Each morning as I merge on to the freeway to commute to work, I pass a billboard that asks me, "Where are you going? Heaven or Hell." That's so completely the wrong question, and the religious fundamentalism that provokes funding of these billboards is so completely evil. Yes. You read that right.
It is common, particularly in conservative circles, to hear that the world is becoming worse. However, the evidence indicates that the world is not going to hell. To the contrary, the world is becoming a better place: less violent, less poor and longer lived, and better educated. Sometimes when discussing these trends, I get pushback. Some things really are getting worse, I'm told. Almost always the examples given to me are related to sexuality, yet even there the data says otherwise.
Thanks to Hank Pellissier for the opportunity to share my views on the subject of Mormonism and politics, and for the candor in his closing remarks on the article, "A Mormon? For President? Who are these people?". I have many friends who are atheists, and although I'm a theist, their concerns resonate with me. Religion and theism, even those with which I identify, have too often been abused. Religion is a social technology, probably the most powerful of them, and like all powerful technologies, it can be used both for good and evil.
Like others before him, Paul Allen argues that the "singularity is not near": we will not anytime soon engineer computers superior to human brains, he says. His argument is based on the observation that human biology, neurology and cognition are highly complex, and he concludes we will need to understand this complexity before we can match or exceed it with our computers. Also like others before him, Paul is probably wrong because the Singularity does not require understanding.
In the comments on an H+ Magazine article on "Why Christianity and Transhumanism are not Enemies", Max More disagreed with my assessment of the inevitability of faith. Here's the exchange, including an opening comment from someone named "Ben".
Ben: "Christianity is based on FAITH. Transhumanism is based on SCIENCE. What more is there to say?"
Lincoln: "Science also depends on trust in non-contradiction, spatial and temporal uniformity, causality, etc. Faith is inescapable, but we don’t need to be irrational."
Below are thoughts I composed some time ago, as I read the introduction to "Postgenderism: Beyond the Gender Binary" by James Hughes and George Dvorsky. The authors respond to some of these criticisms in the body of their paper, but I composed these thoughts to illustrate what the idea of Postgenderism may evoke from the outset as context for any practical argument. I share the thoughts here now because a friend has been reviewing the topic.
At a recent conference on transhumanism and spirituality, I spoke on Transfigurism and proposed the following thought experiment:
Imagine a posthuman historian. Using the tools of quantum archeology, she traces backwards through time and space from effects to causes. Sampling a sufficiently large portion of her present, she attains a desired probabilistic precision for a portion of her past, and she generates you. The future-you is distinguishable from the present-you, but no more so than the today-you is distinguishable from the yesterday-you. You are resurrected.
I've been watching the "Closer to Truth" videos on the subject of God. Thanks to Matthew Price for pointing them out to me. The videos follow a series of questions. While I don't entirely agree with all the answers suggested in the videos, I have found them thought-provoking. Here are some thoughts on the first few questions.
On the Mormon Transhumanist Association Response blog, Vblogger asks how the pursuit of science, if not limited, can be reconciled with faith in Jesus Christ. Do we need the grace of God? If we can figure things out on our own, why do we need Christ?
The Mormonism that has inspired me from childhood is the ecumenical Mormonism. It doesn't pretend to exclusive access to God, and it welcomes truth from any source, whether it be Mormon, non-Mormon or non-religious. Too many Mormons, like many persons of most other religions, are sectarian in their outlook. They tend to see evil everywhere, and they tend to deprecate or altogether ignore the positive contributions of persons outside their religion. This saddens and sometimes angers me. It creates unnecessary divisions, inefficient social interactions, and weakens us as a human family. That's not to say we should avoid voicing disagreements. To the contrary, let's voice and argue them passionately, yet constructively and humbly, recognizing that we are each limited and expect continually to learn from others.
On the "Mormon Transhumanist Association Response" web site, Vblogger, who is a Mormon, questions why Mormon Transhumanists think we should try to use science and technology as means for transfiguration and resurrection to immortality. He demonstrates that the scriptures teach that God has already transfigured or resurrected persons in the past, and he asks: why would it make sense to use gradual means, like science and technology, to accomplish something God's already accomplished before.
In his book "Physics of the Future", Michio Kaku outlines six roadblocks to the Singularity. The roadblocks are at least as speculative as the technological singularity, and we can reasonably speculate our way around them. Below are Michio's proposed roadblocks, followed by my thoughts.
Several friends and I had the opportunity to attend the Singularity Summit in Salt Lake City last Saturday. The event was organized by the Singularity Institute and Robert Brazell, founder of Overstock.com. The Singularity Institute is an affiliate of Humanity+, which is also affiliated with the Mormon Transhumanist Association.
I’m pretty sure Harold Camping’s judgment day rapture isn’t happening. No. I’m not basing that on the fact that I’m still here to post this message. Rather, apart from the sadly-usual 150k persons that died today of mostly aging-related causes, apparently everyone is sticking around. It may be that the number of persons eligible for the rapture is so vanishingly small that the rest of us just aren’t noticing, and we’re still on track for the end of the world on 21 October. If that’s the case, though, shouldn’t we see Jesus coming through the air by now?
