It's Christmas in New Zealand. I'm young and remembering, hoping to glimpse the monster at Loch Ness, wading in an icy stream at the base of the Matterhorn, spying on guards across the East German border, and clumsily asking a French vendor for an ice cream cone. Some day I'll sing carols at the doors of a Viennese cathedral, kiss a girl in a cave outside Budapest, play soccer with students at Akademgorodok, and help some Maasai boys build a small house for their doctor. In a few days, I'll celebrate the new year in Australia.
Today (1 December 2014) is my fortieth birthday. As you might imagine, I've heard the phrase "over the hill" a few times today. By present standards, I have indeed lived about half of the life expectancy for American males. But standards change. By past standards, I've already lived more than a full lifetime. By future standards? Well, remember I'm a Transhumanist. I think it's more likely that I'll die in an accident than that I'll die of the diseases of aging around age 80 (or 800 for that matter). Am I right? Let's hope (and work) to find out.
In the Hebrew Bible, we read of a fiery voice that burned as Moses wondered and questioned. “Why should I go to Pharaoh? Why should I bring the Israelites out of Egypt? Suppose I go and say, ‘God sent me’? What if they don’t listen? What if they don’t believe?” Finally, Moses concluded, “God, please send someone else.”
Most regular readers of my blog are aware of the ancient tradition of Christian authorities that teach theosis (the idea that humanity should become God, also known as divinization, apotheosis, or deification), but some may not know how broadly that tradition has endured. Of course Mormons continue to teach theosis, probably more explicitly and frequently than any other major religion, but they're not the only to do so. In fact, the world's largest denomination of the Christian religion, Catholicism, continues to teach theosis.
This weekend, I watched and listened to the October 2014 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and engaged in discussion of related ideas online. Below are 97 thoughts and highlights, from me and others, about the conference. The thoughts range from affirmations to disagreements, and from questions to assertions. Hopefully they'll provoke reflection, questions, and comments, and contribute to a more meaningful engagement with the ideas generally, and particularly with the Mormon religion and the LDS Church, which are important parts of life for me, many of my family and friends, and millions of others.
If you're a parent, like me, one of the challenges of accelerating technological change is that of encouraging children to explore and learn from our increasingly interconnected world while mitigating risks inherent in all exploratory endeavors. Friends often ask me how I do this with my children, and another just asked again today, so it's probably time to write some of this down. Before I share with you a list of some of the tools we use in our family, I have a few comments about some behaviors that are probably more important than the tools.
Ray Kurzweil is evidence for the postsecularization hypothesis: religion is not at all dying, but is merely continuing to evolve. He is probably by far the most influential Singularitarian in the world (perhaps even the most influential living futurist), and he got there by directly engaging in postsecular rhetoric. The most obvious can be found in the titles of the two books, "The Age of Spiritual Machines" and "The Singularity Is Near," that made him a thought leader and no longer only an inventor or entrepreneur. Furthermore, although an atheist or agnostic, he yet chooses explicitly to leverage references to "God" inside his books as at least a literary device, if not a vision for the future of humanity. His success in doing these things speaks to the persisting power of religion, and to the strength of the postsecularization hypothesis. Check out these excerpts from his books:
I'm sometimes criticized for using "religion" and "God" in unusual ways. Generally, this criticism comes from persons with fundamentalist inclinations of either the religious or antireligious sort, whose relatively rigid views of religion and God inform their opinion that I'm diverging from what these words really or generally mean. Of course some of these persons probably would not like to be categorized as fundamentalists, or as having fundamentalist inclinations, but I think the categorization is accurate. I'll explain why, in light of dictionary definitions "fundamentalism", "religion", and "God".
Some Transhumanists have a hard time distinguishing between Transhumanism and atheism, and some Transhumanists have a hard time recognizing the religious behavior in which they are engaged. I mention these observations, today, not because they are new, but because my friend Zoltan Istvan might be equivocating and misrecognizing on his blog at Huffington Post, where he's suggesting that "Some Atheists and Transhumanists are Asking: Should it be Illegal to Indoctrinate Kids With Religion?" So it seems like it's worth repeating and elaborating on the observations.
