Religion, technology, and the future

There are no right answers here, and I’m not looking for any. I’m asking for the Dope to do what it does best: wild-assed speculation. :slight_smile:

Five hundred years in the future, we’ll have the ability to create custom-designed transhumans: mix and match DNA to produce any kind of offspring you want. Don’t like your body? Hop into a machine and in a few days you’ll have whatever body you want, of whatever race or gender.

We’ll have full-sensory Virtual Reality.

We’ll have human cloning. We’ll have the ability to scan in someone’s entire brain pattern and create a computer simulation of him: every memory, every tic and nuance. Don’t want to die? Download your brain into an android body and live forever. Keep a backup of your brain handy in case anything happens to you.

Okay, sure, maybe we won’t have all these things, but bear with me. How do religions respond?


Is a sin committed in virtual reality still a sin? Does the Jewish prohibition against working on Saturday cover thinking about work in VR?

Is an afterlife based on eternal blissful immortality less attractive if you have virtual immortality on earth, or would the definitions of Heaven change?

When you clone a human being, do you clone his soul? Does the clone’s soul bear the sins of his parent?

Can a human marry an android that is operated by a human-brain-AI?

Does a perfect computer simulation of a human mind also have a soul?

Would a religious objection to genetic tampering be able to withstand the lure of an expanded, healthier lifespan with a perfect physique, or would the religious people be content to live a shorter life, filled with illness and infirmity, as God intended?

I’m not looking for anything other than some guesses on what a future religion might look like. :slight_smile:

My own thoughts:

In general there will always be devout believers who try to adhere to the true faith as much as possible; assume there will be some people who believe more or less as they do today.

I’m going to guess that most people would be practical about Virtual Reality. Murdering someone in a video game is frowned upon but it’s not illegal; the same standard would probably apply for VR.

Heaven would become less about eternal immortal bliss, I figure, and more about justice for the deserving and punishment for the sinners. Alternate views of Paradise, such as the free virgin giveaway for the martyrs, would probably become a popular heaven-on-earth alternative. Just pop 30 embryos in the cloner and poof, you have your 30 free virgins.

I’d say the Christians could probably accept the idea that the clone is a new person with a new soul; after all, Eve was made from Adam’s rib. The objection to human cloning would probably fade once it became clear that you could have a new young body to be transplanted into.

I don’t know on this one. I imagine that an android would probably be considered some sort of golem.

I think it would be considered almost human … perhaps not with a soul of its own, though. More like a dependent child.

I’d say it would be hard to preach against immortality once it became practical. The demand would be too great.

What do you think? :slight_smile:

The Vatican has already stated that any human clones would have their own independent souls.

And I suspect that one religious perversion of the technology will be to forcibly lock people declared to be “sinners” in a virtual Hell; tortured in a simulation where they can’t die since it’s not real. Another will be to lock children pretty much from birth in a simulated world where they will see nothing that the religion in question doesn’t approve of; something that some religious people eagerly look forward to ( it was one of the first things I recall hearing when virtual reality made it into mainstream consciousness ).

Yes, as a rule. The point of “sin” is to induce guilt and self hatred, not to adhere to any sort of realistic morality.

Not for a long, long time. I expect that religions will be at the forefront at insisting that such thing are soulless/subhuman, and should be destroyed or enslaved. Not married.

Since that undercuts their whole hook about the afterlife, no.

Some will no doubt go the Luddite route. I expect many others will go the opposite direction, and use genetic engineering, brain implants or high tech brainwashing to turn their followers into fanatics ( or in the case of implants, have puppet-master or torture implants force them into acting as such against their will if necessary ). One of the more likely causes of the fall of civilization or the end of humanity in my opinion are wars with such artificially created and compelled fanatics; people constrained by their alterations to never give in, never deviate, never show reason, never show mercy regardless of the consequences. A war between people and puppets; billions of drones who have been reduced to the mindless ( or worse ) extensions of itself that religion has always tried to make us into.

Reply to Der Trihs

I suppose I should have taken your arguments more seriously, but really, come on. Less than 350 years ago we were having witch trials, and Galilieo Galilei had his little scuffle with the Vatican 375 years ago. Yet you still feel like today’s archaic superstititions will rule in 500 years? Realistically, I don’t think one in ten of the supposed religious people actually believe in that stuff, they’re just going through the motions because everyone else expects them to. In 500 years you’re as apt to find someone leaving a dish of milk out for the brownies as implanting mind control devices in clones.

