Martin Rees, fully Sir Martin John Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow

Rees, fully Sir Martin John Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow

British Cosmologist, Astrophysicist and Author, Fellow of Trinity College and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge

Author Quotes

In the case of climate change, the threat is long-term and diffuse and requires broad international action for the benefit of people decades in the future. And in politics, the urgent always trumps the important, and that is what makes it a very difficult and challenging issue.

I think just as religion is separate from science, so is ethics separate from science. So is aesthetics separate from science. And so are many other things. There are lots of important things that are separate from science.

I think there is a 50 percent chance that in the coming century civilization will suffer a setback as bad as a catastrophic nuclear war. New science and new technology may open up risks that are at least as threatening and in some cases even more intractable. The future of science is very hard to predict. All we can say is that the advance of science in this century will be at least as dramatic as in the last century and, indeed, that the advances will be on a broader front. Specifically, I am concerned that, for the very first time, human beings and human character may be changed by science. Over the last several thousand years almost everything in our world has changed except human nature and human beings themselves. But even that will be malleable in the next century. For all these reasons, I believe we have entered a century that is going to confront us with unprecedented ethical challenges, risks and opportunities. These are all things that a wide public has to be aware of. Although scientists may be responsible for these changes, it is not just scientists who will need to confront them and certainly not scientists who need to address the ethical issues.

I would support peaceful co-existence between religion and science because they concern different domains. Anyone who takes theology seriously knows that it's not a matter of using it to explain things that scientists are mystified by.

I'd like to widen people's awareness of the tremendous timespan lying ahead--for our planet, and for life itself. Most educated people are aware that we're the outcome of nearly 4bn years of Darwinian selection, but many tend to think that humans are somehow the culmination. Our sun, however, is less than halfway through its lifespan. It will not be humans who watch the sun's demise, 6 billion years from now. Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae.

If we do find ET, we will at least have something in common with them. They may live on planet Zog and have seven tentacles, but they will be made of the same kinds of atoms as us. If they have eyes, they will gaze out on the same cosmos as we do. They will, like us, trace their origins back to a 'Big Bang' 13.8 billion years ago.

If we ever establish contact with intelligent aliens living on a planet around a distant star ? They would be made of similar atoms to us. They could trace their origins back to the big bang 13.7 billion years ago, and they would share with us the universe's future. However, the surest common culture would be mathematics.

From the growth of the Internet through to the mapping of the human genome and our understanding of the human brain, the more we understand, the more there seems to be for us to explore.

General writing about science, even if we do it badly, helps us to see our work in perspective and broadens our vision.

Given the scale of issues like global warming and epidemic disease, we shouldn't underestimate the importance of a can-do attitude to science rather than a can't-afford-it attitude.

God invented space so that not everything had to happen in Princeton.

I am sorry you focused on science and religion rather than what I think are the interesting things I do. Which is trying to understand how structures form in the universe and the extent to which the laws of physics are universal. I'm trying to understand extreme phenomena in the cosmos and pushing back to the highest redshifts and things like that.

I believe that greater awareness of the opportunities and the risks is a first step toward focusing on how to optimize things, and I would hope that there will be a concern to minimize the risks. I would hope also that there would be some pressure to redirect technology so that the focus is on environmentally benign aspects, and that we?ll try to underplay those technologies that are most threatening

I have no religious belief myself, but I don't think we should fight about it. In particular, I think that we should not rubbish moderate religious leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury because I think we all agree that extreme fundamentalism is a threat, and we need all the allies we can muster against it.

I hope that by 2050 the entire solar system will have been explored and mapped by flotillas of tiny robotic craft.

I suspect there could be life and intelligence out there in forms that we can't conceive. And there could, of course, be forms of intelligence beyond human capacity ? beyond as much as we are beyond a chimpanzee

I think a few hundred years from now we'll start having the 'post-human' era of different species.

I think all of us are concerned about fanaticism and fundamentalism and we need all the allies we can muster against it. And I would see Rowan Williams et al as being on our side. I admire them more than want to rubbish them. Another point is if you are teaching Muslim sixth formers in a school and you tell them they can't have their God and Darwin, there is a risk they will choose their God and be lost to science. So those are two respects where I would disagree with the emphasis of the professional atheists, as it were.

I think doing science makes me realize that even the simplest things are pretty hard to understand and that makes me suspicious of people who believe they've got anything more than an incomplete and metaphorical understanding of any deep aspect of reality. And also I see human beings as not the culmination, but only a stage in the marvelous unfolding of evolution, because the timeline ahead is as long as the time that has lapsed up to now. Those are respects in which my professional interests affect my response to dogmatic religion. But as I say, I participate in occasional religious services which are the customs of the society I grew up in. I'm not allergic to religion.

Ever since Darwin, we've been familiar with the stupendous timespans of the evolutionary past. But most people still somehow think we humans are necessarily the culmination of the evolutionary tree. No astronomer could believe this.

Everything, however complicated - breaking waves, migrating birds, and tropical forests - is made of atoms and obeys the equations of quantum physics. But even if those equations could be solved, they wouldn't offer the enlightenment that scientists seek. Each science has its own autonomous concepts and laws.

First, when scientific research is carried out, the scientists themselves can?t predict how it will be applied. The same discovery has both benign and harmful applications. So we can?t avoid the risks without denying ourselves the benefits, which we don?t want to do. Second, even if we do feel that certain applications of science are unethical or dangerous and we try to regulate against them, enforcing such regulations worldwide is going to be very hard.

From a personal perspective, I am disappointed that we have yet to really achieve a full understanding of the origins of life on Earth. What was the spark that, billions of years ago, kick-started the process of evolution that has brought us life as we know it today? I hope that we will get some answers to that in my lifetime.

Darwin and his successors taught us how our biosphere evolved, and thereby transformed our conception of humanity's place in nature. In the twenty-first century, space scientists are setting Darwin in a grander cosmic context - probing the origins of Earth, stars, atoms and the universe itself.

Devastation could arise insidiously, rather than suddenly, through unsustainable pressure on energy supplies, food, water and other natural resources. Indeed, these pressures are the prime 'threats without enemies' that confront us.

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Rees, fully Sir Martin John Rees, Baron Rees of Ludlow
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British Cosmologist, Astrophysicist and Author, Fellow of Trinity College and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge