Lincoln Cannon: Mormonism and Transhumanism

This is a short exerpt from a published conversation between Ben Goertzel and Lincoln Cannon (president of the Mormon Transhumanist Association):

Lincoln Cannon, President, Mormon Transhumanist Association

Ben:  You’re a very well educated, scientifically and technically literate guy.  How can you believe that crazy stuff (Mormonism)?

Lincoln:  From some perspectives, aspects of Mormonism are indeed absurd.  To paraphrase one prominent atheist, Mormonism is just Christianity plus some other crazy stuff.  However, these perspectives overlook or ignore how the other crazy stuff modifies Christianity!  It does so to such an extent that characterizing Mormonism as a mere extension of other modern Christian ideologies is inaccurate.  Mormonism is to modern Christianity as ancient Christianity was to Judaism.  It is a different religion.

Ben:  Would you say there exists a stripped-down, purely spiritual aspect to Mormonism?

Lincoln:  My own speculation is that our universe is part of God, like software is part of a computer or an embyro is part of its mother.  As our computational capacity has increased, shrinking in both cost and size, it has also become more intimate, moving from distant warehouses into our pockets and even our bodies.  We are decreasingly distinguishable from our computers, and its seems reasonable to suppose that posthumans would be althogether indistinguishable from our computers.  For such beings, there may be no practical difference between thinking of a world and creating it.  We can imagine them as both materially corporeal and meaningfully present throughout the worlds they create.

Ben:  Do you see Mormonism as consistent with “traditional transhumanism”?

Lincoln:  Mormonism has many parallels with tradition transhumanism, natural humanity is something overcome as we learn to become more like God.  God graciously provides means (technological and otherwise) for us to progress, and we must use these means instead of merely supposing God will save us without any effort on our part.  As we become more like God, we will change both spiritually and physically, taking on the virtues and attributes of God, including both creative and benevolent capacities.

Ben:  How do Mormons take scriptural foretelling of the specifics of the future–literally or metaphorically?

Lincoln:  Mormon interpretations of scripture range from the highly literal to the highly symbolic; however, most Mormons do not strictly subscribe to scriptural inerrancy, infallibility, or literalism.  Personally, I am most concerned with interpreting scripture non-dogmatically and pragmatically, in ways that are inspiring and helpful.

Ben:  What are the main ways in which the Mormon spin on transhumanism differs from “conventional” transhumanism (bearing in mind that the latter is a rather diverse entity)?

Lincoln:  Mormon transhumanism doesn’t differ from conventional transhumanism in essentials so much as it extends conventional transhumanism.  Not content with describing our future in merely secular terms, Mormon transhumanists embrace a religious esthetic for various reasons.  I do so because I consider the religious esthetic more powerful as a motivator and more accurate as a descriptor.  Of course, divine demanders can be abused, and God-colored spectacles can distract.  However, I prefer these risks to those of alternatives available to me.

For more on the Q&A see:  http://hplusmagazine.com/2011/05/09/mormonism-the-most-transhumanist-religion/

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5 Responses to Lincoln Cannon: Mormonism and Transhumanism

  1. dor says:

    @Roger and Lincoln
    Thanks very much for posting this!

    Do Mormons believe in an Omega point (a point in time where history ends, the laws of physics no longer apply and there will be a “new heaven and a new earth”)?
    Mormons place strong emphasis on service. Is that emphasis part of the perfecting of the human? Put another way, is service seen as an underlying condition of developing spiritually?
    In transhumanism, the transcending of biology is all about technological/biotechnological improvement. Is technological transhumanism without a spiritual component consonant with Mormonism?
    I was very surprised to read in the first paragraph that Mormonism is a different religion than Christianity. Is that the official position of the Church? (I had always thought that describing Mormons as “not real Christians” was a slur.)

    Thanks for being open and sharing on this topic.

