Do you know what one of the most annoying things about having a cell phone is? Having to remember where I put it. It’s so obnoxious: One day it’s in my laundry, the next it’s in the office. I just can’t keep track of it. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could just integrate the phone into my brain, and bingo! No more losing it.
This simple argument is pushing many towards the idea that we can combine our biological parts with technological parts, not simply for the sake of empowering those who are crippled, but also to expand a person’s abilities beyond their capabilities.
This just screams “trouble”, as seen in films like Surrogates or the Youtube series H+. After all, if man and machine are combined, there’s a whole lot of trouble that’ll be coming down: Overriding the human will, turning men into “brains in jars”. It’s horrendous!
There are actually people who want this to happen. Known as “transhumanists,” this group defines themselves by their desire to use technology to “evolve” man into his next stage. There are many methods for doing this, from cybernetic augmentation to transferring human consciousness into a digital source. The most popular theory is Ray Kurzweil’s “cybernetic singularity,” which predicts that the capabilities of the human brain and computers will eventually meet and resemble one another.
But whatever theory of Transhumanism a person holds to, there is still the big question: Can the biological and technological coexist?
There are many who say no. Ethicists like Brent Waters claim that transhumanism, as a view of the world, has detrimental consequences for Christian theology. Other thinkers, like political analyst Francis Fukuyama, see transhumanism as a danger to humanity, for it neglects the value of human life.
Others argue that transhumanism can both co-exist and empower Christians in their task. H+ writer Guillermo Santamaria believes that Christianity and transhumanism can integrate, and that they can work together towards similar goals. For example, Santamaria notes that Christians and transhumanists both want people to keep on living:
It is natural for living things to wish to continue living. The rule in nature, animal and human is survival. This is why we eat every day. This is why we avoid oncoming trucks, etc. So it should not surprise us that Jesus espoused this same principles.
Death according to the Bible is not a natural condition of humanity. It is an aberration. When man was created he was not created to die, but to live indefinitely. In fact according to the Bible as all Christians know, “just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” Romans 5:12. So Adam and Eve were not created to die. Now some might say that transhumanism seeks to deny the influence of sin on humanity or to try to circumvent the decree of God. But this is not true. All transhumanism tries to do is extend life.
Santamaria has a point here. Christians, as beholders of the Imago Dei and the inherent value of Man, should want to help men live longer, healthier lives. And if that involves technology and implants, we should heartily support it. These things are transhumanist in nature, for they help us surpass our human flaws.
But transhumanists do hold a lot of incorrect views of the human body (it’s non-essential), the soul (it’s transferable), and humanity’s end-goal (transcending organic/original nature).
So, transhumanists are a group whom we should be careful around, lest we make a mistake. But that doesn’t mean we must necessarily fear the technology used by transhumanists. In many circumstances, we can improve and enhance the human experience with many simple technologies and enhancements without necessarily changing the essence of man (if that’s even possible). For example, the creation of a digital eye allows many people to see, even if they are more cyborg-y than before. However, other device developments — such as a phone placed directly into the biological brain — are less necessary, and may cause more harm than good. But it’s difficult to know that for sure without actual studies.
But as our digital capabilities develop more and more, so does our need to discern through the technological capabilities, opportunities, and dangers as thinking Christians, lest we turn too much towards technology, or neglect the potential of such items.