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Christianity and Transhumanism Are Much Closer Than You Think
Giulio Prisco   Apr 10, 2016   Turing Church  

I have long been persuaded that there are strong parallels between transhumanism and religion, not only “new” religions but the traditional religions of our grandfathers as well. There are, of course, differences, but I prefer to emphasize the parallels. After some deep reading and thinking, I realize that Christianity and Transhumanism are closer than I thought, and much closer than you probably think.

The Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA) is the most successful transhumanist group within a mainstream Church. In fact, Mormon Transhumanists find it easy to reconcile their transhumanist ideas with their religion.  Mormonism has a concept of boundless elevation and exaltation of Man, through all means including science and technology, until he becomes like God. Conversely, God was once like Man before attaining an exalted status.

“[Mormonism] allows for humans to ascend to a higher, more godlike level,” reads the introduction to “The Transhumanist Reader” written by Max More, “rather than sharply dividing God from Man.” Mormon transhumanists are persuaded that we will become like God – through science and technology – in a progression without end, and this seems a more faithful interpretation of the teachings of Joseph Smith and a return to the roots of the Mormon religion.

The passage above is adapted from my 2013 article “Meet the smi2ling New Believers.” In the same article I said that many Christians are open to Transhumanist ideas, but no Christian Transhumanist Association existed at that time.

Now there is a formally established Christian Transhumanist Association (CTA) with a website, a mailing list, a Facebook page, an active Facebook group, and a first humanitarian project. Christian Transhumanism is promoted by a group of pioneers such as Christopher BenekDorothy DeasyJames McLean Ledford, who runs an independent Christian Transhumanism Facebook group, and, especially, Micah Redding, who has been the main CTA driving force.

I have enthusiastically participated in the initial brainstorming and discussions on the CTA mailing list and social spaces since the beginning. However, while my personal interpretations of Christianity and Transhumanism are related, I wasn’t able to find strong parallels with official Christianity, not as strong as the parallels with Mormonism.

In passing, Mormonism is less than two centuries old, but mainstream Christianity is more than two millennia old.  What Joseph Smith said is well documented, but our knowledge of what Jesus of Nazareth said is mostly based on hearsay and guesswork. There must have been power struggles between different Christian factions after the death of Jesus, and – as it always happens – the winners got to write history. I recommend Marianne Fredriksson‘s novel “According to Mary Magdalene” for a fictional but believable history.

I was born in a Christian culture but my family was only nominally Christian, we didn’t go to Church, and I didn’t take religion seriously as a kid. I “discovered” religion, sort of, as an adult, and developed my own belief system which, while compatible with Christianity (that’s what I want to show here), is independent of revelation and official doctrine. Faith is a gift that I haven’t received – I asked for it, but it appears that God wants me to stay on my path.

However, what billions of good people all over the planet believe is important and has practical consequences. Therefore, in the following section I will take Christian scriptures and doctrine as a given and try to show that Christianity is essentially compatible with my interpretation (which is also unconventional) of Transhumanism.

Transhumanism for Christians

Two caveats: first, Christianity is really a galaxy with a myriad of different stars, and the wars that have been fought over contrasting interpretations of Christianity show that, to say the least, Christians don’t agree on everything. Therefore, I will try to stay close to widely accepted doctrine. Second, I am only interested in “cosmology” – or “eschatology” – and therefore I will focus on Christian eschatology (as opposed to what I call “geography” and “zoning norms”).

In “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church,” N. T. Wright, a leading Christian scholar, retired Anglican bishop, and “one of the most formidable figures in the world of Christian thought” according to Time Magazine, shows that Christian concept of life after death is not a disembodied afterlife – we are not “embodied souls” but “animated bodies” – but resurrection in a new body and a new world created by God.

The new body, immortal and incorruptible like the resurrected body of Jesus, will be a gift of God’s grace and love. The resurrection of Jesus, and the promise that God will similarly resurrect us in the new world, are the central concepts of Christianity.

“As John Polkinghorne and others have urged, what we are talking about is a great act of new creation,” says Wright.

“God will download our software onto his hardware until the time when he gives us new hardware to run the software again.”

John Polkinghorne is a renowned theoretical physicist, theologian, and Anglican priest. In “The God of Hope and the End of the World,” Polkinghorne argues that the Christian hope of a destiny beyond death resides not in the presumed immortality of a spiritual soul, but in resurrection after death by grace of God. “Death is a real end. However, it need not be an ultimate end… It is a perfectly coherent hope that the pattern that is a human being could be held in the divine memory after that person’s death.”

“The souls awaiting the final resurrection are held in the mind of God.”

“Much traditional Christian thinking about an intermediate state between death and resurrection has been in terms of ‘soul sleep’, a kind of suspended animation awaiting the restoration of full humanity,” notes Polkinghorne. “Our idea of the information-bearing patterns of souls being held in the mind of God has some obvious kinship with this picture.”

The new body and the new world are likely to be deeply different from the present body and the present world. “From the start within early Christianity it was built in as part of the belief in resurrection that the new body, though it will certainly be a body in the sense of a physical object occupying space and time, will be a transformed body, a body whose material, created from the old material, will have new properties,” says Wright. “If we are even to glimpse this new world, let alone enter it, we will need a different kind of knowing.”

“According to the early Christians, the purpose of this new body will be to rule wisely over God’s new world,” says Wright in Surprised by Hope. “Forget those images about lounging around playing harps. There will be work to do and we shall relish doing it.”

“It’s more exciting than hanging around listening to nice music,” added Wright in a Time Magazine interview. “In Revelation and Paul’s letters we are told that God’s people will actually be running the new world on God’s behalf. The idea of our participation in the new creation goes back to Genesis, when humans are supposed to be running the Garden and looking after the animals.”

So, humans were running the Garden, and humans will be running the new world. Similarly, God wants humans to run the present world. “This stewardship cannot be something to be postponed for the ultimate future,” says Wright. “It must begin here and now.”

We are, in fact, part of God’s plan for the world, and part of God’s works to create the new world. “When God saves people in this life… such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate salvation,” says Wright.

“They are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen in both the present and the future.”

God intervenes in the world by means of events – miracles – that are often thought of as violations of physical laws. But while no Christian would deny God’s ability to do so, miracles don’t need to violate physical laws. In his article “The Concept of Miracle,” Wolfhart Pannenberg, widely regarded as a leading theologian, notes that Augustine thought of miracles simply as unusual events that contradict our understanding of nature, but not nature itself.

“The phenomenon of miracles expresses God’s creative freedom within the already existent world order,” says Pannenberg in his monumental “Systematic Theology” treatise. “Miracle is what is unusual and seems to be contrary to the nature of things.”

“As Augustine stressed, however, the unusual events we call miracles are not really contrary to the nature of things but merely contrary to our limited knowledge of the course of nature.”

God doesn’t need to violate physical laws, because God can and does work through nature. Pannenberg concludes “The Concept of Miracle” by noting that “we do not know everything about how the processes of nature work, and some “[unusual events] could be understood better in the future.” Perhaps God stores Polkinghorne’s human information patterns in the physical world, and perhaps the ultimate miracles – the resurrection of the dead and the creation of the new world – are no more “miraculous” than the blooming of new flowers in the spring.

Summing up:

  • We will be resurrected in a new body and a new world created by God, deeply different from the present body and the present world.
  • The pattern that is a human being could be held in the divine memory after that person’s death, awaiting for resurrection.
  • Resurrected humans will run the new world according to God’s plan.
  • Similarly, God wants humans to run the present world.
  • We are part of God’s plan for the world, and part of God’s works to create the new world.
  • Miracles don’t violate physical laws. On the contrary, God can and does work through nature.

This is perfectly consistent with the following eschatological vision inspired by Transhumanism:

The information patterns that are human beings are stored in the fabric of space-time by unknown physical processes. These information patterns will be retrieved by future humans, and used to bring the dead back to life by “copying them to the future.” Resurrected humans will join future humans in a radically changed world, wearing radically changed immortal bodies.

In this short Transhumanist eschatological vision I haven’t mentioned God and Jesus, which of course are central to Christianity and the works of the theologians quoted above. In fact, most Transhumanists prefer to leave God out of the picture.

