[ExI] Transhumanism and the Posthuman Future: Will Technological Progress Get Us There? :: Ted Peters :: Global Spiral

Jef Allbright jef at jefallbright.net
Thu Jun 12 14:04:12 UTC 2008

Here's an excellent opportunity for thoughtful, rational criticism and
comment. [1 of 6]

- Jef

Transhumanism and the Posthuman Future: Will Technological Progress Get Us
There? :: Ted Peters :: Global

Transhumanism and the Posthuman Future: Will Technological Progress Get Us
By Ted Peters <http://metanexus.net/tabid/72/Default.aspx?aid=253>

[image: Albion]

The prospect of a posthuman future replete with ecological harmony,
cybernetic immortality, and the imbuing of the entire universe with evolving
intelligence tantalizes our imagination with a utopian vision. All we need
do is turn a couple technological corners and, suddenly, the abundant life
will be ours. We will be liberated from the vicissitudes of biological
restraints such as suffering and death; and we will be freed by enhanced
intelligence to enjoy the fulfilling life of a cosmic mind. The
transhumanist or H+ vision is as inspiring as it is extravagant.

How do we get there from here? How do we make the leap from our biological
inheritance to a future of machined mind? How do we accelerate evolutionary
development to carry the present generation into an unprecedented new era of
posthuman flourishing? How can our technological future gain a decisive
victory over our biological past?

What we find in transhumanist prognostications is reliance on the doctrine
of progress. Transhumanists assume that progress, understood as betterment
over time, is inherent in nature and inherent in culture. Evolution
constitutes progress in biology. Technological advance constitutes progress
in culture. Betterment is inevitable as the inexorable wheels of progress
keep turning. The direction of progress is set; and the task of
transhumanist technology is to increase the speed forward.

In this paper I would like to begin with a brief exposition of the central
claims and promises being lifted up by members of the transhumanist school
of thought, explicating especially their assumptions regarding the nature of
progress. I will place the futurist orientation of today's transhumanists in
the broad context of futurist thinking which has developed over the last
half century. I will distinguish between two types of futurist
thinking: *futurum
*relying upon growth or progress versus *adventus *which anticipates the
advent of the new. I will show how transhumanism fits squarely into the
first of these, not the second. Finally, I will turn to distinctively
theological resources to critique the concept of progress with which the
transhumanists work. I will explicate briefly the positions taken by
neoorthodox theologians such as Reinhold Niebuhr and Langdon Gilkey, who
helped make us aware that progress is ambiguous—that is, all technological
advances can be pressed into the service of either good or evil. Progress in
technology does not in itself foster progress in culture or morality.

My thesis is this: transhumanist assumptions regarding progress are naive,
because they fail to operate with an anthropology that is realistic
regarding the human proclivity to turn good into evil. It is my own view
that researchers in the relevant fields of genetics and nanotechnology
should proceed toward developing new and enhancing technologies, to be sure;
but they should maintain constant watchfulness for ways in which these
technologies can become perverted and bent toward destructive purposes.

In the process I would like to correct one mistake made by transhumanst
theorists. They presume that religion will attempt to place roadblocks in
their way on the grounds that the religious mind is old fashioned, out of
date, Luddite, and dedicated to resisting change. When this image is applied
to Christian theology or even Jewish theology, it is mistaken. The Hebrew
Scriptures include the prophets who look forward to the future, because God
promises new things. "I am about to do a new thing," says God in Isaiah
43:19. The most significant of the new things God promises is the coming
Kingdom of God, the transformation of this creation into a new creation. The
Bible closes in Revelation 21:5 with God saying, "See, I am making all
things new." Rather than fixate things in the past, biblical theologians are
inspired to anticipate the new, to look forward to transformation, to
celebrate innovation. If a theologian would become critical of a
transhumanist, it would not be in defense of what has been. Rather, it would
be because of a naiveté in thinking that we could accomplish with technology
a transformation that can be achieved only by the eschatological act of a
gracious and loving God. **

*What is a Transhumanist?*

Astounding changes belong to our medium range future. A transformation of
apocalyptic proportion is imminent. According to the *Transhumanist
Declaration *of the World Transhumanist Association*, *"Humanity will be
radically changed by technology in the future. We foresee the feasibility of
redesigning the human condition, including such parameters as the
inevitability of aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects,
unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet

The human race of the present generation has the opportunity to speed up its
own evolution through technological self-transformation. "Transhumanism is
the view that humans should (or should be permitted to) use technology to
remake human nature," is the definition offered by Heidi Campbell and Mark
is a science and a philosophy that seeks to employ genetic technology,
information technology, and nanotechnology to greatly enhance the healthy
life span of persons, increase intelligence, and make us humans happier and
more virtuous. The key is to recontextualize humanity in terms of
technology. This leads to a vision of a posthuman future characterized by a
merging of humanity with technology as the next stage of our human
evolution. Humanity plus (H+) is calling us forward. *Posthuman *refers to
who we might become if transhuman efforts achieve their goals.

The transhumanist movement seeks to fill the widening cultural void in
Western civilization due to the disintegration of the former religious glue
that held us together in a common spirit. In addition to the failure of
tradition to hold us together, so also postmodernism is failing, because
this nihilistic philosophy refuses to recognize the gifts of the modern
scientific age, namely, reason and progress. What we need at this moment is
an inspiring philosophy that reveres scientific reason and which will pull
us toward a positive future. To meet this need, transhumanism offers a
"totalized philosophical
a three level worldview: a metaphysical level, a psychological level,
and an ethical level.

At the metaphysical or cosmological level, the transhumanist sees a world in
a "process of evolutionary complexification toward evermore complex
structures, forms, and operations." At the psychological level,
transhumanists believe we human beings are "imbued with the innate Will to
Evolve—an instinctive drive to expand abilities in pursuit of
ever-increasing survivability and well-being." These two lead to the ethical
level, where "we should seek to *foster *our innate Will to Evolve, by
continually striving to expand our abilities throughout life. By acting in
harmony with the essential nature of the evolutionary
process—complexification—we may discover a new sense of purpose, direction,
and meaning to life, and come to feel ourselves *at home in the world *once
Simon Young plans is to replace "Darwinian Evolution with Designer
Evolution—from slavery to the selfish genes to conscious self-rule by the
human mind."5<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn5>

The future will differ from the past. Whereas in the past we have been
prisoners of our biology, in the future we will become liberated. Our
liberation will come from increased intelligence, an intelligence that
itself will find a way to remove itself from our deteriorating bodies and
establish a much more secure substrate for endurance. Our mental lives in
the future may take place within a computer or on the internet. What we have
previously known as *homo sapiens *will be replaced by *homo cyberneticus*.
"*As humanism freed us from the chains of superstition, let transhumanism
free us from our biological

