Monday, June 7, 2010

Elder Oaks and Science, Revelation

Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke recently at Harvard about the basic principles of the LDS faith, in a way that I found very interesting.

Here are some excerpts, first about Jesus Christ and His role in both resurrection and eternal life:
Because of His resurrection all who have ever lived will be raised from the dead.  He is the Savior whose atoning sacrifice opens the door for us to be forgiven of our personal sins so that we can be cleansed to return to the presence of God our Eternal Father. 
And about the process of finding truth:
We seek after knowledge, but we do so in a special way because we believe there are two dimensions of knowledge, material and spiritual.  We seek knowledge in the material dimension by scientific inquiry and in the spiritual dimension by revelation.
Here's his quite interesting description of revelation, one of the "distinctive elements of our faith"
Personal revelation—sometimes called “inspiration”—comes in many forms.  Most often it is by words or thoughts communicated to the mind, by sudden enlightenment, or by positive or negative feelings about proposed courses of action.  Usually it comes in response to earnest and prayerful seeking.  “Ask, and it shall be given you;” Jesus taught, “seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7).  It comes when we keep the commandments of God and thus qualify for the companionship and communication of the Holy Spirit. 
I found it interesting to note this clear description of revelation as providing feelings or inspirations, quite different from the process of obtaining truth through scientific inquiry.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Historicity matters

I don't think this particular article has much to do with Transhumanism, but I came across this article:
"The Book of Mormon, Historicity, and Faith," by Robert L. Millet, that I feel makes a lot of sense.

A similar article by Elder Oaks is here.

For me, the idea that Jesus actually lived and was resurrected, and that Book of Mormon events actually happened, are important to my faith.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Differences are not just semantics

In a previous post about the differences, I don't want to dismiss the importance of actual challenges beyond semantics.  To summarize, here are key doctrines of Mormonism that seem to contradict assertions of transhumanism:

1)  Eternal Life requires spiritual obedience to commandments and God's grace and forgiveness, not advanced scientific discovery:  Doctrine and Covenants 14:7:  "And, if you akeep my commandments and bendure to the end you shall have ceternal life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God. (Also  D&C 6:13)

2) Resurrection is a result of, and patterned after Jesus Christ's resurrection, not man's scientific work, as I have already discussed in my doctrinal and logical response.

3) Final, Eternal Judgement based on benevolence or love for others, but also on proper performance of certain ordinances given by those with proper priesthood authority.

If, as transhumanism seems to suggest, the final, eternal judgment doesn't matter or won't require  dramatic, powerful intervention after we die, then why do we need obedience to certain commandments or ordinances, such as baptism, temple marriage, etc., that really have very little to do with increased benevolence?  Sure, baptism is a covenant to essentially be benevolent ("mourn with those that mourn"), but becoming benevolent posthumans certainly wouldn't require full immersion and certain proper words spoken by someone who has proper priesthood authority.  (See 3 Nephi 11:24-38).

The transhumanist emphasis on man's work seems to me a proud proposition that suggests we don't need God and that His commandments are not necessary or relevant.   If we can resurrect ourselves--or, incredibly, even grant ourselves forgiveness, eternal life and future creative ability--through scientific progress, who needs God or His commandments or ordinances?
Since pride is the "universal sin" and "The great stumbling block to zion"  that scriptures and modern prophets have repeatedly warned against, I'm more concerned that we have a tendency to become too proud, than that we might have a tendency to reduce our interest in scientific discovery.  Plenty of worldly pressures will encourage scientific progress to continue, regardless of religion.

However, few forces exist other than scriptural and prophetic warnings to restrain the unbridled pride that can lead to our downfall.  So, in my religious practice and belief, I'd rather emphasize our dependence on God, rather than our ability to do everything, including resurrection and eternal life, by ourselves.

Of course, that doesn't at all dismiss our need to work diligently to protect and preserve the earth, find cures for diseases, help the poor, etc.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

More interesting, productive questions

If we want to really embrace and utilize science and technology to further God's work, here are some possible lines of inquiry that seem more productive to me than trying to enable resurrection and eternal life.  These are just possibilities.
  • How can we reduce poverty around the world, and within the United States, especially in chronic inner-city poverty, without encouraging dependency?  The solutions might be technical, but probably also involve plenty of political and sociological sciences.
  • How can we more effectively distribute vaccines, clean water, and other health-promoting tools that are already available so that more people throughout the world can access them?
  • How can we use new media, Internet, and other technology tools to reduce misconceptions and promote the true understanding of Christ's teachings?
  • What can we do to promote, create, and utilize clean sources of energy so that our planet can be preserved?  How can we refine recycling techniques to reduce costs and make the effort more profitable?
  • What behaviors and foods, vitamins, and minerals can help us stay healthy, increase longevity?   
  • Various kinds of medical and chemical research into curing and vaccinating against all kinds of diseases.
  • How can we more effectively enable rapid and deep learning among a variety of learning styles?
The idea of this list is that we have plenty of work to do to accomplish God's work to love and care for others, to improve our health, increase life expectancy, and increase our benevolence.   If God needs us to use our own science and technology research to enable resurrection, we have plenty of work to do before we get to that point.

