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Transhumanism as Religion
Mike Treder   Jul 24, 2009   Ethical Technology  

Do transhumanists hold a set of beliefs that effectively offer an alternative to traditional religions? And if so, is that necessarily bad?

Unlike many countries, the United States of America was founded as a secular nation, with legal statutes aimed at keeping religion and government forever separate. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

While there is a small but vocal minority who advocate posting the Ten Commandments prominently in government buildings, who want Christian prayer to begin each day in public schools, and who would gladly have religious doctrines on sexual and other behavior enshrined in our laws, most Americans oppose such dangerous nonsense and recognize the wisdom and value behind Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state.

Nearly all technoprogressives endorse secularism without hesitation. Most of us are atheists or agnostics and some are believers, but we are unanimous in supporting the need to keep faith apart from governance. That is a central tenet of both progressive and technoprogressive philosophy.

Now, however, comes a really interesting question for us to ponder:

Does the Wall Still Stand?

The Implications of Transhumanism for the Separation of Church and State

That’s the title of a speech given in March 2009 by Steven Goldberg, a Law Professor at Georgetown University. It lays out a fascinating and important challenge to transhumanists, especially relevant to those of us who aspire to think deeply about the meaning of transhumanism and its proper place in the world.

Goldberg opens by posing this hypothetical situation:

Suppose that twenty years from now transhumanists make up the bulk of the population in a small Massachusetts town. They persuade the elected school board to offer a required course in the public high school on transhumanism. The course teaches how nanotechnology can improve brain functioning, how human consciousness might someday be downloadable into computers, and similar topics. The course also surveys earlier steps in the fusing of man and his technology, and it takes a positive, optimistic perspective on the past, present, and future of transhumanism. Its essential theme would be, in the words appearing on the website of the transhumanist Anders Sandberg, that “humans can and should continue to develop … [our] bodies and minds … using science and technology…. In the long run, we will no longer be human anymore, but posthuman beings.”

And then he adds:

Suppose further that a resident of the town who is not a transhumanist argues that this is an unconstitutional establishment of religion. How would such a case be resolved? How ought it to be resolved?

Goldberg asks:

Why does the Constitution forbid establishing religion while allowing the teaching and funding of science? Part of the reason is historical; religion incited passions and led to conflicts incompatible with a diverse democratic society. A modern version of this concern is the worry some have that religious arguments are “conservation stoppers” that do not work well in public policy disputes.

And this is where he brings in the key questions: Do transhumanists hold a set of beliefs that effectively offer an alternative to traditional religions? And if so, is that necessarily a bad thing?

Before offering his own thoughts on the matter, Goldberg provides a quick review of legal cases and rulings that over the years have helped to define and clarify these issues.

So how do the Courts decide if something is “religion” for the purposes of the First Amendment? Remarkably, the United States Supreme Court has never set forth a constitutional definition. It’s never been necessary for resolving the cases before it. The Supreme Court did have a series of Vietnam-era cases in which it had to interpret the statutory requirement that conscientious objection to military service be religiously based. The Court, in cases like Seeger and Welsh read the requirement broadly, allowing conscientious objector status for young men who traced their deepest ethical beliefs not to traditional religious teachings, but rather to their study of thinkers like Plato and Spinoza. The Court said that “religion” in the statute was broad enough to extend to a belief which “occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God” of traditional religions. The Court relied in part on the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich in identifying religion with “your ultimate concern, of what you take seriously without any reservation.”

If you identify as a transhumanist, do you regard it as your ultimate concern? Do you accept its central statements seriously without any reservation?

[P]erhaps transhumanist beliefs about the proper relationship between technology and mankind really do occupy a “place parallel” to that occupied by God in traditional religion. Perhaps transhumanism is a “conservation stopper” in the sense that adherents cannot really engage in debate with non-adherents because the underlying assumptions of the two groups are too different about what it is to be human. Thus it is not like a science course taught in public schools which offers a set of observations about the natural world that can be used or ignored by society in a variety of ways. Transhumanism embodies much more.

Most transhumanists would, I think, have a rather strong reaction to this assertion. We would be quick to deny that our philosophy holds a place for us parallel to that occupied by God in traditional religion and would insist that transhumanism is much more closely aligned with science than with spirituality.

But before we reject Goldberg’s proposition out of hand, let’s reflect for a moment on his suggestion that the underlying assumptions of transhumanists about what it is to be human may be so divergent from those of “non-adherents” that we simply cannot engage with them in meaningful debate.

Does transhumanism actually go beyond science? Does it embody “much more” than “a set of observations about the natural world”? Do we offer not only descriptions but also prescriptions about the new era we are about to enter?

If that is the case—if we see humans and human potential from such radically different, even orthogonal, perspectives, and if we have something to say about values in addition to vectors—then maybe he is right that we should stop trying so hard to stay within the conversational framing of those who deny the probability of a near-future human to posthuman transition phase.

I’m not necessarily arguing in favor of this position yet, but I do think it is something important to talk about.

Goldberg goes on to state his ultimate thesis:

So perhaps a full-blown transhumanist movement should not resist being analogized to religion. It should embrace the analogy and struggle openly to be accepted as ultimate truth. Otherwise why is transhumanism worth taking seriously?

Under this approach transhumanists would forgo being in the public school curriculum in order to be in everyone’s hearts and minds. They would openly compete in the private sphere with Christianity and other faiths. Or to take a more radical perspective, adherents might argue that transhumanism forces us to change the Constitutional rules: we finally have a truth that ought to be established, that ought, in other words, to be publicly funded and taught in public schools. There should be no wall between transhumanism and the state. 

