Friday, April 27. 2012
More and more I am seeing the assertion that transhumanism and Christianity are not only compatible, but that Christians can and should be transhumanist. Transhumanists know that to bring about their technological utopia, they need to convert the one group that has a real foundation with which to resist the transhumanist future: Christians. In fact, transhumanist Eric Steinhart wrote the following in the Journal of Evolution and Technology:
But transhumanism cannot avoid a fateful engagement with Christianity. Christian institutions may support or oppose transhumanism. Since Christianity is an extremely powerful cultural force in the West, it is imperative for transhumanism to engage it carefully.Steinhart comes armed with Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's book The Phenomenon of Man as a way for transhumanists to convince Christians we are all on the same team. With prophetic vision, the Holy Office issued a warning against the writings of Teilhard de Chardin in both 1962 and again in 1981 asking "Religious institutes, rectors of seminaries and presidents of universities, effectively to protect the minds, particularly of the youth, against the dangers presented by the works of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and of his followers."
Now a Presbyterian minister and professor at Columbia Theological Seminary is telling Christians that transhumanism is "inevitable." David Yonke writes in the Toledo Blade:
Welcome to the posthuman world. Everyone is smart, tall, good looking, free from disease, and, some predict, will live forever.Douglas is a bit ambiguous, but he encourages Christians to "Believe in a better future because God is doing something." I take that to mean that we are to embrace the changes that transhumaism will bring because it is the work of God. (Douglas also references Teilhard de Chardin's writings against which we have been warned.)
But let us look at the transhumanist future so eloquently reiterated by Yonke: everyone is smart, tall, beautiful, disease-free and will live forever. It this transhumanist desire to live forever that lets me know that this movement is not of God.
Living forever in this world means forsaking the most important part of Christianity: the eternal life with God in Heaven purchased by the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ. What better way for Satan to deny us this gift than to convince mankind we should live forever here in this flawed existence? That way we may never receive what God has lovingly provided for us, a place in His house for eternity.
But what about the rest of it? The "everyone is smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free" part? Well, the transhumanist really cannot ensure those traits will be available to everyone. Really how could that be? With billions of humans living hand to mouth, some without clean water, electricity or plumbing, how will we enhance everyone to be smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free?
The truth is that the smart, tall, beautiful and disease-free life will be for those who have access and can afford the technology, creating a two-tiered society where the enhanced will rule over the unenhanced. This will further divide the haves from the have-nots and breed discord and injustice. Two realities we Christians are supposed to work against.
The Catholic Church is very aware of this disparity that will come from going beyond using technologies like genetic engineering to heal and using them to enhance humanity beyond what can be accomplished by nature. Dignitas Personae states:
Some have imagined the possibility of using techniques of genetic engineering to introduce alterations with the presumed aim of improving and strengthening the gene pool. Some of these proposals exhibit a certain dissatisfaction or even rejection of the value of the human being as a finite creature and person. Apart from technical difficulties and the real and potential risks involved, such manipulation would promote a eugenic mentality and would lead to indirect social stigma with regard to people who lack certain qualities, while privileging qualities that happen to be appreciated by a certain culture or society; such qualities do not constitute what is specifically human. This would be in contrast with the fundamental truth of the equality of all human beings which is expressed in the principle of justice, the violation of which, in the long run, would harm peaceful coexistence among individuals.It is not the fact that transhumanists are trying to sell their wares to Christians that bothers me. It is the fact that I don't think Christians are well-versed enough in their own faith to realize they are being sold ocean-front property in Montana. I get as much resistance to my writings on enhancement and transhumanism from fellow Christians as I do from transhumanists. I have been called anti-American and anti-military for pointing out the dangerous transhumanist messages in Captain America. I have been told that there would be nothing wrong with genetically enhancing a soldier's eyes to have night vision because it would help our military. (Talk about reducing a person to a means-to-an-end. Don't violate a soldier's bodily integrity for the rest of his life so you can feel safer. Give him a pair of awesome night-vision goggles that he can take off at the end of the day and at the end of his career.)
I am not the only one who sees the incompatibility between Christianity and transhumanism. Wesley J. Smith, a much better mind that I, recently said it best. Smith wrote:
Christians certainly believe that they will indeed become a new (“glorified”) being–but not “post human,” and certainly not through human efforts. And Rev. Douglas also seems to embrace a trend I see growing within some Christian circles, which expediently conflates what I want with that which supposedly God wants for me.
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Hi, thanks for the article.
What would interest me is where you draw the line. Laser eye surgery? Steroid use (btw, thats imho a big problem in sports, that people would like to see super-human achievements)? Or is the line more between what is mandatory and what is not?
