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Meet the smi2ling New Believers

To the self-righteous, boring New Atheists, I wish to counterpoint the smiling (or perhaps smi2ling followers of Timothy Leary’s transhumanist vision), science-oriented New Believers.

According to Wikipedia, the New Atheists advocate the view that “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises.”

I find New Atheists intolerant thought-cops, dull bigots without a sense of humor, and terminally boring. I think of them (perhaps unfairly) as self-righteous sadists who take pleasure in telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, and telling grieving person that they will never see their loved ones again.

They claim to have a scientific worldview, but they reject even science when it seems to tell us that the universe may be mostly unknown, with rooms for many more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in their terminally dull, politically correct philosophy.

Fortunately, more and more people are denouncing New Atheists’ New Bigotry. “Tanya Gold recently ridiculed the idea of religion as a force for evil. ‘The idea of my late church-going mother-in-law beating homosexuals or instituting a pogrom is obviously ridiculous, although she did help with jumble sales and occasionally church flowers’,” Disinfo reports.

In fact, New Atheists construct a straw-man that is representative of only a very small fraction of believers (those who do beat homosexuals and institute pogroms), and in a typical intellectually dishonest fashion use their straw-man to attack all believers. They also claim that science and religion are totally incompatible, which only shows their ignorance of both.

To the New Atheists, I wish to counterpoint the New Believers.

Who are they?

Well, I am one, and I know many others.

Perhaps “believe” is too strong a word, because many of us don’t really “believe” with blind faith in a religion revealed by scriptures and regulated by authorities. Rather, we search meaning, compassion, hope, and happiness, in a vast and mostly mysterious reality inhabited by inconceivably advanced intelligences.

In the wise and beautiful words of D. H. Lawrence, “A man has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together, adding to it, shaping it; and one’s religion is never complete and final, it seems, but must always be undergoing modification.” We, the New Believers, find inspiration in science (and good science fiction) to gather and shape our personal religion.

Richard Dawkins (yes, Richard Dawkins, the leading atheist thinker) says that “It’s highly plausible that in the universe there are God-like creatures.” In The God Delusion (yes, the New Atheist holy book), he says that very advanced civilizations may attain, by self-directed evolution, powers that would seem supernatural to us, including the ability to create pocket universes and simulated realities inhabited by sentient beings.

Perhaps our universe was created, or simulated (there is no real difference) by Dawkins’ natural Gods. Perhaps alien advanced civilizations can and do resurrect the dead by means of very advanced, “magic” (in the sense of Clarke’s Third Law) space-time technologies, like my dear friend Dan Massey used to argue. Perhaps our descendants will become natural Gods, and achieve, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions, and resurrect the dead from the past by copying them to the future.

The difference with traditional belief systems is all in the words “natural” and “perhaps.”

Our ancestors could only “explain” lightning as something “supernatural,” but we know better. To New Believers, a “supernatural explanation” is a contradiction in terms. There may be huge gaps in our current understanding of reality, but we are confident that science will gradually fill these gaps, and we hope that the transcendence promised by religions will be realized by future science. Instead of the certainty of blind faith, we have scientific imagination and hope.

Without certainty and belief in “the supernatural,” New Believers may sound like smiling (or perhaps smi2ling followers of Timothy Leary‘s transhumanist vision) atheists (see the comments here) who read good science fiction. But I think the parallels with traditional religions 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.

Needless to say, many traditional believers would disagree. This is one of those “third ways” that are often passionately rejected by those who believe in the old ways, but in my opinion it is a Hegelian synthesis of what is good in the old and new ways: it is firmly based on science, and at the same time it offers all the important mental devices of religion, including hope in resurrection. Hoping in an afterlife has survival value for both individuals and societies, because it gives people the strength to continue to live instead of withdrawing (or worse) in despair.

Some New Believers don’t go to church — to them, the universe is a church — but others find it easy to reconcile their ideas with organized religion. The Mormon Transhumanist Association represents the best example of New Believers within a mainstream Church.

Mormonism has a concept of boundless elevation and exaltation of Man, through all means including science and technology, until he becomes like God. Conversely, God was once like Man before attaining an exalted status. “[Mormonism] allows for humans to ascend to a higher, more godlike level,” writes Max More in his introduction to The Transhumanist Reader, “rather than sharply dividing God from Man.” Mormon transhumanists are persuaded that we will become like God — through science and technology — in a progression without end, and this seems a more faithful interpretation of the teachings of Joseph Smith and a return to the roots of the Mormon religion.

