Six Future Discoveries LDS Doctrine May Have to Handle

I’ve long thought that one of the advantages of having a church guided by modern revelation is that we Latter-day Saints don’t have to rely on finding ways to apply scriptural passages to technological developments in order to determine whether some technology or its use in particular ways is sinful or not.  For example, a church without modern revelation would have to figure out whether blood transfusions are sufficiently like eating blood that they fall under the proscription in Leviticus.  A church with modern revelation can provide a direct answer to the question of whether blood transfusions, in vitro fertilization, and many other modern technological developments are allowed under God’s laws.

Of course, there are many future technologies and discoveries that the Church has not yet had to deal with.  And I think there is the potential for some good science fiction stories there.  Since the Church has no revelation directly concerning these future technologies, what the Church’s position will be is still open.  So here are some science-fictional writing prompts:

  1. Physical immortality and eternal youth through rejuvenation — If researchers learn to reverse aging and cure basically any disease, human lifespans could exceed that of Methuselah, with death only happening through physical trauma via accident or assault.  Does the Church consider this just another blessing of modern medicine, giving us more time to do missionary and temple work before the Millennium eventually comes? Or does such unnaturally long life delay the resurrection to true immortality and eternal life to the extent that it is sinful to use rejuvenation technology?
  2. Mind uploads – If the human mind can be backed up to a computer, then even physical trauma to the brain may not be enough to kill you, as the physical structure of the brain (or even the whole body) could be repaired and your mind replaced from backup.  Alternatively, uploading a human mind to a computer may require destructive scanning, thus killing the physical body.  That would seem to be sinful, but if the mind lives on, is the person really dead?  Can a spirit be associated with a computer or robotic body?
  3. Non-human aliens — LDS doctrine has no problems with the idea of people living on other worlds.  But what about non-human but clearly sapient aliens?  Are they covered by the atonement and the plan of salvation?
  4. Neanderthal cloning — So far, we’ve only baptized Homo sapiens sapiens into the Church.  What happens when a clone from DNA extracted from Homo neanderthalensis wants to join the Church?  Neanderthal clones would not be genetic descendants of Adam.  Does that matter?  Is marriage between a Neanderthal and a human of the opposite sex prohibited?
  5. Uplifted chimpanzees or other animals — Whether through genetic engineering or brain implants, humanity may create animals with intelligences that rival our own.  (See Orson Scott Card & Kathryn H. Kidd’s Lovelock.)  Are they in need of salvation?
  6. Artificial Intelligence — Does an AI need salvation?  Can you baptize a robot?

Feel free to add other writing prompts based on future discoveries in the comments.

About Eric James Stone

A Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and winner in the Writers of the Future Contest, Eric James Stone has had stories published in Year’s Best SF 15, Analog, Nature, and Kevin J. Anderson’s Blood Lite anthologies of humorous horror, among other venues. One of Eric’s earliest memories is of seeing an Apollo moon-shot launch on television. That might explain his fascination with space travel. His father’s collection of old science fiction ensured that Eric grew up on a full diet of Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke. While getting his political science degree at Brigham Young University, Eric took creative writing classes. He wrote several short stories, and even submitted one for publication, but after it was rejected he gave up on creative writing for a decade. During those years Eric graduated from Baylor Law School, worked on a congressional campaign, and took a job in Washington, DC, with one of those special interest groups politicians always complain that other politicians are influenced by. He quit the political scene in 1999 to work as a web developer in Utah. In 2002 he started writing fiction again, and in 2003 he attended Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. In 2007 Eric got laid off from his day job just in time to go to the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has since found a new web development job. In 2009 Eric became an assistant editor for Intergalactic Medicine Show. Eric lives in Eagle Mountain, Utah.
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30 Responses to Six Future Discoveries LDS Doctrine May Have to Handle

  1. Alan Horne says:

    Well, I don’t know about eternal youth and rejuvenation, but the more I learn a about the inner underpinnings of computers, the more convinced I am that they will never obtain true, self-aware sentience, and that storing one’s brain inside a computer is more fantasy than science fiction.

    And I’m sure than the uplifted chimpanzees will be just as delicious as regular ones. I can even see them being served in casseroles at near-future Relief Society enrichment nights.

  2. 1. Isn’t physical immortality supposed to be the norm in the Millennium? Maybe this is how it will take place.
    2. Not gonna happen. The “mind” is a spiritual entity, inhabiting a physical body. When separated from the body, it returns to that God who created it.
    3. The entire universe is covered by the atonement and the plan of salvation – ALL THINGS will be resurrected. The only question is whether these aliens would be accountable for their actions and in need of repentance or not.
    4. What matters is the spirit child of God that inhabits the body, not the body itself. We are all “adopted” into the House of Israel. How is this any different?
    5. I don’t see this as happening, and I doubt God would send one of his spirit children to inhabit one of these bodies.
    6. AI: it’s a machine, nothing more. It has no soul.