To an outside observer like myself it seems that either of these approaches would be true to the actual claims of transhumanism. These approaches are more honest than claiming that the teachings of transhumanism are merely like the curriculum of a chemistry course or a survey course on Western philosophy. If transhumanism is really worthy of the attention of a non-transhumanist like me, it ought to be willing to take its place as a contender for America’s soul.

Well, that is quite a challenge, indeed, and not one that we should dismiss lightly.

If you accept Goldberg’s premise that transhumanism stands for much more than what would normally be taught in a science or history or philosophy class, then it seems we may have arrived at a somewhat surprising fork in the road: we can either admit—or rather celebrate—our hoped-for ascension as a new foundational system of values for humanity and posthumanity (something like what Tim Dean calls for in this article), proudly offering a legitimate alternative to traditional religious belief; and our other choice, apparently, is to work toward a kind of H+ocracy—not a theocracy, but also not a fully pluralistic democracy—a decidedly unconstitutional establishment of a system of belief overlaying our governmental structure.

I’m certainly not prepared to go there, to embark on the second of two paths that Goldberg says we are confronting. It seems antithetical to all that technoprogressivism stands for. But don’t be surprised if you hear other transhumanists make noises that sound uncomfortably close to that latter formulation. Michael Anissimov, for example, has written in a recent entry on his Accelerating Future weblog: “If superintelligence can have better ideas about politics that make the world better for everyone, and following them would be ‘anti-democratic’, then I am anti-democratic.”

Before we reach a point where we have to choose between being democratic or anti-democratic, before we are asked to make a decision about turning over control of global governance to a greater-than-human intelligence, let’s apply some of the human intelligence and ethics we now possess to thinking seriously about what transhumanism means and should mean in the world today, and in the world soon to come.

Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.



COMMENTS

Intriguing notion: transhumanism as a religion, if a secular one.

However, I think there are some significant differences between transhumanism and religion, and ones that would make it counter-productive to consider it one.

First, it’s true that transhumanism makes prescriptive statements. It’s not just a set of descriptive facts about the world. Instead it takes the contingent facts from science (the “we can”) and applies its own values (the “we should”).

But many non-religious belief systems do this as well. Take Marxism, or neo-liberal ideology. Both start with contingent natural facts, add their values and come to their own normative conclusions. But neither are religions.

Why? While the definition of religion is elusive, I think a core feature is the appeal to the supernatural. Thus a religion doesn’t just start with natural facts, add its values (“thou shalt not…”) and merrily meander along. It starts with *supernatural* facts, then adds its values. As such, it is inscrutable to criticism by science, which doesn’t (or can’t, depending on your bent) recognise the existence of supernatural facts.

However, I’d venture to suggest that if the “can” of transhumanism was convincingly proven false by science, most transhumanists would accept that and would relinquish the “should” - that’s what makes it different from religion.

Instead, if transhumanism is to be taught in school, it should not be taught like a religion, but like a secular ideology, in the way Marxism or neo-liberalism might be taught today.

If it was taught like religion, it would risk degrading the significance of its reliance on science and natural facts and end up butting dogmas with religion. Far better, IMO, to teach the natural facts as they are, then the transhumanism advocates can add their values and let the students decide.

And, for the record, I do advocate a secular morality that serves as a functional replacement for religion, but it would not be a religion. Also, for the record, I’m not a transhumanist. I have doubts about the “can” and the “should”, but I’ll leave them for another time.

“So perhaps a full-blown transhumanist movement should not resist being analogized to religion”(most do)

Great piece! Mike

I do believe transhumanism will have to confront many religious issues not yet talked about..

Why is most transhumanist fear talking about how tech and religion will mingle as we approach the singularity..

This is my the basis of most of my work which I now dub
“Techno Theosophic Futurism”

Transhumanism turning into a religion is something that ive seen coming for a while, and as it progresses prepare for more and more critical looks into the movement. 

Don’t be your typical “futurist” and brush it off, embrace the debate as it will only intensify

Note that on FB I have my religion (or superstition, in pirate) set to “Transhumanism”, because I consider this field in its large sense of philosophy. It’s no different from me listing “Technoprogressive” as my political view - there is no such political party or even current, but that reflects best my political philosophy.

Now, does transhumanism share some religious aspects? Some, I would say, but it runs counter to others.
Do I proselytize? Yes.
Do I convert by the sword? No.
Do I consider people from other religions lost souls? No.
Do I believe heaven for good transhumanists, hell for bad transhumanists and non-transhumanists? No.
Do I believe rapture of the nerds will leave non-transhumanists behind? No.
Do I believe in the teachings of one Book? No.
Do I believe in superstitions, magic, miracles? No.
Do I believe in God? No.

In the end, I think considering transhumanism a religion is like considering ecologism a religion. Some might say it is (Gaiaism), but mostly it is an idea, a philosophy.

My thoughts:

http://cosmi2le.com/index.php/site/transhumanism_as_religion/

I am one of those who interpret transhumanism as an alternative to conventional religion, in the sense that it provides me, and others who adopt a similar interpretation, with an infinite sense of wonder, a deep vision of the meaning of our life and our place in the universe, a warm and beautiful feeling of being a small part of a huge cosmic adventure and, ultimately, peace and happiness. Our cosmic vision is not a mystical pursuit but an engineering program which will result in our spreading to the cosmos and achieving “future magic” in the sense of Sir Arthur’s Third Law. Including, even, the resurrection of the dead by “copying them to the future”. This Cosmist vision has been recently developed and put in a modern format in the Cosmist Manifesto of Ben Goertzel and the Prospectus of the Order of Cosmic Engineers.