Besides Mormon transhumanists, I know many New Believers in mainstream Christianity, who reconcile their scientific worldview with Christian faith. They are tolerant of others’ personal preferences and lifestyle (they don’t beat homosexuals and institute pogroms). Christian Transhumanists like Frank J. Tipler, James McLean Ledford and Micah Redding promote a compassionate, smiling, smi2ling, scientific, transhumanist interpretation of Christianity similar to Nikolai Fedorov and the Russian Cosmists. There is a Facebook group and some good blogs for Christian Transhumanists, but no “Christian Transhumanist Association” that I am aware of. I think creating one would be a good idea.

I am sure that there are many New Believers in other religions as well. I think they should speak up, and recognize New Believers in other religions as fellow travelers, and perhaps get organized as New Believers. Despite superficial differences (which unfortunately have been and are still used to justify bloody holy wars), all religions are based on the same aspirations to transcendence, which will be realized by science.

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  • René Milan

    I see two problems:
    1. The lack of an agreed upon definition of religion. Looking at history and current news, probably more crimes against humanity are committed in the name of religion than for any other cause, and justified with made up reasons. You said that you reserve the right to believe in the tooth fairy, which i support, and i myself have been a practitioner of ‘esoteric’ or ‘occult’ practices for almost 50 years, and i hold some private beliefs that i can not prove to be true. Your belief in the tooth fairy (if you actually hold it) and my occult practices constitute a very different kind of religion than what is commonly understood by the term.
    2. Because of the private nature of those beliefs and the fact that they are unprovable they have no place in public discourse and activities geared towards common political goals such as transhumanism. For the same reason introducing ‘religious’ or just personal beliefs into transhumanism (or capitalism or communism) has a divisive effect. I have no problem with a transhumanist who also is a mormon or a muslim, but if he introduces his beliefs into transhumanism i and very many other transhumanists will part ways with him. The attempt to graft irrational beliefs (which are fine, and we all have them) onto a political agenda is counterproductive.

  • Giulio Prisco

    Hi Rene’, good to hear from you, how are things?

    Re “Because of the private nature of those beliefs and the fact that they are unprovable they have no place in public discourse and activities geared towards common political goals such as transhumanism.”

    I am not talking about the political dimension of transhumanism, but of its personal, imaginative, visionary dimension.

    Also, with this essay I am not trying to sell religion to transhumanists, but transhumanism to believers. Since believers outnumber transhumanists by 5-6 orders of magnitude, I think this approach can be much more productive.

    • René Milan

      Hi Giulio, things are interesting (in the sense of the chinese curse) and too complex to deal with in this forum. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to talk privately one of these days.
      I see your point, and sincerely hope that your approach works, but frankly i have my doubts. And i can already see that it is being rejected by by many transhumanists. If it works getting religious people to identify with transhumanist ideas, more power to them, and to you.

  • I enjoyed the article, Giulio. Thanks.

    Rene, there are innumerable aspects of public discourse that are unprovable and divisive and not typically associated with religion, and if religion is necessarily irrational then I reject religion but of course it’s wildly inaccurate to describe me as rejecting religion.

    • René Milan

      I have no problems with being irrational, as i mentioned i hold irrational beliefs myself. But i do exclude them from the discourse because discourse is based on rationality, else we will be reduced to stating “i believe this” or “you believe that” and there is no prospect for the better argument to prevail.

      • We’re probably using “irrational” differently. I prefer the word “arational” to describe the basis from which rationality emerges. Here are more of my thoughts on that: http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/cannon20120315

        • René Milan

          Reading your article does not clarify your definition of arational for me. The only mention of the term is: “embracing faith, not of the dogmatic irrational sort but rather of a dynamic arational sort, was essential” which does not explain it. I think you have read my article on the subject (http://transhumanity.net/articles/entry/whos-your-daddy-now), in which case you will know that i defined and used the term extra rational to signify a mental space set apart from, and thus impervious to, that which is ruled by logic. Of course the content of that space is irrational, the difference to common irrationality, characterized by not having properly thought things through, is that here one has made a conscious decision to define as valid ideas that would not withstand the scrutiny of rational analysis.

