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IEET > Rights > FreeThought > Vision > Futurism > Contributors > Alex McGilvery

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Religion and Transhumanism


Alex McGilvery
By Alex McGilvery
Ethical Technology

Posted: Jan 22, 2012

At first glance religion and transhumanism are at opposite poles of human endeavour. Religion with its superstitions and reliance on supernatural intervention is the very kind of thing that transhumanism is trying to free the human species from. Yet there are a lot of things that transhumanism can learn from religion. There are even things that could make transhumanism and religion partners in improving the human species.

Transhumanism in its simplest incarnation is about lifting humanity to the next level and freeing it from the physical and psychological crutches that hold it back.  We could leave our bodies and their problems behind. In many ways the body has taken us as far as it can. Its limitations are not just about our emotional and psychological upheavals, but the very real limitation of death. It is hard to get any work done when you know that your body is going to keel over after just seventy or eighty years of good working time.

We could also transform our bodies into something more durable and flexible. Drugs and other interventions might control our irrational behaviour and allow us to override instincts to create a true thinking man.

The goal of transforming humanity is a shared goal with most religions. In fact the entire purpose of religion is the transformation of humanity. Most religions wish to accomplish this task through relationship with the divine, while transhumanism seeks to use scientific progress to accomplish its work. Yet there are meeting points. The Cyborg Buddha project is one such meeting point, recognizing that many of the goals of Buddhism are compatible with that of transhumanism and that transhumanism may be a way of accomplishing the goals of Buddhism.

Beyond the Cyborg Buddha project we also have the need to convince the populace that there is a need for transformation. There is a perception that all too many people are content with their seventy odd years and a flat screen TV. There is a great desire for spiritual growth and learning, but not through the classical forms of religion. There is a huge opportunity for catching the imagination of people by allowing and even encouraging the use of spirituality to describe the goals and means of transhumanism. That meditation increases empathy in Tibetan monks and has other salutary effects is well known.  Meditation in a vacuum is a very difficult thing to sell. If meditation is connected to personal growth through something like Karate or Buddhism or even Catholicism, can we not also consider connecting meditation to the progress of science and specifically transhumanism?

Whether atheists or religious have a greater claim on charity is a moot point, but religions have been teaching charity or some form of it for centuries. How do we grow that kind of dedication for science in the people who we want to consider transformation through non-supernatural means? Many religions have built into their DNA the idea people have a responsibility to help their neighbours and especially the poor. If transhumanism were to tap into religious understanding of global charity, and not just as a way of getting money, we could also tap into a large reserve of untapped resources. If you wonder if there is any common ground between transhumanist goals and religions goals in this world look at the list of causes supported by member of if IEET; everything from support of the Occupy movement to opposition to global warming to advocacy for better schools and food for the children who go to them.  A cursory search of social justice sites will reveal that these are also religious causes.

One last thing that I firmly believe that transhumanism needs to learn is that humanity is messy. If you put three people in a room there will probably be four opinions. This is especially true when you approach matters of religion and spirituality. If we are able to approach people with the knowledge that while one person might think you are an incarnation of the devil, another person might find what you are doing rather interesting. David Brin talks in this video about using Genesis as a way of talking to religious people as a way of proselytizing atheism, by being able to talk their own language. The fascinating thing is that I agreed with almost everything he said about humanity being meant for scientific endeavour and exploring the cosmos. To talk to people in a way that will be heard we need to be able to use the language they use to describe the world. That doesn’t mean becoming religious, but it does mean recognizing, as David says, the way religious language works and how it can be used to reach out to people who might not otherwise consider the ideas of transhumanism.

This leads into how religion and transhumanism might become partners in some instances to make the world a better place. While the number of people attending religious services in the developed world is dropping and will probably continue to drop for a bit yet, there are still a significant number of people warming the pews on any given Sunday (or Friday, or Saturday). Imagine if those people could get excited about the possibilities and challenges that life extension, artificial intelligence and the rest brought to the world. And I mean excited because they are positive contributions, not because they are the devils work. Believe it or not, the fanatical conservatives are in a minority, they just get better press. Having religious people interested and excited about the potential of science and part of the discussion of the ethics of new technologies will mean advocates in the congregations that might otherwise become groups of people fearful of change. Those advocates will be the ones who will challenge negative assumptions about science and its goals.

