Transhumanism the Theologians ( really?)

By Cris Putnam
Tom Horn alerted me that the bioethics news site Bio Edge ran an essay “Transhumanism: the theologians” posing some interesting but troubling issues. The article presents an ethical dilemma: should mankind use biotechnology to create superior beings i.e. posthumans.

Transhumanism, at least in the Journal of Medical Ethics, has a distinctly theological flavour. In recent weeks several bioethicists have been debating vigorously in its pages about whether homo sapiens will achieve salvation by transcending himself, what the responsibilities of a transcendent being would be towards homo sapiens, and whether it is moral to create a transcendent being. It is vaguely reminiscent of mediaeval disputes about the genus and species of angelic beings and inquiries into God’s motives in creating the human race. [1]

By asking “whether homo sapiens will achieve salvation by transcending himself?” he begs the question of “what is meant by salvation?” and “saved from what?” Of course, the answer from a theologian would be the wrath of God against sin (Ro 1:18) but it is not exactly clear what the author, Micheal Cook, has in mind. I have argued that transhumanism is not compatible with Christianity here here and here.

The rest of the brief article juxtaposes the views of Nicholas Agar, Thomas Douglas and Michael Hauskeller. However, our first task is to challenge the title of the article, who exactly is being called a “theologian” and what sort of theology do they represent? In truth, none of the thinkers mentioned are theologians, they are all secular philosophers and it is not clear that one of them is even a theist. Thus, the article’s title is an absurdity; this is not theological discourse rather purely secular bioethics.

Of the three secular bioethicsists, two think creating posthumans is good idea (Michael Hauskeller corrected me below, he argues “neither are there sufficient grounds to expect radically enhanced human beings to have a higher moral status than unenhanced human beings, nor would it, even if they did, be morally wrong to bring about their existence.”) Douglas also argues it is not morally wrong. Agar takes the more sober position that it would be an extremely dangerous project. Of course, I think he is right but for the wrong reasons. First, I agree with Hauskeller that posthumans would not have a higher moral status, in fact, below I argue the opposite. Agar argues, “We should look upon moral status enhancement as creating especially morally needy beings. We are subject to no obligation to create them in the first place. We avoid creating their needs by avoiding creating them.”[2] I think this is somewhat correct but the problem is not that a genetically engineered human pumped up on drugs and other forms of enhancement would just be morally needy, rather that they would likely be hyper-depraved. Often, secular philosophers cannot reach the correct answers in these sorts of questions because they start with the wrong presuppositions. I believe this is a prime example.

Let’s assess the issue based on God’s revealed truth. Humanity is fallen and sinful. While Jesus recognized people can be good (Mt 22:10), he called his own disciples evil men (Mt 7:11). Without divine grace, the mind is affected (Rom. 1:28; Eph. 4:18). This isn’t a matter of making a few mistakes rather a fundamental ontology. The heart is deceitful (Jer. 17:9), the conscience is impure (Heb. 9:14), and humanity is naturally subject to wrath (Eph. 2:3). From a biblical perspective, this aggregate depravity affects the inner being and is the root of evil actions (Mark 7:20–23). Paul employs the Old Testament to demonstrate that this condition is universal and complete:

  “as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands; no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good, not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery,

and the way of peace they have not known.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.””

~Romans 3:10-18

The transhumanism project asserts that starting from this state of affairs; we should turn up the volume. That is the height of human arrogance and stupidity. We do so at our peril and it brings to mind “And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Mt 24:22)

Response to Part 2 of Why Christianity & Transhumanism Are Not Enemies

This is in response to Guillermo Santamaria’s follow up, Why Christianity & Transhumanism Are Not Enemies 2. Not only did Santamaria fail to engage my critique of his first essay, he followed the same fallacious line of reasoning. Santamaria seems to believe that two belief systems which have a few superficial things in common are necessarily compatible. He equates the transhumanist hope of immortality with the Christian hope. This is a misrepresentation of both worldviews and does a disservice to Christians and transhumanists alike. In this way, he is a lot like a religious pluralist.