I agree with Goldberg: “transhumanist beliefs about the proper relationship between technology and mankind really do occupy a “place parallel” to that occupied by God in traditional religion a full-blown transhumanist movement should not resist being analogized to religion. It should embrace the analogy and struggle openly to be accepted as ultimate truth. Otherwise why is transhumanism worth taking seriously?”. Some transhumanists, who share with religious persons a deep sensibility to spirituality and a deep interest for big, cosmic issues, do not resist transhumanism being analogized to religion. Others have a knee-jerk reaction at the simple mention of the R word, but I think this is mainly due to bad experiences with conventional religion. A transhumanist “religlion”, or better UNreligion, would offer all the mental benefits of a religion without the negative elements of intolerance, self-righteousness and holy wars.

Mike says: “If you accept Goldberg’s premise that transhumanism stands for much more than what would normally be taught in a science or history or philosophy class, then it seems we may have arrived at a somewhat surprising fork in the road: we can either admit:or rather celebrate:our hoped-for ascension as a new foundational system of values for humanity and posthumanity (something like what Tim Dean calls for in this article), proudly offering a legitimate alternative to traditional religious belief; and our other choice, apparently, is to work toward a kind of H+ocracy:not a theocracy, but also not a fully pluralistic democracy:a decidedly unconstitutional establishment of a system of belief overlaying our governmental structure.”.

Like him, I don’t like the second of these two paths. But I like the first one: to celebrate our hoped-for ascension as a new foundational system of values for humanity and posthumanity.

Last but not least, I don’t think this should have any implication for, or impact on, the separation of Church and State. They should stay very well separated. Cosmic visions and day-by-day policies are, in my opinion, two unrelated and non-overlapping spheres of human activity, with little to do with each other. I look forward to the establishment of a new foundational system of values for humanity and posthumanity for those who wish to adopt one, and at the same time I am firmly persuaded that it should not influence today’s economic and political choices, which should remain based on concreteness and a pragmatic search for viable and fair solutions for today’s world.

“While there is a small but vocal minority who advocate posting the Ten Commandments prominently in government buildings, who want Christian prayer to begin each day in public schools, and who would gladly have religious doctrines on sexual and other behavior enshrined in our laws, most Americans oppose such dangerous nonsense…”

Enshrining religious doctrines and starting off with Christian prayer in public schools is indeed dangerous nonsense, but Mr. Treder lumped all three parts of that sentence together. I don’t think displaying the Ten Commandments in Government buildings is dangerous at all. It’s not like any normal person is going to fear being stoned if they work on the sabbath or anything.

“...value behind Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state. “

Jefferson’s opinion on this matter is quite interesting. Though he indeed wanted a separation of Church and State, he would’ve most likely liked to see some form of Intelligent Design taught in the schools:
http://intelligentdesign.podomatic.com/enclosure/2009-07-03T09_04_38-07_00.mp3

The case would be thrown out so hard the poor plaintiff would bounce on his head three times before they took him off to mental hospital.  Science is not religion, science is based on observable date while religion is based on hyperactive imagination and no good has ever come of it.

Chuck, you sound a bit extreme. Science is /almost always/ based on observable data, while religion has had a few good things come of it.

This was an extremely interesting article, I was surprised by the suggestion of actually promoting Transhumanism as religion.  This brought me to several thoughts.

A potentially unique aspect to religion is that you cannot scientifically or rationally compare or validate its positive (as opposed to normative) views. You cannot sit down with different religious theories, collate the evidence by a widely selected panel, and say “We find it likely God exists, and that Islam is much more likely than Christianity to represent the God and its desires accurately”. With scientific theories on the other hand this is possible. Sure there are controversies, but I don’t recall any scientific controversy that’s lasted over a thousand years.

In this regard the predictive aspect of transhumanism seems somewhat like religion. You can’t just go out and test whether genetic engineering is going to provide us with longer happier lives in any sense beyond how you can wait for the rapture and see who goes to heaven and who gets bitten by hell scorpions. Our basis for belief might be semi-log plots rather than a 2000 year old text, but it’s still a matter of belief (expectation/prediction/etc) that you can’t just go out and test like you can with the mass of an atom or the specific density of iron.

If we get to such a future point, and predictions become reality, it will seem much less like religion. If “it happens”, you won’t be able to deny that nanotechnology increases intelligence, at least with much more success than denying the holocaust happened, or that water spins different ways north and south of the equator. Just go and see it (I haven’t been south of the equator myself, so I could be wrong). In one sense, I see “Transhumanist” used to describe people who think it’s even possible for these things to happen, to have people live forever, to have people become radically more intelligent, to construct a shape-shifting cloud of nanites. In that sense and in such a future world, the word Transhumanist will be useful as a term for someone who thinks the world is round, and in that sense of the word it’d be back to being pretty scientific. Until then though it seems inappropriate (and more like religion) to teach a course on how certain technologies not just can but WILL happen. If we just stick to saying that Drexler’s designs for an assembler don’t seem to violate any laws of physics we seem on much more rational footing.

