The experience would mark me for the rest of my life and set a new professional goal that I had not anticipated early in my career: to bring science to the largest number of people possible.

The interviewer asked me questions about the scientific take on the end of the world, inspired by a book I had just published (The Prophet and the Astronomer: Apocalyptic Science and the End of the World). There are many ways in which science can address this question. We can see, from the devastating effects of Typhoon Haiyan, that the forces of nature are beyond our control, even if we pride ourselves on "taming" the world around us.

But the focus of my book was on cataclysmic celestial events and how they have inspired both religious narratives and scientific research, past and present. In particular, note the many instances that stars and fire and brimstone fall from the sky in the Bible, both in the Old (e.g., Book of Daniel, Sodom and Gomorrah) and the New Testament (e.g., Apocalypse of John), or how the Celts believed that the skies would fall on their heads to mark the end of a time cycle.

Back to the interview, I mentioned how the collision with a 6-mile-wide asteroid that hit the Yucatan Peninsula of modern-day Mexico had triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. I made a point of explaining how that event changed the history of life on Earth, freeing the small mammals of the time from predator pressure and culminating with the evolution of humans. My point was that there is no need for divine intervention to explain these very essential episodes in our planetary and collective history.

It was then that the hand went up. A small man with torn clothes and grease stains on his face asked: "So the doctor wants to take even God away from us?"