However,  since we are part of God’s plan for the world, and part of God’s works to create the new world, Christians can consider Transhumanist eschatology as a part of Christian eschatology, focused on our participation in God’s plan. Since miracles don’t require violating physical laws, we can perform miracles on God’s behalf. We are doing that already, for example we are healing the sick with medicine, and future science will enable us to perform more ambitious miracle, such as resurrecting the dead. Therefore, Christians can embrace Transhumanism as part of Christian beliefs.

It’s important to note that Wright, Polkinghorne, and Pannenberg, aren’t “fringe” thinkers but widely respected Christian theologians. Actually, all three have been described as “conservative” members of the theology establishment.

Trasumanar

Dante was the first to use the term “transhumanism.” In “Divine Comedy – Paradiso,” Dante coined the Italian verb “Trasumanar,” which can be translated as “to transcend humanity.”

“Claiming that his ascent from the Terrestrial Paradise to the celestial realm of the blessed cannot be expressed adequately in words, Dante invents the word trasumanar (‘to transhumanize, to pass beyond the human’),” notes Guy Raffa in “The Complete Danteworlds: A Reader’s Guide to the Divine Comedy.” Dante’s original reads:

“Trasumanar significar per verba
non si porìa; però l’essemplo basti
a cui esperienza grazia serba.”
– Dante Alighieri, Paradiso (1)

My translation:

“Transcending humanity cannot be expressed with words
but let the example [given previously] be sufficient
to those who will experience [transcendence] by grace [of God].”

God and Resurrection for Transhumanists

I have tried to build a bridge from Christianity to Transhumanism. Now I wish to try and build another bridge from Transhumanism to Christianity. As I noted above, most Transhumanists prefer to leave God out of the picture. Some Transhumanists are passionate “militant atheists” and have negative knee-jerk reactions at the first mention of anything that sounds like religion. I don’t hope to “convert” militant atheists, but I do hope to show other Transhumanists that there is a bridge.

Most transhumanists are persuaded that the material world of particles and fields, regulated by physical laws, is all that exists, and deny the existence of a separate “spiritual” or “supernatural” reality. I tend to agree, with the caveat that, following Pannenberg and Augustine, I think there is much more to the material universe than we presently know or imagine. Or, following Shakespeare, “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.”

Many transhumanists would agree with the Christian view of humans as “animated bodies” (as opposed to “embodied souls”), which don’t possess an immortal soul. Without an immortal soul, the dead can only be brought back to life by grace of God. But most transhumanists don’t want to hear about God.

However, there are at least two mental models for God inspired by Transhumanist eschatology:

A natural God emerging from intelligent life

One is the concept of a natural God emerging from intelligent life in the physical universe and gradually acquiring God-like properties including complete mastery of space and time, or, in other words, omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Even Richard Dawkins, probably the best known atheist thinker in the world, doesn’t rule out the possibility of a natural God.

“It’s highly plausible that in the universe there are God-like creatures,” said Dawkins in a New York Times interview. In his book “The God Delusion,” Dawkins says:

“There are very probably alien civilizations that are superhuman, to the point of being god-like in ways that exceed anything a theologian could possibly imagine.”

The objection, raised by Dawkins, that a natural god is not the infinite God, can be countered by observing that, while infinite entities have a place in pure mathematics, in practical engineering “infinite” means just “very big” (much bigger than all other relevant entities). If a natural God is God-like in any sense that we can conceive and can do everything that we imagine God can do, why not just call such a being God?

It’s conceivable that a natural God could emerge from humans in the far future. Frank J. Tipler expects that future humans will become masters of space and time as described in his book “The Physics of Immortality,” and steer the entire universe toward a final “Omega Point” singularity. “As we approach the final singularity, the laws of physics also dictate that our knowledge and computing capacity is expanding without limits,” says Tipler. “Eventually it will become possible to emulate, to make a perfect copy of, every previous state of the entire universe.”

“We will be brought back into the future, brought back into existence as computer emulations in the far future.”

Tipler tries to prove his conclusions on the basis of known physics, which opens his ideas to criticism. I suspect Tipler is wrong in thinking that we already know enough physics to describe the ultimate fate of the universe. There could be, in fact, many and perhaps infinitely many “more things” (Shakespeare) in the physical universe. But I think Tipler’s core idea – that intelligent life in the universe will become God-like – is valuable.

“Tipler conceives the Omega Point as all-knowing and all-powerful and therefore considers it to be factually identical with the Creator God of religion,” said Pannenberg in a review of Tipler’s book. “Tipler’s exposition of a future resurrection of the dead is particularly worthy of note in a time when the Christian expectations concerning the future are most often judged to be irreconcilable with the modern scientific worldview.”

It’s worth noting that the Hebrew original usually translated as “I Am That I Am” can be also translated as “I Shall Be That I Shall Be.” In a lecture given at a conference on Tipler’s ideas, Pannenberg used this translation and hinted at a God that comes to full being in the future. “He is the God of the coming kingdom,” said Pannenberg.

“In hidden ways he is already now the Lord of the universe which is his creation…”

A God that comes into existence in the far future, if endowed with sufficient mastery of space and time, could watch and subtly influence events anywhere, anytime, including here and now. In other words, God – omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent – can do miracles, bring about the new world, and resurrect the dead by copying them from the past. We don’t know enough science to understand how God operates, but future scientists might know more. The weird quantum reality and strange time physics that contemporary scientists are beginning to imagine are promising indications.

A ‘sysop’ God in a higher reality

Another mental model for God inspired by Transhumanist eschatology is the reality-as-a-simulation model, which treats our reality as a simulation computed by intelligent entities in a higher level of reality. You, and I, and everything around us, are but information bits that live and move in a supercomputer beyond space and time, operated by a God-like creator.

“Science-fiction authors… have even suggested (and I cannot think how to disprove it) that we live in a computer simulation, set up by some vastly superior civilization,” said Dawkins in “The God Delusion.” Dawkins is open to the reality-as-a-simulation concept, but doesn’t think of the simulators as God. “But the simulators themselves would have to come from somewhere,” he adds. “They probably owe their existence to a (perhaps unfamiliar) version of Darwinian evolution.”

However, the sysop God has all the properties of the Christian God, and the reality-as-a-simulation concept is totally indistinguishable from religion. God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent, wrote the laws of our physics, and can choose to violate them in case of need. Or, in the formulation of Augustine and Pannenberg, God can subtly influence our reality without needing to violate its laws. In particular, God can copy people from our world before death and run the copies again in a better new world.

Conclusions

I have tried to build a two-way bridge between Christianity and Transhumanism, and show that Christians can embrace Transhumanism, and Transhumanists can embrace Christianity, without abandoning their existing convictions.

I don’t hope that many Christian or Transhumanist readers will do so, but I do hope that this essay can make a small constructive contribution to promoting the dialogue between religion and science.

Notes

4/5/2016 – EDITED to amend a misleading statement.

Image from Evgeny Mironov via the PikiWiki – Israel free image collection project – and Wikimedia Commons.

Miniatures from medieval editions of Dante’s Comedy – Paradise, via Pinterest.

Christian Transhumanist Association logo, from CTA website.

Thanks to Micah Redding for recommending N. T. Wright’s “Surprised by Hope.”

Giulio Prisco is a writer, technology expert, futurist and transhumanist. A former manager in European science and technology centers, he writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, including science, information technology, emerging technologies, virtual worlds, space exploration and future studies. He serves as President of the Italian Transhumanist Association.



COMMENTS

My problem with Semitic Monotheism Christianity’s redux is the need even the necessity of murdering billions of humans who think for themselves and will perish in the coming Apocalypse courtesy of those nice people bringing you Armageddon. I don’t think transhumanists want global genocide as their must-do to create some sort of perfect state condemning free thinkers to eternal punishment.

@almostvoid - I really don’t understand what you are talking about. Christianity was built by free thinkers, first and foremost Jesus of Nazareth.

The last book of the Bible. Not pretty. And as for for the man himself there is no concrete evidence apart from a persona that could fit the bill as an exorcist and that another then living persona was a Zealot part of a political plot using Christ as a front runner vs the Romans who then got dumped and executed for treason.
Out of these - and more - persona’s a Christ was constructed to fit with pagan traditions of rebirth.

@almostvoid, as you say we don’‘t know much about the historical Jesus.  I wrote: “Our knowledge of what Jesus of Nazareth said is mostly based on hearsay and guesswork. There must have been power struggles between different Christian factions after the death of Jesus, and - as it always happens - the winners got to write history.”

