Riverside Immortality Project

In July the John Templeton Foundation awarded a  three-year, $5 million grant  to John Martin Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, to study a wide range of issues related to immortality. The project plan, grants and essay prizes, are now online on The Immortality Project website.

The project  requests research proposals to fund scientific, philosophical, and theological projects that advance understanding of immortality and belief in immortality, and of how each of these is relevant to the way we live our lives at present. In addition, the project will include public events and popular-level publications, including essay prizes, aimed at raising awareness of ways in which this topic can be understood and further investigated through careful empirical, philosophical, and theological means.

“People have been thinking about immortality throughout history. We have a deep human need to figure out what happens to us after death,” said Fischer. “Part of it is motivated by the fact that there are advances now in longevity that naturally raise the question of whether immortality is possible and whether it would be desirable.”

“Immortality is one of the oldest of human questions. But Mr. Fischer points to a fresh impetus for studying it now: the increasing interest in possibilities for extending human life through science,” says The Chronicle of Higher Education. “He notes the work of thinkers like Ray Kurzweil, who predicts that humans and computers will merge, and Kenneth Hayworth, who studies ‘mind uploading.’”

“Fischer is highly respected in philosophical circles for his work in free will and morality. He does not believe in an afterlife, but he isn’t an asshole about it like some people,” says a recent Vice article. The assholes are the “[militant atheists] who have, ironically, adopted the attitudes of hardcore evangelicals who try to convert strangers on subway platforms — it’s not enough for them that they don’t believe in God, they want to make sure you don’t believe in God either.”

The Background section of the website has essays on the points of view of different religions. I found especially interesting the article on “Mormonism and Human Immortality.”

“Mormonism is distinctive in various ways, three of which are important to understanding Mormon beliefs about human immorality and the afterlife. First, Mormonism is a distinctively human religion. The structure of human familial relations, existence as an embodied human being and the progression along the scale of intelligence from ignorance to knowledge familiar from lived human experience all are central to Mormon doctrine and practice. Second, Mormon cosmology is distinctively symmetrical. Just as there is infinite existence after death, there was infinite existence before birth. And we are quite literally made in God’s image, as he was once like us (though he did not walk this earth) and we may be gods like him. Finally, Mormon doctrine embraces infinity. Not only is the existence of each soul and all matter infinite, both into the past and into the future, but there is also the possibility of infinite gods and infinite worlds. Rather than shun infinite regress, Mormon cosmology is founded on it.

“According to Mormonism, a human being, such as you or me, is essentially an embodied, material soul with free will that has existed forever and will exist forever, progressing (hopefully) to ever-higher orders of intelligence. God is essentially like us, but he has progressed much further than we have. God organized our world out of eternal matter, and we have freely chosen to follow him along the path to greater intelligence. Our relation to God is like that of children to their father, and, if all goes well, each of us will eventually achieve godliness, at which time it is possible that the same pattern will repeat itself. Hence, the possibility of infinite gods and infinite worlds…”

[Read more at The Immortality Project]

  • Yeah. That’s a remarkably good description of Mormon cosmology, particularly given that it comes from a non-Mormon.