Transhumanism will need to find some way of dealing with religion because as numbers are dropping in the developed nations, they are increasing in the developing world. If there is no comfortable place to meet, then religion and science will continue to divide the world in an artificial and unhelpful manner. There are already discussions about the conjunction of religion and science around the globe. Transhumanism needs to be part of that discussion and not simply known for rejecting the concept of religion entirely. Again it isn’t about advocating for religion, but learning the language so that knowledge can cross the barrier.

  

Partnership will also be useful in naming religions that are not “religious”. The neo-liberal economic theories that are driving the global economy is one such faith. The faithful claim that if governments are austere enough, small enough, then everyone will see prosperity. They hold this to be true in the face of any and all evidence to the contrary. This austerity thinking will affect the scientific community as governments cut research programs. Consumerism is an offshoot of neo-liberalism with its claims that you can buy happiness.  The consumerist focus is on product and not pure research. If it isn’t going to pay out in the short term, it isn’t worthwhile. The global warming debunkers are yet another example. They give science a bad name by picking and choosing data and confusing science with political posturing. The truth is that some religion is just bad. Religions that tries to change science to match faith or which demand blind obedience are going to lead to ignorance. If you want to challenge bad religion, you will find no better partner than good religion which encourages critical thinking about the world and one’s place in it. Look at the Christian left for instance; you will see a stronger condemnation of the absurdities of the fanatical right than from any humanist source.

Now I know at this point there are people saying “The only good religion is no religion.” Maybe so, but right or wrong the human species is a long way from being free of the need for religions. They might trade Sunday at church for Sunday at the mall, but they are seeking the same thing – meaningful lives. While religion may or may not add meaning to existence, there is no doubt that buying more stuff adds little but bills. Until science and transhumanism can offer the promise of some meaning and purpose to existence, some people are going to worship something that gives even the faint possibility of hope.

The fact of the matter is that it is immaterial whether religion is “right” or not. It is possible to work together using the different strengths and networks of both the scientific and religious communities to transform the world and the people who inhabit it. The notion that science and faith must be at odds is relatively modern and it is false. Science and faith can and do work in partnership.

It is a just question of choice.


Alex McGilvery is currently living in Flin Flon, Manitoba, Canada. He is an author and serves as the minister of a thriving United Church congregation.
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COMMENTS


Alex, I agree that the compatibility of religion and Transhumanism is primarily a matter of choice, and many Transhumanists have made the choice to build rather than burn these bridges. The World Transhumanist Association provided a strong example when it affiliated with the Mormon Transhumanist Association in 2006, and again in 2010 when Humanity+ renewed the affiliation.





Great article, Alex!





Yes I like this article, as well. A lot. But you’d be disappointed if I didn’t come with some quibbles. smile

The first concerns the definition of “religion”. We could do with one. I don’t agree that the “entire purpose of religion is the transformation of humanity”. It depends whose religion we’re talking about, whose purpose. God’s? From a historical/psychological perspective I would rather say that the main, if not “entire” purpose of religion is to hell people to feel better annoy themselves, and their lot.

One thing I didn’t see (but maybe I missed it) is the common theme between Christianity’s resurrection meme and transhumanism’s emphasis on life extension, cryogenics, uploading, not to mention the “rapture of the nerds”. Transhumanism, like humanism, has developed in a post-Christian culture, and indeed addresses similar motivations, the fear of death being one of them.

I also think you overstate your case when you say it is “immaterial” whether religion is “right” or not. Immaterial to what? To whether religion and transhumanism should form partnerships? Possibly, but I’m not convinced. As I’ve argued elsewhere, if the goal is to motivate people to do good, and to find our lives more meaningful and satisfying, then I think we can do better than the superstitious memes associated with traditional religion. Similarly, wisdom literature that we find there, while great for its time, is now outdated. Religious devotion to those texts and ideas, even of hedged around with reinterpretations, tends to retard progress in my view. So whether religion is “right” or not is certainly not immaterial in general, and nor (I would argue) is it immaterial with regard to how, and to what extent, transhumanism should be associated with it.

But I agree that a meeting place needs to be found (and not only on this blog!). Hank wrote on another thread that politely listening to people who believe that homosexuality is a sin and that the Bible is the Word of God is a total waste of time. I disagree, not least because these are precisely the memes that are growing with church attendances in the developing world (as the recent near-schism in the Anglican Communion has shown). We fail to listen (politely) to such people at our peril. (And the same goes for Islam: the money is pouring into the Wahabbist mosques, not the Sufi ones.)





