Ray Kurzweil is a Director of Engineering at Google. Picture him at a storage unit in dim light. He is dwarfed by piles of cardboard boxes and bins. He mutters, “I do plan to bring back my father.” The sixtyish man sports tinted eyeglasses. His belly is pushing out his waistline. He seems older in the weak light.
This image is part of a documentary filmed in 2009 that aimed to see him as an eccentric or lone visionary. He was known to postulate about the future. His father’s life was contained in the storage unit, consisting of letters, photos, newspaper clippings, and all sorts of miscellaneous financial documents. It was as if the storage locker was a kind of tomb near Kurzweil’s residence in Newton, Massachusetts. These artifacts were accumulated apparently for some time, perhaps decades.
In the documentary, he glances at a notebook written by his father, who passed in 1970. One day, Kurzweil expects him to come back through AI. It will use all the memorabilia and DNA samples to ensure his resurrection. In his own words, “People do live on in our memories, and in the creative works they leave behind, so we can gather up all those vibrations and bring them back.”
Do we have this kind of extraordinary technology? We are far from bringing back the dead! Kurzweil will have to make due with something else. He is awaiting the “Singularity” or the time when an “intelligence explosion” will ensue from advanced computing power.
He is a transhumanist in thought, believing that another, greater tech revolution is at hand with radical consequences. Posthumans will exist as immortals, but changed beyond recognition. For Kurzweil, we only have to wait until 2045. Whoever has the opportunity to live that long (unlike his father) will witness immortality and the end of death. It is like the Apostle Paul said, “We will not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.”
Kurzweil brings to mind Simulation Theory that also posits a technological expansion such that master computers will create a new dimension for the universe and human life. We will be changed, yes, as we live in a simulation (if we are not there already). Nir Zisco, author of Simulation Creationism and founder of The Global Architect Institute, gives us the reasons for such an altered reality.
Kurzweil penned The Age of Spiritual Machines, in 2006. One fan was studying a branch of dispensational theology that divided history into successive stages: God revealed his truth: the Dispensation of Innocence, the Dispensation of Conscience, the Dispensation of Government… The person was informed that the Dispensation of Grace was the ultimate stage after which the Millennial Kingdom – the end of everything – would ensue. Imagine the skies opening and Christ returning.
Yes, life would change dramatically as foretold in the Bible. It would be the glorious culmination and the moment of redemption for all. Kurzweil’s book fueled his student’s motivation. “The twenty-first century will be different…the human species, along with the computational technology it created, will be able to solve age-old problems . . . and will be in a position to change the nature of mortality in a postbiological future.”
Here we have the perfect alignment of Kurzweil and Simulation Theory. He is specific about what the successive epochs of history entail: the Epoch of Physics and Chemistry, the Epoch of Biology, the Epoch of Brains. That human intelligence merges with technology is certainly consistent with the concept of a digital simulation created by a super computer.
Kurzweil called us “spiritual machines” but it is not like the possible avatars we would become in our new video game reality. Our minds would be “resurrected” onto supercomputers so we could live indefinitely. This clashes with the ability of a video game player to turn it off or pause it, but it is an intriguing possibility. Humans would be immune to disease and would acquire knowledge by uploading data into their brains.
Thus Kurzweil advanced a mind-blowing proposition: technology will remake the earth and human existence. It would become a sort of terrestrial paradise before we migrate into space to transform other planets by means of our limitless powers.
His book is spellbinding, and not just the contents. The metallic cover shimmered in the light casting numerous colors. It seemed like some secret tome of alchemy. In effect, it is about the coming Rapture. The significance is that Kurzweil’s ideas are bolstered by science, not just religion. This is the case for Simulation Theory as well.
Think, for example, of Moore’s Law. It postulates that computer processing power has doubled every two years. Thus technology could develop at an exponential rate. While thirty years ago, a computer chip contained 3,500 transistors, it now has more than one billion. What will we see by 2045? The technology would be inside our bodies according to Kurzweil, and the “arc of progress” would curve into a vertical line.
As a transhumanist, he contends that his group is carrying on the legacy of the Enlightenment, grounded in empiricism and reason. But they have added a discussion of “transcendence” and “eternal life” – metaphysical concepts.
Most transhumanists are atheists who support the conflict between science and religion. Christianity in particular is viewed with hostility. Many purport that Christians are the greatest obstacle to transhumanism. Zoltan Istvan, founded the transhumanist political party. He wrote a novel, The Transhumanist Wager (2013), in which Christians oppose the coming cybernetic revolution. It is not surprising that Christians have shown much interest in or awareness of transhumanism. Nonetheless they oppose stem-cell research and genetic engineering, putting them in opposition to any technological modifications of the human body.
