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The Munk Debates: S02 #20 – We Are Not Alone


Debaters:Avi Loeb, Stephen Webb

April 13,2021

Be it resolved, we are not alone in the universe

K2-18 B, an earth-like planet with water vapour is spotted 111 light years away. An interstellar object christened Oumuamua flies through our solar system exhibiting characteristics never seen before in an asteroid. Scientists discover intriguing radio wave emissions coming from Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the sun. These are just some of a growing number of observations that have scientists excited about proving the existence of alien life. Statistical probabilities support this view – the Kepler Space Telescope has identified billions of planets theoretically capable of supporting life. To meaningfully advance the science of astrobiology humanity needs to abandon the longstanding and pervasive view that we are alone in the universe.

Skeptics say that given the immense age of the observable universe there should be some evidence of the existence of extraterrestrial civilizations, but instead all we hear and see is silence. These same scientists argue that the ability of a planet to make the jump from inanimate matter to life – known as abiogenesis – and then to stay alive and become intelligent – requires highly unlikely transitions. Earth and humans are special. Our existence represents an incredible fluke and the statistical probability of it happening elsewhere is all but impossible. In sum, we are alone.


Avi Loeb

is the Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science at Harvard University and a New York Times bestselling author. He received a PhD in Physics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, led the first international project supported by the Strategic Defense Initiative, and was subsequently a long-term member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Loeb wrote eight books and over 800 papers on a wide range of topics, including black holes, the first stars, the search for extraterrestrial life and the future of the Universe. He had been the longest serving Chair of Harvard’s Department of Astronomy, Founding Director of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative and Director of the Institute for Theory and Computation within the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In 2012, TIME magazine selected Loeb as one of the 25 most influential people in space.

Stephen Webb

has published eight books, including the best selling Where is Everybody? and an undergraduate textbook on the cosmological distance ladder, and is currently working on two more. Following a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Manchester, Stephen has worked at a number of UK universities. For the past 15 years, he has been based at the University of Portsmouth.

His 2018 TED talk “Where are all the aliens?” has been viewed 5.8 million times. 

He is a member of the UK SETI Research Network and a member of the International Academy of Astronautics Committee on SETI.

About Munk Debates

We are the world’s first podcast dedicated to convening one-on-one debates between today’s biggest thinkers and sharpest minds. Our mission is to create space for civil and substantive debates on the big issues of the day – free of spin, focused on facts and animated by smart conversation. Join us each week for a fresh take on the complex, controversial and compelling debates of our time.

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