X-Message-Number: 7789
Date:  Sat, 01 Mar 97 14:56:13 
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Dave Pizer on Cryonics vs Religion

[Note: This originally appeared in *The Venturist*, 1st 
Quarter, 1997. Dave Pizer asked me to post it since I can 
do the necessary reformatting, etc. more easily than he 

Challenge to Traditional Religions
by David Pizer

Traditional religions may be causing the very terrible thing 
they are trying to prevent--eternal death for their followers. 
Typically, such movements promise their followers that if 
the followers do specific things (believe certain dogmas, 
take part in certain rituals, hold certain attitudes, etc.) they 
will be guaranteed an eternal, heavenly life after legal and 
biological death. However, in light of new discoveries in 
science, and new knowledge in the history of how religions 
came about, this traditional religious approach may now be 
causing the followers to miss out on eternal life.

*In a strategy for survival, as in other matters, the most 
important thing is to choose what is the truth and not just 
what feels the best. Choosing a false belief may bring a 
feeling of relief from the anguish of realizing that one is 
going to die someday but may distract the person from 
other actions that might really save his/her life and the 
lives of loved ones.*

Following is a discussion intended to encourage those 
with traditional religious affiliations to rethink the promises 
of eternal life and what the consequences for the followers 
may be if these promises are wrong.

I lay out the challenge in a very straightforward way.

In SAVE THE SOUL (2), I discuss what the soul may 
really be.

IMMORTALITY (3), I discuss new alternatives for 
biological immortality for humans.

I discuss a technology that is available now--cryonics--to 
help present-day humans get to the future and possibly 
achieve biological immortality. I present arguments that 
there is NO risk in trying for cryonics and a big risk in not.

HEAVENLY AFTERLIFE? (5), I discuss the prospect that 
there is not any genuine demonstration of a heavenly 

(6), I discuss alternative views that the universe is destined 
to end someday.

And last in the CONCLUSION (7), I point out that it is 
the Truth that is important and that traditional religions 
have a history of being wrong.


My challenge to traditional religions depends on a 
newly-developed practice known as cryonics. By way of 
background, cryonics means freezing people at legal death 
and storing them indefinitely at low temperature in hopes 
that technology of the future will find a means to restore 
them to a functioning, healthy state. Some prominent 
scientists such as encryption expert Ralph Merkle are 
convinced that persons frozen under good conditions and 
maintained this way (generally at the temperature of liquid 
nitrogen, -320 F or -196 C) have a reasonable chance of 
eventually being successfully resuscitated. Cryonics 
advocates imagine that nanotechnology--the controlled 
manipulation of matter at the atomic level--will be 
important in the repair and recovery process. Literally it 
should be possible to repair freeze-damaged tissue cell by 
cell at low temperature, and eliminate all deleterious effects 
of aging and diseases. (These occur because atoms are 
misplaced, not because the atoms themselves are damaged 
or unhealthy. All the needed repairs and reconditioning 
should thus be doable, if necessary, by repositioning 
individual atoms, though such fine-scale work may not be 
required.) Eventually a careful warming process should 
enable the tissue to resume its functioning.

My challenge can then be expressed as a very 
straightforward syllogism:

A. Since there is a chance that traditional religious 
philosophy may be in error and there may not be any 
Heavenly afterlife after biological death for humans; 

B. Since cryonics may work and provide a means for 
humans of today to reach the future and obtain biological 

C. Since there is new evidence that the Heat Death and 
Eternal Return Theories of the fate of the Universe may be 
wrong and biological immortals may achieve complete 

The only logical conclusion is that religions that really 
want their followers to obtain eternal life should quit 
guaranteeing their followers a heavenly life for engaging in 
certain religious acts. Instead they should encourage the 
faithful to practice cryonics--that is, arrange for 
cryopreservation at their legal (but before biological) death-
-as a backup plan in case traditional religious philosophy is 

Notice, that I am not asking religions to say that their 
traditional views *are* wrong, just that they realize that 
their traditional views *may* be wrong and they should not 
give a guarantee of a heavenly afterlife. They may continue 
to say they think and hope there is such an afterlife, but 
they should not guarantee one.

When we review the history of religions, we will see that 
most (if not all) of them have been wrong on major 
convictions in the past. Some of them have admitted it and 
apologized. It is possible that they are also wrong on their 
hope for an afterlife.


Many people have a feeling that they have or are a soul. 
They feel that their soul is separate and distinct from their 
physical body. They feel that it is composed of something 
that is not the usual matter and/or energy that exists in the 
universe that contains their physical body. They may not 
know what their soul is but they think it will survive their 
biological death and live on, perhaps forever, in some other 
place called Heaven.

