The major religions emerged in prescientific times. There is still wisdom there but we need to consider that a major motivation was rationalizing death as a good thing. After all, we had no alternative. But death is a tragedy. That is our instinctive reaction and that reaction is correct. In my view it is not death that gives life meaning. Life gives life meaning. The creation of knowledge in all its forms (art, music, science, etc.) and relationships gives life meaning. And death is disruptive of that.I get what he’s getting at. A lot of people out there are doing exactly what he says. But he’s got it wrong when it comes to at least one major religion: Christianity doesn’t consider death a good thing by any means—in fact, like Kurzweil, Christianity regards death as a tragedy. It is a reminder that things are not the way they’re meant to be—and Kurzweil’s right, we know that instinctually.
And, like Kurzweil, Christians don’t think life gets its meaning from death. For serious Christians at least, life isn’t defined by death but by Life—the new, abundant, full-of-meaning-and-purpose, here-and-now-and-later, joy-and-peace, deep-and-wide, taste-of-what-life-was-meant-to-be-and-will-be kind of life Jesus offers. By Christian standards, death is a mess-up, a not-meant-to-be—but one that is overcome-now and will-cease-to-be-then. But, unlike Kurzweil, followers of Jesus don’t find meaning in “knowledge in all it forms” (though I think art, music, science, etc., definitely reflect meaning) but by Life himself, by Jesus. And that Life must be lived in relationships, both to God and to those around us. That, Christians believe, is inherent in our make-up. It is, in biblical language, what we were created for.
Both Kurzweil and Christians believe death disrupts life-as-meant-to-be: eternal. Now, I’m not completely thick. I know that Kurzweil and Christians differ on a biggie: Kurzweil seems to believe physical life here-and-now is all there is whereas most Christians believe we are eternal beings who will live past death no matter what we believe (the choice being whether to embrace a life-meant-to-be or continue one-that-was-not). Many believe (and Kurzweil seems to be hinting he’s in that camp) that humans wanted to believe in eternal life so bad (and feared death so much) that we made it up (or rationalized it out) to make ourselves feel better or, at the very least, to avoid dealing with the painful reality. But, Christians have good, intelligent reasons for believing humans are eternal beings—a biblical record that stands up to scrutiny and the testimony of lives changed beyond comprehension, to name just two. Christianity is a reasoned faith, not a blind one. Just check out C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, or Scot McKnight for starters.
Enough of that. Here’s one other mention of religion in the session, this one regarding the “theological ramifications of such a fusion of man and machine.” Kurzweil responds:
I agree that this raises profound philosophical issues as to where the seat of consciousness resides. Some people dismiss consciousness as not a real issue because it cannot be objectively tested. After all consciousness is a synonym for subjectivity and there is a philosophical gulf between the objectivity of science and the subjectivity of conscious experience. But I do believe it is a real issue. After all our whole moral and ethical system is based on conscious experience.Ack. My head hurts. Kurzweil clearly has much more brain-power than I do (and that would be why he’s a respected futurist and I’m a lowly blogger). I’m out of my league on this one. (Heh, I know some of you are thinking I’m out of my league on this whole thing.) Someone smarter than me will have to wade through that one.
(Image: by Michael Lutch. Courtesy of Kurzweil Technologies, Inc.; licensed under the Creative Commons)