DEBATE: Will Religions promising “Heaven” just Vanish, when Superlongevity on Earth is attained? -

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DEBATE: Will Religions promising “Heaven” just Vanish, when Superlongevity on Earth is attained?

Posted: Thu, March 28, 2013 | By: DEBATE

Christianity, Islam and numerous other religions guarantee eternal existence in  celestial paradise after death, for all who obey the creed’s rules. 

“Heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark” - Stephen Hawking

If Religion is a psychological buffer from the fear of death, won’t all the faithful abandon churches and mosques immediately, if aging and death is defeated? 

When eternal or near-eternal or 1,000 year lifespans are available on Earth, won’t the notion of “Heaven” lose its appeal?

Also, are the strongest opponents of Indefinite Life Extension research… people who believe in Heaven…?

Do they regard Immortalism as a wicked attempt to “play God”? 

Do they see Immortalists as sinners seeking to escape Hell?


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I hope it doesn’t take that long.

By James Smith on Mar 19, 2013 at 2:31pm

As we become closer and closer to “indefinite life extension"religion will become our worst enemy.Let’s be honest!Life extension makes organized religion superfluous.
Religious leaders still are a potent political force.They can awaken the faithful,although the faithful will be diminished in number,and attempt to stop progress where ever they can.In many ways this is analogous to the ongoing bitterly divisive fight over abortion,which has been ongoing for over 40 years.
Also,the closer we come to a viable “cure"for aging,the more vituperative the debate will become.We must be ready for a tremendous fight over this issue.

By Tom Mooney on Mar 19, 2013 at 2:55pm

Will posthumanity cease to project itself beyond itself? I think not, and so I imagine there will always be heavens, Gods and their functional analogs. If I’m wrong, if immortality is not coupled with eternal progression, I’ve no interest in immortality. Let’s overdose on morphine instead.

By Lincoln Cannon on Mar 19, 2013 at 3:44pm

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 religious 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. On the cutting edge will be 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. (By the way, 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.

By Gennady Stolyarov II on Mar 20, 2013 at 12:39am

We can’t project meanings on the future- as the meaning of meaning itself will be different. Will we comprehend the rapid languages of super-beings?; only if we become those beings.
And meaning will be hominid meaning no longer.

By Alan Brooks on Mar 20, 2013 at 9:29am


I’m looking forward to our discussions next month smile

In a sense I agree with your comment that there will “always be heavens, Gods and their functional analogs”. And I agree with your morphine point.

On the other hand I agree with Tom as well. I think religions WIlL become some of our bitterest enemies. There will be those for whom religion is indeed primarily about (post)humanity “project[ing] itself beyond itself”, and they just use somewhat misleading religious language to express this (perhaps THIS is the point I should especially focus on next month?), but we both know that the strands of most religious denominations that are the most vociferous and carry the greatest popular appeal, especially in the developing world (much of the developed world is essentially lost to religion these days) are the fundamentalist ones, i.e. the ones that peddle belief systems roughly along the lines that Hank describes. And for them, any secular development that reaches parts formerly touched by religion become its bitterest enemies. A few decades ago it was sex, drugs and rock’n'roll. Come to think of it, at was a precursor to transhumanism: technology-fuelled liberation of the human spirit. Mainstream religion will NOT like it.

But I have a question for Tom. Beyond the general principle that we should be gearing ourselves up for one hell of a battle, precisely HOW do you suggest we prepare for this Armageddon?

By Peter Wicks on Mar 20, 2013 at 9:59am

While immortality alone would leave something to be desired, simulated reality via the neural jack and brain isolation, as envisioned by Dmitry Itskov’s 2045 Initiative, will create heaven on earth, and Aubrey de Grey’s Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence or similar initiatives will enable us to enjoy it eternally. SR, which is depicted in films such as The Matrix and Inception, will combine the malleability of imagination with the compelling persistence of reality. The Battlestar Galactica reimagining has the concept of projection - cylon imagination is indistinguishable from reality. This is where we’re headed, and when we arrive there, I don’t see how religions could possibly have anything to offer, although fringe cults will persist, but will probably become irrelevant and have negligible membership. As Marshall Brain, founder of, notes in “The Day You Discard Your Body,” the conceptual “It’s not real!” block people have will vanish once they see what the early adopters have and jump in for themselves.

Opposition to life extension is probably strongest among the most rabidly religious, but is more often than not almost as strong among the irreligious, who are just as futureblind and irrational (and have their own, very cheap, immortality meme - “you are immortal star stuff”).

By Aphradonis Synexious on Mar 20, 2013 at 7:54pm

Probably not. Weak people will still need something higher to believe in.

By Alex on Mar 20, 2013 at 7:59pm

Aphradonis hit the nail on the head in my view: “life extension is [will remain] strongest among the most rabidly religious, but is more often than not almost as strong among the irreligious”. Very well put.