 

Then there are the outlooks inspired by these beliefs, and in ways even existing technologies. For all of human history a human was a fairly discrete thing, at least looking back. Rocks were rocks, women were women, and bears were bears. Categories worked pretty darn well because they were fairly discrete and objects didn’t move between them. As technology increased our power to both perceive and change the world this convenient situation is changing. Note for example the debate on when life begins. Before you could just say “baby, no baby”, but now to draw the line you might have to get down and say “Okay so when this egg cell is alone it’s not a human, but then once it gets a few more strands of DNA from this tiny other cell, then it’s a human.” Viruses form another side of the quandary.

Sure physics might tell you that people are this large collection of atoms, quarks and muons and other tiny things that maintains a relatively stable pattern, but you could assume psychology, that all people are “people” and they all get pretty upset when they can’t get food. If technology enables constant continuums and vague gradients, with bears over here and people over there and rocks over yonder, our categories might desert us till we’re left with the old muons. You’re still free to choose to apply a label of course; a person of mixed ethnicity with both black and white parents can call themselves “black” but this seems more a cultural choice than a description. On this level the views seem almost to be a semantic discussion, not that that would necessarily stop it from sparking a political tempest that to make the gay marriage debate look like a soft breeze. But even a bioconservative will realize they are making a choice in their use of the term “human”, when there are other people walking around that are identical, but that have purple ears, or a slightly better nose, or no toes.

 

Now we’ve got the normative statements. I agree with Tim Dean here, there’s nothing unique about making normative statements about how to live life or about what society should be like. Almost every person and group seems to do it. Especially in this regard I’d advocate against pushing Transhumanism as a religion, and suggest keeping it out to play with the other moral philosophies and see who wins, but then that’s ‘cause I have confidence in the little bugger. Thinking about convenient and approachable ways to describe the normative side of Transhumanism, I recalled these lines (If someone else has thought of this approach before, I apologize for redundancy):

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The pursuit of life free from biological execution as well as political, liberty to choose not just how we live but what form our bodies take, and happiness beyond the limits of what we’re currently wired to experience. Though there are some other normative Transhumanist views, all of the above seems fairly in-line with conventional views, it’s just that it’s so damn weird and opens up a whole box of new and very real dangers to the things we value, like autonomy of our minds from (direct) outside influence. But that’s a subject far beyond the scope of this comment.

I would also sincerely like to note that many of the most violent conflicts have been between religions, and this seems like one of the primary reasons atheists are drawn to atheism, or specifically anti-theism (http://lesswrong.com/lw/11m/atheism_untheism_antitheism/). I hope that by maintaining Transhumanism as a “normal” normative philosophy we can cut down on people justifying killing their friends.

 

“You will soon have your god, and you will make it with your own hands.”
-Morpheus from Deus Ex

Finally I’d like to return to the positive statements to point out what I think the largest reason is that this question is coming up at all. Previously science might have done pretty well in predicting how fast the ball is going to roll or explaining how to make your grass grow better, or how to make pickles. But if you told Science “Hey, this inevitability of death thing is really weighing me down” or perhaps “Is it possible for there to be a galactic benevolent entity who can read my thoughts?” Science might reply “Hmmmmgo ask religion over there, in the white shirt waiting for people to ask it those questions.” Religion dealt with gods and immortality, science did not.

If science gets closer to detailed and even operable plans to read thoughts or to stop aging, that answer changes. Now it’s “Oh yeah such a being is possible, and here’s how. Or take these supplements and you’ll reach terminal velocity and live forever. Here’s how we might suffuse your existence with beatitude. Here’s an idea for a system that will enable you to bond more deeply with another person’s thoughts than anyone has done before.” Maybe that’s enough to justify calling it “religion”. It’s getting powerful enough, or thinks it’s getting powerful enough, that it’s starting to sound a lot like religion. “Whoa Science, you sound different, you alright? Maybe you should move away from the punch bowl.” Of course most of that isn’t science we currently can have, it’s predictive and open to anyone’s guess (or much better, thoughtful analysis). But it’s from scientific principles and style that those predictions stem, even if they turn out wrong, even if they satisfy some common human desires like the desire for life after death and immortality, and even if they’re starting to sound a whole lot like religion.

Although it would be fun to burn some luddites and bioconservatives to the stakes, rather than go through the longer ignore/laugh/fight/win route.
Plus, tax deductions.

This is complete nonsense. It conflates many different matters illogically.

First, whether Transhumanism is a philosophy or an ideology, it doesn’t even come close to qualifying it as a religion, regardless of how broad the Supreme Court may consider the definition of religion.. So this nonsense about whether it is a “parallel to religion” is just that - nonsense. Transhumanism as a philosophy or ideology is based on reason and is thus necessarily adamantly opposed to the very core of religion which is faith. Never the twain shall meet!

Second,  the reason Transhumanism produces assertions as to what should be done is due to the fact that facts in themselves have corollaries influencing action. If you can eliminate the problems caused by human nature by producing technology that enables the transcendence of human nature - which is the core tenet and defining characteristic of Transhumanism - then clearly it prescribes the actions one should take in view of that knowledge. There is a logical progression from acknowledging that the fact of death is “the root of all evil”, as postulated by Alan Harrington in “The Immortalist”, to pursuing the elimination of death as a factor in the behavior of sentient entities.