Once freed from the limits of our inherited bodies, the expansion of human
intelligence would be limited only by the size of our universe. What the
transhumanist foresees is a cosmic imbuing of matter with consciousness.
"Liberated from biological slavery, an immortalized species, *Homo
cyberniticus*, will set out for the stars. Conscious life will gradually
spread throughout the galaxy...until finally, in the unimaginably distant
future, the whole universe has come alive, awakened to its own nature—a
cosmic mind become conscious of itself as a living entity—omniscient,
omnipotent, omnipresent."7<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn7>The
entire universe will be converted into an "extended thinking entity,"
writes Hans Moravec.8<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn8>

The mood of transhumanism is aggressively promethean. Here is the promise:
we humans will arrest from the gods and from nature the principles and
resources we need to take our destiny into our own hands. With a wave of the
philosophical hand we will expel the old fatalisms, the nay sayers, the
Luddites. "Bio-fatalism will increasingly be replaced by
techno-can-do-ism—the belief in the power of the new technology to free us
from the limitations of our bodies and minds....In the twenty-first century,
the belief in the Fall of Man will be replaced by the belief in his
inevitable transcendence—through
torch of Prometheus will lead us into the new world of transhumanism.
"Let us cast aside cowardice and seize the torch of Prometheus with both

This Promethean confidence in the advance of technology is accompanied by a
utopian vision, a vision of future human fulfillment or even posthuman
fulfillment in a kingdom where rational intelligence has transcended its
previous biological imprisonment. Not only as individuals but also as a
social community and even as a cosmic community we will experience ecstatic
human flourishing, the abundant life which previous religious visionaries
could only dream of.

*The Singularity is Almost Here*

How will we get there from here? Crossing the threshold of the
Singularity—the creation of smarter-than-human inelligence—will mark the

Ray Kurzweil prophecies a dramatic future event—not in the distant future
but rather just around the corner, 2045 to be exact. This will be a
threshold event, an event known in his field as the
up to the Singularity we will see how the pace of technological
change will be so rapid and its impact so deep that human life will be
irreversibly transformed. The nose on this transformation face will be
enhanced human intelligence. What follows this nose is the observation that
human intelligence will leap from human bodies to machines, making high tech
machines more human than we are. This can happen because intelligence is not
dependent upon our biological substrate; rather, as information in patterns,
intelligence can be extricated from our bodies. Our intelligence can live on
in an enhanced form even when extricated from our bodies and placed in a
computer. "Uploading a human brain means scanning all of its salient details
and then reinstantiating those details into a suitably powerful
computational substrate. This process would capture a person's entire
personality, memory, skills, and

On the one hand, this would require disembodied intelligence. On the other
hand, we would have new bodies, namely, machines. "Future machines will be
human even if they are not biological," writes Kurzweil. "This will be the
next step in evolution."14<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn14>Rather
than a biological substrate, humans of a future generation will rely
upon a machine substrate. When we have escaped our biological limitations,
we will be able to program a much longer life, a disembodied yet intelligent
life. "The Singularity will allow us to transcend these limitations of our
biological bodies and brains. We will gain power over our fates. Our
mortality will be in our own hands. We will be able to live as long as we
want...By the end of this century, the nonbiological portion of our
intelligence will be trillions of trillions of times more powerful than
unaided human intelligence."15<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn15>

Living in cyberspace could seem attractive. One would not be alone. One's
cybermind would be in community with all other cyberminds, a variant on
Teilhard's noosphere. One might even celebrate a new higher level of
community. This is what Margaret Wertheim celebrates. Despite the dangers
lurking in our computers, she thanks cyberspace for establishing a network
of relationships. Further, the global community of electronic relationships
is eliciting a sense of responsibility toward one another. "If cyberspace
teaches us anything," writes Wertheim, "it is that the worlds we
conceive...are communal projects requiring ongoing communal responsibility."
Kurzweil has successfully uploaded our minds into cyberspace, we will
enjoy a communal network of shared intelligence.

Even though we can thank our evolutionary past for bringing us to the point
of intelligence, we the human race must move still further forward. Our
generation has the opportunity to enhance our intelligence, to advance still
further in evolutionary development. Computers along with GNR—genetics,
nanotechnology and robotics—are all tools whereby we can build a
dramatically new future for abundant living and cosmic community.

What we note here is how Kurzweil conflates biological evolution and
technological progress. He sees the latter as an extension of the former.
The key characteristic of both evolutionary and technological progress is
inevitability, according to Kurzweil. Both natural evoluton and human
technology benefit from a guiding purpose, a built-in purpose. And this
built-in *logos *or entelechy virtually guarantees the future he is
forecasting. What is this built-in purpose? Increased intelligence. "The
purpose of the universe reflects the same purpose as our lives: to move
toward greater intelligence and knowledge.....we will within this century be
ready to infuse our solar system with our intelligence through
self-replicating non-biological intelligence. It will then spread out to the
rest of the universe."17<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn17>

How do we get there from here? Through applying our existing intelligence to
leaping the hurdles that currently need technological transcending. "Insight
from the brain reverse-engineering effort, overall research in developing AI
[Artificial Intelligence] algorithms, and ongoing exponential gains in
computing platforms make strong AI (AI at human levels and beyond)
inevitable. Once AI achieves human levels, it will necessarily soar past it
because it will combine the strengths of human intelligence with the speed,
memory capacity, and knowledge sharing that nonbiological intelligence
already exhibits."18<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn18>Note
Kurzweil's confident vocabulary: "inevitable" and "necessary." Simon
Young makes this explicit, "The furtherance of human evolution through
advanced biotechnology is not only possible, but

*Salvation from the Environmental Crisis*

This technological utopia will bring not only maximized intelligence; it
will also bring ecological harmony. Working for clean alternative
technologies that not only preserve but also restore the biosphere sits high
on the agenda of what some transhumanists embrace as *technogaianism*, an
ethic for technology that supports the Gaia philosophy.

Kurzweil believes that nanotechnology will rescue us from our environmental
crisis. By building devices at the molecular scale out of nanoparticles, we
can reduce the size and surface area of such devices, lowering their impact
on the surrounding environment. In addition, new biological properties will
be introduced, so that nanotechnology "will eventually provide us with a
vastly expanded toolkit for improved catalysis, chemical and atomic bonding,
sensing, and mechanical manipulation, not to mention intelligent control
through enhanced microelectronics. Ultimately we will redesign all of our
industrial processes to achieve their intended results with minimal
consequences, such as unwanted by-products and their introduction into the

In short, manufacturing in the future will do less damage to our
surroundings. In addition, we will develop better methods of cleaning up
pollution. And we will even overcome hunger and poverty. "Emerging
technologies will provide the means of providing and storing clean and
renewable energy, removing toxins and pathogens from our bodies and the
environment, and providing the knowledge and wealth to overcome hunger and
in the service of progress can lead today's world into a
tomorrow of social justice and ecological harmony.

