About Me

My photo
Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Michael Shermer sounding transhumanist

Michael Shermer says: Assuming we don't nuke ourselves into oblivion, or cause our own extinction through germ warfare, the next step in human evolution will be genetic engineering and technology. We will modify ourselves genetically, first to eliminate diseases such as diabetes and cancer and dementia, etc., then we will modify our brains with chemicals and computers, and eventually, in the far future, we will probably become robots that can live an indefinite period of time, slowly and gradually replacing our biological systems with more durable and long-lasting technologies. Our lives will initially be extended by years, then dozens of years, then hundreds of years. Eventually, we may be able to live forever, but now we're in the realm of science fiction, not science, but it's a dream well worth having.

This is from an online interview at the Romanian site HotNews.ro.

On his religious views:

Agnostic is a term coined in 1869 by Thomas Huxley, to mean "unknowable." It is not possible to prove or disprove God, therefore it is a matter of faith, not reason or science. However, there are no behavioral agnostics--one behaves in a way that presumes one either believes or does not believe in God, and in this sense I am an atheist.

A Christian can accept evolutionary theory as God's way of creating life. The theory of evolution is no more of a problem for Christianity than is the theory of gravity. Presumably Christians assume that God used gravity to create solar systems and planets on which life can exist. So evolution may be the way that God created life. This is not what I believe, because I don't believe in God, but if you do believe in God it is the way you can also accept evolution.


Sounding Dawkinslike:

I don't think ID is correct. The universe may not have had a creator. It might have created itself, or it may have erupted from another universe. We just don't know. But in any case, if a creator created the universe, then who created the creator? If the creator is that which does not need to be created, then why can't the universe be that which does not need to be created. God. Universe. These are just words.

All in all, this is a great interview. Worth having a look at it all ... and at Michael's long essay in 50 Voices of Disbelief.

And here he is, yet again, trying out his ability as an actor in a Mr. Deity episode, via Pharyngula.

8 comments:

John Pieret said...

The universe may not have had a creator. It might have created itself ...

Huh? If it created itself it had a creator ... and one that does not operate by what we consider to be "natural law." There is a word for that but it slips my mind ...

... or it may have erupted from another universe.

... which came from where? That is only pushing the problem back one step.

However, there are no behavioral agnostics--one behaves in a way that presumes one either believes or does not believe in God, and in this sense I am an atheist.

There is an infinite set of possible gods. It is incredibly easy to act as if some of them may exist ... in fact, it's hard to imagine acting in a way that is incompatible with the existence of some version of god. Shermer is, I suspect, assuming a certain cultural milieu. It is possible, however, to think outside that box. I think I am a behavioral agnostic ... which does not require me to think the entirety of the infinite set is equally likely.

Anonymous said...

The multiple universe (or "many worlds") scenario is a nonfalsifiable and unscientific faith statement. It's about as scientific as claiming God did it.

For another universe to be truly parallel, we could never visit or observe it. If we could, it would merely be another region of the same space time. From the point of view of being non- falsifiable, "God" and "parallel universes" are equally valid explanations (even Schermer admitted as much in "Why We Believe"). God and multiple universes are therefore equally metaphysical and unscientific, but of the two God is the simpler explanation. I recommend Martin Gardner's essay "Multiverses and Blackberries" for an succinct shooting down of the Many Worlds concept.

Lastly, the many worlds hypothesis is is not "elegant", as most successful physical theories are. Its a crude blunderbuss approach requiring a near infinity of universes to explain a few basic forces and characteristics. It's blatant epistemological over kill. God is a much simpler explanation. Oddly enough, in this case, Occam's Razor works in God's favor.

Anonymous said...

I've always had a deep respect and a fondness for Michael Schermer. As an avid reader of the Skeptic, I've always enjoyed his columns even when disagreeing with them. He is a perfect gentlemen and a perfect example of how to disagree without being disagreeable.

The so-called "new atheists" who insist on being snide, abusive and obnoxious could learn from Schermer's emotional maturity and good humor. Only a social retard would consider such tactics to be useful or productive (and atheists wonder why they have a public image problem).

Schermer is "NPR", the new atheists are "Jerry Springer".

Having said that, I must disagree with him concerning his claim that God can be explained away by the fact that humans are pattern seekers, seeing intent and organization in random tea leaves, cloud formations, etc.. That may be true, but it is beside the point. How humans perceieve patterns is completely irrelevant to whether or not God exists. To claim otherwise is to commit a serious Genetic Fallacy.

Parrhesia said...

Anonymous, you forgot to mention that the "so-called New Atheists" are STRIDENT and SHRILL. Get the buzz words right, damn you.

Parrhesia said...

Re a transhuman future: I can hear the howls of the Luddites already . . .

CW said...

"The so-called "new atheists" who insist on being snide, abusive and obnoxious could learn from Schermer's emotional maturity and good humor. Only a social retard would..." ...would put those two sentences back to back?

Tacroy said...

However, there are no behavioral agnostics--one behaves in a way that presumes one either believes or does not believe in God, and in this sense I am an atheist.

Eh? By that definition, wouldn't nearly everyone be an atheist? After all, when's the last time anyone prayed for manna instead of going to the grocery store? When's the last time anyone called God in an emergency, instead of the police?

I would argue that despite many people claiming to be theists, almost none of them act as if there were a God when it matters. They'll take chemotherapy over church and firetrucks over faith. Sure, most people will do both - but we all know that when your house is burning down, it's the firetrucks that are the critical element.

The Lorax said...

The universe may not have had a creator. It might have created itself ...

Huh? If it created itself it had a creator ... and one that does not operate by what we consider to be "natural law." There is a word for that but it slips my mind ...

... or it may have erupted from another universe.

... which came from where? That is only pushing the problem back one step.


That's pretty deep thinking there, luckily invoking a creator does not push the problem back one step.