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Pascal’s Wager Quiz and Badge – Third in TRA’s Series on Indefinite Life Extension

Pascal’s Wager Quiz and Badge – Third in TRA’s Series on Indefinite Life Extension

pascals_wager
G. Stolyarov II
March 27, 2013
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The Rational Argumentator is proud to announce the third in its planned series of quizzes on indefinite life extension, a companion activity to the Resources on Indefinite Life Extension (RILE) page.

Pascal's Wager Quiz

Read “An Atheist’s Response to Pascal’s Wager” by G. Stolyarov II and answer the questions in the quiz below, in accordance with the essay. If you get 100% of the questions correct, you will earn the Pascal’s Wager Professional badge, the third badge in The Rational Argumentator’s interactive educational series on indefinite life extension.  You will need a free account with Mozilla Backpack to receive the badge.

This badge was designed by Wendy Stolyarov, whose art you can see here, here, and here.

Leaderboard: Pascal's Wager Quiz

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How Will Religions Respond to Indefinite Life Extension? – Article by G. Stolyarov II

How Will Religions Respond to Indefinite Life Extension? – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
March 25, 2013
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I was asked, on a recent Immortal Life discussion/debate thread to address the question of whether religions would become obsolete in an era of indefinite human life extension.

This is another topic on which I created a video in early 2012 – “Religion and Indefinite Life Extension”.

To summarize, in my (atheistic) view, religions are generally not animating forces of societal change. Rather, they tend to be barometers of prevailing attitudes approximately one generation in the past. Often, religions get dragged along into making progress by intellectual developments outside religion – in the same way that, as a result of the 18th-century Enlightenment, various Christian denominations gradually transitioned away from providing Biblical justifications for slavery and toward denouncing slavery on Christian grounds. The impetus for this transformation was the rise of ideas of reason, individualism, and natural rights – not the doctrines of the Christian religion.

I suspect that there will be a broad spectrum of responses among various religious denominations and their followers to the prospect of indefinite life extension, once most people begin to see it as within their individual grasp. In Christianity, on the cutting edge will be those Christians who interpret the message of the resurrection (a literal resurrection in the flesh, according to actual Christian doctrine) to be compatible with transhumanist technologies. (We already see the beginnings of forward-thinking interpretations of religion with the Mormon Transhumanists.) On the other hand, the more staid, dogmatic, ossified religious denominations and sects will try to resist technological change vigorously, and will not be above attempting to hold the entire world’s progress back, merely to make their own creeds more convincing to their followers. Historically, religions have served two primary societal roles: (1) to form a justification for the existing social order and (2) to assuage people’s fears of death. The first role has atrophied over time in societies with religious freedom. The second role will also diminish as radical life extension in this world becomes a reality. Religions do evolve, though, and the interpretations of religion that ultimately prevail will (I hope) be the more peaceful, humane, and progress-friendly ones. At the same time, proportions of non-religious people in all populations will rise, as has been the trend already.

The Benefits of a Non-Religious Upbringing: A Firsthand Account – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The Benefits of a Non-Religious Upbringing: A Firsthand Account – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
January 26, 2013
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This speech was delivered at the Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion on January 20, 2013. You can see recordings of the speech and subsequent question-and-answer session here.

                Greetings, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for attending my speech. It is an honor to present at the Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion. I will focus on the issue of hereditary religion from a perspective that, in my view, receives all too little attention. Unlike most individuals – and even unlike many atheists – I was not a victim of hereditary religion. I was raised in a non-religious household and have never been religious and was never seriously attracted to religion. I would like to provide my firsthand account of how the absence of religious indoctrination during my childhood enabled me to thrive as a thinker and maintain a high quality of life in adulthood. Through my presentation, I hope to provide a glimpse into the advantages that all children can and should have.

                I was born during the very late years of the Soviet Union, when Gorbachev’s perestroika was already well underway. While the Soviet regime was always atheistic in name, religious freedom was openly tolerated by that time. By the time I was four, Belarus had declared independence from the USSR, and the post-Soviet government no longer had a view of religion one way or the other. Most people who pretended to be nonreligious during earlier eras of the Soviet regime no longer needed to do so, and so there was a widespread apparent revival of Orthodox Christianity during my early years. My family, however, was among those who were truly non-religious, so they never needed to pretend. I was raised largely free from structured ideology, either religious or communist. There was no real emphasis on atheism placed during my childhood, either. I was not taught that religion or religious people were bad, though I was taught about the history of religious atrocities – such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Wars of Religion during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Much of what I learned on this subject was through my own reading of history books, of which there were plenty around the house, and to which I had unrestricted access. My family had no wish to be confrontational, so I was generally asked not to engage in any religion-oriented conversations in public. However, I do remember a situation where I and my grandfather – after whom I am named – were walking on the streets of Minsk and were hailed by Christians selling bibles and religious pamphlets. My grandfather replied firmly that he was an atheist and was not interested, though he did engage them in argument. It was around that time that he had read the Bible from cover to cover on his own, which seemed to reinforce his own atheism, as it does for many who actually delve into that text.

                As a child, I was not expected to think anything about religion, though I did anyway. I was, however, kept away from any sources of religious indoctrination. I want to share a few of the thoughts that went on in my mind at the time:

●             Prior to the scientific age, humans believed that gods inhabited high regions – mountains and the sky. However, humans climbed Mount Olympus and did not find the ancient Greek gods. Humans went into space and did not find heaven or any gods. Moreover, humans have discovered that the sky is not a solid platform or a place that can be inhabited generally; instead, it is a visual effect created by the fact that the Earth has an atmosphere. (I had memorized all the layers of the atmosphere, too.) Thus, it is impossible for gods to live there. Beyond the atmosphere is outer space, where no gods have been observed, either.