*The Coming Technological Victory over Aging and Death*

Transhumanism can be described as a philosophy of life with a central tenet:
"the belief in overcoming human limitations through reason, science, and
limitation on the transhumanist list to be overcome is aging. Death
Aubrey de Grey says he is "not in favor of aging." When one is not in favor
of something, then it is time to apply technology to overcome it. This is
what de Grey plans. If we could eliminate aging, then "we will be in
possession of indefinite youth. We will die only from the sort of causes
that young people die of today—accidents, suicide, homicide, and so on—but
not of the age-related diseases that account for the vast majority of deaths
in the industrialized world
we might ask: might this be realistic?

Until recently demographers assumed that once gains made by reducing
mortality in early and mid life had reached completion, then growth in
longevity would level off and we would see a fixed maximum for human age.
However, to our surprise, this is not happening. In much of the developed
world, life expectancy continues to increase; and people reach old age in
healthier condition than their grandparents did. Might realism be on the
side of the transhumanists?

Why do we grow old? Can we do something about it? "Clear consensus now
exists that ageing is caused by the gradual, lifelong accumulation of a wide
variety of molecular and cellular damage. At the heart of the genetic
determination of lifespan is the extent to which the organism's genome
invests in survival." With the many tasks genetic expression needs to
perform, why waste time and energy on repairing what is broken in order to
lengthen the life span of the host organism. After all, the body is
expendable, at least according to the disposable soma theory. Now, if the
genome does not care about lifespan, might we with the help of our medical
scientists care? Might we intervene to patch up molecular and cellular
damage? Yes. "If ageing is a matter of things falling apart, can research
realistically hope to achieve anything useful? The answer is emphatically
yes—there is plenty of evidence that it is possible to intervene in the
underlying causative

Ray Kurzweil offers an ebullient version of this otherwise cautious
forecast: "We are beginning to understand aging, not as a single inexorable
progression but as a group of related processes. Strategies are emerging for
fully reversing each of these aging progressions, using different
combinations of biotechnology
emphasis Kurzweil trumpets, "We have the means right now to live long
enough to live forever."26<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn26>

Can we slow down if not actually stop the aging process? Kurzweil answers
affirmatively. He claims he has already achieved something notable in his
own case. At age fifty-six his biological age is only forty. How has he
accomplished this? "I have been very aggressive about reprogramming my
biochemistry," he writes. "I take 250 supplements (pills) a day and receive
a half-dozen intravenous therapies each week (basically nutritional
supplements delivered directly into my bloodstream, thereby bypassing my GI
tract). As a result, the metabolic reactions in my body are completely
different than they would otherwise

Taking vitamin supplements enhances the health of the body; and this
indirectly supports the operations of our intelligent brains. Might we do
more? Might we find a way for our intelligence to escape the limits of our
aging bodies entirely? Yes, say the transhumanists. Our minds can move into
a computer, and then into cyberspace. "Currently, when our human hardware
crashes, the software of our lives—our personal 'mind file'—dies with it.
However, this will not continue to be the case when we have the means to
store and restore the thousands of trillions of bytes of information
represented in the pattern that we call our brains...They [the bodiless
intelligences] will live out on the Web, projecting bodies whenever they
need or want them, including virtual bodies in diverse realms of virtual
reality, holographically projected bodies, foglet-projected bodies, and
physical bodies comprising nanobot swarms and other forms of

Such a personal eschatology consisting of immortalized intellectual life is
reminiscent of Socrates, who found comfort when anticipating the death of
his body. Once liberated from his temporal body, Socrates' disembodied mind
could go on to contemplate eternal
the transhumanist has liberated our intelligence from our biological
bodies and placed our minds into computers or into cyberspace, we will be
able to think cosmically and escape the threat of extinction through death.

How do we get there from here? Technological progress will carry us from our
biologically inherited bodies into a future of cybernetic immortality.
Socrates presumed that his intellectual soul was inherently immortal.
Transhumanists presume that progress is inherent to evolution and that our
future liberation from biological constraints is inevitable. Like a rocket
taking off from a launching pad, our computer generation has been thrust by
evolution upward into the stratosphere of technological progress; and very
soon we will find our immortalized minds winging throughout the cosmos.

*Transhumanist Ethics*

What kind of ethical deliberation or moral code might transhuanism lead to?
It leads in two opposite directions. One direction is toward *laissez faire
*capitalism. After all, only the sectors of the modern economy flushed with
money can afford to invest in GNR: genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics.
Capital investment and technological advance provide cyclical support for
one another. Investors invest in GNR, and the sales earnings from GNR
increase the amount of capital available for reinvestment. "It's the
economic imperative of a competitive marketplace that is the primary force
driving technology forward and fueling the law of accelerating
returns....Economic imperative is the equivalent of survival in biological
we find here is an ethical principle—the "will to evolve," mentioned
earlier—drawn from evolutionary biology and applied to economics, "survival
of the fittest."

The other direction taken by transhumanist ethical thinking is toward
increased cooperation, even altruism or benevolence. Support for altruism
takes the form of a common sense admonition to cooperate with one other for
the betterment of all. Benevolence is more highly valued than selfishness,
according to transhumanist ethics. When this direction is taken, the
Darwinian struggle for existence with its competitive aggression is

Simon Young, for example, asserts that we should advance from *genethics *to
*nurethics. *By the former term he is referencing Richard Dawkin's theory
that the "selfish gene" directs the course of evolution, and that human
ethics are a social expression of the selfish gene's pressure to replicate.
selfish gene theory is his interpretation of nineteenth century
Social Darwinism, where the "struggle for existence" in nature provided
justification for a social ethic celebrating the "survival of the fittest."
Should we today construct an ethic based upon our selfish genes? Should
today's society be governed by the competition between all those struggling
to survive? Young answers in the negative. Now that we have brains and
reason and science, however, we are no longer puppets dancing on the strings
of our DNA; we are no longer merely struggling for biological existence. Our
brains can transcend our biological inheritance. We can devise a rational
ethic. This rational ethic Young describes as benevolence, a "common sense"
ethic that includes altruistic care for one another. "Morality is the
replacement of Genethics with Nurethics—from control by the selfish genes,
to self-rule by the human mind....In the language of Nurethics, the
self-governing mind may learn to inhibit *stupidly selfish *instincts in its
own best interests of ever increasing survivability and
problem with selfish human behavior is that it is stupid. In contrast,
benevolence is smart. As our intelligence increases, we will replace stupid
selfish morality with more reasonable benevolent behavior such as

What Young perceives as a contradiction between the naturalistic ethics tied
to evolution and his more benevolent values was a contradiction already seen
during the era of Social Darwinism. American pragmatist Charles Sanders
Peirce pointed this out in the late nineteenth century. "The *Origin of
Species *of Darwin merely extends politico-economical views of progress to
the entire realm of animal and vegetable life...As Darwin puts it on his
title-page, it is the struggle for existence; and he should have added for
his motto: Every individual for himself, and the Devil take the hindmost!
Jesus, in his Sermon on the Mount, expressed a different
today's transhumanists affirm values akin to those of Jesus, they will
have to do so in opposition to the values inherent in previous forms of
evolutionary ethics.

