1.9 Transhumanism, Eternity, and The End of Humanity in a Disenchanted Age

EPISODE SUMMARY:

In Season 1 Episode 9 of The Eudo Podcast, Dr. Paul M. Gould will consider how disenchantment has affected contemporary views of humanity.


EPISODE NOTES:

According to the Hebrew Scriptures, God made man “and crowned him with glory and honor” (Ps. 8:5, CSB). As divine image bearers, man is unique among all living organisms (Gen. 1:26). The honor and glory of man manifests itself in the human ability for language, art, and morality.

This traditional theistic perspective on humans is sharply contrasted with the disenchanted message from (atheistic) Darwinian science. Given disenchantment, man is insignificant. There is no God, matter is all that exists, and humans, endowed with reason, have appeared “lately and locally” on the evolutionary scale. As a result, there is no ultimate or objective meaning to life, even if we can find some momentary meaning in the things we do and the pleasures we find in the world.

Rise of the Transhumanist Movement

Given our theology, we know that man cannot rub out the longing for God. We were created to rest in God, as Augustine famously stated, and until we find our hope and happiness in God, we will be restless. So, the religious impulse is real and natural, as beings created by God. So, even as disenchanted society rejects God, they still long for transcendence.

What is transhumanism?

According to one of the movements leaders, Nick Bostrom, the transhumanist vision, is eternity itself, although on man’s terms: “Transhumanists hope that by responsible use of science, technology, and other rational means we shall eventually manage to become posthumans, beings with vastly greater capacities than present human beings have” [Bostrom, “Transhumanist Values,” 3-4]. We will achieve this utopian vision through physical and intellectual enhancements and the uniting of biological thinking and existence with technology.

What is so damaging about Transhumanism?

The first theological and philosophical problem with the transhumanist vision: the rage against the given.

As Vanhoozer colorfully puts it, it is no longer “survival of the fittest” but “survival of the best fitted;” and the goal of the transhumanist vision has moved beyond repairing to rewiring nature—a shift from making humans better to “make creatures that are better than humans.” [Vanhoozer, Pictures at a Theological Exhibition, 258].

So, the first theological problem with the transhumanist vision is its rage against the given. In other words, the posture of the transhumanist vision is a “boundless bid for mastery and domination”—but this posture is morally and theologically problematic, since it fails to cultivate, according to Harvard political philosopher Michael J. Sandel, an “ethic of giftedness,” an ethic that encourages humility, reverence, and gratitude [Sandel, The Case Against Perfection].

Theologically, the transhumanist ethic, with its boundless drive toward perfection and mastery constitutes an attempt to usurp God’s role by becoming God ourselves. It is the temptation to “be like God” that was with humanity at the beginning and led to the Fall in Genesis 3:5. In other words, the transhumanist vision is grounded in idolatry and the human temptation to be like God.

 

The second theological problem with the transhumanist vision is the rage against death.

Again, the ultimate hope of the transhumanist or post-humanist vision is eternal life itself, although on man’s terms, not God’s. Here in lies the problem, however. On the Christian story, the aim of never dying conflicts with the belief in the resurrection of the dead.

For the Christian, death is not the end. Rather, we look forward to the transformation of our bodies that will occur through Christ at the general resurrection. The Transhumanist vision, on the other hand, denigrates the body (with its hope of extending life by mind uploading to software or an avatar, representing a kind of Gnosticism) and wrongly assumes human or post-human perfectibility, including moral perfectibility, is possible on man’s terms (a return to Pelagianism). Technology cannot save us—only God can do that.


CONCLUDING REMARKS:

How ought Christians understand human nature? How can we join with God in re-enchanting humanity and seeing and understanding human nature correctly?

Two helpful points from Vanhoozer [Pictures at a Theological Exhibition, 273]

  1. Recover the Creator/creature distinction– the doctrine of creation tells us that God created everything according to a plan and for a place; humans are to be stewards, not sovereigns, nor co-creators (authors) with God. We are like God and we represent God, but we are not God.
  2. Recover the concept of a divine design plan– God created us to “keep and work” (Gen. 2:15). Importantly, recovering the divine design plan helps us know what humans are createdfor.

What is the end of man: communion with God through union with Christ—this is what man is created for —not eternal life on man’s terms, but human flourishing as God intended. This is our highest good and proper end.


RESOURCES MENTIONED:

  • Bostrom, Nick. “Transhumanist Values,” in Ethical Issues for the Twenty First Century (2005): 3-14
  • Carroll, Sean, The Big Picture. New York, NY: Dutton, 2017.
  • Sandel, Michael J. The Case Against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.
  • Thompson, Joel. “Transhumanism: How Far is Too Far? In The New Bioethics 23:2 (2017): 165-182.
  • Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Pictures at a Theological Exhibition. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016.

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