●             Prior to the 19th century, humans believed that only a god could have designed human life. However, Darwin’s theory of evolution demonstrated that it was possible for one species to evolve into another in an entirely natural process. (Yes, I knew about evolution – though in very simple terms – at that age.)

●             When I was asked by believers “If there is no God, then who created you?”, I would respond that my parents did. If the question was formulated somewhat differently – as in “What makes your existence possible?” – I would give an answer in terms of material causation – i.e., that I am made of cells, and cells are made of molecules, and molecules are made of atoms, and atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons. Generally, the conversation would proceed until I reached the smallest subatomic particle I could name, which was the quark, and which the believers asserted that God had to create. I generally answered that, while I do not know about the components of a quark, someday science would find out. I was fascinated with numbers from a very early age. I had learned to count at age two, before I learned to read, and by age four I was already delving into very large and very small numbers – to the hundreds of powers of ten, both positive and negative. I grasped that there was no limit in either direction to how large or small these numbers could get, and so I thought that there was also no upper or lower limit to humans’ eventual ability to understand existence at any magnification.

While my reasoning about religion at ages four and five may seem somewhat simplistic now – and the more sophisticated theists could find responses to my reasons for not believing in the existence of God back then – a habit of free thought was nonetheless established very early on in my life. It was never broken. I never hesitated to form my own opinions and to express them, sometimes in ways that got me in trouble with the various powers that be. I am, however, a better person because of this – because I acknowledge the power of evidence, reason, and my own mind in attempting to discover truth. While I may be wrong about particular ideas (and have been wrong in the past), the overall open-ended dynamic of my thinking enables me to overcome any specific errors and to improve my understanding.  I have never been subjected to successful indoctrination into a static, dogmatic worldview whose adherents fear questioning and challenge. The old Soviet system and its communist propaganda machine had already disintegrated by the time of my childhood, while the Orthodox religion – which now has a close affiliation with Alexander Lukashenko’s dictatorial regime in Belarus – was not yet strong enough to try to impose itself. I moved to the United States in time to avoid the worst of Lukashenko’s tyranny. Had I spent my teenage years in Belarus, I would likely have been imprisoned for political dissent. I was fortunate enough to have grown up during perhaps the freest era in the entire history of the former USSR. When I moved to the US, I certainly had more intellectual freedom than I would have had in Belarus had I remained.  But I also came to a society where atheism was a lot less common and a lot less understood.

                I have always tried to maintain a great deal of respect for post-Enlightenment interpretations of religion. Spending my teenage years in the suburbs of Chicago, I thought, initially, that this was pretty much how the majority of Americans viewed their faiths. I attended friends’ Bar Mitzvah ceremonies and engaged in interesting discussions with moderate Christians and Muslims. In that area, even those who called themselves conservatives generally considered religion to be a private matter and focused more on this-worldly political and economic subjects – for which I could respect them and have civil discussions with them. Ironically, it was the politically correct segment of the American Left (which, I understand, is not the entirety of the Left) that tried to crack down on my expression during that time, because I criticized premodern or “traditional” religious paradigms – including Aztec human sacrifice, the Hindu caste system, and traditional Chinese practices, such as foot binding, which were bound with religious views of women’s submissiveness and dependency. To the politically correct Left, all cultures and religions were equal as a matter of dogma – except, of course, for post-Enlightenment Western individualism and rationalism. I realized that atheists and freethinkers generally have as much to fear from this sort of indoctrination as they do from religious fundamentalism of any particular stripe. It does not matter, for instance, whether a blasphemy law or censorship of speech in the schools are based on the dominance of one particular religious sect, or on the fear of offending any religious sensibilities. Either way, the crucial human faculty of reason is muffled, and the capacity for intelligent critical thinking is stunted. Only the freedom of the mind can lead to the discovery of truth and the improvement of the human condition.

                Only when I went to college in Hillsdale, Michigan, did I discover that true premodern fundamentalist Christianity was far more prevalent than I had thought. The student body and professors at Hillsdale are split roughly along traditional conservative and libertarian lines. The libertarians – even those who are  personally religious – tend to be tolerant and to incorporate Enlightenment ideas of individual rights and free expression into their religious views. Many of the traditional conservatives, however, thought that religion was the only legitimate foundation for morality. Those of them who were raised entirely in religious settings – with no allowance for interaction with other worldviews and perspectives – were bewildered at how I, as an atheist, could do anything worthwhile at all. One of them – indeed, one of the better-behaved ones – was listening to me play the piano in one of the practice rooms in the music building. He then came in and asked, with sincerity, “That was beautiful, but I want to know… why? If you do not believe in God, what is the point in doing anything beautiful at all?” Another fundamentalist Christian, with whom I had quite a few discussions, suggested to me at one point that he and I could have nothing in common because I did not believe in God and his entire life was based on that belief. In return, I asked him whether he thought that two plus two made four. When he agreed that this was the case, I pointed out that I thought the same, and that this was indeed common ground. I tried my best to find as much of this sort of common ground as I could, and I made it a personal project of mine to give numerous presentations on campus about the possibility (and, indeed, the superiority) of non-religious objective morality. My many essays on the subject from that time period are freely available for all to read online.