A religious pluralist argues that all religions are equal paths to God.  Like pluralists, his arguments are all self-defeating. As an illustration, consider that most religions extend some sort of hope for an afterlife. Does this similarity mean they are compatible?  For instance, Mormonism teaches that faithful Mormon men become gods and are given reign over their own personal planet. Being an equal opportunity faith, their many Mormon wives get the privilege of birthing the new populations for said planet.[1] Of course, this bears little resemblance to biblical Christianity, whose hope is God coming down to earth to restore creation to its original Edenic state (Re 21). Thus, no one could ever coherently argue that these two belief systems are compatible, because they cannot both be right. They have superficially similar but ultimately contradictory hopes. Logically, they could both be wrong but under no circumstances can both be right.

In logic, the law of the excluded middle means that a proposition is either true or false.[2] Think of it in terms that there is no middle ground between a proposition being true and being false. Every statement has to be one or the other.  Its either you become a god and have celestial conjugal relations on your personal planet or believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ and you inherit a place in the New Jerusalem worshipping Christ (Eph 1:18).  It’s one or the other, the exalted man god of Mormonism or the triune God of scripture. It’s an “either or” situation, “both and” is not an option.

The same applies to transhumanism which is really just another alternative religious belief. The Bible commands Christians to question religious beliefs (e.g., Deut. 13:1–5; 1 John 4:1; Gal. 1:8; 2 Cor. 11:13). In my chapter, “Christian Transhumanism: Pandemonium’s Latest Ploy” in the new book Pandemonium’s Engine, I present an argument that transhumanism is simply the eschatology of secular humanism. In truth, it is the technocrat’s hope for an afterlife. Like Mormonism, it is an alternative to the Christian hope. Santamaria expresses it this way:

If the hopes and dreams of the transhumanists come true, eventually our consciousness or our minds will be implanted in a machine.

This will never happen. But the Bible presents the Christian’s hope as a resurrection body like that Jesus had when he was resurrected. Why would any Christian trade basking in the radiant glory of Christ to upload their consciousness into a paltry tin can?  1 Corinthians 15 is such a foundational chapter for understanding the biblical hope that I commend it to the reader for study. The intellectually honest reader will quickly see that it is clearly incompatible with the cyborgian fantasy of transhumanism.

“There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another.”(1 Co 15:40)

“Christ will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”(Php 3:21)

Santamaria quotes John 3:6 out of context and argues,

This principle was around long before Jesus spoke it.  Transhumanism does not violate it, rather enforces it and enhances it.

But John 3:6 is not an esoteric principle meant to stand on its own. When interpreting scripture (or anyone’s writing) it is essential to read paragraphs to get the flow of the idea being presented. The verse he cherry picked is part of Jesus explanation of the second birth to Nicodemus:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”(Jn 3:6–8)

If you believe Jesus, why would ever accept a tawdry substitute like transhumanism? In truth, Christians do not dread physical death (Php 1:21) as we have a radically different hope than the transhumanist:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. (1 Th 4:13–14)

Santamaria avoided all of my arguments addressing his first essay. Instead of engaging, he addressed a red herring:

Some will say that even if it were possible for our consciousness to dwell inside an artificial machine, this would be a rejection of the body that God gave us. But this interpretation cannot be correct.

This is not the Christian argument against transhumanism.  First off, the biblical position is that consciousness is tied to one’s soul and separates from the body at physical death. At that time, one will either go immediately into the presence of God or to judgment.  Second, he argues that because clothes are “enhancements” to the human body then any sort of radical enhancement is acceptable. Obviously this is a drastic over simplification, as there are wide ranges of possibilities with various consequences. My suggestion is it should be limited to healing and assistance of the handicapped. But radical life extension and the pursuit of immortality via consciousness uploading is not an enhancement. It’s a complete change in ontology. It’s becoming post human.  Please refer to my previous post, Transhumanism: Sin and Hubris.

