Saturday, July 25, 2009

Transhumanism as Religion

The IEET blog has an article by Mike Treder on Transhumanism as Religion: Do transhumanists hold a set of beliefs that effectively offer an alternative to traditional religions? And if so, is that necessarily bad?

The article discusses a speech given in March 2009 by Steven Goldberg, a Law Professor at Georgetown University: Does the Wall Still Stand? The Implications of Transhumanism for the Separation of Church and State. Mike: "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's own conclusion: "From the perspective of a non-transhumanist, it seems that it would be honest and sensible for transhumanists to embrace the idea that they offer an alternative to traditional religions.".

The definition of religion used in the article: "A religion addresses fundamental and ultimate questions. [such as] the meaning of life and death, man’s role in the Universe, [and] the proper moral code of right and wrong. Second, a religion is comprehensive in nature. It is not confined to one question or topic.".

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.