Transhumanism: The Danger of Humans without Bodies

robot

by Andrew Yeager 

Transhumanism is the movement that awaits a revolutionary breakthrough in technology where a human personality is uploaded into a robotic body so that the human might live beyond bodily death.

Such a goal might seem too absurd and far-fetched. But transhumanism has its champions in the world of technology. Ray Kurzweil, a high profile transhumanist who joined Google as director of Engineering in 2013, is optimistic that man will completely meld with machines to achieve “technological singularity” and the age of partially robotic transhumans by 2045. Kurzweil predicts a new civilization–call it a social utopia–in which the lines that divide human and machine, reality and virtual reality, will be blurred. Humanity will achieve immortality through a kind of disembodied robotic existence.[1]

How can it happen?

Transhumanists see the brain as a machine. The brain is like a computer, and the mind is like an operating system on a machine that run on bits of “information” stored on our neural structures. If man is merely machine, then why can’t a person’s “information”— his thoughts, emotions and personality—simply be uploaded onto another machine? Much of the ideas behind transhumanism are predicated upon advances in artificial intelligence, a field where computers are developed to “think” and process information just like human beings.

Hollywood is jumping on the bandwagon, popularizing the dreams of transhumanism. In the movie “Transcendence,” (2014) Johnny Depp plays Dr. Will Caster, a leading scientist in the field of artificial intelligence. He is also the target of anti-technology terrorists. The terrorists do him a favor by mortally wounding him and giving him the chance to be the subject of his own experiments with the help of his assistants and his wife. Will Caster’s body dies, but he lives on as a virtual personality. This is the telos, the goal, of transhumanism.

Understanding the goals

To understand transhumanism, we need to have a firm grasp on postmodernism, the prevailing philosophy of our age. Postmodernism operates from an atheistic worldview and sees human beings as merely the chance products of evolutionary development. Humanity is malleable and subjective, always evolving and changing. There is nothing permanent about humanity. Human beings are nothing more than social constructs, the sum total of our subjective experiences. [2]

Because of this philosophy of the body, postmodernism sees no ethical problem with augmenting our bodies. If we don’t like the bodies we were born with, our bodily characteristics can be changed. The field of bio-engineering gives parents the ability to shop for preferred genetic traits for their children. Human cloning, artificial wombs and genetically engineered populations are all possibilities on the technological horizon. Transgenderism is humanity’s triumph over “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27; Mattt. 19:4). Our bodies might have once constrained us. But postmodernism heralds the triumph over the limitations of our creaturely existence.

It is interesting how postmodernism shares the same beliefs and goals of the ancient heresy called gnosticism. Gnosticism sees the body as the prison-house of the soul. With gnosticism, the goal of life is to escape the body and be translated to a higher spiritual plane of existence beyond creaturely-ness. The body is merely a stubborn obstacle to be overcome. Transhumanism takes one giant leap beyond mere cosmetic adjustments to the body. It seeks a humanity that is unembodied, unencumbered by the limitations of our mortality. Like gnosticism, transhumanism seeks a body-less humanity.

What does this mean for Christians?

Why has the transhumanist movement gained such traction in intellectual circles? Because theist or atheist, we are fundamentally religious creatures. The notion that life ends at death might be intellectually satisfying, but such a hopeless belief can never satisfy our souls. Even atheists crave religion, crave an eschatology, crave a hope for a future. Transhumanism provides such a hope.

Transhumanism substitutes faith in technology for faith in God. If we don’t believe the story of the God who conquered death for us, transhumanism holds onto the hope that we can conquer death ourselves. But that hope is an illusion. The dream of uploading one’s mind onto a robot to achieve immortality is the mere fantasy of individuals looking for comfort that they will never find apart from the Gospel.

If transhumanism shares anything with Christianity, it is the belief that death is an enemy to be defeated. What transhumanism doesn’t share with Christianity is the belief that death is an enemy that has been defeated at the grave of Jesus Christ.

And that is precisely the answer Christianity should give to the religion of transhumanism—the true Gospel of the Resurrection. The transhumanists are on a search for an immortality, but that search is futile, as futile as our first parents who searched for life apart from God but found only death. But the futile endeavors of man are not futile to God. What man seeks to do, God has done. The Son of God has defeated death for us. Christ is risen, and our future resurrection with Him on the Last Day is secure (1 Corinthians 15). On the Last Day, what is mortal shall put on immortality, and we shall live with remade bodies in a remade earth for all eternity.