          But your article is more about faith than about rationality. Apparently you use faith and trust interchangeably. “In the least, we trust in the possibility of meaning” – no, i do not need to trust in that, as i do not need to trust in ears or leaves. These things are facts, ‘meaning’ is the main property of language, which without meaning would be, well, meaningless. To load the term ‘meaning’ with something deep or existential or mystical constitutes obfuscation. But i do trust that tomorrow morning my ears will still be there and still be ears.

          Here is my distinction: “Faith is often understood as belief in something for which one has no evidence. That is a necessary but not sufficient condition.” (The other being the creation of that extra rational mental space within which to cultivate that faith.) “The above quoted insufficient condition of faith is sufficient for trust. Trusting not to lose one’s balance while walking, or not to be swallowed up by the ground or carried away by wind, or not to be betrayed by one’s partner, in spite of the fact that all these things do occur, constitutes not only belief in the absence of evidence but in the presence of evidence to the contrary. However we all do it, and on a higher level of abstraction it is the perfectly rational thing to do, the alternative being paralysis. Hence the conflict between the rational and the extra-rational inherent in faith does not apply to trust.”

          I a halfway enlightened christian says: “My saviour jesus lives in my heart” he also signifies that there is no room for discussion. It would be futile, in fact stupid, to reply by suggesting to cut his heart open and verify his claim. Of course there are many idiots among religionists who attempt to defend their positions and even try to convince others by argument, usually because they are incapable of rational analysis. Unfortunately there are just as many (proportionally) idiots among atheists who try to reason with religionists, usually because they fail to realize that faith resides in that separate, ‘sacred’, mental space that is impervious to logic. Here rational discourse is impossible by definition, and the attempt futile. This is why i do not want to see faith mixed into transhumanism or any other ism that is subject to mutual discussion, learning and agreement.

          • Rene, I use “irrational” to describe that which contradicts reason. I use “arational” to describe that which is beyond reason, including that in which reason is founded. As for the remainder of your comments, we disagree in more ways than I will make time to explore right now.

          • René Milan

            Lincoln, the idea that there is a realm beyond reason is incompatible with transhumanism. Beyond (current) understanding, yes clearly, but beyond reason implies that it can never be understood. This is another type of staticity.

          • Giulio Prisco

            Rene’, I cannot answer for Lincoln, but I think he would agree with:

            “Beyond reason” does not mean something that cannot be analyzed with reason, and will never be understood in-principle. I think, and I am sure Lincoln agrees, that everything can be analyzed with reason, and every given feature of the universe may be understood by science someday in the future.

            But there are things for which reason is not a sensible approach. A simple example is love. Of course you can “understand” love by neurochemical pathways, transmitters and whatnot, but why should you? Why don’t you just love?

            I think this is what “beyond reason” means. Remember, reason is a tool, not an end in itself.

            Another example: some old persons past their productive years are a burden to society and their families. We will all get there someday. Some ultra-rationalists may think (and some do) that these “useless” persons should be disposed of to free resources for “useful” persons. But if this is what reason says, then I say fuck reason. There are more important things.

          • René Milan

            Hey Giulio – my sense of language tells me that beyond reason means inaccessible to reason, like in beyond reach or beyond my capability, but good to see that you agree that everything can be approached by reason.

            I disagree with your statement that “there are things for which reason is not a sensible approach”. I have been for over 20 years, after many previous only partially successful attempts, in an almost perfect love relationship. This is in part due to luck (or karma if you will), in part to factors determined by our genetic makeup, the ‘chemistry’ you hinted at, but in large part to the continuous work both of us are doing in cultivating this relationship. This includes observation (of each other’s and one’s own behaviour), drawing conclusions from these observations, adjusting one’s behaviour in accordance with these conclusions, and using verbal and nonverbal feedback to fine tune the methods and goals of the relationship. This is the scientific method in action, different only from its academic manifestion in that it does not require documentation and publication, though that could be a possible bonus. Of course the longer the process continues the more many issues become subject to subconscious processes, like when learning to walk, and for much of the time “you just love”. But observation and awareness never stop, and the common life decisions always require the the application of reason.

