How to talk about transhumanism, H+ (human plus), and post humanism in the light of faith.
by Eugene Gan via Aleteia.org
We’re falling down a rabbit hole, and we don’t seem to care about the dangers rushing up at us. We’re talking about transhumanism, which at its most basic, is the idea that the human condition can be fundamentally improved through the use of technology (transhumanists want us to become posthumans, but in order to project a more attractive aura to the general public, have chosen the term “human+” or “H+” instead).
Nothing seemingly wrong with that definition, but listen to the way the current rhetoric on transhumanism, H+, and posthumanism takes great pride in extolling human accomplishments: Technology can guide us to a new era. The fields of robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, bionics, and genetics, to name a few, seem to be converging towards the goal of transcending human limitations. We can be better than what nature has done. We can proactively remake ourselves and steer our own evolution. Until recently, we’ve been dramatically reshaping the world around us, but we ourselves are now the objects of our own conscious design. If we’re not reshaping ourselves, then we’ll be overtaken by non-biologicalartificial intelligences. We are at the end of our definition of a human being. Transhumanism will define the new age of an evolved species that will leave mankind behind as a fossil in human history. Biops, the British Institute of Posthuman Studies asserts:
“The fact is, we remain shackled by our primitive Darwinian brains. Humanity for whatever progress we have made, is the result of an unguided, natural, 3.8 billion-year-long experiment of chemistry….[we must] fundamentally revolutionize what it means to be human by way of technological advancements.” The transhumanist FAQ, created and compiled by transhumanists and whose goal is to “provide a reliable source of information about transhumanism” provides insight into their idea of “religion”: “Some of the prospects that used to be the exclusive thunder of the religious institutions, such as very long lifespan, unfading bliss, and godlike intelligence, are being discussed by transhumanists as hypothetical future engineering achievements.”
This comment on the transhumanist site SingularityHUB resonates the public fascination: “Who doesn’t want to be smarter, prettier, healthier? Who doesn’t want to have wings to fly through the air, or gills to breathe under water? Are we stuck just being land dwellers? We spend most of our lives OBTAINING and MAINTAINING health, beauty, intelligence, etc., when we could be spending all this time and money obtaining and maintaining loving relationships with other people (transhumanists!) and going on adventures out to space exploring the universe, rather than stuck at home watching crap movies from Hollywood, going to school half our lives and drowning in debt because of it, and then just paying bills and taxes till you die. That’s no life, that’s SLAVERY.”
Ray Kurzweil, author of the widely recognized pivotal text in the transhumanist ideology The Singularity Is Near, and his outspoken adherents have grand visions for humanity, but the arguments for various transhumanist technologies often confuse the notion of morality. Genetic engineering, a key component in transhumanist thought, is “one of the most moral things we can do,” says Max More, self-proclaimed founder of the modern transhumanist movement. I can and so I should because I want to. My body, my choice.It’s all about me and my wants. These are the attitudes often presented.
If we can mix the genes of animals with the genes of human beings, perhaps with the initial charitable motivation to create organs for transplants, then as the transhumanists propose, we can also be designing custom human-animal hybrids: humans with wings to fly or humans with centaur-like legs, the imagination reels at the permutations, but far from utopic, this free-for-all menagerie demonstrates a failure to appreciate what it means to be human. And it can only get worse if technologically “enhanced” humans see themselves as superior to non-technologically altered human beings. Auschwitz all over again?
If we can design our own bodies, then what’s to stop the genetic design of babies? If this attitude continues, we won’t simply be pro-life. We’ll need to be pro-human! What’s to stop transhumanist artists from selling custom-made genetic designs of bodies that scintillate and mutate? Would you trade-in your current body for a Versaci-inspired one? How will the rich who can afford genetic alterations view the naturals? How will education change with the introduction of genetically enhanced students? Would individuals be compelled to be “enhanced?” Many more questions can certainly be raised. What are your concerns? Post them below.