  3. Michael says:

    Here’s one I was recently discussing with my friends: if the Mars One project is a success, and a colony is established on the Red Planet, could it eventually be the site of an LDS temple? Might it be a mission? (No pun intended.)

    I can just hear it now on a Saturday morning General Conference session… “…new temples to be constructed in the following locations: Beijing, China; Moscow, Russia; San Francisco, California; Tehran, Iran; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Damascus, Syria; Jerusalem, Israel; New Jerusalem, Missouri; and Station One, Mars.”

    Given that these initial colonization journeys are one-way trips, can you imagine your grandson getting his mission call to serve in the Mars Station One Mission, for a period of…forever?

    And it raises eschatological questions, too: when Christ returns, will He also have to visit Mars? Will the gathering of Israel be an interplanetary event? When the knowledge of Christ covers the whole Earth, will it cover Mars, too? Will Mars be renewed and receive its paradisaical glory?

    As an aside, do you think Nephi and Moses and others who saw all of the inhabitants of the earth, also saw the inhabitants of Mars? (Suddenly, the vision shifts, pans out from the earth, zooms in on Mars, and shows tiny colony…)

    In other words…how does our expansion beyond Earth affect doctrinal realities?

  4. Sarah says:

    This isn’t so much a future discovery, but I’ve always wondered what would happen to transplanted organs in non-resurrected people during the resurrection. Will those donated kidneys just fly out of people’s guts to their “original” owners? With all the generations of recycled biological matter on this planet, I suspect there’s going to have to be a pretty nifty solution to resurrecting EVERYTHING.

    Also, it might be kind of cool to be in a room full of taxidermy animals during the resurrection. Or kind of scary. :-)

    • Michael says:

      Hi Sarah,

      I know we’re veering off topic here, but I believe that the resurrection will not be a matter of the same specific molecules reconstituting into a body. We’re all made up of the same building blocks (primarily carbon), which is plentiful in the earth. There’s no need to try to restore the same precise carbon molecules when resurrecting – all carbon is fungible. Besides, throughout our individual lives we are each made up of a constantly changing set of molecules.

      So, I believe all resurrected beings will simply be brought forth from whatever matter is at hand, with no concerns about kidneys flying from one body to another, or dust from one grave flying across the globe to reside in the person’s home town, etc. (Consider those whose ashes have been scattered in the sea.)

      I think Heavenly Father is more ordered than that, with a very high level of scientific knowledge/ability that abrogates the need for clunky solutions.

      Just my two cents. :)

      • Scott Parkin says:

        Still a fun story idea based on the idea of material literalism that a great many people adhere to. Very Mormon.

        I’m with you in that we know that the cells of the body die and are replenished on a continuous basis, thus we are constantly in a state of creation and never a static unity of cells. (As a missionary in Germany, I realized that after about six months my body was at least 95% German at that point, though my mind and identity remained distinctly American).

        But what kind of interesting stories could generate from that idea? Ordinary material redistribution suggests that with every breath we inhale at least one molecule of air that Jesus once breathed—or Hitler, the Buddha, Pilate, Atilla, Ted Bundy, Joseph Smith, etc. Likewise, the food we eat might well contain (and thus our own bodies contain) remnants of decomposition from other people—that’s what dirt is, after all.

        So if our perfected bodies are (literally) formed from the matter of our imperfect bodies, an average person might well have generated (and sloughed off) many tons of organic material over the years—what might that look like at the Resurrection? Or we might share some material not only with other people, but with squirrels and aardvarks and a whole lotta earthworms.

        Not a question of doctrinal orthodoxy, but of conceptual play time. I tend to believe that God is quite clever and has a method worked out, even if I don’t know (or can’t imagine) what it is. In the mean time, it seems like the very essence of deep Mormonism to wonder and speculate and discuss pending the dispensation of further light and knowledge at a time when it’s useful and necessary.

        Some would see that as making light of serious things. I see most of it as incidental to the covenant, and thus fair game for imaginative consideration. Your mileage may vary.

  5. Scott Parkin says:

    Thanks for the fun list, Eric. From some of the responses so far it seems that many LDS will find overtly Mormon approaches to such stories doctrinally suspect, and the idea of literalism will be a block for pthers. It’s an interesting aspect of our culture that we (generally) tend to have little sense of humor around these kinds of speculation, but we do see more Mormon authors addressing precisely these kinds of questions.

    Quite a few of these have been handled (albeit in short form) recently by LDS authors writing for either the Monsters & Mormons anthology or for James Goldberg’s flash fiction contests. I especially liked Steven Peck’s “Avek, Who Is Distributed” as an AI take on baptism (an underlying idea resonant with your own “That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made,” though dealing with a different aspect of the question—mechanics vs. ethics/social responsibility). Interestingly, Dr. Peck also wrote about a Mormon temple on Mars.