But Christianity as we know and understand it today is the product of almost two thousand years of Christian theology. Existing Christian theology, and especially eschatology, is what I am referring to.

 

Regarding the historical Jesus, I recently came across the writings of Geza Vermes and generally find his “guesswork” (which, I suspect, is based on more evidence than we have for the Big Bang for example) pretty convincing. I recommend his book Christian Beginnings for an assessment that is certainly speculative but, from my current perspective at least, seems to do a pretty good job of applying Occam’s Razor.

So against that background, do I subscribe to the idea that Christianity was “built by free thinkers, first and foremost Jesus of Nazareth”? Not really.

For a start, if there is one person who developed the intellectual foundations on which modern Christianity (in its various forms) is based, I think Paul is a far more credible candidate. Jesus existed (according to Vermes at least, and again I find his theories highly plausible), but he was not a “Christian” in the sense that the New Testament writers would have recognised. Apart from anything else, there seems little evidence from the (more historically authentic) synoptic gospels that he regarded himself as the Son of God. And predictions of his demise (let alone resurrection) were almost certainly written into the texts after his death.

Secondly “Christianity as we know and understand it today” is the product not so much of two thousand years of Christian theology as it is of two thousand years of Christian politics, and not least those that occurred between the days after Jesus’ death and the Council of Nicea. Free thinking intellectuals obviously played an essential role, but so did authoritarian power games. Massively. Let’s not forget this.

This is not to say that there is no merit in trying to build bridges between Christianity and Transhumanism. But one does not build a bridge by pretending that the shores are closer together than they are. One builds bridges by surveying the landscape, correctly perceiving the engineering challenges involved, and then setting about overcoming them.

That said, I welcome Giulio’s and others’ efforts to do this. Ultimately, I think Christianity (which is not evil) and transhumanism (which is not without problems) can both benefit from such a bridge being built. Let’s just make sure we get it right.

@Peter re “I think Paul is a far more credible candidate.”

I agree. By the way I highly recommend the novel “According to Mary Magdalene” that I mentioned in the text. Paul is there, working to define Christianity. At many points he resists Mary’s interpretation of Jesus’ teachings because “you can’t build a Church on that” or something similar.

Still, according to Mary in the novel, and other non-fictional sources, Jesus seems a real free thinker.

Re “‘Christianity as we know and understand it today’ is the product not so much of two thousand years of Christian theology as it is of two thousand years of Christian politics, and not least those that occurred between the days after Jesus’ death and the Council of Nicea. Free thinking intellectuals obviously played an essential role, but so did authoritarian power games. Massively. Let’s not forget this.”

Of course. Here again, I totally agree. It’s a very unfortunate fact of life that free thinking intellectuals and visionaries tend to lose the political power games. But the free thinking intellectuals were there, their writings are available, and can be rediscovered and given the visibility they didn’t have at their time.

@Peter re “One builds bridges by surveying the landscape, correctly perceiving the engineering challenges involved, and then setting about overcoming them.”

That’s what I am trying to do indeed. This and similar articles are part of the initial survey to spot places where the shores are closer. That isn’t that difficult. Of course, the real challenge is the engineering that comes next.

I like the writer’s Semitic Monotheism description. Heh!You can bet your sweet bippy, that Christianity did slaughter millions, especially, as an extention of European Imperialism upon the New World. The sweet bippy thing comes from an archaic comedy show called Laugh In, circa 1967.

But let us not ignore the histories available form decades of research and forensic archeology,in other geopgraphies with other religions, with, yes, atheistic ideologies too. The abrahamic religions did do massacres indeed, and frequently, with Christianity and Islam, upon each other. China under it’s faiths would slaughter thousands then millions, India would have huge battles tween states and sub faiths of Hinduism, and lets not forget, the huge murdering the Aztec’s always did, all to save the world, so that the sun will rise the next morning. Hey! They were saving the world!!! (blinlk blink)

To the question of Christianity today, its much more forgiving, and much kinder than 100 years ago. Does Transhuamnism fit in all this-affirmative. As I non-Christian I can observe that maybe Jesus was the first transhumanist. You like? To the question of helping bring peace to the world, Transhumanism can help (I believe) if we can provide some kind of solidly plausible afterlife, as in How it could be done. If Christians decide this is how Jesus will do it, great! If the Muslims see that Allah will do it this way, better still, and if Atheists then formulate that yes, this is useful to us non God types, even better! Sorry Dr. Prisco-I obsess.

@Peter Wicks
How goes the EU? Where do you see the future going?

@spud100 re “if we can provide some kind of solidly plausible afterlife, as in How it could be done. If Christians decide this is how Jesus will do it, great! If the Muslims see that Allah will do it this way, better still, and if Atheists then formulate that yes, this is useful to us non God types, even better! Sorry Dr. Prisco-I obsess. “

So do I.

I am persuaded that far-future science will develop ways to resurrect the dead from the past and implement Fedorov’s dream to bring back to life everyone who ever lived.

I am also persuaded this is what Christianity and other religions really mean. The key passage in the text is “However,  since we are part of God’s plan for the world, and part of God’s works to create the new world, Christians can consider Transhumanist eschatology as a part of Christian eschatology, focused on our participation in God’s plan. Since miracles don’t require violating physical laws, we can perform miracles on God’s behalf. We are doing that already, for example we are healing the sick with medicine, and future science will enable us to perform more ambitious miracles, such as resurrecting the dead. Therefore, Christians can embrace Transhumanism as part of Christian beliefs.”

I have provided links and quotes in support of this interpretation of Christianity. God wants us to implement his plans, create the new world, and resurrect the dead on his behalf, by means of science and technology.

How? Wish I knew.

But Peter’s bridge building considerations are applicable here: “But one does not build a bridge by pretending that the shores are closer together than they are. One builds bridges by surveying the landscape, correctly perceiving the engineering challenges involved, and then setting about overcoming them.”

We want to build a bridge between resurrection theology and engineering, and bring back the dead by means of future engineering. We don’t know enough physics to plan the bridge. But our initial survey is beginning to spot places where the shores seem closer: the strange physics of time and quantum reality. I hope our vision of the bridge and our preliminary surveys will inspire and motivate future generations of scientists.

I agree about spotting places where the shores seem closer. There are more progressive and less progressive Christians, and there are more religion-friendly and less religion-friendly transhumanists. By all means try to build strong, well-engineered bridges between progressive Christians and religion-friendly transhumanists (this is surely where the shores are closest), and maybe we can do some trade.

Re “The EU? A looser federation than in the past. “

Firstly let’s distinguish between what we think is likely, and what we would like. I would certainly like “a federation not economically, politically dominated by Germany, France, the UK, or any other nation or nations”. But a looser one? Here’s part of the reason I’m not convinced that this is what is needed:
http://kontouassociates.com/blog/fragmentation-is-not-the-answer-to-terrorism/

But what I would like and what is likely are too different things. Much will depend, of course, on how my compatriots vote on June 23.

Europe and the EU: way off-topic, yes, but since we are discussing it:

The EU is not dominated by the Germans or the French. It is dominated by non-elected bureaucrats called “Eurocrats.” They speak Europese, an artificial creole language vaguely based on broken English, with optimal noise/signal (fluent speakers can easily produce all noise with no signal). They oppose the “Euroskeptics” who insist that important political decisions should be taken by democratically elected governments and based on what the citizens actually want.

I won’t mention wastes, corruption, and the “refugees” problem.

@Peter - yes of course I am exaggerating, but the point needs being made.

Back to topic:

@Instamatic, I agree that it would be a misinterpretation of the historical Jesus to write that Jesus was a modern/postmodern pluralist. I suppose you mean “No one can say he or she is a post-Jesus Christian,” and of course I agree. But regardless of what the historical Jesus actually said, Christianity as-it-is today can be surprisingly compatible with Transhumanism, which is what I am trying to show.

Re Islam, perhaps you guys will find this essay of mine interesting:
Can Mormonism save Western civilization from Submission?
http://www.transfigurist.org/2015/07/can-mormonism-save-western-civilization.html

As a first reaction. I find it difficult to see how Mormonism can possibly save Weatern civilisation from whatever threat is supposed to be embodied in the word “Submission”.

