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Singularity 1 on 1: Are Science and Religion Mutually Exclusive or Complementary?

Lincoln Cannon is not only a software engineer with degrees in philosophy and business but also the president of the Mormon Transhumanist Association.

In my first interview with him we talked about the compatibility between Mormonism and Transhumanism. In this special edition of Singularity 1 on 1 we debate whether science and religion are mutually exclusive – as I believe, or complementary – as Cannon argues that they are.

So, check out our friendly discussion and judge for yourself but don’t shy to let me know what you think.

As always you can listen to or download the audio file above, or scroll down and watch the video interview in full.

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Who is Lincoln Cannon?

Lincoln Cannon is a philosopher and programmer, promoting change toward radical flourishing in creativity and compassion through technology and religion. He has over fifteen years of professional experience as a software engineer, Internet marketer, information technologist, and leader of technical teams in development and integration of web, mobile and management information systems. Lincoln holds degrees in business administration and philosophy. He is married with Dorothée Vankrieckenge, a French national, and is father to three bilingual children. In his spare time, Lincoln serves as president of the Mormon Transhumanist Association.

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  • Matt Howe

    Interesting discussion. I wonder if Nikola has ever considered that science is also guilty of the same kinds of atrocities religion is guilty of? Or maybe more specifically, that science, like religion can be used for ill purposes and has been many, many times. Perhaps its better to point out the commonality that either can be used for great evil or great good by the people who embrace them.

    I would contend that religion is in a way a scientific discipline that focuses specifically on ethics. Like science, religion too has involved in complexity. (Once upon a time the world was flat!) But science also deals with a certain level of faith as well. Any hypothesis before its proven or disproven could be construed as an act of faith and acting to prove or disprove an idea is an act of faith. Further, in religion, faith is temporary. It’s similar to formulating a hypothesis in many ways. Adhering to a religious principle typically produces a consequence, and in many cases, faith is no longer needed as it becomes a sure knowledge.

  • CM Stewart

    Another curious interview, thank you Mr. Cannon and Nikola. Seems a lot of Cannon’s religious definitions are not mainstream religious definitions, and that may have obscured some of the incompatibility illustrations between science and religion. A couple questions:

    1. So the gods weren’t always the gods. What were the gods before the gods became the gods?

    2. Transhumanism is deemed a beneficial, and therefore worthy goal. But why should Joseph Smith specifically be a focus for a theistic transhumanist? Mormonism and the Joseph Smith story carry a lot of historical baggage. Why not start with a clean slate? For example, Joseph Smith may have promoted transhumanism, or compassion, or the achievement of worthy goals. I also promote transhumanism, compassion, and the achievement of worthy goals. But that doesn’t compel me to be a Mormon, and that doesn’t compel me to take the Joseph Smith invisible golden tablets story seriously. Granted, I’m atheist, and therefore don’t believe the book of Mormon was divinely inspired, but at the same time I point out that a deist focusing on one prophet or one religion is puzzling. I don’t see why I or anyone should rationally be compelled to emulate Jesus of Nazareth, Buddah, Krishna, or Joseph Smith any more than be compelled to emulate any other historical / mythical figure who may have actively valued compassion, transhumanism, etc.

    3. Specifically, Mr. Cannon, do you think you could be a transhumanist on the level you are now without being a Mormon?

    4. And finally, Mr. Cannon, did you really mean to say transhumanism is a religion? Do you believe one can be a transhumanist without being religious?

    Thank you in advance!

  • CM Stewart

    “science is also guilty of the same kinds of atrocities religion is guilty of”

    “in religion, faith is temporary”

    No and no. I can’t even begin to address the rest of the comments in the context of those statements. I must’ve gone to school on a different planet.

  • http://lincoln.metacannon.net/ Lincoln Cannon

    Hi CM Stewart. Thanks again for your comments and questions. Here are my thoughts.

    1) According to Joseph Smith, God was a human before becoming God. Mormon tradition is ambiguous on the question of whether there was a first God. Perhaps the Gods themselves don’t know whether there was a first? Consider the logic of the Simulation Argument.

    2) Although I esteem Mormonism and Joseph Smith to present some unique value propositions, like many (but not all) Mormons, I have a rather ecumenical view of religion generally. God is working in and through us all, whether we’re Joseph Smith, Buddha or CM Stewart. Here are more of my thoughts on that: http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2011/07/ecumenical-mormonism.html

    3) Vanilla Transhumanism doesn’t inspire me as Mormon Transhumanism does.