First of all let me say that I enjoyed this article very much.

To me transhumanism has always been implicitly religious (call it a life stance if you want, for our purposes they’re the same).  The main reason I became attracted to it was because I, as a young atheist, was unsatisfied with the humanist organizations that seemed to be my only refuge.  They offered, at least to me, no answers to any of the questions that naturally draw people to religions in the first place.  What is moral?  What should we strive to be? 

Transhumanism by comparison offered what I was looking for.  It gave me a vision of the future, both for myself and for the rest of humanity, that I couldn’t find anywhere else.  Transcendence but grounded in science.  Ethical but grounded in philosophy.  A place where all the promises that traditional religion had been failing to deliver on for thousands of years (immortality, freedom from suffering, higher planes of existence) might finally be fulfilled.

We’re going to have to start talking to the religious community, for the simple fact that before too long we’re going to be competing with them.  Building relationships with those communities that we can get along with is the best way to ensure the spread of our message.





Thanks for the feedback Peter. I had only space for the briefest overview in this article and will come back to some of the shared values and goals of religion and Transhumanism in other articles.

Religion is essentially the rituals and structures that codify a peoples experience of God. From the outside I can see the view that religion’s purpose is to annoy the rest of the world. smile If you look at the precepts of just about any religion, they are about transformation, both of individuals but also collectively.

The issue with scripture is that while some people insist that it has to be taken literally, and many atheists are in this group, there is a very large segment that see scriptures as a mix of genres from mythic story telling to history to poetry etc. Interpretation depends a great deal on context, genre and who is reading it. As to whether it is outdated, there is a reason why the themes that show up in scripture show up again and again in modern books and movies.

I agree with your last paragraph. To take your comment to the logical next step, you need to join forces with other groups that are working against the kind of interpretation that is harmful to the community. It might feel weird to agree with a religious person, but that is better than letting hateful interpretations of faith carry the day.





Religion is also business, religions rake in a great deal of dough, and it is an open question as to whether clerics can be trusted with such power;
money = power.
Taxing houses of worship is IMO more about reducing such power than redistribution.
Related to the above, why can’t religious organisations stay out of politics unless a pressing need exists for interference? slavery in the antebellum era is a prime example of a legitimate issue. Today abortion, which is a trivial issue, is used by pro- “life” fanatics as a wedge to divide, not unite. Anti-gay advocacy is mean-spirited pure ‘n’ simple. This isn’t to tar all religious organisations with the brush of fanaticism and divisiveness, yet to reiterate: why can’t the religious stick with what they do best and stay out of politics?





Some religions take in a lot of money, some religions spend a lot of money on issues of justice and charity. I think you would find that taxing religious organizations wouldn’t net you as much as you assume. In fact I agree that any income that is not shown to flow to the community should be taxed.

Politics is about how we are going to run our world. Religion is inextricably involved in discussion about how we are going to run the world. Right now the dominant political religion is neo-liberal economics and consumerism. I am not going to leave the world to be run and ruined by corporations. Besides I think you will learn if you pay attention that the religious cross the whole gamut of the political spectrum.

Besides, are you prepared to deny the fundamental right of individuals to be involved in democracy? How are you going to measure it? How religious is too religious. If you go to church more than Christmas and Easter do you lose your vote?





“Politics is about how we are going to run our world.”

More to it.
Politics is also about checking self-seekers, as it reads in the Federalist Papers. I do not want to be a vague globalist-type thinker anymore, it appears opposing those who want excessive power may well be more important than the rest of political striving—including how we are going to run our world. Politics is also bread & circuses, a far cry from how we are going to run our world.
Not to deny the fundamental right of individuals to be involved in democracy, yet the wedge issues of pro- “life” and anti-gay advocacy are fundamentally unecumenical and exacerbate divisiveness.. at least one familiar with America could say so.
Can’t avoid thinking that though human nature in Canada is the same as in America and elsewhere, you might not be fully aware of how our institutions differ to a salient degree from Canada’s; the brawling celebrity politics of America are something to study carefully, Alex.





