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)

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. You are right that none of the ethicists that Michael Cook mentions in his article are theologians. But you are wrong about my own position. So please me allow me to clarify: I certainly do not hold, as you claim I do, that creating superhumans is a good idea. On the contrary, I think it is not even a coherent idea. In the article that Michael refers to I attack Nicholas Agar’s view that superhumans would have a higher moral status than mere humans. It certainly doesn’t follow from this that creating them would be a good idea.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Thanks Michael, I appreciate your comment. I will amend to reflect that. I drastically oversimplified your position and I apologize. For the record, are you a theist, agnostic or atheist?

  2. Michael Hauskeller says:

    I don’t really know what I am, Chris. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I am not a theist, but I have nonetheless occasionally be labeled a “Christian philosopher”, which is probably because I share some of the intuitions that religious people tend to have.

  3. john B says:

    Cris: This is a lot of science-fiction babble and will never transpire.The question that you need to answer Michael is this; are you saved?

    blessings

    john b

    • Cris Putnam says:

      john B. It is already being done, it is transpiring now. Also, I think theism is a necessary prerequisite to the Gospel. Thanks for your comment.

      • Cris Putnam says:

        I received this email from Michael Hauskeller which further clarifies he is not arguing for TH rather he was arguing that Agar’s reasoning was flawed.

        No problem, Chris. That happens when statements are taken out of context. I feel that some further clarification is needed. Agar argues that 1) posthumans would have a higher moral status than humans (and would hence be justified to sacrifice us for their own interests) and 2) that therefore (!) it would be morally wrong to create them. But the thing is, and that was my point, if they really had a higher moral status (which I think they wouldn’t have), then it would not be morally wrong to create them. Note the “if”. So my point here was merely that Agar’s position is inconsistent. Apart from that, I’ve been spending the last four or five years arguing against radical human enhancement and the whole transhumanist agenda, which strikes me as both hybristic and naive.

  4. Mick says:

    Brother Cris,

    Thanks for once again drawing the attention of the sheep to consider the implications of man’s pursuits in science, in this case, to a presumably improved human being and its consequent improved world.

    If I may offer just a couple of thoughts, the firsts being that I respectfully do not agree with your assessment, “none of the thinkers mentioned are theologians, they are all secular philosophers. . . .Thus, the article’s title is an absurdity; this is not theological discourse rather purely secular bioethics.”

    In contrast, within the context of one’s worldview (weltanschauung), their secular philosophy serves as their theology, particularly with concern to the pillars upon which cognitive science has been built, i.e., their religion is science with man as both the means and ends to solving the dilemmas (state of man that) you’ve outlined in your above “assess the issue” paragraph.

    While I would assert that one’s theology drives their philosophy, it appears, at least on the surface, that these bioethicists’ weltanschauung reflect the philosophical framework of Boethius, particularly his proposition that theology is a subset of philosophy, with further subsets of that theology that address both corporeal and incorporeal. Indeed, I think this is evidenced, at least at first glance, by Mr. Hauskeller’s statement that others view him as a “Christian philosopher” because of the “intuitions” he shares with religious people.” In other words, Mr. Hauskeller and his peers seem to have limited themselves to operate within a Boethian-subset.

    Cris, I think you would agree that Ms. Hauskeller’s “intuitions” are an apparent affirmation of Romans 2:15 “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” In other words, Mr. Hauskeller seems to have “ears to hear” the voice of God written into his very being.

    All this being said, I think the title of the article is reflective of a theology, a limited subset of it anyway, which to me addresses the larger questions and outcomes of both the bioethical issue and JohnB’s question above within the context of Ecclesiastes 1 (no judgment intended Mr. Hauskeller). Further, this approach of man as both the means and the ends, results in the consequences that our Lord has decreed in Romans 1.

    In this regard, I believe it’s incumbent upon we Christians to elevate our fellow men above their limited Boethian-subset worldview to the larger Biblical worldview in which they are both seemingly encompassed and operating within. Their self-limited theology is myopic (again, no offense intended, Mr Hauskeller), as it misses the even larger truths that govern the ultimate ends of what they seek to do and why. We Christians believe the guiding principle in such pursuits of the bioethicists lies, in part at least, in Romans 14:23 “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” And we know that the wages of sin is death, and the only escape from that (spiritual) death is a relationship with Jesus Christ.

    On that note, Mr. Hauskeller, let me commend you that you have ears to hear the voice of the Lord written into your conscience (“intuition.”) Our Lord is speaking to you because He has plans for you–search out these truths that you may aspire to and achieve the greatest good toward humanity, to the glory of the God who made you for these very purposes.

    It is my prayer that you come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, which will result in the Holy Spirit living inside of you, the power of which will guide you to the utmost good that you can achieve, not limited to corporeal/temporal gains in this world, but also including the incorporeal/eternal ones written into the books of Heaven alongside your very name.

    Lastly, let me encourage you to (continue) to seek and not give up. Jesus says that if you seek, you will find, and if you knock, he will open the door and come into you. I must point out, however, that the contextual meaning of those verses is “keep seeking” and “keep knocking” and you will find and He will come into you. The good our Lord wants to do toward others through you by His relationship with you is far greater than anything you can achieve on your own.

    In His love and truth, I am the least of His servants–keeping you in prayer.

    Mick

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Mick, thanks for your comment. I agree that this is a worldview driven issue but my objection is based on the standard meaning of the term theology as “the study of God.”

      theology. The ordered, systematic study of God and of God’s relations to his creatures. There are many different types of theology. Philosophical theology attempts to discern what can be known about God without presupposing any particular revelation or church teaching as authoritative. Biblical theology attempts to develop theology out of the study of biblical texts, and it comes in more specific forms, such as New Testament theology, Pauline theology, Markan theology and so on. Systematic theology draws on both biblical theology and philosophical theology to develop a comprehensive account of God and his relations to the world. Dogmatic theology attempts to do theology from the perspective of the teachings (or dogmas) of the church or some specific church.

      C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 114.

      I don’t think it is coherent to say one does secular “theology.” It is an oxymoron.

  5. Mick says:

    My apologies for muddying the water, Cris–maybe I can catch the next boat? Blessings, Brother!

    • Cris Putnam says:

      No problem Mick, I am sympathetic to sort of idea you are arguing. In fact, I have argued that TH amounts to the secularists eschatology. It really is their hope for immortality and utopia.

  6. John says:

    Hey just a few thoughts about this:
    Humanity develops over time. There’ll be never a clear cut, where we can say: “Now we’re posthumans”. We ‘improve’ (some might argue differently), in some periods more, in some less. We already have implants, prosthetics and drugs which would term us, compared to humanity a sufficient time ago, posthumans. Would the accumulation of knowledge, education and the change of the human brain that comes with these both also fall in the category of ‘improving’ of humanity.

    So one of the premises of the discussion “”should mankind use biotechnology to create superior beings i.e. posthumans.””, and i dont refer to this article alone, is based on false conception how the world works. Its an evolutionary process. Of course you have to discuss certain elements, for example how to enforce laws that prohibit prosthetics that can be easily misused as a weapon.
    What do you think about that? Could you point out where in this line of thought i have made a mistake?
    Greetings, John

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