What does the Bible say about transhumanism?

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What does the Bible say about transhumanism?

June 20, 2023 -

Robotic person using VR headset in a futuristic world © By Влада Яковенко/stock.adobe.com (Generated with AI)

Robotic person using VR headset in a futuristic world © By Влада Яковенко/stock.adobe.com (Generated with AI)

Robotic person using VR headset in a futuristic world © By Влада Яковенко/stock.adobe.com (Generated with AI)

Science fiction stretches our imagination, conjuring nightmarish dystopias and utopian dreams alike, sometimes thousands of years into the future. Often, they involve transhumanist ideas. I’ve written a bit of science fiction and, of course, read many of the greats. Among my favorites are Herbert Spencer, Philip K. Dick, Lui Cixin, Orson Scott Card, and Jules Verne.

However, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series remains my favorite.

Foundations and Earth is one of the later books in his epic series. In it, a space traveler encounters isolated planet communities so evolved they’ve essentially ceased to be human. In one hidden, highly advanced civilization, the people are hyper-individualistic, hedonistic hermaphrodites with armies of robotic slaves. The other planet is composed of hyper-evolved humans with merged consciousnesses that encompass plants and animals. These two planets provide two possible directions for the future of humanity: hyper-communal or hyper-individualistic, but both imagine thousands of years into future possibilities.

Although not lauded as a particularly excellent work, Foundation and Earth nevertheless sparked my intellectual journey into deconstructing transhumanism many years ago.

Visions like these may seem far-fetched, but given tens of thousands of years with our current rate of progress, might it happen?

The looming dangers of transhumanism

Last week, an AI chatbot using digital avatars delivered a forty-minute sermon in a Lutheran church in Germany. Large-language-model AIs like ChatGPT draw existential concern from across the field.

AI, and tech like it, raise profound questions about the future of humanity.

For instance, Apple recently released the Vision Pro, its first augmented reality headset that allows you to see digital images laid over your physical surroundings. It seems to work far better than the Meta Quest Pro, though the Vision Pro is far more expensive. Andrew Bosworth, who is over Meta’s metaverse, hopes that VR will satisfy “all the reasons we leave our house.”

When the tech becomes cheaper, virtual reality could transport us into even more immersive entertainment, but do we really need more immersive escapes from reality?

Or take genetic engineering, which could allow parents to choose traits for their children.

Want a tall, ambidextrous basketball player? No problem. This terrifying prospect is called “designer babies.” On some scale, designing babies is already possible. One company screens the genetic traits of embryos, discarding the ones with a high risk of disease or unwanted traits, then implants a better-suited embryo through in vitro fertilization.

Perhaps we could clone the most brilliant people.

While it’s illegal in most places, cloning is theoretically close to possible. A company is researching how to engineer artificial wombs, which could lead the way to fully conceiving and giving birth to a child without sex or pregnancy. Who needs marriage, then? Could the state raise our children?

With a failing sense of purpose, then, what if you feel depressed or lonely?

Then we could synthesize a drug to perfect our brain chemistry into perfect, synthetic bliss. Of course, that’s how Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World depicts our course.

The dystopian realities are endless.

Yet, in some ways, the march of technology seems inevitable, right?

So, what is transhumanism? How does it fit with the biblical picture of our destiny?

What is transhumanism?

Encyclopedia Britannica defines transhumanism as a “philosophical and scientific movement that advocates the use of current and emerging technologies—such as genetic engineering, cryonics, artificial intelligence (AI), and nanotechnology—to augment human capabilities and improve the human condition.”

Transhumanism should not be confused with transgenderism, although they share a common set of assumptions.

The prefix trans means across or beyond, as in “transcontinental.” Humanism refers to the philosophical belief in the value and prime importance of humans, deemphasizing the need for divine or spiritual help. So, transhumanism finds hope for the growth of our species through enhancement beyond our current natural abilities. We’ll contrast humanism with transhumanism a bit more later.

Sometimes, transhumanists also believe in a future of “posthumans.” Transhumans will be like an intermediary stage of increased potential, where we’re crossing the boundary to posthumanity, completely unrecognizable from our present form. Transhumanism, then, goes “across” to a new humanity, with the focus of the movement pinpointed at increased potential.

While few academics or laypeople explicitly ascribe to transhumanism, it carries the torch of the Enlightenment, naturalism, and postmodernism. The more secular and technologically advanced a society, the more transhumanism becomes the default worldview.

Why should we care about transhumanism?

Transhumanism can lead to disaster.

As technology makes us less human, we will become more detached from reality, more dependent on computers, more dependent on tech companies and the government, and likely more entrenched in sin.

Conceivable dystopian visions abound:

  • A governing body could force you to wear augmented-reality contacts to ensure you don’t read any offensive literature.
  • A conscious mind uploaded to a computer could find itself stuck in a bodiless form, tortured without recognizable sensation.
  • A super-race of wealthy, elite, genetically enhanced humans could excel in the workforce, creating a class of first- and second-rate citizens, resulting in widespread oppression.
  • A super-AI that protects humanity from itself could enforce authoritarian rule where humans are imprisoned to protect themselves.
  • AI could allow police to predict who will commit a crime and they’re arrested before they do anything wrong.

