Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

November 09, 1999

The end of the world as we know it? Prof examines threats to humankind

The human race has about a 30 per cent chance of not making it past the halfway point of the next millennium, estimates a University of Guelph expert on cosmology and religion.

Possible doomsday scenarios are worth considering, according to John Leslie, a retired professor from the Department of Philosophy and author of "The End of the World: the science and ethics of human extinction."

In his book, published by Routledge in 1996 and updated last year, Leslie applies cosmologist Brandon Carter's doomsday argument. Are we to believe that we are in a first tiny fraction of all humans who will ever have existed? Carter argues that we have been too ready to believe this. Leslie originally estimated that the human race had only a five per cent chance of extinction in the next 500 years. But after studying the doomsday argument, he increased his estimate to roughly 30 per cent.

"Despite all the risks, humans are likely to survive for at least the next five centuries," Leslie said.

Risks to humankind range from nuclear and biological warfare to nanotechnology (use of microscopic, computer operated machines), galactic events and artificial intelligence that could replace humans, Leslie said. There is also the hole in the ozone layer and a possible greenhouse disaster. Genetic engineering, pollution, mass extinction of plants and animals, and high-energy physics experiments are among other matters Leslie addresses.

He also suggests possible preventive actions, including colonizing the galaxy and creating artificial biospheres. These measures might save some of the human race if Earth became uninhabitable, he said. Leslie is optimistic about humanity's chances.

"The End of the World" was published in New York and London, and more recently in Japan. Greek, Korean and Turkish editions are under way.

Leslie is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. As the British Academy--Royal Society of Canada Exchange Lecturer for 1998, he toured Scotland and England in the fall, lecturing on philosophy of cosmology and of religion.

Leslie is now university professor emeritus. He retired in 1996 from the University of Guelph's philosophy department, in which he had been Professor since 1982. His other books are "Value and Existence", "Universes," and an edited volume, "Modern Cosmology and Philosophy." He has held visiting posts in the religious studies department at the University of Calgary, the philosophy department at Australian National University, and the astrophysics department at the University of Liege, Belgium.

Contact: John Leslie, emeritus professor, (519) 821-2133

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