The Singularity University FutureMed executive program was a fun and fast-paced opportunity to refresh knowledge and connect with some of the best minds in emerging medical technology. The program was held at the NASA Ames research park in California. Topics ranged from exponential technology generally to its specific manifestations in data-driven health, personalized health, regenerative medicine, intervention and neuromedicine. Daniel Kraft led the program, and the faculty included renowned inventor Ray Kurzweil, Xprize founder Peter Diamandis, and an impressive group of physicians, entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers leading their respective fields.
Judgment day is in ten days, on 21 May 2011, according to a group of Christian fundamentalists that run the eBible Fellowship web site. At that time, the rapture will begin. Those who read the Bible and pray for mercy will be saved, while the rest of us will be destroyed along with the Earth on 21 October (2011, I assume).
For some computer programs, we can know in advance how they will run, when they will stop, and what results they will return. However, there are other computer programs that are undecidable halting problems: we cannot know, without actually running them, whether they will ever stop running, let alone what results they will return.
I identify as a libertarian. Unfortunately, though, most persons understand "libertarian" only in the corporatist right-libertarian sense, with which I identify pretty much not at all. Conceptually, corporations imply the risks of government, and often realize the risks of feudalism. Corporatists typically appeal to free market efficiencies and randians to the morality of something like a prosthetically extended individualism. Yet corporations, as often as not, are mired in inefficiencies and exaggerate the vices of their leaders.
In a recent post to his blog, Sam Harris asks, “Should we be Mormons in the Matrix?” Sam is (in)famous for his atheism and anti-religiosity. He has authored bestselling books “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation”, and has commented in the past that “Mormonism is objectively less likely to be true than Christianity ... because Mormonism is just Christianity plus some rather stupid ideas.” Now that Sam has become familiar with the Simulation Argument, he has more to say about Mormonism: “This simulated cosmos might be every bit as ridiculous as Joseph Smith said it was.” The Simulation Argument, he tells us neither seriously nor unseriously, is a new argument for the truth of religion(s).
Matthew Bailey writes for H+ Magazine, provoking attention with the title "The Technological Singularity as Religious Ideology" and then quickly stating that "The Technological Singularity is NOT a Religion!" I agree with Matthew both that the technological singularity, in itself, is not a religion; and that it is compatible with religious views. In this post, I share some of my thoughts in response to Matthew's article, with particular attention to where we might see things differently.
In her article entitled "Transhumanism and Children", Nikki Olson touches on the greatest weakness of secular transhumanism: poor esthetics. As Nikki rightly points out, children may find it difficult to understand or care much for transhumanist ideas because the ideas tend to be delivered with weak or absent story.
Regularly, in both professional and personal settings, I have the opportunity to discuss accelerating technological change. For the most part, the persons I talk with have heard of Moore's Law and agree that technology is advancing rapidly, but few demonstrate an appreciation of the ramifications. Often, in a single sentence, they'll tell me both that they understand that tech is changing rapidly and that they don't expect the change will have many practical consequences for their business or personal lives within the next decade. Most of us are comfortable anticipating a rate of change that reflects our past experience, but that's almost certainly poor planning. Our intuitive assessment of the extent that technology will change is almost certainly wrong.
2011 is a good year to watch "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "2010: The Year We Make Contact" for the first time, one year after the second and ten years after the first was supposed to have transpired. I enjoyed both films and recommend them to anyone that likes science fiction. 2001 may also interest anyone that enjoys the artistic side of film-making.
Some people don't like ideological labels. They don't like their perspectives being categorized, for whatever reason, good or bad. I'm not one of them. I'm comfortable with labels, and I don't mind being categorized. Of course, it's a mistake to think any label perfectly describes my perspectives or those of any other person, but labels are still valuable as shortcuts, so long as we don't mistake them for anything more than approximations.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem and entered the temple courts. He found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both those who were buying and selling and the sheep and cattle. He overturned the tables and scattered the coins of the money changers, overturned the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. He said to them, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market! It is written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’, but you have made it ‘a den of robbers’.”
This is a response to a critique of Christian Transhumanism from Cris Putnam. Cris summarizes his critique as follows: "... promoters of Christian transhumanism are driven by an unbiblical anthropology, a Pelegian view of sin, and a profound misunderstanding of the Christian life characteristic of theological liberalism." One aspect of this critique is accurate: Christian transhumanists do tend to be driven by a Pelegian view of sin, which is nonetheless compatible with Christianity. However, the other two aspects of the critique are inaccurate; some biblical anthropologies and educated understandings of Christian theology are quite compatible with Transhumanism.
Christians purportedly look to Jesus as the principal example of the kind of person we should be. In some cases, however, we've clearly failed to read, understand or internalize the descriptions of Jesus in the New Testament. So, instead of comforting those who mourn, some of us heckle those who mourn. Instead of being merciful, some of us are merciless. Instead of making peace, some of us try to insult everyone.
I wrote a short fictional/exegetical article entitled "'Look!' and Live: Meditation on 3 Nephi 28" for the December 2010 issue of Sunstone Magazine. Before sharing the text of the article, I'd like to share some thoughts that complement the article.