Today there is another explanation for what a soul is. 
The other explanation is that the thing trusting people call a 
soul is in fact solely the complex workings of the human 
brain, and nothing more.

Historically people were unable to explain how they had 
feelings of self-awareness, memory, and the ability to 
create ideas inside their heads. So for lack of a better 
explanation, the concept of the soul came into being. 
Today, neurobiology describes how the brain can do these 
things and produce certain feelings. Simply put, the human 
mind has the ability to provide a sense of personal, self-
awareness or self-existence through the electrical and 
chemical processes that are produced and also sensed in the 
brain. Or put another way, the soul is the mind, which is 
the brain.

Recent research on neurochemicals is beginning to show 
that chemical events in the brain are what affect brain, or 
mental, states. This work demonstrates that the feeling of 
selfness or of being a soul is modifiable from state to state 
by simply modifying the chemical activity. 

So if it turns out that what was once thought to be a soul 
is only the brain, people who want to survive eternal death 
need to figure out how to modify their brain so that it does 
not die.

Many people think that in the near future, humans will 
learn how to end the aging process and keep their brain and 
body in a state in which it neither ages nor grows old. In 
the next section I will touch on how that might be done.


If a person can keep his/her body and brain in a state of 
optimum good health and where one neither ages nor grows 
old, then that person has biological immortality. That 
person will live forever or until an accident or disease 
terminates them. At present we can not do this, but there is 
much evidence that this technique will be available to 
humans in the relatively near future. Even though it is not 
available, it is not of merely academic interest. For 
presently there is a technology, available to us biological 
mortals, to reach the future and become immortal; that 
technology is called cryonics.

The new technology that promises to end aging and 
reverse it when needed is called nanotechnology. In the 
not-too-distant future, using nanotechnology to fashion tiny 
replicating assemblers, scientist-doctors should be able to 
build or repair anything from a brain to a computer atom by 
atom. It should also be possible to leave tiny devices in 
place inside human cells to keep these cells youthful and 
healthy indefinitely.

In considering the relationship of the brain and body, it 
is the brain alone that is the essence of a person. The rest of 
the body is a support system for the brain. The 
cardiovascular system supplies oxygenated blood and 
nutrients for the brain. The legs provide mobility. The arms 
and hands make it possible to grasp objects and perform 
many useful tasks. The digestive system provides a way for 
the brain to get nutrients. The eyes and ears provide a way 
to accumulate data, and to learn. So in this way, each part 
of the body can be seen as a way for supporting the brain or 
helping the organism to reproduce.

Until now, the meaning of life for humans was to live 
until the age of breeding ability and produce offspring, then 
live long enough to help them reach the age of breeding. 
However through nanotechnology, the human race is about 
to change the meaning of life for humans. The new 
meaning of life will be for the original organism to stay 
alive as long as possible. If this seems alien keep in mind 
that it is not so different from religious ideas of an afterlife, 
in which the human being attains a happy, immortal state.


The way some people are planning to get their brain to 
the future where this lifesaving future technology will be 
available is through the present technology of cryonics. 
Cryonics, as we noted, is the practice of being frozen at 
legal death (but not biological death)--to be unfrozen and 
reanimated in the future when more options are available to 
humans. The brain with or without the body can be frozen. 
Those who choose the brain-only option (typically it is 
head-only rather than just an isolated brain, for better 
protection of the delicate organ) expect to be provided with 
a new body through future nanotechnology. (Nature makes 
a human body in about 20 years from the information in the 
DNA of a single cell; we should be able to learn how to do 
this too, probably in less time.)

Having oneself frozen for future revival is not in conflict 
with religion. Nearly every major religion has tenets 
instructing the faithful to try to stay alive as long as 
possible. Cryonics is one way religious people can follow 
those instructions.

If a religious person also opts for cryonics, he/she is 
multiplying his/her chances to avoid being dead forever. 
Either cryonics will work or it won't; Either there is a 
heavenly afterlife or there is not. The following are the four 
possible outcomes if one opts for cryonics: 

 ONE: There is no God and cryonics works. In this case 
choosing cryonics saved you from death.

 TWO: There is a God and Heaven and cryonics works. 
If there is a God who is all-powerful, there is nothing man 
(cryonics, nanotechnology, science, medicine) can do to 
thwart God's will if and when God wants to call a specific 
person to Heaven. So there was no harm in trying for 
cryonics. And if life is a gift from God, the act of trying to 
extend that gift through cryonics would seem to be a 
demonstration of genuine appreciation for that gift.

 THREE: There is a God and cryonics doesn't work. 
Same outcome as TWO.

