Today at the Mormon blog, New Cool Thang, one of the contributors asked, "What if we didn't die from old age?" As part of his thoughts in response to his own question, he linked to a video of Aubrey de Grey. Subsequently, he and others made various comments about death and its perceived value. I posted some comments in response, which I now post below for additional readers.
"God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit . . . that has not been revealed since the world was until now; Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory; A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest . . . if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars . . . all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times - According to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest." (D&C 121)
Joseph was prophetic. With our new knowledge, we now navigate depths of the sea that sunlight does not reach and rocket through the sky at speeds greater than that of sound. Computers that once filled entire warehouses now fit in the palms of our hands. We've used them to form the Internet and map the human genome. We've visited the Moon, our robots are scouting Mars, and private reusable spacecraft are preparing the way for space tourism. We've demonstrated the feasibility of what Harry Potter might call "invisibility", "levitation" and "telepathy". Trends of exponential advance in biological, miniaturization and information technology suggest increasingly transformative revolutions in the near future. We read of skin cells converted to stem cells for curing diverse human frailties. We hear of research toward indefinite life extension.
Wonder. Here we are, in the dispensation of the fullness of times, as Joseph called it. Where is it going? What is on the other side of the risks? What kind of world are we, with God, creating? Joseph shared other thoughts about the future:
"For the great Millennium, of which I have spoken by the mouth of my servants, shall come. For Satan shall be bound, and when he is loosed again he shall only reign for a little season, and then cometh the end of the earth. And he that liveth in righteousness shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and the earth shall pass away so as by fire." (D&C 43)
"And in that day the enmity of man, and the enmity of beasts, yea, the enmity of all flesh, shall cease from before my face. And in that day whatsoever any man shall ask, it shall be given unto him. And in that day Satan shall not have power to tempt any man. And there shall be no sorrow because there is no death. In that day an infant shall not die until he is old; and his life shall be as the age of a tree; And when he dies he shall not sleep, that is to say in the earth, but shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, and shall be caught up, and his rest shall be glorious. Yea, verily I say unto you, in that day when the Lord shall come, he shall reveal all things - Things which have passed, and hidden things which no man knew, things of the earth, by which it was made, and the purpose and the end thereof - Things most precious, things that are above, and things that are beneath, things that are in the earth, and upon the earth, and in heaven." (D&C 101)
"Nevertheless, he that endureth in faith and doeth my will, the same shall overcome, and shall receive an inheritance upon the earth when the day of transfiguration shall come; When the earth shall be transfigured, even according to the pattern which was shown unto mine apostles upon the mount; of which account the fulness ye have not yet received." (D&C 63)
Do we believe Joseph will prove prophetic again? Do we believe in a world of harmony between humans and other animals? Do we believe superabundance and new knowledge possible? Do we believe in a world without death, where we are transfigured to immortality at the end of a long healthy life? And, if so, do we believe we have anything to do with the work required to make this all happen?