Theologian Jûrgen Moltmann has offered a similar analysis. If in our era of
biomedical progress human existence is no longer oriented toward mere
survival, then we are ready to reorient our lives around a new purpose,
namely, fulfillment. Darwinian values that may have supported survival of
the fittest will need replacing by values that promote cooperation and
social harmony. "The change in human interests evoked by biomedical progress
can be described as a transition form the struggle for existence to striving
for fulfillment," writes Moltmann. "The principle of self-preservation
against others can be transformed into the principle of self-fulfillment in
the other. Systems of aggression can be overcome by systems of
implication for transhumanist ethics is this: despite the conflation
biological evolution and technological progress, Darwinian values such as
self-preservation in the competition for existence can not be thought to be
progressive in light of the picture of the future that transhumanists are
painting. Yet, their reliance upon the "will to evolve" in the form of *laissez
faire *capitalism reiterates the nineteenth century reliance on Social
Darwinism, the very value system that apparently needs replacing. In sum,
transhumanist ethics is torn by a tension between the capitalist values
adhering to survival-of-the-fittest and the altruistic values of a
benevolent community.

*The Ethic of Relinquishment*

With this in mind, we turn to another question: should a transhumanist ethic
place us totally at the beck and call of every proposal for technological
progress? Does this mean unbridled social subservience to any and every
advance? No. We must be selective, say the transhumanists. We might find we
need to relinquish some opportunities while embracing others. Discerning
which to relinquish and which to support is one of the ethical tasks
consciously taken on by transhumanists.

Kurzweil addresses ethical issues with his concept of relinquishment. Should
we relinquish the opportunity for technological advance? If so, at what
level? Kurzweil objects to naturalists who advocate "broad
relinquishment"—that is, the broad rejection of technology in order to
preserve what nature has bequeathed us. Yet, Kurzweil is drawn toward
"refined relinquishment"—that is, relinquishing select technologies which
threaten our safety or the safety of the environment. Saying "no" to
developing physical entities that can self-replicate in a natural
environment makes sense to Kurzweil, even though the principle of
self-replication will be necessary in certain cases such as self-replicating
want to avoid inundation by "gray goo," by unrestrained nanobot
replication. What we need is "blue goo"—that is, "police" nanobots that will
combat the criminal

We cannot avoid at this point introducing the phenomenon of the computer
virus. In the case of the computer virus, we find an example of a
nonbiological self-replicating entity that has appeared on the scene along
with the spread of internet communication. This software pathogen threatens
to destroy our computer network medium; but, the bright inventors of
computer software can design an "immune system" to prevent serious damage.
What is Kurzweil's interpretation? "Although software pathogens remain a
concern, the danger exists mostly at a nuisance level," he comments. Then he
adds, "When we have software running in our brains and bodies and
controlling the world's nanbot immune system, the stakes will be
immeasurably greater."37<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn37>

Anticipating my theological analysis yet to come, I recommend that we pause
for a moment to consider the significance of the computer virus for
understanding the human condition. The invention of the computer virus is an
invention with one sole purpose, namely, to destroy. Despite the benefits or
even blessings of computer connections around the world, something at work
in the human mind leads to the development of brute and unmitigated
destruction. No increase in human intelligence or advance in technology will
alter this ever lurking human proclivity.

Is the transhumanist understanding of human nature realistic enough? Does
the transhumanist vision include a realistic anticipation of our human
proclivity for twisting good things into the service of evil? What we see in
transhumanism is a vague awareness of this ever lurking threat; but is it
being taken with sufficient seriousness? Does the confidence in progress as
inherent and inevitable blind transhumanists from seeing the potholes in the
road they are traveling?

Transhumanists seek protection from evil in the free market. Here is the
path their ethical logic follows. Society should organize itself to foster
the advances they are proposing. Technology needs money, private money; so
society should be ready and willing to provide funding. This is where
capitalism becomes incorporated into the transhumanist ethic. *Laissez faire
*capitalism will protect us from evil and keep progress progressing.
"Inherently there will be no absolute protection against strong AI. Although
the argument is subtle I believe that maintaining an open free-market system
for incremental scientific and technological progress, in which each step is
subject to market acceptance, will provide the most constructive environment
for technology to embody widespread human
free market will provide enough good to overcome the evil nuisances.

Again we ask: how will we get there from here? The highway of technological
progress will take us there; and free market capitalism will clear the road
of evil obstructions. So, the transhumanists assume. In another essay I
parse the various ethical issues arising from within the advancing field of
nanotechnology, one of the service roads that connect to the transhumanist
at a more abstract level, I simply wish to point out that the ethical
values the transhumanists think they are trucking are likely to hit a
detour, because investors from the free market will most likely divert the
technology they fund into the service of their own economic ends.

*Does Religion Block Progress?*

Such detour signs are apparently invisible. What transhumanists think they
see in front of them are roadblocks put there by religion. Religion is
allegedly Luddite. Through the eyes of today's transhumanists, religion
looks like a roadblock, an obstruction. What the transhumanists think they
see in religion is an atavistic commitment to the past, to the status quo,
to resistance against anything new. This image is misleading; although we
must admit that some religious reactions to scientific and technological
advance can take Luddite form. Be that as it may, later in this paper I will
show that Christian theology strongly affirms change. It even looks forward
to radical transformation. The reluctance to embrace progress on the part of
theologians does not come from a posture of resistance. Rather, it comes
from an entirely different source, namely, a critique of the naiveté on the
part of those who put their faith in progress, especially technological
progress. What is so naive about transhumanism, I will try to show, is its
dismissal of the ambiguity that unavoidably accompanies all technological
progress. What a Christian theologian can in good conscience do is encourage
the advance of life-enhancing technology while keeping a wary eye open for
the potential destructive proclivities of sinful human beings.

Simon Young provides an example of one who would like to clear religious
blockage to make way for transhumanism. He assumes that a religious faith in
God is necessarily atavastic and recalcitrant. After all, if God created the
world the way it is, then it follows that it is immoral to change it. After
all, if God allowed a child to be born with a genetic defect, it follows
that it is immoral for medical therapists to repair it. This is Young's
logic, applicable to the Christian faith if not other religions. "The
greatest threat to humanity's continuing evolution is theistic opposition to
Superbiology in the name of a belief system based on blind faith in the
absence of evidence."40<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn40>

However, the historical evidence does not fit Young's assumptions. The God
of the Bible does "new things," says Isaiah. God even promises a new
creation, a renewing of nature. And if one only looks in the local telephone
book or an on-line directory, more than likely a Good Samaritan hospital can
be found just around the corner. Medical care for those who suffer began
with Jesus the healer and continues right down to present day Christian
consciousness. No Christian opposition to biology, either regular unleaded
or the Super type, exists, especially when biology is pressed into medical
service. So, Young's complaint regarding at least Christian recalcitrance is
based upon blind assumptions rather than open eyed observation.

