In a recent Living in the Solutionpodcast with otolaryngologist and broadcaster Elaina George at Liberty Talk radio, Wesley J. Smith, lawyer and host of the Humanize podcast at Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism tackled the question of “Can You be a Christian and Believe in Transhumanism?” (June 4, 2022) Transhumanism or H+, as it is sometimes called, is a movement to create immortality through new biotechnology or merger with artificial intelligence (AI). In the first portion of the podcast, which we covered on Sunday, June 12, they talked about the way being a human, a computer, or an animal is viewed by transhumanists as all just a choice now, thanks to new technology. In the second, they looked at the religious elements in transhumanism. In this third and final segment, they discuss the difference in values between Christianity and transhumanism.
A partial transcript and notes follow.
Wesley Smith: When I say, “No, it isn’t intelligence that is most important for humans, it’s love,” I then discuss people with Down syndrome… I’m speaking generally, obviously, but they’re very forgiving, they’re very caring, and we’re wiping them off the face of the earth through eugenic abortion because they have developmental disabilities. But in terms of that attribute of love and forgiveness, people with Down syndrome are remarkable.
Dr. Elaina George: The reality versus the rhetoric, that’s what people really need to pay attention to, that you can put values on people based on something really arbitrary, not about humanity at all or empathy. That’s really toxic, quite frankly.
While you were speaking, it just also dawned on me… What about hatred? You must feel pretty bad about yourself that you have to somehow create a reason to get a leg up on people and make yourself better. Is there some aspect of hating what God created in order to try to ruin it?
Wesley Smith: They don’t believe God created it. Bt beyond that, there is a certain self-loathing because human beings are inadequate — meaning we do not have the kind of attributes that they think would be better — and life is over too quickly… Actually, I think it’s a pretty sad movement myself.
Dr. Elaina George: It certainly seems very one-dimensional and limited. There’s no happiness in this. They say it’s a utopia but, as I told a guest a couple weeks ago that every time we talk about or watch a futuristic movie or book, it’s always dystopic. It’s never good.
Wesley Smith: I think that’s a good point. When you try to do it yourself, it’s going to lead to dystopia. We’re fallen. There’s none of this idea of giving thanks or whatever it is, which is hard for Christians. When you’re going through a difficult time, it’s hard to give thanks, but there’s none of that. There’s only the striving to be better.
Of course, we all want to improve ourselves, but in the Christian faith, you do it through the spiritual disciplines. In the transhumanist faith — because that’s what it is — you do it through trying to improve machines, artificial intelligence, computers, and so forth. It’s a very mechanistic view of life that I don’t share.
Dr. Elaina George: Well, we’ve seen AI pretty much integrate itself into our society from a healthcare perspective.
Wesley Smith: I don’t think we should be afraid of technology, per se. We should view it as what it really is, which is a tool. But we should not say that we’re going to give up our control.
Dr. Elaina George: Autonomy.
Wesley Smith: There are machines that do surgeries that do a better job than human beings, than surgeons. That’s fine. That’s a tool. We’re not giving up our agency. But the idea that artificial intelligence should be deemed a person with rights, which is a transhumanist concept, is ridiculous. An artificial intelligent machine is very valuable financially, but it has no more moral value than a broken toaster. It’s a machine. It’s not alive. It’s a tool. It’s no different, in that sense, than a hammer, except it’s more sophisticated.
Dr. Elaina George: Now is that the leap that transhumanists are making? They’re making it sentient?
Wesley Smith: Yes.
Dr. Elaina George: I think Saudi Arabia has given a passport to an AI or some sort of android, and that’s a step too far, in my opinion.
Dr. Elaina George: So if you cede your control or if this AI system gets out of control and you lose control of it, what happens then? That, to me, it’s kind of scary.
Wesley Smith: Well, there are even some transhumanists who worry about that. A guy named Nick Bostrom, who is one of the actual originators of this movement, worries about AI getting out of control. Then you’ll have others who say, “Well, it’s inevitable that they’ll take over.”
