Monday, January 01, 2007

Give Me That New Transhumanist Religion

Transhumanism is, in my view, a branch of scientism, that is, a quasi religion that seeks to use science in ways for which the great method is not meant. Here's a little proof. A transhumanist named Giulio Prisco is optimistic about the future of the great post human movement. And he describes why transhumanism will appeal, in terms that are decidedly religious in tone:

"I want our ideas to reach as many people as possible, in a clear and understandable way. Why? Because our worldview can give a sense of meaning of life, a vision of our place in the universe, peace and happiness. This has been the historic function of the world's great religions and monolithic ideologies that, on the other hand, are now finally beginning to show some fatigue and soon will be completely unable to persuade people more and more culturally sophisticated and used to the scientific worldview. We should not forget that these are still a minority, but the trend is clear....

"We cannot deny that the great world's religions have managed, and quite well, to reach the masses. Religions' success is due to the fact that they offer an answer to the nightmare of death. Yes, your loved one are dead, and sooner or later you will also die, but you will meet again in heaven. This is a *very* powerful meme as the penetration of religion demonstrates. With the coming of a secular worldview based on science, it seems impossible to continue taking religion seriously. But is it really so? Perhaps not. I am very interested in the current experimental activities to create 'transhumanist religions', based on science, but still able to offer hope in 'another life' even for those who are already dead.

Ha! So, if that old time religion no longer works for you, convert to that new transhumanist religion.

Prisco also wonders why the Raelian cult is having more success than the transhumanist religion at gaining adherents, even though the "Raelian message is very similar to the transhumanist one." Now there's an apt comparison I had never thought to make! (For those who might not know, the Raelians are the science cult that believes we are here because aliens cloned all life on the planet. They also pulled off the big hoax a few years ago that set of a typically brainless media feeding frenzy when the cult leaders claimed to have created the first human cloned baby.)

He thinks perhaps the reason for the greater Raelian success is the flying saucer angle. No, the answer is sex. The Raelians are into free love and a lot of it. For those looking for a good time, that is a lot more attractive than being uploaded into a computer and sharing your memes with nerdy futurists.


At January 02, 2007 , Blogger T E Fine said...

Am I the only person who thinks it's a little, well, insane that people who refuse to believe in God, the supernatural, ESP, and non-human entities of intelligence who guard us, will quite happily believe that a *system of thought* is capable not only of infecting a human being like a virus, but is able to *reproduce* itself, as it a *system of thought* had some kind of intellectual capacity, even on the level of your average flatworm, so that it "knew" how to spread itself? (Meme)

That's pretty queer.

What about people who decide to believe in a Supreme Being because the scientific facts don't mesh up with the atheistic worldview and they find religion to be a better explanation? Case in point: Lee Strobel, former atheist, now Christian author of THE CASE FOR FAITH and

At January 02, 2007 , Blogger T E Fine said...

... THE CASE FOR A CREATOR. This guy wasn't Christian until he did the research and changed his mind based on two years of extensive study.

What about Dr. James Tour, of my beloved Rice University, who "builds molecules" for a living, and is a devout Christian?

What about Sir Fredrick Hoyle? Formerly a firm believer in Steady-State Theory (and the guy who coined the term "Big Bang" to make fun of the notion of a Big Bang), this is what he had to say:

"A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking of in nature" ("The Universe, Past and Present Reflections," ANNUAL REVIEW OF ASTRONOMY AND ASTROPHYSICS 20, 1982).

You're not talking about people blindly dragged into belief. You're talking about people who came to scientific conclusions that changed their minds.

People these days don't like religion because they don't like to follow rules. They don't like to be told, "If you screw up royally you'll end up in hell or reincarnating or some other form of punishment." That's why New Age religions have taken off, as the Raelians did. No excessive rules, plenty of freedom, with just enough spirituality to calm the fear-of-death demons. That's also why people like atheism and agnosticism. Atheists say, "there's nothing afterward so you may do as you please on this earth and not fear being punished after death," and agnostics like to sit on the fence, "Well, I can do what I like because there's no proof that there is no God, but I don't deny there's a God, so if He does exist, He can't smite me out of hand."

Transhumanism is the same thing. Nothing will smite you on the other side, so we can do what we want and we can make our own purpose without fear of reprisal.

Or so they say.

Nature doesn't like to be fooled with. If Nature decides it made a mistake when humans start screwing around, it'll wipe us out and fix itself, thank you. You can buy that whether you believe in God or not.

And I want to thank my cat, Ginger, for this post being divided in two...

At January 03, 2007 , Blogger Giu1i0 Pri5c0 said...

Dear Wesley,

I wish to thank you for quoting me, but also wish to reply to your comments which may give, I fear, a distorted view of what I try to say.

I have the highest respect for religion as search for meaning and wish to live a "good" life.

At the same time, and based not only on my scientific training but also on my common sense, I am just unable to *believe* in any religion.

I think, as you quote, that the succes of religions is due to the fact that they offer an answer to the nightmare of death.

