Not Yet Been Made Known: Transhumanism and the Search for Salvation

It is a difficult problem with a large number of possible solutions.

For example… AI controlled machinery could be sent taking a very long time to get there. And while the longest we have kept embryos in storage is 30 years, it is not beyond imagination that this could be improved upon.

Far fetched maybe… but impossible? hardly. Most of what we have accomplished today looked rather unlikely in times past.

What difference does AI make? Embryo what? Nobody has a spare $trillion or ever will. Like everywhere else never has. We’ll detect life ‘soon’ enough in exoplanet water and biogenic oxygen. Nobody’s going there. No probe. Not unless we detect technology. And even then. How?

Good question. As a Christian, I’m committed to the claim that there is a different kind of reality than just the matter/energy of this order of things. But that in itself doesn’t commit one to the Cartesian dualism you describe. There are Christian philosophers of mind who are that kind of dualist, and there are Christian philosophers of mind who are physicalists (and a bunch in-between).

When I was hired at BioLogos and had to sign on to the What We Believe section, I asked specifically about #10, that human beings were created “as spiritual beings” (in addition to common ancestry with the other life on Earth). I wondered if that implied dualism. I think there are some good arguments for dualism, but I would not want to say Christianity entails it.

It is a long standing and complicated topic, so I don’t expect a concrete answer. Instead, our gut reactions to the questions transhumanism proposes is really interesting, as is the attempt to answer those questions in a theological or philosophical manner. The way society as a whole approach these questions probably says a lot more about us as humans than fanciful essays written by philosophers (no offense to philosophers).

One of the gut reactions we seem to have is that our DNA defines us as a person. We don’t seem to mind using medicine and technology that “fixes” our perceived genetic inadequacies, but we balk at the idea of changing our genome to attain those same outcomes. Why is that? Is our DNA more sacred than the body it builds? Is our soul or personhood defined by our DNA as well?

Another concept that often comes to mind is Ship of Theseus. In this scenario, each and ever plank and timber is replaced one by one over time. So at what point does it become a new ship, or is it always the same ship. I haven’t checked to confirm, but I think our bodies also replace each and every molecule in our body at some point in our lives (except perhaps for DNA bases in some cells), so are we the same person as we were in the past? If we start replacing neurons one by one with some sort of technology that perfectly replaces their function, at what point do we stop being the same person, or do we?

I don’t have the answers to these question, either. However, they are fun questions to contemplate, and perhaps they will become very real questions in the future.

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For me whats hard to imagine and what’s impossible is where will humanity be in 10,000 years. Why would I assume we could not have reached mars and colonized mars in 10,000 years. If we can colonize Mars, what makes me think it won’t be possible to reach the next planet. In 100,000 years why would I assume we have barely made and technological advances including ones that help with space travel. What’s illogical to me in concluding that we are near the height of what we will be on the evolutionary chain or as the peak of technological advances.

Reminds me of the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who was a philosopher and Jesuit priest:

I wonder what de Chardin would have thought of modern ideas of transhumanism.

I certainly believe that there are vast changes in store for us in future. And I don’t believe our humanity is based upon an identity of shape but upon a memetic inheritance. So for example, in Stephen Spielberg’s film AI I would say that those shown in the future are human because of what they have inherited from us and that their physical nature and the biological machinery of our bodies is not so significant that therein lies our humanity or their lack of it.

But I am not so keen on this idea of defeating physical death as if our Christian belief in a spiritual existence is nothing but nonsense. In that regard this sounds more like materialism, naturalism, and metaphysical physicalism. The physical universe is but a womb only and trying to remain in the womb forever does not sound like a good thing to me. BUT this does not necessarily mean that a longer life in the future is such a bad thing (provided we deal with the problem of overpopulation).

Principle #3. Technology IS good news, but not THE Good News. So we welcome all good news. Yes we will in the near future attempt to modify DNA to create amazingly ethical humans. Where St Paul says “The Spirit wars against the flesh and the flesh wars against the Spirit” - maybe that will be eliminated or massively reduced, e.g. the frontal cortex conquers the lower nature. Such a child may be closer to the image of Christ, as we have the archetype of the perfect human. If so, I say “bring it on”. Such a child will still (maybe moreso!) be aware of their limitations and shortcomings, and even if they find it easier to commune with the divine, they will still cry out with the old hymn “Come Down, O Love Divine”. Christians should welcome, and not hinder, nor be seen to hinder, the safe and effective deployment of such technology.

