The timing is excellent. Mormonism, more so than any other religion with which I am acquainted, is theologically positioned to deal with rapid advances in science and technology in a generally constructive and adoptive manner. For approximately two centuries, most Mormons have recognized the value of science and technology, considered their origins to be divine, and adopted them to facilitate and expedite the work of expressing Christian discipleship in practical ways. Time will tell whether Mormons, in general, will end up promoting and adopting technology as a means of fulfilling prophecies regarding physical life extension and enhancement. In the mean time, it's good to see Mormon theology becoming increasingly visible and influential.
Although there may be a general positive correlation between education and secularism, among Mormons there appears to be a positive correlation between education and religiosity. This observation was perhaps first made formally by Richard Wootton in the 1950s. Wootton's study, updated in recent years to be based on sixty years of data up to the year 2000, suggests that Utah (and Utah Mormons in particular) produces more scientists per capita than any other state in the United States. Moreover, it reveals that Mormon scientists overwhelmingly report "very strong" adherence to their faith. A 1984 data analysis, "Secularization, Higher Education and Religiosity", by Stan Albrecht and Tim Heaton also identifies the positive correlation between education and religiosity among Mormons. Most recently, despite an increasing United States high school dropout rate, the LDS Church reports that Mormon teenagers are countering that trend, staying in school, and in many cases taking extra classes.
Mormonism has a long tradition of support for education and science. Joseph Smith taught that “the glory of God is intelligence.” (D&C 93: 36) Brigham Young claimed that "God is a scientific character.” (Journal of Discourses 13: 300) Orson Pratt advocated that “The great temple of science must be erected upon the solid foundations of everlasting truth; its towering spires must mount upward, reaching higher and still higher, until crowned with the glory and presence of Him, who is Eternal.” (Deseret News 22: 586) James Talmage encouraged Mormon youth to “consider scientific knowledge as second in importance only to that knowledge that pertains to the Church and Kingdom of God.” (Science in the Associations) Most recently, Gordon Hinckley said, “This Church came about as a result of intellectual curiosity. We believe in education, and we spend a substantial part of our budget on the education of our young people. We expect them to think. We expect them to investigate. We expect them to use their minds and dig deeply for knowledge in all fields. If we have a motto, it is this, 'The glory of God is intelligence.'"
Tired of the mouse? Get ready to control your computer with your thoughts! Later this year, you should be able to buy an EEG headset for only $299. This is, most likely, just the beginning of generally-available brain-computer interfacing technology. In time, we should be able not only to output from our brain, but also input to our brain for applications such as full-immersion virtual reality, accelerated education or national security.
That should scare us a bit, because it will introduce some serious new security and privacy risks. However, for those willing to work to mitigate and carefully take those risks, extraordinary opportunities will present themselves. We would not be where we are today if we had not taken risks. The fact that our civilization is still here is evidence of a degree of communal wisdom and compassion naturally required for surmounting those risks. We'll have to manage to exhibit yet higher degrees of wisdom and compassion if we are to survive what's coming.
At the IEET, a Transhumanist think tank, Russell Blackford has posted on "Religion and Nanotechnology". He notes that support for nanotechnology correlates in western countries with secularism, and the United States comes in much lower than other western countries both in support for nanotechnology and secularism. He then advocates "a direct, long-term, unremitting campaign to weaken the cognitive and moral authority of religion".
This is an over-reaction to a drastic over-simplification of the situation. It is simply incorrect that all religions (and their interpretations) disregard science and technology. It is also simply incorrect that all religions (and their interpretations) demonize human efforts to become like God -- Mormonism is the perfect counter-example. Blackford's perspective is informed of the same attitude that generates religious fundamentalism. What we need, rather than war against religion or war against science, is more nuanced thought and greater effort toward bridging differences. Dogmatism, not religion, is the enemy of nanotechnology. God save us from dogmatism, of both the religious and scientific sorts!