                But it always baffled me how little I was able successfully get across to the fundamentalist Christians at Hillsdale that their way was not the only way. I never tried to de-convert them; rather, my objective was always simply to cultivate mutual respect and to lead them to recognize that, yes, atheists can be just as moral as some of them – while religion is no guarantee of moral conduct and can often be used to excuse genuine atrocities.  Perhaps I reached a few individuals, but many seemed impervious. As new groups of students came in every year, they came with the same preconceptions. It was like a vicious indoctrination machine was working to turn out fresh batches of carriers for the fundamentalist religion meme, with all the built-in defenses that meme entailed. I thought that, if only I could get them to drop the idea that morality requires religion, everything else about them could be maintained without too much harm. I realize now, however, that the pernicious notion of the Christian religion being the sole foundation of morality is one of the defense mechanisms that are deliberately inculcated into children by the cynical professional purveyors of Christian fundamentalism. Most children, and most human beings, want to be moral. Fortunately, in the real world, morality is a matter of actions and not beliefs. Thus, people of any persuasion can act morally by following rather simple negative and affirmative rules of conduct. Yet if, early on in their lives, people form a repeatedly reinforced association between morality and a particular religious persuasion, they will develop a visceral aversion to abandoning that persuasion – even if reason and experience show it to have numerous flaws. They fear that, if they cease being Christian (or Muslim, or Hindu – for that matter), they will cease to be moral human beings. This fear keeps them in the flock and keeps them paying money to the peddlers of their particular denomination’s doctrines.

              Yet reasons to be skeptical about religion abound. No person who is alive can avoid having doubts about pre-scientific systems of thought, formed millennia ago by people who were far less knowledgeable than even the average person today – and who were certainly far less civilized and moral in their personal conduct. Memes of hatred and insularity serve as the immune systems of fundamentalist religions. The more tolerant, post-Enlightenment interpretations of religion avoid these tactics by de-emphasizing institutional religious obedience and shifting their focus toward more abstract theology and more concrete real-world problems with secular solutions. This is an admirable attempt to salvage essential humanity from the grasp of dogma. Yet whether a child is born into a fundamentalist household or a more moderate religious household remains a matter of sheer chance. The children raised by fundamentalists continue to be subjected to an intellectual bubble, where questioning is discouraged and conformity in both thinking and practice is expected at the very least, and enforced through the threat of bodily punishment and social ostracism in many cases.

                I want every child to have the intellectual freedom that I had. I was surely raised with rules and discipline and expectations for moral behavior – but those can exist in complete independence from any expectation of religious or even broader philosophical adherence. Since morality is a matter of action and not thought, parents can expect their children to adhere to certain norms of conduct while leaving them free to think and believe anything they wish. I am not against religious adults who are intelligent and tolerant about their religion. But the choice to be religious or not must be made in an informed fashion, without the pressures of guilt, ostracism, or punishment. Thus, indoctrination into any belief system – without the allowance for dissent or even doubt – is a form of child abuse. It warps and stunts a child’s intellectual development and renders the child ripe for exploitation by knaves, charlatans, and demagogues in authority. Every parent needs to give his or her children the latitude to discover truth for themselves, and to commit errors in the mind of the parent, as long as those errors do not damage the children’s bodily well-being.

                As for me, I never felt myself to be constrained in my thinking – even during the times in my life when I was regimented in my routines of action, as I was in various public schools. I never felt that there were areas of existence or of my own interest that I could not explore. I never felt that I was a bad person for considering certain ideas and evaluating them on their merits. While many religious persons claim that there is a “void” in the human being that only their conception of a god or gods can fill, I never perceived such a void. Perhaps the void only occurs to those who abandon some part of their upbringing with which they were acquainted through repeated reinforcement; perhaps it is a form of nostalgia for a past to which they can no longer claim full allegiance. I, however, was always comfortable with reality as I perceived it through my senses and evaluated it through my mind. Existence is vast and extremely multifaceted. There is enough still unknown, still remaining to be discovered, that it never seemed fruitful to me to add another layer of obfuscatory complexity by superimposing a supernatural dimension upon the natural world. As for any intellectual errors of my past, they have not troubled me, since I consider myself to engage in a continual learning process, where improvement and not shame is the focus. It is better to have a good answer now, and to aspire toward making it better, than to blame oneself for not having the perfect answer the first time.

                As a self-supporting adult, I consider the lack of indoctrination and the ability to exercise complete independence of thought to be my greatest asset. Any situation I encounter – be it in the work I do for a living or in the endeavors I engage in as part of living well – can be approached using reason and evidence. I try to understand the fundamental constituents of the situation and their natures. I then use my analytical abilities and previously accumulated knowledge to construct a solution or improvement. Where I need to rely on the work of others, I use my reasoning abilities to evaluate for myself the degree of that work’s reliability. Everyone makes mistakes on occasion, and so do I. However, adherence to reason is a self-correcting mechanism that can extricate me from the mental traps and vulnerabilities that plague some people for an entire lifetime.

                In the years since I have graduated from college, I have been increasingly amazed at the breadth and open-endedness of existence. Life entails literally billions of possibilities and choices. While some people are, unfortunately, entangled in intellectual straitjackets and are pushed by their indoctrination along very specific and narrow paths (with well-known pitfalls along the way), I have always been determined to make a path of my own – based on my own values, my own talents, and my own flourishing. I will never allow dogma to blind me to possibilities for improvement. The earlier one embarks on this individualized journey, the easier it becomes to avoid common failure types in life. My plea to all parents is to allow their children this precious opportunity. Freedom of thought is the greatest gift you can give to your offspring, and it does not cost a penny.

