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IEET > Vision > CyborgBuddha > Staff > J. Hughes

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The Compatibility of Religion and Transhumanism



James Hughes

Transhumanism and Spirituality Conference

Posted: Apr 24, 2011


IEET’s Executive Director James Hughes spoke on “The Compatibility of Religion and Transhumanism” at the Transhumanism and Spirituality 2010, held 1 October 2010 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City,

Abstract: Transhumanism - the proposition that human beings should use technology to transcend the limitations of the body and brain - is a product of the Enlightenment humanist tradition. As a consequence most avowed transhumanists are secular, and many religious are skeptical or hostile towards the transhumanist project. However there are also many religious transhumanists who find the project of human enhancement at least consistent with, and sometimes a fulfillment of, their metaphysics, soteriologies and eschatologies. Transhumanism appears to be especially compatible with religious traditions that emphasize human agency and evolution to a transcendent state, such as Buddhism, or that have incorporated Enlightenment values, such as liberal Christianity. But elements of the transhumanist worldview and enhancement technologies are compatible with one element or another of most world faiths, even the most fundamentalist. We can thus expect that human enhancement technologies will be adopted creatively into the theologies of groups within all the world’s faiths, producing many flavors of “trans-spirituality.”

The Compatibility of Religion and Transhumanism by James Hughes from Mormon Transhumanist Association on Vimeo.


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It is a good sign Mormons are open to it. If we avoid smarm we can communicate with the religious by starting out with, "extended lifespans are something you might be interested in-- however if not then I wont mention it again." That way, we are not doing what so many of the religious do who hard-sell their faiths as "the Only way" to go. So far the only time I have been completely rebuffed is when broaching the topic of h+ with Communists, who apparently want a classless society first, and afterwards will examine the possibilities of h+. Unfortunately, at this time a classless society is a pretty tall order to fill. But perhaps someday someone, say a black lesbian proletarian, could break the ice with them smile
The Hare Krishnas might be persuaded to consider transhumanism, if we point out that a person might be more inclined towards vegetarianism if they were to become a transhuman or transhumanist. Such would not be pandering to their interests: there's nothing wrong with vegetarianism if one is careful to obtain adequate nutrients.




Who's to say that Iain M.Banks latest novel, 'Surface Detail', won't be appealing to the religious. I can see many who would jump at the chance to create virtual hells for the punishment and control of the populace.



Great presentation, thanks for posting. Continual streaming problems on the day caused me to miss much of this conference.

I'd just like to air some observations regarding this style of promotion of transhumanism. It appears to me that transhumanism is always espoused with certain humility and as some supplementary "belief" system that may be compatible with established doctrines and religious belief systems, and is thus promoted from some exterior point of reference to these religious audiences. Placing transhumanism as this "outfield" and peripheral belief system that "may be" palatable to religious audiences instead of declaring it central and relevant?

OK, maybe I do not understand enough regarding the obstinance of non-secular majorities throughout the USA, and also of the strong intimidation that one faces when dealing with tough audiences. However, the overall feeling I get is that, "Hey, look, transhumanism is not so bad?… it's like this, and has this, so think about it? Give it a chance?" I think this results in some confused signals to audiences and instead of leaving them awe-stricken and thinking "yeah right, this makes absolute sense", and walking away in deep contemplation of the possibilities, leaves them just a little perplexed?

I don't know, this is just my opinion, and is somewhat difficult to explain for me. And this criticism does not necessarily apply to the Mormon audiences as they appear more open minded than most.


Transhumanism as philosophy

Trans-humanism and Transhuman-ism is a brilliant way to explain and emphasise the graduation from "what is" to "what is possible". Max More is right on the button with this, so long as the notion does not ultimately split transhumanism in two, (although I guess there will always be some polarized idealists that label themselves as Transhumanists, for whom the more rational seems irrelevant and the lesser vehicle?)

I notice transhumanism is never promoted or stated as philosophy however? Why is this? If transhumanism was squarely promoted and proclaimed as philosophy, then it takes it away from the arguments pertaining to man's relation to God, and to diverse religious doctrines, and makes it irrelevant for any fearful religious belief doctrines to challenge it? "Tom Horn, you have your religious belief system, this is philosophy.. you want the room next door!"

Trans-humanism is most obvious and rational to me and fully compatible with my own spiritual beliefs, and has been from the first – no excuses nor explanations were required, no training, no intuition, no study was necessary. For me trans-humanism and techno-progression are the same thing. Transhuman-ism is the stepping stone to Posthumanism, (if we can and should even attempt to contemplate that which is supposedly labelled firmly non-human?), so perhaps this instils some dread in the minds of some, (yet not for me because Brahman "all encompassing potential" is and will always be. "Anicca" impermanence is the rationale of existence).

I feel that you are correct to promote transhumanism in its entirety alongside and encompassing the philosophies of existentialism, humanism, naturalism, epistemology and all of the enlightenment values that you propose. That perhaps "Transhuman as philosophy" should be exalted in the first so that diverse religious audiences can unravel the true alignment of values for themselves, in the process of their contemplation for integration into their own belief systems? Transhumanism and techno-progression "will" ultimately be incorporated and accepted into the more enduring and broad-minded spiritual belief systems, because they will have no choice, (that includes Catholicism also, because they are no so dumb!)