I draw the line where the Church has drawn the line with genetic engineering: therapy to bring about normal functioning for those that need it is good, enhancements to otherwise healthy people to make them "superhuman" bad. So laser eye surgery for someone who has bad or marginal vision is good, but pharmacology for a otherwise healthy person just so they can have abnormal amounts of muscle is bad.
Of course sometimes the line between therapy and enhancement is murky and grey, but such a line prevents outrageous enhancements like replacing perfectly good limbs with artificial ones or genetically engineering people with animal DNA.
The only form of genetic "enhancement" that would be moral, I think, would be if one were colonizing other planets and used minor gene-therapy modifications to make it easier to adapt to the new environment (increasing bone growth to make different gravity easier to live in, for instance). But that'd actually be therapy, relative to the new environment, so it doesn't really count.
"Man is a thing that must be surpassed" is a Nietzsche quote (I think it's in Also Sprach Zarathustra); it might be a tenable proposition but it is not compatible with Christianity—if human nature, death and all, was good enough for the Eternal and Unchanging Logos, it damn well better be good enough for us.
Nor, incidentally, is it compatible with Buddhism, another religion transhumanists have tried to make appeals to (to Buddhism's credit, few authentic Buddhist thinkers seem to have fallen for it). In Buddhism, after all, being reborn as a god—which is basically what transhumanists are after—is considered a "calamity", because gods, being immortal and extremely powerful, are likely to be blinded to the Cycle of Suffering that Buddhism is attempting to achieve release from.
Hi Rebecca. In some cases, it's Christian Transhumanists selling the Gospel of Christ to Transhumanists. That seems to be something you should support.
If you are so convinced that your faith is true, then what does it matter if we manage to create immortality, rid the world of disease, and increase human consciousness? According to your beliefs, God will come and wash away this world either way- whether we are living a "natural" 30 year lifespan(as God designed us to), living 80-100 years by developing and using vaccinations, cancer treatments and other such technologies(as we do today) or living nano-tech enhanced, brain interfaced "immortal" lives.
Your religion has always stood in the way of progress, yet, by the time it is irreversibly upon us(acknowledging that the Earth revolves around the Sun, that the use of drugs to cure illnesses is feasible and good) you brush it off, accept it and get on to the next thing.
Why continue to vainly try to slow progress? You should ENCOURAGE your fellow Christians to take up careers where they may take part in the effort to enhance humanity, to alleviate suffering, to abolish segregation and encourage the acceptance of others- whether or not you are waiting for an invisible God to come destroy it all has no bearing on whether or not we should enhance our lives to begin with.
Oh please leave your tired misconceptions about Christianity on other blog. They won't fly here. Catholicism has not ALWAYS stood in the way of progress as you so claim. Some of the best and most influential scientists of all time were Catholic monks, priests or bishops including the western pioneers of the scientific method (Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon), the father of modern genetics (Gregor Mendel) and the author of the Big Bang Theory (George Lemaitre) just to name a few.
We Christians are committed to alleviating suffering and the common good. We just shouldn't be buying the false utopia the transhumanists are selling. Transhumanism goes far beyond therapy to remaking mankind into something completely different. In the transhumanist world you will have to be enhanced just to be able to keep up. I call that a dystopia not a utopia.
Transhuman society will bring:
1. Not just free access to healthcare, but no NEED for healthcare.
Global acceptance and diversity- equal rights to gays, minorities, humans, transhumans, artificial intelligences, athiests and theists alike. All will be valued in a world where we are free to make our own choices regarding death and intelligence. Transhumanist doctrine explicitly requires and encourages this.
Each major social revolution- the industrial, scientific, iron, etc. - have led to an exponential and unpredictable increase in the world economy. The below-average citizen today leads a lifestyle far more luxurious and enjoyable than the wealthiest king of yesteryear. The "singularity," or whatever you want to call the transhuman revolution, will accomplish the same thing. The poorest, non-augmented human will lead a lifestyle far more comfortable than Bill Gates does today. How is this not desireable?
You don't want to accept my assertion that Christianity(and theism in general) stands in the way of progress? Fine.
The point is debatable- The benefits of a social revolution and an enhanced humanity are not, and your current disposition towards avoiding/stopping it is just evidence that the point I made which "won't fly" on this site is true.
You may see a world where we are coerced into enhancing ourselves and our children just so that we can keep up with the elites liberating, but I call it a tyranny of technology. Make better tools, yes! Develop therapies to help the sick and injured, yes! Start enhancing the bodies of otherwise healthy people to be more than human and that is something else entirely and will have devastating unintended consequences. Bill McKibbens is right when he warns us about starting down the road of enhancements:
"...if germline manipulation actually does begin, it seems likely to set off a kind of biological arms race.... Of course, the problem with arms races is that you never really get anywhere. If everyone's adding 30 IQ points, then having an IQ of 150 won't get you any closer to Stanford than you were at the outset. The very first athlete engineered to use twice as much oxygen as the next guy will be unbeatable in the Tour de France - but in no time he'll merely be the new standard. You'll have to do what he did to be in the race, but your upgrades won't put you ahead, merely back on a level playing field.
