A Mormon Critique of the Mormon Transhumanism Conference



    First off, I don't identify myself as a Mormon Transhumanist. I think it's very interesting and an idea worth thinking about. The maxim "Don't believe everything you think" applies. I'm writing this review to share my thoughts on some fascinating ideas, not to preach them. I've been a Mormon my whole life and have a firm and examined testimony. I started learning about transhumanism about a year and a half-ago but only within the last couple months began exploring the intersection between the two.

    Mormon Trans-What???

    Well, to vastly over-simplify...

    Trans-humanism- A secular movement based around the idea that through the use of science and technology humans will relatively soon be able to overcome death, disease, suffering etc and be able to expand our individual capabilities to having significant control over the universe we live in. If you aren't up-to-date on research in nano-tech, genetic engineering, robotics, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, neuroscience etc this will seem wildly unfeasible. If you are up-to-date(and possibly read a bit too much science fiction)… let's just say it will seem less so.

    Mormon-Transhumanism- What if this has already happened, that is how God became God and how we in turn can become Gods ourselves?

    Some central ideas to transhumanism(at least the ones relevant to Mormonism):

    Death and aging are bad, we should over-come them.

    The simulation-hypothesis. Ie. Why it's actually likely that we live in the matrix.

    "A technologically mature "posthuman" civilization would have enormous computing power. Based on this empirical fact, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true:
    1. The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero;
    1. The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero;
    1. The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.
    If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching posthumanity. If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations and are free to do so. If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a simulation.
    The Technological Singularity- A basic way of thinking about this is that someday humans will create an artificial intelligence that is smarter than a human, it will then create another AI smarter than it, that one will create one smarter than it etc until within a short span a super-intelligence for practical purposes unknowable to us will begin inventing, ruling, helping, killing all humans etc. We have no way of knowing what will happen after that point. This is popularly predicted to happen within the next 30-40 years.

    Ethics-

    In the ethical realm Transhumanists emphasize the value and agency of human beings. Meaning and morality are human in origin, but that does not make them any less real.

    Our personal lives and the world we live in are and will be shaped by our efforts and decisions.

    What in the world does that have to do with Mormons??? Well, they're surprisingly, uniquely, and weirdly compatible.

    Here's one(of a few) way(s) of thinking about it.

    Through the use of technology a human civilization much like our own develops the capability to create new worlds, live forever, enhance mental capabilities like crazy etc. Congratulations everyone! We've conquered death, we've discovered a way to bestow God-like powers(another way of thinking of it is granting admin privileges to the reality servers) on everyone buuuut there's a problem.  If we gave them to everyone some of you would hurt each other really bad, kill each other, or otherwise mess things up like crazy for everyone else.  Option one I guess would be to limit what you can do like crazy,  or force you to do the right thing by each other. But option 2 is a sort of test by which you can prove you are trustworthy of God-like powers and aren't going to mess things up. Even if you fail the test by they way we'd still like you to live forever in a state of happiness and as much power as we can give you without letting you run amok. The test will be to leave the AI cloud we currently reside in and get a physical body, you will have to master it and prove that you can play nice with others in adverse circumstances. It will be hard for a while, suffering and stuff but you'll learn from it and we really couldn't trust you with this kind of power without a pretty serious test. Enter the Plan of Salvation.

    And so here I find myself at an 8 hour conference on all this. Topics included how the resurrection will be achieved through re-tracing past trajectories of simulated atoms to reconstruct brain states of dead people then flash cloning them. The legal viability of arguing that genetic engineering is a part of lds doctrine as a means to pass pro-cyborg legistlation.  The problem of evil solved through imagining a computationally irreducible simulated turing compatible universe. The eternal nature of science. How the Urim and Thumim may have been advanced technology. The possibility of a poly-gendered God. And the coming battle for the legal rights of sentient machines.

    Wow? Yes. Wow.

    Well there's your summary. Now for my thoughts on the whole thing.

    Pros-

    First, Mormons have always understood God to live in a world of natural laws. His power coming by adherence to them. Even God's miracles are not violations of natural laws, they just conform to higher laws that we do not yet understand. This is the only real attempt I've ever heard to answer the HOW of miracles, creation, immortality etc.(besides Skousen and I consider him quite thoroughly debunked)

    Second, These ideas are in line with the "collapse of the sacred" that adds so much appeal to Mormonism. Pre-Joseph Smith Christianity imagined an unknowable God. He was fundamentally(ontologically) distinct from humanity and was just alien, distant from our world and all of our understanding. Joseph taught of a God who weeps for us when we suffer, lived by laws himself, and loves as we love. The  unknowable love he has for us is actually knowable through the love a parent has for their child. He is not distinct from us as an ant is to a human, but as a caterpillar is to a butterfly. The sacred and the earthly are not so different. We can make our world and ourselves sacred through righteousness.  Mormon Transhumanism continues in the spirit of this collapse taking such mysteries as the powers of the priesthood, immortality, resurrection etc and making them human and knowable. At once it makes what is human sacred. 
    Transhumanism is man reaching for  God ,wonder, the stars, and impossible dreams. Mormonism is God and the wonder reaching back, to pull us up

    Third, A Pro-active attitude towards salvation. Mormon Trans-humanists don't want to sit still and wait for God to save them. They want to get busy saving humanity. Very Mormon.

    Fourth, Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the whole movement is that despite being completely out there at first-glance I can't seem to come up with a meaningful rebuttal to it's main arguments. Let me know if you can think of one.

    Finally, I include here a long argument made by Lincoln Cannon, The President of the Mormon Transhumanist Association.