            As for your second example, what we are dealing here is not reason but certain value judgments or attitudes. As you say: “reason is a tool”, so once you make a decision however moral or immoral you will apply reason to put it into action or else you fail. The nazis, being germans, went about the extermination of the jews in a very rational manner. The fault lies not with reason, but with the disastrous decision to believe (or to pretend to in some cases) that all their problems are caused by jews. “if this is what reason says” – it is not. It is what human indecency, cruelty, fear, and the drive for domination say. These are psychiatric problems. “then I say fuck reason” – do not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

          • Giulio Prisco

            @Rene’ re “observation (of each other’s and one’s own behaviour), drawing conclusions from these observations, adjusting one’s behaviour in accordance with these conclusions, and using verbal and nonverbal feedback to fine tune the methods and goals of the relationship.”

            Oh my, far too rational and scientific for me. I prefer hugs and chocolate. :-)

  • Reeve Armstrong

    This article promotes a malicious ad-hominem straw man of the secular humanist movement.

    This article IS this xkcd comic: http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/atheists.png

    What is a “new atheist”?

    An atheist who dares to criticise religion and religious privilege.

    • Giulio Prisco

      @Reeve (and others who made similar comments elsewhere) re “This article promotes a malicious ad-hominem straw man of the secular humanist movement.”

      Yes, this article promotes a straw-man of the “New Atheists” (see “(perhaps unfairly)” in the text).

      Which is precisely what “New Atheists” do all the time: “New Atheists construct a straw-man that is representative of only a very small fraction of believers.” This is a fact that more and more intellectually honest observers, including many atheists, are pointing out (see linked references in the text).

      So you seem to be saying that atheists can resort to straw-man, lies, mockery, and unnecessary rudeness against believers, but believers cannot do the same in return.

      This is an example of the pathetic politically correct (PC) attitude of the armchair “intellectuals” who claim that PC can say whatever they want against unPC, but unPC must shut up.

      Well, I am here to call that bullshit.

  • I count myself a “New Believer” in that I have serious hopes in (rather than dogmatic certainty of)such things as an afterlife, resurrection of the dead, and personal immortality, all to be accomplished through future technology. I agree that there are “more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of” in present-day science or philosophy, along with some things that are “dreamt of” quite rationally, with extraordinary implications. The possibilities include what amount to an afterlife and the rest. This could happen in various, rather different scientifically arguable ways so that if one approach doesn’t work another one might and, I think, probably will. The ones styling themselves as New Atheists are as far as I can see deathists, and mostly what I would call “valuational deathists.” By this I mean that they have accepted the idea that death is not only inevitable and final for each one of us but also really not a bad thing but instead even a good thing; one can and should find meaning in one’s life without demanding that it continue forever. While I respect the sentiments of those holding this view it has no solid appeal for me. Instead I find inspiration and solace in the thought that its physical and emotional underpinnings can be worked around, using the tools of reason, and that the effort to do so, however protracted and ingenious it may have to be, will well repay itself in the end.

    On the definition of religion: the best definition I have seen is by Paul Tillich: “the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of the meaning of our life.” (Quoted from *Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions*, Columbia University Press, 1963, p. 4.) A religious outlook, in this broad sense, does not seem out of place in a modern world where science offers increasing backing for something once thought to be the exclusive province of higher powers–the conquest of death. The conquest of death meanwhile is surely part and parcel of the “doing good” which all major religions endorse. We are already doing it in a limited way with mainstream medicine, and our capabilities are growing. It is also clear that religions evolve with the times, thus we can expect an increasing accommodation in the various religious traditions to a scientific worldview, even as the benefits of scientific approaches are increasingly felt. So I look forward to increasing ties with religion, at least if we understand it in Tillich’s broad sense rather than focusing narrowly on certain dogmas and rituals.

    Mike Perry

    • Giulio Prisco

      @Mike re “we can expect an increasing accommodation in the various religious traditions to a scientific worldview, even as the benefits of scientific approaches are increasingly felt. So I look forward to increasing ties with religion, at least if we understand it in Tillich’s broad sense rather than focusing narrowly on certain dogmas and rituals.”

      Very well said. I also think that, in time, major religions will appropriate our conviction that science and technology are the means through which the transcendence promised by religion will be achieved. This will not happen overnight of course, it is likely to take decades or centuries.

    • René Milan

      Your accepted definition (“the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern”), besides being quite distinct from most common definitions, has two problems:

      1. It seems to imply the independent existence of an ultimate concern that can grasp one, while in fact our concerns are all self created.

      2. It is not specific to religion. My ultimate concern is my own happiness. If you conclude that this constitutes my religion you render the term religion meaningless.

  • Thank you for this, Giulio!

