This is the fifth and last post in our series on Mormon Transhumanism. The first part was an introduction to transhumanism written by James Carroll. Carl Youngblood wrote the second and third parts, and Lincoln Cannon wrote part four. In this post, I will address some critiques and questions about Mormon Transhumanism in the form of a Q&A.
Question: Is the idea of Christ as community compatible with the idea of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
Short Answer: Of course. Just ask Paul — or Jesus.
Long Answer: In John 17, Jesus prays to the Father: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:20-23). Paul wrote to the Corinthians that all of us are the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). These scriptures, and many more, teach that having a Great Exemplar who asks us to follow him is more than compatible with us joining the body of Christ in communion — indeed, it is precisely the point of Jesus’ ministry. If we do not take upon ourselves the name and attributes of Christ, Jesus’ ministry was in vain. As we without our dead cannot be made perfect, whole, or complete, and they without us cannot be made perfect, even so the work of Christ is not complete until all who so desire have immortality and eternal life.
Question: What is the role of Jesus in Mormon Transhumanism?
Short Answer: Jesus is the great example of what it means to be a son or daughter of God, who has walked, pointed out, and opened the way for us to become like God.
Long Answer: Jesus is, among other things, a great teacher who instructs us in the moral use of power, the chief example of the role of Messiah and Savior, a primary manifestation of God’s love for us and Christ’s own love, the atoning motivator toward repentance, the key to our hope and faith in the resurrection, and an incarnation of God sent so that we all can become Gods. It is important to note that Jesus has the title Christ, but that title is not exclusive to him — it is one we are commanded to take upon ourselves. Thus, there is an important distinction to be made between the person of Jesus and the attributes and title of Christ. There is a risk in overemphasizing Jesus’ uniqueness: if we feel that he is utterly beyond us, different from us, and unique, then we lose our hope “that we shall be like him”. The Doctrine & Covenants lays out very clearly that we are like Jesus and that as he received grace for grace, so can we similarly attain “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”. This is the “mystery hid from ages: Christ in you, the hope of glory”.
Question: What about the resurrection? Who says science has anything to do with that?
Short Answer: We should use all the means God has made available to use to further the work of God, including resurrection.
Long Answer: Mormon Transhumanism believes that science is “among the means ordained of God” to accomplish God’s work and glory. While we may eventually discover that the avenues toward immortality and resurrection explored by science are not those employed to accomplish the resurrection, we believe that we will not be condemned for seeking to use the tools and intellect God has blessed us with. In fact, failing to do so may place us in the position of the slothful servant who hid up his talent, only to have it taken away and given to another. Because Mormonism teaches a universal resurrection, many have assumed that this work would be accomplished by God without our involvement. Interestingly, modern-day prophets (notably, Brigham Young and Spencer W. Kimball) have taught that the Saints would be responsible for the resurrection, though the time was not yet.
Question: Isn’t death part of God’s plan? Shouldn’t we embrace it?
Short Answer: Death is a temporary reality that God intends to destroy.
Long Answer: The Book of Mormon calls death (temporal and spiritual) “that awful monster”, and celebrates our anticipated escape with the help of God. The Bible speaks of death as the last enemy that will be destroyed. The Book of Mormon devotes an entire chapter to the disciples whom Jesus blessed not to taste of death — and called “more blessed”, while the Doctrine & Covenants describes the millennial time in which people will be changed from mortality to immortality “in the twinkling of an eye”, a time when “there shall be no sorrow because there is no death” (emphasis added). God’s plan is not to embrace death, but to destroy it.
Question: What need, if any, is there for the Atonement if we progress to godhood through our own efforts?
Short Answer: There is no such thing as “our own efforts” alone.
Long Answer: As King Benjamin points out in his famous sermon in Mosiah chapter 2, all of us are indebted to God, “who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another”. Our ability to “do according to [our] own will” is part of the grace given by God. Atonement is the means by which we can transcend our sins, mistakes, and pains so they don’t prevent us from attaining that which God desires for us: immortality and eternal life. Grace and works are not in opposition: grace and atonement enable us to work and progress. Grace provides the conditions necessary to be able to work and atonement prevents our errors from being permanent stumbling blocks and enables us to work together, rather than simply as independent individual actors.
Question: You speak of “atonement” without the definite article. What do you mean by that?
Short Answer: While the atonement of Jesus Christ is the foremost example of atonement, it is not the only example. The Old Testament speaks of atonements made by priests, and we are called to be “at one” with God and each other.
