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.