Life off Earth: are the aliens out there?

Sunday 30 October, 9.45am until 10.30am, Lecture Theatre 1

What is the likelihood of life existing elsewhere in the universe? More crucially, what is the likelihood of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe? These questions have returned to the centre of attention in the new millennium, especially since the launch of NASA’s Kepler mission in 2009. The specific objective of this mission is to search for Earth-like planets in our galaxy. Already, intriguing discoveries have been made and there have been numerous media announcements. Hundreds of so-called exoplanets have been discovered, and the first potentially habitable planets are being identified. Mankind’s long search for direct evidence of other life forms may be nearing completion.

It is an appropriate moment to take stock and consider the implications of what would happen if life – especially sentient life – were detected elsewhere in the galaxy, and how this would affect our perception of what it means to be human. If we are no longer alone, we will need to redefine our place in the universe.

The discovery of any kind of life outside our solar system would surely cause us to reassess the way life originates and develops, and perhaps this alone would cause us to question whether life is an accidental or purposeful phenomenon. The existence of any kind of sentient life, however, would have much greater implications. How might this affect our sense of identity, our religions and our spirituality? Could we incorporate extra-terrestrial life into our current belief systems, philosophies and religions, or would we need to start again? Would we need new beliefs for a new age?

Listen to session audio:


Dr John Elliott
reader in intelligence engineering, Leeds Metropolitan University; member, International Academy of Astronautics SETI Permanent Study Group and Post Detection Task Force

Richard Swan
writer and academic

Mark Vernon
journalist; author, God: all that matters and The Big Questions: God

Sandy Starr
communications officer, Progress Educational Trust; webmaster, BioNews

Produced by
Richard Swan writer and academic
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