Alex’s response worries me, though. He seems to be suggesting (i) that the only reason to believe in something “higher” is because we are “weak”, (ii) that “believing in something higher” implies that one is religious, (iii) that we will always be that weak, even when we have transcended the limits that currently make us mortal, and (iv) that this is something we should just be passively accepting. I didn’t realise it was possible to fit so many limiting beliefs into the one sentence.

By Peter Wicks on Mar 21, 2013 at 1:49am

I agree with Lincoln. I think that we will (need too) project our desires of who we want to become. If that process ever ceases than we are doing it wrong. I have faith that there is always something MORE that we can become.

Believing that there is nothing more to become than what we can conceive of at this moment, or of what we will conceive of in the next year, or the next 1000 years, is extremely shortsighted.

By Brent Lee on Mar 21, 2013 at 3:12am

Q1:  The two main properties of heaven are the absence of need and staticity, the latter to ensure the continuity of the former.  Unless ‘eternal life’ implies this absence of need, which it obviously does not, human infants of any age will always crave fantasies of heaven.

Q2,3,4:  As “people who believe in Heaven” do not base their mentations on rationality it is hard to predict what kind of reactions and attitudes they will manifest vis-a-vis the accelerating changes in human conditions.  If history is taken as a guide the answers to these three questions will be yes, yes and yes.  After all 500 years of scientific progress went right over, or under, their heads, and there is no reason to assume that will change.  Faith by definition is designed to withstand rational probing.  However the smarter ones will modify their attitudes to accommodate these developments without giving up their infantile cravings by conceiving of ‘new’ models of heaven (‘religious transhumanism’).

By René Milan on Mar 21, 2013 at 4:51am

Yes, but why does that need to involve anything that we would recognise today as “religion”. Why do people still associate ideas like transcendence and aspiration so exclusively with religion?

Re “As ‘people who believe in Heaven’ do not base their mentations on rationality it is hard to predict what kind of reactions and attitudes they will manifest…”: lack of rationality does not necessarily translate to lack of predictability, as marketing experts know very well.

By Peter Wicks on Mar 21, 2013 at 7:21am

Yes, Peter, very true.  I should have written “for me it is hard ...”.  Marketing thinking is not my forte, in fact i have a slight aversion to it seeing that the majority of its activities is dedicated to coaxing customers into closing the deal, and only a small part to distributing valid information.  (This is a topic closely related to our current discussion on how to respond to ‘anti immortalists’.)

By René Milan on Mar 21, 2013 at 1:34pm

“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 throughout 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 (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 if 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 them 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 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 (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 us 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!  

By Franco Cortese on Mar 22, 2013 at 10:52am

Yours is an ambitious vision and i certainly hope it can be realized.  However i can see some difficulties with it.

“We need to convince people that death is real” - i do not see how this can be done.  By reason ?  If they were amenable to it we would not have this problem.  Empirically ?  Effective but self defeating, besides while dying one is still alive, and once gone it is to late to be convinced of anything.  And we ourselves cannot know for sure what death is until we are dead, and again, if we are right, there is no knowing at that point.  Our best argument is a statistical one: the bird in the hand versus the two in the bush.

I like the idea of appropriating the eternal life concept and turning it on its feet from its current upside down position.  But this is only one major current in exoteric religion.  Just as important is its dirty underbelly guilt.  Most religious people, their human inclination toward laziness reinforced by having been told that there are higher forces dealing with and for them, harshly or mercifully as the case may be, do not deal with their guilt At best they take it to the confessional or else die as ‘sinners’ and anticipate purging procedures such as Maat’s weighing of the heart or Peter’s visa checkpoint at the pearly gates.  If one just continues living, this ‘judgment day’ will never come, and they will have to deal with their ‘sins’ themselves.  Of course this would be part of the objective, but also a hard sell.

For your vision to be appealing to them it will have to include alternative solutions to all or most of the ways that religions provide benefits to their adherents.  Some are easy and unproblematic, such as protective environments for people unsuited for competitive economies (monasteries, priesthood), others easy and dangerous like congregation.

And many religions, christianism, a religion by committee, in particular, have developed elaborate doctrines especially designed to hereticise divergent ideas such as yours.  While they will not torture you these days they will still put up fierce resistance.  And as Sunni and Shia continue to kill each other every day for some bullshit conflict about their version of apostolic succession i can not imagine them agreeing on something as important as ILE.

Finally i have become very wary of any involvement with religious memes, seeing how severely they have infected transhumanism already over the past few years.

By René Milan on Mar 23, 2013 at 5:44am

Religions are opponents of any progress in a first place. I think in order to reach super longevity, we need to get rid of religions first. It is happening but too slow.

By Tomas Kulik on Mar 28, 2013 at 1:09pm

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