Evangelical Lutheran Theologian Advocates Transhumanism

I recently read Tom Horn’s article Are Church leaders abdicating the future of man to the Luciferian dead hand of the great planners and conditioners? I’m afraid they are not merely abdicating, some are actually advocating transhumanism!

In my research through scholarly theological literature,  I discovered a Lutheran based journal Dialog: A Journal of Theology which featured and article “The Animal that Aspires to be an Angel: The Challenge of Transhumanism” by Philip Hefner.  In this article, Hefner actually advocates the transhumanist pursuit as a Christian duty. The author is an ordained pastor with the theologically liberal Evangelical Lutheran (ELCA) denomination and retired editor of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science.[1] Accordingly, his writing exhibits a command of science. However, the article’s title referring to man as an animal compounded by his references to the Qur’an as a divine revelation[2] and Genesis as mythology[3] telegraph a freethinking worldview.

His position seems to be driven by a sincere desire to accommodate human progress and eliminate suffering, yet his conclusions are driven by questionable presuppositions. For instance, he holds an oxymoronic metaphysic of “religious naturalism.” He defines this peculiar term as “a set of beliefs and attitudes that there are religious aspects of this world which can be appreciated within a naturalistic framework.”[4] This sounds virtually identical to deism.  He also suggests that God created man deficiently so that we might pursue this techno-enhancement. He asks rhetorically, “Has God created us to be dissatisfied with our birth nature and to seek to enhance it?”[5] I think the scriptural answer to that is an emphatic “No”! One wonders where denial of self in the pursuit of Christ fits into his theology (Lk. 9:23, Rom 12:1). A Christian worldview entails the acceptance of some suffering (2 Cor. 1:5). John the Baptist understood that, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (Jn 3:30)

So how can a pastor maintain a straight face and advocate transhumanism?

To rationalize his endorsement, he proposes a caveat in the way of a distinction he deems “uppercase and lowercase” transhumanism. While it is somewhat arbitrary, the former entails enhancement to the extent of becoming post human (a new species), while the latter comprises a gray area which includes things like assistive medical technologies, cosmetic enhancement and life extension therapy. The author builds sympathy for the concept by offering his own pitiable medical history. The pursuit of healing is not the same as enhancement.  It seems wrong not to advocate the elimination of debilitating conditions or assistance for the handicapped.  However, the author’s emphasis on what he deems “lowercase” transhumanism avoids the more disturbing ramifications.

A major weakness in his argument is that although he acknowledges human sin, he doesn’t account for it adequately. He evades discussion of the potential for augmented human depravity via a post-human result. It seems that the majority of those promoting this endeavor are atheist/agnostic secular humanists.[6] If secular humanism is a religion, then transhumanism amounts to its eschatology. It is certainly not seen by them as co-creation with God. The implications are staggering. He identifies a central issue as, “the insistence that our original nature, received in conception and birth, is open to alteration at our own hands.”[7] Insistence is  never a wise posture to take with God.

What about gratitude?  How about, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well” (Ps. 139:14)?  Nevertheless, Hefner contends that to object on theological grounds imposes an unwarranted normative anthropology. He views it as the next step in human evolution. His theological justification is that transhumanism is a natural out working of man’s status as a co-creator with God. In other words, it is theistic evolution through human agency. In his theological conclusions, he goes so far as to claim:

To discredit this aspect of human nature is in itself an anti-human move, in my opinion. In a theological perspective, we have been given this nature so that we can participate in God’s own work of making all things new and fulfilling the creation. To discredit our God-given nature is itself a rebellion against God. [8]

This is astounding. Hefner identifies important questions like “what constitutes alteration—appropriate or inappropriate—of human nature?” and “where is the boundary between healing and improvement?” Yet he does not attempt to answer them. I shudder to consider the potential social implications between the haves (posthumans) and the have-nots (humans). There is much at stake and the consequences have not been fully explored or even imagined. There is too much equivocation in his argumentation. Assistive technology seems justified but it is entirely another matter to argue for what amounts to techno-Darwinism. Christians are supposed to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) not a transhuman Übermensch.  It seems to me that what he advocates as co-creating with God is actually closer to the delusion of apotheosis (Gen 3:5).

[1] “Rev. Philip Hefner, M.Div., Ph.D. .” Metanexus Institute. 2010. http://www.metanexus.net/AcademicBoard.asp?45 (accessed 11 04, 2010).

[2]Hefner. The Animal that Aspires to be an Angel: The Challenge of Transhumanism.” Dialog: A Journal of Theology, 2009; 164.