What about the transhumanist attempt to attain everlasting life? Out of an
apparent fear that religious tradition might attempt to slow down
technological innovation, transhumanists accuse religious representatives of
holding a vested interest in provenance over matters of death and
immortality. One of the impediments to the advance toward cybernetic
immortality is religion, they say. Religion stands in the way. Religion
threatens to block progress. This is because religion has traditionally
sought to provide a palliative for people faced with death. Religion brings
acceptance of death, and comfort with that acceptance. Ready to engage in
combat with traditional religion, in Promethean style Kurzweil wants to defy
death and use nanotechnology as a weapon to defeat death. "The primary role
of traditional religion is deathist rationalization—that is, rationalizing
the tragedy of death as a good
order to benefit from what the Singularity can bring, we need to
our deathist rationalization. We need to sweep traditional religion out of
our road.

Given what was mentioned just above, it would appear to me that any
improvement in human health or even longevity would be greeted by Christian
moralists as a blessing from science, a gift to be thankful for. No
theological recalcitrance would block progress toward human betterment
through medical technology. On the other hand, a Christian theologian is
likely to contend that the extension of the present form of human life for
the indefinite future offered in the transhumanist scenario simply does not
correspond to the biblical vision of resurrection from the dead. Our
redemption through resurrection into the new creation does not correspond to
cybernetic immortality. But, that is another matter, and not one I want to
make central in this essay. Rather, I would like to understand more clearly
the ramifications of transhumanist assumptions regarding progress in light
of the Bible's promise of a coming future transformation.

*Futurology and Eschatology*

The appearance of transhumanist thinking and future forecasting has been
made possible by recent advances in technology nested within a three century
tradition of belief in progress. What belief in progress has done for
Western civilization is hold in front of us a positive vision of the future.
Transhumanism holds up a positive vision of the future, a variant of visions
which have become quite familiar over the last half century.

Here, let us expand the context for understanding the place of transhumanist
thinking within the wider horizon of Western culture, and also within
Christian theology. Two key elements in the transhumanist vision I would
like to analyze are these: belief that the future will be different from the
past plus the confidence that we can rely upon progress to bring this new
future to pass. I would like to analyze these two commitments within a
review of just what the concept of the future entails.

Two distinctive yet complementary ways for viewing the future stand before
us. The first way is to foresee the future as growth, as an actualization of
potentials residing in the present or past. The second way is to anticipate
something new, to prophesy a coming new reality. The first can be identified
with the Latin term *futurum. *This term suggests growth, development,
maturation, or fruition. An oak tree is the actualized *futurum *of a
potential that already exists in the acorn. The Latin term *adventus*, in
contrast, is the appearance of something new, a first, so to speak. It is a
future that can be expected or hoped for, but it cannot be planned for.
Whereas *futurum *provides an image of the future that can result from
present trends, *adventus *provides a vision of a future that only God can
make happen.42<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn42>

The now nearly effete era of futurology relied upon *futurum. *We might date
the birth of futurology with the founding of the World Future Society in
1967, although pioneering thought in the 1950s led up to it. Alvin Toffler
spoke of the futurists as "a growing school of social critics, scientists,
philosophers, planners, and others who concern themselves with the
alternatives facing man as the human race collides with an onrushing
school of futurists who flourished before many of today's
transhumanists were born is all but dead now; but their legacy remains
instructive for us today.

The "Earth Day" futurists of the late 1960s and 1970s set forth projections
based upon then present trends. They forecasted alternative scenarios of
damage to our planet and terrifying die backs of starving people if trends
continued toward increased population growth, increased natural resource
depletion, increased agricultural and industrial production, increased
pollution, along with increased threats to the ozone layer. They even warned
us of global warming. These futurists structured their thinking according to
what I call the understanding-decision-control (udc) formula: we need
to *understand
*present trends along with the alternative scenarios they could lead to; we
need to make a *decision* regarding which alternative future we should
actualize; and then we the human race can take *control *over our destiny
rather than be pilloried by the onrush of an otherwise uncontrollable
provided the science that was thought would provide human control
over our planetary future.

Whereas the path to the future pictured by the futurists was a movement from
here to there, the path envisioned by Christian theologians reversed the
direction. The vision of God's future would require the advent of something
new, the arrival of a reality that we ourselves could not control. Roman
Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, spoke of God's future as a "mystery," as a
coming reality beyond our rational control. Human consciousness transcends
present reality with an openness toward the future, to be sure, Rahner said;
but we must rely on the fact that "this future wills to give itself through
its own self-communication....which is still in the process of historical
theologian Carl Braaten sharply defined the difference between
futurology and eschatology: "A crucial difference between secular futurology
and Christian eschatology is this: the future in secular futurology is *reached
*by a process of the world's *becoming. *The future in Christian eschatology
*arrives *by the *coming *of God's kingdom. The one is a *becoming *and the
other a *coming."*46<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn46>

In light of these understandings of the future, it is clear that the concept
with which transhumanists work is the future as *futurum, *the future as a
futurologist would grasp
and startling things await us in the future, but the way from here to
there is growth, technological advance. Human and posthuman flourishing will
be the result of step by step advances.This understanding of the posthuman
future depends on a related concept, namely,
the doctrine of progress we now turn.

*Progress in Technology*

As we have seen, transhumanism relies on the doctrine of progress. Adherence
to progress lies at the level of assumption. One might ask: is such an
assumption warranted? There is no doubt that progress in technology is a
reality. Technological progress is the poster child of Enlightenment
civilization. Yet, we have reason to ask whether progress is limited to
technology or whether all of reality is being carried toward the future by
the flow of progress. Specifically, is it reasonable to think of human
nature as progressive?

The backbone of the doctrine of progress is that "*something *is better than
it had been and promises to get better still in the
Western idea burst forth during the Renaissance, and originally
included a vision of a better future for culture. Eventually, cultural
advance was eclipsed by industrial and then scientific or technological
progress. Since the Enlightenment, "contemporary science and technology in
effect co-opted the idea of progress, claiming improvement as self-evident."
find ourselves today thinking objectively about the progressive
of technology and, to some extent science; but we cannot be confident that
we see progress culturally or morally. "Because the notion of purpose or end
in relation to nature was abandoned in modern science, there is no basis in
science or in technology for judging the value of the ends to be served by
technologies and therefore no basis for judging that changes to natural
entities are improvements. This isolation of ends from means creates an
ethical gulf between technical knowledge and its

What is key here is that our post-Enlightenment civilization has witnessed a
split between technological progress and moral values. This split can be
invisible, however, when the idea of progress seems to assume its own
inherent definition of "better" and places this value in conflict with the
values of the surrounding culture. When this happens, culture feels overrun
by progress; and then technology is viewed as dehumanizing.

