Third Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response
24 April 2010 (updated 25 October 2020)
The post continues my response to Vblogger’s “Doctrinal and Logical Response” on her blog, Mormon Transhumanist Association Response. My first two posts may be found here: First Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response and Second 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 Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation emphasizes science and technology as a means for immortality and resurrection, with very little discussion of faith or Jesus Christ as a means.”
I have addressed these items in my first two posts, but will mention briefly here that both faith and Christ are discussed much among members of the MTA and at sites promoted by the MTA, as illustrated by a quick search for faith or Christ on the MTA web site.
Vblogger: “ That emphasis is directly opposed to the Church of Jesus Christ, which provides for the resurrection of everyone who has ever been born, and emphasizes a dependence on Christ, not science, as the means for this resurrection.”
Mormon tradition holds, clearly, that all persons will have an opportunity to receive the gospel of Christ, yet we do not expect that Jesus will do all the work to make that happen. Likewise, although Mormon tradition holds that all persons will be resurrected, we should not expect Jesus will do all the work. To the contrary, as indicated in my previous post, Brigham Young and others claimed that we would eventually participate in the ordinance of resurrection.
Vblogger: “With DNA research and other developments, I can imagine the possibility that scientific knowledge and technological power may eventually enable immortality, perhaps even a form of resurrection or transfiguration for some people. However, teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ require that every single person will be resurrected …”
I agree with Vblogger’s description of Mormonism as holding that everyone (at least everyone who desires it) will be resurrected. We can image many ways that such a resurrection may be engineered: perhaps time can be manipulated, perhaps the environmental effects of past persons persist sufficiently in the present for reverse engineering, perhaps our identities are maintained by posthumans computing our world, and so on. To posit faith in resurrection while simultaneously rejecting attempts at causal explanations for such a possibility would be superstitious. Likewise, to outright reject the possibility of engineering resurrection, based on present science and technology, would be short sighted.
Vblogger: “… [LDS Church] emphasizes that this happens through Christ and faith, and in an order based on righteousness”
As explained above, Christ and faith are not mutually exclusive with science and technology. We could appeal to all of these simultaneously as the causes of a resurrection. Regarding order of resurrection, the MTA has no formal position. Personally, it makes sense to me that a resurrection would be gradual and that persons performing the resurrection may, for moral and practical reasons, choose to resurrect some before others.
Vblogger: “First, Christianity requires that every person be resurrected. No scientific or technological solution makes sense as a means to resurrect people whose remains have been completely obliterated–as in the tragic victims of the Challenger explosion, or the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or numerous other extreme fires, in which no traces of DNA remain. In those cases, people’s bodies were completely changed into vapor or other forms of matter. Similarly, many people died thousands of years ago, and their remains long ago became part of the soil, perhaps eaten by worms or other creatures, and whose molecules are now part of the soil, trees, or even other creatures. Belief in resurrection for those people requires faith, not science.”
DNA is not sufficient for resurrection of any person. The data in DNA is too abstract to provide the details of our individual identities, shaped both by our DNA and our interaction with the complexities of our environment and community. Moreover, contemporary science clearly provides no answer (for or against) the possibility of engineering resurrection. On the other hand, contemporary science and technology trends hint at possibilities (such as those mentioned above), about which we may freely speculate in good conscience, so long as we maintain respect and consideration for established science. A healthy sense of wonder and aspiration has always been an important driving aspect of the scientific endeavor.
Vblogger: “Further, 2000 years ago, science and technology could not have been the source of Christ’s resurrection or the many people that were resurrected immediately after Christ …”
As expressed in the New God Argument, if we aspire to posthuman capacity, it is reasonable (even moral) to suppose that posthuman capacity already exists. Such capacity may have engineered resurrections in human history. Alternatively, our descendents (or our selves if we live long enough) may attain the capacity to affect the past, steering it toward a desired future through actions including engineered resurrections. Of course, I don’t know whether either of these things have happened or will happen. However, I also know that we do not know enough to claim such to be impossible. More importantly, we should ask ourselves, what practical difference does it make to believe one way or another? If we thoroughly believe that we cannot achieve such capacity, we are right because such belief is a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, belief in and work toward the possibility of such capacity may be essential to attaining it. Even if we’re wrong, what have we lost in the effort? From a Mormon perspective, I can only imagine God commending us for the effort. Any God that would punish its creatures for emulation is not a God worthy of worship, so far as I am concerned. Moreover, as articulated in Mormon scripture, a God that is disappointed in us for not making use of opportunity provided makes a lot of sense to me.