Many of these efforts are currently within reach, and we're making some real improvement in many areas, but are digressing in others.  Many of these also have current and very real ethical implications--let's discuss and make progress on those issues.

Let's use our active faith to discuss and solve current problems that will change lives and accomplish God's work to improve the human condition.

What difference does it make?

Lincoln asks what practical difference it makes whether we embrace logical and philosophical explanations for human effort making all kinds of good things happen. He promotes the active faith involved in Mormon Transhumanism as promoting good works.

It is a good and perhaps fundamental question. I do really like his thoughts about an active faith and the concept of fully utilizing technology and scientific opportunities, and promoting the best of human effort.

I'll try and describe here the difference it makes for me.

When it comes to the resurrection and atonement of Christ, I personally enjoy the feeling of faith and the awe at the miraculous and things that are not fully explained. I can more easily love and embrace the concept of "My Heavenly Father," than I can "posthuman capacity." Perhaps we're talking about the same thing, but it's just more tiring and less enjoyable for me to try and explain my entire faith scientifically or logically.

When I pray to my Father in Heaven, I like to imagine a real, tangible person who through some miraculous process I don't (nor do I try to) understand, loves and understands me just as he loves and understands the billions of other people who must be praying to Him as well. I love the feeling that "I am a child of God," and that my literal Spirit Father loves me so much that He gave His Only Begotten Son to enable His love and grace to overcome all my weaknesses and sins to allow me to eventually live with Him forever. I'll desperately need this mercy because I cannot possibly approach the perfection He envisions for me through my own efforts.

Even with His grace, I want to and need to work hard and do my best to develop my personal capacity, and I agree with the emphasis on stretching to reach for our fullest human potential. But, often I fail, or feel weak, or need help or inspiration from a source beyond my own, or I just feel I've reached the limits of my personal capacity. At those moments, I love feeling the comfort inside that comes when I ponder and pray and sense His infinite love for me. It's a special, loving peace that sometimes includes tingles or special emotions that are hard to explain. I feel comforted, loved, motivated to do better, and want to reach out to help others. Sometimes I have sudden ideas or thoughts that help people or help solve personal problems. At those times, I just want to enjoy and feel the miraculous wonder of His Mercy and Grace without trying to explain it all through logic and philosophy. It’s an unexplained, sometimes not fully logical, but emotional connection to not just the “Christ within me” but with a real, powerful and awesome personal Heavenly Father who loves me.

Yes, I love learning, scientific discovery, and using technology to do good. However, all the logical and scientific jargon about "positive futures," “posthumans,” "posthuman capacity" and "engineered resurrections" explaining how everything could work takes away a part of the peaceful, loving feeling I get when I wrestle with difficult issues in prayer as I pour out my soul to my Heavenly Father. Maybe it’s just semantics, but the semantics make a difference to me.

Put simply, I want to feel the love.
It's harder for me feel love from or for numerous unknown "posthumans" who happened to use their own genius to eventually develop the capacity to create other worlds.

Too much logic, philosophy and scientific explanation of miracles such as mercy, resurrection, and grace can rob me of some of those special feelings that are central to my religious experience.

Lincon Cannon response continued

In Lincoln Cannon's Blog he continues a response to some of my comments about the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation.

First, let me share where we agree.   I fully agree that: 1) Science and technology have been and should be embraced by the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints.  Scientific discovery is one important means of discovering truth.  2)  I see no problem with attempts at scientific understandings of, say creation and evolution, geology, biology and medicine, etc.  I agree that these discoveries may contribute toward "positive futures," and support our full efforts to embrace scientific progress toward improving the human condition and extending life.

Lincoln reinforces these points through several quotes from early church leaders about how knowledge, truth, and wisdom can come through science and the arts.  At the same time, he admits that science does not describe a means for all persons to be resurrected, even though he agrees that universal resurrection is a requirement in LDS doctrine.

Having thought about and re-read his response a few times, I feel we're actually not too far off of each other, except by emphasis and degree, and perhaps by language choice.  The effort to explain everything through logic and philosophy can grow tiring, however.

For example, he proposes that the resurrections occurring 2,000 years ago at the time of Christ may have happened because either other “posthumans” made it work, or our future descendents will eventually acquire the ability to use science to go back in time and change the past.  To me, that's a mind-twisting exercise with far-reaching tentacles that reminds me I'm grateful "Back to the Future" was just a fun movie.