"Prepare to die, is not the exhortation in this Church and Kingdom; but prepare to live is the word with us, and improve all we can in the life hereafter, wherein we may enjoy a more exalted condition of intelligence, wisdom, light, knowledge, power, glory, and exaltation. Then let us seek to extend the present life to the uttermost, by observing every law of health, and by properly balancing labor, study, rest, and recreation, and thus prepare for a better life. Let us teach these principles to our children, that, in the morning of their days, they may be taught to lay the foundation of health and strength and constitution and power of life in their bodies." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 11: 132)
"You may now be inclined to say, 'We wish to hear the mysteries of the kingdoms of the Gods who have existed from eternity, and of all the kingdoms in which they will dwell; we desire to have these things portrayed to our understandings.' Allow me to inform you that you are in the midst of it all now, that you are in just as good a kingdom as you will ever attain to, from now to all eternity, unless you make it yourselves by the grace of God, by the will of God, which is a code of laws perfectly calculated to govern and control eternal matter." (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 3: 336)
If Brigham is right, and we want to live in the sort of Millennial world Joseph described, we have work to do. Moreover, if we see, as Nephi describes it in the Book of Mormon, that death is an awful monster, we have a duty that is well articulated by Captain Moroni:
"And now, my beloved brethren - for ye ought to be beloved; yea, and ye ought to have stirred yourselves more diligently for the welfare and the freedom of this people; but behold, ye have neglected them insomuch that the blood of thousands shall come upon your heads for vengeance; yea, for known unto God were all their cries, and all their sufferings - Behold, could ye suppose that ye could sit upon your thrones, and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain. Do ye suppose that, because so many of your brethren have been killed it is because of their wickedness? I say unto you, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain; for I say unto you, there are many who have fallen by the sword; and behold it is to your condemnation; For the Lord suffereth the righteous to be slain that his justice and judgment may come upon the wicked; therefore ye need not suppose that the righteous are lost because they are slain; but behold, they do enter into the rest of the Lord their God. And now behold, I say unto you, I fear exceedingly that the judgments of God will come upon this people, because of their exceeding slothfulness, yea, even the slothfulness of our government, and their exceedingly great neglect towards their brethren, yea, towards those who have been slain . . . Have ye forgotten the commandments of the Lord your God? Yea, have ye forgotten the captivity of our fathers? Have ye forgotten the many times we have been delivered out of the hands of our enemies? Or do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us? Yea, will ye sit in idleness while ye are surrounded with thousands of those, yea, and tens of thousands, who do also sit in idleness, while there are thousands round about in the borders of the land who are falling by the sword, yea, wounded and bleeding? Do ye suppose that God will look upon you as guiltless while ye sit still and behold these things? Behold I say unto you, Nay. Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also."
I imagine Nephi would invite us to liken that scripture to us. 100,000 of us are dying of age-related causes each day, and untold billions of our brothers and sisters are dead and separated from their bodies -- "For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage" (D&C 138). Aubrey de Grey and others, as if prophetic, are proclaiming a hearty and working faith toward life. I'm with them. That's where I feel the spirit of God. That's where I see the Christ and saviours on Mount Zion.
Big news today from biotech scientists: researchers have successfully converted human skin cells into stem cells, which can be used to produce almost any other type of cell and thereby fix numerous problems in the human body. You can read more here:
This advance is particularly important because it should help resolve the ethical controversy that has been raging around the use of embryonic stem cells. With fewer antagonists, hopefully financing will improve, thereby accelerating development and adoption of technologies that leverage this knowledge.
In Ray Kurzweil's book, The Singularity is Near (available in the MTA book store), he predicted based on current trends that a biotech revolution would occur within the next decade. Today's announcement is an important step toward facilitating that revolution.
Today at the "By Common Consent" blog, participants were polled in response to the MTA article in Sunstone magazine. The poll question was: "If humans developed the technology to download their 'minds' to a computer and live forever as part of a machine, God would intervene to stop it?" As of the time of this post, an overwhelming 92% of the 165 respondents (mostly Mormons) voted "No".
I recently responded to a Mormon blogger, Jettboy, who expressed concerns with Mormon Transhumanism. I'm going to post my response here, too, for additional readers.
Jettboy, I'm happy that you consider the intent of the Mormon Transhumanist Association to be noble, even though you have concerns with its theological grounds. I'll try to address the concerns you've mentioned here, and hope you'll express any others you may have, or that may arise from my response, so that we will improve understanding.
I agree, as you've stated, that faith in Christ is essential to the Mormon understanding of salvation. You rightly point out that Christ is at the center of the teachings of the Book of Mormon, and emphasis on Christ has redoubled in modern teachings of the LDS Church.