Despite the threat of dehumanization, it is clear that technological
progress is driving our civilization. So, we ask: in what direction? Does
technology determine the direction for us? Or, do we draw upon values from
other sources and press technology into the service of actualizing those
values? Does the dazzle of technological innovation temporarily blind us to
the need for retrieving our fundamental value stance? Writing in the 1960s
and 1970s, Georgetown University futurist Victor Ferkiss cautioned against
allowing technology to follow its own course without being directed by human
commitment to values such as justice, equality, and human well-being. "To
control technology, to control the direction of human evolution, we must
have some idea of where we are going and how far, else we will be mere
passengers rather than drivers of the chariot of

Over the last four decades futurists such as Ferkiss have wrestled with the
role of technology in bearing our civilization toward its future. Not merely
the machines we invent are relevant. Perhaps more relevant is the
technological mindset, the cultural incorporation of the machine into our
self-understanding as human beings. The nearly primordial concept of *techne
* or *technique*—refers to the complex of standardized means for attaining a
predetermined result. The technical mind converts otherwise spontaneous and
unreflective behavior into behavior that is deliberate and rationalized.
What distinguishes our modern world is the sheer delight we take in *
technique*, finding fascination at more complex computers, faster jets, and
bigger bombs. New nouns such as "technological man" or "technological
civilization" have come to describe the ever expanding and apparently
irreversible rule of technique in all domains of life. Technique has
expanded not only our practical lives, but it has also entered into our
inner lives. Technique has become constitutive of the identity of modern
human being. "Technology is what has made man man," wrote

But, we might ask: could progress take us to the point where a fully
"technological man" or perhaps a fully "technologized humanity" could
emerge? To believe such a thing is either possible let alone desirable is to
embrace a myth. "Technological man is more myth than reality," warned
Because of the split between technique and value. Technique is still
pressed into the service of values that transcend it, whether we observe
this or not. And what critical observers have seen during the industrial age
in the modern West is the subordination of both science and technology into
the service of economic greed and political domination. Today's technology
is still supported and guided by yesterday's bourgeois values. Nothing
suggests this arrangement will change. "What if the new man combines the
animal irrationality of primitive man with the calculated greed and
power-lust of industrial man, while possessing the virtually Godlike powers
granted him by technology? This would be the ultimate

Now, just how is this relevant to our analysis of the transhumanist project?
Note two things: first, note the false assumption that technological
progress has a built in direction or purpose, false because it fails to
recognize the split between progress and value; second, note the close
alliance between transhumanist progress and free market capitalism. The
values allegedly inherent within evolution and progress will not be able to
sustain themselves in the face of the pressure to serve the demands of the
funders. Money talks. What money says goes. No way exists to liberate
technological progress from the vested interests of the economic and
political powers which make such progress possible. Despite their feeble
whisperings of liberal values such as altruism, cooperation, and ecology,
the progress transhumanists anticipate will be unavoidably pressed into the
service of consolidating and expanding the wealth of its investors.

*Does Technology De-Humanize Us?*

**Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems Bill Joy opened the twenty-first
century with a prophetic essay, "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us." Can we
imagine a future in which we, members of the human race as we know it, will
be no longer? Will downloading our intelligence into a machine threaten the
continuance of or humanity? "But if we are downloaded into our technology,"
Joy asks, "what are the chances that we will thereafter be ourselves or even
transformation of the natural world around us along with the
transformation of ourselves into something new that surpasses us raises the
question: will the kind of technological progress advocated by
transhumanists actually de-humanize us? Would such a dehumanization be due
to this specific technological proposal, or is it due to the very nature of
technique itself?

Watching the incorporation of technique into human self-understanding has
alarmed both theologians and secular humanists for half a century now. Some
fear that technology applied to the inner life de-humanizes us, that it cuts
us off from our otherwise spontaneous joy at being natural creatures.
"Technique is opposed to nature," writes French social critic and Reformed
theologian Jacques Ellul. "It destroys, eliminates, or subordinates the
natural world, and does not allow this world to restore itself or even to
enter into a symbiotic relation with
Ellul's pitting human nature in opposition to technique is a bit
extreme; because most anthropologies would affirm that the pursuit of
technological innovation is one of the obvious attributes of human nature.
We are *homo faber, *the species that makes things. So, the threat of
dehumanization comes not from technological advance per se; rather, the
threat comes from our temptation to so identify with our technological
production that we forget our relationship to the natural world. In order to
protect us from such forgetfulness, Ferkiss proposes a new norm: "man is
part of nature and therefore cannot be its conqueror and indeed he owes it
some respect."58<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn58>

Just how it is that technology threatens our humanity is subtle. On the one
hand, transhumanists propose a technology that will enhance our humanity, at
least the intelligent aspect of humanity. On the other hand, once technology
takes over and replicates itself, it will leave our present stage of
humanity in the evolutionary dust. An emerging posthumanity will replace us.
We might ask: if we replace ourselves with posthumanity, will we have given
expression to our essential human potential for self-transcendence through
technology? Just how should we think about this?

If yesterday's futurists could speak to today's challenge, they would most
likely warn us of tendencies within us to surrender what is human to the
mindset of technique. "While it is untrue that technology determines the
future independently of human volition, there is no question that that human
individuals and human society are increasingly under pressure to conform to
the demands of technological efficiency, and there is a real possibility
that the essence of humanity will be lost in the process, that human history
will come to an end and be converted into a mere prelude to the history of a
posthuman society in which machines rather than men
admonishes us to avoid this pitfall. "Man must maintain the
distinction between himself and the machines of his creation....not only
must man stand above the machine, he must be in control of his own
presciently anticipating today's proposal to create a posthuman
intelligence, Ferkiss declares that we should preserve our humanness; we
should maintain today's humanity over against the temptation to replace it
with something more advanced. "Man's greatest need is not to transcend his
species as such but to develop it fully....Man is not a superape; he is no
longer an ape at all. Before we abandon man for a machine-man or a genetic
mutant, we should learn what he can do in his present form once liberated
from hunger, fear, and
Ferkiss the humanist would represent the religious road block the
transhumanists would like to clear out of the way.

Now, this observation that we human beings belong to nature and are embedded
in nature is important, to be sure; yet this is not the point I would like
to stress here. What is more important to the present analysis is the naive
sense of control or false sense of dominance that technological victories
over nature might elicit. University of Chicago theologian David Tracy
alerts us to the dangers of sacrificing our better judgment to naive trust
in technological progress. "Now *techne *becomes the productof the will to
domination, power and control...a power on its own, leveling all culture;
annihilating all at-home-ness in the cosmos, uprooting all other questions
in favor of those questions under its control; producing a planetary
thought-world where instrumental reason, and it alone, will pass as
thought.... The object cannot think. The subject will not. We began as
technical agents of our willful destiny. We seem to end as technicized
spectators at our own

*The Theological Critique of Progress*

The assignment given me by the conference leadership is to examine the
concept of progress underlying the transhumanist vision, and to look at it
from the distinctive perspective of a Lutheran theologian. For resources, I
will turn to a theological subtradition which is not exclusively Lutheran
but which relies upon Luther's Reformation insights into human nature. This
is the neo-orthodox school of theological thinking which reigned during the
middle of the twentieth century. One key figure was Reinhold Niebuhr, long
time professor of social thought at Union Seminary in New York, along with
one of his disciples, Langdon Gilkey, the late professor of theology at the
University of Chicago. In the tradition of Augustine and Luther, they
proffered a version of "Christian realism" regarding the sinful condition in
which we human beings find ourselves; and they cautioned against
overestimating what we can achieve within history apart from the gracious
action of God.

