This interview was conducted with Lincoln Cannon, the co-founder, director and president of the Mormon Transhumanists.
H+: How long has there been a ‘Mormon Transhumanist’ group, and how many members are there?
Lincoln Cannon: The 14 founding members of the Mormon Transhumanist Association adopted a constitution on 13 May 2006. We incorporated in Utah of the United States on 4 August 2006, and received 501c3 nonprofit status, effective the same date. We affiliated with Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association) on 6 July 2006, and remained affiliated until Humanity+ terminated all affiliations on 6 April 2010. Today, the Mormon Transhumanist Association consists of 116 members, with approximately 41% living in Utah and 90% living in the United States. The purpose of the Mormon Transhumanist Association is to promote the Transhumanist Declaration and the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation (see reference below).
H+: Tell me a bit about yourself.
LC: I was born and raised in a Mormon family and served a mission to France for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the largest Mormon denomination). I am married with Dorothée Vankrieckenge, a French national, and am father to three bilingual children. I am the Director of Web Systems at Merit Medical, a manufacturer of single-use medical devices. I hold a master’s degree in business and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Brigham Young University.
H+: Is the Mormons religion compatible with transhumanism?
LC: Most Mormon Transhumanists consider our religion to be remarkably compatible with transhumanism. We consider Mormonism to be a religious transhumanism. Eternal progression is a central doctrine of Mormonism. Basically, the idea is that we have all existed in some form or another into the indefinite past, that we have been and are progressing toward becoming like God in a creative and benevolent capacity, and that we should each help others do the same into the indefinite future. Mormon scripture asserts the work of God to be that of bringing about immortality and eternal life, and invites us all to participate in that work.
Mormon scripture also situates us in the “Dispensation of the Fullness of Times”, when God is accelerating the work, inspiring us with greater knowledge and endowing us with greater power in preparation for the prophesied millennium, a time of transfiguration, immortality, resurrection, renewal of this world, and ultimately the discovery and creation of worlds without end. Early Mormon prophets, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, suggested that we would begin performing the ordinance of transfiguration before the millennium, and that immortals would begin performing the ordinance of resurrection during the millennium.
H+: Are there Mormons in innovative science and engineering fields?
LC: There has always been a strong strain of pro-science sentiment among Mormon authorities. Brigham Young declared that “true religion is a science” and “our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular”. I know of Mormons that are doing innovative work or advanced studies in the areas of robotics (Scott Howe at NASA), artificial intelligence (Mike Sellers at Online Alchemy), neuroscience (Michael Ferguson at University of Utah), oncology (Cory Funk at University of Illinois), computational mathematics (David Bailey at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), and environmental engineering (Roger Hansen at US Bureau of Reclamation).
Some claim that Utah has led the United States in per capita production of scientists. Here’s a list of relatively well known Mormon scientists (see reference below). In addition, here’s a list of inventions that purport to be associated with Mormons (reference below). And here’s a list of relatively well known Mormon engineers and inventors (reference below). Mormons’ success in science and engineering stems, at least in part, from the highly positive position that our religious tradition and the contemporary LDS Church have taken on education.
H+: Is there a tradition of Mormons writing science fiction?
LC: Mormons have been remarkably influential in the science fiction trade. The most well known are probably Orson Scott Card, author of Ender’s Game, and Glen Larson, creator of Battlestar Galactica and Knight Rider.
H+: Describe how the Mormons view the afterlife, and how that fits into transhumanism.
LC: Mormons typically believe that, after death, we continue to exist spiritually while awaiting the resurrection, when we will regain physical bodies. Unlike some Christians, Mormons tend to have highly positive perspectives toward physical bodies, valuing them as empowering tools in our progress to become like God (who, according to Mormon scripture, also has a physical body). Furthermore, Mormons tend to believe that, subsequent to transfiguration or resurrection to immortality, we will continue to enjoy the Earth, renewed and glorified, prior to repeating the process of creating new worlds. These ideas illustrate that, on the whole, Mormons have a more concrete vision of the future than do most religious traditions, and focus less on a temporary spiritual afterlife than on an eternal physical renewal and glorification of life. This resonates strongly with immortalist strains of transhumanism. In summary, creative benevolent posthumans may qualify as God, particularly from a Mormon Transhumanist perspective. 76% of Mormon Transhumanists identify as theists, and many of the others think God just doesn’t exist yet.