But all of this is really academic for anyone trying to live the life commended in scripture. A follower of Jesus understands that mere vanity is the plague of sin. Transhumanism is narcissism taken to its most absurd extreme.  It misses the mark exemplified by Christ by a wide margin. In closing, I hope Santamaria will consider how transhumanism compares with Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Php 2:3–11)


Read more about it from me and my friends Chuck Missler, Tom Horn, Gary Stearman, Carl Teichrib, Mike Bennett aka “Dr Future”, Sharon Gilbert, Noah Hutchings and more! Get a signed copy of Pandemonium’s Engine here for $10.00


[1] http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/EoM&CISOPTR=4391&CISOSHOW=3667

[2] http://www.stanford.edu/~bobonich/glances%20ahead/IV.excluded.middle.html

Response to Why Christianity & Transhumanism Are Not Enemies by Guillermo Santamaria

By Cris D. Putnam

This is a response to part 1 of Guillermo Santamaria’s article at H+, “Why Christianity & Transhumanism Are Not Enemies.” While I want to make every effort to be charitable and represent his arguments accurately, Santamaria doesn’t seem to understand Christianity. I contend the philosophy of transhumanism is antithetical to Christianity in a fundamental way and I will examine his counterarguments. First, he defines Transhumanism in this way:

First we must state the main tenet of transhumanism.  Transhumanism’s main idea is that the physical limitations of the human body can and should be overcome.  The first goal is supersede the limitations of our biology, with the eventual goal of merging our bodies with machines, most likely the computers, rendering us cyborgs.  The ultimate goal of this movement might be the installation of consciousness inside an otherwise artificial machine.

While Christianity and TH may have similar goals, they are antithetical. Christians also believe that the physical limitations of our bodies will be overcome but I will show that far from being a compatible vision, transhumanism is an alternative vision. One elevates man, the other elevates Christ. Santamaria seeks to mitigate this hopeless inversion. His first argument is:

Just because some members of the transhumanist community are atheists is not enough of a reason for those who believe in a personal God to reject their research and results. No technology should be judged primarily on the metaphysical beliefs of those who developed it.

I have no problem with this. I would drive a car  designed by an atheist. So what? This is non controversial. He misses the point in that our argument is not that transhumanism is incompatible because atheists are involved, rather that its philosophy is atheistic. What exactly is God’s role in transhumanism? It offers a competing vision, it is an alternative to Christian hope. Do you trust in God’s promise for eternal life or would you rather upload your consciousness to a machine? They are alternative eschatologies, the law of the excluded middle applies. But of course, he does not see it that way and lays down a challenge:

The critical question is, is there anything in the goals of the transhumanist community that inherently goes against Christianity? We answer no and we will demonstrate why.

Of course he has already missed the forest for the trees, the fact that we have similar goals is exactly the problem! It is not the goals of the TH community but the means of achieving them. They want to achieve immortality by their own effort instead of trusting God.  This is the opposite of faith. Because he fails to recognize this, all of his subsequent arguments are all self defeating. He cites the account in John 11 of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead as support. He argues that Jesus chose life extension as his means to authenticate his Messianic status. Jesus was demonstrating his authority over death, so that one might believe in Him (Jn 20:30-31). But he was not advocating life extension on its own merits. To the contrary, the dominant overarching theme of Christian life is dying to self. John the Baptist understood this, speaking of Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease”(Jn 3:30). We die to self and selfish ambitious so that Christ may increase. While this is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, the Christian does play a part. In Romans, Paul extols both practice of virtues and avoidance of evils (Rom. 12:9, 16–17). Believers put to death the works of the body (Rom. 8:13) and present their bodies a living sacrifice:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.(Ro 12:1-2)

Transhumanism is about human augmentation and glorification. It is fleshly and worldly, a work of the body (Rom 8:13). Christianity is about humility and sacrifice.  It is of the Spirit. It calls one to die to oneself and one’s desires so that Christ may increase. Unfortunately, Santamaria has missed Jesus’ primary message for the Christian:

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”(Mt 16:24–25)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”(Jn 12:24–25)

This brings the incompatibility with life extension into sharp relief. Transhumanism is openly hostile to Christ’s teaching. Paul understood this and also taught it clearly:

“always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.(2 Co 4:10–12)

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.(Ga 2:20)

Furthermore, he fails to understand that the promise of God to the Christian is that the limitations of our physical body will be overcome not in a cold, hard, lifeless machine but a glorious spiritual body:

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.(1 Cor 15)

Transhumanism is a substitute vision for Christian hope. It is opposed to Christ.  In the sense that the prefix “anti” means “instead of” it is antichrist. In truth, it is attempting to supplant the promises of God through humanly contrived means. It is offering the same things but not through Christ, rather technology. It’s a very poor trade. Transhumanism will ultimately fail because it fundamentally misunderstands consciousness as I have written about here. Ultimately, Christians are in a process that makes the transhumanism seem tawdry and sad. Do not accept the imitation. I urge you to forego the faux, pick up your cross and follow Christ. Jesus’ message was not about life extension but being born again to a new life (Jn 3:3).