This is not a matter of religion, or of morality or ethics. It’s a matter of logic. By definition, the purpose of life is to survive. By definition, survival implies immortality, which implies invulnerability and invincibility. As William Burroughs put it, “Survival must be computed in immortal terms. Beware a fool’s survival.”  It is the hard cutting tool of survival that judges all things. As long as sentient entities exist in a social context - and this is something that the development of Transhumans may render irrelevant - it necessary to apply the logical corollaries to that fact to all human behavior. This will render moot many considerations that people - even many Transhumanists who are still mired in conventional thinking - think are important. This includes religion, politics, morality, ethics, and many concepts that most people take for granted as essential to the human condition.

But it is precisely the human condition that Transhumanism seeks to transcend. To do so, much of what is imagined to be legitimate human thought will have to be ruthlessly jettisoned.

It reminds me of the criticism of anarchism that the Situationists made back in the ‘60’s. They pointed out that all you needed to do was ask these so-called “radicals” what part of conventional society would be maintained “come the Revolution”. They said, “It would turn out to be almost everything.” This is the problem with many so-called “Transhumanists” - they are still shackled to conventional human thinking. This article is an excellent example.

Transhumanism represents what Nietzsche referred to as “the Revaluation of All Values”. Considerations such as are brought up in this article are going to wither very quickly when the Transhumanist ascension begins in earnest over the next fifty years or so.

Or to paraphrase Hermann Goering, “Whenever someone speaks of ‘Transhumanist ethics’, I release the safety on my nanotech.”

Transhumanism is a religion not only in the functional sense of providing a community with a complete worldview in conflict with the conventional worldview of the embedding community, in other words a cult, with myths typical of religions, e.g. apocalypse, salvation, coming savior/destroyer, transcendence, moral order, origin and omega point, but also in the strict sense of a belief system revolving around central superstitions, in this case not the existence of a humanoid god, but the godly nature of Evolution as a force of creation and source of moral order (to evolve is to progress toward the better), and the magic of death-avoidance through transference to technology, which in its most extreme form is the proposed voodoo soul transfer of “uploading” - what? - “consciousness” or “personality” or “information” or some other pseudoscientific synonym for “soul” that is to be transferred from the dying body to the cybernetic embodiment, but again, embodiment of what?  The transfer of identity occurs in the mind of the observer, if the observer accepts its transfer from one object to another.  But what is transferred between the objects?  Why would a dying brain care about the software copy?  Why would it care about one copy or two, or ten million, or if some were subjected to torture and others enjoyed power and pleasure?  Why should humanity care for the prosperity of a successor species, and why should humans create such a species? Transhumanists are like the most stupid religious fanatics, ready to sacrifice humanity in its billions for the sake of their “cosmist” visions, mad scientists driven by something that is not science, but pure madness, bad religion.

Hack wrote: “By definition, the purpose of life is to survive.”
Yet he also wrote, “If you can eliminate the problems caused by human nature by producing technology that enables the TRANSCENDENCE OF HUMAN NATURE - which is the core tenet and defining characteristic of Transhumanism “

I see a huge contradiction here. Care to reconcile it?

An excellent piece and much food for thought.

Quote - “Do transhumanists hold a set of beliefs that effectively offer an alternative to traditional religions? And if so, is that necessarily bad?”


What is the difference between faith and religious faith?
What is the difference between belief and religious belief?

When you mention the term faith in the negative, I trust you are referring in simple terms to religious faith rather than faith in the general understanding as a grounding support for a belief system, (of any kind)?

Yet if you look closely, any faith in a belief system that you may personally hold as true may be termed as religious if you decide to follow it religiously?
Therefore the argument becomes relative : a man may believe in God as his salvation and for his ultimate evolution, yet another may believe in his own potential and technology. Both may follow their beliefs religiously and with ardour.

What is the difference between science and scientology? : a clue

As you quite correctly point out, the danger lies in totalitarian ideals, which may lead to indoctrination of belief systems, and restrict and crush the freedoms that stand in the way of human evolution and philosophies. When religious beliefs become entangled with positions of political power, then we may see and have seen in past history, the oppression of the masses and society and their belief systems.

Yet only with a certified constitution and ethical code and philosophy may we hope to protect the freedoms of the individual to pursue self-understanding, and aim to protect and invest in the progression of humanity and its philosophies.

Cyborgs are us

Quote - “the transhumanist Anders Sandberg, that “humans can and should continue to develop [our] bodies and minds using science and technology. In the long run, we will no longer be human anymore, but posthuman beings.”

Quote - “Do transhumanists hold a set of beliefs that effectively offer an alternative to traditional religions? And if so, is that necessarily a bad thing?”

The question is does mankind have the potential to develop without the use and reliance upon technology and genetic manipulation? Spiritual evolution and self-understanding may be just as valid a means to trans-humanism as with the use of technology : again it just really relies upon your point of view, and the freedom to express it, and your faith and belief in it.

Religious philosophies such as Hinduism and Buddhism date back thousands of years, and their understanding is founded upon a belief system in trans-humanism and rebirth and reincarnation, which may be dismissed lightly, yet point to an understanding that we may not really be human in essence at all? This makes the progression towards trans-humanism as irrelevant.

Science has its part to play in understanding metaphysics, and can help in proving or disproving these belief systems. Yet science should not be closed minded with regard to ancient wisdom and philosophies, to disregard these would be naïve.

Humans are already more than the sum of their genetic parts.

Why does a man have such a large brain, yet uses very little of its mass?
How does the human subconscious act so much faster than that of the conscious mind?
How can we strive to understand and develop these hidden skills without the need in technology?
Is there any truth in esoteric knowledge that science may dismiss as irrelevant?