Transhumanist Simon Young adds fuel to the fire in saying, “The greatest threat to humanity’s continuing evolution is theistic opposition to Superbiology in the name of a belief system based on blind faith in the absence of evidence.” Sounds like Christians are likely to object to Simulation Theory as well.
We can thank Christian eschatology for the secular theories of transhumanists about the future. It seems counterintuitive but is likely to be true. Note that the word “transhuman” made its appearance in an 1814 translation of Dante’s Paradiso by Henry Francis Carey. In this last book of the Divine Comedy, the protagonist is ascending into heavy as his body is transformed. He doesn’t comprehend it, saying, “Words may not tell of that transhuman change.”
Dante describes resurrection when the dead depart their graves, per the prophecies of Christ. Now the living become immortal. No, the Christian’s soul does not fly upward! Instead, the resurrection is an eschatological event. It is not about the dead lying inert in their graves, as if in a state of suspended animation, waiting for the Day of Resurrection. Paul describes the day (that he would live to see) when God “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
Saint Augustine later meditated on the “universal knowledge” in the Middle Ages. This knowledge would come to every resurrection being. “Think how great, how beautiful, how certain, how unerring, how easily acquired this knowledge will be.” According to Augustine’s famous prophecies, the earth would also be “resurrected,” or returned to its prelapsarian state. Death and degeneration — the curses of the Fall – would be reversed as all are now permitted to eat from the tree of life, thereby granting immortality.
Certainly we can consider humans in a simulation as “resurrected” in the loose sense of the term. Certainly what we think is reality has changed or been reversed. It dovetails with the Christian belief that it will all happen naturally, just as digital technology is a natural progression of today’s advancements. When the time came, God would make it happen. God is still part of Simulation Theory in the form of Simulation Creationism so we have not lost any ground.
To complicate matters, Christians have long believed that humanity could enact the resurrection through science and technology. Think of alchemists like Roger Bacon, a 13th-century friar, possibly the first Western scientist. He sought an “elixir of life” that could mimic the resurrection of Paul’s epistles. It would do so by making humans immortal and “uncorrupted”. Now science and religion join hands in Simulation Creationism.
For Bacon, man would acquire four “dowries” for the resurrected body: claritas (luminosity), agilitas (travel at the speed of thought), subtilitas (the ability to pass through physical matter), and impassibilitas (strength and freedom from suffering).
The Enlightenment took potshots at such alchemists. Modern science could offer creative ways for Christians to envision such radical prophecies. Nikolai Federov was a Russian Orthodox ascetic at the end of the 19th century. He was inspired by the theories of Charles Darwin and came up with his own concept of evolution in relation to the resurrection. As such, it appears that humans could intervene in resurrection through technology. He said, “Our body will be our business.” Man is now tasked to ensure the resurrection of the dead. He joined Darwinism with biblical prophecies when he wrote, “This day will be divine, awesome, but not miraculous, for resurrection will be a task not of miracle but of knowledge and common labor.”
Why not harness technology to return us to our Edenic state? We might have to go into space and live on other planets as ours becomes overpopulated. So for Fedorov, in essence, science could enact the resurrection, but it is unclear just how. After all, the universe is full of “dust” left by our ancestors. Scientists could gather it up some day and reconstruct the departed.
He also postulated the idea of hereditary resurrection. This means that subsequent generations could resurrect their forebears and the latter would do the same. It was a very prescienct notion, but it seems to anticipate DNA and genetic cloning. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin took it a step further. This French Jesuit priest and paleontologist in the mid-20th century believed that we can reach the Kingdom of God through “evolution”. He is akin to Fedorov here. The future of machines is postulated as linked to the idea of a global network of humans, thereby merging them. What a connection to the idea of a vast digital game!
The intelligence explosion under discussion reminds one of the digital era and the unification of consciousness. It is known as the “Omega Point, a time when humanity breaks through the material framework of Time and Space to merge with the divine. Teilhard de Chardin is a precursor of Kurzweil’s Singularity in essence and spirit, but for the former, the Omega Point was when the biblical resurrection would come. The idea of evolution is seen in Christ’s state of glorification, a time when God and man could merge in eternal perfection.
But humans would no longer have traditional bodies. As Dante said, “some sort of trans-human is at the ultimate heart of things.” Thus, transhumanists have many supporting forefathers or forerunners, although some have religious connotations missing in the movement. In fact, the term “transhumanism” itself comes from Julian Huxley, a British Eugenicist, who had close ties with. In the 1950s, he expanded many of the priest’s beliefs. However, Huxley was a secular humanist who didn’t need the religious narrative. He offered a nonreligious version of Teilhard de Chardin. Nonetheless, he thought that the latter’s broad philosophy could be called transhumanism after all.
