Wednesday 24 January 2018

Living forever versus eternal life

I once read somewhere the statement that if 'science' made it so that ageing did not happen and nobody ever died - then this would destroy the need for, or benefit from, 'religion'.

I suppose this stuck in my mind as being one of those comments that reveals a great deal about the person who wrote it and those who endorse it.

One thing it reveals, one of the less obvious things, is the absurdity of taking a single 'issue' at a time... implicitly here is a thought-experiment of this world, with the added change of unageing and undying bodies swapped-into it... and trying to puzzle out what difference this would make. It is one of those 'assumptions' that begs a very large number of questions of a fundamental kind...

But beyond that, the purpose of the statement is to equate the specifically-Christian idea of eternal life with a biological thought experiment. Implicit is the idea that the only thing that Christians really want from their religion - behind the pretence - is to escape decay and death, to live forever in perfect health.

And beyond this that the only thing really wrong with our mortal incarnate lives on earth - is that these lives are mortal. The assumption that if mortality could be fixed, then we would be fundamentally happy.

The most concise wrongness about this is to equate the fact that mortality does indeed spoil everything, with the false reversal that Not-mortality would fix everything (or, fix everything that really needs to be fixed).

It is an attempt - by false logic - to confuse a solidly true human intuition by trying to reverse it into a non-intuition. 

What is extremely interesting (and I speak as an atheist for most of my life) is that the intuition that mortality-spoils-everything has become so deeply confused by modern culture, that many people no longer experience it as an intuition. It seems plenty of people think that a mortal life leading to utter annihilation (which is how mainstream modern materialists regard the human condition) is not-a-problem - not, anyway, to someone who is enlightened.  

Yet (I assume) every child in history has regarded mortality as a problem, when he or she discovers it... So the modern idea is that the problematic status of mortal life is an illusion.

Whence cometh this universal illusion? I think the usual answer would be some kind of repressive manipulation - by upper classes, priests etc; the idea that such people inculcate the fear of death into children in order to control people. Or something.

Anyway, people no longer clearly see that mortality spoils everything; so they no longer appreciate the core of Jesus's promise - except in an absurdly reductionistic form in which immortal, eternal life can be outcompeted by unendingly-persistent perfect-health - as 'offered' by transhumanism and artificial intelligence...

By this account - the spiritual-warfare point of transhumanism and AI is not the plausibility or coherence of their claims - but the distorting, disorientating, deranging effect of such claims - due to their re-framing of discourse and experience.   


Robert What? said...

Living forever in this plane seems like as good a description of hell as any.

William Wildblood said...

I was thinking just what RW? says when reading this piece! Religion is about spiritual transformation not immortality though that also comes into it, of course. But it is not the main thing at all..

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Immortality of some kind is a bare minimum requirement. Without it, no amount of "spiritual transformation" would mean anything.

Less Wrong types at least recognize that much. As you say, it's no longer a universal intuition among adults.

Robert What? said...


Immortality is not a "reward". As I understand it we are immortal spiritual beings and will spend eternity either in God's presence or away from it. Maybe it's a bit like the "conservation of energy" theory in physics: energy can be transformed into different forms - even into matter. But it can't be destroyed. Maybe our spirits are the same way.

David Balfour said...

Living forever as we are would be a form of infernal arrested development; like caterpillar grubs never to fly as beautiful butterflies, the only way of ever fullfiling their true destiny!

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...


Perhaps. Or perhaps, as J.W. Dunne proposed, the immortality of everyone and everything is built into the structure of time itself. Or perhaps immortality is impossible. But the last possibility is not worth considering because in such a world nothing, including having true beliefs about mortality, matters.