Nanotechnology or molecular engineering (precision manufacturing at the atomic level) will enable us to produce dirt-cheap supercomputers, ubiquitous 100% pure water, highly cost-efficient solar energy collectors, and myriads of other world-changing technologies that we probably have not even imagined. Most of us are not aware of advances in miniaturization technology that suggest we're not so far away from being able to produce automated nanoscale factories, yet futurists such as Ray Kurzweil expect a nanotechnology revolution within a couple decades of the present.
Below are some images of our nanoscale world, taken by British scientists using scanning probe microscopes that can infer the positions of individual atoms.
Laser-Created Crater on the Surface of a Sapphire
E Coli Bacterium
Twelve Artificially-Arranged Bromine Atoms
More images are available here:
How predictable are we? When God or a neohuman (choose your favorite word) looks at a group of persons like us, how much does she see? Already, with our presumably-primitive technology, we are creating computer models to provide better intelligence for the military, enabling improved prediction of trends in (apparently) random terrorist strikes. Do these trends reveal learned preferences or even deeply-embedded anatomical preconditioning, reacting to environmental patterns such as weather and terrain? I imagine it's at least that and more. And what does God see? How free are we?
I suspect our freedom, to the extent we have it, depends on our knowledge, both of ourselves and the world around us. Knowledge presents options. I also wonder whether it's not an entirely contextual matter, or at least always practically contextual. I can behave with a degree of freedom in some empowering contexts, whereas other contexts would deprive me of movement, sensibility or life. I feel a degree of freedom relative to the knowledge I presume others to have of the world and my place in it.
How free are bacteria? What about your dog? Humans have not altogether transcended Pavlov's bell, ringing us into our stereotypical roles. We've long recognized that persuasion and suggestion influence us, but we're quickly expanding our understanding of how susceptible the human brain is to external influences, such as chemically-induced fear.
In the Mormon tradition, we sometimes hear a paradoxical set of ideas regarding free will. On the one hand, many of us believe we've always had free will - it is part of or emergent from that aspect of our being that was not and could not be created. On the other hand, many of us believe God voluntarily restrains himself from revoking or infringing upon our free will, despite his power to do so. This paradox seems increasingly to reflect the situation in which we find ourselves: competing senses of indeterminism and predictability.
Chapter Three of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
Chapter Two of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
The Preface and Chapter One of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
As before, I feel it is important to begin by expressing my opinion that Dawkins is an excellent and inspiring evolutionary biologist. Although he misrepresents and misunderstands religion as a whole, he justifiably expresses anger and distrust regarding many particular aspects of religion. His view of religion is more black and white than mine; and, although sympathetic, I disagree with him. God is not always a delusion.
Dawkins begins by acknowledging, as argued by intelligent design advocates, that the complexity of our world, the life forms in it, and the creations of intelligent life are incredibly improbable. We would not reasonably expect any of them, such as a Boeing 747, to appear in a scrap yard as the chance consequence of a hurricane. Dawkins then points out that we can explain the origins of such complexity via either intelligent design or natural selection - neither of which are chance. However, if we appeal to intelligent design then we should recognize that the designer must have been at least as complex as that which was designed. For example, an engineer is more complex than a Boeing 747. So if we appeal to intelligent design of the world then we should recognize that God, as the designer, must have been at least as complex as the world. This, of course, begs the question of how God came to be, and suggests that the chance existence of such a being is incredibly improbable - even more improbable than the chance existence of the world. Thus, as Dawkins suggests in the chapter title, there almost certainly is no God.
Yet, despite the incredible improbability of a Boeing 747, I've flown in one. I've met engineers who've designed such machines. They exist in all their incredible complexity! Really! Despite the improbability of complex systems and their engineers, we're here. The title of the chapter might as well have been "Why We Almost Certainly Do Not Exist". It would have been almost as accurate theoretically, and perhaps no more accurate practically. I'm not saying that Dawkins is wrong so much as I'm saying that he is over-emphasizing natural selection and insufficiently recognizing that both intelligent design and natural selection may have factored into the creation of the world. He only barely acknowledges this, as I'll discuss further.
