Radical Technology Will Help Replace the Need for Religion in the Future

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I hear a lot of philosophical complaints suggesting that being alive in a computer as an uploaded version of oneself is quite different than being alive in the physical world. While that is open for debate, one aspect of the issue people often forget about is that the so-called spirit world of Abrahamic faiths—which approximately four billion people follow—is based on something at least as odd as the bits in software code that will make up any virtual existence.

When you think about it, trying to wrap your brain around how digital technology and all its wonders are even possible is simply bizarre. Only a tiny fraction of the world’s population understand such things in any depth. And an even smaller amount of people actually know how to design and create the microchips, circuit boards, and software that constitutes this stuff in the real world. Human beings are a species dependent on a tech-imbued lifestyle that none of us really understand, but accept wholeheartedly as we go on endlessly texting, Facebooking, and video conferencing.

As a non-engineer atheist grappling with the implications of 1s and 0s manifesting all digital reality, I have at least this much in common with religious people—because they can’t understand the spirit world either, even if they insist it exists.

The major difference between the religious spirit world and the digital world is that engineers—technology’s superstars—can recreate software, microchips, and virtual environments again and again. They can also test, view, change, manipulate, and most importantly, improve upon their creations. They can apply the scientific method and be assured that the worlds they built of bits and code exist—as surely as we know the Earth is spinning, even if we can’t feel it.

People of the planet’s major religions can’t do this with their spirit worlds. They can only make leaps of faith, and elaborately describe it to you. One either agrees or disagrees with them. Amazingly, proof is not necessary to them.

Being able to upload our entire minds into a computer is probably just 25-35 years off given Moore’s Law and the current trajectory of technology growth and innovation. If we can harness the power of artificial intelligence in the next 15 years, then we might get there quicker, as AI will likely make the research and progress happen far more rapidly. But mind uploading is generally considered possible by experts. After all, humans are just material machines, striving to create other machines that mirror ourselves and desires.

Already, interaction between microchip and the brain are occurring all around the world in the form of cranial implants helping the deaf, blind, and mentally ill. Furthermore, telepathy, accomplished 18 months ago between people in India and France, is the communication medium of the future. We’re just in the infancy of all this, but progress is accelerating. I’m looking forward to having an exact copy of myself online one day, both as a companion and as a form of personal immortality in case my biological self dies.

Atheists may not believe in God, but as Sam Harris’ recent book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion points out, we are still deeply spiritual creatures, searching for answers, trying to do good upon the world, and pondering the mysteries of the universe. All this is very healthy, and not that different than some core hopes of the religious-minded. In fact, the only real difference between religious people and atheists is the fact that religious people insist an all-knowing deity is outside of themselves and controlling the shape of the world. Atheists see no God and believe unconscious universal forces and human will are responsible for the shape of the world.

It’s that shape of the world that I care about. It’s that shape that affects our lives and gives form to our society, nations, and deeds. For millennia, society has been controlled, guided, and manipulated by religion—often for the worse. As a rule, the more fundamental a particular religion was, the better it steered its populace in the direction the leaders of the religion wanted. I often refer to this steering as baggage culture, pieces of social structure, cultural conditioning, and archaic rules passed on from generation to generation with little philosophical change or growth, despite the fact that society evolves every year. Eventually, such baggage culture weighs us down so much that society becomes lethargic and hopelessly burdened with nonsense in its many actions. This can be seen in the United State’s monopolistic two-party pretend democracy system. It can also be seen in Islam—one of the world’s fastest growing religions—whose main sacred text, the Koran, is often seen as being at odds with basic modern day women’s rights. Of course, one of the most embarrassing examples of baggage culture I know of is America’s Imperial measurement system, which favors obfuscation instead of the better metric system.