    "If you're a Mormon, you should be a Transhumanist. To identify as a "Mormon Transhumanist" is not at all redundant, but to identify as a "Transhumanist Mormon" is redundant, because Mormonism mandates Transhumanism. In other words, you can be a Transhumanist without being a Mormon, but you can't be a Mormon without being a Transhumanist, at least implicitly. Of course this is a controversial claim, but we can make an argument from Mormon scripture. Let’s begin with the premises.

    First, God wants us to use ordained means to participate in God's work. This premise is based on scriptures like First Nephi 3, which says God prepares ways for us to accomplish his commands; Alma 60, which says God won’t save us unless we use the means he’s provided; and D&C 58, which says we shouldn’t wait for God to command us to engage in a good cause.

    The second premise is that science and technology are among the means ordained of God. This premise is based on scriptures like First Nephi 17, where God commands Nephi to construct a ship to save his family; Alma 37, which says God gave Nephi a compass to guide his family to the promised land; D&C 88, where God commands us to study and teach everything from astronomy and geology to history and politics; and D&C 121, which says we will learn all the laws of the natural world before attaining heaven.

    The third premise is that God's work is to help each other attain Godhood. This premise is based on scriptures like Third Nephi 12, where Jesus commands us to be perfect like God; D&C 76, which says God would make us Gods of equal power with him; and Moses 1, which says God’s work is to make us immortal in eternal life.

    The fourth and final premise is that an essential attribute of Godhood is a glorified immortal body. This premise is based on scriptures like Ether 3, where the Brother of Jared sees that God is embodied; D&C 76, which says God has a body glorified like the sun; D&C 93, which says full joy requires a body, elements are the body of God, and intelligence is the glory of God; and D&C 130, which says God’s body is as tangible as that of a human.

    From these four premises, we can reason. Since God wants us to use ordained means to participate in God’s work, and since science and technology are among those means, God must want us to use science and technology to participate in God’s work. Next, since God wants us to use science and technology to participate in God’s work, and since God’s work is to help each other attain Godhood, God must want us to use science and technology to help each other attain Godhood. Finally, since God wants us to use science and technology to help each other attain Godhood, and since an essential attribute of Godhood is a glorified immortal body, we can conclude that God wants us to use science and technology to help each other attain a glorified immortal body.

    This conclusion is both a religious mandate, in that it purports to express the will of God, and a description of the Transhumanist project, advocating the ethical use of technology to expand human abilities. If we arrived at this conclusion by valid reasoning, which we did, and if we began with premises that accurately reflect Mormonism, as I believe we have, then Mormonism mandates Transhumanism."


    Now for my critiques of the conference and movement.

    While they make a bold attempt to combine science and technology with doctrine(the trans-part of transhumanism) they seem to be missing the ethical side(humanism). They try to explain the physical phenomena described in Mormonism but neglect the spiritual side(a BIG deal to Mormons). They may feel that normal Mormonism has that covered but as the movement stands it is unbalanced. They have plenty of technologist members but they need to recruit some ethicists and philosophers. People like Terry Warner, Blake Ostler or Jeff Reber.

    I saw no attempt to explain the place of the core doctrines of Mormonism within their paradigm. What is the place of faith? Of repentance? Of baptism? Of the Holy Ghost?  And most importantly, what of Jesus Christ?

    If man will save himself through technology what did Christ do? Why do we need him? How does the atonement enable resurrection when you're arguing that science is what will enable it?
     
    If God is a transhumanist God, why implement religion as it functions today in the world as the means of knowing him?

    Second, I echo a question asked by one of the Key-note speakers at the Conference the esteemed Richard Bushman. This is a salvation by works organization. Where is the place for Grace? Some members tried to answer his question but their answers fell short for me. "It is God's grace that allows us to do work" For Mormons grace doesn't just allow us to work, it ENABLES us to do it. The atonement doesn't allow us to save ourselves, it SAVES us.

    Third, there was no invitation to have anything they talked about confirmed by the spirit. In fact, THERE WAS NO OPENING OR CLOSING PRAYER. I am genuinely confused by this omission.  A group of around 80 Mormons(some not) got together to talk about and consider ideas about God and man's very natures and did not pray for him to help them discern truth from error, to testify of truth, or to inspire them by the spirit. I left intellectually stimulated but not spiritually inspired.

    Fourth, the movement doesn't seem to realize that it is primarily Mormon and only secondarily Trans-humanist. Additions to it's ranks are not going to be coming form the transhumanist camp but from the Mormon. The movement assumes Mormonism is true and wants to add onto that foundation. As such, vanilla Mormonism is the null-hypothesis and any additions, especially such extraordinary claims as these, require  extraordinary evidences.  According to Mormonism what form should these evidences take?

     11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 

    14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.- 1 Corinthians 2
     
    8 Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God.- Jacob 4:8

    Mormon Transhumanism relies on a claim that spiritual matters, the powers and origins of Godhood, priesthood, and eternity are being discovered by the works and divinations of man. I am willing to consider this the case considering all the other positive things I've noted about the movements ideas but their case must grow stronger than it is before I could find myself accepting it and identifying myself with the movement. I require stronger evidences and in particular ones that share the epistemic foundations of traditional Mormonism. Namely scriptural, personal, and prophetic revelation.

    The following day was the General Conference of the church during which I heard powerful testimonies and felt the spirit testify of eternal truths. I felt personally inspired to continue on my journey of discipleship that I do believe cumulates in God-hood. Until I feel that same spirit telling me to upload my brain, cybernetically enhance my body, work towards the development of friendly AI or join the fight against aging I will remain simply a fascinated Mormon, albeit an open-minded one.