The timing is excellent. Mormonism, more so than any other religion with which I am acquainted, is theologically positioned to deal with rapid advances in science and technology in a generally constructive and adoptive manner. For approximately two centuries, most Mormons have recognized the value of science and technology, considered their origins to be divine, and adopted them to facilitate and expedite the work of expressing Christian discipleship in practical ways. Time will tell whether Mormons, in general, will end up promoting and adopting technology as a means of fulfilling prophecies regarding physical life extension and enhancement. In the mean time, it's good to see Mormon theology becoming increasingly visible and influential.
Although there may be a general positive correlation between education and secularism, among Mormons there appears to be a positive correlation between education and religiosity. This observation was perhaps first made formally by Richard Wootton in the 1950s. Wootton's study, updated in recent years to be based on sixty years of data up to the year 2000, suggests that Utah (and Utah Mormons in particular) produces more scientists per capita than any other state in the United States. Moreover, it reveals that Mormon scientists overwhelmingly report "very strong" adherence to their faith. A 1984 data analysis, "Secularization, Higher Education and Religiosity", by Stan Albrecht and Tim Heaton also identifies the positive correlation between education and religiosity among Mormons. Most recently, despite an increasing United States high school dropout rate, the LDS Church reports that Mormon teenagers are countering that trend, staying in school, and in many cases taking extra classes.
Mormonism has a long tradition of support for education and science. Joseph Smith taught that “the glory of God is intelligence.” (D&C 93: 36) Brigham Young claimed that "God is a scientific character.” (Journal of Discourses 13: 300) Orson Pratt advocated that “The great temple of science must be erected upon the solid foundations of everlasting truth; its towering spires must mount upward, reaching higher and still higher, until crowned with the glory and presence of Him, who is Eternal.” (Deseret News 22: 586) James Talmage encouraged Mormon youth to “consider scientific knowledge as second in importance only to that knowledge that pertains to the Church and Kingdom of God.” (Science in the Associations) Most recently, Gordon Hinckley said, “This Church came about as a result of intellectual curiosity. We believe in education, and we spend a substantial part of our budget on the education of our young people. We expect them to think. We expect them to investigate. We expect them to use their minds and dig deeply for knowledge in all fields. If we have a motto, it is this, 'The glory of God is intelligence.'"
Tired of the mouse? Get ready to control your computer with your thoughts! Later this year, you should be able to buy an EEG headset for only $299. This is, most likely, just the beginning of generally-available brain-computer interfacing technology. In time, we should be able not only to output from our brain, but also input to our brain for applications such as full-immersion virtual reality, accelerated education or national security.
That should scare us a bit, because it will introduce some serious new security and privacy risks. However, for those willing to work to mitigate and carefully take those risks, extraordinary opportunities will present themselves. We would not be where we are today if we had not taken risks. The fact that our civilization is still here is evidence of a degree of communal wisdom and compassion naturally required for surmounting those risks. We'll have to manage to exhibit yet higher degrees of wisdom and compassion if we are to survive what's coming.
At the IEET, a Transhumanist think tank, Russell Blackford has posted on "Religion and Nanotechnology". He notes that support for nanotechnology correlates in western countries with secularism, and the United States comes in much lower than other western countries both in support for nanotechnology and secularism. He then advocates "a direct, long-term, unremitting campaign to weaken the cognitive and moral authority of religion".
Nanotechnology or molecular engineering (precision manufacturing at the atomic level) will enable us to produce dirt-cheap supercomputers, ubiquitous 100% pure water, highly cost-efficient solar energy collectors, and myriads of other world-changing technologies that we probably have not even imagined. Most of us are not aware of advances in miniaturization technology that suggest we're not so far away from being able to produce automated nanoscale factories, yet futurists such as Ray Kurzweil expect a nanotechnology revolution within a couple decades of the present.
Below are some images of our nanoscale world, taken by British scientists using scanning probe microscopes that can infer the positions of individual atoms.