Before that, however, I'll call your attention to a couple of Dawkins' statements that particularly merit criticism. First, he suggests that "one of the truly bad effects of religion is that it teaches us that it is a virtue to be satisfied with not understanding". While this may be true of some religions, it is certainly not true of all religions and therefore not true of the religious phenomenon as a whole. Mormonism serves as a counter-example, in that it emphasizes that salvation depends on knowledge - indeed, it is impossible to be saved in ignorance (D&C 131: 6). Second, he claims that intelligently designed organs would not demonstrate flaws, as do our organs, which must therefore not be intelligently designed. This is a poor observation, illustrating that Dawkins is better at science than engineering. Any trained engineer can tell you that designed systems demonstrate flaws, sufficient in number and consequence to justify numerous engineering jobs dedicated entirely to quality assurance - and, even then, engineers never identify all flaws, and generally fix only the most important subset of those that are found.
Let's return to Dawkins' arguments about probability. As the chapter progresses, he discusses the probability of the emergence of simple life, and contends that it is the most improbable aspect of the entire process by which humans came to be. He even goes so far as to state that "events that constitute run-of-the-mill evolution, as distinct from its singular origin (and perhaps a few special cases), cannot have been very improbable". Consider the ramifications of this claim. This rhetoric positions most - nearly all - of the improbability of the emergence of intelligent life in the original emergence of the simple life form from which it evolved. An unstated implication is that the improbability of super intelligent life, such as a God, would not be much more than the improbability of human life, and the transition from human life to super intelligent life would be far more probable than the transition from no life to human life.
Dawkins then claims that, despite the improbability of the transition from no life to simple life, "we know it happened on Earth". However, we simply do not know so much as he claims. We do not know whether that transition took place on Earth. It may have occurred elsewhere in our star system or galaxy. It may even have occurred outside our time and space, in a parallel universe. Who knows? It may NEVER have occurred, in our universe or elsewhere, if the history of evolution is an infinite regression.
Thus, Dawkins appeals to the notion of the multiverse to explain the initial emergence of simple life. He argues that if a very large number of universes exist, each with physical laws set to different parameters, then even if only an extraordinarily small percentage of them produce simple life then such would be sufficient for explaining human life. Sure, but he's missing something.
What if simple life DID emerge, even just once somewhere in the multiverse? And what if that singular occurrence, as Dawkins himself argues, produced intelligent life as its probable (not improbable) consequence? Moreover, what if some of that intelligent life became highly intelligent to the point of being capable of producing new universes within the multiverse, but with specifications that interest them more than do the merely (or apparently) random universes within which they originally emerged? Perhaps they could, over time, increase the likelihood of generating universes with physical laws set to parameters that are most likely to repeat the occurrence of simple life? Such beings would be a sort of DNA for evolution on a cosmic scale.
It may be that the intelligent design of universes is not much more (if at all) improbable than the initial emergence of simple life in a multiverse. Moreover, if ever we (or our descendents) design a significant number of universes, either already charged with simple life or ordered for the emergence of simple life, then we almost certainly are already living in such an intelligently-designed universe - as presented in the Simulation Argument.
Dawkins almost acknowledges such a possibility by referencing the work of theoretical physicist, Lee Smolin. Dawkins writes: "Smolin's idea . . . hinges on the theory that daughter universes are born of parent universes, not in a fully fledged big crunch but more locally in black holes. Smolin adds a form of heredity: the fundamental constants of a daughter universe are slightly 'mutated' versions of the constants of its parent. Heredity is the essential ingredient of Darwinian natural selection, and the rest of Smolin's theory follows naturally. Those universes that have what it takes to 'survive' and 'reproduce' come to predominate in the multiverse. 'What it takes' includes lasting long enough to 'reproduce'. Because the act of reproduction takes place in black holes, successful universes must have what it takes to make black holes. This ability entails various other properties. For example, the tendency for matter to condense into clouds and then stars is a prerequisite to making black holes. Stars also, as we have seen, are the precursors to the development of interesting chemistry, and hence life. So, Smolin suggests, there has been a Darwinian natural selection of universes in the multiverse, directly favoring the evolution of black hole fecundity and indirectly favoring the production of life."