Long Answer: The word “atonement” was coined in the 1500s, probably by William Tyndale for his English translation of the Bible. It is literally a contraction of “at-one-ment”, and the key concept it is intended to convey is reconciliation. (In fact, the Hebrew & Greek terms translated “atonement” in the Bible are also frequently translated as “reconciliation”. Try substituting “atone/atonement” wherever you read “reconcile/reconciliation” in the scriptures to see whether it provides a different connotation.) While we Mormons often speak of The Atonement of Christ in somewhat mystical terms, Mormon Transhumanism takes very seriously the idea that God works through natural law — while we may not yet understand the particular laws yet, we have faith that someday, we “shall comprehend even God”. Atonement is not a single, incomprehensible, magical or metaphysically supernatural event; it is an infinite and eternal process of reconciliation.
Jesus instructed his disciples to be reconciled to each other, and Paul instructs us “in Christ’s stead” to be reconciled to God. The work of reconciliation, by its very nature, cannot be one-sided. Two or more parties must all work together to truly be reconciled. The atonement of Jesus Christ is the foremost manifestation of God’s willingness to be reconciled to us, but we must still atone with each other and with God in order for reconciliation to be accomplished. Paul puts it this way: “all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” — or with substituted terms: “all things are of God, who hath atoned us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of atonement” (2 Corinthians 5:18; emphasis added). This is God’s eternal work we are called to participate in as saviors on Mount Zion. In its fullest sense, atonement is the relationship the Godhead has: the unity we are invited to join.
Question: Doesn’t the story of the Tower of Babel warn us against ideas like Transhumanism?
Short Answer: Not really.
Long Answer: As with many Old Testament accounts, the interpretation of the story of the Tower of Babel is not necessarily as straightforward or obvious as some would like. The entry on the Tower of Babel at the Jewish Virtual Library suggests: “the sin of these people was, therefore, not presumption or a desire to reach heaven and gain fame, but rather an attempt to change the divinely ordained plan for mankind.” If, as Lincoln Cannon argued in the previous post in this series, Mormonism mandates Transhumanism, and if Mormonism accurately reflects God’s divinely ordained plan for mankind, then Transhumanism in itself does not commit the sin of Babel. Of course, people will commit sin in pursuing the aims of Transhumanism, as we do in all our pursuits; hence the need for wisdom, inspiration, and atonement. (As an aside, it is interesting to note that the Book of Mormon describes how God commanded people from the Tower of Babel (and subsequently Nephi and family) to use technology to cross the ocean to the promised land where they could work toward establishing Zion.)
Question: Is Mormon Transhumanism compatible with the Big Bang Theory?
Short Answer: Sure, why not?
Long Answer: One of the aims of Mormon Transhumanism is to help reconcile the best scientific knowledge we have with the best religious understanding we have. At the core of this aim is the faith that science and religion are compatible and complementary. To the extent that the Big Bang theory is the best scientific theory, to give up on its compatibility with Mormonism would be, at a minimum, premature, and an indication of a lack of faith.
Question: Is Mormon Transhumanism compatible with an infinite regress of Gods?
Short Answer: Sure, why not?
Long Answer: See above. The suggestion might be made that the Big Bang Theory and the theory of an infinite regress of Gods are contradictory. Some conceptions of a multiverse may allow for both theories to hold, but, as I will note later on, whether these particular theories are contradictory or not is tangential to Mormon Transhumanism.
Question: Is an infinite regress of anything (e.g. turtles all the way down) a logical fallacy?
Short Answer: Who knows?
Long Answer: There is a class of arguments against an actual infinity (usually intended to prove creation ex nihilo), known as Kalam Cosmological Arguments. One noted proponent of such arguments is Dr. William Lane Craig, who has specifically used this kind of argument to counter Mormon teachings disclaiming creation ex nihilo. The validity of Kalam arguments, and particularly those of Dr. Craig, is disputed (see, for example, critiques of Dr. Craig at the Common Sense Atheism archive (PDF) and at The Secular Web). Particularly relevant for Mormonism is the response of Blake Ostler, a prolific independent Mormon scholar. From my own perspective, it seems unlikely that we can construct Kalam arguments that don’t equally apply to both God and the universe (particularly intriguing could be the extent to which we identify God and the universe).
These last three questions should also be addressed in a broader way: Mormon Transhumanism does not necessarily hinge on any particular scientific or religious theory. The questions of an eternal universe vs. the Big Bang or an infinite regress of Gods vs. Blake Ostler’s monarchical monotheism are interesting, as are explorations of neuroscience, interpretations of scriptural accounts of the Fall, robotics, transfiguration accounts, etc. But none of these are the linchpin of Mormon Transhumanism. At its core, Mormon Transhumanism is about the creative integration of science and Mormonism, which will require ongoing effort as new ideas are discovered and created. If we need to identify a really core value of Mormon Transhumanism, one would certainly be that God “will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God”, and that ongoing revelation will be to all people, including prophets and scientists. We hope to treasure up all true principles, “or we shall not come out true Mormons”.