    I think the important thing here is to maximize understanding and minimize straw-man portrayals. To address René’s concerns, I’d like to add a few things:

    1. I think most of us could agree on a general definition of religion around the idea of “aspiration”. IE, what we strive to do, to become, to create. Our religion is not defined by our “beliefs”, narrowly defined, but by our values, and what we aim to bend our lives towards. As Mike Perry quotes Tillich: “the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern”. We recognize that many religious people have followed their aspirations into terrible actions — but we think that instead of abandoning aspiration, we must choose our aspirations with a profound level of care.

    2. I have no interest in introducing irrationality into public discourse. But I do think there is a place to discuss hope. Hope is simply having a motivating vision, and enough base-line confidence in its possibility to throw ourselves into the work of attaining it. Hope may be extra-rational, but it is not irrational.

    3. For many of us, we don’t like to talk about what “might be out there” separate from our hope and confidence in what we are striving to do ourselves. If you’ve processed Lincoln’s http://new-god-argument.com you’ll see why this is so.

    4. I have a profound level of respect for rational atheists. I may think they are too pessimistic about our odds for the future, but that is not a fundamental barrier between us. Much more significant is our choice of values and what we strive towards (#1).

    5. Transhumanism is a set of hopes and aspirations built around rational contemplation of our world. As such, for many of us religious individuals who understand our religion as in (#1), Transhumanism seems like a natural home.

    Thanks for continuing to stir up important discussions,

    -Micah

    • Giulio Prisco

      @Micah re “I think the important thing here is to maximize understanding and minimize straw-man portrayals.”

      So do I. But, you know, it takes two to do that. See also reply to Reeve. In today dull, politically correct cultural climate, it seems that atheists can resort to straw-man, lies, mockery, and unnecessary rudeness against believers, but believers cannot do the same in return. I call BS.

      I am always open to calm, respectful, rational discussion with those who want calm, respectful, and rational discussion. But I don’t believe in turning the other cheek. I prefer to hit back harder.

    • Giulio Prisco

      @Micah re “Hope may be extra-rational, but it is not irrational.”

      I totally agree, and I will add that, often, hope is very rational. If you are drowning in the sea and you don’t dare hoping that you will reach the shore, you will not find the strength and the drive to swim to the shore.

  • On the calling bullshit piece, I think we have to be very careful in choosing our rhetorical tactics. I had a conversation a few years back with a militant atheist friend who talked about his recruiting strategy, which included things like isolating and embarrassing young people into wanting to join with the “in” group of atheists — basically using peer pressure to get people to switch over to their side. I won’t say this is similar to the church camp conversion tactics that I encountered as a kid; the correct word there is “identical.”

    I personally find it very interesting (and telling) that people who claim to be supporting the rational position would resort to that kind of emotional approach. Shouldn’t individuals come to the rational position via rational argument and thought process? Likewise, my question to evangelical Christians was always: why the peer pressure and scare tactics? If God is the ultimate truth, surely you can best lead people to that truth via kindness and honesty rather than manipulation.

    The fact that both sides tend to resort to the same bag of rhetorical tricks raises the unpleasant possibility that we are all, to some extent, just meme hosts doing our very best to spread our particular infection, and not entirely the purely rational or noble /spiritual beings we would like to think we are. The use of emotional arguments, shaming, stereotypes, straw men, and guilt by association have more to do with a desire to score points than a desire to get at the truth. Especially when we start using tit-for-tat as a justification.

    Contra the XKCD cartoon (which is funny), this realization need not bring us to a place of feeling superior to both sides. If anything, we ought to feel a kinship to both sides, and hope that both sides can start to recognize a kinship with each other.

    Is there a way out of the memetic trap? Memes are like paths and jokes — nobody ever seems to start them; they are just there. But if we can “roll our own” — and surely that’s a big part of what Turing Church is about? — then the ideas we want to promote (or be carried along by) have to do with hope, with transcendence, and with seeking an ultimate good. There are many possible iterations of such goals and aspirations, both rational and irrational. For both sides, or at least for some members of each, the desire to achieve those aims ought to significantly outweigh the desire to score cheap shots against the other side.

    From there, we might find that there are no longer two opposing sides, or rather that two new opposing sides emerge: those who are seriously working to achieve such ends and those who aren’t, with plenty of believers and atheists in each camp.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Yes Phil, we are mostly driven by emotions, and “not [at all] the purely rational or noble /spiritual beings we would like to think we are.”