But the discussion about the extent to which one can or can’t be a “post-Jesus Christian” is interesting, because it goes to the heart of what it actually means to be Christian. Or to put it perhaps more precisely: what do WE mean, or what should we mean, when we use the terms “Christian” and “Christianity”? Is someone a Christian if they think they are? Does one need to have certain beliefs, or values, or subscribe to certain practices?

If we define “Christianity as it is today” to mean the body of thought, belief and practice among people who think of themselves, and/or are thought of by others, as Chrstians, then certainly it overlaps, to some extent, with transhumanism (as similarly defined). So one could even say that Christianity and Transhmanism are not separate continents at all, in which case there is no need for a bridge. There is already an isthmus linking the two, an isthmus that we can call Christian Transhumanism.

Coming back briefly to the EU, I know we’ve discussed this at great length in the past but no, the EU is not “dominated by non-elected bureaucrats”. This is precisely the kind of misconception that could lead to disaster on June 23. And I do not use the word “disaster” lightly: the risk that the British people will vote to leave is real, and it will be very bad. If someone thinks otherwise, they should at least consider what they are hoping will happen as a result, and how realistic that is.

Peter, based on my own experience, the EU IS dominated by non-elected bureaucrats AND ignores the wants of the people as defined by the results of democratic elections in sovereign European nations. How does your own experience of the EU differ?

I will tell you how I would vote on June 23 if I were a Brit. I would follow the polls very closely and try to get a sense of whether Brexit has a chance. If yes, I would vote against Brexit (to stay in the EU). But if I see that Brexit has no chances I would vote FOR Brexit, to underline the point that the Euroskeptics have very legitimate concerns that must be heard and taken into full consideration. I hope Brexit won’t happen, but I also hope June 23 will be a close call.

Back to topic:

Jesus is the core of Christianity, so I don’t think there can be “post-Jesus Christians.” They wouldn’t be Christians in any sense. But Jesus’ teachings can be interpreted in socially progressive ways - Micah Redding noted that many Christians are famous for condemning things that Jesus was famous for doing - and Christian eschatology can be interpreted in ways that are surprisingly compatible with modern science and Transhumanist aspirations.

I think you could be right: “Christianity and Transhmanism are not separate continents at all, in which case there is no need for a bridge. There is already an isthmus linking the two, an isthmus that we can call Christian Transhumanism.”

We are not building a bridge but discovering an isthmus that already exists. Now the challenge is to indicate the way to the isthmus on maps and road signs, and build a nice paved road along the isthmus.

Indeed.

Re Brexit, one risk I see is that many people will follow a similar approach, and we’ll all get lulled into a false sense of security by polls that suggest a narrow win for Remain.

How does my experience of the EU differ? Honestly, I suspect that it’s not so much that my experience differs from yours as that we’re interpreting our experiences differently. I don’t see the “non-elected bureaucrats” (bureaucrats are, by definition, non-elected) as particularly dominant, and certainly not significantly more so than those in national governments. I also think that EU policy is, to a very significant extent, determined by the “wants of the people as defined by the results of democratic elections in sovereign European nations”.

To illustrate the latter point, let’s take what might at first appear to be an obvious counter-example, namely Greece. The Greeks have now twice voted in a coalition led by Syriza, and also voted no to austerity in a referendum last year. Yet austerity is precisely what they still have. But they have also expressed a clear preference, both through their voting in elections and their answers to opinion polls, for keeping the euro. And the austerity that is being imposed, though in my view horribly misguided and counter-productive in certain respects, is to a large extent a result of other national governments, notably in Germany, taking account of the wishes of their electorates. It is also, of course, a result of past corruption and mismanagement of the country’s finances by previous, democratically elected governments.

Part of the problem is one of rhetoric. For example, you say that the EU is dominated by non-elected bureaucrats and ignores the wishes of the people, but then why do you want the UK to stay in? Either it must be because you think the EU would be (even) worse off without the UK, or because you think the UK would be worse off outside it. Either way, you must see some benefit in the UK staying in, yet you prefer to put the emphasis on non-elected bureaucrats and democratic deficits. And of course you are not alone, so the very real risk is that people indeed “vote with their hearts” in June, perhaps as a way of “passing a message” of some sort another, and then we will end up with a Brexident, as we nearly had a Grexident last year (and might still, though it seems less likely).

Conclusion? Perhaps we need to start building some bridges between the “EU elites”, however we define them exactly, and the people of Europe.

Peter, I want the UK to stay in because I don’t want to see the EU collapse, which is what would happen if there is a Brexit. I also think staying in the EU is good for UK citizens in the long run. But the EU must change.

I am strongly critical of the EU as it is, but I support the idea of the EU as it should be. Less waste, less corruption, less Europese BS, much less micromanagement of local affairs and much more respect for individual nations’ choices, less centrally enforced cultural uniformity, and more constructive collaboration on issues that should be managed centrally. If the EU were as it should be, nobody would have taken Brexit seriously.

Re ” Perhaps we need to start building some bridges between the “EU elites”, however we define them exactly, and the people of Europe.”

YES. Exactly.

(Trying to bring the discussion closer to topic)

@Peter re “I find it difficult to see how Mormonism can possibly save Weatern civilisation from whatever threat is supposed to be embodied in the word ‘Submission’.”

I tried to answer that in the essay. By the way did you read the book?

One example: We European got in the current mess for many reasons. One is that we stopped having enough children (which, if you ask me, is a clear sign of cultural suicide) and need young migrant workers to avoid a reverse population bomb.

Mormons have lots of children. That also depends on many factors, but one is the calm and confident optimism in the future that Mormonism is able to inspire in the average Mormon population. They believe that their culture is worth protecting and fighting for, just like the Muslims, but we European have stopped believing so.

Continued: in the book Houllebecq notes that Christianity used to be “strong” in the same sense that Mormonism and Islam are “strong,” but now it is weak. Perhaps an infusion of Crhstian Transhumanism could make Christianity (and by consequence the Christian world’s culture) strong again?

I haven’t read Houellebecq’s Submission. I’ve read most if not all of his earlier stuff, but to be honest it feels a bit like sin: enjoyable at the time, but it leaves me feeling a bit dirty afterwards. So I’ve been resisting the temptation to read this one.

I agree with much of what you wrote about the EU, but it does remind me a bit of states rights in the US, which always tend to be invoked by people who still seem vaguely uncomfortable that slavery was abolished. Just how respectful should the EU be of “individual nations’ choices” if those choices involve exacerbating climate change or riding roughshod over democratic norms? How can Europeans start believing in ourselves, as Europeans, if the core values that unite us are eroded by populist governments in individual Member States?

Blaming declining birth rates for the “current mess” also seems problematic to me. Is the solution then to have more babies? It is clear that low birth rates are likely, other things being equal, to be correlated with cultural decline, but I would be sceptical about a strategy for European revival centered around having more babies. Fragmentation seems a more credible culprit to me, at least if the goal is to find a solution. We need to be clear about what can be left to regional choice, and what needs to be harmonised. Just telling the EU to stop meddling is not going to work.

Another important question is to what extent it can possibly still be legitimate, let alone helpful, to regard Western civilisation as in some sense “Christian”. Clearly Christianity played an essential role in its formation, but the core values that I referred to above are not specifically or explicitly Christian, and I think it’s essential that they not be. Referring to Europe as “the Christian world” seems to me to be as toxic as most US progressives would regard referring to the US in this way. I don’t need Christianity to be “strong”, but I do want Europe to be strong, democratic, egalitarian and prosperous. The role that Christianity (and perhaps even Christian Transhumanism) can play in this is certainly an interesting topic for discussion, but I think positive psychology is a better bet for relaunching the European (or any) project than Christian belief, even of the most progressive kind. And the great thing is that people from other faith communities can embrace it without being accused of having switched sides (aka apostasy).

Perhaps it’s in part because I am more focused on clarifying my own relationship with Christianity (and Christian relatives) than in necessarily defending it that I am keen to promote a more secular, pluralist model for European revival than you seem to be. But the time of the Crusades is past, and I don’t think we should be trying to revive those “make Christianity strong again” memes.

Peter, you used twice the “it does remind me a bit of [arguments] which always tend to be invoked by [bad guys]” point - first against defending national/state rights from EU/federal oversight, and then against referring to the Western civilization as “Christian.”