    • roger hansen says:

      1. From my perspective, I would say that Mormons would not believe in a literal Omega Point or Singularity. But Lincoln can answer this question better than I. But I think I’m safe in saying that there would never be a time when the laws of physics would no longer apply. Our concept is more one of eternal progression.
      2. As I understand Mormonism, “faith without works is dead.” That is an important feature of reaching toward perfection. Service is seen as an underlying condition of developing spirituality. I personally don’t understand a religion without a strong emphasis on works. But, for me, the works need to be toward something useful, and that is where I come at odds with conservative Mormonism.
      3. Technological transhumanism without a spiritual component does not jive with Mormonism.
      4. I would argue that some teachings of Mormonism are an advanced form of Christianity. LDS leaders, however, are sensative about being called non-Christians. What fundamentalist Christians thinks about my religion is of little concern to me, so their accusations don’t bother me. But for some reason, the leadership feels some need to be accepted by all parts of the Christian community.

      Hopefully Lincoln will respond also.

  2. Hi Dor.

    As other Christians, Mormons revere the Bible, including the passages related to the phrase you referenced. It originally appears a couple times in Isaiah. Then it appears in 2 Peter and Revelation. You might be interested in reading these passages from Mormon scripture that reference the same phrase:

    http://lds.org/scriptures/bofm/ether/13.8-12?lang=eng#7

    http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/29.22-28?lang=eng#21

    What might this mean, this idea of new heavens and a new earth? Mormon scripture and ritual (oral traditions repeated in temples without being included in written scripture) include the notion that time is only part of eternity. We live in time. God lives in eternity. Time as we know it will eventually end, but we will continue into eternity. There are, of course, many ways that individual Mormons interpret such ideas, but they are clearly compatible with the Omega Point idea.

    Service, along with other forms of charity, is essential to the Mormon understanding of eternal progression toward becoming God. We seek to emulate God both in creativity and in benevolence. In fact, most Mormons would agree that our creative capacity is limited by our benevolent capacity: enduring power requires charity. Here’s one of my favorite passages from Mormon scripture on this subject:

    http://lds.org/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/121.34-46?lang=eng#33

    As you can see from this, technological transhumanism without a spiritual component is not consonant with Mormonism. That’s one reason for the existence of the MTA. Some of us feel that our Transhumanism is incomplete without our Mormonism. While it may be redundant to call someone a Transhumanist Mormon (because almost all Mormons implicitly hold to the notion that we should become posthuman), it is not redundant to call someone a Mormon Transhumanist (because many Transhumanists marginalize religion and spirituality).

    Most Mormons, including me, identify as “Christians”. However, the differences between Mormon Christians and non-Mormon Christians are substantial to the point that I consider it disingenuous to consider the two to be the same religion. There is a parallel in the early development of Christianity, when it was separating from Judaism. Many Christians identified as Jews for a long period of time, although there was clearly a substantial difference between Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews.

  3. dor says:

    Thank you both
    Increasingly, I struggle with the labels of faith. For me, that which creates divisivness is inherently inconsistent with a life of faith. When the label works to join together, it is of value. But when the label is used to separate, to infer an ownership of God, then it becomes an idol.
    My spiritual life has been enriched by knowing you both.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      The LDS Church leadership has tried hard in recent years to be less divisive. As far as I’m concerned, this has been both good and not so good. On the good side is the Church’s softening of its rhetoric toward the Catholic Church. It used to be quite strident. Mormons also coordinate with Catholic charities in regards to its own humanitarian services. On the not-so-good side, to appease fundamentalist Christians, the LDS Church has backed away from some of its doctrine related to “eternal progression” and Godhood as a goal. This latter evolution is troubling to Mormon transhumanists.

      There are some religions and movements which are less divisive, and perhaps better prepared to face the future. I will mention two: Unitarianism and Process Theology. I’m not sure you would have to give up a heritage in Mormonism (or any other religion) to participate in either one of these two.

      Another religion that looks to be interesting is the Baha’i faith. I’ve visited their temples in Kampala, Uganda, and Wilmette, Illinois. Their religion seems heavily oriented toward unity and peace. And it also has a strong element of mysticism.

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