How life would change if ET phoned home

02 January 2017

Interview with

Jim Al-Khalili, University of Surrey

Jim Al-Khalili discusses what it would mean to find life beyond the Earth with Graihagh Jackson...

Jim - I use to think that it would render world religion obsolete, certainly those religions that their philosophy, ideology is about us humans being special and being created by a divine being that created us in his image. And all the stuff, for example, in the Abrahamic religions, is that all sort of thrown up in the air if we discovered we’re not special? But I think, talking to other people, I'm now inclined to agree with them that religions are probably more versatile than I thought. They would roll with this punch in the same way that the more enlightened religions are quite happy to have acknowledged that the Earth isn’t the centre of the universe post Copernicus and Galileo. So I think discovering life elsewhere won’t do away with religions but it will certainly, I think, change our perception of our place in the universe in a far more profound way than I think people think now.

I just use as an example the false alarm back in the late 90s of the discovery of the fossilised microbe on Mars. Bill Clinton went out on the White House lawn and said "this will be the most significant discovery in the history of mankind." Well, you know, I wouldn’t disagree with him there, I think it would be profoundly important.


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