Karl Hale, also a director of the MTA, doesn't typically describe himself as an atheist, yet there may have been an atypical moment. Karl, subsequent to a discussion about the Simulation Argument, considered the demographics of Transhumanists and wondered aloud why so many are atheists. Chris Bradford (yes, another director of the MTA) replied with a question, "Do you believe in supernatural beings?" Karl then stood and loudly declared himself an atheist. I wasn't there, but that's what I remember of the story.
Dale Carrico, about whom I blogged previously, is neither Mormon nor theist -- nor Transhumanist, nor bioconservative, nor technoprogressive. He is, however, an atheist of the assuredly "crusty" and "cheerfully nonjudgmental" sort. He criticizes Transhumanist advocates of immortality for being too much like theists in their superlative rhetoric, which does not sufficiently address "the gap between an essentially theological concept exhibited as a trait by nothing on earth and a presumably proximately engineerable outcome". The unstated implication is that at least some (all?) concepts of theism have not been and presumably never will be manifest in our concrete experience of the world. I wonder if this reveals something of the source of Dale's atheism.
When I read Joshua's biblical challenge to choose a god, I am reminded of the apostle Paul's observation that there are many gods. How, then, shall we choose? As my friend, Leonard Reil, once put it: the question is not whether a particular god exists, but rather whether that god will save you. Can the only-superlative god save you? Only if the practical consequences of your faith do not matter for your salvation. Faith in the only-superlative god manifests itself in the environmental problems of our day -- why bother caring for the Earth if god's omnipotence can take us all away before it matters? Such faith manifests itself in our international hostility -- why not bring on the war to end all wars if that's what god's perfectly infallible foreknowledge mandates? That only-superlative faith even manifests itself in our relations with our neighbors -- why should I spend time with them when they've rejected the absolute word of god and are certainly going to hell? The practical consequence of generally consistent faith in the only-superlative God is descent toward nihilism. If God is only a superlative (or even a host of superlatives), I too am an atheist. Yet, even here and perhaps especially here, the hand raised to finish the dying god is the sign of the oath to the resurrecting God.
Because a lazy thinker somewhere is likely to interpret this post as evidence that the MTA is an evil cult of demon worshipers, I should add the following for the record:
1) Brent is among the most compassionate persons I know -- despite fear-inspired stereotypes, atheism simply doesn't negatively correlate with compassion.
2) Karl and I expressly identify as theists, as do most members of the MTA. Although we have faith in God, we do not always believe everything every theist ever believes about God.
3) Dale really is a worshiper of demo . . . uh . . . crats. Sorry, Dale, but demonizing antagonists has always worked perfectly! ;-)
Dale Carrico, a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric at the University of California Berkeley, is an intelligent and articulate antagonist of Transhumanism. He interacts regularly with some influential Transhumanists, and is well acquainted with the ideology -- better acquainted than any other antagonist that I know of. I've recently begun reading his blog, and consider it remarkably insightful.
While I've found many areas of agreement with Dale, such as recognition that our experience lends itself to complex and dynamic interpretations that correspond to superlatives only abstractly if at all, I don't share his faith in human finitude -- for precisely the same reason that I do share with him the rejection of concrete and absolute manifestations of superlatives in our experience. I do not expect to experience (nor do I consider it practically beneficial to pursue experience of) a concrete and absolute manifestation of finitude. I have found infinitude in my experience to at least the same degree and frequency as I've found finitude, yet neither has been absolute. This could be over-simplistically interpreted as a mere contradiction in terms, but is rather intended as a sort of paradoxical signpost pointing in a direction that I, and others, have found desirable and fulfilling to travel -- with both feet, despite the possibility of construing the left foot to be a contradiction of the right. No absolute end is expected, neither in the absolute infinite nor in the absolute finite. We recognize both as abstractions that approximate our experience, which itself is heavily abstracted prior to our conscious awareness of it (presumably).
In religious terms, my faith is in an eternal God that recurrently becomes God, an immortal God that dies and resurrects, and an omniscient and omnipotent God that progresses in knowledge and power. Without beginning, this God reorganizes worlds without end, through beginnings and endings. This is a God of life, in all its dynamic concrete complexity and its static abstract simplicity. This is a God of love, working endlessly for full reconciliation of our wills, desires and laws. I have worshiped as a slave, now as a child, and yet would be a friend in grace and works, without pity or pride. I would become one with the eternal God, even if it requires eternity.
I desire superlative life, in quantity and quality, rather than superlative death. So I express and work toward that desire, not actually desiring that the abstract superlative displace the concrete experience, but knowing confidently that some truths depend on our will for their realization, however dynamic and complex that realization may be . . . reflecting a dynamic and complex truth.