Vblogger: “Whenever resurrection of other people is mentioned in scriptures or by other religious leaders, they consistently emphasize Jesus Christ’s resurrection as both the cause and the pattern for the resurrection of others …”
Mormon scripture also indicates that Christ is the cause and pattern for teaching the gospel, yet we participate in Christ, furthering the cause and manifesting the pattern.
Vblogger: “Not once in any of these scriptures or later religious statements is science and technology mentioned as a possible means of resurrection.”
“Science” comes from the Latin word for knowledge. Technology is the application of knowledge. Knowledge and its application are certainly taught and advocated in Mormon scripture and tradition. Until the Internet became reality, the prophets didn’t mention it by name, yet they spoke of a day when all things will be revealed and secrets pronounced from the house tops, and I see increasing fulfillment of that prophecy in the Internet. The spirit of prophecy does not make one a scientist. Indeed, as Brigham pointed out, the spirit of prophecy has done its job in the past while being quite ignorant of modern science:
“Now about the rib: as for the Lord taking a rib out of Adam’s side to make a woman of, he took one out of my side just as much. ‘But, Brother Brigham, would you make it appear that Moses did not tell the truth?’ No, not a particle more than I would that your mother did not tell the truth when she told you that little Billy came from a hollow toadstool. I would not accuse your mother of lying any more than I would Moses. The people in the days of Moses wanted to know things that were not for them, the same as your children do when they want to know where their little brother came from; and he answered them according to their folly, the same as you did your children.” (Brigham Young, General Conference Discourse – October 8, 1854)
Yet at times prophets have explicitly mentioned associations between their prophecies and our improving understanding and application of science, as illustrated by these words from Orson Pratt:
“When the elements melt with fervent heat, the Lord Almighty will send forth his angels, who are well instructed in chemistry, and they will separate the elements and make new combinations thereof.”
If chemistry is applicable to the renewal of the world, perhaps information technology is applicable to the resurrection? We don’t know, but it may make a difference if we explore the possibility. That is faith, of the real tangible working sort. Anything merely passive has never been the kind of faith advocated by Mormonism.
Vblogger: “Finally, what about keeping this all in order and ensuring resurrection is obtained and controlled by those without sinister intentions? Today, science and technology are heavily controlled by money and are commonly used for sinister or at least selfish ends, primarily to get gain or power. In contrast, Mormon Doctrine and scripture clearly states that resurrection happens in order, with the most righteous resurrected first and others later …”
As Vblogger points out, there are certainly important ethical questions related to the quest for and application of knowledge. The MTA explicitly advocates awareness of this issue and the applicability of the religious perspective to the issue, which is perhaps one of the most important purposes of the MTA.
Vblogger: “Brigham Young, in speaking of the process of resurrection, said, “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.” . . . That process suggests God and priesthood keys controls gets resurrected and when, not scientific power based on whoever has the technology to use DNA.”
In the contemporary world, our governments work hard to oversee the availability and application of advanced technologies, such as nuclear power. This will become increasingly important as technology progresses, costs decrease, and destructive capacities increase. The knowledge and power of science and technology certainly merit our respect and careful efforts at good management. On the other hand, the need for good management does not mean that science and technology do not provide the knowledge and power that we actually observe in them.
Vblogger: “The second coming of Jesus Christ is not mentioned in the Mormon Transhumanist affirmation, but it is a key doctrine related to resurrection. In direct contrast to traditional, gradual and evolutionary scientific progress, the second coming is consistently discussed in both scripture and latter-day revelation as a single, dramatic event … Since the second coming is a key moment of resurrection for many people, this is yet another area in which Mormon Doctrine is in opposition to the transhumanist emphasis on gradual scientific and technological progress.”
Many members of the MTA and transhumanists generally (but not universally) anticipate a technological singularity within the current century, when dramatic change occurs in a short period of time. Moreover, these persons tend to associate the technological singularity with messianic and apocalyptic notions, quite similar to those associated with the return of Christ. Mormonism and transhumanism are remarkably complementary in their visions of the near future, rapidly advancing knowledge and power, a dramatic apocalyptic change, followed by a world of radically increased abundance and longevity. These complements are described at length in a document authored by members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association and published in Sunstone Magazine as “Transfiguration: Parallels and Complements between Mormonism and Transhumanism”.
More to come in my response to Vblogger, who I thank again for the opportunity to exchange thoughts.
If you like these thoughts, you might also like “Fourth Response to a Mormon Transhumanist Response.”