The Benefits of a Non-Religious Upbringing – A Firsthand Account – Video Presentation and Q&A by G. Stolyarov II

The Benefits of a Non-Religious Upbringing – A Firsthand Account – Video Presentation and Q&A by G. Stolyarov II

Mr. Stolyarov speaks on the benefits of a non-religious upbringing and providing his firsthand account of how the absence of religious indoctrination during his childhood enabled him to thrive as a thinker and maintain a high quality of life in adulthood.

This speech was given at the cyber-rally for the Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion on January 20, 2013.

In the recorded questions and answers following the presentation, Mr. Stolyarov discusses ways to reach out to other non-believers, possibilities in influencing individuals to increase their use of reason and critical thinking, connections between atheism and libertarianism, and the similarities in tactics used by traditional (premodern) religions and totalitarian regimes.

An MP3 version of this Q&A is available for download here.

Uniting for the Upcoming Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion: January 20, 2013 – Article by Eric Schulke

Uniting for the Upcoming Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion: January 20, 2013 – Article by Eric Schulke

The New Renaissance Hat
Eric Schulke
January 19, 2013
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The Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion is coming up on January 20, 2013. This is a live cyber-rally with speakers, live Q&A, and the chance to give live commentary, being held in the Second Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion U-Stream page throughout the day. Google us to attend. Events like these are important for a variety of reasons. For me, this event is about drawing more action lines in the sand. It’s about community involvement and helping to strengthen the overall group of atheists, agnostics, and related thinkers. It’s about helping the cloud do more testing with the concept of the cyber-rally.  And most of all, of course, it’s about making a statement about hereditary religion.

Even if the religious don’t budge on the issue, if it doesn’t make a single one of them consider it, it’s still important to make the statement for a variety of reasons.

First, if you oppose idea systems like supernaturalism-asserting religions, you want to get all your chips out on the table, because if you don’t show the depth to which you are committed to opposing the teaching of fairy tales to children as truth, then they will think the middle ground is farther toward their side than it really is. You disadvantage yourself in that way.

Second, even if the time during which the religious might ultimately be significantly persuaded on this issue occurs 100 years from now, it’s important that we help by starting to plant those seeds now. That reminds me of the JFK quote, “I am reminded of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshal replied, In that case, there is no time to lose, plant it this afternoon.”

Third, action breeds action.

Fourth, another main role that this event serves is as a challenge to the religious. The more we confront them and call them out like this, the more we demonstrate that hereditary religion is an active and not a passive issue, and the more likely people are to come upon the issue. It forces more of them to deal with it and make their case. The more we get them to make their case in contrast with our message, the more opportunity young children will have to see this dichotomy and have a fair chance at choosing reason. The way it is now, many of them whisk children from home activities, to home school or private school, to church, in a never-ending cycle.  Although we think the atheist/agnostic message is out there for the children to see, for many it isn’t.  So we want to make sure we fill as many of the ‘hallways’ around them as possible with discussion about this. When they step out into the hallways of life, we want the people to ask them to explain why they are supporting and teaching fairy tales to children. Helping to keep the pressure on by throwing down challenges like this makes it easier for other projects by atheists and agnostics to get traction when they make their moves.

In order for humans to be pioneers in life, the universe, and this vast existence in all of its deep and intricate ways, we need people using as much reason as possible so that more people figure out the important things in life that there are to work on. There are many of them. The whole emerging era of Transhumanism is in essence a definition of important things to work on. There are many important things to work on.  We have a lot of history left to uncover, a lot of space left to explore, a lot of dreams and goals left to fulfill, and a lot of very big questions about existence left to answer. One of the main important tools that we need to get there is reason. Reason is the vehicle by which we pioneer fields like those.  We need more projects of reason, projects that work to get at the roots or reasonlessness. An excellent example is this cyber-rally to keep pressure on people that purposefully teach a reckless disregard for logic and reason, like religions that assert supernaturalism.

That’s why I like events like the Second Annual International Protest Against Hereditary Religion. We don’t live in a post-Age-of-Reason world. The Age of Reason has not yet claimed full victory, and it will have a hard time prevailing, so long as hereditary religion continues to maintain its traditions of brain slavery. When the Age of Reason calls for these kinds of shows of solidarity, stand up and be counted. Numbers matter. Help us make this cyber-rally a success.

Eric Schulke has been a director at LongeCity since 2009. He has also been an activist with the Movement for Indefinite Life Extension and other causes for over 13 years.

Editor’s Note: Mr. Stolyarov will also be participating in the Second Annual International Protest Against Hereditary Religion. He will be speaking on the benefits of a non-religious upbringing, from the standpoint of his personal experiences. Watch his introduction here.

At present, it is expected for the speech to be broadcast live over U-Stream at 12 noon Pacific Time.
Free Speech is Vital for Civilization – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Free Speech is Vital for Civilization – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Mr. Stolyarov explains why recent riots in the Middle East and some Western countries should not be allowed to infringe upon the absolutely vital right of free speech – including tasteless and offensive speech – for any individuals. Only by allowing unbridled criticism of political and religious ideas can a society undergo true innovation and transformative changes that raise standards of living across the board.

