Those of my readers who are lucky enough to deal with kids on a regular basis probably saw Despicable Me, and might remember how one of Gru’s little minions reacted to a child blaming it for making a mess. Well, that was my reaction when I saw that Ray Kurzweil was named one of the 25 most influential atheists alive by the editors of SuperScholar. Quite a few of their choices are very hard to dispute. Dawkins? I’m not a fan of how he’s been made out to be “the atheist messiah” in the media, but yes, he’s immensely influential. Harris, Hitchens, and PZ Myers? Yes, yes, and absolutely yes. But the Singularitarian prophet obsessed with finding the key to immortality in the digital realm and whose primary occupation today is trying to predict the tech world’s future, often incorrectly? Again, I refer you to the minion for my thoughts on the matter. I really would think that SuperScholar’s own description of the man would make them think twice about this idea.
Author, inventor, entrepreneur, and transhumanist, Ray Kurzweil sees technology as fulfilling all aspirations previously ascribed to religion, including immortality. He argues that computing will soon outstrip humans’ cognitive capacities, at which point humanity will upload itself onto a new, indestructible digital medium (an atheist version/vision of “resurrection”).
I’d like you to focus in on that whole machines fulfilling all religious aspirations thing. See any red flags? Hold on, let me help. Ray is substituting miracles and the afterlife for mysterious future technology and putting his faith on the idea that technology will exponentially advance until he transcends his flesh. He’s an atheist in the same sense as a polytheist would be to a monotheist or a dedicated UFOlogist would be a to an astronomer working at SETI. Far from doing away with religion, Ray simply adopted technology as his savior, so much so that prominent transhumanists are starting to politely cough and say that there are other people who should be getting more attention than Kurzweil and putting the smackdown on Kurzweil’s loyal disciples. And this is our 21st most influential atheist in the world? A man who expects miraculous technology to descend to him when he’s on his deathbed and grant him eternal life through the power of Moore’s Law? Are you kidding me or are the editors at SuperScholar unable to read all the religious metaphors and references they had to use in his two sentence bio to explain his worldview and what he advocates?
Honestly, Ray’s influence is in the tech world and even then, it only seems to appeal to Silicon Valley big shot financers and CEOs who are really good at talking a big game but are so woefully self-absorbed they seem unable to understand where computer science is actually going, thinking that the Next Big Thing will rotate around them. The only connection I’ve seen between Kurzweil and atheism was made by Craig James and it was made erroneously, since he basically used Ray’s techno-utopianism to fantasize about how religion will simply vanish when humans are immortal because it would have nothing to offer. SuperScholar seems to be committing the same mistake, thinking that just because someone isn’t mentioning a deity when predicting a whole lot of amazing things that suddenly makes him an atheist and that what makes him an influential one is a following he gathered from promising his followers how they too will one day enjoy eternal life thanks to the transformative power of technology. Today’s efforts in the kinds of radical life extension Kurzweil says are just a few steps away from mind uploading are much more likely to kill you than free you of your flesh but his fans still follow his techno-gospel because he’s basically promising them eternal life by 2045.