Perhaps they won’t, no — I certainly don’t feel that they would be as powerful a social force in such a world as I describe.

But religion has been a mainstay of human culture since … well, since as far back as we can reckon, 60 thousand-odd years and more. I don’t think a mere 500 years will extinguish it; but it would certainly change it.

I think 500 years will be post singularity, but given your scenario:

I don’t think there will be a line between androids and humans because many humans won’t be that anymore. Everyone will have some technological augment, if not entire body parts (i.e. an arm) made purely of prosthetics from whatever reason, people that don’t will be in very poor countries (depending on the Global condition at the time) or be considered then what the Amish or more tech-free Mennonite sects are today.

I think crimes in VR ultimately depend. Is the world populated by sentient programs? If so, a crime against a program would be bad since that is their ONLY existence. Is it one giant reality with little subrealities or several? If it’s several, no biggie, just hop to the other one. If it’s a single one there could be repercussions. Given the fact that your entire consciousness goes into that VR, you may be more emotionally affected, and as such crimes may be more severe, unless they find a way to circumvent that (if someone is stalking you and committing crimes in VR and that’s your whole consciousness it’s not much different than Nightmare on Elm Street in your dreams).

I don’t think heaven would change, after all there will still be some things in life that will suck, the prospect of eternal bliss will be around. However, it may see a rise in suicide, considering people are, ya know, immortal and there only way there is to DIE. However I wouldn’t be surprised if hell became a bit more… real, in virtual reality prisons, at least until a court rules it as torture, which may or may not happen.

I’ll opt out of the others since I don’t quite want to get into soul stuff now, considering ask three people about souls and you’ll get 12 different answers.

This is an ongoing philosophical question my friends, colleagues, relatives etc…have argued with me many times. I would say religions will evolve into something much more transpersonal, agnostics hanging out with fundies, hanging our with taoists - a much more homogenous mix of cultures then we have now. And I think our society taken as a whole is quite accepting of differing views presently, but in the future it will be much different.

Look no further!

The option of virtual immortality might make death even more frightening. That might increase the need for comfort in the case of accidental death.

Well then.

Gee, thanks for the clarification, Vatican.

Or 5000 years, 50,000 years, 50 million years. When technology becomes advanced enough, they will be able to make a society that cannot disbelieve. Or change, or improve. At that point, either they will be destroyed, both sides will be destroyed, or they will succeed in remaking humanity in their image, and we will become a world of fanatics, forever. I have no trouble imagining a society millions of years old, that hasn’t changed a bit in all that time because every single person is genetically engineered to be a fanatic and has a device implanted in their brain at birth that makes sure they can never have an unapproved thought; a society where once and for all religion has won and humanity lost.

At some point, I expect a war between free thinking humans, and societies that have essentially turned themselves into drone armies for the religion that dominates them; hardwired true believers. That’s what religion does anyway; eventually, technology will let it’s followers do it better.

And I think that the majority buy it. They certainly seem to.

I’m sure various rabbis will have come up with answers for this by then. Jews and rabbis being what they are, probably not all the same answers- I suspect there will be disagreement on this. Just like there is now between Orthodox and Conservative rabbis on whether you can drive to synagogue on Saturday (Orthodox say no, Conservative say yes).

We have human clones now. One was my best friend in middle school. They’re usually called identical twins. I haven’t heard too many religions say that my friend and her identical twin sister shared a soul.

I have a slightly less cynical view of humankind and religion — or slightly more cynical, perhaps. We’ve never found it necessary to use technology to dehumanize our opponents, or to gather a following, or to fervently believe we can do no wrong. As long as human beings are content to do as they’re told, to accept authority figures at face value, and to firmly believe there is justice to the injust things we do, techno-slavery is not necessary for fanaticism of any kind to exist.

Besides, any kind of technology that allows any religious leader to command his subjects or to imprint them with belief could easily be subverted and used to command his subjects against him. Human fanatics are not so easily swayed.

I do believe there is positive value in religion, despite not being a believer myself. Religion acts to convey society’s rules and unspoken doctrines, which boil down to “play nice.” Humans have an sense of “rightness” that is either innate or learned; we understand intuitively what we think is “fair.” This is probably related to our skill in pattern-matching. So long as we have this, we will see a need for a higher justice, a higher authority of goodness and order; and some will wonder where this justice and authority and order comes from.