    4) I do find that, given a postsecular understanding of religion, Transhumanism and Singularitarianism are, at least as often as not, expressions of religion. I may have already shared this link with you, but it’s particularly pertinent to a proper understanding of what I would like to communicate on this subject: http://lincoln.metacannon.net/2012/06/post-secularism-and-resurrecting-god.html

  • http://lincoln.metacannon.net/ Lincoln Cannon

    Thanks for joining the conversation, Matt! I see a stronger relation between art and religion than I do between ethics and religion, although of course religion informs and affects our politics and technology as art informs and affects our ethics and science.

  • http://lincoln.metacannon.net/ Lincoln Cannon

    CM Stewart, I agree that science doesn’t have the same burden as religion in motivating evil (or good), although each religion has leveraged the science of its day to empower its evil (and good).

    On the other hand, I completely agree with Matt’s assessment of faith in religion. For full disclosure, though, he and I are both Mormon, and he was probably taught as a child, as I was, to think of faith as the beginning of understanding, complementary to knowledge, and certainly not something competing with reason or education. Of course, not all religious persons think of faith that way, but certainly some do, most definitely including some outside Mormonism. I’ve written more about faith, and what I esteem to be its proper role in relation to science, here: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/cannon20120315

  • CM Stewart

    Thank you for your replies and links. I am now certain we have very different definitions of religion and gods.

    I am puzzled by your “vanilla transhumanism” statement. Do you mean to say transhumanism which isn’t practiced in a Mormon (or religious) context is pedestrian?

  • http://lincoln.metacannon.net/ Lincoln Cannon

    CM Stewart, I don’t think non-religious Transhumanism is dull, but it also doesn’t inspire or excite me in itself. The ethical use of technology to expand our abilities is a good start, but it’s also a bad stop. Most if not all of us also desire and need a powerful esthetic to shape our applications of ethics and science. For example, I’m sure something more than what I’ve called “vanilla Transhumanism” motivates your engagement in discussion with me here.

  • CM Stewart

    “I’m sure something more than what I’ve called ‘vanilla Transhumanism’ motivates your engagement in discussion with me here.”

    Hey, we agree on something! ;)

  • http://lincoln.metacannon.net/ Lincoln Cannon

    I hope we could agree on more than that, particularly when we reach understanding of what we each mean by the words we use. For example, we seem to understand and mean different things when we use the word “God”, but that doesn’t in itself mean that we disagree on everything to which one or the other of us applies “God”. If I were to use “God” as you use it, and if I felt authentic doing so, I would probably also consider myself rather more atheistic. If you were to use “God” as I use it, and if you felt authentic doing so, you would probably consider yourself rather more theistic. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the impression I have. For me, this illustrates the diversity and complexity of understandings of God, and underscores the importance of a broad account of the theistic phenomenon and its practical consequences, which I believe I’m offering.

  • CM Stewart

    Yes, but I think a much broader agreement would require a “re-wiring” of our brains. My conceptualization of gods is basic to my atheism. It’s my starting point. The only conceptualization of gods *that makes logical sense to me* is a definition which includes the “imaginary” criterion. Likewise, your understanding of gods is basic to your theism, and your brain processes god criteria differently. Atheists and theists will always exist side by side, in my opinion. It’s a diversity we should appreciate. :)

  • http://lincoln.metacannon.net/ Lincoln Cannon

    CM Stewart, I share your appreciation for diversity, to the extent it is not oppressive. I’m sure you agree.

    Do you agree that imagination can be realized? Assuming you do, do you also agree that imagined Gods can be realized, at least in approximation, and that such realization has probabilistic ramifications regarding our past?

  • Alexander Hayes

    Looking forward to the trans-disciplinary connections as the IEEE ISTAS’13 Symposium nears – http://www.veillance.me – Interested to note many of Mr. Cannon’s comments resonate clearly with the Veillances and notions of transparency.

  • Terrence Lee Reed

    Mr. Cannon, I appreciate the insight that religion is a social tool, like technology is a tool, that can be used as a force for good or for bad, like technology it is amoral.

    I am also sure that many listeners, myself included, were confused that someone with beliefs such as yours would consider himself religious, and a Mormon. This highlights the fact that everyone believes in a different God, there is no one that believes and shares the same experiences as another, so there are as many Gods as there are individuals, and the concept of God does not even remain the same with individuals as our perception of God changes over time and with age.

