YES, I am a believer

believer

I frequently write and talk about things at the intersection of science and religion, spirituality and technology, and I am often asked if I am a believer.

I used to give complicated, intellectual answers, but now I prefer giving a simple answer. My answer is YES, I am a believer.

I used to give answers like:

  • Well…
  • I guess I do. However…
  • Not in a conventional sense. But…
  • I am a scientist, and I subscribe to a materialist worldview. At the same time…

A few months ago, after giving a talk on Transhumanism and Religion at Manhattan College in NYC, a student asked me The Question. I answered “more yes than no,” but while saying so I was asking myself, why the fuck don’t I just answer yes.

I believe simple and important questions require simple and honest answers. Of course I know that reality is more complex than simple answers, but I believe the appropriate caveats and qualifications should come later. When others ask you simple questions that are evidently important to them, please don’t answer with a philosophy treatise. You can of course give them also a philosophy treatise, to read later.

If you are an American, you need to understand that Europe is another world. In the U.S., it is difficult for an atheist to be elected to public office. But here in Europe, intellectuals (I vehemently object to being called an intellectual, but that is what they call me anyway) are not supposed to believe. It is not kosher, it is not cool, it is not elegant, and it is not sophisticated enough.

Of course, what my previous “intellectual” answers really mean is: “I am not a moron like you, I have studied, I have a degree, I have read many more books than you, and therefore I don’t ‘believe’ like the rest of you little idiots.” This is not what I meant, but I realize that this is how elitist intellectualism sounds. So, no more of that.

Now when they ask me if I am a believer,  I give the simple and honest answer YES. At the end of my last talk at the 2012 conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, I said it loud and clear. The religion field of my Facebook profile now reads Christian, with some qualifiers and extras (I am still a free thinker).

I am perfectly aware that most Christian Churches don’t like free thinkers. I have no respect for authority, don’t do what I am told, think with my own head, have zero tolerance for bullshit, and my religious ideas are unusual and unconventional to say the least (see below), so they would never accept me as a member if I wanted to join. A few centuries ago I would have been excommunicated as heretic, and probably also burned at a stake. (in passing, Mormons seem more tolerant of personal revelation and creative theology).

So why do I say that I am a believer? One, because I am.

My beliefs

Long version: See my essay Transcendent Engineering published in the Terasem Journal of Personal Cyberconsciousness.

Shorter version: See my Ten Cosmist Convictions, co-authored with Ben Goertzel, originally appeared in Ben’s A Cosmist Manifesto blog, published in Ben’s book A Cosmist Manifesto.

Very short version: The “manifest destiny” of our species is colonizing the universe and developing spacetime engineering and scientific “future magic” much beyond our current understanding and imagination. Gods will exist in the future, and they may be able to affect their past — our present — by means of spacetime engineering. Probably other civilizations out there already attained God-like powers. Future magic will permit achieving, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions — and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Future Gods will be able to resurrect the dead by “copying them to the future.” Perhaps we will be resurrected in virtual reality, and perhaps we are already there.

I have written a lot about these convictions, without calling them “beliefs.” But, following William James, since I am persuaded that these convictions are scientifically plausible, and they give me happiness and drive, I choose to hold them as beliefs. As I say in a note to the Ten Cosmist Convictions, I am not using “will”  in the sense of inevitability, but in the sense of intention: we want to do this, we are confident that we can do it, and we will do our f**king best to do it. You know that, if you really want to achieve a goal, you must firmly believe that you will achieve it.

Two, because I find militant atheists very annoying, and I am persuaded that religion can be a powerful and positive force.

New Atheists and New Believers

In a comment to George Dvorsky’s excellent article Why Humanists Need to Make the Shift to Post-Atheism, my friend and sometime opponent Hank Pellissier praises New Atheists as “annoying, militant, pissed-off, in-your-face god-hating getting-rid-of-religious-dogma-and-repression atheists.”

I agree that New Atheists are annoying, and I will add that I find them bigoted, self-righteous, intolerant, humorless, and hateful (not to mention boring). I have no doubt that, if they were in power, they would behave exactly like the Inquisition that they claim to despise: they would oppress believers, send them to gulags, and probably burn them at stakes. A few months ago, in a Facebook debate, a militant atheist fascist proposed to send believers to forced therapy (yes, really). And History shows that, when militant atheists are in power, that is precisely what they do.

I must, however, acknowledge that often militant atheists have their heart and mind in the right place when they point out that religions have been directly responsible for many bad things. Besides atrocities like the Inquisition and holy wars, the bigotry, self-righteousness and hateful intolerance of organized religions (I am intentionally using the same words that I used against militant atheists) have caused a lot of suffering. For example many have suffered from forced religious indoctrination at an early age, and many have been mistreated and abused in religious schools. I think many militant atheists react to bad experiences with religion, and I understand them.