Everything you have talked about is about our choice of how to run the world. Do we do it ourselves or do we let people who want the job, but are unqualified do it? Do we let politics descend into “bread and circuses” or do we demand better.

The wedge issues are only wedge issues because people allow them to be. The only way to reign in the divisiveness is to take control. The US with approximately 300 million people, if you assume an average annual wage of 30,000 dollars and figure that a quarter of the people are actually wage earners that still means that the financial power of the common people is 2,250,000,000,000,000 per year. That is an immense amount of power. The problem is that people told from an early age that they have no real power. Once they do that they, as you do, give in to cynicism and pessimism and just a watch while the world goes to pot.

That is why it isn’t enough to talk about the right to democracy but the responsibility to be involved. Far from being a starry eyed idealist I am a realist. I know how broken the world is, and how much work it is going to take to begin fixing it. So l am going to start. That choice is no different in the US or Canada or South Sudan.





“That choice is no different in the US or Canada or South Sudan.”

Correct, however per capita in S. Sudan isn’t $30,000 per annum; one might say the starting gate is different for different horses on the track. Something in the Federalist Papers can possibly be related to religion: one of the Framers wrote of the “the defect of the good”, which is open to interpretation it goes without writing: it can mean the religious might often be excessively optimistic; it can also mean the religious have, obviously, negative traits combined with positive traits. Plus of course other interpretations are available.
I try to be optimistic, then something throws a wrench into it. Yesterday Gingrich won the GOP’s SC primary. It was a little primary in a smaller state, but that the GOP would even consider Gingrich as a candidate makes me wonder even more about the defect of the good!





Only time for a quick reply now, but Alex we must be able to do better than “the rituals and experiences that codify a peoples experience of God”. Firstly surely “people’s”, not “a people’s”. Since otherwise it seems to “codify” the idea that everyone in a given society should share the same religion. But more fundamentally, while I understand that you would want to use theistic language, that excludes those of us for whom the concept of God is deeply problematic from, well, understanding what you’re going on about. It would also, for example, exclude some forms of Buddhism, doesn’t really include a concept of God per se, and is narrowly monotheistic in its language. Also: “experience that codify..experiences”?

How about this from wictionary (I have added the text in square brackets): “A collection of practices, based on beliefs and teachings that are highly valued or [regarded] as sacred”?





@Alex Now I’ve taken the time to read your reply to me more carefully some further comments, this time on the nature of scripture. Of course I fully agree - don’t worry, I can cope with the weirdness smile - with your description of scripture, that’s very well put” a mix of genres mythic story-telling to history to poetry etc. Often a conflation of the three, by the way - take John’s gospel for example: doubtless based on some true events so partly historical, but with a huge degree of legend and in many ways quite poetic.

I also agree about joining forces with those opposing hateful interpretations of…...can we please say “religion” rather than “faith”? The religious do not have a monopoly on faith. (Atheism is itself a kind of faith, is it not?)

But we should not pretend to agree when we disagree. A hateful interpretation interpretation of scripture might be: “the Bible says it’s wrong to be gay”. A literal but non-hateful interpretation would be: “the Bible says it’s wrong to be gay but I don’t agree with that.” An obscurantist interpretation of scripture would be: “the Bible doesn’t really say that at all”.

A more nuanced interpretation would be (and understand that I’m using the gay issue just as an example): “The Bible does, in places, pretty clearly refer to homosexuality as a sin…even an “abomination”. This must be seen in its overall context, however. Not everything in the Bible should be taken literally as an instruction from God.”

The problem with this last interpretation, however, is that the ones we are trying to wean off, or protect from, the more hateful interpretations have already fallen asleep by the time they got to second sentence. Although it’s not obscurantist (it does not say anything untrue), it seems to be so. Which is why, on the whole, I prefer to go with the “literal but non-hateful” interpretation. Let’s first get across the message that, as the song says, just because the Bible says something “it ain’t necessarily so”. Then we can have interesting conversations, with anyone who’s genuinely interested, about what it actually does say, and what it all means.

PS indeed there is a reason why memes from classical literature keep coming up in movies etc. Two, in fact. Those memes are still very prevalent in our culture, and they touch on issue that are supremely relevant to the human conditions. Many of them are also not that far fromthe truth, you can go a long way with them. But when your computer has been rendered obsolete by a new model, you don’t try to retrofit it or pretend it really had all those new functionalities all along. You throw it away (saving your data in the process), and buy the new model.