    You also do well remind us that we need to define our terms, as our definition of religion is about as diverse as our definition of God.

    As for myself, I don’t believe in any of the Gods that everyone else believes in, as I am an individual, and as far as religion, it is most commonly used as a tool to focus one’s devotion to the God of Israel, Jesus or Muhammad.

    This kind of religion does not do much for science, and science makes such devotion increasingly difficult.

    It is possible, as you have done, to define religion in such a way that makes it complementary to science, but your definition is exceptional and not what most people think of when they think of religion and of God.

    Let us hope that your view of religion becomes the rule instead of the exception.

  • http://lincoln.metacannon.net/ Lincoln Cannon

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Terrence. I’m confident religion will continue to evolve, and I share your hope that we’ll increase our use of it for good.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jayana.clerk Jayana Clerk

    Coming from a tradition, known as Hinduism, which like science, evolved over the ages and was termed ‘religion’ much later by followers of other traditions, I consider Terrence Lee Reed’s comments a natural way of thinking for a Hindu, at least of my kind. It is well known that mutually contradictory concepts, ranging from abstract formless divine to a multi-headed, multi-armed god/goddess and everything in between fall under the umbrella called Hinduism. As modern day intellectual with literary leanings, I feel Singularity, Transhumanism (vanilla or Mormon) are a natural evolution of religious instinct of humans. And for many years I have maintained in my talks on the future of religion and god that there will be as many religions as names and faces….

  • Lu Lu

    As we get closer to the Singularity, there will be more artifacts in our
    daily life that possess intelligence, and eventually sentience, and
    eventually superhuman intelligence.
    There will be more and more of them as we convert all matters the
    colonized universe into intelligent structures (like in Kurzweil’s
    concept of that “the Universe wakes up”).
    It will be somehow like the Shamanist/animist belief in that all things
    (include inanimate ones) possess spirit, except that in this case the
    nonhuman beings DO possess spirit (in a real, physical way).
    People will probably developing religions about these new sentiences, or
    even worshipping superintelligences as gods (like in the Orionsarm.com SF
    story).
    BTW, regarding morality, if the post-singularity AIs are superhuman in
    every aspect, they will probably also develop superhuman morality and
    ethics as well. With their perfect memory and ability to see consequences
    of their actions much clearer and deeper than human beings, they should
    (I guess, even without any programming, but of course I may be
    overoptimistic) deduce morality independently.
    I recommend everyone to read the essay “Age of Virtuous Machines”.

  • Lu Lu

    ” According to Joseph Smith, God was a human before becoming God. Mormon tradition is ambiguous on the question of whether there was a first God.”
    Please answer a few questions from me.
    So, in your belief system, do you advocate spiritual cultivation (like in Buddhism and Taoism) that ultimately result in your godhood and ruling a “world” of your own?
    If this is done in a physical, “shortcut” way (through technology), will you be somehow punished?
    (I understand that this is cliched “anti-cyborgization, appeal-to-nature” sentiment, but I still feel like asking these questions.)

  • http://lincoln.metacannon.net/ Lincoln Cannon

    Hi Lu Lu. Thanks for the questions.

    Mormons do generally advocate spiritual cultivation. Some imagine themselves ruling their own worlds, but I think that’s an immature interpretation of Mormonism. As community and cooperation are essential to the progress of technology, so they are essential to the ultimate creative capacities of humanity. We will become God together, I expect, and not alone. This matches Mormon emphasis on family and community.

    Mormons also generally reject immaterialism. Our scriptures teach that spirits are material, that we will be transfigured or resurrected to material glorified bodies, and that even God is material and embodied. Accordingly, not many Mormons will suggest that technology is somehow inherently evil. Of course, many Mormons will point out that technology can be used for evil, but it can also be used for good. We have choices to make.

  • Lu Lu

    Thanks for answering. “become God together”… this is inspiring.
    IMO, religious or not, become a cyborg is the only logical path for us so that we enter the *next stage* of human evolution and evolution of all life. (I am personally not religious, but consider such larger-than-individual process of evolution transcending our own limits as a kind *spiritual cultivation*. I feel like quoting Carl Sagan that he was driven to become a scientist by a “Cosmic Religious Feeling”. Now, not only that we can know the secrets of the universe via science, but benefit from it and overcome our inherit limits, is wonderful and almost like the promises of religions coming true).

    BTW I think we can construct something akin to the Pascal’s Wager to convince people to become cyborgs/transhumanists.

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