    I’m one of those writers who tends to limit his stories to things I can at least rationalize (as opposed to justify) within a broadly Mormon cosmology. So when I wrote a vampire baptism story, I had to justify in my own mind a Mormon concept of vampire that was at least plausible, if not precisely canonical. When I wrote about four-foot tall, upright-walking, intelligent Christian ferrets (native religion, not transplanted from Earth) I had to rationalize both a universal atonement and what “in the image of God” meant in much the same way that many work to rationalize how Adam’s sons could marry women who were apparently not their sisters, and thus avoid incest.

    One of my early fascinations was with the human/technology boundary and how expanded medical technology plays in human spiritual development. Most of us carry significant external technological memory with us (I generally have 1-200 GB of storage in some combination of pockets on any given day); what changes when that memory is internal and directly accessed by the wetware? If Legion could transplant itself into the bodies of a herd of swine (forced spiritual cohabitation), could a lost or confused spirit occupy a sufficiently advanced computer—not unlike the rich Jewish traditional of spiritually infused automata (golems of wood or clay, etc). I’ve been trying to formulate my own “Beloved of the Electric Valkyrie” in short, medium, and long form for quite a while now based on precisely that idea.

    Very fun ideas that I think Mormon authors are increasingly comfortable tackling in story. Sounds like an excellent basis for an anthology of short fiction. I know I would love to sponsor and develop such a project through ArcPoint Media if enough Mormon authors were interested in contributing…

  6. Michael says:

    Wonderful comments, Scott. I’d be interested in contributing to such an anthology! :)

  7. Michael says:

    Scott, I agree it is fun to speculate on these things…things which are, as you say, incidental to the covenant (or, in other words, not relevant to our salvation and exaltation). I spend a fair amount of time with my two best friends pondering that kind of stuff. So long as it doesn’t interfere with the doing of things we should be doing, or in any way damage testimony, I’m all for it!

    And it can indeed be great inspiration for flights of fictional fancy.

  8. Wm says:

    Great list, Eric.

    I think there are nearer-future technologies that we need to think about as well:

    1. The possibility of artificial wombs
    2. Greater usage of more sophisticated and immersive virtual reality
    3. Broader more sophisticated use of gene therapy
    4. The use of robots for home care/life (including as companions [perhaps even as sexual companions])

  9. Michael says:

    I was shooting for a list of “most unlikely places.” How’d I do?

  10. Jonathan Langford says:

    Great list!

  11. Russell Asplund says:

    I always though aliens might be an interesting test for what “in His own image” means. Considering it covers pygmie’s and sumo wrestlers; harsuit Arabs and smooth skinned Native Americans; dark Africans and my own sunlight starved Norse ancestors, it already covers a wide variation.

  12. SusanS says:

    Neaderthals and h. sapiens likely mated and cross-bred. It’s been estimated that as much as 5% of Eurasian genome is from neanderthal ancestry.

    I personally reconcile the fossil record and the creation story by accepting that the garden of Eden is allegory, and that ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’ were likely a primitive man and woman set apart from others and given their divine dispensations to create a family for God’s spirit children on Earth. Many people don’t like this notion, I acknowledge, but it is how I reconcile my faith against scientific evidence.

  13. scott bronson says:

    Along the lines of a Mars colony:

    http://mormonlit.lib.byu.edu/lit_work.php?w_id=4630

    Also published in a collection, Darkness on the Edge of Light, from ArcPoint Media. From Michael Collings review:

    “…the protagonist of “And the Moon Became as Blood”—betrayed, the innocent victim of a vicious hate crime, and the sole remaining inhabitant of an evacuated moon colony—must watch helplessly as the earth destroys itself in burnings and nuclear storms, knowing even as he watches the conflagrations that he is seeing his own death sentence written in fire.”

    …and who later discovers he’s missed the Second Coming.

  14. Roger Layton says:

    As to item 6 above “Can you baptize a robot” I refer you to Star Wars Episode IV http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Oil_bath

    • Th. says:

      .

      After all, if wine can be water….

    • Scott Parkin says:

      At the risk of making serious of light things, a bath and a baptism are not quite the same. No intentional ordinance; no actual or claimed authority (note that Luke doesn’t earn his Jedi robes for another movie-and-a-half).

      One is not baptized by accident, though I would bet Lucas was well aware of the symbol and liked the imagery—enough to do it twice. Still, I saw it more as suggestive of the (soon to be master) washing his servants’ feet; a simple service suggesting compassion rather than an ordinance suggesting salvation.

      A practical (if also symbolic) cleansing, not a ritual one. Or so it seemed to me…

  15. Chris says:

    If you believe in human evolution, you can start going back from home Sapiens, to cro-magnon man, to homo erectus all the way to our common ancestor with the chimpanzee, and eventually to slime mould. I am assuming no one would baptise a chimpanzee let alone slime mould, though I’m sure through sign language a chimpanzee could request it. Then the question becomes, where in evolutionary history did man become special enough to have a soul in need of saving? Was it associated with higher functional brain development as some kind of secondary characteristic? If the soul is indistinct from the brain, when did God decide to give it to man, and when and why? It would be interesting if one of your prophets could provide some detail on that, though I doubt I shouldn’t hold my breath.

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