Laser-Created Crater on the Surface of a Sapphire
E Coli Bacterium
Twelve Artificially-Arranged Bromine Atoms
More images are available here:
How predictable are we? When God or a neohuman (choose your favorite word) looks at a group of persons like us, how much does she see? Already, with our presumably-primitive technology, we are creating computer models to provide better intelligence for the military, enabling improved prediction of trends in (apparently) random terrorist strikes. Do these trends reveal learned preferences or even deeply-embedded anatomical preconditioning, reacting to environmental patterns such as weather and terrain? I imagine it's at least that and more. And what does God see? How free are we?
I suspect our freedom, to the extent we have it, depends on our knowledge, both of ourselves and the world around us. Knowledge presents options. I also wonder whether it's not an entirely contextual matter, or at least always practically contextual. I can behave with a degree of freedom in some empowering contexts, whereas other contexts would deprive me of movement, sensibility or life. I feel a degree of freedom relative to the knowledge I presume others to have of the world and my place in it.
How free are bacteria? What about your dog? Humans have not altogether transcended Pavlov's bell, ringing us into our stereotypical roles. We've long recognized that persuasion and suggestion influence us, but we're quickly expanding our understanding of how susceptible the human brain is to external influences, such as chemically-induced fear.
In the Mormon tradition, we sometimes hear a paradoxical set of ideas regarding free will. On the one hand, many of us believe we've always had free will - it is part of or emergent from that aspect of our being that was not and could not be created. On the other hand, many of us believe God voluntarily restrains himself from revoking or infringing upon our free will, despite his power to do so. This paradox seems increasingly to reflect the situation in which we find ourselves: competing senses of indeterminism and predictability.
It's time to get back to my review of Richard Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion". In this post, I'll be sharing my thoughts on chapter four, entitled "Why there Almost Certainly is No God". My previous posts, discussing the preface and chapter one, chapter two and chapter three are available at the following locations:
Chapter Three of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
Chapter Two of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
The Preface and Chapter One of "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins
As before, I feel it is important to begin by expressing my opinion that Dawkins is 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.
Some of you requested more information about the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation. According to its web site, it is the foremost collection of genetic genealogy data in the world. The data will enable genealogists to trace the deep ancestry of humanity, and, as articulated by founder James Sorenson prior to his death earlier this year, should remind "people everywhere that in a very real sense, we are all brothers and sisters". Of particular interest to me is that anyone can participate in the project by requesting a free participation kit. The kit will help you take a DNA sample, prepare your four generation pedigree, and return the kit for analysis and inclusion in the database.
It sounds far-fetched to some, but, as a matter of faith, I look with hope toward a day when we will prove capable of amassing or accessing (via technology not currently available to us) sufficient data regarding our ancestors to restore them to life. I see in our genealogy efforts the primitive beginning of such a work. While I cannot prove the possibility that we, in the advanced future, will be able to trace information back from effects to causes with sufficient detail to ascertain the complex patterns (spirits, if you will) of our ancestors' identities, I do see value in the effort. Some kinds of truths depend on our faith in them for their realization.
Support the Mormon Transhumanist Association by purshasing your copy of "Mormon Scientist" from our book store today!
For family home evening, we watched the movie, "NeverEnding Story". It's the one from the '80s with a boy who discovers, while reading a book, that he's creating a wondrous fantasy world.
I remember enjoying the movie as a child, but did not recognize at the time how the story is built around the notion of an infinite regression of worlds created within worlds. Below is a particularly intriguing part of the dialog (which, be warned, occurs at the climax of the story). There are three characters. The Childlike Empress and Atreyu are characters in a book that the third character, Bastian, is reading.
[Atreyu walks up the stairs that lead to the Empress' room. The chamber door begins to open . . . He enters the room and the door closes behind him. Before him was the Childlike Empress in person. She sits silently on her bed, her gaze never leaves Atreyu.]
Childlike Empress: Atreyu, why do you look so sad?
Atreyu: I have failed you Empress.
Childlike Empress: No, you haven't. You've brought him with you.
Childlike Empress: The Earthling child. The one who can save us all.
Atreyu: You knew about the Earthling child?!
Childlike Empress: Of course. I knew everything.