      That’s why, if we want to change the world and make it a better place, and make people happier, we must learn how to appeal to powerful, positive emotions.

      Religion, with its aspiration to transcendence, wonder, and hope in resurrection, has a very powerful emotional appeal to billions of people. Most of them are kind and compassionate people.

      New Atheists want to purge religion from others’ minds. I am sure many of them think that their intention is good. I totally disagree, because I hold freedom of thought as a basic, non-negotiable value.

      But even if you think that thought-policing is good, there is just no way to purge religion from the mind of those who _want_ to believe. You just cannot speak loud enough to be heard from those who don’t want to hear.

      I think the scientific religion of New Believers is a workable “third way” that should be promoted to avoid the radicalization of the conflict between transhumanist science and religion.

      New Atheist’s aggressive New Bigotry can only deepen this conflict and push the vast majority of believers to radical anti-science, anti-reason, anti-transhumanist positions. Note that believers outnumber transhumanists by 5-6 orders of magnitude.

  • Giulio Prisco

    Thanks for the great post Phil. I will post some related thoughts later.

  • Annie

    This is a blog opinion right? Because I find your article rather amusing how you claim that New Atheists are:

    “intolerant thought-cops, dull bigots without a sense of humor, and terminally boring. I think of them (perhaps unfairly) as self-righteous sadists who take pleasure in telling children that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, and telling grieving person that they will never see their loved ones again.”

    I have to agree with @Reeve here. This article seems no different than what New Atheists may seem to do to against religion. In fact your reply:

    “So you seem to be saying that atheists can resort to straw-man, lies, mockery, and unnecessary rudeness against believers, but believers cannot do the same in return.”

    Is failing to see that while critisizing New Atheists you are doing the exact same to them.

    I have a lot of respect for rational thinkers such as the New Atheists, who are willing to educate against inhumane ideas of religion.

    Personally, I am fond of the humour of New Atheists and have never found them boring but rather enlightening, educational, motivational, and inspirational.

    They have offered hope to many individuals, like myself, around the world who have been shunned by their religious families and have been victims of religious abuse. They have motivated and inspired many individuals to more importantly ‘focus on making the most of this life by aiming for worthy goals.’

    Their view “religion should not simply be tolerated but should be countered, criticized, and exposed by rational argument wherever its influence arises” has infact given the opportunity for transhumanism and humanist religions to become known to many atheists and agnostics such as myself.

    Their efforts have paved the way for individuals who have left their religions to first find a new way of thinking that then leads them to find hope in transhumanism or humanistic religions given that many who leave their religions still hold on to good ideas that were in their old religion. For those who are seeking new guidance away from the old religion it is easier to connect to and get a grasp of what the New Atheists are about since access to these individuals is better advertised and more spoken of than the New Believers which makes the transition to transhumanism and humanism much more easier than just jumping straight from one religion to join such.

    To a religious individual transhumanism and humanism is considered BS because they still appear to be on the atheist side without worshipping an actual deity. To change this way of thinking a process needs to take place first to open up their closed minds into allowing them to understand the bigotry and irrationality of their previous religion.

    My family for example are extrememly devout mormons and the same goes for many of my friends in my community who all see transhumanism and humanistic religions as a group of atheists that steal good ideas from religions but are liberal and lack true divine guidance so are just set up by man as ‘a business’ organisation to enjoytax exemption.

    Therefore, I think it is very narrow minded to criticize the efforts of these New Atheists who contribute more to transhumanism and humanistic religions than what is stated here in this article. Without first being exposed to the New Atheists I wouldn’t have ever left my religion to join the Society of Humanistic Mormonism.

    I think what the argument here should really be about is whether New Atheists are actually against Transhumanistic and humanistic religions. Not religions that worship mythological gods since already know that.

    • Giulio Prisco

      @Annie, your main point is that militant, aggressive atheism causes people to abandon their traditional religion, and perhaps join new and more progressive spiritual movements and “Transhumanistic and humanistic religions.”

      But I don’t think that is the case.

      Atheist propaganda based on the verbal bullying techniques described by Phil may be appealing to those who have _already_ decided to abandon their religion.

      But not to those who feel at home in their current religious view. On the contrary, verbal (or physical) bullying, mockery, scorn, and unnecessary rudeness, can only strengthen, entrench and radicalize existing views. The most likely reaction of a traditional believer to the “New Atheist” intolerance, is to become more fundamentalist and less open to dialogue.