For previous generations, death was just something you cannot escape, so it is not surprising that so many persons have accepted supernatural answers in absence of scientific ones.

But today we are beginning to see how science and technology may be able, someday and perhaps soon, to defeat death. I prefer this practical engineering approach to blind belief in something that cannot be proven.

Of course, for most people, the scientific possibility of engineering immortality for future generation is not enough. I am one of these people. Many of my loved ones are dead and I wish to think that, perhaps, I will see them again.

This is just human. But I cannot blind my eyes to the fact that, according to the scientific worldview to which I subscribe, they are just gone.

Gone forever? Perhaps. And perhaps future science and technology may find a way to bring them back. I do not *believe* this: I do not believe in anything that I cannot prove. But I allow myself to contemplate this possibility because it is not, in my opinion, incompatible with the scientific worldview.

This is what I mean by offering hope to those who, like me, are unable to find hope in religion.

It is, I think, unfair to quote "[The] Raelian message is very similar to the transhumanist one" without the rest of my sentence: "with an extra layer of UFO nonsense". Indeed, I think the Raelian message has the same weakness of religion: it requires blind faith in things that cannot be proven.

I prefer, on the contrary, to believe in ourselves and in our capability to improve our own condition. On the basis of our current understanding of reality, I am confident that someday we will achieve immortality through engineering. And later, perhaps, we will be able to do things even more amazing.

At January 03, 2007 , Blogger Michael LaTorra said...

Bravo, Mr. Prisco!
Your thoughtful response to Mr. Smith was a needed corrective to his misquoting and misrepresenting of transhumanism.

As Mr. Smith may recall, I introduced myself to him and we chatted briefly at Stanford Law School during the IEET conference in 2006. I expressed an interest in discussing religion and transhumanism with him, and said that I expected him to attend the panel on that topic which I was moderating. To my surprise, he did not want to discuss the topic with me. Even more surprisingly, Mr. Smith said he wanted to attend a different panel instead of the one on transhumanism and religion, despite the fact that my panel featured a Christian theologian and a Christian minister who both found transhumanism to be compatible with their faith.
It seems to me that Mr. Smith deliberately ignores evidence that contradicts his claim that transhumanism and religion are incompatible, or that transhumanism is itself some sort of religion.


At January 03, 2007 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Wolcome, Giu1i0: *Of course* you believe in religion. That is what transhumanism is. It seeks to find transcendence and Truth through scientific means. As such, it isn't really about science. It is about the very human desire to find meaning and purpose. In this regard, transhumanism is a denomination of Scientism, which is merely religion masking as science.

I mentioned the Raelians because you pointed out that both transhumanism and that cult seek a material immortality through science. You wondered why they were so successful in recruiting adherents. I just pointed out that the Raelians offer a lot of sex to those who join them. Indeed, check out their Web site and see all of the beautiful people who, potential recruits are made to believe might be open to liasons.

Another difference I see between the Raelians and transhumanism is that I don't think Rael is serious. He is pulling off a great scam and is laughing all the way to the bank.

Transhumanists, on the other hand, really believe they might be able to live forever by uploading their minds into computers or morphing into cyberbots. Frankly, I think it is sad.

Thanks for posting. You are welcome here at Secondhand Smoke any time.

At January 03, 2007 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Mikr: Sorry I offended you. I don't recall the encounter. It certainly wasn't any desire to aviod you.

I hardly misquoted Mr. Prisco. Indeed, he doesn't say so. Moreover, I linked to his article so people could read it for themselves.

As to transhumanism being a form of religion, I have written about it often. It sure ain't "science."

At January 03, 2007 , Blogger T E Fine said...

Dear Mr. Prisco,

Welcome aboard! I think it's nice that you took the time to post an answer.

Now then:

"For previous generations, death was just something you cannot escape, so it is not surprising that so many persons have accepted supernatural answers in absence of scientific ones. But today we are beginning to see how science and technology may be able, someday and perhaps soon, to defeat death. I prefer this practical engineering approach to blind belief in something that cannot be proven."

The problem is that you CAN'T prove that death will be eliminated. I stand by what I said earlier in response to a different post of Wesley's - you can't guarantee that you - the original programming - will be transfered in any kind of process, and that still leaves the possibility of complete eradication of consciousness afterwards if you kill off the body in the process of moving the "mind" to a machine.

As to the statement that people prefere "supernatural" answers in place of scientific ones, I recommend Pim Von Lommel's article on the continuation of consciousness (it was published in the LANCET).

Too much emphasis is put on scientific understanding and weighing and measuring every little thing; anything that can't be weighed and measured mustn't be of any use or mustn't be taken seriously. I think we need to get back in touch with noetic experience. As long as there are people who have experiences continue to take away something of importance with them, I'll be more open to their interpretations than those of the high-minded transhumanists. At least we have past experience and explanations in the realm of traditional religion. Transhumanism is all guesswork and hope.

At January 03, 2007 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

For dumb people like me, here is the definition of "noetic." Ahem: "The word 'noetic' is derived from the Greek word "nous," meaning mind, intelligence or ways of knowing, There is no exact equivalent in English. It refers to "inner knowing," a kind of intuitive consciousness and immediate access to knowledge beyond what is available to our normal senses or the power of reason."