[3] Hefner. “The Animal,” 163.

[4] PhilipHefner. “Zygon at 40: the times, they are a’changing—or not?” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science. 2010. http://www.zygonjournal.org/40.html (accessed 11 04, 2010).

[5] Hefner. “The Animal, 162.

[6] Christopher Hook. “Transhumainism and Posthumanism.” In Encyclopedia of Bioethics (3rd ed.), by Stephen G. Post, 2517-2520. New York: MacMillan, 2007.

[7] Philip Hefner. ” The Animal,”  161.

[8] Hefner. “The Animal,” 166.

Secular Humanists Are Humans (part III)

While it is important to reassure a potential convert that becoming a Christian does not require one to check reason at the door, one should remember that secular humanists are humans. To share Christianity with a secular humanist one does not necessarily have to have a command of these rather complex scientific and philosophical arguments. Atheism is counter intuitive to nearly everyone. Even an anti-theist like Sam Harris concedes that, “there is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life.”[1] Like all people they suffer from the devastating results of sin. The bible tells us that “men suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). If we can help them to address their unrighteousness by pointing to Christ’s redemptive work, often their truth suppression is mitigated. They need forgiveness yet do not acknowledge it. We can offer them help dealing with addictions where secular methods fail. They struggle for love and acceptance like all other humans. It is important to share the love and unique message of Jesus Christ as many secular humanists have only a sardonic caricature of Christianity in mind. An ardent atheist will likely be suspicious that Christians view their conversion as a trophy. It is important to develop a relationship and to demonstrate genuine care before making an evangelistic appeal.

Once there is trust, a particularly useful approach is the moral argument along the lines of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Evolutionary explanations fail to adequately account for objective moral values. Given Darwinism, anything that provides for the survival of one’s own genetic material is deemed beneficial. So why is rape or murder evil, if you can get away with it?  After all, it reduces the competition and spreads your DNA. Yet we seemingly know that it is wrong. Furthermore, relativism amounts to mob rule. For instance, there is no objective basis to judge that the holocaust was truly evil. As long as the majority of Germans agreed with what Hitler was doing, then it was moral-relatively speaking. Of course this is repugnant to most everyone and indeed it is here that secular humanism has failed most miserably. Unparalleled scientific progress has not delivered a secular utopia. It has led to a human nightmare. The twentieth century world total is 262,000,000 murdered by government and largely outside of war in the pursuit of the secular humanist ideal of Marxism.[2] The problem of evil is actually a much bigger problem for the atheist than the Christian. The bible provides a coherent explanation for evil and most of all it offers a real hope (Rev. 21:4).

[1] Sam Harris. The End of Faith. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), 14.

[2] R.J. Rummel “20th Century Democide.” Freedom, Democracy, Peace; Power, Democide, and War. 11 23, 2002. http://www.hawaii.edu/powerkills/20TH.HTM (accessed 10 26, 2010).

Secular Humanism’s Inadequate Creation Myth (part II)

The secular humanist’s insistence on naturalism also poses a problem when it comes to cosmology. That the natural world had an ultimate beginning has now been firmly established by the big bang cosmology. Yet for naturalism to be coherent, the universe should be static and eternal.[1] Because our space time reality is contingent, the principle of sufficient reason or the scientific method would lead one to look for a sufficient cause. An infinite regress is irrational. Thus, a self-existent necessary first cause is clearly the best explanation. The only possible alternatives are irrational appeals to self-creation or that something comes into being without a cause. Unfortunately, this is exactly where secular humanism arrives. The famously brilliant physicist, Stephen Hawking, has recently argued, “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.”[2] In other words, to create itself, the universe had to exist, before it existed. This is nonsense. Fortunately for theists, the law of non-contradiction is still a necessary corollary for real science. It seems far more reasonable to assert that that which caused nature is indeed supernatural.

Secular humanists are particularly entrenched when it comes to the sacred cow of Darwinism. There are very good scientific reasons to doubt Darwinian orthodoxy but the majority of humanists are practiced in this debate.  It might be wise to address a more ultimate question like the origin of life. Evolution cannot explain the origin of life and Darwin never really tried. There can be no Darwinian evolution without reproducing life and to date there are no feasible theories as to how this occurred. But even if we grant evolution, it does not equate to naturalism. There are many theistic evolutionists like human genome project director, Francis Collins, who argue that the evolutionary process itself is evidence of God’s design. For instance, William Paley’s classic argument from a watch to watchmaker still holds. Far from being a defeater, evolutionary theory leads one to believe that we have found a self-replicating watch that makes improvements on itself in response to its environment.[3] That demands not only a skillful design but one with foresight. When viewed through this lens, evolution actually refutes naturalism. This effectively demonstrates that naturalism and scientism are inadequate.