So what can we do to eliminate our baggage culture? I’m afraid that little will happen as long as we are exclusively biological. Our instincts for vice, petty behavior, and superstition are too strong. There has certainly been a shift towards moral fortitude, reason, and irreligiosity in many developed countries, but it is slow, very slow. The sad truth is we’ll likely be merging and uploading ourselves into machines long before rationality and agnosticism become truly dominant on Earth. The good news, though, is as people begin uploading themselves, they’ll also be hacking and writing improved code for their new digital selves—resulting in “real time evolution” for individuals and the species. It’s likely this influx of better code will eliminate lots of things that, historically speaking, religion has attempted to protect people from—namely stupidity and social evil.

Take Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who likely intentionally crashed Germanwings Flight 9525 in the Swiss Alps, tragically killing all the people aboard. Lubitz is suspected to have been suffering from depression. In the future, we may all have avatars—perfectly uploaded versions of ourselves existing in the cloud or in chip implants in our brains—and these avatars will help guide us and not allow us to do dumb or terrible things. In the Germanwings plane incident, the avatar would have been able to eliminate the depression in itself, and then could’ve conveyed that to the other, real life self. In this way, the better suited person would’ve have been given the task of flying the plane.

This may serve what Abraham Lincoln called the better angels of our nature, which we all have but often don’t use. Now, with digital clones participating in our every move, someone trustworthy will always be in our head, advising us of the best path to take. Think of it in terms of a spiritual trainer leading us to be the best we can be.

A good metaphor or comparison of this type of digital assistance will already be happening in the next few years when driverless cars hit the road. In the same way driverless cars will help lessen drunk driving, perfected uploaded avatars will also lead us to be more judicious, moral, and reasonable in our lives.

This is why the future will be far better than it is now. In the coming digital world, we may be perfect, or very close to it. Expect a much more utopian society for whatever social structures end up existing in virtual reality and cyberspace. But also expect the real world to radically improve. Expect the drug user to have their addictions corrected or overcome. Expect the domestic abuser to have their violence and drive for power diminished. Expect the mentally depressed to become happy. And finally, expect the need for religion to disappear as a real-life god—our near perfect moral selves—symbiotically commune with us. In this way, the promising future of atheism and its power will reside in achieving this amazing transhumanist technology. Code, computers, and science will one day replace formal religion and its God, and we will be better as a species for it.

Article by Zoltan Istvan – a futurist and 2016 atheist presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party. He lives in San Francisco with his family.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Nice article, thanks.

    I am not totally agree so I comment some point. First remember that there is not only religious or atheist people. There is also agnostic people. Maybe our Abraham’s religion are obsolete but I am pretty sure that the idea of God (or Big Force or The All or as you want…) is not unvalide while AI has not proove it.
    In fact, this should be THE question to solve for High AI : “does God exist ?” .

    By the way, “So what can we do to eliminate our baggage culture?..Our instincts for vice, petty behavior, and superstition are too strong. ”
    That’s why I really think that until we can’t proove the existence or the non-existence of God, religion could still help to shape a better world. Not the literal interpretation of Bible or Coran but a new religious ecumenical and tolerant movement. A movement, that’s could concern religious people but also agnostic and kindly atheist people. All together, in order to find news uses of technology and make earth, humans, biodiversity, machines (and God ?) living happy in a future civilization of the abundance.

    If not, while new technology could bring us closer, I think that neoliberalism will encourage our petty behaviour and make a dystopia future for most of us.

  2. As someone who adores science and technology, loves ideas like using neural pacemaker solutions for brain problems resulting from local and global runaway feedbacks, falls upon new neuroscience with gusto, has a taste for evo psych hypotheses, I find this piece of writing has all the subtle and nuanced insight of a Ralph 124C 41+… possibly for the same reason. (And I speak as a member of the Gernsback tribe. Not that one. Aspies!))

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_124C_41%2B

    We work with a super cortex of culture to better act. The surface of this potential has only just been scratched. External mental prosthetics and external assistants far better solve the mooted problems at far lower risk.

    In the coming digital world, we may be perfect, or very close to it.

    FFS.

    Dan, you new hobby horse. (Not me…him.) Have at it.

