The impossibility of Christian transhumanism

Photo credit: BriYYZ from Toronto, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0]via Wikimedia Commons.

So-called “Christian transhumanism”, or the attempt to merge the transhumanist agenda with the precepts of Christian theology, existed for some time. But there has recently been a resurgence of interest in the project. The book Religious transhumanism and its detractors, published in 2019, claims to offer “first-hand testimony to the value of the transhumanist vision perceived by the religious mind.” The volume includes contributions from a number of Christians. The Christian Transhumanist Association (CTA), established in 2014, is actively dedicated to promoting transhumanism as a way to “participate with God in redemption, reconciliation and renewal of the world”.

The problem with these efforts is that the transhumanist worldview and the Christian faith are incompatible. One cannot be a “Christian transhumanist”, any more than one can be a Christian Buddhist or a Christian Muslim.

A futuristic social movement

Transhumanism is a futuristic social movement. Its adherents believe that immortality is accessible in the corporeal world through the wonders of applied technology. The goal is to become “H+”, or more than human. Transhumanist proselytizers include academics like Oxford’s Nick Bostrom, Big Tech gurus like Ray Kurzweil, and popularizers like 2016 presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan. They promise that “the singularity” is coming – the time when a crescendo of scientific advances will make the movement unstoppable and transhumanists transform into super beings who can enjoy physical life endlessly.

That transhumanism has become a phenomenon is not surprising. Western society is becoming more and more secular, with an exponential growth of “noes” among young people. Such a change in society has consequences. Removing God from the human equation breeds despair and breeds nihilism. This is the crucial weakness of modern materialism, a weakness that transhumanism seeks to remedy. By offering adherents hope for technological rescue from the ultimate erasure of death, transhumanism offers non-believers a postmodern twist on the faith’s promise of eternal life. I can live forever, the transhumanist believes fervently, if we develop the technology early enough.

Conflicting belief systems

But any attempt to merge transhumanism and Christianity is misguided, as the two are contradictory belief systems. The transhumanist dogma is entirely materialist. Its objective is solipsistic, its aim eugenic. Additionally, it rejects basic Christian principles like sin, the need for divine forgiveness, the value of redemptive suffering, and eternal salvation. To obscure this truth, the CTA website assiduously avoids discussing the actual tenets of transhumanism. He offers simple statements such as “We believe that God’s mission involves the transformation and renewal of creation” and “We seek growth and progress in all dimensions of our humanity.” In this way, the CTA confuses the pursuit of technological advancements – which Christians can certainly support – with transhumanism’s fixation on technology as a savior.

Nor does the CTA website discuss the “means” transhumanist advocates plan to use to achieve this utopian vision – let alone their ethical implications. For example, some transhumanists hope to renew their bodies repeatedly by breeding clones as replacement sources of organs. Others plan to have the head cryogenically frozen to allow for possible surgical fixation on a different body or a cyborg. But the greatest passion of transhumanists is to eternally save their the spirits – as opposed to souls, which is not a transhumanist concept – via downloading into computer programs, a concept known as “digital immortality”. This is hardly what Saint Paul meant when he asked: “Death, where is your sting?” Seriously, where is your victory?

Transhumanists believe not only that life is too short, but that human capacities are insufficient. Thus, the second major objective of transhumanism is “morphological freedom”, that is, the radical improvement of quality – not by self-discipline, the adoption of virtues or concentrated efforts on the construction of the character, but through materialistic means such as gene editing, brain implants and merging with AI technologies.

Materialistic Super Beings

The ultimate goal of this quest is not spiritual – not theosis or sanctification – but to become super-beings in a materialistic sense. Like Istvan wrote in 2016 in the Huffington Post“We must force our evolution to the present by our reasoning, our inventiveness, and above all our scientific technology. In short, we must embrace transhumanism – the radical field of science that aims to turn humans into, for lack of a better word, gods. It is difficult to see how all of this squares with the Christian’s call to humility.

Transhumanists not only want to manipulate their own bodies, but also those of their children. They hope to achieve this through genetic engineering and unnatural means of family formation. According to Declaration of Transhumanist Rights, “All sentient entities are entitled to freedom of reproduction, including by new means such as the creation of mind clones, single-parent children, or benevolent artificial general intelligence.” And I haven’t even explained how, by granting rights to computers with artificial intelligence and proposing to “transform” animals into rational beings, the movement rejects the Christian vision of human uniqueness.

Readers won’t find any of this on the CTA website. On the contrary, the CTA asserts that by embracing transhumanism, Christians can “grow in our identity as humans created in the image of God.” But Christians embrace spiritual growth through prayer, fasting, and acts of asceticism, not through superficial technological improvements to our physique. Christians do not regard the sick and disabled as anything less. Additionally, the Christian faith calls us to be compassionate towards others, rather than obsessing over ourselves. Christians are commanded to feed the hungry, to invite strangers, to clothe the naked, and to visit the sick and prisoners, for in doing these acts of mercy to the least of us we are doing them to Christ .

Reminder of first principles

First principles matter, and those of transhumanism and Christianity could not be more contradictory. Transhumanism is materialistic. Christianity is theistic. Transhumanism is a utopia. Christianity sees the fallen world realistically. Transhumanism perceives immortality as something that can be achieved by humans. Christianity identifies eternal salvation as the mercy of a loving God. His eschatology focuses on the promises of God, not on advanced scientific applications.

One can be a Christian, and incidentally a technophile. But one cannot be a “transhumanist Christian”. The two religions — because that is essentially what transhumanism has become — simply cannot occupy the same space.

Posted with permission from the author of first things.

About Harold Hartman

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