In view of the Gospel of the bodily resurrection from the dead, who needs the body-less humanity of transhumanism? Christianity proclaims an eternal future with a body—a real, human, creaturely body—immortal, restored and re-created in the image of the New Man, Jesus Christ, free of sin and death, to live with God forever.

In view of the Gospel promise, the dream of humans without bodies, of our minds being uploaded into robots so as to live forever, seems less like a dream, and more like a nightmare.

The Rev. Andrew T. Yeager is pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Garrett, Ind.

[1] Edward Feser, “Kurzweil’s Phantasms,” First Things, (April 2013).

[2] Brent Waters. From Human to Posthuman: Christian Theology and Technology in a Postmodern World. Ashgate Publishing, 2006.

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6 Responses to Transhumanism: The Danger of Humans without Bodies

  1. Derek G. September 15, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

    Somewhere along the Star Trek continuum, an author wrote Dr. McCoy complaining that the transporter effectively killed you the first time you used it. Your molecules were broken down, and the pattern was sent to a receiver that made a new you from another set of molecules. But the soul was lost.

    With transhumanism, I wonder if the uploaded “mind” will actually be as robust as the original. Or will it be more of a duplicate, where current memories could be stored but new ones aren’t formed?

    There’s a lot of good sci-fi in the topic of transhumanism. But I’m not convinced of the potential. The “singularity” has more likelihood of happening.

  2. matt gregory September 16, 2016 at 1:31 pm #

    Technological progress is real and just as a caveman couldn’t conceive of ever flying between continents, travelling to the moon, not dying of most any infection humans today cannot begin to grasp what will be trivial and common to humans even 50 years from now.

    If you have the imagination to believe in the fairy tales of people who died millennia before science then you surely can look at the change around you and realize that humanity will defeat death all on its own and unlike your fear of death crutch “defeat” that one will be real. And you and your religion will seem as sad and primitive to them as you view the crude religions that preceded your own.

  3. Violet September 16, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    Interesting perspective, though it lacks awareness of the full potential in human augmentation. Transhumanists believe in the idea of morphological freedom, that one’s body is their own property and no one else’s. (Free will) So the fixation on uploading consciousness is unnecessarily specific. We will modify our biology radically, long before uploading becomes possible. This is in addition to the creation of synthetic organisms for human purposes. Christians ought to be wary of downplaying this as a near term possibility. Yahweh’s “creations” will seem quite wanting in comparison to those borne of human ingenuity.

  4. Charos September 17, 2016 at 2:46 am #

    This description of singularity is woefully inadequate. Transhumanists do of course consider the option of “uploading” consciousness but to limit the description ignores the wide swath of the field. Singularity for example can also theoretically be reached peace meal. The integration of technology and genetics over time. The transhumanist would point to the fact we are ALREADY doing this, we have artificial limbs, artificial organs, we perform skin grafts, so let’s say a technology comes along that increases is, or creativity, or memory by installing, neuron by neuron, nanomachines and processors in those centres of the brain? What if an eye can be installed that gives the blind vision by wiring it into the sight centre of the brain? At what point would a “human” cease to be human? When 50% of their body is computerised? 60%? If I lose my leg and obtain a steel one that happens to be superior to the original, how does that affect my humanity? If my memory is made more photographic and perfect, would I cease being human? Another means toward singularity is through genetics, or integrating consciousness in a gestalt manner in the manner we see in something like ghost in the shell or the matrix, being “plugged in” to one another. Another approach is sheer genetics, if I can have a child with a 170 iq and I choose not to, but all their classmates are genius level intellects,you think that kid with a 100 iq is going to thank a parent for opting to make them stupider than their peers?

    The fact is, we’re already moving toward this point very quickly, at the rate technology is moving we’re going to have computers that can pass the Turing test within 50 years or so, that isn’t a matter of IF, but WHEN…whether that intelligence is an integration of us, or pure ai, it will still be a sentient, thinking being…how we act toward it will speak as to the quality of our species…

  5. George Graham October 26, 2016 at 9:34 am #

    Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.

  6. Andre Ráth December 1, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

    As a person advocating for certain aspects of transhumanism, I think you have the definition of transhumanism wrong. You say transhumanists want to upload themselves into computers, and conquer mortality, but that is only a subsection of transhumanists. Some only want to remove genetic diseases, some wish for further integration with technology- Perhaps they have some crippling disability, and see their biology limit their potential (the blind can’t be pilots, even if a blind person wished to be one. The color blind can never achieve their full potential as artists). Still some wish for a longer life (not always immortality), so that they can do more good in their time on earth.

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