Aliens More Popular Than God

18/10/2012 17:06 BST | Updated 18/12/2012 10:12 GMT

Recently I saw that more people in the UK believe in aliens than in God according to a new poll . An estimated 33.1 million people think that life exists on other planets, while only 27.5 million - less than half the country - believe there's a God.

Such a finding would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but not only does this suggests that aliens are bigger than God, it shows that 'ufology' could probably be regarded as a new religion. Where will it end? In America they put "In God We Trust" on the coins and banknotes, but if more people believe in aliens than God, should there be a new slogan? "In ET We Trust"?

The same opinion poll found that 52% of UK citizens think information about UFOs has been - or would be - covered up, because their existence would threaten the stability of the government.

Amazingly, the poll also found that 10% of people have actually seen a UFO themselves. When the pollsters asked how people would react if aliens revealed themselves, the most popular emotion people mentioned was curiosity. Fear was second on the list.

It's a busy time for alien stories. The release of this new research comes in the same week as news broke concerning a BBC camera crew arrested at gunpoint for breaking into Area 51 - a top secret US military base where conspiracy theorists claim alien technology is kept. The show was being filmed as part of the BBC Three series Conspiracy Road Trip in which a number of UFO researchers (including TV presenter Franky Ma - who sensibly heeded the warnings not to trespass and was the only one to avoid arrest) were taken on a road trip to iconic American locations associated with UFOs. Another episode in the same series (featuring researchers including model Layla Randle-Conde) caused controversy last week for its treatment of the 7/7 bombings.

So why the interest in aliens and UFOs, and why the belief? Having researched the UFO mystery for the British Government, as part of a Ministry of Defence job in which I investigated 200-300 sightings each year, I have a few ideas about this. I think the interest stems from the fact that the question of whether or not we're alone in the Universe is one of the biggest and most profound questions we can ask ourselves. As for the belief, I think it reflects the fact that we want to believe in aliens. Humans are social creatures and I think we have a great fear of being alone. As for the belief in a UFO cover-up, I think it stems from a more general distrust of government.

Another reason for these beliefs is that people are exposed to a constant stream of science fiction films and computer games based around alien visitation and - in particular - alien invasion.

There's even a conspiracy theory that suggests alien-themed movies and videogames are part of a secret government plan to indoctrinate people about aliens, acclimatising them to the reality of extraterrestrials. That way, if the government does suddenly announce that it's all true, there wouldn't be panic in the streets. After all, you don't shock people by telling them something they already believe!

I think this is a conspiracy theory too far and that alien-themed movies and games are simply entertainment, not part of some sinister New World Order plot. But then, given that I used to work for the Ministry of Defence, I would say that, wouldn't I?