Super-longevity is another key drive of transhumanism. But let’s be clear: we will not be able to conquer death. We may extend our lifespans, but death is inevitable. Transhumanists reject death as a given and propose that science and technology can one day overcome death. (Are these also the folks who hop around howling that the world is over-populated?) Some even assert that the Roman Catholic Church opposes the very notion of life extensions. This is clearly a myth that stems from another myopic myth that you’re either religious or scientifically minded, but not both. If the Roman Catholic Church were indeed so opposed to extending life, it would want people to die early and concurrently oppose doctors curing diseases and illnesses. Recall that the founder of genetics, Gregor Mendel, was a Catholic priest. By the same token, it would not bother to set up the numerous Catholic hospitals and other related organizations throughout the world which research and promote health and life. The Catholic Church did not proclaim your eye-glasses evil because it is a technology that enhances your eyesight, nor a paraplegic’s use of a prosthetic limb as unfaithful when one uses it for mobility.
Caritas in Veritate asserts: “Technology is highly attractive because it draws us out of our physical limitations and broadens our horizon. But human freedom is authentic only when it responds to the fascination of technology with decisions that are the fruit of moral responsibility (article 70).” The Catechism of the Catholic Church also affirms that “morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value. It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for it’s sake, to idolize physical perfection” (2289).
If we speak of using technology used to promote health and life, transhumanism and Christianity share a common bond. Jesus Christ himself healed many, not to mention raising Lazarus from the dead, effectively extending Lazarus’ life. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55)? St. Paul can compellingly affirm that because Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection opens the door to heaven for us. Death to earthly life can lead to new life in heaven with Our Lord. Jesus has taught us – and Mother Church reminds us – that death is not the ultimate evil. Rather, the ultimate evil is the loss of heaven, of eternal loving intimacy with God, for What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mark 8:36). The obsession with the search for the fountain of youth lies in the fear of death which is seen as a termination of consciousness, a fear which in turn lies in the rejection of God’s call to live in love with Him. This rejection of God is rooted in pride which manifests itself in an obsessive desire to be gods, an attachment to what will ultimately harm us i.e., sin, and an unwillingness to change our attitudes and behaviors. It’s also often accompanied by a denial of our fallen condition, and a blindness to the ultimate joy that we are called to.
Historically, we’ve done very poorly when seeking the power of a god without responsibility, love, justice, and mercy. The tempter’s words to Adam and Eve still reverberate in our hearts: don’t you want to be like gods? The more things change, the more they stay the same.
It’s also a contradiction in terms to claim that humanity can evolve into God or gods. The fact is that God is God because, among many other qualities, God was, is, and will always be God. There is no such thing as “evolve” when we speak of God because God is already “I AM”. God is infinite and it makes no sense to speak of something more than infinite. One would need to be self-causing and self-existing to even approach “god-hood”. Humanity clearly doesn’t come close to this definition, nor by their own definition of evolution, ever will. And just so that we’re clear too: God isn’t somehow “afraid” that we’ll be “gods” like Him. He did not strike Nimrod and the builders with confused speech because they wanted to build the tower that would reach heaven, but as a lesson in pride. In fact, God loves us so much, He wants us to be like Him – for our own good and joy (Matthew 5:48).
The problem with transhumanism (H+, and posthumanism) isn’t so much the technology itself, as it is the attitude that many transhumanists have. The attitudes within transhumanism seem to boil down to self-guided salvation: a narcissism coupled with the rejection of God. But without God, man fails to understand himself. “Reason without faith is doomed to flounder in an illusion of its own omnipotence (Caritas in Veritate, article 74).” Worse still, when one rejects God’s existence, it easily leads to rejecting the notion of a human nature created by God. This in turn says that there is no limit to dehumanization in our desire to engineer evolution and design the “perfect” human. Without God, there can be no logical consensus as to what perfection means.
In a sense, Catholics are transhumanists when we allow God’s grace to transform us into images of Christ. Yet, unlike some technologies, grace does not destroy human nature, but perfects it. The completion of that process of transformation of a life of grace is perfected in heaven. If transhumanists genuinely want to be like God and have everlasting life, then they really ought to come experience the love and joy that Jesus Christ offers to all, so that they can truly strive to live as sons and daughters of God (1 John 1:3), be like Jesus Christ, true man and true God, and enjoy life everlasting with Him.
Dr. Eugene Gan is faculty associate of the Veritas Center and Professor of Interactive Media, Communications, and Fine Art at Franciscan University of Steubenville in the United States. His book, Infinite Bandwidth: Encountering Christ in the Media is grounded in Scripture and magisterial documents, and is a handbook and practical guide for understanding and engaging media in meaningful and healthy ways in daily life.