In his writings during the 1930s and 1940s, Niebuhr shows awareness that our
modern Post-Enlightenment culture which plays host to both natural science
and European imperialism is a branch growing on a larger historical tree.
The tree's trunk stands with roots in classical Greece and Rome, as well as
in the soil of Israel's history and the Christian Bible. The modern idea of
progress, he avers, is both an outgrowth and a pruned version of biblical
eschatology. The prophets and the apocalypticists of Scripture saw human
history as dynamic, as changing, as moving from promise to fulfillment. But
human advance is also subject to divine judgment. What this means is that
all events within history are ambiguous—that is, the advance of each human
potential can lead to either a good actualization or an evil actualization.
Unambiguous goodness is not guaranteed by progress. Only
eschatologically—only at the advent of God's Kingdom which will come by an
act of divine grace—will unambiguous fulfillment be possible. In the
meantime, we live in the paradox of being able to envision fulfillment while
experiencing the inescapable dialectic of success and failure.

"The idea of progress is the underlying presupposition of what may be
broadly defined as 'liberal' culture. If that assumption is challenged the
whole structure of meaning in the liberal world is imperiled....The creed is
nevertheless highly dubious....It is false in so far as all historical
processes are ambiguous."63<http://metanexus.net/Magazine/Default.aspx?TabId=68&id=10546&SkinSrc=%5bG%5dSkins%2f_default%2fNo+Skin&ContainerSrc=%5bG%5dContainers%2f_default%2fNo+Container#_edn63>The
ambiguity of which Niebuhr speaks is the ever present potential
by human freedom, namely, the potential to choose evil and chaos as well as
what is good and fulfilling. The problem is that today's believers in
progress are blind to this ambiguity. They trust that inherent to the
progress of history is a built-in *logos *or guiding principle that
transforms otherwise meaningless growth into a process of betterment. This
belief is a truncation of the biblical eschatology which preceded it. It is
an outgrowth of the effect of Scripture on Western culture, to be sure; but
the concept of progress prunes off this growth the previous recognition of
the ineluctable continuation of creative evil. "The 'idea of progress,' the
most characteristic and firmly held article in the *credo *of modern man, is
the inevitable philosophy of history emerging from the Renaissance. This
result was achieved by combining the classical confidence in man with the
Biblical confidence in the meaningfulness of history. It must be observed,
however, that history is given a simpler meaning than that envisaged in the
prophetic-Biblical view...[Progress] did not recognize that history is
filled with endless possibilities *of good and evil*...It did not recognize
that every new human potency may be an instrument of chaos as well as of
order; and that history, therefore, has no solution of its own

We moderns have inherited the optimism of the Renaissance while tacitly
rejecting the realism regarding human nature given us by the Reformation. A
sinner in need of divine grace was the starting point of Reformation
anthropology, a starting point quickly forgotten during our eras of science
building and nation building. "Original sin really means that human nature
has completely fallen," writes Reformer Martin Luther. "The intellect has
become darkened, so that we no longer know God and His will...our conscience
is no longer quiet but, when it thinks of God's judgment, despairs and
adopts illicit defenses and remedies. These sins have taken such deep root
in our being that in this life they cannot be entirely
are soiled by sin, so to speak. No amount of progress will wash it
"Sin remains, then, perpetually in this life, until the hour of the last
judgment comes and then at last we shall be made perfectly
amount of human intelligence, wit, will power, creativity, reform, or
revolution can enable us to dig ourselves out of this hole. We are unable to
transform ourselves. Only God can deliver us.

Now, says Niebuhr, without this acknowledgement of who we are as human
beings, we will find ourselves with something less than a purchase on the
reality of our situation. "This tragic aspect of history, towards which the
Renaissance was partly oblivious, was precisely that aspect of history which
the Reformation most fully comprehended. This comprehension is contained in
the Reformation polemic against all doctrines of sanctification, whether
Catholic, secular or sectarian-Christian, in which it detects a too-simple
confidence in historical possibilities. Its doctrine of 'justification by
faith' contains implications for an adequate interpretation of history which
have never been fully appropriated or
historical ideology or scientific technology can possibly provide us
unambiguous sanctification—that is, unambiguous improvement let alone
perfection. Failure to realize this leaves us in unreality.

Realism requires an accurate portrayal of the human situation. It requires
an honest recognition of human sinfulness. At any time and in any place,
otherwise happy and fulfilled human beings may initiate evil and
destruction. This ever present risk of sinful activity is a universal
contingent—that is, though unnecessary it is always and everywhere possible.
"Sin is natural for man in the sense that it is universal but not in the
sense that it is
the birth of the computer age, we should have been able to predict the
coming of the computer virus, or something like it. Now, at the birth of
transhumanist technology, similar predictions would be in order. A
transhumanist spirituality would need to incorporate this kind of realism
regarding human nature, a human nature not capable of changing through
augmentation of intelligence.

When it comes to spiritual health, the realism of Luther's Reformation
becomes Niebuhr's prescription. Niebuhr structures the insights of the
Reformation paradoxically, so that they shine with a double dimensional
illumination upon our experience. Here is Niebuhr's list of "the 'yes' and
'no' of its dialectical affirmations: that the Christian is *justus et
peccator*, 'both sinner and righteous'; that history fulfills and negates
the Kingdom of God; that grace is continuous with, and in contradiction to,
nature; that Christ is what we ought to be and also what we cannot be; that
the power of God is in us and that the power of God is against us in
judgment and mercy; that all these affirmations which are but varied forms
of the one central paradox of the relation of the Gospel to history must be
applied to the experiences of life, from top to bottom. There is no area of
life where 'grace' does not
of who we human beings are, subject to sin, our fulfillment will
require gracious divine action on our behalf. The good news of the Christian
gospel is that God promises us such grace.