At January 04, 2007 , Blogger Giu1i0 Pri5c0 said...

Wesley, if religion is defined as "seeking to find transcendence and truth, meaning and purpose", then I am ready and willing to accept the label "religious".

And as you say, I want to find it through scientific means, or at least through means compatible with the scientific method and worldview.

If I don't *find* it, I want to *build* it following the best examples in the history of our species and our civilization. Science and engineering have taken us from caves to where we are now, and there is no reason to think that this process should stop here.

T E Fine, I would agree with most of what you say with the exception of "at least we have past experience and explanations in the realm of traditional religion". I don't see the evidence of any "experience", and I cannot take seriously any "explanation" not based on reason. Of course, you are right in that I do not have certainties but only hopes. But I prefer hopes based on reasonable speculation than false (in the sense of unproven and unprovable) certainties.

At January 04, 2007 , Blogger Natasha Vita-More said...

Good morning Welsey,

I'll comment on your stating: "It [transhumanism] seeks to find transcendence and Truth through scientific means."

Transhumanism is based on a non-hierarchical system which invites open-system heterarchical communications. As a worldview, transhumanism has been and continues to be continually questioned and reasoned by its philosophers. As such, it stems from philosophers’ 'love of wisdom' (Greek) and developed into a worldview of individuals and activists from interdisciplinary and transdisciplairy fields, paying attention to in-depth international news of events that affect all of humanity.

If the methods by which the mission, goals, and initiatives are likely to be achieved in domains of science, technology, and humanities, for example, then it is really about practices within those domains.

Substituting the meaning of philosophy for the meaning of religion is unsuitable for countless reasons. First and foremost religion basically assumes followers who worship, and are rewarded for their blind faith, and seek revelation, under a hierarchy of leadership which has the closest connection to God. These method of practice are the in not recognized within the structure of the transhumanism and not practiced by transhumanist.

At January 04, 2007 , Blogger Wesley J. Smith said...

Hey, natasha vita-more (more life). Thanks for dropping by.

Not to get into semantics: Transhumanism is a denomination of sceintism. It is a belief system, which, as you state, is based very much in the humanities, e.g., its adherents hope to find purpose and meaning, and to hold back the terror or nothingness, by believing science will save them from death and they can transcend the limitations of the human condition. One might even say it has blind faith in technology and science, since so much of what is proposed is pure pie in the sky.

My point is, that if it isn't religion, which is debatable, at the very least it seeks to be a substitute for religion. And, it seeks to create a system of values based on its irrational beliefs, by which I mean, beliefs that are not emperically demonstrable.

At January 04, 2007 , Blogger Natasha Vita-More said...

Hey Wesley,

You say, "At the very least it seeks to be a substitute for religion. And, it seeks to create a system of values based on its irrational beliefs, by which I mean, beliefs that are not empirically demonstrable."

In deference to those who do practice a religion, I do not think anything could or ought to replace their valued beliefs. To coerce this would be unethical and insensitive.

"Irrational beliefs" are beliefs that lack critical inquiry, possible outcome, and that an action and/or circumstance cannot be logically related to a course of events.

Transhumanism therefore cannot possibly be based on "irrational beliefs" because the original philosophy was written by a philosopher whose study was based on critical inquiry for possible outcomes. The “possible outcomes” relates to strategic assessment and scenario development of numerous potential causes and effects of relationships between ideas and actions. These ideas and actions develop out of the potential for developing technologies to change the environment and peoples’ lives existing within and around the environment. Proponents of transhumanism spend considerable time working within structures which encourage and even insist on analytical inquiry, theory and practice, which require critical examination of ideas. Studies of the future are not based in fact or in principle on dreams or hopes. These two activities are valuable for creative, visionary thinking but cannot stand alone just as a building cannot stand alone on beauty, but is supported by its structure which is based on mathematics. Creative thinking is one thing, critical action is another. In order for transhumanism to realize a "transhuman" future; it has been not only essential but imperative that those who support this worldview ardently critique its methods and motivations and the types of sciences and technologies purported to bring it about.

An empirically demonstrated belief is a bit of an oxymoron (as I noetically know you realize). Yet this is not at issue. Transhumanists do not support “beliefs” being materialized, as beliefs are immaterial. What transhumanists do support and work toward is the elements and methods for which to “realize” the ideas (beliefs) which are material in nature. In sum, transhumanism is a driving force of realizing a future in which society might be able to understand how to resolve ecological problems of the earth, sociological problems of society, and physiological problems of the human body.

At January 17, 2008 , Blogger Roko said...

I've commented on this post on my blog

At January 04, 2009 , Blogger Khannea Suntzu said...

Sounds like

{engineering/science} ::
{transhuman-ism/belief systems}

So whats wrong with that?

(both religion and scientific worldview would both be a subset of "belief systems". The question is to what degree sound science overlaps with transhuman "futurology")


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