Peter Thiel and N. T. Wright on Technology, Hope, and the End of Death

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It turns out that Peter Thiel quotes Hamlet.

For Thiel, a line in the play’s second scene throws open the pessimism that runs throughout the tragedy and, in his opinion, our current cultural moment. “Thou know’st ‘tis common; all that lives must die,” says Gertrude to her son, Hamlet. Her words are a cold comfort to the young prince, who is grieving the death of his father. All that lives must die. “At some level it’s a statement about reality. At another level,” Thiel postulates, “it’s a statement about accepting the rottenness that is in Denmark.” Death is a fact of life, Gertrude says. There’s nothing to be done. Get over it.

But Peter Thiel isn’t getting over it.

“Why,” he asks, “must we die?”

On a recent Monday evening in San Francisco, 700 members of the Silicon Valley tech scene swarmed the SF JAZZ Center for something of a fireside chat between Peter Thiel and N.T. Wright, hosted by The Veritas Forum. It’s not unusual for the technorati to show up in droves to hear from the billionaire technologist-philosopher Thiel, who co-founded Paypal, made the first outside investment in Facebook, and co-founded the behemoth private data analytics firm, Palantir (recently valued at $15 billion). He is one of the most successful tech investors in history, and has been called “America’s leading public intellectual” by Fortune magazine. Thiel’s fans have made his new book on entrepreneurship, Zero to One, an instant bestseller. But this Monday night he drew a crowd for an unusual reason: to talk about death and God with one of the world’s leading Christian theologians.

[Read the rest here.]


7 Comments

  1. Chris Yokel

    This was a fascinating discussion. I agree with the author, that we need more of these types of interdisciplinary conversations to guide our technological developments. The whole idea of uploading our brains to computers (the movie Transcendence aside) gives me an eerie That Hideous Strength feeling.

  2. Chris Yokel

    Just came across this quote from Lewis that seems pertinent. It’s from The Abolition of Man: “There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the ‘wisdom’ of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.”

  3. Jeremy

    Thanks Pete. Good read. Recently watched some episodes of Black Mirror which asks some of the same questions of technology, and have been surprised at the lack of Christian thinkers out there that are framing the same questions in a spiritual context.

  4. Jon Dostert

    This really was a fascinating conversation. So much to agree with on both sides. But I just love Wright’s response to the question of can we live forever, which was basically what about the sin? Living longer never reconciles the problem of sin or evil. I wish that question had been posed to Thiel in the conversation.

    It was just fantastic how well Wright presented the Gospel in that conversation through that topic.

  5. Aimee

    This article has haunted me this week.

    I am incredibly sad for someone who can believe that an eternity made by man’s hands (which is not actually possible as Wright pointed out) could possibly be better than the new heaven and earth created by God. I don’t even want to live 150 years on this earth, wrought with sin and pain.

    I read this article today, which follows along a similar theme of the desire to create eternity and the moral consequences of our seemingly limitless technology.
    https://www.circeinstitute.org/blog/methods-modern-s%C3%A9ance?mc_cid=4ec9a2f4e7&mc_eid=9307310c1c

  6. Lisa

    Really interesting, thanks for sharing! I recall an article from a long time ago in Wired magazine about the same idea except on the biological side of things – scientists working on extending life and enhancing life and getting caught up in the discoveries, without any one asking if it is a good idea to be doing it. The Great Divorce of faith and science as highlighted in the article. Sobering, to be sure.

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