What if we found aliens?

...but if we can't travel to them, will the discovery be all that profound?
07 November 2016

Interview with 

Professor Jim Al-Khalili, University of Surrey and editor of Aliens


An alien walking with a backpack


What would it mean to discover we weren't alone in the universe? Jim Al-Khalili Aliendiscusses the implications 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 discover in the history of mankind." Well, you know, I wouldn't disagree with him there, I think it would be profoundly important.

Graihagh - Umm, perhaps just let's not hold our breath.

Jim - We'll just get on with doing other things at the same time as well. Let's not just twiddle our thumbs. There's plenty else we can be doing as well.

Graihagh - Jim's put together a great book on this and more...

Jim - Well, essentially it's on the possibility of extraterrestrial life; is there other life out there? But aliens is a much catchier title. I've called upon friends and other that I didn't know but admired for afar because of their work, and we've covered every aspect of alien life, the possibility thereof that science can offer.

Graihagh - It's out now and called Aliens. Thanks to all my guests this week - Dallas Campbell, Jim Al Khalili and Neil DeGrasse Tyson.


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