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.

About Cris Putnam
Logos Apologia is the ministry of Cris D. Putnam. The mission of Logos Apologia is to show that logic, science, history and faith are complementary, not contradictory and to bring that life-changing truth to everybody who wants to know.

Comments

  1. Good post! It would be really nice if the Christian establishment would actually oppose something worth opposing (like Transhumanism) instead of justifying it in the name of staying relevant.

  2. Bob Caravan says:

    wow – the evangelical lutherans keep sinking to new lows! They approved homosexual pastors too.

  3. Philip Hefner says:

    Just a quick note. This posting is so full of errors and such an egregious misinterpretation of my articles that it borders on slander. I would think that the mind of Christ would at least enable a person to read with intelligent understanding.
    PHefner

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Perhaps you would care to provide examples rather than making vague accusations, as I documented my assertions quite thoroughly. I know you attempted to rationalize transhumanism by attaching it to medical technology but in the end you very plainly advocate it as a duty in the next step of human evolution.

  4. Mark Jump says:

    Yes would you please be so kind to explain and give some examples Philip Hefner? Cris Putnam has laid it all out for us quiet simply and I would like to hear your examples. Did not someone else have these same plans before…?

    Gen 3:5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

  5. carl buz says:

    Again all you idiots put all Lutherans in the same pot. Even you Steve Quayle for posting this so called Lutheran pastor views without posting a sidenote that this guys belief does not reflect most true gospel consertive Lutherans. Do your home work and you will see that not all Lutherans advocate sodomites as pastors. I am W.E.L.S. Lutheran and we are the true ultra conservative old school Lutherans. We are sick of the world grouping all of us together and i hate saying us. ELCA Lutherans are so far to the left that i just want to vomit when they speak. So stop using Lutherism as if we have the same beliefs.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Carl, I’m not sure who you are calling an idiot but I very clearly put EVANGELICAL Lutheran Theologian in the title of my post as well as very explicitly defined his denomination as ELCA. Not sure how you could have missed it?

  6. Philip Hefner says:

    Read it for yourself. I do not rationalize it; I do not advocate it. I do say there is something going on that is manifested in TH that should be engaged theologically.
    PH

    • Cris Putnam says:

      I did read your article and quite carefully as it started out as a graded assignment for a Masters level theology class. I agree it needs to be engaged theologically, but we have different presuppositions and I think yours are mostly wrong. I mean like “religious naturalism” …really? Perhaps Sam Harris will sign up?

      You do urge a degree of caution but it effectively amounts to hedging your bets. You are a good writer and skillful at hedging, I mean the rhetorical question “has God created us to be dissatisfied?”, should be answered, “Yes so we will seek God, not modify the genome!” But that’s not the point you were making, is it? You tie it to evolution. You say that TH is part of our nature and that it is unhuman to deny that nature. So yes your conclusions do advocate it as “co-creation”. I quoted you saying as much above. You also wrote,

      TH is not a set of behaviors that are external to
      our basic human nature, behaviors that can be encouraged,
      discouraged, or prohibited. A number of
      critics argue in this fashion, calling for cessation of
      these behaviors. These behaviors are not external to
      our human nature; they are embedded in its core.

      So according to this we can’t even help it… right Philip? Sorry, I’m not buying it. Accordingly, I disagree with your penchant for equivocation and the rather silly idea that God would be honored by us thinking we are “co-creators” to the extent of genetic engineering ourselves like Monsanto corn. Perhaps read or reread C.S. Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man” you are actively leading mankind right down that trail . Your arbitrary distinction of “lowercase transhumanism” is just a way to dance around the thornier issues. You asked the right questions, you just didn’t try to answer them.

  7. Philip Hefner says:

    Cris Putnam–If you read the last 2 pages of the Dialog article carefully, you will see that I relate TH to basic human nature, yes–and remind us that sin is in that mix. The references to Otto’s Mysterium are also important–opening the discussion to the dimension of he Demonic. Is this what you call “hedging bets”?
    As for Religious Naturalism–people who know me know that I am one of the staunchest critics of that movement.
    But I don’t think further discussion is fruitful. You claim to know what I intend even better than I myself. Your mind is made up; you know you are right and I am wrong; you file me under False Prophets.
    I suggest that you and your cohorts turn your venom toward other thinkers more worthy. After all, I am not so important as to deserve your attention.
    PH

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Yes, I still think you are hedging. And I wrote that I thought you had good intent and also that you acknowledge sin. I said you just do not adequately account for it. This hardly qualifies as opening the conversation to the realm of demonic,

      “Rudolf Otto described the
      numinous experience as one that shakes us to the
      core and is at the same time so alluring that
      we cannot let it go. He put this in Latin: the
      numinous is mysterium tremendum et fascinosum.”

      The numinous experience sounds like you are talking about God. Its a reference to a book The Idea of the Holy, how the reader was supposed to associate this to the demonic is beyond me.

      How can you say you don’t advocate it? What does this mean? “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.” How is the reader supposed to understand a statement like that in article about transhumanism? That’s more than rationalizing it — it’s elevating it to a God given mandate.

      I apologize if I was wrong about the religious naturalism but in your article I footnoted you described it and the used the pronoun “We” which sounded like it included yourself.

  8. Cris Putnam says:

    I think this speaks for itself,

    “These behaviors are not external to
    our human nature; they are embedded in its core.
    As such, TH is not first of all a matter of morality.
    Our existence as created co-creators who face the
    possibilities of TH is profoundly an expression of
    our human nature. For a Christian, this existence
    is rooted in God’s activity of creation and our being
    in the image of God. To attempt to excise it,
    prohibit it, or denigrate it is not only an exercise
    in futility, it is anti-human. It is an arena in which
    human imagination, hopes, technological skill, and
    quest for happiness encounter the mystery of the
    holy, of God.”

    The Animal that Aspires to be an Angel: The Challenge of Transhumanism • Philip Hefner p.166

  9. Mark Jump says:

    And we conclude for the day. Thankyou Mr. Speaker Cris Putnam, you may know take a bow before the Lord God, he thanks you and we thankyou!

    Great job Brother Cris,

    God Bless,

    Mark

  10. Mark Jump says:

    And may I add…..

    6:20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:

    6:21 Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen
    kjb

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