Just my opinion

An angel watches a good looking transhuman chick walk into the bar, and turns the bloke next to him, "Geeez.. I wish I had genitals?"
God : Tumultuous grumble of authority.. "NOoooo!"

Like the Buddha says.. it's good to be human, from here enlightenment and transformation is possible.





May I also take liberty to promote Dor's uplifting presentation at the conference..

"Epiphany Endangered: The Relevance of God in a Transhuman Society by Dorothy Deasy
by Mormon Transhumanist Association"

>> http://vimeo.com/17777251

Thank you !





"the obstinance of non-secular majorities throughout the USA, and also of the strong intimidation that one faces when dealing with tough audiences."

The rightwing (the majority of the religious are rightists) here in America have descended to squabbling over Obama's birth certificate; they are pigheads and one can only say, as you accurately imagine it as: "Hey, look, transhumanism is not so bad?… it's like this, and has this, so think about it? Give it a chance?" If the situation is similar in your country, more's the pity.
Try living in America for a long time, you will see what we have to put up with.



@ CygnusX1

Thanks for the support. It was a great conference and very interesting and encouraging to hear the variety of perspectives.

"For me trans-humanism and techno-progression are the same thing."
I'll have to think about this.While true for some at the individual level, I don't agree that it is true at the macro level. Trans-humanism that is not techno-progressive can become a means for authoritarian control that goes from economic and sociological to biological.

From a spiritual perspective is the tension between spirituality as something only outside of ourselves vs. spirituality as an integral part of who we are and/or in interaction with the rest of creation. This article, "Are we all a little bit evil?", touches on the difference of that world view in looking at evil as related to our wiring for empathy
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/features/2011/0412/1224294469757.html






@ Mike – thanks, I'm sure that everyone here will appreciate and find the presentation inspiring.


@ Dor..

My expression "For me trans-humanism and techno-progression are the same thing"

My meaning was that trans-humanism and techno-progression are non-exclusive, and that trans-humanism IS techno-progression plus the ethical and spiritual evolution required to embrace techno-progression. Trans-humanism describes the future acceptance of evolving technologies as well as our versatility to evolve with them, therefore I do not see any difference between the two? Who these days is not techno-progressive, and by relation who is thus not essentially trans-humanist, (they just don't realise it yet?)

Thanks for the link. I do think that empathy is measured on a sliding scale. And regardless of the scientific studies with Autism and Asperger's syndrome, look how easily each of us can switch our empathy on or off, or rather fade it out? We are all guilty of this at times. A soldier will readily kill a man by order and totally override his own compassion and empathy – what's that all about eh? It's not merely then about the mentally ill or narcissist/Psychopath, whom are polarized at the social scale. Yet this does remind me of the film "American psycho" with Christian Bale, especially the scene involving the business cards one-upmanship – totally supports the empathy switch and compulsive disorder syndromes.

I would be very wary and suspicious of questionnaires that assume to diagnose poor empathy or even mental illness. Forty questions is hardly enough to pass any Judgment on any persons, and going by the sample questions – is highly dubious. I'm sure that even I can come up with more relevant questions than in the example.

Surprising to note that Sacha Baron Cohen is the brother of the author, as I would place him as a celebrity who excels in practising lack of empathy, (or is it just an act?) to stimulate and humiliate. Ali G, Borat, Bruno – just some of his acts that are highly funny, audacious and provocative, and may even be described as courageous? What does that say about his empathy?





OK, I feel I need to clarify a little further what I was attempting to say earlier. Firstly apologies for the lame existentialist quip, it kinda misfired, and as they say – "seemed like a good idea at the time", (slight case of Royal wedding euphoria – that's my excuse!)

"I notice transhumanism is never promoted or stated as philosophy however? Why is this? If transhumanism was squarely promoted and proclaimed as philosophy, then it takes it away from the arguments pertaining to man's relation to God, and to diverse religious doctrines, and makes it irrelevant for any fearful religious belief doctrines to challenge it? "Tom Horn, you have your religious belief system, this is philosophy.. you want the room next door!" "

Actually Max More did briefly, (hardly noticeably), state that transhumanism is philosophy at the beginning of his presentation, so "never say never". Please note my criticisms are not directed towards any of the hard work that all parties are involved with in promoting transhumanism and techno-progression.

The way I see it..

Transhumanism is on level footing with existentialism. In this way, transhumanism is and will be approachable for those who are both religious and open minded enough to understand existentialist values such as free will, personal responsibility and self-understanding? And in the same way that religious critics refrain from criticising existentialism and accept it's plain truths, then by association, transhumanism may be promoted in the same light? This is what I implied by saying –

"then it takes it away from the arguments pertaining to man's relation to God, and to diverse religious doctrines, and makes it irrelevant for any fearful religious belief doctrines to challenge it?"

Of course we should not exclude transhumanism from the debate of man's relation go God, (and with religions), and this is not what I meant to imply. If we replace the word "arguments" above with the word "criticisms", then that is closer to my inference. "And to diverse religious doctrines", I specifically meant to imply the antiquated religious indoctrination that stands in the face of transhumanism and that which describes it's expression as man's hubris.

Hope this makes it all a little clearer?

:0¿





Interesting. C. S. Lewis, in fact, wrote about this a half century ago in his SciFi novel "That Hideous Strength."



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