So maybe I’ll have a look at that Alain de Botton lecture.





@ Peter

I said “Rituals and structures…” I am open to other definitions. The wikipedia one isn’t bad. The point isn’t wordsmithing the definition of religion anyway, it is looking at how organizations that call themselves religious might be partners in the process of transforming the human species. I know that not all Buddhist say they are religious. I’m not out to force people into categories. As for excluding people who don’t believe in God from the discussion, if you don’t claim to be religious, why do you expect to be included in ‘religion’. There are a lot of people who would vigorously argue that atheism is not a faith. I think it is for some and not for others.

I used God in the monotheist sense because that is what I’m used to. I have no intention of excluding anyone. The problem is when I talk about the “Divine” people complain that I’m being fuzzy.

Going back to the scriptures. The idea is to teach people to read the Bible for themselves with critical eyes. It is a human document so there are things in it that are problematic that doesn’t mean that you through the baby out with the bathwater. When I upgrade my computer, I don’t throw out all my data. The Bible is software not hardware. The rituals and traditions we have thrown up around it are the hardware. Literalism is one of those traditions that is being tossed. It is a minority position in spite of all the press it gets. Percentage wise there are probably more literal atheists than Christians since most atheists I talk to insist on taking the Bible literally so they can reject it.

I only have problems talking about the literary genres and historical and contextual criticism with people with very short attention spans.





@Alex

You indeed said “rituals and structures”, my mistake.

Re “excluding people who don’t believe in God”, it’s not that I want to be “included in religion”, but rather to ensure that we are having a meaningful and mutually intelligible dialogue. My problem with “a peoples experience of God” is not so much that I “don’t believe in God” as that I don’t have a clear idea in my mind as to what that really means. And obviously that’s going to be the case for many people who tend to eschew religion and religious ideas.

You’re right in saying that a lot of people would vigourously argue that atheism is not a faith, but I would equally vigourously argue that it is. In fact that’s one reason why I don’t generally consider myself an atheist: I am still open to the possibility that God might actually be a meaningful and useful concept. Ultimately this is about language - which is why I tend to get quite pedantic about definitions. None of these words mean anything in isolation, so when using words like “God” it is important to think about what others might understand by that word, and whether there might be better ways to get one’s core message across. Likewise, perhaps “atheism” really does have a coherent meaning to some people, according to which it is not a faith, but I suspect that most people who argue such are in denial about the fundamental uncertainty of everything, and the consequent need for faith. They need to read more Hume.

I agree that “the Divine” doesn’t really take us further forward, and please don’t opt for “the numinous”! The Godelian in me would prefer something like “that which cannot be defined”. If you’re going to be obscurantist you might as well go the whole enchilada! And I think most people, including those who don’t consider them religious and/or want no truck with organised religion, would agree that, beyond all the words that we brainwash ourselves with, there is indeed that “something”, which can only be comprehended through silence. Is that the kind of thing (person?) you mean?

I also agree that people should read the Binle, *if they are going to read it at all*, with a critical eye. And yes, you’re right, it’s software not hardware. But then software gets outdated to, which is why people upgrade. If we’re strictly talking about scripture (as opposed to religion generally) then the hardware is the paper it’s written on, or the iPad you’re reading it on (I suppose there’s a kindle version!). Rituals and traditions are something else.

I’m not quite sure it’s fair to talk of “literalism” as a “tradition”, as if it’s one of those traditions (like, say, Sunday mass) that has grown up around that particular religion, and is based on that religions beliefs and teachings (I’m going with the wiki definition here), and which is no being “tossed”. I would rather say that literalism is what happens when the public (or even not very intellectually minded monks) suddenly gets their hands on (translations) of scripture that had previous been protected behind the walls of language (Jenrew, Greek and Latin), liturgy, sermons and confession, without knowing much if anything about the historical context in which those texts were written (or indeed who wrote them). They then get mightily pissed off when they eventually realise they’ve been taken for a ride all along, and either develop a neurotic attachment to their literalistic interpretations (bonjour Santorum) or simply drift away, perhaps smashing some icons in the process. But some just like the whole set up (the rituals, the traditions, indeed the scripture itself) too much to let it go, but are too intellectually honest and aware to be convinced by literalistic approaches. These are the ones, I would suggest, that become liberal/emerging/progressive Christians, Moslems or whatever,

Your point about there being more literal atheists than Christians is an interesting one. I am tempted to counter that the reason atheists tend to be more literal is that they *feel free* to reject it, and are therefore not tempted to take it *less* literally than it deserves. They *can* reject it in any case, literal or non-literal. But that would be overstating my case. You’re probably right, a lot of atheists probably do think like that. But I’m really not convinced that literalistic interpretations within Christianity constitute the minority position you claim, especially globally. I would like to see evidence for that. I would find it encouraging.