Read more about it from me and my friends Chuck Missler, Tom Horn, Gary Stearman, Carl Teichrib, Mike Bennett aka “Dr Future”, Sharon Gilbert, Noah Hutchings and more! Get a signed copy of Pandemonium’s Engine here for $10.00

The Singularity is Near!

The much mythologized Singularity which is said to be near by transhumanists is the point in time when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence prompting the exponential curve of technological growth to go vertical. The growth will be so rapid as to supersede our current abilities of imagination. You see, Ray Kurzweil and other transhumanists believe that through modeling the human brain artificial intelligence will become conscious.  In fact, he goes so far as to argue that machines will have spiritual experiences and will even worship:

Twenty‐first‐century machines—based on the design of human thinking—will do as their human progenitors have done—going to real and virtual houses of worship, meditating, praying, and transcending—to connect with their spiritual dimension. [1]

While one marvels at what precisely he thinks they would worship, he seems to intuitively acknowledge that consciousness entails a sense of the divine. While many may suppress the truth, people know in their hearts that God exists. God wired us to seek him. Solomon said it this way:

 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end (Ec 3:11).

Kurzweil has been challenged by John Searle the distinguished philosopher at the University of California at Berkeley. Searle has criticized the view that AI can become conscious with his “Chinese Room” argument which holds that software cannot give a machine a mind or true understanding, regardless of how cleverly it behaves.  Kurzweil responded to this argument in the last chapter of The Singularity is Near with some sound counter-arguments. While the debate is interesting, ultimately they are both wrong because they are arguing from a naturalistic worldview.

The scientific paradigm of materialism reduces humanity to a byproduct of chemistry and physics. But if my thoughts are merely chemical reactions, then I would have no good reason to believe they are true. Atoms and chemical reactions just do not discern truth. In this way, scientism (the belief that science is the only way to know truth) is self-defeating. The atheistic material reductionist view of consciousness is that it is an emergent property of the brain. This is the dominant scientific view point. For instance, even Kurzweil’s critic Searle has written:

The brain is a machine, a biological machine to be sure, but a machine all the same. So the first step is to figure out how the brain does it and then build an artificial machine that has an equally effective mechanism for causing consciousness. We know that brains cause consciousness with specific biological mechanisms.[2]

The understanding about consciousness in the case of artificial intelligence is that consciousness will arise from the material structure of electronic hardware as an emergent property.  Emergent properties are seen from a bottom up approach.

An emergent property is a property that emerges from a certain organization of matter. For instance, the taste of salt or saltiness is an emergent property of sodium and chloride when combined as NaCl or common salt. In this case, on the bottom we have subatomic particles forming sodium and chlorine atoms and then on the next level the matrix of atoms causes the property of saltiness to manifest. It is important to note that saltiness is an effect of the matter. Salty taste doesn’t change the salt. It is simply the property that emerges as an effect when the salt molecules come together. The matter is a cause and the emergent property is an effect.

Given the naturalistic worldview, spirituality and consciousness are merely functions of the brain. If that is the case, then consciousness is also on the top not on the bottom. Therefore it’s an effect not a cause. Accordingly, consciousness doesn’t cause things.  It’s simply the effect of fatty tissues, neurons and information. In the case of AI it is just a physical thing, computer hardware, programmed with software that allegedly produces consciousness. If the computer is producing consciousness, then consciousness is similarly an effect.

The problem is that consciousness is seen as the result of a purely material process. Being the effect it cannot also be the cause. If it is not a cause, then it does not make decisions or choices. Yet, the problem with that is, it seems that mental states do cause things. Think of it this way, you need legs to walk, but you’d never say that your legs are walking.  Another major problem with this is willful actions. It seems to me that I will something in my mind and then my body acts. In fact, I can imagine events in my mind that never physically occur at all. It seems to me that conscious beings do make choices. We do think about things and decide between alternate ideas and exercise rationality. This is what consciousness really means. Computers may mimic consciousness but they will never really achieve it.

