March 7, 2009

Parallels and Convergences: Mormon Thought and Engineering Vision

Keynote Address by Terryl Givens “No Small and Cramped Eternities”


MARCH 9, 2009 by David H. Bailey
Originally posted on

The workshop “Parallels and Convergences: Mormon Thought and Engineering Vision” was held 6-7 Mar 2009 at the Claremont Graduate University, under sponsorship by the Claremont School of Religion, the LDS Council on Mormon Studies, and the Mormon Scholars Foundation, sponsored by Richard Bushman. The keynote address was given by Terryl Givens, entitled, “No Small and Cramped Eternities.” Abstracts and videos of the other talks are below.

“God, The Perfect Engineer”
Allen W. Leigh, Electrical / Software Engineer & Adjunct Instructor, retired

The Biblical scriptures declare that God created the earth. Because of additional information given by latter-day scriptures, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that God organized the earth from preexisting material using natural laws that govern that material. He followed a design cycle that has a broad parallel with design cycles typically used by human engineers. A religious model of creation is given, and this model supports the idea that God is the perfect engineer. Since engineers do not always succeed with their creations, the possibility that God can fail is considered. Reasons are given that assure us that God will not fail in His role as the engineer of the Universe.


“Models of Spirit Matter”
Adam N. Davis, Assistant Professor of Physics, Wayne State College

It is a well grounded idea in Mormonism that there is much more to the universe than that which we see with our mortal eyes: the spirit realm. Despite that basic idea, very little is understood about spirit matter. I present three models of spirit matter and discuss their shortcomings. In doing so we are left with the idea that spirit matter must be conceived of very differently than our present pre-conceptions about reality allow.


“A Technical Interpretation of Mormon Physics and Physiology”
Lincoln Cannon (with Scott Howe), President, Mormon Transhumanist Association

The spiritual aspect of the universe and our bodies, as described in Mormon scripture and tradition, may be empirically accessible, and we should embrace this assumption for practical and moral reasons. Some consider the spiritual aspect to be supernatural or otherwise empirically inaccessible, thereby presupposing its exclusion from science and technology. However, an authentic interpretation of Mormon scripture and tradition supports the idea that we commonly observe the spiritual aspect, and that spiritual transactions are the basis of all observation and action. Because our salvation depends in part on learning about, governing and organizing both the physical and the spiritual aspects of our universe and our bodies, we should assume the possibility of and seek after a technical understanding of their natures.


“Materialism, Free Will, and Mormonism”
Adam N. Davis, Assistant Professor of Physics, Wayne State College

Our contemporary science is materialist; it views that everything can be understood as a physical object or the laws that govern those physical objects. Many Mormons who have reflected on the issue subscribe to the materialist philosophy given the doctrine that there is no such thing as “immaterial matter”. Mormonism also requires that humans have free will. Unfortunately, free will and materialism are not philosophies that exist without significant tension. The Latter-day Saint doctrine of “intelligences” provides an avenue to reconcile the two philosophies and in the doing so has the potential to illuminate a bit more about this mysterious and ill understood doctrine of intelligences.


Morning Q&A:

“Theological Implications of The New God Argument”
Joseph West (with Lincoln Cannon), Founding Member, Director and Secretary, Mormon Transhumanist Association

The goal of this paper is two-fold. First, we present The New God Argument, after which we discuss some implications for Mormonism. The New God Argument concludes that we should trust that our world probably is created by advanced life forms more benevolent than us. The argument is based on assumptions widely shared among both secular and religious persons, and is consistent with modern science and technological trends. Although the logic of the argument holds, independent of any potential theological implications, we feel that the implications for Mormonism are profound. The God in question in this argument is a natural material God that became God through natural material means, suggesting how we might do the same. As emphasized in the argument, benevolence, not only power, is among those means and essential to them. This is the God of which Joseph Smith taught us. Most philosophical arguments for God’s existence have aimed at justifying traditional Christian theology. However, Mormon theology, particularly as advocated by Joseph Smith near the end of his life, diverges from tradition to posit emergent gods that organize worlds from existing matter according to existing laws. The New God Argument does not contend to infallibly prove God’s existence or to provide a relationship with God. It contends only to demonstrate that a common worldview, informed of contemporary science and technological trends, leads to and is wholly compatible with faith in a particular kind of God.


