CAN HUMANS BECOME GODS?



APRIL 20, 2016
The Immortality Upgrade
BY DAWN CHAN
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Can the Mormon transhumanist movement reconcile technological progress with religious prophecy?
Can the Mormon transhumanist movement reconcile technological progress with religious prophecy?
CREDIT ILLUSTRATION BY JON HAN
On April 7, 1844, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon faith, delivered a sermon to twenty thousand of his followers in Nauvoo, Illinois. The immediate occasion was the funeral of King Follett, a close friend of Smith’s, and there is no doubt that death was on the prophet’s mind. “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens!” Smith told the crowd. “That is the great secret.” He continued: “You have got to learn how to be gods yourselves . . . the same as all gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead.” Lorenzo Snow, the fifth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, struck upon a simpler formulation of the same idea, often repeated today among the Mormon faithful: “As God now is, man may be.”

Earlier this month, soon after Mormons from around the world convened in Salt Lake City, Utah, for their general conference, a smaller gathering took place at the public library in Provo. It was the annual meeting of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, a group of people who believe that the development and dissemination of advanced technologies—cryogenics, bionics, artificial intelligence, and so on—will raise humanity to the heights of power and immortality that Smith envisioned. In the past, the meeting has included presentations from visiting scholars such as Richard Bushman, a prominent Mormon historian and Smith archivist, and Aubrey de Grey, the chief science officer of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence Research Foundation, whose slogan is “Reimagine Aging.” This year’s edition featured talks with titles like “Zion as Superorganism” and “The Infinite Resurrection,” with a lunch break for deli sandwiches in between.


The M.T.A. has its roots in the early two-thousands, when the Internet had become a thing of dens and dorm rooms. As access to information expanded, the L.D.S. Church began “having trouble controlling its narratives,” Carl Youngblood, a software engineer and one of the M.T.A.’s co-founders, told me. (Youngblood comes from a long line of Mormons, going back to his great-great-grandfather, an artist, who with Brigham Young’s approval went to study Impressionism in Paris and then returned to Salt Lake City to paint temple murals.) As Youngblood spoke with his tech-literate friends and acquaintances, it became clear to him that many were frustrated with what they perceived as the church’s “loyalty to present status quo”; they longed for radical visions of the future. Their forebears “actually thought that they were building the city of God—literally,” Youngblood said. “They were creating plat maps and actually marking off city blocks.” He added, “We thought, Well, why couldn’t we have that sort of zeal?” As Youngblood recalls, one member of the cohort, a young man named Lincoln Cannon, introduced the group to the idea of transhumanism, which he had encountered on various Web sites. That was the beginning of the M.T.A. Over the next decade, the band of fourteen founders grew to six hundred members, with Cannon as their president.

At the simplest level, the promises of transhumanism are pretty much irrefutable, even humdrum. Of course technology will improve on human frailty. That process began centuries ago—look at eyeglasses and peg legs. But in the eighty-nine years since the British biologist Julian Huxley, the founder of the World Wildlife Federation and brother of Aldous, coined the word “transhumanism,” the movement has reached far wilder heights of prognostication. Some transhumanists have suggested that we may eventually become immortal, as medical science outpaces disease. Others speculate that our corporeal beings will one day be made inorganic. These predictions may seem, to the uninitiated, like the absurd stuff of science fiction, but they will surely gain social acceptance as the tech titans of Silicon Valley push transhumanist ideals. If the import of Google’s decision, in 2012, to hire the futurist Ray Kurzweil hasn’t sunk in, pause to consider the fact that the second-largest company in the world (by market capitalization) has a director of engineering who believes that humanity will conquer death.

Many transhumanists, Huxley included, have rejected traditional religion. Yet, as Youngblood and Cannon and their Mormon friends read up on the movement, they began to notice that its predictions seemed startlingly in sync with some of Smith’s prophecies. Here were tech-minded futurists, seers from non-religious worlds, who nonetheless believed that humans would become as powerful as gods—whether via bionic limbs, alterations in our DNA, or computer-assisted superintelligence. Perhaps, some members of the M.T.A. thought, transhumanism offered a sort of technical explanation for the Millennium, the period after the Second Coming of Christ, when humankind has eradicated death and disease and poverty. Others wondered whether the Mormon dedication to tracking family trees and amassing genealogical information was a first step in reconstructing all our ancestors in digitally simulated environments. (Imagine, perhaps, a hopped-up version of The Sims, powered by quantum computers.) Some discussed the prophesies, contained in Mormon scripture, that the children of the Millennium will live to the age of a tree, and that those in the afterlife receive a seer stone—some form of technology, perhaps—that allows them to see into kingdoms beyond.