We don’t need guns to kill or cars to travel either; we use them anyway, because they do it better. And techno-slavery IS necessary to make it perfect and absolute and permanent.

You don’t understand. I’m not thinking of a society where the leaders control the populace with brain implants, but of one where the implants control everyone, including the leaders. Of a society where the religion itself is directly in control, as codified in the implants. And as for human fanatics not being easily swayed; compared to a machine, yes they are, and real world societies aren’t composed of 100% fanatics down to the babies.

Hardly; religion serves to convey values like “hate the unbeliever” and “destroy those who are different” and “show no mercy, for this life doesn’t matter.” It works against the more civilized “play nice” values.

Okay, okay, I get that you’re rabidly anti-religion. Do you have any actual insight into the workings and teachings of religion that you want to contribute besides psychohorror stories?

Is a sin committed in virtual reality still a sin? Does the Jewish prohibition against working on Saturday cover thinking about work in VR?
Yes. Expect different answers, though (certainly on this, but really on all of them). Since when is religion monolithic?

Is an afterlife based on eternal blissful immortality less attractive if you have virtual immortality on earth, or would the definitions of Heaven change?
What is “virtual immortality”? So long as premature death is possible, & injustice is possible, in this life, a world of perfect justice & perfect life is desirable.

When you clone a human being, do you clone his soul? Does the clone’s soul bear the sins of his parent?
No, silly. Is one identical twin guilty for the crimes of the other?

Can a human marry an android that is operated by a human-brain-AI?
Yes. If it’s an actual human brain, than it’s a cyborg.

Does a perfect computer simulation of a human mind also have a soul?
Um… Yeah, I guess so, if you’re talking about something like the digitized persons (Djinn, Ifrit, & Dybbuk) in Ostrander & Yale’s Suicide Squad series. As long as there’s a reasonably continuous self that can grow & experience things, yeah. (Expect future religious leaders to be all over the map on this.)

Would a religious objection to genetic tampering be able to withstand the lure of an expanded, healthier lifespan with a perfect physique, or would the religious people be content to live a shorter life, filled with illness and infirmity, as God intended?
Depends on whom you ask. United Church of Christ & the Amish are both religious. There could be some violence by each side against the other, each seeing the other side as “unnatural madmen.”

That IS my “insight”. Religion is evil and crazy; it will therefore, given the power, do evil and crazy things. Like enslave humanity, or kill us all in an apocalyptic war.

You asked in the OP what we thought religion would do in the future; that’s my opinion. It will be tyrannical and crazy, as it always has been.

I suspect it’s possible. Basing this on the nature of people, I suspect there may very well be some good business in supplying the ability to “murder” people you don’t like and so forth, and from that I suspect that religions at the time will probably issue proclamations against it and consider it bad. I doubt that it would be considered as sinful, if that makes sense.

We’re humans, we’re pretty much flawed and I don’t see that changing in 500 years. No one will be perfectly happy, no one will be in the perfect situation, so I don’t see heaven or an analogue being replaced. I wonder if perhaps bliss-creating virtuality might actually be used in worship, much as some groups use drugs and the like today.

I doubt this will be taken up too much; at least, not at an extent unsimilar to non- or less religious types who may think a clone of Hitler should be killed immediately, to give an extreme example.

I suspect similar things to this will occur much as the gay marriage debacle is occurring now.

Here’s a tricky one.

I’m pretty sure myself that we won’t start recognising the rights of A.I. for at least three or four generations after we actually have sapient ones, and it’ll probably come on the heels of a civil rights movement. I would be concerned that religious groups would be on the wrong side of this one for quite a long time. I personally don’t believe in souls, so I at least don’t have to worry about that part.

Well, here I go into suspicious bastard mode, because i’d assume that religious leaders who could pay for it would get themselves reasonably modified and either declare they haven’t or their suspiciously long lifetimes/great abilities are miracles at work. I think that in general though the religious view will change essentially as based on society at large.

As a general point, i’d be interested to see what would occur religious-wise if we met aliens at some point. I rather suspect that religion on either side would claim the religion of the other as astoundingly similar and in fact one and the same.

I think it’s fairly unlikely that aliens would have religion. It’s neither necessary nor rational; there’s no reason to assume that they’d just happen to develop the same quirk.

And some religions would denounce them as demons; some already do. I was taught as a child in fact that UFOs existed, but were piloted by demons under Satan’s command. The “logic” was that since humans are made in God’s image, aliens must be made in the Devil’s image.