  3. Mouvement Gerbert #1
    Sep 19, 2016 at 5:43 am

    That’s why I really think that until we can’t proove the existence or the non-existence of God,

    I think neuroscientists are very far on at proving the existence of god-delusions in the brains of the believers in the many thousands of conflicting gods which are worshipped or have been worshipped!

    religion could still help to shape a better world.

    Unfortunately history shows that religions usually do not “help to shape a better world”.
    They only help to create a false image of creating a better world, in the indoctrinated minds of their followers.
    “Better” to the deeply indoctrinated is simply following and applauding religious teachings right or wrong regardless of damage to real people!

    Not the literal interpretation of Bible or Coran but a new religious ecumenical and tolerant movement.

    Humans don’t need religions to live in harmony. In fact religions produce “in-groups”, and “out-groups”, and “chosen people” and outcast people, thus generating conflicts of assumed views and conflicts between tribalistic populations.

    A movement, that’s could concern religious people but also agnostic and kindly atheist people.

    I have yet to meet anyone who is “agnostic” about all the conflicting religions of the world.
    Most agnostics (below Dawkins scale 6), are theists with doubts about one religion. and who dismiss most or all of the others.

    All together, in order to find news uses of technology and make earth, humans, biodiversity, machines (and God ?) living happy in a future civilization of the abundance.

    Science, promoting stable populations, and ecological balance, provides abundance and high standards of life.
    Religions generally promote expansion of religious populations and missionary expansions of the religion into neighbouring populations, regardless of consequences to individuals or the planet.

    Science also provides the technology to research, communicate, and manage its listed objectives.
    Religion only produces uncritical followers of ancient dogmas. –

    With faith-thinking being the diametric opposite of rational evidence-based scientific thinking.

  4. Alan4discussion

    Thanks for your answer. You teach me many things. I apologize for my poor English, I will improve it soon.
    I understand you but I am still not totally agree.

    First in order to demonstrate the existence or non-existence of God, I was not thinking about a neuroscientists job (I am not sure they could done it one day) but a job for a post singularity AI.
    It could be a good problem for it to resolve in 30 or 40 years (very soon compared to the 2000 years of Christian church history…)

    Religion used to shape better world, to help people be smarter and live in better harmony BUT it was a long long time ago (a thousand year’s ago). For an example, you can look at : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Sylvester_II This pope was more a scientist or political than a religious person. His life is a real example of what religion give to humanity. (And he was born in my little french town, cocorico 😉 )

    In his book Sapiens, Yuval Noah also show us how religion have been an essential component for humanity development, like science and finance economy after.
    OK with you, that nowadays it is not the same so maybe what I call religion should be understood as “philosophical movement” open to all human and without dogma (only the wish to respect earth and live in peace with humans and biodiversity).

    I feel I am 4 at the Dawkins scale, but I don’t dismiss no one even if sometimes I feel a bit alone 😉 .

    More seriously, I think that Neoliberalism is nothing more than a religious teaching and, in my case, I don’t believe anymore in the Smith invisible hand’s. I also think that this system, encourage us to be more individual “regardless of consequences to individuals or the planet”. So it is a real problem that science could’nt solve without ideology.

    That’s why I think that a philosphical movment which includes 80% of humans could help us shape a better world (80% = religious people + agnostic people + benevolent atheist people).

  5. Mouvement Gerbert #7
    Sep 19, 2016 at 11:13 am

    I think what are describing is a deist/humanist position – possibly moving towards mid-range agnostic.

    I don’t think we should get too tied up with “agnostic”, because using the Dawkins Scale, many people are agnostic about a deist position, while being certain to a high degree of probability that the mumbo-jumbo of supernatural religious claims of miracles, demons, magic potions, prophets flying to heaven on winged horses,wine turning to blood, gods creating the Earth in 6 days, etc. can be dismissed at a rating of 6.9999999 or 7.

