What is Mormon Transhumanism?

Mormon teachings about human individual and social progress toward godliness connect with Transhumanist ideas about using technology to improve and enhance the human condition. Mormon Transhumanism embraces science, technology, and religion to work toward these goals.

What is Mormonism?

Mormonism is a religious movement founded and developed by Joseph Smith in early 19th-century America. Its formal, proper name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often abbreviated as simply the LDS Church. The name Mormon comes from The Book of Mormon, a new scripture which Smith claimed to translate from an ancient record with divine assistance.

Sketch of Michaelangelo’s Creation of Adam
Mormon theology teaches that humans have a divine nature, and that their destiny is to follow in the footsteps of God.

Mormonism teaches distinctive things about how human beings are related to God. While the specific theological details are sometimes unclear, Mormons believe and teach that God has undergone progress—has become more Godly over time. God was once a mortal person or community of persons who developed the traits of godliness.

portrait of Lorenzo Snow (5th President, LDS Church)
As humanity now is, God once was; as God now is, humanity may become.
Lorenzo Snow (5th President, LDS Church)

It is fitting then that human beings should strive for similar progress—to become more godly and god-like. For Mormons, progress toward a godly existence requires improvement at both the individual, micro level and the social/societal, macro level. As individuals and communities we strive toward godhood. Becoming like God, both the process and the outcome, is called theosis.

portrait of Joseph Smith, King Follet Sermon (1844)
God was once as we are now, and is an exalted person, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret.
Joseph Smith, King Follet Sermon (1844)

What is Transhumanism?

Since prehistory, humans have sought to manage and alter their surroundings with all manner of tools. Transhumanists argue that this is a core characteristic of humanness and should be employed ethically to build a better world.

Transhumanism is a growing intellectual movement grounded in ideas about using science and technology in deliberate, ethical ways to improve and even transform ourselves and the world. The term encompasses humanism, a tradition that places enormous value on human life, human flourishing, and human agency. Transhumanism adds to this by advocating that human beings should transcend our current state by evolving into something new, something effectively posthuman—something as different from what we are now as we are different from prehumans. Further, transhumanism holds that science, knowledge, and technology will play a crucial role in this evolutionary transformation.

Mormon Transhumanism

Mormon Transhumanism combines these two visions of potential human progress and the transformation of the human condition. Our potential to become gods is aligned with our potential to use science and technology in ethical ways to improve ourselves and attain a posthuman condition. We should use every resource at our disposal to improve ourselves and the world until we have achieved godliness.

What this means in practice is far from obvious. Which kinds of progress we should strive for and what practical means we should deploy to achieve them are strongly contested questions in both LDS and Transhumanist circles. Mormons and Transhumanists rarely sound alike when discussing and debating these questions. Our goal is to explore the areas of fruitful overlap between these traditions—to examine how being Mormons can make us better Transhumanists and vice versa.

One important point of commonality between Mormonism and Transhumanism is how often both are misunderstood and even mischaracterized by outsiders, particularly with regard to the questions under considerations here. Mormon striving toward theosis and Transhumanist aspirations toward the posthuman are routinely characterized as, at best, naive, pretentious, and foolhardy, and, at worst, hubristic, grandiose, egomaniacal, and existentially dangerous.

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned.
Doctrine and Covenants 121:41
Cover of DC Action Comics issue #381, published in 1969, in
which Superman has made himself the dictator of Earth
Limited human imagination often conceives of God as a benevolent dictator, whereas Mormon theology teaches that human redemption and exaltation depend on maximal power sharing.

Part of the problem here is that outsiders often understand Mormon and Transhumanist goals not only shallowly but through the lens of individual transformation to godlike capacities. They imagine both groups striving toward a vision of individual attainment of monotheistic, god-like capacities and abilities: all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal individual beings. Such a vision is seen as threatening both to traditional religious sensibilities and to many human ideals about democracy and community. It is routinely characterized as both un-Christian and dystopian.

While there are admittedly strands of thought within both Mormonism and Transhumanism that can reinforce these lurid stereotypes, in reality both traditions emphasize very different visions of the potential for human progress. For example, in Mormonism godliness is described as a social and relational trait: God is God by virtue of the qualities of relationships with other beings. The Mormon God does not create out of nothing but instead creates by organizing preexisting materials through tried and tested methods. Sustainability is one of the highest attributes of godliness, and God is often described as continuing to progress in both knowledge and influence. This means that progression toward godhood for Mormons can be framed in terms of improvements in useful knowledge, social progress, patience, care, trial and error, and sustainability. Excessive concentration of power in single individuals would make the type of communal exaltation described in Mormon scripture impossible.

That same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory.
Doctrine and Covenants 130:2

This vision aligns much more closely with actual transhumanist goals, while simultaneously moving away from the notion of individual superhumans with limitless power. And while there is no single, unifying, monolithic approach (indeed, there are many varieties) to maximizing human progress within either Mormonism or Transhumanism, we believe that the very best, most compelling approaches to achieving a posthuman condition from both traditions not only productively complement each other but actively subvert misunderstandings that underscore negative stereotypes of both.

Abundant human flourishing that is in harmony with our environment can be achieved through the compassionate use of science and technology.

Mormon Transhumanism is not about engineering all-knowing, all-powerful superhuman gods; it is about embracing knowledge from all spheres (including divinely revealed truth) and all forms of human progress (from restored divine authority to various kinds of modern technology)—integrating Mormon ideals of theosis with Transhumanist ideals of the posthuman—in order to transform ourselves, our communities, our ecosystems, and our total condition into something more humane, more just, more enduring, more good, and more powerful in the sense of eternally sustaining human life and human flourishing.

Questions for Discussion

  • What is “theosis” and how might Mormon approaches to theosis differ from more common monotheistic conceptions?
  • What do negative stereotypes of Mormonism and Transhumanism have in common with each other?
  • What are the potential risks and benefits of linking Mormon ideas of theosis with Transhumanist ideas around the posthuman condition?
  • How productive can the conversation between Mormonism and Transhumanism be?
  • What features of the Mormon vision of full human potential are most compatible with Transhumanism?
  • How might technological and scientific progress fit into a Mormon view of progress toward godhood?
  • What kinds of specific changes would human beings and human communities have to undergo in order to become more god-like?

Advance to Primer 2