Can Christian Ethics Save Transhumanism?J. R. Miller looks at the idea that the mission to self-evolve through technology is “the definitive Christian commitment.”
In my recent article detailing the deadly dream of transhumanism (H+), I showed that when human personhood is treated as a contingent property tied to the process of unguided natural selection, there remains no definitive answer to the question, “What does it mean to be human?”
With nature as the starting point, morality itself becomes a fluid concept which must evolve as humans use technology to achieve post-humanity. The moral implications are severe. The risk that some people may be harmed, suffer, or die during medical experiments is outweighed by the transhumanist perception of a greater social good that advances the species. But what about Christians who embrace H+? Can the Christian ethic save H+?
Some Christians today leverage their theology to advance the transhumanist goal of using technology to help us evolve beyond the current limits of our humanness. In the book Transhumanism and Transcendence (Georgetown University Press, 2011), editor Ronald Cole-Turner presents a collection of essays from several Christian Transhumanists. While each author offers something unique, each one shares the neo-Darwinian narrative of animal to human evolution as the foundation for understanding human origins. Each author rejects the traditional Christian view that God created humanity with a fixed and final human nature and accepts, “the transhumanist starting point that biological organisms, including human beings, are evolved, changing, and possibly changeable, perhaps even through technological intervention.”1
Cole-Turner reframes Christian anthropology in H+ terms to argue that,
long before Darwin or any of the precursors of modern evolutionary thinking, Christianity saw humanity as malleable, reshapable in our very nature over time through the effects of sin and the grace of redemption. Malleability is the presupposition for redemption; a humanity that cannot be changed cannot be redeemed.2
To be clear, the kind of change Cole-Turner advocates is not a modification of humans from a state of sin to a state of perfection, but a change that leads to a posthuman reality. Although he is not a Christian, philosopher and futurist Max More’s analysis is useful for understanding Cole-Turner’s view of humanity:
Transhumanists regard human nature not as an end in itself, not as perfect, and not as having any claim on our allegiance. Rather, it is just one point along an evolutionary pathway, and we can learn to reshape our own nature in ways we deem desirable and valuable. By thoughtfully, carefully, and yet boldly applying technology to ourselves, we can become something no longer accurately described as human—we can become posthuman.3
Consistent with his Darwinian worldview, Cole-Turner uses various theological terms outside their biblical context to advance H+. Therapy, argues Cole-Turner, is aimed at redemption of what is already embodied whereas H+ targets glorification of a future disembodied self.4 Consequently, Cole-Turner concludes that the pursuit of cosmic-glorification through technological evolution makes the desire to preserve today’s version of humanity a hurdle to our potential future.
He argues, “It is not the human individual or even the human species that has lasting cosmic significance. In our hominid evolutionary lineage however, the cosmos has come to self-consciousness.”5 Humankind is not the high point of God’s creation, he writes, but a means to reach a better creation beyond humanity. H+, for Cole-Turner, reflects the authentic Christian theology. At the core of the H+ gospel of salvation is the mission to self-evolve as “the definitive Christian commitment.6 The salvation of Christ, he concludes, is not about redemption of the individual from sin but the salvation of the species through technology.
This brings us back to the original question, can the Christian ethic save H+? In short, the answer is no. Why? Because like their atheist counterparts, Christian transhumanists reduce humanness to a property that is contingent upon technological change. If humanness has no universal definition, then the appeal to human rights to limit medical experiments on humans is nothing more than an appeal to the cultural consensus.
Simply put, to have human rights, I must be human. If I am not human, then I do not have human rights. Consequently, the inability of Christian transhumanists to provide a stable and persistent definition of human personhood means that the deadly dream of H+ remains a real possibility.
1 Ronald Cole-Turner, “Transhumanism and Christianity,” in Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, ed. Ronald Cole-Turner (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011), 193–194.
2 Ronald Cole Turner, “Going Beyond the Human: Christians and Other Transhumanists,” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 54, no. 1 (2015): 22, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/dial.12150.
3 Max More, “The Philosophy of Transhumanism,” in The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, ed. Max More and Natasha Vita-More (Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013).
4 Ronald Cole-Turner, “Introduction: The Transhumanist Challenge,” in Transhumanism and Transcendence : Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, ed. Ronald Cole-Turner (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011), 4–5; 194.
5 Cole-Turner, “Going Beyond the Human,” 24.
6 Ibid., 21.
Here are all five short essays in the series by J. R. Miller:
With transhumanism, what happens to human rights? The transhumanist accepts suffering for the individual if suffering can advance the evolution of the species toward immortality and singularity. If humans can redefine what it means to be human, what prevents us from eliminating anyone opposed to this grand vision? (January 1, 2022)
Eugenics, transhumanism, and artificial intelligence If we were to succeed at creating an ethical decision-making AI, whose ethics would it abide by? The utilitarian goal of a “sustainable future” must be guided by a higher ethic in order to avoid grave mistakes of the past. (January 13, 2022)
The deadly dream of Human+ Look at the price tag… Some are prepared to sacrifice actual humans now for the hope of future immortality. Without a fixed and final definition of human personhood, there is no foundation for a fixed and final ethic of “human” rights. (January 20, 2022)
Can Christian ethics save transhumanism? J. R. Miller looks at the idea that the mission to self-evolve through technology is “the definitive Christian commitment.” In Miller’s view, Christian transhumanists do not provide a stable and persistent definition of human personhood, thus cannot ground human rights. (February 27, 2022)
Why the imago Dei (Image of God) shuts the door on transhumanism. As the belief that technology promises us a glorious post-human future advances among scholar who profess Christianity, we must ask some hard questions. The mission to self-evolve beyond humanity begs the question, how is humanity “saved” through technological advancement designed to eliminate humanity? (March 20, 2022)
Cole-Turner, Ronald. “Introduction: The Transhumanist Challenge.” In Transhumanism and Transcendence : Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, edited by Ronald Cole-Turner, 1–18. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011.
———. “Transhumanism and Christinity.” In Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, edited by Ronald Cole-Turner, 193–203. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2011.
Cole Turner, Ronald. “Going Beyond the Human: Christians and Other Transhumanists.” Dialog: A Journal of Theology 54, no. 1 (2015): 20-26. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/dial.12150.
More, Max. “The Philosophy of Transhumanism.” In The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future, edited by Max More and Natasha Vita-More, 3–17. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.