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Belief in Heaven is the Biggest Obstacle Impeding Radical Life Extension

Posted: Wed, May 29, 2013 | By: Indefinite Life Extension

by Franco Cortese

This article is currently in 3rd place for most views in the lifetime of Immortal Life. It was adapted from a response to the debate forum Will Religions promising “Heaven” just Vanish, when Superlongevity on Earth is attained?. An expanded version first published on Transhumanity, more essay than article, can be found here.

“Our hope of immortality does not come from any religions, but nearly all religions come from that hope” - Robert Green Ingersoll

Belief in Heaven may be the biggest problem impacting support for life-extension. The majority of the world believes in some form of an afterlife (some recent polls show 80% of Americans and a little more than 50% of global citizens) and it stops all those people from seeing the real benefit of life extension. 

The majority of the world doesn’t believe in death! This is the surprising truth. They think they will continue living in an afterlife, and thus this should not be called death; it doesn’t matter that it’s metaphysical, because if they try to legitimate the belief via mind-body dualism then the mind is metaphysical too and so it might as well be physical for this particular concern. 

That is, it relates to heaven as physical objects relate to physicality - namely operate according to its rules, and is causally connected to it. So claiming that it is metaphysical, and so different than physical death, is not a legitimate counterpoint in this case.

We need to convince people that death is real before they will be amenable to even seeing the benefit of indefinite longevity!

The belief in life after death in religion is the strongest historical antecedent of immortalism we have, and historical antecedents are advantageous in legitimizing things to most of the world. The widespread belief in life after death across history and culture affirms not only that immorality is one of humanity’s most deep rooted and important desire and ideal(i.e. life-shaping and life-defining), but perhaps its very oldest!

Thus while belief in heaven, and by consequence all religions that include the afterlife as a belief, constitute a massive deterrent to the widespread popularity of immortalism, it is also, in utmost irony, one of its strongest potential legitimators because it evidences immortality to be a deep-rooted human desire that transcends culture and historical time.

Thus we should neither be precisely denouncing or promoting religion, yet neither should we ignore it and let it be. Rather we should be heralding religions for their keen insight into the true values and desires of humanity, but taking care to show them that life-extension is but the modern embodiment of the immortalist gestalt they exemplified via conceptualizing an afterlife, and that belief in heaven today goes against the very motivation and utility that their belief (in heaven) was trying to maintain and instill all along! 

By believing in heaven they are going against all it was ever meant for, and what it really represents. This is not only the truest state of affairs, but the most advantageous as well. It allows us to at once work to ameliorate the problems caused by widespread belief in heaven, utilize the widespread and long-running belief in afterlife as legitimizing immortalism as perhaps the most deep-rooted human longing and value (in both terms of historical time and of importance, or a measure of how much it shapes our lives, our selves and our culture) while at the same time avoid insulting people who believe in heaven (i.e. the majority of the world) which risks having them ignore our cause not from reasoned conclusion but from seasoned spite.

We should be painting every religious crusade and mission to spread the word of god as a pilgrimage to bring immortality to the world! If one thinks that a specific moral, metaphysical or cosmological (i.e. religious) system is required to attain life after death (i.e. immortality), what else is their pilgrimage to spread god’s word but a quest to bring methodological means of immortality to the world.

Let’s at once show believers in an afterlife why they are wrong, commend them for their insight into deep rooted and historically-extensive human values, beliefs and eternal longings, and win them over to our side!

Let’s immanentize the eschaton and forge heaven into flesh, here on earth!

We are Man, and we know no bounds here.


What is the purpose or reason of extending life? And why strive for immortality when immortality is unattainable? Maybe our descendents can live for an unimaginable amount of time, but they will not be immortal. This Universe will likely be ripped apart by Dark Energy one day and all matter will be destroyed, and that includes us.

So what is the worth of living a very long time in itself? Nothing. We only gain utility in the present, not the past. Eventually we will die and our subjective past will be over and the utility will cease to exist. Only the present will exist and we will have no utility, nor will anyone else.

So the idea this article puts forward is quite empty. The only way for us to have any eternal utility is for existence beyond the natural world. Even if the likelihood of such is small, it is our only hope to have a fulfilling life. If not, we will neither have a fulfilling life nor an unfulfilling life, just an incomprehensible existence.

By M. on Mar 31, 2013 at 7:01pm

The author errs with basic terminology.  Death is merely the end of our carbon based life form.  No religion objects to keeping the body around in a healthy state for as long as possible.  Life is, it is that energy form with consciousness we commonly refer to as the soul which existed before and will exist after our carbon based life form.
A final question: If, as science would have us believe, there is no such thing as time; is human existence including life and death actual reality, or is it an illusion?

By cken on Apr 01, 2013 at 1:35am

The worth of living a very long time, in and of itself, is the same as the worth of continuing to live today, rather than say killing myself in the morning. There is no worth in death. There is only worth in life. That being said, we have no reason to think that immortality is unattainable. We are material systems, and material systems can be maintained and repaired. Until we have reason to doubt its feasibility, the scientifically rigorous conclusion is that it is likely possible. Consider how silly it would have seemed to your great grandfather that Man would stand on the Moon. We have no idea what wonders technology will bring, and to argue that something will remain infeasible is much less credible than to argue that something eventually will be feasible through technological intervention.

Whether the Universe will suffer a Heat Death, Big Crunch or other such final end, living up until that point is a whole lot better than being limited to 80 years. And if Dyson, Tipler and others have anything to say about it, accepting the physical circumstances leading to that final end, rather than trying to modify those physical processes so as to avoid the end of all life (through harnessing gravitational shear energy of a Big Crunch in Tipler’s scheme, and running the same mind on decreasing intervals of subjective time/ computational resources so as to compensate for the asymptotic decrease in available energy of a heat death, as in Dyson’s scheme) isn’t a very productive work-ethic. If one takes your utility argument as valid (which I don’t, for reasons described below), would it not also apply to any metaphysical realm (I.e. the “beyond he natural world” you refer to) as well?

