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.