But not everything that the bad guys like is necessarily a bad thing. Hitler liked good strong German beer (I guess), and so do I. One can affirm state rights without endorsing slavery, and recognize that (as you say) Christianity played an essential role in the formation of Western culture without falling into toxic fundamentalism.

You are far too smart for simple logical mistakes, so I guess there must be emotional factors at work (as always - I think emotions always affect our choices much more than rational arguments).

Which brings me to “Perhaps it’s in part because I am more focused on clarifying my own relationship with Christianity (and Christian relatives) than in necessarily defending it.”

I totally understand that. But what is Christianity?

I said: “I am only interested in “cosmology” - or “eschatology” - and therefore I will focus on Christian eschatology (as opposed to what I call “geography” and “zoning norms”).”

The linked article is this:
http://turingchurch.com/2014/04/08/cosmology-is-not-geography/

“All religions, at least all the Western religions that I am more familiar with, have both cosmic and provincial aspects, at times difficult to disentangle. I often find religious mythology and metaphors interesting and aesthetically appealing, as a nice local geographical feature, like looking at the stars from a beautiful place in the mountains. But the mountains are not the stars. Then, many religions have really petty, extremely provincial aspects related to what and when one should eat or drink or what sex is allowed and with whom. I don’t care for this stuff at all. It isn’t even geography – it’s local zoning norms, often questionable, sometimes ugly.”

When I talk of Christianity, I am referring only to its cosmology and perhaps to some aesthetically appealing parts of its geography, but not to the zoning norms.

We can be against the zoning norms without necessarily dismissing the cosmology.

That’s all fine, Giulio, but we also need to be careful about the language we are using. What you may be referring to when you use words like “Christian” or “Christianity” is not necessarily what other people are going to understand, even if you have made it clear in other contexts. So when (for example) I read “Perhaps an infusion of Christian Transhumanism could make Christianity (and by consequence the Christian world’s culture) strong again?”, it’s difficult not to see this as part of a narrative that seems to me to be in many ways toxic, not because it is fundamentalist per se, but because it seems unhelpfully divisive and reactionary.

In any case, when I talk about clarifying my relationship with Christianity I am not talking only about those aspects of the religion (as I’ve tried to define it above) that you happen to find interesting. I am talking about that vast set of beliefs, values and practices that people around the world (not the “Christian world”, just the world) associate with the term. Nothing more, and (especially) nothing less. The bits that I like, and also the bits that I despise. Why? Because on the whole, this is what other people are likely to understand as well.

If by “Christian” and “Christianity” you are really just referring to eschatology, and not (for example) the normative ideas that you might find “petty” or “provincial” (but which are of fundamental importance to so many), then I would suggest that “the Christian world” is a rather small place. Also, alongside “eschatology” and “local zoning”, there are beliefs that are not necessarily “petty” or “provincial” in the way that you described, but which some would consider core, such as the necessarily of faith in Jesus as Christ, Saviour, and Second Person of the Trinity, not least for the atonement of sins and eligibility for the nice eschatological bits (and avoiding of the hellfire and brimstone side of the equation).

Regarding emotional factors, I think one difference between us is the extent to which we prefer to focus on the positive vs trying to paint a realistic picture of the world we live in. When you write things like “When I talk of Christianity, I am referring only to its cosmology” I understand that you are trying to focus on the positive, and avoid focusing on the “petty and provincial”. But I also like to focus on risk - not only current problems, but also future risks - and the risk I often see when I read statements like this is that we will end up deluding ourselves into thinking things are better than they are, thus setting ourselves up for disappointment or even disaster later. As you have said elsewhere, this kind of thinking won’t necessarily keep you warm at night, at least not directly, but it does perhaps help ensure that you will continue to have a (hopefully warm) bed to sleep in. In reality there is a balance to be struck, of course. Too much focus on risk can certainly be unhelpful (and that is also a risk!). But so can not enough, and I tend to believe that clarity and precision of language helps us to strike the right balance.

So what might we then conclude regarding the relationship between Christianity and Transhumanism? Perhaps that in addition to building the road, and creating the maps and road signs, we also need to ensure that the maps and road signs are accurate, and that we are using the same names for the different landmarks. Often the problem is as simple (and intractable) as the fact that we are using the same words to mean completely different things.

Peter, perhaps I could stop referring to my ideas as “religion” or “Christianity.” I could just refer to them as “Turing Church,” or find a new name without “Church,” or invent a new -ism.

But the marketplace is full of stands that peddle new -isms, and I never see anyone shopping at those stands. Where are the customers? They are in line at the stands they already know, and are happy with.

There are perhaps a few hundreds of people who want new -isms, and billions of people who want to continue with Christianity, or Mormonism, or Islam, or Hinduism and whatnot. Why? Because they want to stay warm at night. I want to reach out to these people, because I think my ideas can keep them warm at night without “toxic” effects.

Therefore I prefer insisting on the continuity with existing religions and emphasizing that what I am trying to say in contemporary language is very, very similar to, for example, Christian eschatology.

I would like to reformulate religion and refocus it on cosmology alone without zoning norms. But, as you say, the zoning norms are of fundamental importance to so many, perhaps to a majority of believers. Strange as it seems, to many self-identified Christians condemning homosexuality is more important than Christian cosmology and its parallels with modern science.

Therefore, the process must be gradual. At this moment I try to focus the discussion with traditional believers on cosmology, and ignore the zoning norms.

Continued.

Re “Also, alongside “eschatology” and “local zoning”, there are beliefs that are not necessarily “petty” or “provincial” in the way that you described, but which some would consider core, such as the necessarily of faith in Jesus as Christ, Saviour, and Second Person of the Trinity, not least for the atonement of sins and eligibility for the nice eschatological bits (and avoiding of the hellfire and brimstone side of the equation).”

That’s what I call “geography,” mythology and suggestive pictures halfway between cosmology and local zoning. Geography can have enormous aesthetic value and help clarifying and explaining the high level concepts.

Note however that the hellfire and brimstone picture is from Dante, not from the early Christian thinkers. They didn’t mention hell a lot, and not as a central concept.

By the way reading what I wrote I realize that I sound like “an expert,” but I am most certainly not one. I have been studying Christian theology from good books (those mentioned in the text and others) for a couple of months.

An expert is someone who know marginally more than his or her audience.

But more seriously:

Yes, fair enough to most of that. By all means go with the labels people are familiar with and try to re-brand them, and by all means try to keep people warm at night without “toxic” effects.

A couple of nuances.

1. Re “strange as it seems”, it’s perhaps not so strange from the perspecitive of evolutionary psychology. Also, what keeps people warm at night depends on their sensitivities. For me, deep understanding of human nature, warts and all, helps keep me warm at night. It helps me understand what I observe and experience, and steer my way through this strange trip we call life. We all need some kind of positive perspective, but what keeps me warm won’t necessarily keep you warm, and vice versa. I prefer to understand even the worst of human nature rather than simply to deplore it. Apart from anything else I find it less threatening then. So no, I don’t consider it “strange” that many self-identified Christians prefer to condemn homosexuality than embrace “Christian cosmology and its parallels with modern science”. I consider it something more like a banal, if unfortunate, expression of human nature as it is now. Something to be accepted as a present reality, though not necessarily as a model for the future.

2. Re hellfire and brimstone, perhaps the early Christian thinkers didn’t mention hell a lot, but Paul certainly waxes lyrical about eternal condemnation at times, and the Jesus of the synoptics is not averse to melodramatic lurches involving wailing and gnashing of teeth. I haven’t done the depth of reading about Christian eschatology that you have, at least not recently, but I certainly know my Bible, and some of the “eschatology” contain therein is fairly hellfire- and brimstone-like.

Anecdote: Since my mother likes to call the Internet the “fourth horse of the apocalypse” (so not exactly a technoprogressive then), my wife and I were looking at the Book of Revelation with a relatively devout Greek friend and reading about the four horseman, and the destruction they are to unleash. Our friend was outraged, and said, “But that’s not Christianity!” Go figure.

Curious about your “recent experience with fierce New Atheists”, Intomorrow. Personally I still think they play an important role, but of course some go over the top. They remind me of the original gay rights activists (Peter Tatchell was the key name in the UK): some of them went over the top, but they played an important role. Same with feminists, same with animal rights activists. Same with any supporter of a cause that has merit, but which is never the whole story.