      Perhaps some militant atheists have their heart in the right place, but their marketing is very poor. If you read the recent reactions on the net, especially after the recent http://www.richarddawkins.net/ forums scandals, you will see that new atheists are more and more frequently exposed as the intolerant thought-cops they are.

      A few weeks ago somebody on the net made the very acute observation that, if you want to influence something, you must let yourself be influenced by it.

  • Hugh Bristic

    Certainly some atheists can be smug and annoying (speaking as someone who doesn’t believe in God), but I think you go too far in your criticisms. I too take comfort from something like a Cosmist vision of the future, but any such future can only come about if we are willing to be mercilessly critical of one another’s beliefs (though not each other as people). It would be far to easy for the Transhumanist religious impulse to turn into some fuzzy New Age masturbatory fantasy or doctrinaire cult. The skeptics help us guard against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

    For instance, I think the idea of some personal resurrection is naive. I have a hard time believing that anything so limited as this personal consciousness could ever persist, or that any future super-intelligent being would have an interest in recreating it. Rather, I choose to identify with that process of the universe coming to know itself. If “I” exist, it will only be as a part of that continuity. All things change and are impermanent–this self included. To cling to it only leads to suffering.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Hi Hugh.

      Re “I choose to identify with that process of the universe coming to know itself. If “I” exist, it will only be as a part of that continuity.”

      I agree that, within certain psychological limits, we can choose what to identify with, and some identifications are more conductive to mental peace and happiness than others. If you can identify with the universe coming to know itself, to the point of accepting death in happiness, then I certainly admire your mental discipline and wish I had the same. But I think most people want/need to hope in something more personal.

      Re “we are willing to be mercilessly critical of one another’s beliefs”

      I disagree. Too much criticism too soon can only kill all ideas in the cradle. We would be still living in caves with this attitude. Criticism is good, but too much criticism is not. Remember that criticizing is so much easier than creating.

      And why “merciless” criticism? If you want to believe in Santa Claus because believing in Santa Claus makes you happy, who am I to mercilessly tell you that Santa Claus doesn’t exist? Why should I want to do that? It is not my business. Why should I want to destroy your happiness without giving you anything in return? Of course if you ask me if I believe that Santa Claus exists, I will answer that I don’t think so. But I will not bully you into giving up your belief.

      • Hugh Bristic

        Well, I’m not sure I’m there yet with the willingness to “go gently into that good night,” despite my Buddhist pretensions. I’m working on accepting what is now, by trying to live in the present moment. Meditation helps with this. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to live, and I hope to be a part of that future where all beings are happy.

        I hope to help make that so. That which persists is that which can find nonzero-sum solutions to the different desires of other agents. If I wish to *be*, it must within that framework, and that guides how I act and what I wish to become.

        Whatever *that* is, it won’t be remotely like this thing I am now. What will my sense of self be like when brain-computer interfaces are perfected and my brain is connected with other brains and artificial intelligences? This won’t be an immediate process but a gradual transformation; there will be no radical discontinuity.

        As regards mercilessness, perhaps I should have phrased things better. What I meant is that we can’t afford to believe based on faith in spite of evidence; the stakes are too high. If you believe Joseph Smith talked to God and served up the truth on a golden plate, you’re likely to believe other crazy stuff–stuff that matters. If you believe, as Tipler seems to, that we are predestined to create some Christian heaven and there is nothing we can do about it, that belief is likely to breed the complacency that will prevent a brighter tomorrow from ever coming to pass. Those things must be challenged. Should we be cruel? Never. Should we be irreverent? Yes, because that punctures the pretensions of those who don’t want the truth to be known.

        I have faith but it is an active faith. If I believe the world was made in 7 days, no amount of believing is going to make it so. If I have faith that compassion breeds compassion, that belief can help make it so. If I have faith that we can know the world and each other better by questioning our assumptions I will be more effective in achieving my goals.

        I believe it is important to know the difference between these two conceptions of faith.

        • Giulio Prisco

          @Hugh re “I have faith but it is an active faith. If I believe the world was made in 7 days, no amount of believing is going to make it so. If I have faith that compassion breeds compassion, that belief can help make it so.”