A well known and atheist-minded Transhumanist, Zoltan Istvan blames religion for an anti-cryonics law in Canada. Basically, Transhumanism is the ethical use of technology to extend human abilities, and cryonics is low-temperature preservation of a legally-dead body for resuscitation when new technology might cure the cause of death. Zoltan’s concern is that the religious views of Canadian lawmakers may have informed the law, and that this may influence other lawmakers around the world to inhibit access to cryonics likewise. However, it may be premature to blame religion for this particular law, and it’s certainly not the case that religion is generally incompatible with cryonics.
I finally got my digital hands on a Kindle copy of Nick Bostrom's "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies", and the first thing I checked was how his chapter on "Superintelligent Will" compares to his 2012 paper on "The Superintelligent Will: Motivation and Instrumental Rationality in Advanced Artificial Agents". This subject interests me a great deal for many reasons, among which is the observation that our expectations regarding superintelligence will affect our own attempts to achieve it ourselves -- to become superintelligent posthumanity, which I contend is an implicit aim of every life-affirming theology or pantheon or posthuman projection that has existed since the dawn of history.
On the morning of 24 July 1847, a group of Mormon pioneers broke camp for the last time. They traveled six miles through a deep ravine, across one last creek, and into full view of a great valley. Wondering and admiring, they gazed. The valley appeared vast and richly fertile, clothed with a heavy garb of green vegetation, adorned in its midst with a large lake from which islands rose, and entirely surrounded with a perfect chain of everlasting hills, mountains covered with eternal snow, and innumerable peaks like pyramids towering towards heaven. It was perhaps the grandest and most sublime scenery in the world.
At Welfare Square in Salt Lake City, I'm watching. Across the street is a half-naked malnourished man, smoking a cigarette; a backpack and large coat rest beside him in the shady grass, and he scratches at the air while talking out loud to himself, words I can't make out. A dirty brown pickup pulls in beside me, and a large man climbs out, speaking hurriedly in Spanish; four children -- no, make that a small woman and three children -- exchange a few words with the man, who beckons them off toward a building as he returns to sit in the truck. From the building, an aged women with a sparsely-haired scalp marches to the edge of the parking lot, her serious features relax as a car slows to a stop to let her pass, and she waits as a hunchbacked man, looking at his feet, slowly places one in front of another and again, and again toward her, and again perhaps to cross with her in front of the waiting car.
This has been an emotional day for Mormonism. As reported in national headlines, Kate Kelly of Ordain Women has been excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for "conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church". While I do not have a strong opinion for or against ordination of women to priesthood in the Church, I do strongly support open constructive discussion of the question. While I recognize the Church's concern appears not to have been the question itself, but rather how Kate Kelly has approached the question, I am alarmed by the sanctimonious manner in which some members of the Church have responded to news of the excommunication.
The value of religion depends, of course, on what you mean by "religion". If religion is merely euphemization of escapism or nihilism, as it so often manifests itself, then it probably has a net negative value -- "probably" only because I can imagine some poor unfortunate souls that are constituted in ways that are painfully incompatible with the world as presently or possibly configured. Too many of us use religion or are used by religion to stop caring about the world and each other, except to the extent it and we happen to be "good" already. Too many of us wait on God (or an analog) to solve our problems. Too many of us demand that others wait for God to solve our problems. Too many of us posit heaven (or an analog) far away in time or space -- or even as negation of time and space. Is it any surprise, then, that our world in practice reflects this escapism and nihilism?
We should take seriously the risks of technofascism, an elitist "libertarianism" empowered by accelerating technological change and concentrated at high tech corporations. While many decry the governance challenges of our day, some give corporate governance a pass. And yet it's not hard to find oppression wherever power is concentrated. That doesn't mean we're all always completely failing to use whatever power we might have in constructive ways. It just means that we can and should do better.
Tell me. I'm interested in the big picture. How could and should we organize ourselves, locally, regionally and globally, going into the future to optimize for a civilization that persistently and increasingly thrives in creativity and compassion? In what ways are present governance paradigms succeeding? In what ways are they failing? How is governance relevant to our greatest opportunities and risks? How can we improve governance, not just in superficial ways, but in deeply transformative ways?
Below is an experimental formulation (version 3.0) of the New God Argument. Those familiar with previous formulations of the argument will note the following changes. First, I combined all assumptions about human futurity into the Faith Assumption. Second, I dropped the Angel Argument because its conclusion is redundant with that of the Creation Argument. Third, I reformulated and renamed the Benevolence Argument as the Compassion Argument. I'm interested in your feedback on whether and why this may or may not be an improved formulation. What do you like? What do you not like? Why? Thank you.