It’s hard to ascribe utility to life because it isn’t necessarily MEANT for something in particular. Utility implies purpose, satisfying some “optimization metric”, and life isn’t so simple as to have a single utility. Like makes its own utility, or perhaps simply IS its own utility. Perhaps the potential for further utility is utility enough. So I don’t think “because living longer isn’t a utility IN ITSELF, we don’t increase our chances of maximizing any utility by increasing he time we are able to live” is a very good argument for the non-utility of RLE.

I’d also like to explicate the premise in this piece that widespread support for RLE will promote its achievement faster because funding is a bottleneck, and funding comes from public awareness. Whether it is a concerted R&D endeavour undertaken by government (in which case public support is imperative for funding) or by private industry (where public support lets them know there is a market for RLE), the fastest route to achieving RLE is increasing public awareness and desire, because it generates more funding - and because the more people are aware of and support RLE,the higher the chances of a young minds deciding to dedicate their professional careers to it. One is more likely to bring about RLE by increasing public awareness, desire and then demand, than by working on it oneself. Even if one makes the argument that once we have a research breakthrough, funding will come - the likelihood of making that research breakthrough is increased by more funding, and funding is increased by more public awareness.

All that being said, thanks for the comments, and for reaching out and trying to engage the community. grin

By Franco Cortese on Apr 01, 2013 at 6:25am

Hi Franco,

Thanks for the response; I do appreciate it. I always enjoy respectful discussion.

Since I know somebody is actually reading this I’ll elaborate more and answer your points.

First, though I do not agree that it is ‘quite likely’ that immortality is scientifically attainable, I will concede that it is wrong for me to say that it is without a doubt impossible. Even if there is a very remote possibility, it is worth following up on. And I’d also add I see nothing wrong with extending life, and see it as a major positive. My issue though, is with that as an end to the means, rather than part of the means itself. So in no way do I think there is any reason for someone to commit suicide tomorrow simply because they will die at some point in the future.

You bring up ‘worth’ early in your reply, and later reference ‘purpose’ and being ‘meant’ for something (in regards to your view on utility, which I’ll get to after this). I admit I don’t know if there is purpose in life (objective or subjective), but if hard philosophical naturalism is correct (which may be the case, but for various philosophical reasons I cannot subscribe to) and following suit there is no objective, then it is all just subjective (if it exists). The subjective depends on a consciousness thinking about its own existence, and consciousness lives in the present (or more accurately, in the very near past). So any subjective worth is dependent on my existence, and no one else’s.  Therefore, eternal life has to be attainable for me specifically for it to be of any worth; not you, not my potential biological descendants, and not anyone else (one may disagree, but that is someone trying to impose their subjective on another, and also makes their view no more logical). In this situation I have no moral responsibility to anyone, not even myself. So my point is even if eternal material life by human means is possible, unless it is possible in my lifespan it has no worth to me.

And that is my issue, what are the chances that it will be attainable for me? By looking at the current scientific landscape, and the current opinion of most of those (though I’m sure not all) working towards extending life, the chances are miniscule. It is not impossible, but miniscule. Should I put all my hope in something so miniscule? So from an anti-metaphysical view if I ever die I will have no worth. Let’s continue thinking along those lines for others. We need investment into RLE, but who has the most money to invest? On average, the older you are the more resources you have. But, the older you are the more miniscule the likelihood of worth is in an already miniscule possibility. So why should they invest from an anti-metaphysical worldview? They have nothing to gain because they will die one day, for some of them likely very soon. So once again, why should I put all my hope in something like that? Isn’t a better option for me to put some small amount of hope in RLE, but to put most of my hope in the metaphysical?

With the metaphysical, even small extensions of life have the potential of having worth. Does it mean for sure life extension will have worth? No, but there is the potential. And what does that mean for others in regards to RLE? Then I now have an interest in RLE extension for others even if it is not possible for me. With the metaphysical I can believe my love for others, and my good will for others, including yourself and everyone else, has the potential for worth. From a metaphysical view, it now can make sense for the elderly to invest in the future of the young, based in the belief that even though there is a beyond, there is still worth to our current state of existence and there is still good to be done in this physical realm even once they leave it.

And that is my main qualm with the gist of your article, that 1) Belief in the metaphysical is absolutely wrong, and 2) Belief in the metaphysical is necessarily a detriment to the extension of life. Please correct me if either of those misrepresent your views.

And finally, to your point on utility, I don’t disagree with you. You and me have a slightly different definition of utility, so it seems to be a semantical issue. I meant what most would consider the economic definition of utility, which can be equated with satisfaction. But to reiterate my point, such satisfaction is subjective and dependent on my existence if I view it from an anti-metaphysical viewpoint. Then that ties into my above arguments.

I could go on and elaborate even more so on a lot, but I am sure I have already typed far more than you want to read! raspberry (I have a tendency to do that, the process helps me work out my own thoughts also.) If you did read it all, thank you and feel free to follow up if you’d like.

By M. on Apr 01, 2013 at 11:42am

I’d add, in the end I am sure your main disagreement with me will be that you think eternal life is attainable in this lifetime. I hope you are right, but I just don’t have nearly enough hope.

By M. on Apr 01, 2013 at 11:49am

The Bible is full of SO much evil. It is the spirit of humanity which chooses the righteous path when confronted with the contradictions in the Bible.

Look at and see the compendium of evil the Bible promotes.

By Humanity on Apr 14, 2013 at 10:19pm

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