Something happened decades later in San Francisco, California. It was the late 1980s and a contemporary transhumanism was born with the high-tech crowd. They had a libertarian bent and went by the name of Extropians. They held conferences and communicated by newsletters. Now, with Kurzweil, transhumanism entered the mainstream and had an audience. When he joined Google, it seemed like a symbolic merger of the tech world and the transhumanist philosophy.
Of note, Silicon Valley has many transhumanists within its border. Think of Peter Thiel and Elon Musk. Then there are the think tanks like Singularity University and the Future of Humanity Institute. The pioneers of the movement are real people. Their musings are supported at places like Google, Apple, Tesla, and SpaceX.
Are we losing God?
At first, it seemed so. He got buried amid the scientific obsession with explaining reality and the meaning of human existence. We live in a material world where the end of history is within view. We no longer believe in the religious concept of the soul. Think of all those existentialist novels. Andre Gide wrote, “It seems to me sometimes that I do not really exist, but I merely imagine I exist” in his novel, The Counterfeiters. It reeked of Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” He went on to say, “The thing that I have the greatest difficulty in believing in, is my own reality.”
No doubt such thought of God’s death provoked anxiety and dread, but not for Christian theology! People have turned to self-abuse in the form of alcohol, drugs and risk taking. In short, the absence of God creates despair. The body is no longer a temple or sacred vessel formed in the image of God. No more worrying about eternity if one has a damaged body. We are bound by the laws of entropy and it doesn’t stop the feelings of loss. We have to find a way to come to terms with death if we are atheists. We are just atoms and molecules like any other form of matter.
Transhumanism provides relief from this despair. With science on board, we now have hope. Even if we don’t have souls, we have consciousness. Kurzweil says that it is the result of a biological process. He calls himself a “patternist”, meaning “a pattern of matter and energy that persists over time.” Our identity is really a pattern that the body as physical hardware creates. One day it will decline and give out. Then we need to transfer it.
Supercomputers, robotic surrogates, and human clones will take up the slack, in line with Simulation Theory. The biological becomes the nonbiological. The “soul” takes on a new meaning. We are left with this idea of patterns as the core of our being. They will be transferred to stop the end of all flesh.
So what of the philosophical anxiety that prevails? Okay, so you are now in a computer as a simulation. But what of the idea that the mind cannot exist without a body? It is known as dualistic thinking. A person is flesh and blood. For transhumanists like Kurzweil, the resurrection must be bodily. No wonder they like the idea of cryonics and bionics to preserve the body and have it ready when the time comes. Technology will be called upon to extend life as we know it.
This ideology, as mentioned, grew out of Christian eschatology. It has considerable philosophical problems. Christians were wont to debate the spiritual versus the corporeal nature of humans. The Gnostics thought the soul could survive death while other sects relied on the body for true resurrection. Of course, Christ served as the ultimate example: he returns in the flesh. By contrast, in ancient Greece, the Hellenistic view was that the afterlife was purely spiritual in nature.
But Christianity grew in a different direction, insisting that the soul and body were inseparable. As the theologian, Tertullian of Carthage, wrote, “If God raises not men entire, He raises not the dead. . . . Thus our flesh shall remain even after the resurrection.”
Transhumanists have a rich philosophical tradition to draw upon, including dualism. Sometimes they remind one of the early church followers. One such transhumanist is Eric Steinhart. As a “digitalist” philosopher at William Paterson University, he is among those who insist that the resurrection must be physical. “Uploading does not aim to leave the flesh behind…on the contrary, it aims at the intensification of the flesh.” There is irony in arguing these questions as if they were new. These debates were part of a theological tradition going back to the earliest centuries of the Common Era.
It is not surprising that doubts plague modern man. Many want to account for evil in the world and the problem of Hell. How does a benevolent God allow evil and its consequences? Most Christians struggle with these questions and it tests their faith. Perhaps adherents of Simulation Creationism should pose the same questions. It may or may not require casting off old beliefs.
Meanwhile some sink into self-absorption and the pleasures of life. As mentioned, some indulge in various vices. It is hoped that ultimately, they will find harmony in a paradox and come to terms with God and evil as reconcilable. They will accept divine justice as it is and revise eschatology – the death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and humankind.
Transhumanism is credited with offering a vision of redemption without divine justice. Nonetheless the path to the final glorification of the body is thorny to say the least. Now they can peruse Nicholas Bostrom’s paper of 2003, “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” This Oxford professor is a transhumanist who employed mathematical probability to postulate that it’s “likely” we currently reside in a simulation of the past created by our posthuman descendants. It is very reminiscent of the movie, The Matrix, filmed some years earlier.
It is a well-structured but esoteric document that even touches on the afterlife. Can it all be a matter of software and a supercomputer? What is base reality and why was it recreated or “resurrected” in a simulation? This is how he tackles the issue of human existence, and ultimately death. It is all programmed and not particularly supernatural. It is rather the product of intelligent design, perhaps a euphemism for God. “In some ways, the posthumans running a simulation are like gods in relation to the people inhabiting the simulation.”