[1]Geisler and Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2004,72.

[2] Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design. (New York: Bantam  Books, 2010), 14.

[3] Dinesh D’Souza. What’s So Great About Christianity. (Washington DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2007), 98 .

Secular Humanism’s Self Refuting Theory of Knowledge (part I)

Secular humanists are largely the product of the enlightenment and modern scientific rationalism yet their roots run deep. The bible speaks of God’s displeasure during the days when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 17:6). The fifth century BC Sophist Protagoras famously declared “Of all things the measure is man,”[1] and this still seems a suitable credo for today’s humanists.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with questions about knowledge and belief and related issues such as justification and truth. [2] A major problem for the secular humanist is their theory of knowledge. The secular humanist will invariably assert scientific consensus as the final word. According to Webster’s scientism is “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation.”[3] For example, Bertrand Russell wrote:

While it is true that science cannot decide questions of value, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.[4]

Yet this precept is self-refuting in that it is not itself established by science via data from controlled repeatable experiment. Science is limited. For instance, the scientific method cannot even discover why I baked brownies yesterday. Perhaps I made them for a party or a church social?  There is a truth to be known, yet short of me telling, science is impotent. God is a person, well actually three persons… much like the reason why I baked brownies, there is truth to be known about God, but it is up to him to reveal it.

Furthermore, science simply presupposes the rules of mathematics and logic, the uniformity of nature and the rational intelligibility of the universe. In fact, science is dependent on them as articles of faith. Yet given atheism, there are no epistemological grounds to assume a rational universe. Albert Einstein once marveled, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” However, theists believe that reality can be described with humanly derived equations because our minds are the product of the ultimately rational God who set reality into motion. Science is dependent on the theistic interpretation of an orderly cosmos.[5] Thus, there is a profound logical incoherence that undermines all of naturalism’s attempts to answer ultimate questions.

…to be continued

[1] Carol Poster. “Protagoras (fl. 5th C. BCE).” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. April 27, 2005. http://www.iep.utm.edu/protagor/ (accessed 10 26, 2010).

[2]C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 39.

[3] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Eleventh ed., s.v.”scientism.”

[4] Bertrand Russell. Religion and Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 243.

[5] Nancy Pearcey. Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. (Wheaton,Il: Crossway Books, 2004), 43.

Error of the Cults is the Evidence for the Church

We like to take pride in our accomplishments. Yet, the bible teaches that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” (Is 64:6). It seems very counterintuitive that salvation is not something you can earn with your good behavior but it is a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8). This is an idea that appears in no other world religion, unmerited grace.  Because this is just not the sort of idea men would come up with, I believe it is an authenticating characteristic of Christianity. Yet, surely our behavior counts?

Cults like Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses make good works the means of salvation. Joseph Smith was brazen enough to add to God’s word in his best selling creative work of fiction, The Book of Mormon. He wrote, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). You can boast in that! It is the way of the world and exactly what one would expect in a manmade religion. In converse, Christianity makes salvation the means of good works not the mechanism.

James the brother of Jesus wrote, that “faith without works is dead” (Jms. 2:17). He makes a strong case that faith is not some sort of “get out of jail free card.” Cults often use this argument by James to justify their works based salvation. It may seem that James is contradicting Paul’s teaching, yet really he is not. James’ point is not that works are the basis for salvation but the result of it. This is confirmed in Jesus’s teaching.

In John 15, Jesus teaches that he is vine and we are the branches. Branches are worthless apart from the vine, thus apart from salvation our good works are futile. Yet he says he chose us to bear fruit and that everyone who abides in him will. In fact, He taught that works serve as proof that we are indeed his, “bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (Jn. 15:8b) Good works are done out of joy, gratitude and love not fear. The primary work Jesus assigned us was to carry the Gospel to the nations and make disciples (Mat. 28:19-20).

Finally, works carry the message.  As Christians we are “ambassadors for Christ, God is making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). There are so many empty promises in this fallen world. Apart from our witness, how can anyone know that Christianity is true (Rom 10:14)? Actions speak louder than words. The way we carry ourselves is an important way the Holy Spirit authenticates the gospel to the outside world. In doing apologetics it is essential to be cognizant of not only 1 Peter 3:15 “make a defense” but to read the passage through to verse 17, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.“