If instead of thinking of ‘transhumanism’ in conventional terms, one might considers it as the ‘completion’ of our species to a new condition more human, rational and moral then currently is the case! It them becomes all too vital to know if ‘whether religion is “right” or not.’ And it now appears that an answer to this oldest quest and question will be forthcoming.

As the first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is published on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new teaching is predicated upon a precise and predefined experience, thus a direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, command and covenant,  “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” So like it or no, a new religious claim, testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment criteria of evidence based causation and definitive proof now exists. I’ve already tested and confirmed the new teaching myself. Nothing short of a religious revolution is getting under way. More info at http://www.energon.org.uk
http://soulgineering.com/2011/05/22/the-final-freedoms/





I actually looked at the link provided by kla2 got as far as the table of contents. Looks gloriously kooky.

But my main reason for posting again here is to draw Alex’s attention to the video Hank has just posted about the abuse of children by evangelical Chrstians in Nigeria. I strongly encourage you to look at it. And then tell me: are these types of “Christians”, and the things they do, getting too much publicity, or rather not enough?





Any time you give power to people, especially over children, someone is going to abuse it. It is not a specifically Christian problem, thought the news makes it sound like it is. In youth custody facilities that have nothing to do with religion, the same kind of thing happens.

The abuse of children is inexcusable and needs to be punished with the full weight of the law. It is immaterial what deity the perpetrators claim to be following what they are following is the idol made from their own desires and ideologies. I would like the publicity to include a commentary on their appropriate punishment and a humble apology and restitution made by the organization that was supposed to be supervising them.

Unfortunately for a certain kind of evangelical the ends (eternal salvation for the victim) justifies the means (what ever torture and degradation they force on the victim). Again this is not limited to christianity, I’ve heard of it in action in purely secular circumstances.





Well Alex, you know my views on ends justifying means: sometimes the ends *do* justify the means. Failure to recognise that leads either to inconsistency or to crippling paralysis. For example: “punishing” the abuse of children “with the full weight of the law” - the authoritarian stick, no less - that’s the ends (e.g. deterrent) justifying the means (various degrees of unpleasant consequences for the perpetrators).

So the problem in this case is not people believing that the ends justify the means, the problem is (partly) that their perception of the “ends” is associated with a religious meme that, whether you want to recognise it or not, is present in scriptural canon of Christianity and in the intentions of the authors of those texts.

I say “partly”: you are right, of course, that this kind of thing goes on in non-religious contexts as well, so the cause is not just religious superstition, it is also basic human sadism. But religious superstition is playing a role, and in the mean time you still haven’t provided evidence to back up your claim that literalism is a “minority position”, world-wide. I really don’t think it is. I wish it was.

Coming back to the initial topic, we have agreed that a meeting place between religion and transhumanism needs to be found, and that we need to join forces against groups that promote or apply hateful interpretations of scripture. The question is how. I’ve suggested how *not* to do it - to pretend to agree when we disagree - and we are certainly succeeding in avoiding that smile But my instinct is to go further and say that aiming for a *maximum of intellectual clarity* is likely to provide us with a powerful weapon against these people, and furthermore is likely to be the most valuable contribution that the two of us arguing on this blog can make (we each might wish to contribute in other ways as well, of course).

Which is why (that’s at least one thing I have in common with kla2!) I think that whether religion is “right” is anything but immaterial. In my view it must be perfectly possible to head up a thriving church, call yourself a Christian, and be inspired by what is good in that particular tradition, but without making claims on its behalf that are nonsensical or unfalsifiable, and without feeling the need to defend “religion” as a whole whenever it’s attacked.

In other words: don’t be quite so tribal about this.





Yes people misuse religion in horrible ways. You won’t get an argument here, and you will probably find that there are other Christians in the background working against this group.