*Progress Under Judgment*

The core worry of the Christian theologian here is the naiveté with which
believers in progress remove the ambiguities of human history, with which
they maintain confidence in the good that progress can bring while denying
the potential growth of evil. What the theologian ought to steadfastly
maintain is that our vision of human abundance and human flowering must hold
on to its transcendence; we must hold on to the judgment that the
eschatological kingdom of God renders against the accomplishments of human
history. "There is a great temptation today to confuse sociological
evolution with spiritual progress," writes Jacques Ellul. "The Bible
expressly tells us that the history of mankind ends in

That Christian reliance upon a transcendent judgment against human history
is a necessary antidote to the naiveté of faith in progress seems confirmed
by events during the first half of the twentieth century. Technological and
even cultural advance in the European West were insufficient to prevent
political tyranny, mass genocide, and global war. Langdon Gilkey recites the
litany of events that confirmed the need for seeing a dialectic between
immanent progress and God's transcendent kingdom. "In the First World
War—despite the refinement of European culture and the moral idealism of
that culture's self-understanding—Europe experienced the apparent
self-destruction of this most modern and developed of societies in a
prolonged and senseless bath of blood. In the Depression and its aftermath,
the West as a whole experienced the self-contradiction of its economic
forms, and the consequent rise of fascist and communist totalitarianisms
that dissolved the hard-won political freedoms of modernity. And in the
Second World War, with its slavery, genocide and technology of ultimate
destruction, the world experienced an eruption of technological and
sophisticated evil: personal, political and social, unknown to history
before. History seemed to manifest demonic regress not progress in the
social, political and moral

Gilkey's theological judgment reiterates that of Reinhold Niebuhr and was
shared by the influential school of neo-orthodox theologians subsequent to
World War II. "It seemed the obvious lesson of current events that morals do
not advance in history. Hence, a progress of technology may in fact augur a
regress in social harmony and social justice, and thus all that is
cumulative, instead of 'saving' mankind, can threaten to become the demonic
instrument of mankind's destruction. This permanent ambiguity of historical
process, this continuation of sin even in an advancing culture, meant that
if there be a kingdom, it could not be realized through a sociohistorical
development leading to a perfect society in

When considering our evolutionary history and technological future, what
direction should a realistic anthropology follow? Paul Jersild, in a recent
article on science and faith, points a cautious way. "In some respects, a
more civilized society does emerge with the evolution of cultures, but there
is ample evidence that evolving societies invent still more horrific ways to
exalt themselves and destroy their neighbors. Evolution, whether biological
or cultural, does not mean inexorable progress on the road toward
sum, we should move forward, but we should not presume progress in
respect is inevitable or guaranteed.


It is my conclusion that members of the transhumanist school of thought are
naive about human nature; and they are overestimating what they can
accomplish through technological innovation. They are naive because they
take insufficient account of the propensity we human beings have for using
neutral things or even good things for selfish purposes, resulting in chaos
and suffering. The assumption transhumanists seem to make that both
biological evolution and technological progress have their own built in
entelechy or purpose from which we can derive our social ethic overlooks the
threat to their values posed by the funders. By depending on private capital
and even building *laissez faire *capitalism into their value system, they
risk subjugating all their technological achievements to the values of the
bourgeois class. The result will be technological advances that benefit the
investors to the detriment of the wider society and the ecosphere they would
like to rehabilitate.

The forecast of a future replete with cybernetic immortality and cosmic
consciousness seems extravagant and fantastic. Whether it is possible for
our intelligence and self-consciousness to be reduced to information
patterns and then uploaded on to a non-biological substrate is not a
question I can address here. But I would like to point out that there is no
warrant for believing that all our human problems will be solved by
transhumanist technology. There is no warrant for thinking that the
currently selfish human race will be able to transform itself into an
altruistic or benevolent one. There is no warrant for thinking that we human
beings with our history of economic injustice and ecologically unhealthy
habits are willing or able, on our own, to eliminate poverty and protect the
ecosphere. No amount of increased intelligence will redeem us from what the
theologians call *sin.*

I call this the *eschatological problem. *I ask: how do we get there from
here? If we in the human race have been responsible for selfishness,
economic injustice, and environmental degradation, how can we then become
capable of benevolence, economic justice, and ecological health? How can a
leopard change its spots? What transhumanists are hoping for is *adventus*,
but they have only *futurum *to work with.

God has promised some of what appears in the transhumanist vision. But the
transformation of the human heart so that it exudes benevolence and justice
requires divine grace. The advent of the new creation will require much more
than what our evolutionary history by itself can deliver. It will require
God's transforming power. Increased human intelligence cannot on its own
accomplish what it will take divine grace to make happen.

One more observation. I would like to point out that this near apocalyptic
vision projected by the transhumanists includes some elements which appear
irreconcilable with the biblical promise of a new creation. The biblical
promise begins with Jesus' Easter resurrection as a model. This includes
suffering and death, complete death. It also includes a divine act of
raising the dead to new life. What happened to Jesus is what will happen to
us. NRS 1 Corinthians 15:20: " But in fact Christ has been raised from the
dead, the first fruits of those who have died." The New Testament does not
look forward to living forever in our present state; rather, it presumes we
will pass through death to the new life God promises. Eternal life is not
the same thing as extended life.

The picture of cybernetic immortality painted by the transhumanists does not
look like the Bible's promise of resurrection. Even if genetic enhancement
and nanotechnology are able to increase human longevity or even lead to
cybernetic immortality, the uploaded self-consciousness will still need to
pass through the purgatorial cleansing of death and resurrection. Apart from
the fulfillment of this promise, the future of human history will remain
like its past, ambiguous.

Finally, a Christian theologian can only encourage continued scientific
research into genetics and nanotechnology when the goals are improved human
health and well-being. Attempts to enhance human intelligence through
technological augmentation might also be greeted with approval, although
probably not with overwhelming enthusiasm. Because the theologian looks
forward to the advent of divine transformation, he or she can celebrate
anticipatory transformations brought by advances in science and technology.
Biblical theology need not be recalcitrant or Luddite. Biblical theology can
be ready to celebrate technological breakthroughs while remaining realistic
about what to expect from human nature.


http://www.transhumanism.org/index.php/WTA/declaration/ (accessed January
22, 2008). Transhumanism is an expansion on *extropianism*. Extropry, in
contrast to entropy, refers to a system's capacity for growth based upon its
functional order, intelligence, vitality, energy, and experience.
Extropianism or extropism is a set of values oriented toward improving the
human condition through technology that might some day bring immortality.

Campbell and Mark Walker, "Religion and Transhumanism: Introducing a
Conversation," *Journal of Evoluion and Technology*, 14:2 (August 2005) 1.
See: Nick Bostrom, home page 2005,

*Designer Evolution: A Transhumanist Manifesto* (Amherst NY: Prometheus
Books, 2006) 87.

19 italics in original; see: 202.


32, italics in original..


*Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence *(Cambridge MA:
Harvard University Press, 1988) 116.

*Designer Evolution*, 20.


are friends of the Singularity, believers who are working
to make it happen. The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
(SIAI), for example, was founded in 2000 to develop safe artificial
intelligence (AI) and to raise awareness of both the dangers and potential
benefits it believes AI presents. http://www.singinst.org/.

*The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology *(New York: Penguin,
2005) 136.




*The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the
Internet *(New York: W.W. Norton, 1999) 304.

*Singularity*, 372.


*Designer Evolution, *22, italics in original.

2005) 251.



de Grey, "Foreword: Forever Young," Ibid., 9.

B. L. Kirkwood, "A systematic look at an old problem,"
*Nature *451: 7179: 644-647 (7 February 2008) 645.

*Singularity,* 212-213.



*Singularity, *325.


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