Mr. Stolyarov also elaborates upon the absolute distinction between the expression of ideas and physical actions that have the potential to harm other people. He explains that an idea per se can be interpreted in many ways and is not a guarantee of any given behavior. Furthermore, he criticizes the “internationalist” school of law, which would subordinate the American First Amendment to a repressive global “consensus” which would limit certain forms of unpopular expression. The pursuit of truth, not consensus, ought to determine which ideas prevail and which are abandoned.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational discourse on this issue.

Support these video-creation efforts by donating here.

Against Collectivist Violence in the Middle East – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Against Collectivist Violence in the Middle East – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Mr. Stolyarov condemns the murderous attacks on U.S. facilities in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen and discusses how the philosophy of collectivism and collective guilt is the motivation for the attacks. These completely unjustified killings should result in the recognition that individuals should only be judged as individuals and only for the deeds that they personally committed, and that guilt by association is unacceptable. Mr. Stolyarov also calls for a non-interventionist foreign policy, for the individual perpetrators of the atrocities to be brought to justice, and for a more general Enlightenment to occur in the Middle East.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational discourse on this issue.

Support these video-creation efforts by donating here.

References

-“US envoy killed as Libya mob storms embassy” – Agence France-Presse – September 12, 2012
-“New details emerge of anti-Islam film’s mystery producer” – Moni Basu – CNN- September 13, 2012
– “2012 U.S. diplomatic missions attacks
– “Yemeni protesters storm U.S. embassy compound in Sanaa” – Reuters – Mohammed Ghobari – September 13, 2012
– “Libya arrests four suspected in deadly US Consulate attack in Benghazi” – NBC News – September 13, 2012

An Atheist Transhumanist Critique of TheThinkingAtheist’s “Afterlife” Video – Video by G. Stolyarov II

An Atheist Transhumanist Critique of TheThinkingAtheist’s “Afterlife” Video – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Mr. Stolyarov, an atheist and transhumanist, critiques the video “Afterlife” – is a compilation of remarks by Seth Andrews (TheThinkingAtheist) and other famous YouTube atheists regarding the religious concept of life after death. However, the video goes beyond merely (correctly) critiquing ideas of the afterlife, and reflects an unfortunate acceptance of human mortality itself. The “Afterlife” video does present many interesting and valid insights, but it unfortunately throws the metaphorical baby — indefinite human life extension, driven by scientific discoveries and technological innovation — out with the bathwater — religious myths of an afterlife, unsubstantiated by evidence and arising out of a desire to attain comfort in the face of mortality.

Commentators to whom Mr. Stolyarov responds include DarkMatter2525, DPRJones, Evid3nc3, HealthyAddict, Laci Green, Thunderf00t, Mark Twain, and Vladimir Nabokov. He invites any of these commentators (except, of course, Twain and Nabokov) to discuss these ideas further.

Remember to LIKE, FAVORITE, and SHARE this video in order to spread rational discourse on this issue.

Support these video-creation efforts by donating at The Rational Argumentator: http://rationalargumentator.com/index.html

References:
– “Afterlife” – Video by TheThinkingAtheist
– “An Atheist Transhumanist Critique of TheThinkingAtheist’s ‘Afterlife’ Video” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “The Movement for Indefinite Life Extension: The Next Step for Humankind” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
Resources on Indefinite Life Extension (RILE)
– “The Real War – and Why Inter-Human Wars Are a Distraction” – Video by G. Stolyarov II
– “How Can I Live Forever?: What Does and Does Not Preserve the Self” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” – Wikipedia

An Atheist Transhumanist Critique of TheThinkingAtheist’s “Afterlife” Video – Article by G. Stolyarov II

An Atheist Transhumanist Critique of TheThinkingAtheist’s “Afterlife” Video – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 21, 2012
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The video “Afterlife” is a compilation of remarks by Seth Andrews (TheThinkingAtheist) and other famous YouTube atheists regarding the religious concept of life after death. However, the video goes beyond merely (correctly) critiquing ideas of the afterlife, and reflects an unfortunate acceptance of human mortality itself. As a lifelong atheist and transhumanist – a resolute foe of senescence and death and a seeker of indefinite life extension – I offer my critiques of the statements and quotations made in this video. The video does present many interesting and valid insights, but it unfortunately throws the metaphorical baby – indefinite human life extension, driven by scientific discoveries and technological innovation – out with the bathwater – religious myths of an afterlife, unsubstantiated by evidence and arising out of a desire to attain comfort in the face of mortality. As much as I respect Mr. Andrews and others quoted here, I must regretfully conclude that “Afterlife” embraces the other side of the religious coin: the premise that the only way to try to beat back the alleged inevitability of one’s eventual non-existence is through an unsubstantiated fantasy. But there is another, fully secular, fully human-centered option: the progress of our civilization and its eventual ability to conquer the age-old (and old-age) perils plaguing humankind.

I would welcome an in-depth discussion with Mr. Andrews or any of the other commentators in the video regarding this alternative to the religious afterlife – an alternative that can affirm and extend the precious, only life that each of us has. I hope that more atheists can recognize that transhumanism is the logical implication of rejecting a teleological, theistic worldview and amplifying all that is best about us as humans, so that the purpose of the universe can be what we make of it.

Vladimir Nabokov: Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats at hour).

My Response: In the “prenatal abyss”, one has never been alive, so one does not know what one is missing – or that one is missing, in fact. But once one is alive, one is able to anticipate one’s own non-existence – which is the worst fate of all for an individual, worse than eternal torture or eternal boredom (neither of which is realistic in any case). Furthermore, when one is alive, one has the ability to discover the history that came before one’s time. One has no way of knowing or observing the future after one’s death.