Kurzweil’s dream of the Age of Spiritual Machines is logically incoherent.  His point of view doesn’t leave room for a soul that is a thing in itself with mental properties, but that mental properties are merely the effects of the physical thing itself.  The Christian view is that man is made up of two distinct substances: an immaterial substance (mind) and a material substance (body).  It is a top down approach in which you are not your body rather an eternal immaterial being that is having a temporal material experience. Evidence is mounting for this reality in the area of Near Death Experiences.  Look for a post on those coming soon.

If the singularity represents the event horizon of a major paradigm shift then I agree it is near. However, ultimately, the singularity is not at all what transhumanists expect. It will not mark the crowning achievement of mankind to godhood and the transcendence of machines. When it comes to human behavior, past performance is usually a good predictor of future results. A realistic view of history reveals that man is rapidly plunging himself into trouble. Some might even call it great tribulation. The real singularity will be when God decisively intervenes into the world in what is known as the Parousia or second coming of Jesus Christ.  Indeed, defined this way, I believe the Singularity is near:

Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.(Mt 24:29-30)

The singularity is near…  Maranatha!

מרנא תא

 

[1] Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence(New York: Penguin (Non-Classics), 2000), 106.

[2] Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (New York: The Viking Press, 2005), 329.

I modeled some of my argument after a similar one here: Greg Koukl, “When the Enterprise Got a Soul,” STR.org, http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5706 (accessed 8/05/2011).

Pandemonium’s Engine

I am privileged to be included in this new book release by Defender Publishing. My chapter is titled “Christian Transhumanism: Pandemonium’s Latest Ploy.” The term “pandemonium” has an interesting origin. It is the capital city of Hell in Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. I run a little theme throughout my chapter using quotes from the 17th century Christian classic throughout my critique of transhumanism and the theology and philosophies which under gird it.

In Paradise Lost, Satan and the fallen angels have been relegated to Hell and seek to mount a new offensive. In Pandæmonium, the capital city, Satan employs his beguiling oratorical skills to incite his forces. Aided by his lieutenants Mammon, Beëlzebub, Belial and Moloch they plot to overthrow God’s forces. The final strategy is decided when Satan volunteers to poison the newly created Earth and God’s new and most favored creation, Mankind. This is where an intriguing parallel with transhumanism comes into play as it has the potential to do just that. Not only could we create a posthuman species, germline genetic therapies could pass it down to the next generation permanently altering the human genome. The potential for a horrific outcome is real.

The American philosopher, political economist, and author, Francis Fukuyama, agrees, contending that “the most significant threat posed by contemporary biotechnology is the possibility that it will alter human nature and thereby move us into a posthuman stage of history.”[i] The potential threat is real and the decisions made over the next decade will have a deciding influence on the outcome. The theological and ethical issues are critically important for Christian thinkers to consider. This book is just one ripple in the pond of our culture. I pray it inspires many of you to think critically about the spiritual implications of the bio-technology revolution.

Pandemonium’s Engine

Thomas Horn served as editor in chief for this book by numerous experts in Bible Prophecy

Forward – Jim Fletcher

Chapter 1 – Pandemonium and “Her” Children, by Thomas Horn, D.D.

Chapter 2 – Nimrod: The First (And Future) Transhuman “Super Soldier”, by J. Michael Bennett, Ph.D.

Chapter 3 – The Folly of Synthetic Life: Genetic Tampering, Ancient and Modern, by Gary Stearman

Chapter 4 – The Übermensch and the Antichrist, by Douglas Woodward

Chapter 5 – Christian Transhumanism: Pandemonium’s Latest Ploy, by Cris D. Putnam

Chapter 6 – Transhumanism Enters Popular Culture, by Frederick Meekins

Chapter 7 – Man Becoming His Own God?, by Douglas Hamp

Chapter 8 – Transhumanism From Noah To Noah, by Noah W. Hutchings

Chapter 9 – Genetic Armageddon, by John P. McTernan, Ph.D.

Chapter 10 – To Storm Heaven; To Be Like God; To Rule the World, by Carl Teichrib

Chapter 11 – Pandora’s Box for the 21st Century? The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, by Chuck Missler, Ph.D.

Chapter 12 – Dragon’s Breath, by Sharon K. Gilbert

    Order the book for $10.00 plus shipping:





[i] Francis Fukuyama. Our Posthuman Future.(New York: Picador, 2002),7.