Yet if that's true, then how much more successful within the multiverse would be universes containing life intelligent enough to produce more universes containing life! Advanced intelligent life can provide heredity at least as well as blackholes, and would presumably become much better at producing universes that survive and reproduce than would black holes that are incapable of observation and reverse-engineering. Moreover, because this most efficient form of universal reproduction takes place via advanced intelligent life, successful universes would need to have what it takes to produce advanced intelligent life. This ability would entail various other properties, such as interesting chemistry, stars, matter condensing into clouds . . . oh, and black holes. Indeed, it may be as Smolin suggests and Dawkins reports, there has been a Darwinian natural selection of universes in the multiverse, but directly favoring the evolution of advanced intelligent life!
Remember that I mentioned Dawkins only barely acknowledges this? Well, here it is:
"It may even be a superhuman designer - but, if so, it will most certainly not be a designer who just popped into existence, or who always existed. If (which I don't believe for a moment) our universe was designed, and a fortiori if the designer reads our thoughts and hands out omniscient advice, forgiveness and redemption, the designer himself must be the end product of some kind of cumulative escalator or crane, perhaps a version of Darwinism in another universe."
"I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man. God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible - I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form - like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another. In order to understand the subject of the dead, for consolation of those who mourn for the loss of their friends, it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible."
Some of you requested more information about the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. According to its web site, it is the foremost collection of genetic genealogy data in the world. The data will enable genealogists to trace the deep ancestry of humanity, and, as articulated by founder James Sorenson prior to his death earlier this year, should remind "people everywhere that in a very real sense, we are all brothers and sisters". Of particular interest to me is that anyone can participate in the project by requesting a free participation kit. The kit will help you take a DNA sample, prepare your four generation pedigree, and return the kit for analysis and inclusion in the database.
It sounds far-fetched to some, but, as a matter of faith, I look with hope toward a day when we will prove capable of amassing or accessing (via technology not currently available to us) sufficient data regarding our ancestors to restore them to life. I see in our genealogy efforts the primitive beginning of such a work. While I cannot prove the possibility that we, in the advanced future, will be able to trace information back from effects to causes with sufficient detail to ascertain the complex patterns (spirits, if you will) of our ancestors' identities, I do see value in the effort. Some kinds of truths depend on our faith in them for their realization.
Support the Mormon Transhumanist Association by purshasing your copy of "Mormon Scientist" from our book store today!
For family home evening, we watched the movie, "NeverEnding Story". It's the one from the '80s with a boy who discovers, while reading a book, that he's creating a wondrous fantasy world.
I remember enjoying the movie as a child, but did not recognize at the time how the story is built around the notion of an infinite regression of worlds created within worlds. Below is a particularly intriguing part of the dialog (which, be warned, occurs at the climax of the story). There are three characters. The Childlike Empress and Atreyu are characters in a book that the third character, Bastian, is reading.
[Atreyu walks up the stairs that lead to the Empress' room. The chamber door begins to open . . . He enters the room and the door closes behind him. Before him was the Childlike Empress in person. She sits silently on her bed, her gaze never leaves Atreyu.]
Childlike Empress: Atreyu, why do you look so sad?
Atreyu: I have failed you Empress.
Childlike Empress: No, you haven't. You've brought him with you.
Childlike Empress: The Earthling child. The one who can save us all.
Atreyu: You knew about the Earthling child?!