Mark Twain: I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

My Response: Being dead presupposes having once been alive. Having never existed makes one a mere potential among trillions of possible beings. Having existed once but not anymore means that one’s entire self – a fully formed universe of memories, sensations, thoughts, and aspirations – has become snuffed out. For each of us, there was a time when we did not have all that we have now: our lives. But, now that we have it, to lose it would be intolerable. It would literally be the undoing of everything we have ever been or done or aspired toward.

DarkMatter2525: The universe would continue in its ways if humanity weren’t here to witness it.

My Response: True, but to the individual, it is the same as if the entire universe has been extinguished. Whatever goes on after one’s death, one cannot experience it or be aware of its existence – and hence the only significance it might have is in terms of one’s anticipation of how it might be. That anticipation can only take place while one is alive and is necessarily fraught with extreme uncertainty. It cannot compare to the real thing – to living in the future. I want to live a millennium from now, not merely speculate about how it might be.

HealthyAddict: The universe is absolutely massive, and we are virtually insignificant in it.

My Response: The vastness of the universe in no way diminishes the significance of the individual. What is valuable, what is important is a function of entities that can pursue values or make judgments of importance. Only living, conscious entities can actively pursue values – and the very idea of values only makes sense in the context of the survival and flourishing of such living, conscious entities. The universe is vast, but the lives of humans and possibly other sentient beings are still of the ultimate importance – since it is the human scale on which valuation occurs. Size and importance are not related.

Another sense of the term “insignificance” might simply be “powerlessness” or “vulnerability” – without a moral judgment attached. It is true that humanity is still in its infancy, and still extremely fragile. Numerous natural disasters, originating on earth or in outer space, could severely damage or destroy our species. But this should only motivate us to expand our sphere of influence through technology and its application to the colonization of space and the enhancement of our bodies. If we are weak relative to the inanimate forces of the universe, then we must become stronger – as individuals and as a species.

Evid3nc3: I see no evidence that the rest of the universe cares that we exist or is even capable of caring. But I don’t really need validation from the rest of the universe to find my own life important.

My Response: I agree. There is no teleology built into the universe. What this means is that we must do our own caring; we cannot rely on the universe as a crutch – except in that we should utilize the laws of nature as instruments to advance our well-being. It is up to us to protect ourselves and expand our sphere of influence in the universe. And we should all, like Evid3nc3, find our own lives important – which is precisely why we should make every effort to prolong our lives – which are the source of that ultimate importance for us.

Laci Green: It’s just absurd to me how many people live for dying.

My Response:  I agree that it is wrong to live for dying or to anticipate that one’s individuality and vantage point into the world will persist after one’s physical body is destroyed. Rather than live for dying, one should live for living – and act to keep on living. To do so, one should support (at least morally) the emerging efforts to prolong human lifespans. One should also educate oneself about the possibility of indefinite life extension within the coming decades, as well as the developments that are occurring today to help bring this goal closer to reality.

Seth Andrews: I think fragile, fearful humans were terrified of death, and so they wrote their own ending to the story – this happy fantasy, a place where they’ll be reunited with people they’ve lost, they’ll experience constant joy, and of course they’ll never, ever die.

My Response: I think this is indeed the predominant motivation behind the origins of religion. People who could not hope to avoid death through technology sought to comfort themselves and to make everyday pursuits more tolerable by convincing themselves that their existence does not cease at death. In effect, religion is ersatz-immortality: a poor substitute for the real thing, but enough to trick many people into not realizing the grave implications of death. But in an era when technology is advancing so rapidly that there is hope for us and our contemporaries to live indefinitely – there are two main attitudinal dangers. The first danger is continuing to believe that the ersatz-immortality is good enough and that it justifies not striving hard for the real thing. The second is the other side of the same coin – unfortunately embraced by too many atheists: rejecting both the ersatz-immortality and the real thing, abandoning the most profound triumph for our species, when we are – in historical time – on the verge of achieving it. I support abandoning the fantasy, but I do not support relinquishing the reality – literally – and acquiescing to becoming food for worms.

DPRJones: The concept of an afterlife diminishes the value that we place on our lives and the here and now.

My Response: I agree that this could be the case, if the expectation of an afterlife discourages people from striving to both improve and prolong this life. As an atheist, I hold that this life is the only one there is – and it is indeed the most precious life there is and could be. Therefore, to lose this life is to lose everything, and so the foremost ethical objective should be to hold onto this life.

DarkMatter2525: An unlimited supply of anything, including life, means that its existence cannot be appreciated.

My Response: For all practical purposes, the air on Earth is inexhaustible by humans. Does that mean that we do not appreciate the ability to breathe and sustain our lives in that way? Does this mean that air is not essential to us or any less important to our lungs than if we had to ration it or purchase canisters of oxygen to carry around? Certainly not. While scarcity of a resource is a key determinant of its monetary price, the idea that scarcity is somehow necessary for mental appreciation is highly flawed. Use-value (utility) and monetary “value” (price) are not the same. We should – and can – appreciate a thing or a condition for its own qualities qua thing or condition – and the benefit those qualities confer upon us. How many of those things or conditions exist or are going to exist does not matter.

Furthermore, the fact is, we still live one moment at a time. We do not have all of eternity at our disposal at any given moment, no matter how long we live. We only have the given moment, and a limited range of possibilities for what we can do right then. Thus, a kind of temporal scarcity will always exist – in the sense that some activities and satisfactions will always be more remote in time than others, and we will have to wait and strive for the ones that are more remote.