Being Human

Quote - “Perhaps transhumanism is a “conservation stopper” in the sense that adherents cannot really engage in debate with non-adherents because the underlying assumptions of the two groups are too different about what it is to be human.”


In truth what really makes us human is need? And this need projects itself in many forms. The need for communication, companionship, understanding and love. The need to express ideas with others and the exploration of Self, which ultimately leads to a fundamental question : Who am I?

Mankind’s ideals and aims to better himself are grounded in these basic needs, and founded upon his lack of understanding of himself, of Self.
What may take us beyond these shortcomings of need and desire, (for knowledge, for understanding, for personal development), and beyond even humanism itself, is the exploration into what we really are in essence. If we begin the search within, we may find that what we seek to be, we may indeed be already. Our restrictions are without doubt our own ignorance in understanding what we really are?

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!
I hear only the sound of one hand clapping, and let’s face it, who is really happy with their own limitations?

Wow ... You have opened a can of worms here mike…

I remember making an art piece called
The reconciliation of science and religion

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mADNhMk0Jg&feature=channel_page

In it I was trying to express how I felt that, not only is transhumanism turning into a religion but science in general.

Could it be that Science ends up the religion of the future, in its quest to answer the fundamental questions, that plague the human mind..

Where do we come from?

All under the new God…  Ai…

I know how it all may sound its rather disturbing to me as well. Yet we must not rule it out as the singularity represents a point of infinite possibilities most of which we cant even think of.

Mr. Treder wrote, “Abraham, I’m sorry, but your assertion about Jefferson is just ridiculous. That Christianist trope has already been well and fully debunked, the main point being that by the time Darwin published his theory of evolution by natural selection, Jefferson had been dead for 33 years. He never had the chance to hear of it.

I have no doubt at all, though, that Jefferson, being a scientist and a rationalist, would have been fascinated by Darwin’s ideas and wholeheartedly supported them.”

Which assertion about Jefferson is ridiculous? Since you focused on my claim that Jefferson believed in some form of intelligent design, I’ll address that one. (Note, I did not say he’d be fascinated by and would wholehearted support the fellows at the Discovery Institute.) In the Myers link you provided, one can read that Jefferson quote. I maintain that he’d still believe that, even after reading Darwin and liking much of what he said (He probably knew of Lamarck’s theories, something Myers neglected to point out.) Jefferson would very likely believe as Francis Collins does.

CygnusX1, you have a wonderful collection of questions and some good points, but very few answers. You do an incredible amount of hand-waving, and I feel you would make stronger statements if you didn’t put them in question form. Also that old idea that we use only 5% of our brains is a complete myth.
(http://healthlibrary.epnet.com/GetContent.aspx?token=0d429707-b7e1-4147-9947-abca6797a602&chunkiid=156966)

Mark Gabrud, you seem pretty fired up, and like you’ve had some bad experiences with transhumanist thought (by no fault of your own). You make what I feel to be good questions on the problems of uploading, and I agree that consciousness is a very soul-like quality in this context. I’ll also point out that very few transhumanists I’ve seen propose the development of a successor species that will replace us, at least without having a chance to join that species. Many including myself also feel it’s important to allow people to remain as they are if they so choose. Further, most transhumanists I’ve known care a great deal for the people currently existing, and put in real work to improve their lives, even through “conventional” goals like reducing or ending world hunger. But then again your post might be referring to Mr. Hack above, in which case, be my guest!

Richard Hack, I’m glad to see you’re determined to looking at things logically. I’m disappointed to note your utter failure to do so.

“Transhumanism as a philosophy or ideology is based on reason and is thus necessarily adamantly opposed to the very core of religion which is faith. Never the twain shall meet!” <—Your rabid faith in this view is just that, faith. Rationalism requires at least the honest consideration of new evidence. If your eye sees the same thing regardless of where you look, you’re blind.

“[T]he reason Transhumanism produces assertions as to what should be done is due to the fact that facts in themselves have corollaries influencing action” There is no ought-from-is (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is-ought_problem). You’re basically saying that Transhumanism is okay making normative statements because “they’re obvious”. This view is long defunct.

“By definition, the purpose of life is to survive.” Who’s definition? Merriam-Webster’s? The National Science Foundation’s? Yours? I’m fond of survival myself but I don’t base my purpose of life off it. I’d rather be dead than have an immortal existence of unbelievable torture. Maybe you’re thinking in terms of Darwinian selection but this doesn’t apply either: evolution “cares” only that your genes are still around, it doesn’t give a hoot about whether your heart continues to beat. Lots of creatures develop with very short life spans, programmed death even, because that’s what kept their genes going. Survival is just one human value that evolution has hard-wired into us because that helped the genes. Just like it wired in a tendency for parents to sacrfice their own lives to save their children, because that saved the genes.

Yes, by all means a “Transhumanist ascension” might change our lives and potentially even values in a way unlike anything we’ve yet seen. But from where we stand now, some of the possibilities look better than worse, which is why we strive to make some more likely. We might even end up in a world in which someone rewires your brain *gasp* to turn you into a weak-willed, snivelling sap who cares about things like love, happy babies, and social equality. Maybe you dislike that possibility? Waah waah waah. If so, you see what we’re talking about.

Your entire comment is a long tyrade on human values based on the radical possesion of *good heavens!* human values. Or perhaps just the singular human value of survival, which you’ve latched onto with all fervor. You mention solving the problems of human nature, but by what metric are these problems? What defines what’s good and what’s bad? THAT’S ETHICS. By what measure should one reach forward and turn off the nanotech safety because a collection of molecules we call a mouth and vocal chords starts generating sound waves you interpret to make abstract statements about what we should do? By what measure do their soundwaves about what we should do justify you making soundwaves about what we should do, saying we shouldn’t makes soundwaves about what we should do?

