Second Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response
22 April 2010 (updated 25 October 2020)
This post continues my response to Vblogger’s assessment of Mormon Transhumanism, as found in the “Doctrinal and Logical Response” section of her blog, “Mormon Transhumanist Association Response”. My previous post addressed Vblogger’s thoughts about the first of the three points in the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation. This post begins by addressing Vblogger’s thoughts about the second point of the Affirmation:
“(2) We believe that scientific knowledge and technological power are among the means ordained of God to enable such exaltation, including realization of diverse prophetic visions of transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world, and the discovery and creation of worlds without end.”
I’ll mention, again, that I’m happy to respond to Vblogger’s post, and appreciate the investment she made in thinking and writing about Mormon Transhumanism. As before, I will quote portions of Vblogger’s words and afterwards respond to them.
Vblogger: “Although the language suggests science and technology are ‘among the means,’ to enable exaltation, Mormon Transhumanist writings and heavily emphasize science and technology and do not discuss a reliance on grace, God, and His forgiveness.”
Although discussed at greater length in my first post, I’ll briefly repeat here that grace, God and forgiveness are indeed discussed in Mormon Transhumanist writings. The Affirmation itself explicitly mentions God. The New God Argument (a unique Mormon Transhumanist argument for faith in God) depends on the Benevolence Argument, which argues that positive futures depend on altruistic behavior, such as grace and forgiveness. Additionally, a search for “grace”, “God” or “forgiveness” at the MTA web site will return numerous results, both from members’ sites and from sites promoted by the MTA.
However, the MTA clearly does not focus on all matters equally. That’s not its purpose. It is neither a religious organization nor affiliated with any religious organization. Rather, it supports its members in their respective religious affiliations and encourages them to adapt transhumanism to their unique situations. The MTA focuses more on science and technology than it does on expositions of the nature of grace or forgiveness, and even less on scrap-booking and professional sports. That’s not because scrap-booking and professional sports are unimportant or uninteresting to members of the MTA. Rather, that’s because there are other forums and organizations that already focus on these matters more effectively. The purpose of the MTA is encapsulated in the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation, which is not intended to be a statement about everything that’s important, but a statement about something that’s important.
Vblogger: “That emphasis is directly opposite to scripture and latter-day revelation on the topic.”
Mormon scripture and tradition, even up to the present day, are remarkably supportive of science and technology, particularly among prominent religious traditions. In my last post, I referenced numerous statements from Mormon authorities in support of science and technology. I’ll quote just two here. The first does not explicitly use the words “science” or “technology”, but nonetheless satisfyingly expresses the spirit of Mormonism’s compatibility with science and technology. The second is more explicit.
“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; 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. 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. 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 — 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 — 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. 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.” (D&C 121: 26-33)
“Our traditions are such that it is one of the most difficult things in the world to make men believe that the revealed religion of heaven is a pure science, and all true science in the possession of men now is a part of the religion of heaven and has been revealed from that source. But it is hard to get the people to believe that God is a scientific character, that He lives by science or strict law, that by this He is, and by law he was made what He is; and will remain to all eternity because of His faithful adherence to law. It is a most difficult thing to make the people believe that every art and science and all wisdom comes from Him, and that He is their Author. Our spirits are His: He begot them. We are His children; He set the machine in motion to produce our tabernacles.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 13: 300)
Vblogger: “If science and technology are only a small portion (“among the means”) of the solution to some of these items, such as perhaps immortality for some people and perhaps the renewal of this world or perhaps even the creation of other worlds, then what’s the point of Mormon Transhumanism?”
As can be observed in the content and spirit of the quotes referenced above, some Mormons (perhaps most) expect science and technology to be large contributors toward positive futures. Let’s imagine, though, that we do not know whether they will be small or large contributors. What practical difference would it make to believe one way or the other? If we believe they can be only small contributors, we’ll tend to ignore them and focus on other things. If we believe they can be large contributors, we’ll give them greater attention. The question then becomes: should we give them greater attention? The MTA contends that we should. This isn’t the place to try to provide all the reasons for such a contention, but I’ll state this much: I respect science as an essential aspect of the eternal atonement of Christ, in that it is a highly successful method for obtaining unity in epistemic matters, subsequent to assuming the charitable position that everyone’s experience matters.
Vblogger: “Mormon doctrine gives the full answer to the opportunity for exaltation and resurrection for all people. This is a much more comprehensive solution than science or transhumanism even claims to offer. Why spend so much energy exploring and discussing one possible, yet unproven, means for helping a small portion of the people?”
Mormon tradition tells of transfiguration and resurrection to immortality and eternal life, through the grace of God and according to our desires and works. Yet it provides little to nothing regarding the technical details of how such things could or should happen. We do, however, have some ideas planted by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, who positioned both transfiguration and resurrection as ordinances.
“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 of the Prophet Joseph Smith 170)
“It is supposed by this people that we have all the ordinances in our possession for life and salvation, and exaltation, and that we are administering in these ordinances. This is not the case. We are in possession of all the ordinances that can be administered in the flesh; but there are other ordinances and administrations that must be administered beyond this world. I know you would ask what they are. I will mention one. We have not, neither can we receive here, the ordinance and the keys of the resurrection. They will be given to those who have passed off this stage of action and have received their bodies again, as many have already done and many more will. They will be ordained, by those who hold the keys of the resurrection, to go forth and resurrect the Saints, just as we receive the ordinance of baptism, then the keys of authority to baptize others for the remission of their sins. This is one of the ordinances we can not receive here, and there are many more.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 15: 135)
These are intriguing thoughts! Transfiguration is an ordinance that will be performed at the end of mortality? Resurrection is an ordinance that will be performed by immortals? Such progression in capacity corresponds well with speculation that advancing science and technology will first extend our lives indefinitely and then enable us to alter ourselves such that death becomes no more superlative than life.
Vblogger: “The vision and promise of Mormonism is not just about living forever and creating worlds. “
I agree with Vblogger that Mormonism posits more than immortality and sublime creative potential, but I yet consider these positions to be among Mormonism’s most important.
Vblogger: “The promise of Mormonism also is about the perfect judgment and mercy of Jesus Christ and His power and grace that ensures only the righteous who believe in Christ, live His teachings, and obtain His forgiveness will have this opportunity.”
Mormonism clearly posits that almost all persons (at least all who so desire) will attain to immortality. Mormonism also clearly posits that almost all persons (at least all who so desire) will attain to heavenly glory. As Vblogger points out, Mormonism does also hold that higher degrees of creative capacity will be reserved for those who have demonstrated various moral characteristics, as exemplified by Jesus and expressed in the gospel of Christ, as the basis for entrusting them with such power. The MTA has no specific positions on these matters, except to the extent that the Affirmation suggests the same nearly universalist perspective on salvation. Personally, I hold to a nearly universalist perspective on salvation, and observe a naturally enforced correspondence between benevolence and empowerment at play in the universe and our interaction with it. As we gain greater power, we either learn to use it morally or we destroy ourselves with it.
I’ll continue responding to the remainder of Vblogger’s thoughts later.
If you like these thoughts, you might also like “Third Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response.”