Nothing’s inevitable unless we allow it to happen. We’re not like jellyfish that go where the currents take us. We have free will, and we can decide to create high tech machines and computers that help humankind and make for a better life on this planet and help clean up the environment and this kind of thing. If you give up agency, if you give up free will, if you turn over the most important decisions that can be made to machines and take out the human element, then you’re looking for trouble. There’s no question.
Wesley Smith: How does a machine express empathy?
Dr. Elaina George: It doesn’t.
Wesley Smith: How does a machine express love and even experience love? It can’t.
Dr. Elaina George: No. We’ve also seen these bots or whatever on the internet. They let these AIs interact with humans on the internet, and invariably, it has to be shut down, because it becomes racist, sexist, totally negative. It seems like it just runs towards a… I wouldn’t say a mindset, but a dialogue that’s not positive. Imagine that on every level.
Wesley Smith: An AI, of course, starts with a program that humans put in.
Dr. Elaina George: Mm-hmm, so it’s flawed.
Wesley Smith: The idea for AI is that they will begin to self-program. Well, they’re still going to be limited by the programming humans put in, in terms of parameters and so forth. So again, a lot of these online bots and so forth were actually programmed to cause mischief. And to troll people and to create chaos. There’s evil in this world, and there are forces in this world that seek to cause chaos, interfere with freedom, and cause division. We can’t let that happen either.
Dr. Elaina George: How do we pull ourselves back from this? It seems like it’s happening parallel to…
Wesley Smith: Humility. It seems to me we need to engage the virtue of humility, that we should aim at loving each other. If you’re a Christian, the formula is there. Love each other, love God with all your mind, body, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. Who’s my neighbor? Well, what did Christ say? The world. Everyone’s our neighbor, right?
Even our enemy is our neighbor. So for Christians, we need to be aware of what we’re talking about, but you can’t just allow yourself to be carried away into an anger and kind of a belligerence, because that’s not helpful…
Dr. Elaina George: The way this society goes, I think it’s a skill, isn’t it? But if you’re living in the tenets of Christ’s love, it’s not hard, and that’s what we all need to do.
Wesley Smith: Yeah, but yeah, staying in that spot, that’s what’s hard. You got to work at it. It doesn’t just happen. You have to work it.
Dr. Elaina George: No, that’s for sure. I know time goes so quickly, but I think we’ve just scratched the surface, but I hope people really understand where we’re going, potentially where we’re being pushed to go. You need to think about it and make conscious decisions, and, as you said before, being in that space, that God space of gratitude, of loving, not letting people define you.
I think that also is a Christian… As Christians, everybody, whether we’re doctors or whatever, we just need to define ourselves, not let people define us. I think people do that way too much based on what you look like, where you’re from. It’s just silly.
Wesley Smith: And compassion means to suffer with. It is our job to suffer with people, help people, mitigate suffering, but you can’t eliminate it.
If you think you can eliminate suffering, you’re engaging in a utopian enterprise, and utopianism always leads to authoritarianism, it leads to discrimination, it leads to oppression. We need to avoid utopianism. That’s not the best way forward, and Christianity is not a utopian mindset at all.
Here are all three segments of the discussion between Elaina George and Wesley Smith:
Transhumanism: Human, computer, animal — all just a choice now… AI and Big Biotech spawn the hope (in some) of merging with a computer or with a bat, maybe… Wesley Smith talks with Dr. Elaina George about the new secular religion of Transhumanism or H+ — immortality without tears for atheists — if it’s even possible.
Transhumanism as a cool new secular religion It includes such ventures as endowing plants — via genetic engineering — with the capacity for human-like thought… The very nature of transhumanism — there is no God and humans are not unique — makes authoritarianism in pursuit of power easier to justify.
Why giving “human rights” to artificial intelligence is a bad idea. It’s especially bad, as Elaina George and Wesley Smith discuss at Living in the Solution, when we don’t always give them to other humans. Utopia? George and Smith note that, far from programming itself for fairness, AI takes on the biases of programmers. It doesn’t “get virtuous” on its own.