Arthur C Clarke, science fiction writer and science popularizer, died in Sri Lanka earlier this week. He leaves with us an extraordinary legacy of entertainment and inspiration. In a final public message, available for you to view below, he mentioned that the power of our technology does not displace the importance of tolerance and compassion. Humanity should learn to think and act as one family. Couple this compassion with optimism, and we may yet realize and exceed the far-sighted visions expressed in Clarke's writings. This is a hope worthy of our faith.
I am a child of God,
And he has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home
With parents kind and dear.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.
While singing, he put out his hand. His fingers, still rounded with what's left of his baby fat, rested softly on my arm. It's hard to describe the beauty of the feeling, but everyone that has loved knows it. If you and I, with our relatively limited hearts and minds, feel so for our most intimate creations, how much more might another, sublime by comparison, feel for her most intimate creation. Surely a God, pregnant with a world, would sing and weep wondrously in her love.
As the Simulation Argument goes, if ever we create a significant number of computed worlds then we are almost certainly already living in one. I can't say with certainty, of course, whether we're already living in a computed world; nor can I say whether we will prove capable and willing to create a significant number of computed worlds in the future. However, for those who see no ethical problem with the creation of computed worlds, and likewise desire to see human creativity expressed in the most sublime manifestations conceivable, it seems practical to put faith in our capacity to create such worlds. Some truths are created only subsequent to our faith in them. Given such a faith, however, to remain reasonable, one should likewise embrace faith that we are, ourselves, almost certainly already living in such a computed world.
Computing power has been advancing exponentially -- or even meta-exponentially. Each new generation of computing technology arrives more quickly and powerfully than the previous by leveraging the power of the previous. Assuming this trend holds, we may experience within this century a technological singularity, when the rate of advance is so rapid and disruptive that we could not, given current limitations, predict or control the advance.
However, there are other trends that suggest we may, indeed, prove capable of predicting and controlling the advance of our technology -- at least as well as we're now predicting and controlling it. At least some of us may never experience an imminent technological singularity. Here's the reasoning. Our electronic computers were once exclusively massive machines housed in large warehouses far away from us. We would either drive to the warehouses, or eventually connect via terminals from home, to leverage those computers. In time, those computers became smaller, and we could bring them into our homes. Soon after, we were able to put them in our pockets. Now, we're embedding them in our clothing and putting them into our bodies, and expect them to become increasingly intimate parts of our lives. This trend toward miniaturizing computers and incorporating them ever more closely into our lives and beings has been going on for quite a while, and there seems to be no reason to suppose that it will change any time soon. We are enhancing ourselves with our technology. With ever-expanding capacities, we may prove capable of continually pushing back the event horizon of the technological singularity, and thereby empower ourselves to make choices regarding our advance.
In my experience, most of us, when thinking of or describing the Simulation Hypothesis, imagine it in terms of our current relationship with our computers. Thus, the neohumans and the computed worlds they create are considered separate entities, with the one creating the other. However, it seems more appropriate, given current trends, to think of the neohumans and their computers as being one and the same, with the one creating itself. Ray Kurzweil hints at such an idea in his latest book, The Singularity is Near (available in our book store). He describes a future in which advanced human intelligence spreads out into time and space at speeds at least approaching that of light, until the entire universe wakes up. He even suggests that the resulting entity could be considered God. Given my pragmatist and pluralistic leanings, I don't expect our universe to become a monolithic God. I can imagine like-minded individuals working together toward varying ideals, with each community creating computed worlds according to their desires.
Such a future, in which we create and identify with our worlds, in which the universe is the neohuman, resonates strongly with Mormonism. Here is a pertinent passage from Joseph Smith's writings in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 88:
40 For intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own; justice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.
41 He comprehendeth all things, and all things are before him, and all things are round about him; and he is above all things, and in all things, and is through all things, and is round about all things; and all things are by him, and of him, even God, forever and ever.
42 And again, verily I say unto you, he hath given a law unto all things, by which they move in their times and their seasons;
43 And their courses are fixed, even the courses of the heavens and the earth, which comprehend the earth and all the planets.
44 And they give light to each other in their times and in their seasons, in their minutes, in their hours, in their days, in their weeks, in their months, in their years-all these are one year with God, but not with man.
45 The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God.
46 Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms, that ye may understand?
47 Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.
48 I say unto you, he hath seen him; nevertheless, he who came unto his own was not comprehended.
49 The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not; nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him.
50 Then shall ye know that ye have seen me, that I am, and that I am the true light that is in you, and that you are in me; otherwise ye could not abound.