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    Those who would call the Mormon transhumanists a cult face a major hurdle, which is that none of them ever seem to agree on anything. And, although it is easy to dismiss them as a group of starry-eyed dreamers, they have serious collective scientific chops: among the M.T.A.’s ranks are biology professors, employees of major tech companies, patent holders, and an A.I. researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory. They reflect a belief that God and his works are subject to natural law. “Mormonism doesn’t see creation as a magical creation from nothing,” Christopher Bradford, a software engineer at Ancestry.com and the M.T.A.’s newly minted president, told me. There are no miracles at a “snap of the fingers.” (As the British sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke put it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”) According to Cannon, Mormons have historically welcomed technological progress. “We built wagons to go west; we irrigated Utah to terraform it; we use computers to store massive amounts of genealogical data,” he said. Latter-day Saints also helped invent the television, the electric traffic light, the artificial heart, the synthetic diamond, and the repeating rifle. The developer who created the programming language Ruby is Mormon, as were the teams behind Iomega and Atari. Cannon’s own father, Layne, was instrumental in designing WordPerfect, an early word-processing application.

    There are times when the M.T.A.’s members must negotiate tricky terrain, given that secular transhumanism, almost by definition, invites revisionist notions of sex and gender that run headlong into traditional church doctrine. (If our flesh becomes useless as our minds are made virtual, don’t biologically rooted constructions of gender quickly become useless, too?) On the flip side, some secular transhumanists skewer the group for its religious leanings. “The M.T.A. has a way of being a lightning rod for negative perspectives on religion, both from secular anti-religious persons and from religious fundamentalists who’ll demonize us to no end,” Cannon said. For them, he added, “we are the Antichrist, we are the mark of the beast.” Perhaps as a result, the group’s members have become adept at what Jon Bialecki, a religious anthropologist at the University of Edinburgh, called code-switching. They alternate comfortably, he said, between discussions of digital philosophy and “Mormon homiletic speech.” Thus far, Cannon is not aware of anyone who has been disciplined by the church for transhumanist views. When members have gently introduced their ideas to members of their local congregations, the response, they told me, has often been cautious interest. “We try to remind people that humanity has always been transcending itself through technology,” Bradford said. “If something went wrong with your teeth four hundred years ago, you lost them.”

    What is required to bring back the dead? A lyre and an unwavering gaze? A monkey’s paw with three wishes? Faith in God? Faith in machine? It was in the years leading up to Layne Cannon’s death from cancer that his son began thinking more deeply about the afterlife. In an entry from one of Lincoln Cannon’s old journals, dated October 17, 1995, a passage written in a teen-ager’s sprawling script reads, “How will the resurrection come to pass? I don’t know for sure, but I believe that God won’t do for us what we can do for ourselves.”

    http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/mormon-transhumanism-and-the-immortality-upgrade?hl=1&noRedirect=1
  • Ummm, WE WERE MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD... not ANIMALS. So you decide, are you an animal or that of God...lol
  • start with you TruthIsThat. are you an animal or that of God. for me, (iawia).
  • No we can't....

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  • The question that need to be answered is, can we make ourselves to be God? Will humans ever reach the status of God, with His prerogatives?

    What does your Bible say, and where in the Bible does it say so?
  • J Smith..False Prophet
    Current Status: 6 feet under (obviously not a god)
  • start with you TruthIsThat, what is your answer, or do you need to answer the question?
  • kinen,

    Since you want someone to start, I will yield the opportunity to you, that is if you have the answer to the question and can back it up with Biblical proof to support your position.

    I am looking forward to what you have to provide.
  • you started the thread TruthIsThat, you have the burden to lead us. DO NOT ASK FOR MY VIEWS IF YOU DON'T SHARE YOURS. simple as that.
  • kinen,

    Just what I thought. You do not have anything to share. If you do you would have done it. An open question was posed. People are to respond to the question. But you chose to pose a question, afraid to contribute, yet want to be heard.