But religious beliefs in themselves are not responsible for the flaws of organized religions. What makes people suffer, is other people. I know that religions attract many sadistic and power-hungry sociopaths and thugs… like all other power structures. The visionary thinkers and mystics who create new religious organizations are usually good persons, but the thugs who inevitably end up working for them aren’t, and they often achieve power. A related problem is that (the thugs in) organized religions often support authoritarian and oppressive policies. This is the problem to solve, not the beliefs of billions of peaceful people all over this planet.

In my beliefs I find hope, happiness, meaning, the strength to get through the night, and a powerful sense of wonder at our future adventures out there in the universe, which gives me also the drive to try to be a better person here-and-now on this little planet and make it a little better for future generations. I hope to be resurrected, with my loved ones, by benevolent entities in the future. I wish to offer my beliefs to other people, because I am persuaded that others can find in them the same hope, wonder, and drive.

I think religions can be powerful forces for good, and help steer our species toward our cosmic destiny. In Religion for a Galactic Civilization, William S. Bainbridge says: “Religion shapes science and technology, and is shaped by them in return. It has become fashionable to assume that religion and science simply are opposed, and that science has been winning the battle over the past century. But much historical evidence indicates that religion of a certain kind was instrumental in the rise of science and modern technology. Religion will continue to influence the course of progress, and creation of a galactic civilization may depend upon the emergence of a galactic religion capable of motivating society for the centuries required to accomplish that great project. This religion would be a very demanding social movement, and will require extreme discipline from its members, so for purposes of this essay I will call it The Cosmic Order.”

To conclude with a proposal, I wish to see movements of New Believers, in all religions, who embrace their visions of hope and transcendent wonder but reject intolerance, oppression, and hate. Religion can, and should, be based on mutual tolerance, love and compassion. Jesus said: “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and added: “let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

(Picture: the author with the Cosmic Jesus, in the Mormon Welcome Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.)

24 Responses to YES, I am a believer

  1. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Giulio. I couldn’t agree more.

  2. RS says:

    “In my beliefs I find hope, happiness, meaning, the strength to get through the night, and a powerful sense of wonder at our future adventures out there in the universe, which gives me also the drive to try to be a better person here-and-now on this little planet and make it a little better for future generations. I hope to be resurrected, with my loved ones, by benevolent entities in the future”

    Why do you need to believe again? All these things are not inspiring on their own enough to pursue them?

  3. Giulio Prisco says:

    Thanks Lincoln!

  4. Giulio Prisco says:

    @RS re “Why do you need to believe again? All these things are not inspiring on their own enough to pursue them?”

    Sure they are, and that’s why I believe in them. I anticipated this question, and answered in the text:

    I have written a lot about these convictions, without calling them “beliefs.” But, following William James, since I am persuaded that these convictions are scientifically plausible, and they give me happiness and drive, I choose to hold them as beliefs. As I say in a note to the Ten Cosmist Convictions, I am not using “will” in the sense of inevitability, but in the sense of intention: we want to do this, we are confident that we can do it, and we will do our f**king best to do it. You know that, if you really want to achieve a goal, you must firmly believe that you will achieve it.

  5. edgeArchitect says:

    As fair an answer as is fair the question.

    Though, I’m a little bit confused about this:
    “…I wish to see movements of New Believers, in all religions, who embrace their visions of hope and transcendent wonder but _reject_ intolerance, oppression, and hate.”

    I’m suspecting that rejecting those will lead some New Believers to take up extreme points of view and be intolerant to intolerance, oppressive to oppression and hateful towards hate. :)

  6. Giulio Prisco says:

    @edgeArchitect – I am intolerant to intolerance in the sense that I am not willing to tolerate it, and this does not seem an extreme point of view to me. I am not against intolerant persons — provided of course they practice their intolerance in the privacy of their heads;-) But when it comes to living together in a society, I really think live-and-let-live mutual tolerance is the only way.

  7. @ Giulio- I love this; “I am persuaded that these convictions are scientifically plausible, and they give me happiness and drive,” I love it because I similarly inspired. And I am pretty sure this is a new way to look at The Holy Spirit… Truly a free thinker focused on the truth wherever that may lead.

    Thanks!

  8. By definition we are all believers. Some people are just more arrogant about it than others – meaning they feel the need to take the stance of “I am right and you are wrong.” That stance taken in religion (and in society in general) has always been the great downside of anyone’s belief. Why do you have to be wrong for me to be right? I much prefer to always look for the compatibly of my beliefs with those of others. The old adage that we will agree on many more things than we disagree is almost always true. Religious organizations, however, seem to want to highlight disagreement at every chance we get. The bigger question I think is, “do I believe you?” In answer to the above post and thread – why yes, I do believe you. Whole-heartedly.

  9. Giulio Prisco says:

    Thanks James and Jamie!

    This article has been republished on the IEET site:

    http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/prisco20120523

    Only friendly comments so far, but I expect a vigorous discussion.