          Then we have the same faith. I have faith that our species can leave biology behind, go to the stars, colonize the universe, meet other God apprentices out there, re-engineer space time, resurrect the dead, and move on in a progression without end. As a small part of humanity, I try to help make it so with small contributions in the right direction.

          re “we can’t afford to believe based on faith in spite of evidence”

          It is not a belief, it is a plan, a project. At the end of the Ten Cosmist Convictions I wrote: “NOTE: ‘Will’ is not used 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.”

          I don’t criticize those who need emotional crutches, because we all do, for many reasons, most of the times. If emotional crutches help us getting where we want to be, they are also useful.

          • Hugh Bristic

            @Giulio, I don’t think we really disagree on things that much. I admire your efforts to promote this positive vision of the future. I just also think there is a role for New Atheist skepticism too. If there is a way to reinterpret traditional religious beliefs in a way that is compatible with a naturalistic Cosmist perspective, without importing the negative baggage that accompanies those beliefs, I’m all for building bridges. I think you’re likely to find more common ground with atheists though.

          • Giulio Prisco

            @Hugh re “I just also think there is a role for New Atheist skepticism too… I think you’re likely to find more common ground with atheists though.”

            Intellectually, I do find common ground with atheists. As I write in the text, “Without certainty and belief in “the supernatural,” New Believers may sound like smiling atheists.” And I certainly don’t disagree with Dawkins’ statements quoted here:
            http://turingchurch.com/2012/02/26/richard-dawkins-i-cant-be-sure-god-does-not-exist/

            I am not against New Atheist skepticism, because I think everyone must be free to form and hold their own opinions provided they respect the freedom of others to do the same. But for the same reason I am totally opposed to their totalitarian thought-policing attitude.

  • Alan Brooks

    Being a Believer can protect one in strange ways: Reverend Jones’ Westboro Baptist Church in Westboro Kansas picketed military funerals– because the Church thinks servicemen protect a decadent society. If you or I would protest a military funeral, our chances of being beaten up by mourners would be rather high; but it looks bad if church members are beaten.
    God must look out for such churches as Westboro.

  • Hi Giulio

    I like the “Possibilian” name-tag, but “New Believer” has a nice ring too. Maybe a new theodicy could be developed to answer the perennial “Problem of Evil” – God can’t stop evil all the time, because we haven’t finished making Her yet.

    • Giulio Prisco

      @Adam – I have proposed a solution to the Problem of Evil that makes a lot of sense to me:
      http://turingchurch.com/2013/04/15/my-mta-2013-talk-life-and-the-computational-problem-of-evil/
      http://turingchurch.com/2012/06/23/the-physics-of-miracles-and-the-problem-of-evil/

      I think we may never “finish” — making God will always remain work in progress. But God is beyond time, and may reach back through time by means of science that we don’t understand yet.

      • I made a similar point to Daniel Dennett.

        But another point worth examining is how the God Concept was used in ancient thought – in Plato’s writings the Father of the Gods, the Form of Forms, and the World Soul seem to form a trinity, but they also form a developed physical theory. Plato’s theology was physics. Somewhere along the way the physics left the discussion, except when the corpse of Aristotle was dragged out to be either flogged or adored, and we ended up with a very hollow theology. God became so “mysterious” that the hope for rational discussion ended, with reason rationalising post facto ex cathedra pronouncements, rather than being a proper guide to discernment.

        • Giulio Prisco

          Adam, “mysterious” does not mean closed to rational investigation.

          The smartest medieval philosophers thought of God as totally unknowable in his totality (we can never fully know and describe God), but at the same time they tried to advance rationally toward knowing more about God.

          You cannot count to infinity, but you can count to any big number less than infinity. I elaborate here:
          http://turingchurch.com/2012/12/02/the-big-infinite-fractal-onion-universe/

  • Alan Brooks

    No problem with God, but I don’t believe in heaven or reincarnation– when you are dead you are dead– your ass is grass.

    Orwell said God is a little white spider.

    • thunderstorm

      Don’t forget technological resurrection (quantum archeology of Giulio, Tiplerian Omega Point, Quantum computers of David Deutsch….).

      Also we are not sure of anything, maybe Penrose&Hameroff are right and you still live as a quantum information, maybe Everett is right and when you think you die you go instead in a parallel universe of the MWI, maybe Johnjoe McFadden is right and consciousness come from electromagnetic field…

  • Alan Brooks

    …Orwell said Jesus is a little white spider, however being that God and Jesus live at the same address, doesn’t matter.