So what’s the cause in the case of New Atheism? Giving people the right to be atheist, or even just of a different faith from one’s community, because in any case there is no particularly sound evidence for the existence of the God or gods imagined by such communities, so as you say, each to his own. And also, I might add, as a weapon against the obfuscation and obscurantism that so often accompanies religion. Doesn’t mean religion should be banned, of course, any more than should being straight, male, or human.

Now with regard to laws versus rules, yes rules exist in the mind, while laws exist in statutes that are hopefully enforced. But how sound is this distinction? Rules get enforced too, and laws only work because they exist also in people’s minds, as does the “rule” that laws must be obeyed. Then there are the “rules” that determine what the laws will actually be, rules that indeed exist in people’s minds (the mind of the regulator, inter alia), and which reflect the moral environment in which they operate. What those rules should be (and therefore what the laws will be) is of course a normative question, the answer to which depends on one’s own moral framework. Mine, as you know, tends to be utilitarian. And that also means I have a “rule” according to which laws must sometimes be disobeyed.

@Instamatic and Peter Re “New Atheists” - While I find them very annoying, I essentially agree with Peter that they play an important role (like radical feminists, gay right activists etc.) They keep the rest of us thinking.

But militant atheism, radical feminism and the excesses of political correctness can backlash and result in more support for the opposite camps. I have argued that the net result of extreme “liberalism” is to push many people, including people who are normally reasonable and compassionate, to vote for Trump, or Le Pen, or Brexit.

I wrote two deliberately provocative articles about that:

Rabid unthinking atheists, SJW mobs, and fake-liberal thought cops
http://turingchurch.com/2015/11/23/rabid-unthinking-atheists-sjw-mobs-and-fake-liberal-thought-cops/

Donald Trump, Time Traveler
http://turingchurch.com/2016/03/08/donald-trump-time-traveler/

Agreed, Giulio, but the same goes in the other direction: too much “provocation” targeted at “unthinking atheists, sjw mobs and fake liberal though cops” can backfire and result in more support for precisely those positions. Is there are role for this kind of thing? Sure, it can help to move the debate along. Too much nuance, and not enough people pay attention for what you are saying to have much impact, at least in the short term.

But then why should we complain about “militant atheism, radical feminism and the excesses of political correctness” given that those involved probably think that they are doing the same: provocatively overstating their case in order to ensure that their voices are heard. How does complaining about this actually help us, or anyone for that matter? There are certainly good answers to those questions other than “we shouldn’t” and “it doesn’t”, but perhaps it might help to clarify how we think it is helping, and also whether it might be doing more harm than good.

A further thought on this: one way in which it could do more harm than good is to undermine other things you are trying to do. For example, in your case you are trying to support efforts to build bridges, paved roads or other metaphorical pieces of transport infrastructure between Christianity and Transhumanism. Is it really helpful to the cause for you to be associated so vividly with one side of various political wedge issues?

Even if the answer is “no” there may be other good reasons for you to take such positions, but for me it’s in part a project management thing: if you are trying bring about some kind of change, it can be good to become aware of other “projects” you are engaged in that might in some way be undermining the primary change you are trying to bring about. That implies that there is some kind of hierarchy, which in your case might not really be the case, but perhaps it’s something worth considering?

@Peter re “A further thought on this:...” - VERY good point.

Perhaps I should build an alternative persona for politics and social issues, with a pseudonym? 😉

I’m sure we could have hours of fun thinking of names for your alternative persona 😊

@Peter, I was thinking of Donald Fuck but I’m afraid Facebook wouldn’t accept that. Suggestions?

@Instamatic re militant atheists who who post anti-religious articles 24/7 - Exactly, at some point it becomes spam, and my feeling is that some militant atheists have crossed that line, especially those who don’t seem interested in anything else.

What about Angry G?

Re whether one can be a post-Jesus Christian, and what that might mean, as so often it partly comes down to semantics. As you say Intomorrow, one can call oneself a post-Jesus Christian. No law against that, at least not if your sitting in a pub having a beer between friends and taking care that nobody within a 1000km radius might be offended, or that some EU official might be there to report you to the fake liberal cop police.

So for example, Giulio wants “Christianity” to mean something more cosmological and eschatological, and less petty and provincial, and may be that will catch on. Does it even need to involve Jesus explicitly? That’s for Giulio to answer, but I don’t see that it necessarily has to. Meanings evolve, and the terms “Christianity” and “Christian” can take on new meanings. A New Christianity can emerge, having shed much of the Bronze Age doctrinal garbage that used to be at its core. Jesus can be recognised for who he was - not is, was - perhaps using the theories of Geza Vermes as a starting point (I really do find them pretty convincing), while the modern New Christian has an approach that looks more like Lincoln C.‘s version of Mormonism, and might even perhaps merge with it. And perhaps this new emergent Christianity could come to dominate, retain the label “Christian” (in recognition of its historical origins, or perhaps simple out of convenience), so that we all become post-Jesus Christians.

Well, coming back to reality, at the moment it indeed seems hardly credible that “post-Jesus Christianity” will really catch on, and what about the 6 billion or so of us who prefer not to see ourselves as Christians? That might change for some of us, but why should the label “Christian” come to dominate, and not something else (“Muslim”, for example)? Does one label need to dominate, or is it OK to have several? And perhaps most important, to what extent can any of this help us to manage existential or civilisation all risks associated, inter alia, with super intelligence? (Yes, I’ve been reading Bostrom’s book on the subject.)

@Peter re “Does one label need to dominate, or is it OK to have several?”

I say let a thousand flowers bloom.

re “Giulio wants “Christianity” to mean something more cosmological and eschatological, and less petty and provincial, and may be that will catch on. Does it even need to involve Jesus explicitly? That’s for Giulio to answer, but I don’t see that it necessarily has to.”

Not necessarily, but I think involving Jesus explicitly can help talking to today’s Christians.

re “And perhaps most important, to what extent can any of this help us to manage existential or civilisation all risks associated, inter alia, with super intelligence? (Yes, I’ve been reading Bostrom’s book on the subject.)”

I wrote something about Nick’s book that could be relevant here:

Religion as protection from reckless pursuit of superintelligence and other risky technologies
http://turingchurch.com/2014/09/09/religion-as-protection-from-reckless-pursuit-of-superintelligence-and-other-risky-technologies/

My question to Peter was, how was the old Common Market way of things so awful, before the rise of the EU? I am just asking as an ignorant Yank, of course.

The question of Jesus-Satanist brought up my limited knowledge of the Yazidi religion, now being eliminated by the Sunni jihadist, ISIS. The god they believe in was a bad archangel who recanted his sins and became a good guy. So Satan is the Prodigal son, so to speak. The Jews hold (for them that are still religious) that satan is your own personal opponent, your yetzer harah, the evil inclination. We can see this perfectly in the old Donald Duck cartoons where Donald (the duck not the candidate) has a little devil on one shoulder, and an angel on the other, each whispering into one ear.

And, as I always nag, incessantly, I maintain that a lot of the problems with places like Turkey v EU, and Iran, and ISIS versus all of us, would reduce, if there was a scientifically plausible afterlife attribute for people to focus on, instead of traditions, and hopes., etc. I mean, yes, I am annoying, and yes, it won’t work for everyone, but I am guessing people avoid this topic because they cannot do anything about it, and that there is no information, or conjecture to consider.  I think it would be a great thing for our species, eventually, and would make doing space and caring for the earth, and even peace/calm, more achievable.

Moving now, onto my 2nd cup of Seattle’s Spirited Blend coffee this morning. Whew!

I basically agree, spud100, about the merits, if we could pull it off, of building a “scientifially plausible afterlife”. I suppose my worry is that this seems too unlikely even to become anything that looks like a vaguely plausible reality, at least in the minds of all but the most hopeful among us, to provide the kind of long-term perspective that would bring about the shorter-term benefits that you describe. In other words, I’m wondering how much I should personally invest in this kind of idea.

Re the EU, was the “old Common Market” so awful? No it wasn’t, but was it sustainable? Personally I think not. One can conjecture that things might have been better if we’d just left it there, but whatever caused “the rise of the EU” (that makes it sound rather like the rise of the machines!) it must have involved some kind of dissatisfaction with the previous arrangements, and/or an aspiration for something that would look more like an “ever closer union”. One might wonder, for example, how Europe can ever hold its own again in the world with just a NAFTA-esque “common market” binding its nations together. United we stand, and all that. (Or as the French would say, “l’union fait la force”.)