H+: Are Mormon Transhumanists into immortality and extended lives?
LC: 80% of Mormon Transhumanists strongly or somewhat agree that it would be a good thing if people could live in good health for hundreds of years or longer. This reflects Mormon scripture, which includes prophecy of a day of transfiguration when mortal lives will be as the age of a tree; there is no death; and we are changed in the twinkling of an eye. According to one recent study, Mormon men live 10 years longer than other US white males, and Mormon women live, on average, 5 years longer than other US white females. Some of this is probably attributable to Mormons’ code of health, known as the “Word of Wisdom”, as well as emphasis on family relations and education. Transhumanists interested in “living long enough to live forever” may be wise to consider the benefits of the Mormon lifestyle.
H+: Are their passages in the Book of Mormon that are ‘transhumanist’?
LC: Sure. Here are a few of my favorites:
2 Nephi 9: 10-13 teaches that death is an “awful monster”
Alma 11: 44-45 teaches that immortals are embodied
Alma 60: 20-23 teaches that God will not deliver us from death unless we use the means provided
3 Nephi 28: 1-12 teaches that, all else being equal, those who desire not to die are “more blessed” than those who desire to die
Other Mormon scripture, particularly the “Doctrine and Covenants,” is more heavily transhumanist. And there are speeches from prominent Mormon authorities, such as Joseph Smith, that are also more heavily transhumanist.
H+: If you could create a Mormon futuristic transhuman utopia, what would it look like?
LC: Mormon cosmology, as articulated in Mormon scripture, includes the idea that God, in whom we should all participate, creates worlds without end, heavens and glories without end, each according to the desires of its inhabitants, according to that which they are willing to receive. While I do not subscribe to mere moral relativism, I do value this idea of an indefinitely broad and deep cosmos, organized and reorganized in a perpetual work to fulfill desires, wills and laws, overcome conflicts and tensions, and provide time and space enough to explore ourselves and each other, and experience a full measure of our creative capacities. Something like that, in my estimation, is godhood, so far as I can imagine it.
In a not so distant time and place, and more importantly for now, we have actual lives, communities and environments to improve. We need more and better food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, education and healthcare; and it must come in sustainable ways. Technology is our power to do this, if we’ll use it wisely, ethically, charitably. I hope Mormon Transhumanism will help motivate such behavior.
H+: Do Mormon Transhumanists have different ethics than other transhumanists? What is your position on stem cell research? Gay marriage? Smart Drugs? In-vitro babies? Euthanasia?
LC: The ethic of Mormon Transhumanism is best described in the Mormon Transhumanist Affirmation which may be compatible with the ethics of many forms of secular transhumanism. The MTA has no position on stem cell research. The LDS Church likewise explicitly has no position on stem cell research. Mormon politicians tend to support legislation on behalf of stem cell research. The MTA has no position on gay marriage. While most Mormons are antagonistic to gay marriage, Mormon Transhumanists tend to have more favorable perspectives toward homosexuals. For example, 50% of the members of the MTA strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement that “marriage should only be between a man and a woman.” 56% of MTA members strongly or somewhat disagree with the statement that “Mormon doctrine cannot accommodate homosexuality”. The MTA has no position on smart drugs. Mormons tend to embrace the ethical use of traditional non-recreational drugs — and medical science generally. Because of Mormon interest in education and personal improvement, I imagine smart drugs will be used by many Mormons if and when they become commonplace.
The MTA has no position on in-vitro babies. 98% of Mormon Transhumanists somewhat or strongly agree that “people should have a right to use technology to extend their . . . reproductive . . . capacities . . .” I personally know many Mormons that have benefitted from in vitro fertilization and other reproductive technologies. Mormons like to make babies, and most of us seem to have nothing against using technology to help out. The MTA has no position on euthanasia. Personally, I agree with the notion that life is sacred, and that we should be doing all we can ethically to extend and enhance life; however, I acknowledge there are horrible situations that may justify assisted suicide.