I do have a thriving church in which people are challenged to live authentic, loving lives in this world and call for an end to injustice and oppression. We in fact attack religion when it is misused rather than defending it. There are certain kinds of people that I really don’t want representing my faith.

You will notice if you read my comments on the video that I make no defence of their actions or their motivations or their faith. Part of belonging to a group is taking responsibility to speak out about people who are doing evil in the name of that group. All I did was to point out that this is a more general problem. It is like saying there are flies that live outside of Canada.





“Coming back to the initial topic, we have agreed that a meeting place between religion and transhumanism…”

We can come to a meeting place with the religious, unfortunately it doesn’t appear they will come to a meeting place with us- as they have their agendas; plus because of their ulterior motives, you can’t go by what they say.





@ Intomorrow, you do live in a sad little world don’t you?





There are sad days and happy days- it is cyclical, Alex. Only those who live in dream worlds are happy all the time; and then eventually the less wholesome realities surrounding them intrude.
For instance Michael Jackson was a kind, talented person; yet even he couldn’t live in Neverland forever with his animals and his pajama parties. A better example would be Elvis Presley, a sincere Christian who tried his damnedest to keep the un-Christian realities surrounding him at bay—
but to no avail.





...PS,
btw: IMO you are a sincere Christian, Alex; however that makes you an anomaly.





@Alex Indeed you made no defence of their actions or their motivations or their faith. I should hope not! But you did feel compelled, for one reason or another, to point out that this is not only a problem with religion, as if to deflect attention away from the role that religious superstition has played in that process. And unwisely blaming “ends justifying the means” thinking for their actions, as if we could possibly do without such thinking.

So there’s still something wrong. You say you attack, rather than defending, bad religion, but based on your comments here it seems you are only willing to do that “en famille”. I don’t speak for others (they have spoken enough already on the atheism thread), but the impression you give *me* is of someone who, when discussing with the “nonreligious”, is more immediately motivated by a desire to defend religion than to actually make common cause with us against bad religion. The question is, why?





Peter, it is people venality that causes them to abuse the weak, not superstition. They take advantage of the superstition because it makes it easier. They might tell you they are Christians, but I’m a big believer in judging by the results of people’s actions. So this group is nothing I would accept as Christian. If pressed I would suggest that what they are doing is both heresy and blasphemy.

The video is presented as if it was the religion that was causing the abuse rather than evil men using religion as a tool. Our human nature is such that we want to blame religion for bad people, or communism, or right wing nationalism, or maybe being forced to watch Barney as a child. What we don’t want to face is that their is real evil in the world and it comes out of us.

There are evil people. They lie to themselves that they are doing good. They lie to us, that Religion made them do it. If they claim the devil made them do it, you would laugh at them. Why take them seriously if they say God made them do it?

I have made public statements where appropriate that such things are wrong and that the perpetrators are acting outside Christian doctrine. However, since I am neither famous nor powerful, I doubt you would have any occasion to hear that.

I realize that I do appear to be defending religion, but I am also attacking poor logic. Saying these religious people are evil, so religion is evil -essentially how the video was presented here, though the site is mostly anti-catholic rhetoric - is a logical fallacy. You should know that much of my initial comments on any thread are around logical errors made in the claims of the article, not that I’m free of those errors myself. Which is why I like having my own mistakes pointed out to me.

As for the ends justifying the means, as a utilitarian that isn’t a problem, but you need to be very careful that you know the end is going to be worth the means you use to achieve it. You should also know that there are times when no amount of value at the end point will justify the means of getting there.

You used the example of punishment for a crime. I don’t see that as ends justifying the means. I see it as the consequences of the poor decision by the person who commits the crime. The consequences are already set by law before the crime is committed.

What this group is doing is more like genocide which no value at the end point will justify.





Nevertheless, superstition can exacerbate and reinforce that venality.

You have been quite open about your motivations, so perhaps I should do the same. As you know, I was brought up in a Christian environment - at home, that is. My school education, beyond primary school, was thoroughly secular. Furthermore, my religious education was somewhat split between, on the one hand, a somewhat anti-intellectual, “just believe it” the of faith, and a thoroughly liberal, intellectual, doubting kind if…well, “discipleship” is probably a better word. So I had three major influences: literalistic, liberal/intellectual (but basically religious), and secular.