...So let's say baby Sophie has a state-of-the-art gene job; her parents paid for the proteins discovered by say, 2005 that, on average, yielded 10 extra IQ points. By the time Sophie is five, though, scientists will doubtless have discovered ten more genes linked to intelligence. Now anyone with a platinum card can get 20 IQ points, not to mention a memory boost and a permanent wrinkle-free brow. So by the time Sophie is twenty-five and in the job market, she's already more or less obsolete - the kids coming out of college just plain have better hardware.
...The vision of one's child as a nearly useless copy of Windows 95 should make parents fight like hell to make sure we never get started down this path. But the vision gets lost easily in the gushing excitement about "improving" the opportunities for our kids."
It is easy to make that argument, and I understand the concern, but the history of social revolution refutes that.
Whether or not one is a participant in a revolution, historically such occurences have increased EVERYONE's quality of life.
Lets say little Sophie ISN'T in the cutting edge, she's outdated. The social and scientific progress brought forward by those that ARE will drastically improve quality of life on Earth.
Sophie doesn't have to be born hyper-intelligent because the advances made by those that ARE will enable her to augment herself throughout her life if she chooses. If not, she will still benefit from post-scarcity, advanced medicine, widespread access to knowledge and new ideas.
I just can't understand why you would promoted Christians to unite against such a thing.
No revolution before has sought to change the nature of man. Previous changes have been in our tools not invasive changes to our bodies or our genetics. They do not speak to what transhumanism will bring.
Transhumanism, by its very nature, will negate the very foundation of our system of rights: that all men are created equal. In a transhumanist world, not all men will be created equal. The unenhanced or under-enhanced will be second class citizens to the ruling elite that can afford and has access to the latest body upgrades. Francis Fukuyama rightly points out that the first victim of transhumanism will be equality:
"Underlying this idea of the equality of rights is the belief that we all possess a human essence that dwarfs manifest differences in skin color, beauty, and even intelligence. This essence, and the view that individuals therefore have inherent value, is at the heart of political liberalism. But modifying that essence is the core of the transhumanist project. If we start transforming ourselves into something superior, what rights will these enhanced creatures claim, and what rights will they possess when compared to those left behind? If some move ahead, can anyone afford not to follow? These questions are troubling enough within rich, developed societies. Add in the implications for citizens of the world's poorest countries -- for whom biotechnology's marvels likely will be out of reach -- and the threat to the idea of equality becomes even more menacing."
You keep suggesting that I am anti-progress, which is not the case. I am anti-philosophies that will inherently make the poor and weak by their very NATURE inferior to elites who can afford to "upgrade" their bodies and rule over the lower classes. Transhumanism is a philosophy that fundamentally rejects the equality of all men because it rejects the nature of men.
There are ways to advance technology other than to assume humans need to be transformed into something other than human. Ways that will benefit all without relegating the unenhanced to second class status.
There is nothing that will benefit "all" at the same time. Whether we are inventing a cure for aids, a polio vaccine, daily vitamins or brain-computer interfaces, the poor will always be last on scene.
The Bible story of "The Tower of Babble" is a rich example(for those who believe it) of what God knows mankind can accomplish. He says that, if man continues to collaberate together as a united world with one language, "Nothing will be impossible for them." (He then goes on to interfere by dividing mankind into a people of many languages, effectively delaying progress for thousands of years)
There it is, from the lips of your own Lord: Nothing is beyond mankind.
Global prosperity, happiness, wealth, advanced knowledge, and longetivity are all achievable.
I personally don't believe that changing our "nature" is bad. Not everything that is natural is good. Disease is natural, 30-50 year life spans are natural, and hatred is a natural human emotion.
By what means do you aim to prevent or resist the development of technology anyway? And you can't say you don't want to resist it- at this point the only possible advancements over the next 20 years in most scientific fields will be to move from "care" to "prevention."
Once brain computer interfaces are developed to the point where they enable the blind to see and the paralyzed to walk again, what would stop us from using them and other technologies to augment and extend our already un-naturally long and healthy lifespans?
Christians unite against the evil and devil of transhumanism. Stand united to fight the final war against this evil that will destroy us all. No human and no Christian should support transhumanism, technical immortality andc genetic manipulation. Transhumanists are no humans so it is only right to eliminate them. I wonder that you guys are not doing more about this!!!
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