It touches on theological speculation. It partakes of the classic theodicies students used to study in Bible school. It comes down to a simulated cosmology. We have to assume that the programmers of Bostrom’s computers were pretty powerful if not omnipotent. But whether they are or were benevolent remains to be seen.
Evil is like a “glitch” in the matrix. Perhaps bugs in the hardware, crushing our concept of divine perfection. God must be perfect to create a perfect universe. He is no way some guy in a computer lab having fun. Maybe writer John Barth was right when he mused that the universe is the dissertation of a brilliant doctoral candidate’s dissertation – one that would earn its author a B−.
No wonder simulation theology is so exciting. It follows from Bostrom’s arguments along with other tangential sources. Our creator must be benevolent and have a rational purpose. The goal no doubt is social harmony and “long-term stability.
According to theorists. The “argument for virtuous engineers” establishes a precedent for assuming virtuous beings. Articles by software programmers, engineers, and philosophers share certain assumptions. Even personal blogs mention these propositions. In any case, they have found their way out for those interested in both technology and metaphysics. It sparks particular interest when resurrection comes to the fore.
It is entirely possible that a benevolent genius program has a particular moral agenda and set his version of the universe in motion. He then sat back to observe for personal entertainment. His simulations might have received either a reward or punishment from this “deity”. He could intervene in the simulation and play with the digital avatars.
Imagine if Christ was one of them with God running the app. No doubt God would want to ensure human survival with Christ as a mode of implementation. But we cannot fathom Christ in the context of a simulation or a vast video game. It seems irreverent and sacrilegious. The essence of a “game” is competition, so how does Christ fit into this picture? Perhaps the programmer, or programmers, each created a world religion and a prophet-avatar. He would wait for converts and get game points for each one.
Transhumanist ideas are similar to some traditional theological propositions and events in the Bible. There are prophetic signs for the cybernetic revolution! No matter what, these ideas are non-traditional and spark reflection. We are on the look out however, for those prone to criticism. Not only transhumanist ideas but any techno-theological theory such as Simulation Theory or Simulation Creationism. It behooves us to take a fresh or second look and weigh one against the other. Bah to the one who calls it “robot evangelism!” People speak of “Future Christ” – some AI fabricated nonsense. Apparently, some people will take their salvation in any form.
What becomes of the traditional places of worship, like synagogues, churches, mosques, or even a Scientology booth? There will not likely be these spiritualized robots behind the pulpits. But we have come a long way given that Pope Francis said he would baptize aliens if need be. Apparently, he was future oriented.
You can choose to be a futurist, Christian Transhumanist, believer of Simulation Creationism or a techno-theologian: there is a place for everyone. As they say, to each his or her own.
Meanwhile parallels between transhumanism and biblical prophecy are drawing adherents. There is symmetry between many of these ideas. After all. Kurzweil quoted from the Gospel of John and Nicholas Bostrom is read as a kind of minor prophets.
Christopher Benek Speaks
Then there is Christopher Benek who claims that “Technology has a role in the process of redemption.” So many “prophecies” are floating around about the afterlife in Heaven. The Christian disciplines, by contrast, assume that eternal life will take place on earth. After all, Jesus called the Kingdom of God a terrestrial domain, but one where earthly imperfections had been dispelled.
People like Benek are unorthodox, but they are making waves. He speaks of the Transfiguration, the same one described in the Gospels, when Jesus and his disciples climbed a mountain. He imagines Moses and Elijah appearing suddenly, both encircled with holy light. Jesus changes or is “transfigured” as his clothing whitens and his face shines bright. This is the moment when the temporal and the eternal fuse. In fact, Christ is the bridge between Heaven and earth.
“Jesus is human, but he’s also something else,” says Benek with a straight face. We used to think of him as both human and fully God. Now science steps in to verify two distinct natures. Physicists use superposition from quantum theory to support the idea of an object located in two places simultaneously. For example, a photon may be a wave and a particle at the same time, i.e., it has two natures. For Benek, “When Jesus tells us that if we have faith nothing will be impossible for us, I think he means that literally.”
Benek believes in the promise implicit in the incarnation, meaning that the human body can be human and divine (walking on water for example). As Christ said to his disciples, “whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.” This was taken literally by Christ’s first followers. Who knew the implication within these words for becoming “transhuman” by harnessing technology.
Of course, Christ spoke in parables, but we accept their prophecy. Some take it to apply to modern computer science. Jesus might have said that a man can acquire a new body. “On earth as it is in heaven” is a staple of Christianity. All things will be changed beyond recognition. It has come to pass. No doubt Christ was commenting on the fate of mankind. He was referring to salvation.