DarkMatter2525: If life is eternal, then there should be no sense of urgency.

My Response: Value is not derived from urgency, but from improvement of the human condition and, subsequently, from enjoyment of the fruits of that improvement. A work of art or music is not any more beautiful because of the urgency with which we experience it; it is beautiful because of its intrinsic constituent characteristics – the brushstrokes and notes that comprise it. Indeed, urgency detracts from value by inducing a stressed, rushed, crazed, and hectic experience where we miss important aspects of life because we worry that we will not have the time to do whatever we consider to be higher on the priority list. With less urgency, we could partake of more of the good things in life and have a longer-term perspective – planning for the future and treating ourselves and others with more respect and consideration. We could be more frugal, since we would enjoy the fruits of saving directly. We could take better care of our living spaces – both locally in our homes and on the scale of planets. We could still fulfill all of our highest priorities – and more of them, too, since we would have more time. But longevity itself would reshape our priorities and enable us to gain a more balanced, deliberate, and sophisticated perspective on our lives.

For me, the greatest happiness comes from those serene moments where I do not have to rush anywhere and do not have to worry about falling behind. It comes from having accomplished and from having done something good that could later – with purpose and deliberation – be the stepping stone for something even better. In the midst of intense work, happiness is that plateau of leisure between the past and the future, the reaffirmation that life can be good when it amounts to a progress that never hits a permanent wall. Urgency detracts from happiness by preventing one from truly enjoying life in a leisurely fashion – as opposed to trying to cram in as much as possible now, now, now – expecting (fearing, perhaps) that there might not be much time left.

Thunderf00t: I do not fear being dead, but the concept of the alternatives offered by the religious do trouble me. [Regarding Heaven], there does appear to be one constant: It will last for eternity. Imagine that. Imagine eternity. […] The first hundred years may be possible; the first thousand – more painful; the first ten thousand – insufferable. But this is just the start. An eternity in heaven would be hell for me.

My Response:  I agree that Heaven as imagined by the religious would probably be a somewhat uninteresting place, since one would spend all of one’s time in it “glorifying God”. But this problem has nothing to do with experiencing an indefinite existence. It is a great poverty of imagination to be unable to think of what one could do with ten thousand years, or a much longer timeframe. Think: could you even consume all of the literature, music, art, and culture that humankind has created up to the present if you had ten thousand years? Indefinite longevity would bring about unprecedented richness, depth, and breadth of experience – as well as the immensity of individual learning and refinement, and the possibility to pursue multiple careers and many more hobbies than one currently can.

Furthermore, if Thunderf00t dislikes the prospect of an eternal existence, why would an eternal non-existence be any better or more preferable? Once you are dead, you are dead forever – and cannot choose to go back to not being dead. On the other hand, if you are alive indefinitely, and you feel tired, you could choose to take a nice long non-lethal nap or vacation and resume your activities when you are refreshed and in a better mood. Those who feel tedium or boredom now might later feel more like finding something meaningful and interesting to do in this vast universe. To die is to deny oneself this ability for an improvement in one’s outlook and enthusiasm.

The great and all-too-common error made by Thunderf00t is to see all of an individual’s life as a simultaneous totality rather than the way it is actually experienced: one moment at a time. While Thunderf00t might be unable to conceive of what he would do with ten thousand years, he probably knows what he would like to do the next minute, or the next day, or the next week. If he could live and work in this way – experiencing one day at a time – while remaining at his physical and intellectual prime – would there ever be a day when he would consciously decide that he would rather die tomorrow? Only a person in tremendous suffering could conceivably make such a choice. With technological and moral progress taking away ever more of that suffering, the desire to keep on living should become strengthened until no sane, rational person would ever want to die.

DarkMatter2525: Given eternity, anything that can be accomplished, will be accomplished. Beyond all achievements, there would only be limitless, pointless existence.

My Response: Considering that over a thousand new books get produced every day, doing or accomplishing “everything” would be impossible – since our minds’ conception of the possibilities will always outpace our ability to actualize those possibilities. DarkMatter2525 is assuming a finite, static set of possible accomplishments. In reality, the scope of possible accomplishments and activities grows every day at much faster rate than any given human has the ability to pursue those accomplishments and activities. One cannot experience today all that has been created even today by the billions of people now alive. The longer we live, the smaller will be the fraction of available pursuits in which we will be able to engage at any given time. Even if humans are able to enhance their minds radically in order to process and memorize as much text as a computer can – the human creative faculty would be able to generate proportionally more text as well, so that the volume of available output would still accelerate away from the ability of any human to process all of it. And books are just one subset of human activity – which will become increasingly diverse and multifaceted as our civilization advances. And think of all those billions of galaxies, each with billions of stars, that we have yet to explore and colonize!

Laci Green: When I think about my own death, I used to feel scared, but I don’t think I do anymore.

My Response: I hypothesize (though I cannot be sure) that Ms. Green only sees death in the abstract for now. She is young and healthy, and it is easy to rationalize away the significance of death when it is remote. This is a coping mechanism that many people have, and it works particularly well when everyday life is reasonably good. But how many people can have this equanimity when death approaches – when it is too late to do anything about it? If Ms. Green does not wish to experience fear regarding the prospect of her eventual death – fine. I have no problem with people choosing to focus on other matters in an everyday context. However, I sincerely wish that she and others who do not feel scared would nonetheless have an intellectual awareness of the great destruction wrought by senescence, decay, and death. Then they could – calmly or cheerfully, as they please – support research and advance moral arguments that assist humankind in beating back this menace. I advocate not fear, but action.