In response to the recent atheist and Mormon panel discussion, Holly Welker asks, "Is Shunning a Part of Mormonism?" The question has sparked some controversy, most recently among some of my friends. While I sympathize with Holly's concern, I disagree with her conclusion that we must understand the Mormon God in terms of shunning. Rather, as I'll describe later in the post, I think we can and should understand the Mormon God in terms of virtues, diversities, and capacities that are quite the opposite of shunning, even incompatible with shunning, while also incompatible with conceptually impoverishing or irrational notions of universal inclusivity.
Last week, I encouraged the Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA) to sponsor recording of a panel discussion between Mormons and atheists, sponsored by the American Atheists (AA) and held at the Salt Lake City Public Library as part of its annual convention. The MTA leadership team agreed, and the recording is now available on the association's YouTube channel (along with a lot of other thought provoking content). Since that time, I've received many requests regarding my thoughts on the American Atheists, so I thought I would review their stated aims and principles here on my blog.
I recently read and enjoyed "The God Who Weeps", co-authored by Fiona and Terryl Givens, wife and husband, and Mormon scholars. I've had the pleasure of interacting with Terryl on a few occasions, most notably when he was a keynote, speaking on "No Small and Cramped Eternities" and "Fear and Trembling at the Tower of Babel", at two conferences co-sponsored by the Mormon Transhumanist Association. He's a beautiful thinker, a gifted writer, and an inspiring speaker. Many of his ideas and the ways in which he presents them resonate deeply with me. Unsurprisingly, I found much to agree with in "The God Who Weeps", and yet I also found some things to question -- undoubtedly the Givens would have it no other way. Here are 68 meditations, mostly in the form of questions, that I noted while reading. They are formulated as if speaking with the Givens directly, and they are divided into groups corresponding to chapters in the book. Your feedback is welcome.
At the 2014 Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, I started a conversation about what it means to be a Mormon Transhumanist. As the movement has grown, we've experienced some tension between persons who, brought together by the association, might not otherwise interact constructively at all. For example, some Mormon Transhumanists are atheist progressives, and some are theist conservatives, and there aren't many organizations that would bring such persons together with common purpose. The Mormon Transhumanist Association does, and remarkably it does while maintaining a very low rate of attrition despite the tensions such a combination inevitably produces.
Religion is a social technology -- the most powerful social technology. Like all powerful technologies, it can be used for good and evil, and it clearly has been used for both historically.
An article at Atlanta Blackstar presents "11 Neil DeGrasse Tyson Quotes That Debunk 'Religious Science'", or at least purports to do so. Here are my thoughts on the quotes, including the bonus quote thrown in at the beginning of the article.
A friend, who considers me a progressive Mormon, shared with me an article by BYU political science professor Ralph Hancock on "Progressivism Among the Mormons". In the article, Ralph observes that progressive Mormons appear to interpret the doctrine of continuing revelation as a politically progressive mandate, and he expresses his disagreement with that interpretation. As someone who appears to qualify as a progressive Mormon, at least according to my friend and probably according to Ralph, I disagree with his characterization of my interpretation of doctrine.
Humanity is engaged in epochal change, an accelerating technological and cultural evolution with unprecedented risks and opportunities. Among the possibilities is that of creating new tools, processes, and organizations that together serve as infrastructure for helping everyone restore the vitality of their bodies and minds, and improve their capacity to learn, love and create indefinitely.
The Mormon doctrine of theosis (or deification) is, so far as this Mormon is concerned, the most profound and beautiful idea in the religion. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by far the largest Mormon denomination and the one of which I'm a member, recently published to its website an article entitled "Becoming Like God", reaffirming its embrace of the idea and explaining some of the history behind it.
Every few years, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence publishes a report on global trends and projections of where those trends may take us in the next decade or two, not so much a prediction as a framework for thought and action. Note that the authoring organization is an umbrella for all US Government intelligence organizations, including the CIA and the NSA, arguably some of the best informed organizations in the world. I wonder, though, about the extent of their non-governmental influence because they report fairly low traffic (71,000 hits and 200 comments) to the blog dedicated to their latest report, entitled "Global Trends 2030". In any case, I think the report merits more attention.