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Merry Christmas, Transhumanists!

Today, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, recognized among Christians as Christ, as messiah and savior. I join in the celebration and recognition not because I consider Jesus to be the only savior, but rather because I consider him to be the best example of characteristics that, as we work to incorporate them into ourselves, will lead us beyond sin and death. This is a perspective I have inherited from early Mormons:

"We ask, then, where is the prototype? or where is the saved being? We conclude as to the answer of this question there will be no dispute among those who believe the bible, that it is Christ: all will agree in this that he is the prototype or standard of salvation, or in other words, that he is a saved being." (Lectures on Faith, Lecture Seventh 7: 9)

Jesus showed us the way beyond sin, summarizing morality as love rather than dogmatic adherence to law. He asked us to show our love for him by doing his will, but only after repeatedly inviting us to express our will to him so that he might do it. He sought the one lost sheep, welcomed home the rebellious son, and protected the promiscuous woman. His anger was reserved for those who would use law to oppress. He persuaded me that we can overcome sin through forgiveness. No magic required. Simple forgiveness, persistently applied, produces eternal atonement.

While his bloody cross illustrates the way beyond sin, Jesus' empty tomb inspires us with anticipation of overcoming death. Ideas of immortality were not introduced by early Christians, but Christians reinforced such ideas in the hearts and minds of countless persons across two millennia. Today, primed by these ideas, we have come within reach of radical biological life extension, and are beginning to imagine mechanisms for yet greater fulfillment of the hope aroused in us by Jesus' empty tomb.

I celebrate the birth of Jesus as the birth of Christ, in whom we as one may overcome sin and death. Merry Christmas, Transhumanists!

Appeals to Absurdity and Ecclesiastical Authority Do Not Refute Biological Evolution

These days, if you ask a university-educated faithful Mormon whether she believes God may have used biological evolution as a mechanism in the creation of humanity, you have (estimating roughly from my experience) about a 50/50 chance of receiving a response in the affirmative.

Some Mormons are particularly supportive of incorporating biological evolution into our understanding of human origins. While the Mormon Transhumanist Association has no official stance on biological evolution, I know of no member that rejects it and many that consider it inspiring. "Mormons and Evolution: A Quest for Reconciliation", although not updated recently, is a good resource from Mormons that favor biological evolution.

On the other hand, some Mormons are particularly antagonistic to biological evolution. For example, in the January 2008 Ensign (a monthly magazine published by the LDS Church), Elder Douglas L Callister of the Quorum of Seventy suggests, in an article entitled "Our God Truly Is God", that it would be absurd to think that biological evolution could result in the complexity we observe in the human body.

Consequent to Elder Callister's article, a Mormon blogger, R Gary at "No Death Before the Fall", commented that ". . . the important thing is that Elder Callister obviously believes it is absurd to think that the eye could have been formed by natural selection. Furthermore, Church Correlation and the Ensign editorial staff found Elder Callister's views acceptable for publication." The implication, here, is that appeals to absurdity and ecclesiastical authority should factor into our perspective on biological evolution.

However, appeals to absurdity should not factor into our perspective on biological evolution, or anything else. From a logical perspective, X can be true regardless of whether someone tells you that X is absurd. From a practical perspective, there are innumerable historical examples of appeals to absurdity, even from respected authorities, regarding matters that are no longer controversial.

Moreover, appeals to ecclesiastical authority should not factor into our perspective on biological evolution, even if we are faithful members of the LDS Church. Church leaders are, for the most part, not experts in the mechanisms of creation. Furthermore, their calling is not to receive inspiration regarding the mechanisms of creation, but rather to receive inspiration regarding the governance of the Church. You and I, particularly if we're doing the hard work of biological science, have as much or more right to inspiration regarding the mechanisms of creation as do ecclesiastical leaders. Indeed, as Joseph put it, ". . . not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times." (D&C 128: 18)

Faithless Science is Manifestly Bogus

. . . so claims Paul Davies in a New York Times editorial, entitled "Taking Science on Faith". He rightly points out that science relies (faithfully) on premises such as uniformity, and touches on some influence Christian theology has had on the development of the scientific method. At the end of the article, he suggests that science will continue to rely on faith until it can find system-internal explanations for physical laws. Maybe, but that implies a sort of universe that is far less appealing to the human spirit (at least to THIS human spirit) than one so vast as to require nothing short of eternal faith from those who would discover and create a multiverse of endless possibilities.

Faith is a tool, a muscle, even a primal technology, which we use in pursuit of knowledge -- not instead of or at the expense of knowledge. Those who would situate faith in competition with knowledge or reason are using "faith" to mean something like "willful ignorance" or "superstition" or "anti-rationality", none of which are faith. Faith is the will to discover and create. It is the will go beyond what we already know. It is essential to attaining new knowledge. Without it, there is no progress and no scientific method. Indeed, we take science on faith, and we attain it on faith, as we take and attain all knowledge on faith. Where absolute knowledge is impossible, faith is essential to whatever knowledge IS possible.