AronRa: I’m not afraid of being dead. After we die, we will not know the truth at that point. We will not know, wish, think, remember, dream anything.

My Response: Precisely, and that is the worst possible fate. Our very being, our “I-ness” – that which makes all other experiences possible – will be extinguished, and not even the memory of our once having existed will remain with us.

Seth Andrews:  I don‘t really find this sad or tragic either. I don’t really welcome death, but I don’t live in fear of the end. And I’ve come to see it as just another part of the natural world.

My Response: Not all that is “natural” is good – and, indeed, nature offers ways out of the problem of senescence by showing us numerous species that do not experience the ravages of biological aging or experience them at a much slower rate than we do. Since, in its truest sense, the word “natural” is just an expression for “what is” – Mr. Andrews is committing the Panglossian fallacy – the view that “whatever is, is right.” Cancer is natural, and it is brutal. Also natural is the fact that 99.9% of all the species that ever existed are now extinct. Just because this is natural, does not mean that we should accept it for ourselves. We can remake the outcomes of nature by studying the laws of nature and harnessing them for our own benefit. Once we have secured our continuing existence, we can work to eventually create a more humane, less predatory environment for all life forms that deserve it. We already do this to some extent with domestic pets and certain other useful animals – though, arguably, not to the extent that a more morally developed and resource-rich society might accommodate.

Thunderf00t: In some respects, we never die. Our lives are entangled with those who come after us, just as our lives are entangled with those who came before us. [Faraday, Newton, and Pasteur affect everyone’s lives today.] Death is not the end. We are intertwined with both lesser and greater things.

My Response: It is true that our lives have an impact on others, and that impact can extend beyond the lifespan of the individual. It is also true that we sometimes do not even perceive all the ways in which we impact others and others impact us. However, while our influence on the rest of the world might be a source of pride or reassurance to us in life, in death it means nothing – because we would not be aware of it even as a general concept without any particular details. Others who remain alive might still hazily and incompletely remember the dead individual, of course – but that memory is an asset to them, not to the dead. I benefit from the existence of Faraday, Newton, and Pasteur – good for me. But they are oblivious to this at present.

Laci Green: Just because there is no grand scheme it plays into does not mean there is not something beautiful about what is going on here.

My Response: I agree that the universe, or existence, has no grand scheme. But it is not clear to what “beautiful” phenomena Ms. Green is referring. There is true beauty in existence, but there are also true nastiness and cruelty and injustice. It is important to recognize the beautiful and good elements of the world, while struggling to eradicate or reform the bad. The real war we must fight is against the forces of ruin, and we should not lapse into the Panglossian fallacy of accepting absolutely anything that occurs on a regular basis as somehow “beautiful” or even remotely palatable.

ZOMGitsCriss: Ironically, the only part of me that is immortal is my material body. […] Every atom of me will be recycled back into the universe.

My Response: A long time ago (when I was fourteen), I tried to find consolation in that idea as well. It worked for about two hours. But then I realized that what matters is the arrangement of those atoms and the temporal continuity of that arrangement. I gain and lose atoms all the time, but each individual atom is not what makes me who I am. The essence of who I am, rather, is the manner in which those atoms interact with one another within the overall structure of my body – including my mind. When that is gone, I am gone.

DarkMatter2525: Even though a cell might not last forever, the role it plays in the larger organism is important, and that is how I see myself – as a part of something bigger.

My Response: But that “something bigger” does not care about DarkMatter2525, by his own earlier admission! So why should he care about it enough to be willing to be a mere cog in it? And if, as Laci Green says, there is no grand scheme to it all, then what exactly is he a part of? In terms of purpose, the only alternative to a teleological worldview, where purpose is “built into” the universe, is a humanistic worldview where purpose originates from the self – based on the biological requirements of one’s own survival, which, once sustained at a certain level, enable the individual to use his will to shape the universe to give it purpose. But in order to confer purpose upon an initially purposeless cosmos, one has to exist and to keep existing. Once existence stops, the purpose-giving process also stops, and so the “something bigger” is also no more.

ZOMGitsCriss: Knowing that this life is the only one I have makes me a lot more conscious of my actions, makes me want to do something with this short life I have.

My Response: I agree that knowing that this is the only life we have should make this life the greatest value to us – to be treated with the utmost seriousness and respect. We should seek to do great things with our time – but we should also seek to prolong our time, which is in itself a monumental and glorious undertaking.

Seth Andrews : There’s too much to learn, too much to see, too much to know, too much to experience. I’m not just going to exist. I’m going to live.

My Response: Certainly, some conditions of existence are better than others, and mere survival is not all there is to life. Flourishing can occur when life is lived in a way that fulfills an increasingly sophisticated series of human needs – ranging on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from basic material sustenance to self-actualization. But pursuing the higher needs by no means undercuts or conflicts with the more basic needs. Indeed, the higher needs are largely unattainable unless one already lives in a prosperous, peaceful civilization where the basic needs are so easily fulfilled that one almost takes them for granted.

All too many people perceive survival as somehow antithetical to enjoying life – but in fact enjoyment of life is not possible without being alive. Therefore, if one wishes to do more of the things that make life enjoyable, one should strive to live as long as possible – far beyond the paltry eighty or so years that comprise the current average life expectancy in the Western world.