[Atreyu grows angry with her]
Atreyu: My horse died, I nearly drowned, and I just barely got away from the nothing. For what?! To find out what you already knew?!
Childlike Empress: It was the only way to get in touch with an Earthling.
Atreyu: But I didn't get in touch with an Earthling!
Childlike Empress: Yes, you did.
[Bastian sits up slowly as we hear what she's saying.]
Childlike Empress: He has suffered with you. He went through everything you went through. And now, he has come here with you. He's very close. Listening to every word that we say.
[Atreyu looks around, as does she.]
[Two fragments of Fantasia collide and explode shaking the Tower Violently.]
Atreyu: Where is he? If he's so close, why doesn't he arrive?!
Childlike Empress: He doesn't realize that he's already a part of the NeverEnding Story.
Atreyu: The NeverEnding Story, what's that?
Childlike Empress: Just as he is sharing all your adventures, others are sharing his. They were with him when he hid from the boys in the bookstore.
Bastian: But that's impossible!
Childlike Empress: They were with him when he took the book with the Auryn symbol on the cover, in which he's reading his own story right now.
Bastian: I can't believe it, they can't be talking about me.
[The Ivory Tower cracks. Atreyu turns around to see where it cracked, then he turns back to the Empress.]
Atreyu: What will happen if he doesn't appear?!
Childlike Empress: Then our world will disappear, and so will I.
Atreyu: How can he let that happen?!
Childlike Empress: He doesn't understand that he's the one who has the power to stop it. He simply can't imagine that one little boy could be that important.
Bastian: Is it really me?
Atreyu: Maybe he doesn't know what he has to do!
Bastian: What do I have to do?!
Childlike Empress: He has to give me a new name. He's already chosen it, he just has to call it out.
Bastian: It's only a story, it's not real. It's only a story.
[The Ivory Tower shakes and cracks some more. Atreyu falls over backward and is knocked unconscious.]
Bastian: Atreyu! NO!
Childlike Empress: Atreyu!
[The courtyard is being taken away by the Nothing. Because of Bastian's new found disbelief the Nothing has grown stronger and is now attacking the last remaining part of Fantasia.]
Childlike Empress: Bastian, why don't you do what you dream, Bastian?
Bastian: But I can't! I have to keep my feet on the ground!
Childlike Empress: Call my name! Bastian, please! Save us!
Bastian: All right, I'll do it. I'll save you. I will do what I dream!
[He climbs up to the window and opens it. He leans out into the storm and calls out the name he had chosen for her.]
[Darkness, pure and black as night. We hear Bastian speak.]
Bastian: Why is it so dark?
Empress Moonchild: In the beginning it is always dark.
[A small light appears and starts growing until the two children's faces are illuminated. It is coming from an object in Moonchild's hand. Bastian looks at it.]
Bastian: What is that?
Empress Moonchild: One grain of sand. It is all that remains of my vast empire.
Bastian: Fantasia has totally disappeared?
Empress Moonchild: Yes.
Bastian: Then everything has been in vain.
Empress Moonchild: No, it hasn't. Fantasia can arise in you. In your dreams and wishes, Bastian.
Empress Moonchild: Open your hand.
[She puts the grain into his hand and he looks at it.]
Empress Moonchild: What are you going to wish for?
Bastian: I don't know.
Empress Moonchild: Then there will be no Fantasia any more.
Bastian: How many wishes do I get?
Empress Moonchild: As many as you want. And the more wishes you make, the more magnificent Fantasia will become.
Empress Moonchild: Try it.
Bastian: Then my first wish is . . .
[Moonchild follows his gaze and smiles.]
Could it be, as you have shared Bastian's adventure, others are now sharing yours? As you were with him when he saved Fantasia, might they be with you as you read this text? Have you been reading your own story? Are you part of the NeverEnding Story? Impossible? Are you sure?
Read the Simulation Argument.
The Holy Spirit is an esthetic that emerges from our environment through our anatomy and into us as individuals and communities. As we resonate with it, it informs our ethics, which in turn directs our works as we seek to shape the world. Faith, trust in, and will toward this esthetic, creates goods that reflect the beautiful and then truths that reflect the goods.