This article originally appeared as a blog post at Salvo on May 13th, 2022.
C.S. Lewis wrote an apt and prophetic line in his book The Abolition of Man that feels even more prescient today:
“There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men.”
I think it’s safe to say that today, the world’s elites in government, tech, media, and education embody precisely the opposite of Lewis’s understanding of the good life, which is to “conform the soul to reality.” Instead, the test of virtue is inverted. We are told incessantly that the test of virtue is decided by how well one manipulates reality to conform to the self. The subjective wishes, desires, and impulses of the self are king, and if you don’t like it, well, it’s like the old saying goes: it’s either my way or the highway!
Of course, I do this all the time. I know the reality that eating seven Oreos in a row will probably give me a stomachache, but put a roll of milk’s favorite cookie in front of me, and they’re gone in a flash! I’d rather have sugar than health, turns out. But suppose it was possible to escape all limitations imposed by reality? Suppose I could transcend my vulnerability to sugar overdoses and still enjoy Oreos all day long? It’s a trivial example, but the longing to escape our own bodies and, ultimately, our mortality, is strikingly evident in our cultural moment.
Beyond the Human
To understand what I mean, look no further than the transhumanism movement. According to the transhumanists, we’ve arrived at the point of such advanced technological prowess that we can now engineer our own evolutionary destiny. We don’t have to be limited to our finitude anymore and can “subdue reality to the wishes of men” without obstacles.
Transhumanism, arguably an offshoot of neo-Darwinism, is set on envisioning the next grand step of human evolution, except this time, it won’t be natural selection determining the changes. We will be doing that. Father Lynch, an Eastern Orthodox priest, wrote a great blog on the topic, writing,
Based on its grandparent, Darwinism, Transhumanism views humanity as a “biochemical algorithm,” as it does all biological life. It teaches, humanity’s own creation of “electronic algorithms,” such as computers and AI, will surpass humanity itself. This is known as “Singularity.” The barriers between animals and machines will collapse, which means the current barriers will be transcended and biological life will merge with AI.”-Fr. Zechariah Lynch, Full Spectrum Data Surveillance, Transhumanism, and the Religion of the End. – The Inkless Pen
Humanity as we know it will be somehow quantified and merged with artificial intelligence, justified as simply the next step in the self-guided evolution of our species. At its heart, Father Lynch notes, transhumanism worships the collection of “Big Data” and sees computerized information as ultimately more reliable than human knowledge and intelligence. I had a professor once who noted how we now “externalize memory.” We store our knowledge, our memories, and even our relationships in our phones and tablets, and are thereby losing our ability to think, remember, and love without the aid of the machine. The transhumanists want to incorporate that horrifying vision into a more integrated system in which human intelligence and relationship will be entirely irrelevant.
The Goodness of Being Finite
Lynch continues to describe the transhumanist dogma, writing,
Humans are not sacred, we are but tools to create the Internet-of-All-Things. So, humans create technology and AI, and this creation of man will transcend man himself and become “like God.” It will control everything and our destiny is to merge into it. Not too far off from idol worship, human hands make an idol and then bow down and worship it as a “god.” Now we are simply making technological “gods.”
If this remarkable and scary transhumanist vision unfolds as Father Lynch describes, then we will be abandoning everything that makes us human.
The transhumanist vision to reshape the world through what Lewis calls “applied science” rejects the goodness of creation and our finitude as limited creatures. Accepting mortality and limits, in the religious and moral traditions of the West, is the only path to life.