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@ JonathanGunnellCTA Hi. In my typical absolutist, skeptical way: As reason is the slave of the passions, all that will happen is that more reason will be used to justify the same old impulses. There will be extremely unpleasant unintended consequences. Human nature is as good as it gets. We need to become publicly, openly, nakedly cognitive of this.

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Welcome, Mr Gunnell. Is this your presentation on Christian Transhumanism? I found it interesting. Thanks.

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That picture of peace and transcending the predicament of our flesh seems to be a common longing among humans. We recognize that in our present state, our lives are finite and fleeting. We know all too well that life on this planet is precarious—that our bodies are susceptible to death both from disease within and accidents from the outside.

But we Christians have hope. And it is not just wishful thinking, it is grounded on the Word of God and on the work of Christ. We believe that this is not the end, that death has been defeated, that our bodies will be resurrected to new, imperishable life. That we will be reunited with loved ones, and with that great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, to live forever in the presence of God.

To many people in our culture today, that hope sounds like a fairy tale. Too good to be true. And they think the proper attitude is resignation to our lot—that we were an accident that arose by chance on this lucky planet, that we might get to enjoy ourselves for awhile if we were born into the right circumstances. But then we die. The universe will go on, barely taking notice that we were here. That’s just the way it is. No sense wishing for anything else.

Guilty. I have a hard time imagining how the essence of what we are, of what makes experience ‘ours’, could be transferable from the biological. It doesn’t seem to me that information and facts about us including our memories could ever amount to our corporeal sense of self.

I don’t think that recognition of our personal transience need be a cause for despair or nihilism. Rather it can be a motivator for recognizing how the personal, though finite, can still reflect and be a vehicle for the infinite. In the end, it isn’t all about me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t matter. It just means that what makes me separate isn’t the most important thing there is about me, and, that which is most important doesn’t end with me.

@MarkD guilty in that colloquial sense too. I find the transcendent impossible to imagine. How in any way we can be gloriously embodied; what physics, biology, psychology - reality - could be in paradise. Which is no sin.

There appears to be the distinction by Biblical writers that the “Leb” is unique to the “Adam” (I.e. human person). Whilst humans and other forms of life share the same “Ruah” (I.e. wind / breath) according to the author of Ecclesiastes; the “Leb” appears to only be used for humans throughout the Bible.

“Leb” is translated as heart or mind; they are interchangeable. It appears to be the thing that produces thoughts in a human. When God’s “Ruah” (I.e. breath) leaves a body, so too is the “Leb” (I.e. mind).

Where does the mind go when the breath is no more in a body? Does it get destroyed? Apparently not as Moses, Elijah, Lazarus and Jesus were all resurrected. So, at least their minds seem to have been stored or existing somewhere after death; and upon God’s breath returning to their bodies, they were the same person confirmed by other witnesses.

This “mind” appears to be distinct and unique to an individual person. So, the idea of “Lev” (I.e. heart / mind) could be better translated in the modern word, “personality”.

I think the latest Black Mirror “Ashley-O” (the one where the personality is duplicated, altered and put into another body) raises some of the issues with transhumanism. In nature, God seems to preserve the uniqueness of the personality by preventing duplicity (I.e. there is no evidence of two people with the same “personality” in the sense of the idea of “Lev”). We have already seen the potential and consequences of altering personality with examples like MK Ultra and mind-altering drugs in general; what if these effects could be permanent? What if you could program them?

Tools like this one could argue are better left inside “Pandora’s box” just like how many (including Einstein) argued against the creation of the Nuclear Weapons. Can you trust human beings with this kind of technology would be the question; is it possible to contain like our current Nuclear Weapons situation; or even the Internet that has orders of magnitude more actors influencing its mal-use. The knowledge of vaccine creation is used both for disease prevention and disease creation (bio warfare and virus mutations). Does the “bad” outweigh the “good”?

The inventors do not have a crystal ball into the future, they can only haphazardly progress their technology with assumptions that people won’t misuse it or only mis-use it a certain, predictable way once controls are in place.