Anyway, I certainly don’t see going back to the status quo ante as a realistic solution. We need to make the EU work. In many ways, I see the problems we have with the EU as symptomatic of more general problems we have with governance in a world of accelerating technology (and other stress factors).

To make the EU work you have to have a broad consus about which values + behaviors you wish to protect and those which need to be let go of? I am looking at the German government’s decision to permit prosecution of a German, by the foreign Sunni Islamist, Erdrogan of Turkey, and I wonder why capitulate to such a tyrant? If this is the EU, I surely, as a Yank would want out. Perhaps, Europeans feel differently, culturally, politically, etc. I can be very narrow minded myself, when it comes to existential issues as you probably have noted.

My hunch on an alife, would be to use physics and computer science to follow and enhance it.Specifically, things like, Moravec’s conjecture in Mind Children, where he suggested that “simulators” made of degenerate neutron star material, could pack enough punch to emulate vanished minds. This is also Tipler’s idea, but the wait is cosmological ages, and who wants to wait up for that? It would be this kind of thing, or data mining the Minkowski light cone to re-create people, places, and things, as well as entire biomes. So, how soon is this achiveable? Hmmm! Well, we need to keep it in the shop till the parts arrive next week! There’s also Wolfram’s ideas in there with his matrix like universe evolving. This too will be ages, but nothing like F. Tipler’s trillions of years.

How much time to invest? Well, I invest a fair amount because that is how my brain is wired neurologically, as someone with a nervous tic does things compulsively. Others, are nuts about “football” (your football not ours), but this is my flaw and nobody else;s to carry. I would guess that if somebody expanded Moravec’s concepts, and they seem work logically, this would be enough to get the ball rolling. I’d offer it up, as a workable idea (theology) to the Mormons, and this particular Pope. Once this hypothesis is flesh out (made flesh? Blink Blink!).

I look at it this way, if we ain’t (as us Yanks say) providing tidings of comfort and joy, then what the hell are we all doing anyway? Hey! I think there was a song with those words in it?

A merry comment indeed! And true in many respects. As you say, if we’re not providing tidings of comfort and joy - keeping people warm in their beds, as Giulio might say - then what are we doing?

Well, communicating risk might be one answer to that question. That’s also necessary. But if the choice is to go “nuts” over data mining of the Minkowski light cone or how poorly Manchester United are doing this season, I’m certainly glad some people are going nuts about the former. Otherwise we’d still be living in caves, playing some stone age version of backgammon.

I could respond in greater depth about EU-Turkey relations and recent decisions of the German and other EU governments, but this would be taking the discussion probably too far off-topic. I guess my main point here is that when trying to “build bridges” or otherwise reinforce links between different thought communities, we need to keep a clear head and especially watch the language we are using, so as not to offend unnecessarily or allow problems to endure simply because we didn’t understand what each other were saying. It won’t be enough to solve all problems, but it might help us get better at doing so.

@spud100 re “My hunch on an alife, would be to use physics and computer science to follow and enhance it.Specifically, things like, Moravec’s conjecture in Mind Children, where he suggested that “simulators” made of degenerate neutron star material, could pack enough punch to emulate vanished minds. This is also Tipler’s idea, but the wait is cosmological ages, and who wants to wait up for that? It would be this kind of thing, or data mining the Minkowski light cone to re-create people, places, and things, as well as entire biomes. So, how soon is this achiveable?”

From your perspective, you don’t have to wait cosmological ages. As far as your subjective experiences are concerned, you go to sleep in the old world and you wake up “the morning after” in the new world. The morning after could be billions of years in the future, but you don’t experience the time between going to sleep and waking up.

Spud and I often discuss the How and When of technological resurrection. I say that I have no idea but scientists in the far future could know much more. Spud answers, that’s not good enough, we need to say something more precise now to keep people warm at night. Of course he is right, it would be nice to say something more precise, but I just don’t know what to say at this moment, we simply don’t know enough physics yet.

But perhaps we could offer suggestive stories based on current physics, which, while being probably wrong because current physics is probably wrong, would convey the flavor of future theories.

Tipler’s ideas belong to this category. I think Tipler’s mistake is thinking that we already know enough physics for eschatology, but at least he put his hands in the mud to work out a reasonably detailed story.

This is another:

The physics of miracles: the theologians quoted in my essay think miracles - and what’s resurrection if not the ultimate miracle? - don’t need to violate natural laws. God is smarter than that and can do miracles by using, as opposed to violating, the laws of nature.

But a 19th century physicist would disagree, because 19th century physics is deterministic. A particle can go this way or that way, and if the laws of physics say that it must go this way, God can’t make it go that way without violating the laws of physics.

Contrary to 19th century physics, modern physics isn’t deterministic. Modern non-quantum physics is non deterministic in practice (chaos), and modern quantum physics is non deterministic in principle (the random collapse of the wavefunction upon measurement).

In other words, the particle can go this way or that way, and both ways are compatible with the laws of physics, so God can choose which way without violating the laws of physics. Therefore God can tweak complex events with messages hidden in random noise to choose the random outcomes of individual events in space-time. God is omnipotent indeed, and works “below” the laws of physics.

Is that understandable? I am reading a book with this sort of ideas, and I will write an article (and forthcoming book chapter) with stories on the physics of theology and resurrection.

Re “If we say here that God works through man to colonize space there’s no conflict between religion and science.”

The existence of some kind of creator or creators has not been disproved, and the simulation argument provides some evidence of its plausibility. For what purpose or with what motivation we have been created is unclear, but it is not necessarily “unscientific”, in the sense of conflicting with well-established, empirically tested scientific theory, to imagine such a creator or creators “working through man to colonize space”. Perhaps that really is what the sim project team want, and they are waiting to see if we can do it. Perhaps, even, those of us who are most effective in pulling it off will receive some kind of “reward”: we will be given some kind of superlative existence in the advanced civilization that has created us. Fun idea, anyway.

I guess my question is what we should do with such a fantasy. Accept it as true? Tweak it to be more compatible with conventional religious theologies? Dismiss it as absurd? Or just consider it, allow oneself to be inspired by it, or indeed to experience whatever emotional reaction it provokes in us, and act accordingly? These days, I tend to prefer the last approach.

Anyway it beats fantasizing about trolleys killing people (see latest piece by David Swanson).

@Peter re “I guess my question is what we should do with such a fantasy. Accept it as true? Tweak it to be more compatible with conventional religious theologies? Dismiss it as absurd? Or just consider it, allow oneself to be inspired by it, or indeed to experience whatever emotional reaction it provokes in us, and act accordingly? These days, I tend to prefer the last approach.”

The last reaction is a necessary prelude to any of the previous reactions, because emotional reactions come first and determine (or at least strongly influence) further thinking and action. In my case, I try to tweak it to be more compatible with both modern science and conventional religious theologies.

@instamatic re “Whereas some look elsewhere:...”

I prefer to think that I am looking at the same place from a different angle…

In my next related essay I will link to some books that I am currently reading. I want to mention two now:

http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118932811.html

http://www.amazon.com/Christian-Eschatology-Physical-Universe-Wilkinson/dp/0567045463

And it also depends on one’s social/family circumstances. Is it possible that our “creator” will actually reward us according to whether we put our faith in Our Lord Jesus in some doctrinally sound (“orthodox”) way, and commit our lives to Him? That is what some would like me to believe…

Peter, my personal hunch is that God doesn’t give, to put it in good ecclesiastic Latin, a damn.

[My] God is not interested in the petty details of our daily life, as long as we act with love and compassion. My God has no interest in what you do with our genitals, or with whom, as long as you act with compassion and love. My God has no interest in what and when I eat, or drink, or smoke, or inhale, as long as I act with love and compassion. My God has no preference for one or another nation, religion, ethnic group, gender, or sport team. My God is very, very, very far above these things.

Perhaps I should clarify “My God has no preference for one or another religion,” which may seem odd. What I mean is that the common cores, the cosmological and mystical aspects of different religions, are similar or at least compatible. It’s only the geography (not to mention the zoning norms) that is different, like the geography of England is different from the geography of Utah. But England and Utah are both under the stars, the same stars.

