced in my approach to this book. But I don't think so. So set your judgementalness aside when you pick up Brother Astronomer. Read it, enjoy it, go with the flow of the book and take delight in the time you spend with this delightful man.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Do Science for Religious Reasons? Absolutely! 13 May 2000
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is an eye-opener for both true-believing religious folk who mistrust science and hard-nosed materialists who consider theological ways of thinking to have been overthrown by science. For those who already knew better, this book falls a bit short of advancing recent dialogs between religion and science. Subjective religious experiences are uncritically reported as "God's" influence with little or no reflection on the psychological nature of their origin. Further, both past "mistakes" and current dogmatic assertions of the Catholic Chursh are discussed without persuading this reader that the author has been as thoroughly honest in his pursuit of "Truth" as is claimed. But all in all, this is an enjoyable book with an entertaining exposition of meteorite hunting that constitutes an honest-to-God adventure. Well worth reading!
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