Transhumanism and Theology

I’ve been reading Everyday Theology off and on lately, and it articulates what I find myself doing all the time: interpreting the world me theologically. The book consists of a dense programmatic essay by Kevin Vanhoozer, followed by many examples of the theological interpretation of the everyday on topics ranging from the Safeway checkout line to Eminem to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The chapter I’m reading currently is “Human 2.0: Transhumanism as a Cultural Trend” by Matthew Eppinette, which introduced me to Transhumanism.

Transhumanism, broadly speaking, envisions humanity as still being at a nascent stage in its evolution. Proponents wish to push beyond where we are right now through a combination of whatever technological means are available to us. They promote the development of these technologies in the hopes that we might become “posthuman,” a stage of evolution as far beyond humanity as humanity is beyond apes. The interesting thing is how religious the whole thing is. Taken from the Transhumanist FAQ §1.2:

It is sometimes useful to talk about possible future beings whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards. The standard word for such beings is “posthuman”…

Many transhumanists wish to follow life paths which would, sooner or later, require growing into posthuman persons: they yearn to reach intellectual heights as far above any current human genius as humans are above other primates; to be resistant to disease and impervious to aging; to have unlimited youth and vigor; to exercise control over their own desires, moods, and mental states; to be able to avoid feeling tired, hateful, or irritated about petty things; to have an increased capacity for pleasure, love, artistic appreciation, and serenity; to experience novel states of consciousness that current human brains cannot access. It seems likely that the simple fact of living an indefinitely long, healthy, active life would take anyone to posthumanity if they went on accumulating memories, skills, and intelligence.

One theological insight: Transhumanists have a fundamentally negative view of creation (what they would call “nature”): it is something in the way; to be dominated and bent to our will. It is not the way it should be and must therefore be fixed by using human ingenuity.

A proper Christian theology of creation embraces the material world as fundamentally good (fallen as it may be), and does not see our embodiment as something to be overcome. God affirms to goodness of the material world generally and embodiment specifically in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Christians can then, ironically, be materialists more properly than naturalists!

Any other theological (or other) reflections on Transhumanism?

6 responses to “Transhumanism and Theology”

  1. Ah, the way of the Cross and weakness as the only one to our true selves, radically dependent instead of radically independent.

  2. You nailed it, Matt. I wonder if the early Gnostics would have been Transhumanists if they could have imagined the technology.

    Christians with a proper view of creation have the ultimate hope for a sustainable future!

  3. Cam: good words brotha. So much of the technological project is an attempt to escape from dependence.

    Kathy: I would definitely say that transhumanists and gnostics would be bosom buddies. I’ll have to check out that short story.

  4. The problem I have with with this talk of ‘post-human’ is one of the same beefs I have with ‘post-modernism’ – I am distrustful of anything which can only define itself by that which it is not, in this case, what it seeks to replace. In the most general terms, ‘post-modernism’ is anything that comes after modernism, and it is this vagueness of the term which I find one of the most challenging aspects of refuting much of the nonsense that comes with it (and of separating out the good to be had from it).

    Ultimately, we will never become ‘post-human’ because the term ‘human’ _is_ the ideal. It’s much like what the word ‘fascism’ has become, but with the opposite connotation; in many ways ‘human’ just means that which is to be desired. In some form or another we will advance beyond our current understanding or experience or morality, or whatever, but we still call that ‘human’ and consider everything that was before ‘pre-human’.

    I realize that I’ve kind of missed the point of your post and instead of building on it, chose to harp on some silliness. For this I apologize, but still feel I needed to say it :)

  5. Ahh, tangential Trav. I am quite content with defining things negatively, so long as it is provisional and working towards more positive definitions.

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