“Quantified Morality”
A. Scott Howe, PhD, Senior Systems Engineer, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Morality is defined in quantitative terms as a discussion on human potential – moral choices increase the potential, and immoral choices limit it. A ‘potentiality test’ is presented that allows value comparisons of moral choices to be made based on the depth of nodes in a decision tree, where a proliferation of future possibilities increases the freedom of the individual. In a more rigorous approach, morality is discussed from an engineering perspective, where transgression increases entropy in the environment, but wise choices build potential and order into the environment that allows an individual to thrive. Based on an understanding of entropy, a possible mathematical model for morality is discussed.The ultimate product of a process that proliferates future possibilities is an individual that is in complete control of all circumstance in the environment, or in other words an omnipotent being characterized by obedience to natural laws as described in Latter-day Saint theology.


“Transfiguration: Parallels and Complements Between Mormonism and Transhumanism”
Carl Youngblood, Chief Software Architect, Surgeworks, Inc.

Mormon tradition teaches that, throughout history, God has inspired and endowed humanity with knowledge and power in various dispensations or epochal transitions in the relationship between divinity and humanity. In this, the “Dispensation of the Fullness of Times,” Mormons believe that God has restored all the knowledge and power of past dispensations and will continue to reveal, at an accelerated pace, new knowledge and tools that will assist in bringing to pass the renewal of the earth and the immortality of humanity. Though the language employed differs, the advancements foretold by Mormon prophets bear striking resemblance to the trends predicted by Ray Kurzweil and other transhumanists. This presentation will summarize the parallels and complements between Mormonism and Transhumanism, and how these movements may benefit from a greater awareness of one another.


“Gaia, Mormonism, and Paradisiacal Earth”
Roger D. Hansen, PhD, Technology Specialist, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Mormonism provides the seeds for an extraordinarily proactive attitude toward the Earth as it evolves toward its paradisiacal glory. Latter-day Saint theology teaches that as man is progressing toward his/her eternal reward, so is the Earth. Brigham Young taught that we are co-creators of the evolving Earth, and that our participation in this terrestrial progression is part of our earthly sojourn and mortal test. I argue that the Earth is a living organism—Gaia—and rapidly progressing toward sentience, and that we are agents of many aspects of this evolution. This requires us as members of the Church to go past the role of stewardship to a more proactive stance. LDS Church members need a positive attitude toward the Earth and its future.


Afternoon Q&A:


“Spiritual Underpinnings for a Space Program”
William R. Pickett (with Scott Howe), Senior Hardware Engineer, Antenna Range Master, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

This paper presents a perspective that in addition to benefits in science and education, a healthy space program may also have significance from a theological point of view and may in fact be the result of divine inspiration. The development of space technologies for science and exploration has been recognized as an engineering achievement while at the same time described as an expensive visionary venture that distracts from more pressing human endeavors. However, a careful look at scriptural accounts, teachings of prophets and other church leaders, and our current knowledge about the solar system may suggest a different view, that the timing may not only be right for the development of this technology, but may be instrumental to the salvation of ourselves and our posterity. The paper suggests philosophical directions that may be worth further critical review.


“Welcome to the 21st Century: The Uncharted Future Ahead”
David H. Bailey, Chief Technologist, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory

The past few decades have been a time of breathtaking advances in science and technology. Our daily living patterns, and social institutions, and religious institutions have all been affected. Unfortunately for those who dislike change, the forecast is for more of the same – unrelenting, even accelerating change for decades to come. Nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and medical technology are all poised for dramatic advances. These developments will challenge our social and religious institutions as never before. What are the dangers ahead? How can we direct these developments for good and not evil? Such questions have particular import for Latter-day Saints, who have had a rich tradition of progress, as exemplified by the Law of Eternal Progression. To what extent are we (or should we) discovering the fundamental facts of the universe and building the kingdom of God with our efforts?


Panel Discussion: