Concluding Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response
25 April 2010 (updated 29 October 2016)
The post concludes my response to Vblogger’s “Doctrinal and Logical Response” on her blog, Mormon Transhumanist Association Response. My first three posts may be found here: Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response and Continued Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response and More Continued Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response. As before, I will quote portions of Vblogger’s comments and follow these quotes with my thoughts.
Vblogger: “The affirmation also mentions science technology as a means for obtaining exaltation, which is different from immortality or resurrection.”
As Vblogger points out, in Mormon tradition, there is an important distinction between immortality and eternal life. Immortality is understand as a physical change from our present state, whereas eternal life is understood as a spiritual change from our present state. Some use “exaltation” as a reference only to eternal life. Some distinguish between physical and spiritual exaltation, with physical exaltation being immortality and spiritual exaltation being eternal life. In either case, the distinction between quantity and quality of future life, immortality versus eternal life, is at the heart of various Mormon doctrines.
Vblogger: “Exaltation, Eternal Life, or living in the presence of God in the kind of life He lives, is a purely religious concept …”
While spiritual exaltation is a religious concept, Mormons yet behave with recognition that science and technology are helpful in the work to bring about spiritual exaltation. We evidence this each time we use a book, pen, phone, computer, airplane or any of the innumerable other products of science and technology as part of missionary efforts, temple ceremonies, congregational activities or service projects.
Vblogger: “[spiritual exaltation] requires both acknowledging the existence of and obtaining forgiveness from sin through the atonement of Christ.”
As elaborated at greater length in previous posts, I agree that the atonement of Christ, properly understood and practically applied, is essential to positive futures. I also see this reflected in the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation, when it expresses the importance of charity in terms of exalting desires, wills and laws to the extent they are not oppressive.
Vblogger: “Science and technology does not claim forgiveness of sin–it’s not the realm of science at all.”
Psychology is certainly pertinent to the work of improving our understanding and application of forgiveness, as evidenced by the results from a google search for “psychology forgiveness”. Although I’m not an expert in the field, I can only imagine that, as we understand better how our minds function, we will be better equipped to engage in the charitable and unifying behavior of seeking and providing forgiveness.
Vblogger: “Even considering this on moral, not religious, grounds, if scientific and technological power were a means of resurrection and even the creation of other worlds, who or what ensures these future eternal creations serve positive, uplifting purposes that are ‘not oppressive’? Who ensures that these powers are not controlled primarily by evil, selfish people into eternity? The same principles that apply to the order of resurrection based on righteousness, apply even more directly to a discussion about exaltation or eternal life.”
I agree with Vblogger that science and technology can be used for evil. Concern with this is also reflected in the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation. Furthermore, as presented in the New God Argument, we certainly must increase in benevolence or we will not survive the knowledge and power that it appears we may gain in the near future, extrapolating from present trends.
Vblogger: “Science and technology, even with the best governmental regulation, have a terrible track record of avoiding oppression, particularly when extreme power is involved. Sure, we can find examples of restraint (cold war and nuclear weapons), but those examples are surrounded by examples of abuse (need I list them all?).”
As expressed in the Transhumanist Declaration, members of the MTA support the idea that we are better off working properly to manage emerging technology than trying to avoid it. An important reason for this is that avoiding emerging technology may be next to impossible, barring a global catastrophe. Another important reason for this is that emerging technology also holds great promise for improving the human condition. Certainly there are numerous examples of science and technology improperly used, as there are numerous examples of using them properly. As advocated by the MTA, and by transhumanists generally, we have a moral obligation to do what we can to mitigate the risks presented by emerging technology.
Vblogger: “That is a key reason religion provides a hope for a future that is not realistically possible through scientific means. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints, gives hope for an eternal future in which God lifts up the oppressed, gives power and ability to those who have demonstrated love for one another, and casts out and takes away power from those with selfish, hateful, oppressive desires. This solution relies on religious faith, and is not realistically possible through science and human technology.”
In Mormon tradition, there is a well known expression: pray as if everything depends on God, and work as if everything depends on us. This expression reflects many passages of scripture and statements from Mormon authorities on the importance of practical working faith. One of my favorite statements about practical faith is from Dieter Uchtdorf, currently serving in the LDS Church First Presidency, as expressed during a recent general conference:
“When our wagon gets stuck in the mud, God is much more likely to assist the man who gets out to push than the man who merely raises his voice in prayer—no matter how eloquent the oration.”
God has presented us with opportunity. It’s up to us to make the most of it. That makes perfect sense for those that believe we must learn to become as God. How can we learn if we have no opportunity? How can we become as God in all ways unless we have opportunities in all ways?
Vblogger: “… feeling a duty to identify and prepare for risks and responsibilities associated with the future appears to place the burden on man or the Mormon Transhumanist Association for determining what to be done to prepare for future advances. “
Fortunately, the MTA is not alone in its concern regarding the risks presented by emerging tech. Each of us has a responsibility to use technology ethically. Each of us will benefit from persuading and helping others to recognize and take on this responsibility, too.
Vblogger: “One unique principle of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints is its belief in continued revelation available to every person for their own domain of stewardship. The Church also teaches that prophets, seers, are revelators, or the 1st Presidency and the 12 apostles are here to help the entire world prepare for the future. That insight into God’s teachings in preparation for the future is one definition of a prophet and a key point of doctrine for the Church of Jesus Christ. According to Church doctrine, we can feel confident that if there are important moral positions to be taken in order to prepare for future scientific advances, following the counsel of Church leaders and scriptural teachings will place us is a position well-prepared for these advances. In other words, while we have much need for individuals to actively pursue scientific progress and to work together in pursuit of scientific truth, a separate organization is not needed to determine moral positions or actions to be taken in order to prepare ourselves morally for this future progress.”
The LDS Church does not promote itself as the only needed organization in the world. To the contrary, Mormon scripture explicitly supports participation in government; and LDS Church leaders regularly encourage members to be involved in humanitarian efforts, secular education, respectable professions and other activities that contribute toward a better world. Indeed, Mormon scripture encourages:
“For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;”
The MTA is a good cause. Although still a young organization, it has already opened minds, strengthened faith and contributed to research. Members of the MTA have engaged voluntarily, without command, not compelled, and of their own free will, hoping to make whatever difference we can for the reward of a better world to share with all, even many whose desires, wills and laws differ from ours. This strikes me as righteousness. More importantly, this strikes me as charity, which is the heart of the gospel of Christ and the duty of all those who would identify as disciples of Jesus.
If you like these thoughts, you might also like “Perspective on the Benevolence Argument.”