I'm sure you'll agree, however, that faith in Christ, for Mormons in particular, is not passive. Rather, faith in Christ, ideally, is active and practical. Mormons have long emphasized an understanding of faith exemplified by the teachings of James in the New Testament, wherein he argues that real faith is manifest in works. It is not helpful to tell the naked and hungry to be warmed and filled; rather, we must actually give them that which they need. It is not enough to speak the words of prophecy that all shall hear the gospel of Christ, and we do not wait for Jesus to fulfill the prophecy; rather, we go out into all the world to proclaim that gospel. Moreover, it is not enough to claim we are disciples of Christ; rather, as expressed by Elder Jeffrey R Holland in a recent LDS Church general conference, we should in as many ways as possible try to take on us the identity of Christ. You are called, as each of us are, to have Christ in you, as expressed by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament. With Paul, we are called to fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in our flesh, that we may be joint heirs in the glory of God. In this calling, we are to become, as Joseph Smith taught, the saviors of men.
For members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, faith in Christ moves us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, share the Gospel, and engage in good causes without being commanded. It also moves us to seek to leverage all the means, including modern science and technology, with which God has inspired and endowed us to forward his work and glory.
You point out, accurately, that the scriptures don't mention modern technology when addressing topics such as transfiguration and resurrection. Instead, the scriptures generally address such topics in simple and almost magical terms. I value such passages of scripture for many reasons, not the least of which is their ability to inspire us and provide hope.
That said, we have substantial reason to believe that the scriptures are not the last word on the technicalities of transfiguration or resurrection. As they don't mention (at least not explicitly) future technologies related to transfiguration or resurrection, they likewise don't mention contemporary technologies (again, at least not explicitly) like airplanes or computers. However, they certainly do contain passages intended to prepare our minds for new knowledge and accompanying power in the future. For example, here is one of my favorite scripture passages, from Joseph Smith:
Doctrine and Covenants 121
26 God shall give unto you knowledge by his Holy Spirit, yea, by the unspeakable gift of the Holy Ghost, that has not been revealed since the world was until now;
27 Which our forefathers have awaited with anxious expectation to be revealed in the last times, which their minds were pointed to by the angels, as held in reserve for the fulness of their glory;
28 A time to come in the which nothing shall be withheld, whether there be one God or many gods, they shall be manifest.
29 All thrones and dominions, principalities and powers, shall be revealed and set forth upon all who have endured valiantly for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
30 And also, if there be bounds set to the heavens or to the seas, or to the dry land, or to the sun, moon, or stars—
31 All the times of their revolutions, all the appointed days, months, and years, and all the days of their days, months, and years, and all their glories, laws, and set times, shall be revealed in the days of the dispensation of the fulness of times—
32 According to that which was ordained in the midst of the Council of the Eternal God of all other gods before this world was, that should be reserved unto the finishing and the end thereof, when every man shall enter into his eternal presence and into his immortal rest.
33 How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.
Each time I read this passage, I feel the words like lightning running through my body. It's the sort of experience that moves us, in the Mormon tradition, to boldly proclaim of truth. Likewise, I feel that spirit as I read of other teachings from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, calling to mind processes by which our immortality can be realized:
"Now the doctrine of translation is a power which belongs to this Priesthood. There are many things which belong to the powers of the Priesthood and the keys thereof, that have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world; they are hid from the wise and prudent to be revealed in the last times. Many have supposed that the doctrine of translation was a doctrine whereby men were taken immediately into the presence of God, and into an eternal fullness, but his is a mistaken idea. Their place of habitation is that of the terrestrial order, and a place prepared for such characters He held in reserve to be ministering angels unto many planets, and who as yet have not entered into so great a fullness as those who are resurrected from the dead." (Joseph Smith, Teachings 170)
"I have friends on the earth, for God would raise them up for me to do my work. That is not all; by and by the Lord will say to the sleeping dust, awake and come forth out of your graves. I am on hand; the Lord wakes me up or sends somebody to do it that possesses the keys of the resurrection. My dust is waked up; my spirit is re-united to it, and it is made a celestial body filled with immortality and eternal life." (Brigham Young, Addresses 2: 100)
At the end of your post, you mention two critiques that I would like to address. First, you state that the scriptures portray the enhancement of the human body as something instantaneous, in contrast to your view of slow biotechnological enhancement. Second, you state that Joseph Smith's teachings of eternal progression should be understood to be about inner spiritual development rather than outer physical development.