What about the resurrection of Christ Himself?  Was that a feat of time travel and changing history? According to Christian doctrine, which Mormonism strengthens in the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ was a real person, who thousands of witnesses saw die and buried.  Then, after he was resurrected within less than 36 hours after being buried, numerous witnesses saw that he was risen and ate with, saw, touched him personally, and listened to his teachings.  After that, hundreds of these witnesses lost their lives defending their testimonies that this actually happened.   It wasn't just some "Christ in us" force that we all have inspiring us. He was a real person that many people knew, saw, and felt.  The Book of Mormon and latter-day revelation could not be more clear about that point.

I’d rather just enjoy some miracles, particularly this most important one, as miraculous.  I don’t feel this exercise of faith is superstitious just because I don’t make an effort to explain it scientifically.  I can find plenty of evidence in my own feelings, and in other historical witnesses to back up my faith without creating a full explanation for how it happened. 

In sum, here are the key views that I hold from LDS doctrine, which I feel still contradict the concept of transhumanism, even after Lincoln’s second response

Resurrection requires faith, and is controlled and ordered by God’s moral judgments of people's behavior, not their access to scientific knowledge or technology. The LDS embracing of technology and science does not extend to resurrection, and scientific knowledge is not currently close to a real solution for resurrection for all, particularly for persons whose remains have been completely obliterated.  Lincoln shares some of the same quotes I used about resurrection being a priesthood ordinance.  I interpret those statements as reinforcing the idea of resurrection being an orderly event based on the moral and loving behavior of those being resurrected, and also reminders that science and technology are at most minor aspects of the means of resurrection.

Exaltation or Eternal Life, requires faith, and involves sin, mercy and grace, and is available only to the righteous.  Lincoln suggests 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." 

If his “universalist perspective on salvation,” means that almost everyone will attain Eternal Life with God, or exaltation, that concept contradicts several scriptures about God’s judgment, and the pattern of the Book of Mormon in which the more part of the people were destroyed.  It also contradicts much of my life experience with many people who don’t have any real interest in striving for eternal life.  Thankfully, though, I'm not the judge, and I do hope and work towards the goal of everyone reaching eternal life.

Finally, I just feel that this emphasis on explaining everything scientifically and logically may be intellectually interesting, but does not contribute much to our path to be like Him, and it ignores feelings, emotion, and faith that are vital components of religion.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Questioning Assumption of Benevolence

Here's one prominent scientist, Stephen Hawking, who agrees with the scientific probability that aliens may exist, but is extremely nervous about contact with them.

This viewpoint underscores my concern with the benevolence portion of The New God argument, which assumes humans will advance through scientific progression to become powerful  "posthumans" who are benevolent, and create future worlds for benevolent means.

Surely, the elimination of evil and the rewarding of good in the eternities to come will require some kind of dramatic, external power and judgement from a loving Heavenly Father, beyond what is realistic through natural, scientific progression.

Scientists such as Hawking recognize the realistic possibility that life can evolve into serving selfish or even sinister means.

New God Argument Challenges

Lincoln Cannon gives a New God Argument, which suggests an interesting logical proposition about how humans could use scientific and technological development to eventually become immortal, "posthuman" and even create other worlds with other humans. While I fully support science as a method of progressing both spiritually and physically, I see some real challenges with the leap to eternal conclusions in this argument.

Perhaps this is just a philosophical argument for the existence of the same Heavenly Father I believe in, but I see some logical fallacies in the benevolence argument. I also don't see what this philosophical exercise adds to existing testimonies of both people and physical evidence--"All things denote there is a God", and I worry that it creates a proud distraction from the true nature of God.

Immortality and the ability to create is only one aspect of the Mormon conception of God--that He once was a man, died and was resurrected, then eventually created us, and the He is now working actively to encourage us to follow Him and eventually create worlds into the future D&C 76: 50, 58D&C 132: 20.  However, this description leaves out another, more important characteristic of God: that He will distinguish between good and evil and reward only the good and benevolent with eternal live and future ability to create, as I will show below.

The Transhumanist benevolence argument suggests "posthumans" are benevolent because humans have managed, most of us, to survive so far, and therefore we will then naturally and gradually progress toward benevolent, loving "posthumans," who then have the power to create other worlds.

This line of thinking seems tenuous at best--especially the assumption that only benevolent "posthumans" will continue and create into the future. Humans are well-known for doing a terrible job of separating good from evil and rewarding only the benevolent with superior scientific and technological power.  Examples abound--say, the Internet--are the best website developers using their skills for only benevolent ends? What about biotech or pharmaceutical companies, etc?  The American medical system, although the most scientifically advanced, is one of the worst in the developed world at almost every public health measure that one might find in a truly benevolent system.