( pasted from
Cosmology is not geography
http://turingchurch.com/2014/04/08/cosmology-is-not-geography/ )

@Peter - I understand what you are saying. I am thankful to my family for not indoctrinating me. Thanks to them, I don’t have negative psychological effects of religious indoctrination to react to.

For logistic reason they had to put me in a Jesuit school when I was 9, but by that time I had already learned not to take seriously anything that the adults said.

Then of course the Jesuits kicked me out when I was 12, they said I was disruptive, violent or something like that…

One insight I had after reading Karen Armstrong’s “History of God” quite a few years ago (15 to be precise, though it seems far more recent) is that “God” seems to be a conflation of two meanings. The first being whatever entity (“whomever”, if we want to personalise it) we might hypothesise to have created the universe, and the second being the (again personal, if we wish) embodiment of everything that we consider good and noble.

So if we take the sim hypothesis as a starting point, we might be more or less grateful for the “God” or “gods” that created us, and we might be more or less accepting of the evil and suffering that exists in this simulated universe, because we trust our creator(s) to have had a good and noble purpose in creating us.

Anecdote: this morning I shared a tram ride with a quite fundamentalist (Catholic, I think) Christian who lives nearby and likes to engage people in conversations. I wickedly set him off by referring to the Big Bang, and when he tried to insist that God created the Bible I pointed out that if God was behind the Big Bang (as he had claimed), then God had created everything that has been written, not just the Bible. Given that he’s not someone who necessarily takes care to keep his voice, you can imagine the impression we made on our fellow passengers. To add spice, during the conversation he mentioned that he was a convert from Islam, which I have to admit made me vaguely afraid for his life.

@Peter re “God seems to be a conflation of two meanings.”

The two meanings could be personalized as two different Gods, one who created the universe but is a “wholly other” entity so far from human concerns that it can’t be personalized in a human sense, and another who emerges from the created universe and embodies everything that we consider good and noble.

This is more or less what happens in Olaf Stapledon’s “Star Maker.” A “spirit of the cosmos” emerges from billions of sentient beings and races in the universe, and meet its Maker.

Perhaps Stapledon could have imagined that the two entities eventually merge, adding a personalized human dimension to a wholly other initial entity.

Oh my Star Maker, I just invented yet another new religion!

“Creator of religions”: quite a cool job title!

I suspect that Christianity and transhumanism are a fairly good fit, just as atheism is. It is what one can contribute to the other. I also think that many forms of traditional religion that we have seen during the 20th century, will transform themselves into extensions of Alcoholics Anonymous. This being the 12 steps an 12 traditions. “God as you understand him”  can be anything greater than oneself, including the group members. One of the old AA jokes is that GOD stands for group of drunks. For most, I suppose its Jesus, for many, they tend to see a central monotheistic concept. For others, it comes in other ways.

Another thought is how Hindus and Buddhists view all this? Somebody will have to ask them for a true global transhumanist SIngularity movement. You guys know that I think that Many Muslims   would drop jihad, if we presented a plausible alife in the scientific sense. This would induce a change in behavior, and maybe ourselves.

I think that if the Minkowski light cone could somehow be identified and data mined (tonight’s obsession for me)  things would become hopeful.

Peace Out, Yo!

@spud100 re “You guys know that I think that Many Muslims would drop jihad, if we presented a plausible [afterlife] in the scientific sense.”

For that to happen, we also need articles with titles like “Islam and Transhumanism are much closer than you think” 😉 A plausible afterlife in the scientific sense should be presented as compatible with Islam and linked to verses from the Quran.

Also, I have the impression that jihadists are motivated by politics and culture wars, not by eschatology. The jihad is all about geography and zoning norms.

I don’t disagree, and it is surely, doable to present such arguments. One writer on the Kurzweil forum related to me that (being a former Muslim, now atheist) that it was Islamic fear of gahanim, hell, or the eternal grave, rather than girls in paradise, Janah, that motivated the majority of the faithful. These people detonate out of winning big for being shaheeds/martyrs, and politics and culture are a secondary pay out. Surely, for those who command the exploders, and not the exploders themselves.

Muslims, according to polls are good with ET, being culturally, schooled, with the belief in Jinn’s; spirits, genie’s, The Donald, and other supernatural creatures, so maybe a pitch for AI is not such a large undertaking? Moreover, more people given an option of something hopeful, rather than, the big empty, might opt for a reasonable proposal that somebody conceptually, offers up? It is logically, either this, or move on to more comfotable thoughts, that at least one has control over.  “Hey! How’s that World Cup going,” or, “did you see what Kim Kardashian did last night?” Somebody providing an alternative is, to my tiny brain pan, a good option.  Any takers 😉  ?

Just as a summary, here, probably destined to be ignored. This is a link that highlights, seemingly, my concept that we need to offer people, all peoples, a method for overcoming existential fears, in a more, sane way, then what is currently, available.

http://www.breitbart.com/jerusalem/2016/04/22/palestinian-girls-become-terrorists-meet-good-looking-guys-heaven/

One shouldn’t have to waste other human’s lives, and their own, in a race to meet up with hot guys in the after world (Prince), which is obviously, a clear motivation for many. So, if there any philosophers, engineers, scientists, with ideas on how an alife could be feasible, all I cn say is, faster please.

@Spud re ” there were a number of terrorists who were so good-looking, that the female terrorists told interrogators that they wanted to die so that they could meet them.’ (in the Breitbart article).

Something doesn’t seem to make sense here. Why not screwing the good looking guys here and now and have a lot of fun, instead of dying to meet the good looking guys in heaven?

Dr. Prisco, baffling yes, but not beyond understanding, at least a little. According to some Muslims I have spoken with, there is the awareness of the grave and it is profound awareness. There is also fear of perpetual flames, by the faithful of Allah sentencing one to Gahanim, aka Gehenim, aka Hell, for misdeeds in life, such as murder, or even worse, disloyalty to Allah and the Uma (Uma means Community of Muslims).  In fact, an atheist, former Muslim, once told me that even the pleasures of Janah (paradise with it’s virgins, wine, and Allah) as compensation for sacrifice, aka, being a shaheed, a marytr, do Not , free them from the fear of punishment! If the “Qufar” slay you, all the better for you, for you avoid eternal death, or the fires of hell. To Janah you immediately go. 

Expects on Jihad in the West have learned that the Shaheed’s handlers tell their “students,” that for sacrificing your self, and slaying the wicked Qufar, you shall see reward comming your way, beautiful virgins, and palaces for you. With females the handlers tell them (because their bombs malfunction we now know this) that You will be able to take 70 of your family and friends with you to Janah, as a compensation, for Your sacrifice. So mom and dad and sister, do not have to kill themselves if You, the Shaheed, sacrifice for them. Men gets eternal sex, women get eternal social rewards for killing Qufar.

This, is what people of the Faith are being sold by the leaders in their civiliization. As far as Paradise now, and that is Not a Bad idea at all, doctor, we come across what is called “Honor Killings” which you no doubt have heard about. You cannot bring shame unto your family without paying a price. In their case, the family who murders a daughter for violating Sharia mores, protects the Faith, and prevents Allah for blaming the entire family for the violation of one evil doer. We are not to blame, O’ Allah! We removed this offender of you and your holy laws from our midst. To Gahanna please send her, and let not your wrath be upon the rest of us, your servants. Honor Killings is now an occasional even in the EU and North America.

It is what they believe, and how the majority behave, hence, the near zero condemnation participation by the Uma for Jihad actions in the EU, or in Santa Barbera, California. The Amadihi Muslims are an important exception to this precis I post here. Also the Kurds, who’s only jihad is against Turkey. They are considered as disloyal by both Suni and Shia majorities.

My point in all this (long winded am I) is that We in the West, need to offer these guys and ourselves, a sensible alternative, to the pit. So, maybe Goertzel wants to run off a quick essay on making his computorial Reincarnation Machines, Flesh? Ha! I expect it on my desk on Monday! Yes, my eyes are rolling upwards on that one, please note. Thanks for reading…

Mitch

@Spud100 - see new related post:

I haven’t posted for a while because I have been studying and focusing on my forthcoming book, but I want to say something about my current studies and thoughts on physics, divine action, and resurrection, inspired by observations and comments by readers, especially Spud…

Divine action and resurrection: something like that, more or less
http://turingchurch.com/2016/05/12/divine-action-and-resurrection-something-like-that-more-or-less/

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