Childlike Empress: Of course. I knew everything.
[Atreyu grows angry with her]
Atreyu: My horse died, I nearly drowned, and I just barely got away from the nothing. For what?! To find out what you already knew?!
Childlike Empress: It was the only way to get in touch with an Earthling.
Atreyu: But I didn't get in touch with an Earthling!
Childlike Empress: Yes, you did.
[Bastian sits up slowly as we hear what she's saying.]
Childlike Empress: He has suffered with you. He went through everything you went through. And now, he has come here with you. He's very close. Listening to every word that we say.
[Atreyu looks around, as does she.]
[Two fragments of Fantasia collide and explode shaking the Tower Violently.]
Atreyu: Where is he? If he's so close, why doesn't he arrive?!
Childlike Empress: He doesn't realize that he's already a part of the NeverEnding Story.
Atreyu: The NeverEnding Story, what's that?
Childlike Empress: Just as he is sharing all your adventures, others are sharing his. They were with him when he hid from the boys in the bookstore.
Bastian: But that's impossible!
Childlike Empress: They were with him when he took the book with the Auryn symbol on the cover, in which he's reading his own story right now.
Bastian: I can't believe it, they can't be talking about me.
[The Ivory Tower cracks. Atreyu turns around to see where it cracked, then he turns back to the Empress.]
Atreyu: What will happen if he doesn't appear?!
Childlike Empress: Then our world will disappear, and so will I.
Atreyu: How can he let that happen?!
Childlike Empress: He doesn't understand that he's the one who has the power to stop it. He simply can't imagine that one little boy could be that important.
Bastian: Is it really me?
Atreyu: Maybe he doesn't know what he has to do!
Bastian: What do I have to do?!
Childlike Empress: He has to give me a new name. He's already chosen it, he just has to call it out.
Bastian: It's only a story, it's not real. It's only a story.
[The Ivory Tower shakes and cracks some more. Atreyu falls over backward and is knocked unconscious.]
Bastian: Atreyu! NO!
Childlike Empress: Atreyu!
[The courtyard is being taken away by the Nothing. Because of Bastian's new found disbelief the Nothing has grown stronger and is now attacking the last remaining part of Fantasia.]
Childlike Empress: Bastian, why don't you do what you dream, Bastian?
Bastian: But I can't! I have to keep my feet on the ground!
Childlike Empress: Call my name! Bastian, please! Save us!
Bastian: All right, I'll do it. I'll save you. I will do what I dream!
[He climbs up to the window and opens it. He leans out into the storm and calls out the name he had chosen for her.]
[Darkness, pure and black as night. We hear Bastian speak.]
Bastian: Why is it so dark?
Empress Moonchild: In the beginning it is always dark.
[A small light appears and starts growing until the two children's faces are illuminated. It is coming from an object in Moonchild's hand. Bastian looks at it.]
Bastian: What is that?
Empress Moonchild: One grain of sand. It is all that remains of my vast empire.
Bastian: Fantasia has totally disappeared?
Empress Moonchild: Yes.
Bastian: Then everything has been in vain.
Empress Moonchild: No, it hasn't. Fantasia can arise in you. In your dreams and wishes, Bastian.
Empress Moonchild: Open your hand.
[She puts the grain into his hand and he looks at it.]
Empress Moonchild: What are you going to wish for?
Bastian: I don't know.
Empress Moonchild: Then there will be no Fantasia any more.
Bastian: How many wishes do I get?
Empress Moonchild: As many as you want. And the more wishes you make, the more magnificent Fantasia will become.
Empress Moonchild: Try it.
Bastian: Then my first wish is . . .
[Moonchild follows his gaze and smiles.]
Could it be, as you have shared Bastian's adventure, others are now sharing yours? As you were with him when he saved Fantasia, might they be with you as you read this text? Have you been reading your own story? Are you part of the NeverEnding Story? Impossible? Are you sure?
Read the Simulation Argument.