In a way this is like arguing whether we should allow infants to learn how to walk because of how much trouble they can get into and even how much evil they can do with such a power. Trying to hold back such developments is both futile and wrong. Kind of the whole point of life is meeting such challenges face on and dealing with the moral conundrums they confront us with. Life is not and never will be a stasis and so this is as fundamentally foolish and insanely selfish as those who think it is a shame their children have to grow up. Not dealing with such challenges and trying to keep things unchanging is to choose death (of stagnation) over life, for the plain fact is that others will meet those challenges and bury us in the grave where we belong with such an attitude.

If drugs and other material things can alter the mind, what does this mean for the interaction between the mind and the body?

If we followed this train of thought we would be living in a pre-Stone Age society. I am sure that there wasn’t much time between the invention of the stone arrow head and bow for hunting and the first instance of someone being murdered by a bow and arrow. In fact, the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” dealt with this very theme, flashing between a femur club used to murder fellow hominids to a space vessel carrying nukes.

Yep that’s me. Glad you enjoyed it. I’ve just been listening to some Sean Carroll videos this Saturday morning and I can’t help thinking Simulation/Creation makes a lot more sense than his offering of more and more turtles.

Martin, I couldn’t agree more that human nature is what it is. Our hope though is transformation and bootstrapping ourselves into something better. This hope is found not only in Christianity but in many secular and other religious world views. I think we Christians offer the best and most applicable version, that the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) being abundant will improve our lives. Not make them perfect, we will still fail, but the continual contemplation of the person and nature of Jesus must change us in that direction.

Being honest about how much we lie, and how enslaved we are to our passions is the start of addressing that ultimate challenge, to bring our passions under the control of the logos.

Jonathan. Human nature cannot be ‘improved’ upon. Especially with Christian rhetoric. It can only be confessed and addressed. Starting with the helplessly privileged. Us. We have to use our higher animal morality to pursue equality of outcome. The arts of war for, as, in peace.

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A bit of an exaggeration? An infant walking is in a different category of destructive power than the technology at hand? Let’s go with @T_aquaticus example below, which is probably more relevant to the conversation.

Just a clarification, I am not saying that technology (such as the stone arrow head or other) is inherently evil or that humans cannot use and advance technology (who am I to rule society and impede on another’s choice?).

One of the key things I’m trying to point out is that once a technology has been unleashed on society; you cannot control it such that the people who want to use it will use it without impacting the people who don’t want to use it. This is what I mean by the haphazard nature of the inventor; ultimately, even in the most independent of research labs, the wealthy and social elite drive technological advancement, and not necessarily for the benefit of all. A truly democratic approach would account for all views on whether a technology should be unleashed, and ensure safeguards for people who do not wish to participate, or only participate in a minimal way: this is the personalist approach as opposed to the utilitarian.

I think in this case people can be free to make judgements as to the risks vs. benefits of the technology in the discussion, which I think the article is doing, rather than blindly accepting technology in the name of progress. Or trusting the wealthy and social elite such as Facebook, Google, Government, etc. in decision-making and risk-benefit analysis.

I recommend reading fellow Christian, Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society for an expansion on this position of acceptance (one cannot stop advancement of technology), but one can be cautious on the roll-out, and legalities of it.

Let’s take for example nuclear technology: Have a read of this opinion from Russian Nuclear Physicist, Andrei Sakharov and the effect of nuclear weapons testing on humans and the climate.

http://ph-tribune.com/article-reader/the-defender-of-human-dignity.html

In addition, who knows what Chernobyl, Fukushima and other nuclear disasters have done to our atmosphere and oceans. Of course, no ones going to fund the research on the impacts of these disasters because nuclear energy is more profitable…

But, I think we’re digressing; each technology is different and has its own risks and benefits to consider. The main content of my post was relating to what would be the safeguards to ensure that the issues presented in Black Mirror (there are many episodes related to uploading consciousness into the digital realm). The main issues relating to personality presented in Black Mirror are duplicity, alteration (either chemically or program hacking, maybe the Matrix is also some insight into this as well), and unauthorised deletion.

How would we stop and block bad actors? Would transhumans have the same rights and securities as humans, or would they be dependent on the humans managing and controlling the servers where their consciousness is stored. If we take the non-digital approach and go into the area of gene modification like in Gattaca; the current economic system privileges the wealthy and social elite, so what safeguards are in place such that we don’t have the “breeding out” philosophy from Eugenics driving the technological advancement (also see Black Mirror ‘Men Against Fire’ episode).

Again, so that we don’t get off track, the main emphasis I am making is the relationship between transhumans and human personalities; good and bad actors; and transhuman and human rights.

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From those…

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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