In a number of ways, for at least several decades, on earth we have the current technology and resources to provide plenty of food, shelter, and basic medical vaccinations to the entire planet. Yet, we've not managed to do so. In fact, many of the actions and resource choices of the most technologically advanced of us, as in using corn for ethanol or massive spending on military actions, have made the situation worse that it was before for the poorest people around the world. Many of our inner cities in the United States, surrounded with technological powers, have educational attainment, health quality and life expectancies that are now worse than they were 20 years ago.

One would be hard-pressed to promote benevolence and compassion as a primary characteristic of the most powerful current scientific or technological human organizations. Hitler had much more advanced technological power than other heroes of true compassion, such as Mother Theresa.

This pattern for normal human behavior is described in
D&C 121:39 

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
The New God Argument offers no realistic mechanism for distinguishing between those with good and evil motives, and leaves us to assume that the battle between sinister and benevolent "posthumans" will continue in a similar pattern that exists among humans. The argument appears to hope that "posthumans" will be as benevolent as our God is, but offers no evidence that this can be accomplished through normal, humanist processes.

On the other hand, Scripture and and doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints describes a God that will distinguish between good and evil, and reward only the good and benevolent with eternal life, as in
Matthew 25:31-34.

31 ¶ When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
This concept is repeated in numerous other places--emphasizing that "no unclean thing" can dwell with God, such as: 1 Ne. 10: 21Alma 11: 37Alma 40: 263 Ne. 27: 19.

Further, this separation, primarily occurring at the second coming of Jesus Christ, is consistently described as a dramatic, disruptive, not evolutionary, event that all will witness as He descends from the clouds of heaven and the righteous are caught up to meet him, and He will then Judge the world. See Isa. 45: 23Dan. 7: 13 Matt. 26: 64Luke 21: 25-28 Rev. 1: 7, 3 Ne. 27: 14-18

My belief and hope is in a God and an eternal future that involves the ultimate victory of love and benevolence, and disallowing sinister and selfish people from the opportunity to create future worlds. I'm convinced this will require a dramatic, disruptive intervention from God in order to transform our current patterns of progress.

The key of my belief in God is this hope for a peaceful, loving eternal future and an ultimate victory of good over evil that only God can provide, and I don't see how that is realistically possible without some dramatic interruption of the natural human progression. 

The transhumanist "New God" as simply a "posthuman," developing naturally and scientifically from humans, seems to me more likely to be Hitler than Ghandi or Mother Theresa.  The Heavenly Father I understand would reward Mother Theresa with eternal life and future creative ability, regardless of her access to or interest in scientific progress, and would prevent Hitler from creative power in spite of his technological and organizational abilities.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Lincoln Cannon MTA response--affirmation 1

Lincoln Cannon, on his blog, has responded to my doctrinal and logical response.  Interestingly, his initial response, does not effectively dispute my core arguments.   I'll respond to these in sections, as he has done.

To keep my remarks in context, I have no problem with asserting that faith and science are valid means of finding truth, and firmly believe both can and do work together.  For example, I believe science has contributed much to our understanding of the creation process on this earth, a point that revelation gives only an outline of phases and an order and purpose for creation.   I'm fully convinced, through science, that the process must have taken millions of years and involved gradual changes.   I'm also thrilled to see the Church using technology to further God's work on earth in many ways. 

Science, due to its nature, is a much slower method of gaining truth than direct revelation, but it can work very well.  For example, revelation taught us in 1833 that tobacco was bad for the body and that we needed lots of grains, fruits and vegetables, yet science took at least 100 years or more after that to come to the same conclusion.   

My concern throughout this discussion is not about whether science is compatible with religion or whether science and technology are now used now and can and should be used to promote "positive futures."  I fully agree with that.  My problem is that the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation (MTA) asserts that essentially science can do some things, such as forgiveness of sin, that, in fact, belong in the realm of faith, not science.  The level of emphasis of the MTA is on what man and science can do, not a humble reliance on God, His will, and His word.

On this key point, Lincoln essentially agrees with me--that our goal should be the unification of our wills with God and Christ.  But in his agreement with me, he relies on his own personal beliefs, not those of the MTA, and admits that
"the MTA does not advocate specific positions on the extent to which positive human futures, whether we describe them as "salvation" or "exaltation", depend on God and Christ."  
That's the core of my concern.  Scripture and Mormon Doctrine are abundantly clear that God and Christ are absolute requirements for exaltation, which is a clearly-defined state of cleanliness from sin as a result of Christ's atonement, not just a generic or undefined set of "positive futures."  On the other hand, Mormon Transhumanism advocates science not just as a means of understanding truth, but as a means for exaltation.  Those are two dramatically divergent viewpoints.

I'll get to our discussion of the next two affirmations in future posts.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Discussion encouraged

Please review the blog purpose and the doctrinal and logical response pages.

I would look forward to comments and discussion about these ideas.  Of course, to be substantive, any  responses should give sources for any facts or quotes mentioned.  

I will make my best attempt at responding to comments and feedback on this blog.