  10. For those stimulated by Giulio Prisco’s above article who are interested in learning more about the intersection of science and religion, see my following article on physicist and mathematician Prof. Frank J. Tipler’s Omega Point cosmology, which is a proof of God’s existence according to the known laws of physics (i.e., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics), and the Feynman-DeWitt-Weinberg quantum gravity/Standard Model Theory of Everything (TOE):

    James Redford, “The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything”, Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Apr. 9, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), doi:10.2139/ssrn.1974708, http://ssrn.com/abstract=1974708 .

  11. Xhyra Graf says:

    Giulio,

    I admit to a having huge chip on my shoulder with the idea that intellectuals or more commonly, intelligent people should not believe which goes hand in hand with the idea that if you do believe you are bereft of reason. It makes me reticent :)

    So, I do want to thank you for this article that articulates some important points and also, the work that you do generally.

    Xhyra

  12. Giulio Prisco says:

    Thanks Xhyra. By the way you guys left me alone to fight the militant atheist horde on the IEET site:
    http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/prisco20120523

    I have defended the perimeter with sword, sweat, and blood, and I think I have defended it well… but when does the cavalry come? ;-)

  13. Peter Christiansen says:

    First I want to thank you Giulio for another candid and forthright statement.

    In my nearly 70 years I have gone from: theist, atheist, agnostic, theist.

    The historical connection of Christianity with transhumanism is actually quite extensive and includes Benjamin Franklin, N. S. Fydorov, and of course, Buckminster Fuller, and many others. I am happy that it is being rediscovered.

  14. Giulio Prisco says:

    Thanks Peter! I knew of Franklin and Fedorov as religious pre-transhumanists, but I did not know of this aspect of Buckminster Fuller’s thinking, which came as a welcome surprise. This is one of the first Google search results about BF and religion:
    http://www.cjfearnley.com/fuller-faq-3.html#ss3.4

  15. Peter Christiansen says:

    Nominations are now open for the 2013 Templeton Prize, which recognizes individuals who have contributed to the field of science and religion.

    http://www.templetonprize.org/faq.html

    What about nominating someone who has contributed to religious transhumanism e.g. Frank Tipler, Giulio, Lincoln,…

  16. Giulio Prisco says:

    Thanks Peter! Given the stature and accomplishments of Templeton Prize winners (see http://www.templetonprize.org/previouswinner.html) I cannot aspire to the Prize (too bad, because I could certainly use the cash;-). Same for Lincoln I am afraid.

    I propose that we join forces and nominate Frank. He is an academician like most of the previous winners, and he has authored three relatively well known books and countless scientific papers.

  17. Peter Christiansen says:

    Great idea Giulio! Perhaps you could post something on H+ asking for support.

  18. Peter Christiansen says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Tindal

    Fascinating wiki piece about Mathew Tindal, early Anglican transhumanist “The only laws of God are the laws of nature.”

    BTW the wiki piece about Deism is also quite interesting.

  19. Peter Christiansen says:

    I just ordered a new book at Amazon,
    The Russian Cosmists: Nickolai Fedorov And His Followers, by George Young
    Looks very interesting.

  20. Giulio Prisco says:

    Thanks Peter! I knew this book was about to be released. It doesn’t seem available in Kindle version though, I will wait until I can buy it in Kindle format.

  21. Peter Christiansen says:

    I don’t know exactly where to post this.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who has read (and continuously re-reads), and appreciates Ben Gortzel’s Cosmist Manifesto but I seem to be the only person who has reviewed it at Amazon.

    Granted the task of reviewing this book is daunting and humbling. How does one review a book they consider to be among the most important books they have ever read and which they consider to be the equivalent of a transhumanist “bible”, and/or “guide to everyday living” for transhumanists.

    Nor do I think the Cosmist Manifesto “needs” to be promoted as such but I do believe it does deserve to be reviewed and, in my opinion, recommended.

  22. Giulio Prisco says:

    @Peter, I agree that Ben’s Cosmist Manifesto is among the most important books I have ever read, and I also consider to be the equivalent of a transhumanist “bible”, and/or “guide to everyday living” for transhumanists.

    I reviewed it for IEET and H+ Magazine in 2010, soon after it was published:
    http://turingchurch.com/2012/01/02/a-cosmist-manifesto-by-ben-goertzel/

  23. Steven says:

    Hi. Just came across your site. Short of reading the Manifesto, may I ask what aspects and/or tenets of Christianity do you endorse or adhere to? I too have interests in the intersections of spirituality, science and technological directions…Hit me back when you get a moment. Regards, Steven

    • Giulio Prisco says:

      Thanks for writing Steven. I have a new related article:
      http://turingchurch.com/2013/06/06/meet-the-smi2ling-new-believers/

      My religious views are not conventional and not shared my too many people (yet), but I think the parallels with traditional religions such as Christianity are much more important than the differences.

      We do believe that in the universe there may be Gods, and we do hope to be reunited with loved ones in an afterlife.

      These are, in my opinion, the basic aspects and tenets of Christianity (and most other religions). I also (try to) follow the moral teachings of Jesus, which, once you remember that they were spoken in the language and cultural templates of 2000 years ago, are surprisingly modern and applicable to our times.

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