Get off your high horse and get your ass into a library. Then you can learn enough to buy a car and actually get someplace.

Frank: Hack wrote: “By definition, the purpose of life is to survive.”
Yet he also wrote, “If you can eliminate the problems caused by human nature by producing technology that enables the TRANSCENDENCE OF HUMAN NATURE - which is the core tenet and defining characteristic of Transhumanism “

I see a huge contradiction here. Care to reconcile it? “

Simple. There is no contradiction.  Whatever you imagine to be a contradiction is an illusion caused by your inability to understand the English language.

The pathetic nature of your diatribe against Transhumanism also shows your ability to conceptualize to be less than a four-function calculator, so you have more to worry about than AI. Anyone who thinks faith is equivalent to reason is by definition incapable of reason and thus has no credibility in discussions of this nature.

The sort of responses generated here to this pathetically illogical article demonstrates how far so-called “ethicists” have to go to be considered anything more than closet religionists in sheep’s clothing.

As it stands, transhumanism is a cultural movement, not a religion. I hope it stays that way.

I’m not sure that a religion has to be about “the supernatural”, however that is defined. Indeed, I’m not sure that there is a clear set of necessary and sufficient criteria for something to be a religion (the courts use multiple indicia, much as they do when, say, distinguishing between employees and contractors). It’s probably more a matter of family resemblances that involve clusters of characteristics, of which the reliance on gods, spooks, demons, etc., is only one.

There are certainly religion-like characteristics that I hope transhumanism never takes on - not just the reliance on gods and spooks, but also the religious tendency to offer a comprehensive theory of everything (including how we should live our lives), the wish to define orthodox dogma, and the apocalyptic qualities that some religions share with certain supposedly secular systems such as Nazism and Communism.

We don’t (or at least I don’t) want to see transhumanism become a comprehensive, dogmatic, apocalyptic system of thought, whether or not it thereby qualifies as a religion.

Hack, it’s disappointing that you’d lower the tone of this discussion in such an unfruitful manner.

The questions posed in response to your first comment are valid questions. But instead of defending your arguments, you resort to ad hominem attacks. Sadly, that diminishes your contribution to this post.

The main thing you need to explain is how you avoid the is-ought problem (often called the ‘naturalistic fallacy’, although that is a slightly different problem).

Facts themselves contain no normativity. Values must arise from somewhere else. Now, you can state that *your* values are that death is “the root of all evil”, but you need to justify that in some way other than just relying on natural facts about life and death. I.e. there is nothing contained within the definition of life that makes it intrinsically good and death bad.

Even if we *do* accept that “death is bad”, I’d still be wary of making survival a cardinal value of morality. To do so is to open the floodgates for any mechanism that promotes survival to be moral - such as greed, murder, cheating etc. A moral system, in my opinion, needs to be more subtly defined than that.

Hack, maybe it will help to know that “Frank” is not the same poster as “FrankAdamek.” Knowing that, you might realize that you imputed to me things I don’t believe, and then you might also answer my friendly challenge with more than “there is no contradiction.”

I’ll add that you imputed things to me as well that I don’t believe and never said, though I do believe I was the intended target of your message. I could point them out but I don’t see a lot of point. You don’t seem to be listening to what people are saying, being so anxious to knock down these ideas you’ve convinced yourself lack all validity whatsoever. Not realizing what people are even talking about, you keep doing the very things people are taking issue with while considering that a defense. Until you understand the points we’re making you can’t make very good arguments against those points.

While Transhumanism has its passionate (and sometimes embarrassingly so) supporters, what it anticipates is at least *falsifiable.*

Sooner or later, the required technologies will demonstrate themselves to be possible and practical…or not. And we will be able to point to specific reasons that they are or are not.

That pretty much takes it out of the realm of being a religion, for me…

(Ethics/morals/religion will play some part in if/how expected capabilities will actually be used of course, but that’s true of most any technology.)

Frank Glover (not me) wrote: “While Transhumanism has its passionate (and sometimes embarrassingly so) supporters, what it anticipates is at least *falsifiable.*”

Sometimes it might take 99 years to falsify it:
http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/treder20090722/
“Can you see ahead 99 years?”

You can’t build a religion out of ideas that principally use science to define itself, because science by definition is interested in the physical and verifiable world whereas religion is not. Transhumanism is missing some key ingredients that would make it work as a religion, namely, faith in a prime mover who passes down to the abject believer the rules of right conduct, and the veil that is drawn between the believers and the deity(ies) the religion represents.
You have to keep followers of a religion reverential and supplicant to an externality of greater good that, by its own definition, is not to ever be fully understood and is thereby forever needed; Transhumanism, if it tries to define itself in religious terms will have to forgo unlocking the secrets of nature so that it will not arrive at a perfect manipulation of itself and thereby kill the mystery inherent in the desire to understand its own nature, that is, it could not thrive by adhering to the rules of science and strict empiricism. Without a sense of the unattainable or metaphysical, it will eventually fail as a religious movement and turn into something more basic like a cultural norm. There is something too recursive and incontrovertible about its definition for it to have any propagative power as a religion. Still a religion needn’t be popular to be a religion, but if a
religion has no power to shape the future of society that
houses it then what good is it in calling it one? Better to just call Transhumanism a philosophy. Call it amplified technophilia.  😊

Don, see Tim Dean’s post: “it’s disappointing that you’d lower the tone of this discussion in such an unfruitful manner.”

