Growing up as a sci-fi nerd in the early 2000’s I was bombarded by media with transhumanist themes. The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell, Deus Ex, Transmetropolitan, the list goes on and on. However, it wasn’t until high school that I became more interested in the philosophy behind transhumanist thought.
Simply put, transhumanism is a philosophical movement that believes that humans can evolve beyond our physical limitations through the use of technological and scientific advancements. They believe that science such as artificial intelligence, cybernetics, or gene modification can lead to the next stage of human development. This philosophy spoke to me, as it seemed to be a logical conclusion to many of the problems facing humanity at the time.
My interest in transhumanism continued into college, and eventually I was recommended an interesting article in the New Yorker. Titled, “Mormon Transhumanism and the immortality upgrade,” the article thoroughly intrigued me. I had never heard of a religious group being interested in transhumanist thought, as most religious people I had met weren’t very receptive to transhumanist ideals. After that quick read, I took it upon myself to learn more about the Mormon Transhumanist Association. I went to their website, read their about page and contacted some of their members to get an interview going. I was pleasantly surprised when one of the members, Michaelann Bradley, contacted me back.
The interview with Michaelann was illuminating. She explained that the M.T.A. is an organization meant to advocate for the ethical use of technology, particularly the ethics of and values of Christ. This means that they want technology to be used for more peaceful purposes including healthcare, communication, education, etc. She also explained that the M.T.A. is meant to bridge the gap between the religious and scientific communities. They want Mormons and other religious groups to embrace the use of technology and to be more open to positive scientific advancements.
Michaelann even discussed the work of another religious transhumanist group, the Christian Transhumanist Association. It was during this conversation that I learned a little more about Mormon theology and it’s connection with transhumanism. Michaelann mentioned the concept of “theosis,” a theological concept found in Eastern Christian theology. Theosis is the process of becoming like or unified, with God. Mormons have a concept similar to theosis called “exaltation.” The doctrine of exaltation is focused on the idea of becoming like god and living eternally.
This doctrine is most certainly related to transhumanist thought, as the entire point of transhumanism is to transcend beyond the physical limitations of the human body. They even say so on the M.T.A website. “We believe that scientific knowledge and technological power are among the means ordained of God to enable such exaltation, including realization of diverse prophetic visions of transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world and the discovery and creation of worlds without end.”
My interview with Michaelann led me closer to understanding the M.T.A., yet I felt there was something missing. I wanted to talk with more M.T.A. members and boy did she deliver. With her help, I was even able to interview one of the founding members of the M.T.A., Lincoln Cannon. I really wanted to understand what inspired him to create the M.T.A.
During our discussion, he mentioned his upbringing. Mr. Cannon described himself as being, “raised as a transhumanist,” but not knowing there was a term for it. He didn’t explicitly learn about transhumanism until he was older. As a young adult, Lincoln stumbled upon the works of Ray Kurzweil and Nick Bostrom. Kurzweil’s, “Live long enough to live forever” and Bostrom’s, “Are you living in a computer simulation?” became huge influences.
The simulation argument struck a chord with Cannon. (I also highly recommend reading it yourself, it’s just as good as he said it was). These works introduced him to full transhumanist thought and got him to read many other authors.
After gaining knowledge of transhumanist thought, Lincoln became interested in promoting his beliefs. In 2006, with the help of 13 other friends, Lincoln helped found the Mormon Transhumanist Association.
During our interview, Lincoln also discussed something very important to transhumanist thought. Lincoln said, “Transhumanists can’t be cheerleaders for technology.” This means they can’t focus on all the positive aspects of technology and ignore some of the negative and potentially dangerous uses of this technology. For example, brain computer interfacing could be used to harm others and he believes we should focus on the ethics behind this.
Lincoln also discussed the issues that the M.T.A. faces. The M.T.A. has sometimes struggled to find acceptance from secular transhumanists and religious fundamentalists. Lincoln says that some secularists don’t believe there’s a place for religion in transhumanist thought. While the fundamentalists believe the M.T.A. are, “antichrists,” and are the “mark of the beast.”
After my talks with Lincoln and Michaelann I was further intrigued by religious transhumanism. I wanted to learn about other religious transhumanists. A quick google search revealed that this wasn’t an isolated group of people, but a huge multi-religious movement. There are Jewish transhumanists, Islamic transhumanists and even Hindu transhumanists. Although these movements aren’t as large as the M.T.A., they’re certainly growing. In the end, maybe religion and science are compatible after all.
If your interested in learning more about the M.T.A or transhumanism, you can do some more research online or reach out to them for more information.