 FOUR: There is no God or Heaven and cryonics doesn't 
work. You are doomed. You didn't lose anything by trying 
for immortality and your attempt gave your life some 

No human can know God's mind. No human can really 
know if God and Heaven do or do not exist. If religious 
leaders claim they know everything for sure about God they 
are claiming to be God. On the other hand, if they admit 
they don't know all the answers then the only moral thing 
for them to say is that they think and hope there is a 
heavenly afterlife of some type but they cannot guarantee it. 

The concerned, ethical, religious leader will ask his/her 
followers to follow the religious tenets *and* sign up for 
cryonics. If it turns out that there is no God and no 
heavenly afterlife, then those who guaranteed their 
following an afterlife and caused the followers to reject 
cryonics will have done them the worst disservice possible.


People of the past were not stupid. But they did not have 
the tools to understand the universe as we are now 
beginning to. Many questions in the past were 
unanswerable at the time, so the causes of many things 
were said to be the work of God.

As man came down from the trees and then out of his 
caves, he began to realize that he was doomed to die as all 
the other people in his tribe and all the animals around him 
did. The thought of one's death (without a possible 
afterlife) can be a gruesome thing. Realizing that one is 
going to cease to exist causes a pain or despondency that 
most people cannot bear. Hence early man would feel 
comfort with the concept of religion. All organisms 
instinctively avoid pain and seek pleasure.

Today's religions are more fully developed philosophies. 
The basic justifications are revised versions of the old 
standards: the ontological and cosmological arguments, and 
faith in miracles, scriptures and religious leaders. I won't 
get into all the arguments here other than to say that a 
reasonable person will agree, after reviewing all the hard 
evidence, that the only reason to believe in a God or 
Heaven is faith. That does not mean that their God and 
Heaven do not exist, it just means that there is not the kind 
of evidence that we require in the field of science to declare 
something as proven.

Before the advent of cryonics, there was no risk in 
believing in a God and Heaven as one's hope of trying to 
avoid eternal death as there were no other options. Now 
that one has the option of cryonics and future advances in 
nanotechnology one has fewer options if cryonics is not 
also included in one's total survival strategy.

As mentioned earlier, it feels good to choose to hold a 
personal, religious belief of a heavenly afterlife rather than 
acknowledge no hard evidence for an afterlife and assume 
one's eternal death. Humans will often choose something 
that is very bad for them in the long run if it feels good 
now. Consider, for instance, how many nice persons get 
hooked on drugs. Young people with full and exciting lives 
often throw it all away for the pleasures of a fix. 

Another reason many people choose to believe in a God 
is that it feels good to submit to a higher power. Many 
people do not have the feeling of self-worth needed to give 
meaning to their lives and they feel much more fulfilled if 
they feel they are doing work for a greater being than 
themselves. However, it may be that protecting one's 
existence is the highest good one can do. 


Even if we can obtain biological immortality, some 
people think the universe might end someday, so at most 
we would gain a very long life but not true immortality, i.e. 
death must eventually follow. They point out that the 
universe was created in the Big Bang and will be destroyed 
in the Big Crunch (when all matter and energy come 
together again and the universe is annihilated).

Arguments like this cannot be dismissed, because there 
is much we still do not know. Some scientists now feel the 
Big Bang did not happen. Either way, our lack of 
knowledge means, not that immortality is precluded, but 
that it simply is not guaranteed. In fact there are several 
possibilities for immortality based on what we know and 
don't know. The case for the Big Bang cannot be 
considered closed--and even if it did happen, that is no 
guarantee that the universe must end in a Big Crunch (the 
evidence currently favors an open universe that will expand 
forever, which may allow immortality). 

It makes more sense to believe that matter and energy or 
some precursors have always existed and some form of 
these will always continue to exist, forever. It makes less 
sense to believe that the universe, or that something, was 
formed from nothing.


The conclusion is we must accept what The Truth really 
is as the crucial element and not what one wants the Truth 
to be.

Traditional religions may hold an answer for an afterlife, 
but they may not. No one can prove it either way. We do 
know that most if not all religions have made major 
mistakes in the past and had to reverse themselves and 
often apologize. The Church condemning Galileo because 
he felt the earth revolved around the sun rather than as the 
church believed at the time, that the sun revolved around 
the earth, is but one of many examples of how wrong 
religions have been in the past.

One has nothing to lose by making arrangements for 
cryopreservation at legal death, and everything to gain 
under certain circumstances. So there is only one main 
reason why a person who longs to avoid being dead forever 
would not sign up for this option now. That reason is that 
their religion has guaranteed them eternal life with a 
mystical, heavenly, afterlife concept, and so they believe 
that cryonics is not necessary.

Now is the time for all responsible religious authorities 
to inform their following that there may be some chance 
(no matter how small they think it is) that the religion may 
be wrong on the afterlife matter. They should then 
encourage their followers to obtain the additional 
protection of cryonic arrangements. 

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