Regarding the first critique, I contend that the scriptures actually do portray enhancement of the human body as something progressive, although with moments of dramatic (but not necessarily final) change. For example, the Book of Mormon describes the transfiguration as a step between mortality and the kind of immortality attained in the resurrection. As another example, the Doctrine and Covenants describes persons alive during the Millennium as living to the age of a tree before being transfigured to immortality, while dead persons are progressively resurrected to immortality. Finally, Joseph describes even the recipients of immortality themselves as varying one from another in glory (which, as Joseph taught, is all in the elements) as the stars of the heavens differ in glory. As I consider the body of Mormon scripture and tradition, I see transfiguration and resurrection to immortality as a progressive process, with moments of dramatic change. This, in my estimation, is quite what we should expect to see as advancing biological, miniaturization and information technologies are applied to the human anatomy.
Regarding the second critique, I understand eternal progression to be something both physical and spiritual, the one exalting the other. The scriptures teach us that the fullness of joy is possible only with physical bodies, and that even God has a body. They likewise teach us that the glory of these bodies progresses, along with our spirits, as they are increasingly filled with light, to use the scriptural phrase. Indeed, the scriptures seem to suggest, as I read them, that there may be little to no distinction between the spirit and body, inseparably connected, of immortals.
I acknowledge that my responses to your critiques (as the critiques themselves) depend heavily on scriptural interpretation. You may well interpret the passages to which I allude in different ways, and we could perhaps long discuss the nuances of interpretation. There is, I feel, value in our mutual recognition of this.
I'll add, however, that this is also more than a matter of scriptural interpretation. It seems quite reasonable to suppose that there may be practical consequences to our decision to interpret the scriptures one way or another. Suppose, for example, that the only way to attain immortality actually is for us to learn how to do it ourselves; perhaps, as is readily demonstrated in other matters, God simply isn't going to do the work for us. If that is the case then we had better get to work. Unless we know otherwise, it seems prudent to suppose that we should use our God-given talents and means to pursue salvation in all ways, spiritual and physical. I've sometimes heard Mormons respond that we do know, from the scriptures, that God will give everyone immortality. That may be true (and my faith is such), but although the scriptures teach everyone will hear the gospel, we recognize that does not mean there is no work required -- work we must. Consequently, I value practical faith in immortality, as in all matters.
To end, I will again express my agreement that faith in Christ is central to the Mormon understanding of salvation. Without charity, we are nothing. Without hope, there is no purpose. Without faith, there is no power. Without atonement, of the sort in which we are each invited to participate, all is for naught. Recognition of and respect for these principles is why I am a member of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. I am a Transhumanist. I am also a Christian and a Mormon.
Thank you, Jettboy, for calling attention to these increasingly important matters. I appreciate the time that you put into writing and making us aware of your thoughts.
While surfing the net this evening, I came across an interesting web page that lists various Mormon inventors. I was aware of some of the items, such as the television and the word processor, but others surprised me. For example, I wasn't aware that a Mormon invented the artificial heart, or of Mormons' contributions to bionic body parts. And who would have thought a Mormon invented the electric guitar or the video game DOOM?
By the way, my father, Layne Cannon, contributed to the invention of the word processor both while studying with Alan Ashton at BYU and later as an employee at WordPerfect Corporation.
This is my third post about Richard Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion". The first two posts are available at the following links:
Chapter Two of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
The Preface and Chapter One of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
For emphasis, I will repeat some things mentioned at the beginning of my first post. I respect Dawkins as 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.
This is my second post reviewing the book, "The God Delusion", by Richard Dawkins. The first post can be found here:
The Preface and Chapter One of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
I should repeat some things mentioned at the beginning of my first post. I respect Dawkins as 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.
Aubrey de Grey is a Transhumanist and biomedical gerontologist that is working hard to promote funding of research to end aging. He has become increasingly visible in popular media, and recently released a book entitled, Ending Aging.