Calling believers “abject” shows how you want to drag down the conversation. And saying that religion isn’t interested in the physical world shows how much you know about a fraction of the world’s religions.

Frank, stick to the thread: We don’t care if I know nothing about religion if you can’t show us what you mean.

Argue that Transhumanism is a valid form of religion if you wish; we are all pleasantly awaiting your high-toned scholastics.

We should have a poll here and finally decide whether Transhumanism should be a Religion or a Philosophy.

I personally have no doubts it should stick to philosophy.

Not sure what the requirements are for any organisation to become a religion, but here’s an example..

The Jedi census phenomenon is a grassroots movement that was created in 2001 for citizens of a number of English-speaking countries to record their religion as “Jedi” or “Jedi Knight”
More here > http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jedi_census_phenomenon

And even more here > http://www.jedichurch.org/

Now does IEET really want or need to compete here?

Posted by Don: “Frank, stick to the thread: We don’t care if I know nothing about religion if you can’t show us what you mean.”
Let me just get the groundrules here. I must talk only about whether TH is a religion, while you get to call religious believers “abject.” OK, got it.
I don’t think TH is a religion, but its followers can sure get pretty “religious” (in the sense of “fervent”) about it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I’m sorry, but no, Transhumanism is NOT a religion. Unless you have a very loose and poor definition of what religion is.

The only possible element of it, which might be considered religion, is the “faith” with which some people have in the idea. But faith alone does not make something a religion. Scientists have faith in their scientific processes, but science is CERTAINLY not a religion.

Some of the concepts and ideas behind transhumanism is clearly rooted in reality, science, and logic. Some of the ideas are inevitably going to happen.
There is no magic to these ideas, no unexplainable beliefs, other than the belief that we as humans will keep advancing technology, so far that it will change us.

There is really nothing about it that can accurately be called “religion”... Unless your goal in making such claims is to “level the playing field” so to speak. Some people who have religious objections to Transhumanism will lower it from a science/technology level, down to a religious level, simply so they can compete in an argument over this issue. They can’t argue it with logic, so they must lower it to religion, to argue on those terms. -_-

At 57 I hope to make it to the Singularity, I am one of those that propose a case for a Quantum God and that free will serves Him with coin flips and dice rolls that bifurcate the Universe with every choice made. Schroedinger’s Cat writ large.

when we get there the choice will be between believers egger to get to the after life and those that would live till mischance takes them some few 1000’s of years in the future, and for those that wish to see the next step, well, let them go as they wish. But what bar must be jumped to remain. Will our “uploads” be alive; without hormones and neurotransmitters, will we be algorithms in a box or will we find a way for our personality’s to continue to grow and remain in continuity with our former human selves. will there be a way for those that have been uploaded to download into a new and better flesh even after centuries in storage/stasis or downloaded as multiple copies of mental clones. The true group think. 

Hack: the purpose of life is to evolve, Die-ing is how protoplasm makes way for the new roll of God’s dice, however should we manage to evolve in a non-biological manner that lets us survive that too will serve the Quantum God. And the Multiverse will continue to expand with every choice made.

Religions and governments of which Jefferson spoke are institutions. They have walls and bricks. They have hierarchies. They live in buildings. Fairly easy to erect a wall between the two as they have actual walls.

Science is a process, a methodology, that results in a body of knowledge. The process, being highly dynamic, creates a very fluid body of knowledge, from which things are always being removed and to which things are always being added - more the latter than the former.

Religion is a set of ideas or beliefs, typically (but not always) handed down as a semi-static body of knowledge, or at least literature. It is also dynamic and changes over time, but typically so slowly as to appear static. The interpretation of its source documents also changes slowly over time.

Science and religion therefore are two different things and in a sense do not need to be separated any more than outer space and underground need to be separated.
——
The religion and science of which you are speaking, I think, are essentially ideas. They live in people’s minds. They get carried on in buildings, for sure, but they are essentially made up of concept. Separating things in a person’s mind is not so difficult and cannot be carried out by decree. So it may be that the ideas of science and religion are essentially inseparable

Now, governments are subject to change by actions of the people and the scientific body of knowledge and even aspects of its methodology (for really, what is science but a methodology?) are also subject to change by its participants. Both of government and science are well-documented and dynamic.

Much of ideas of the major religions are also well-documented and subject to change, but their change tends to evolve over long periods of time and as such, are relatively static.
——
I believe that many science-minded people (like myself) believe that, given a long enough time frame, science will always progress, that science will progress to the point where transhumanism in the sense of extreme human augmentation is basically a foregone conclusion and is very common.

That’s a belief. But it’s not the same kind of belief as a religion. It’s a belief that’s extrapolated from the long and successful run science has had for the past 500 years or so. We might come up with something more successful, but religion is not it.

Religion also had a very long run as the dominant explanation for natural events and existence and it is petering out (although a look around today’s political landscape in the USA would give one doubts).

A truly advanced AI might be just the thing to take it to the next level - the new thing that better explains the natural world and experience - the one beyond science.

In some ways, science and religion are inseparable. In some ways, they are simply so different as to not need separating. Trying to keep them apart is artificially tying them together to begin with.

Transhumanism is an outgrowth of science - nothing more. It would make no more sense to try to make it a religion than it would be to make aspirin a religion or computers (except the Macintosh) a religion.

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