    We will just leave it at that. Unless of course, you have something constructive to contribute.

    Tirow.
  • This question deserves to be answered and the answers do deserve some serious and dedicated spuritalists... not just curious battlers in a forum...

    Learn by studying what your ancestors have done in dos and don'ts about knowledge and sharing of knowledge. ..

    Believe we were made in the image of God! Who knows, maybe we are Gods or perhaps we could achieve. .. that of God.

  • why wouldn't you share what you have TruthIThat instead of asking others to do? just what i thought too. you don't have anything constructive to share but to scavenge from others.
  • Child_Justice, that will be the day the moon waxes over.
  • Like I said,... fairo...

    For the record, "we are Gods." Anyone who goes around saying he is God is wrong... THIS IS THE HONEST TRUTH and even the word of God do support that statement... my contribution on this threads ends here... Saionara...
  • Child_Justice,

    Thank you for sharing. You are being honest.
  • kinen,

    Please do not be afraid to share what you know. But it is a shame to play a cat and mouse game.

    What do you think about Luke 20:36?
  • who was Luke talking about there TruthIsThat that can not die any more and will be like the angels, the children of God? i didn't see anything about humans becoming God or gods.
    Child_Justice, i never know God was formed/made/created out of dust like humans were.
  • Ohh... WE ARE ANIMALS. .. trying to be friendly with each other and then take out each out... )ok

    YOU are right, Kinen. The words are always subject to different interpretations...
  • The words written in Luke 20:36 were those spoken by Jesus. Those Bibles with red letters indicate words of Jesus.

    So what is Jesus saying in that Bible verse?
  • stop beating around the bush TruthIsThat.
  • So anyone can share how they understand the verse. Please feel free to discuss.
  • There is a difference between "to be like Him (God) and Become God". The bible says that there is a time will come that the saved will be "like" or like in His Image" and does that make us become God? I've read from Genesis to Revelation of the bible and I found no where says that man will either in this life or next become God themselves. But, be like Him means when His promised to His fallen human race who will be saved in the end will no longer worry about sickness and death for they will live for eternity with their God and Savior in the new earth and heaven. Say amen folks please!
  • TruhIsThat aren't you tired of your inappropriate behaviors already? If you were made in Gods image don't you think that you are like Him? To tell you the fact is that for sure human can become like God cause that's what they are send to this earth for. To become like Him so they can go back and live with Him in His kingdom. If you don't want to or you can't become like God then I will tell you that your just wasting you time being a Christian or may I say why are you doing His work if you don't want to be like Him. No further your honor.
  • What does it mean to be like God!

    Let's hear it from the boys.. hehe

    wrong thread......
  • i'm a man, so i don't comment.
  • Once again the question posed is Can Humans Become Gods, as indicated in the title of this thread. As someone has mentioned, there is a difference between "in the image of God" and "becoming gods".

    So once again can humans become God, or gods?

    Oh, and the Bible gives us answers to these types of questions. We just have to study the Bible to find the answers.

    pekalong, please show us where in the Bible does it say that we were sent to this world in order to become like gods.

    Thank you all.
  • o you are so persistent TruthIsThat. is your persistence for knowledge sharing or are you trying to pick our knowledge of scripture?
  • It is the quest for truth, as in Bible truth. As a Christian, I believe it is important to base you faith and belief on the word of God as written in the Holy Book, the Bible. To do otherwise is fatal. It is an extremely important choice to make. Bible truth, or one's own interpretation. It is a matter of life or death. Eternal life, or eternal death, or damnation.

    For those who believe in God and want to accept Jesus, the choice is obvious.

    I do not have the answers, but do know where they can be found. In the Bible.
  • what truth are you questing for TrthIsThat? eon years in the past, the Truth was revealed/professed/proclaimed, etc. to the whole world, but then, ???.
  • Your a smart individual TruthIsThat and you should understand the bible thoroughly. Why asking me to tell you. Isn't Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost considered as Gods? What does it meant by receiving the Holy Ghost and becoming a Christ like Christian? Why are you asking the Holy Ghost to come in you as well as Jesus Christ to come in you? You need to look deep into the bible.
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