    That’s why I think that a philosphical movement which includes 80% of humans could help us shape a better world (80% = religious people + agnostic people + benevolent atheist people)

    You may find benevolent philosophical atheist and agnostic people, along with some of the relatively dogma-free churches such as the Unitarians, but you will (in my opinion) never get all religious people to agree with each other on anything.
    They have been discriminating against “outsiders” and against non-members since religions began, while fighting each other in religious wars over religious differences – for centuries! (Christians against Jews, Jews against Islam, Christians crusades against Islam and vice-versa, Catholics against indigenous South America religious cultures – INCA, AZTEC, MAYAN, Spanish Inquisition against against Jews and Islam. Buddhists against Hindus, Hindus against Muslims, Irish Protestants against Catholics etc.!

    Unlike science and reason, thinking by “faith” (belief without evidence or proof) has no mechanism for resolving differences when two dogmas contradict each other!
    Dogmatists cling tenaciously to their dogmas, and are intransigently impervious to reason or evidence.
    Some religions treat this as a heroic virtue, and proclaim such people to be “saints” or “martyrs”!

    This pope was more a scientist or political than a religious person. His life is a real example of what religion give to humanity.

    While Catholic preaching glorifies its own leaders, the hard facts are that most of the science and philosophy of the Ancient Greeks was lost or destroyed by Roman Catholic church leaders and Catholic Kings following the fall of the Roman Empire.

  6. Alan4discussion

    Thanks for your answer. Pretty agree with you even if I am a bit more optimist in finding things with wich benevolent religious people can agree with each other (God, Abraham, the importance of earth, the danger of neoliberalism…) but I don’t relaunch the debate.

    Just for your information, an sizable part of the science and philosophy of the Ancient Greeks, is known by us, because Pope Gerbert first studied and after teached it to the lords (around 950 to 1000).
    It also inspires him to construct empires and advize lords and kings of his time.

    He was a visionary person and I really think we need people like this in order to prepare us to the tech revolution that has just begun. I also think that with Google, Mooc etc, he could be an example for all of us.

    By the way, I think neoliberalism is more problematic than religion today, but it’s only my own opinion.

    (I post here because of serendipity and transhumanism. I realize after that this website is more focused on religion and secularity than transhumanism… but thank you again for the interesting exchange of views. )

  7. Mouvement Gerbert #9
    Sep 20, 2016 at 8:27 am

    Pretty agree with you even if I am a bit more optimist in finding things with which benevolent religious people can agree with each other (God, Abraham, the importance of earth, the danger of neoliberalism…) but I don’t relaunch the debate.

    It seems you come from a Roman Catholic background, and were taught “Catholic versions of history” and philosophy.
    The Biblical message is far from “the importance of Earth”, but claims the Earth and its life, was given to god’s people to rule over and use as they wished!

    Catholic preachers and teachers tend to use the word “religion” to refer to “Catholicism” and sometimes to the broader “Christianity”.

    Only the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions, are agreed on an Abrahamic god, and even fewer are anti-liberal.

    If we look at world religions past and present:- Hindu, Shinto, Buddhism, Roman and Greek gods, Aztec, Inca and Mayan gods, and tribal deities, there are thousands of them which frequently contradict each other’s teachings.

    To assume some “default god”, is just begging the question in favour of certain cultures.

    Just for your information, an sizable part of the science and philosophy of the Ancient Greeks, is known by us, because Pope Gerbert first studied and after teached it to the lords (around 950 to 1000).

    Once again, I think this just illustrates how much of Greek knowledge was missing from the Catholic teaching about the Holy Roman Empire etc. during the dark ages, and was only preserved and re-imported via the “Golden Age of Islam”.

    The Greeks had mechanical computers which could calculate the positions of the planets and Moon in the Solar-System in 65 BCE, – long before popes were persecuting and disparaging Galileo, but much of this historical information is derived from modern scientific archaeology, rather than church records.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism

    (I post here because of serendipity and transhumanism. I realize after that this website is more focused on religion and secularity than transhumanism… but thank you again for the interesting exchange of views. )

    Like many here I make an effort to look at the future implications of technological developments interacting with humans.
    Readers can certainly lean a lot about science and history from discussions and articles on this site.

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