Perhaps this is all very Oedipal (yes you do remind me of my dad, he was the liberal), but the bottom line is that I just didn’t find the “liberal/intellectual but religious” influence very convincing. It seemed to beg the question, “Why bother?”......with all this going to church and stuff. So I opted for the evangelical strand instead, and then (in early adulthood) did a 180 and went secular. And the transition was quite traumatic, for various reasons.

So that’s where my emotional energy is coming from. I am intensely interested in these matters, and like you I love picking holes in people’s arguments, and having them pick holes in mine (if they are genuine ones).

In the mean time…....you ask, “Why take them seriously if they say God made them do it?” Well, there aren’t many overt devil-worshippers, are there? There are a great many people, around the world, who do terrible things in God’s name, convincing themselves that they are doing good. As you say, this isn’t an exclusively religious phenomenon: people do terrible things in the name of secular ideologies as well. But during the course of the 20th century I think we built up an effective resistance to those secular extremes. I don’t see that this has happened to the same extent with religion. In Europe, yes, in the US, to some extent (the evangelical right is in its death throes) but elsewhere? The Muslim Brotherhood is now in charge of Egypt. I hope they follow in the footsteps of Turkey’s “mildly Islamic” (according to Wikipedia) ruling party, and that the latter continues/starts (depending on your point of view) to defend secular democracy against both religious fundamentalism and secular autocracy. But for me, religion remains something to be somewhat afraid of.





“Nevertheless, superstition can exacerbate and reinforce that venality.”

Aye, superstition can & does exacerbate and reinforce that venality.





I see that the similarities between Religion and Transhumanism and/or the Singularity are growing.

I have been going on about this since the 2007 Singularity Summit when it suddenly dawned on me, while listening to what I thought was a completely faith based (and rather Bat-S**t crazy) question to Ray Kurzweil.

After that, I began to pay VERY CLOSE attention to the topic (especially since the first time I went to a University it was studying Art based on religion from the standpoint of Joseph Cambell’s work on religion).

I am sorry that I have not read the entire comment thread, as this subject fascinates me.

I am currently the UCLA Atheists’ Society’s delegate to the UCLA Interfaith Organization. And I will soon become the delegate to the Interfaith Organization for two other school student associations (both Science based organizations) to help the religious begin to understand science better.

I have begun doing this by each meeting, drawing optical and cognitive illusions on the Black or white Boards (by hand - since I am supposed to be a trained artist, and took a class in the subject).

And, after each, I introduce a theme about how to investigate a problem, or go about understanding something that defies either out intuitions, or our ability to perceive correctly (for instance, most optical illusions will not vanish no matter how much we know they they are just illusions).

And, in three weeks, I will ask the final question:

“Why did none of you walk up to the board to actually measure or investigate with some tool the images I drew?”

This is something that I have seen in the Transhumanist Community as well.

There are many Cognitive Distortions that are occurring within the community based upon the faith of those in the community, and they are not applying the Critical Skills that they tout so loudly when applying to other areas.





@Matthew I would like to meet you! It looks like what you’re doing is hugely important.





Here is something encouraging (IMO, natch):
I told a techie that religion is too commercialized and he replied that religion ought to be commercialized to the maximum. He did not elaborate; however the corollary is if religion is entirely commercialized it will be de-fanged. Religious organizations wont be as able to shove their pro- “life”, Reagan Nostalgia Club politics on us anymore.





@Intomorrow,

This is similar to what Richard Dawkins said about the CofE.

That the establishment of a Religion in England, and its commercialization has made it effectively Pablum for the masses, who now mostly only give it lip service (and that only a small and fanatic minority actually adhere fully to the dogma - even among the clergy).

Although Commercialization in a capitalist society with competing religions could have dire consequences.

Rather than a race-to-the-top, you could see the opposite occurring with a race-to-the-botton, where each Church competed to out hate all of the others in their adherence to Biblical Literalism.

In reality, you would probably see both. It is hard to tell.

There is another problem with the commercialization of religion: Education.

Many people have a tendency to equate a religious education with an ACTUAL education. Many churches encourage this view and most of the population of the planet is too poorly educated to know the difference.





I have long argued that Transhumanism, as applied to most who are interested in it, is a proxy for theistic religion - especially as it applies to those who promote the idea of a “Technological Singularity.”





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