Yes: Mormons ARE Cool

Erik Davis, a Transhumanist and author of Techgnosis (available in the "Transhumanism" section of our book store), writes that "Mormons are cool", for at least the following reasons:
1) "The temples are totally great looking." Yes. They are beautiful. The LDS Church publishes a site with pictures of and information about all its temples.
2) "Harold Bloom digs the Mormons." True. In fact, Harold Bloom wrote a great article about Joseph Smith in the same issue of Sunstone magazine that featured the article about Mormon Transhumanism.
3) "Joseph Smith was into esoterica." Indeed, he was. You can learn more about this in Michael Quinn's book, "Early Mormonism and the Magic World View" (also available in the "Mormonism" section of our book store).
4) "Ex Mormons are fun." Yeah. I have friends that are former Mormons. They're fun . . . to harass. ;-) If you're interested in interacting with former Mormons, check out the PostMormon site.
5) "Mormons do not hate polyamory." This is an over-generalization, but there is some truth to it. While some Mormons actually DO hate plural marriage, others either are indifferent regarding it or actually anticipate its mainstream recurrence in the future. Personally, I think historic implementations of plural marriage were often oppressive to women, but do not think egalitarian implementations among consenting and committed adults should be illegal. Note, of course, that the LDS Church has not practiced plural marriage since a century ago, and actually excommunicates any members that engage in it.
6) "Baptizing the dead is absolutely astonishing." I think "inspiring" would be a better word. In any case, we do perform ordinances (not exclusive to baptisms) for dead persons. Of course, they are done by proxy, there are no dead bodies involved, and no dimly-lit rooms or haunted chanting. Among the reasons I find this practice inspiring is that it changes the living in uniquely beneficial ways. We become accustomed to the idea that there should be no end to the work of reconciliation between us and persons of other faiths; it should not be bounded by death or anything else. We are also trained to concern ourselves with our ancestors, from whose lives we may learn valuable lessons, and who (as my faith goes) we may someday bring back to life by leveraging all our fancy neohuman technology.
7) "Mormons love genealogical data." Yes. We do. This is related to the previous point. You can find out more about this work at the FamilySearch web site, published by the LDS Church. If you're interested in learning what your DNA can tell you about your own genealogy, check out the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, which was instituted by and named after James Sorenson -- yep, he's a Mormon.
8) "There is no Mormon hell." Well, we do refer to "hell", but generally think of it as a state of being, rather than a particular place. We also sometimes talk about a place called "outer darkness", but nobody is sent there; rather, it may be understood as something like a state of annihilation for those who desire (despite our efforts) not to live, physically or spiritually. Everyone else lives in worlds of varying glory, enjoying "that which they are willing to receive", as Joseph Smith put it.
9) "Mormons are Christian materialists." Right. And this means that we do not believe in immaterial spirits or immaterial gods. So far as we're concerned, God has a physical body, and all spirit is matter. This situates Mormon cosmology well within the bounds of scientific investigation. Do we propose evidence for physical gods and spirits? Well, that depends on the Mormon you talk to, and the definitions of "spirit" and "god" that you are willing to entertain. Personally, I think of spirits as patterns in energy, which emerge into and recede from our mortal bodies, and I think of God much like a secular Transhumanist might think of a neohuman world simulator.
10) "Mormons are very SciFi." Yeah! Check out at the number of Mormon science fiction authors compared to the number of authors of other faiths -- and remember that there are far fewer of us.
11) "Mormons invented Battlestar Galactica." Yep. See the previous point.
To conclude, I agree, of course, that Mormons are cool. But I would add at least one more reason:
12) Some of us are Transhumanists! That's worth noting.

Check Out these Visions of the Future

The BBC recently featured a three-part series on "Visions of the Future". The first of the three, "The Intelligence Revolution", discusses the present and future of information technology: computers, networks, simulations, robotics and biological integration. The second, "The Biotech Revolution", discusses the emerging power of biological technology: genetics, life extension, cloning, enhancement and evolutionary control. And the third, "The Quantum Revolution", discusses advances in miniaturization technology: metamaterials, molecular assemblers, and related topics. Michio Kaku hosts the series.

The first two parts of the series, now available on Google video, are embedded in this post.

The third part should be available soon, at the following URL:

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on Reconciling Faith

I recently watched videos of speeches given by United States presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on the subject of reconciling faith and politics. Each speech, for a different reason, reminded me of the challenging (and rewarding) situation faced by the Mormon Transhumanist Association. Like Romney, we are Mormons. For that reason alone, some think Romney unqualified to be President of the United States, and some think us unqualified to be advocates of Transhumanism. Like that of Obama, our faith is regarded with skepticism or hostility by some religious conservatives.

Death Is Neither Inevitable Nor Good

In discussions with friends recently, the subject of death came up and comments were made about it being inevitable and that we should accept that inevitability as something good. I responded that, depending on your definition of "death", trends suggest that it is not inevitable for some of us. Death as we know it may, in the near future, be replaced with something like that described in Mormon scripture:
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Thrivous Nootropics for Cognitive Enhancement
Thrivous Nootropics for Cognitive Enhancement