You probably recognize these consequences because they’ve all been represented in media. But what about the ones we can’t predict?

Transhumanism is dangerous because it’s like a frog in boiling water. We already essentially use smartphones like a transhumanist enhancement. As my old philosophy professor used to say about our phones, “It’s your second brain.”

As we lose our humanity, is what we gain worth the sacrifice?

Transhumanists seek salvation through a kind of self-made evolution via technology through accumulated enhancements. In one sense, transhumanism merely imagines the continued growth of current technological developments in things like phones, the internet, social media, genetic engineering, and AI.

Given our technological trajectory, we would cease to be recognizably human after a few hundred years. We would move beyond the essential limitation of our nature to become “trans” humans.

In a biblical sense, transhumanism is a kind of faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The future of an enhanced human race is a “conviction of things not seen.”

For others, transhumanism is a kind of default position for those who reject spirituality.

But what else could they put their faith in?

Three secular faiths

We could say that the strictly non-spiritual person, an atheist or agnostic, could take one of three positions about humanity’s condition and our future (aside from taking no position at all).

  1. The cynical approach believes we’re doomed to our present condition. Limitations and existential questions, like death and evil, have no solution. Our species will live for a few hundred thousand years at most, a blink in time relative to the age of the universe, then die in the sun’s collapse. More likely, climate change, nuclear war, or something else will bring our species to extinction in the very near future. The universe is a cold, uncaring place without reason or moral fiber.
  2. The humanist approach flourished in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Here, a secular thinker could hope that we collectively possess enough genius and grit to progress to a utopia—eventually. The arts, literature, intellect, politics, science, and education will coalesce into a close-to-perfect future civilization.
  3. The transhumanist approach believes technology, driven by science, will enhance humanity to the point of escaping the human condition. Transhumanism departs from humanism because it admits we’re too flawed to achieve a utopia as we now stand; we must secure it through technological development. Whether by genetic engineering, brain implants, or drugs, we will escape our present restraints.

We could add political beliefs to all of these assumptions, but underlying these philosophies is that the state, whether democratic or otherwise, will help realize these values.

Eccentric tech billionaire Elon Musk seems to espouse transhumanism, and he practices what he preaches. He is the founder or CEO of SpaceX, OpenAI (which created ChatGPT), X.AI, Tesla, Twitter, and Neuralink. Specifically, Neuralink aims to develop a brain implant that allows humans to merge with AI to cure certain brain diseases and potentially enhance subjects by increasing memory, etc. Neuralink is running clinical trials, and people can sign up for a patient registry on its website.

Transhumanism recognizes existential issues and thinks we must fundamentally change through enhancements to overcome them. Later, we’ll discuss imminent problems with the assumption of transhumanism, which results in unfettered medical and scientific “growth” that results in damage rather than good.

First, let’s address the philosophical claims of transhumanism.

Salvation through transhumanism? Three problems facing transhumanism

There’s a reason why so few out-and-out ascribe to transhumanism. It faces three major hurdles as a secular faith.

1. Transhumanism faces immense practical barriers.

Most transhumanists and secular thinkers acknowledge this limitation. Dr. Nick Bostrom, a prominent transhumanist and professor at Oxford, writes, “Transhumanism does not entail technological optimism,” and he admits that technology can “cause enormous harm.” Musk also warns that AI poses the single greatest threat to humanity.

To understand why, imagine we can overcome the technological roadblocks to eventually form a “general artificial intelligence” or a “super artificial intelligence.” Then, the so-called “alignment problem” arises. This refers to aligning the goals and processes of AI with the values of humanity.

For example, say we program a super-AI to eliminate cancer. The AI might conclude that killing all living humans and animals will be the fastest way to achieve that goal. Humans don’t naturally think like computers, so AI would be surprisingly unpredictable despite rigidly following instructions. This problem shows the difficulty of applying technology when unforeseen consequences lie around every corner.

As a present example, consider social media. A technology designed to connect and bring people together ultimately caused a tsunami of division and loneliness.

So even if transhumanist technology gets developed, the question of application remains highly uncertain at best and horrifyingly dangerous at worst. Humans are bad at predicting consequences, especially when it comes to technology. This poses the first major hurdle faced by transhumanists.

2. Transhumanism cannot establish moral values.

Like any worldview without an objective source of morality, a technocratic society would struggle to determine values. In pursuit of technology, what will be sacrificed?

Transhumanists assure us that the movement would remain democratic, avoiding a dystopian future where, for example, the government mind controls people through brain implants.

But we know that technology influences culture just as much as culture reciprocally drives technology. Try to get a competitive job without internet service or a phone. Try to become a freelance author with a typewriter, or, better yet, papyrus with an ink quill. Philosophers will go hoarse pointing out how technology influences us just as much as we influence it. Tech is often like a runaway train we start but can’t stop.

3. Transhumanism won’t fix our most fundamental problems just by enhancing our abilities.

For example, fear, pride, immorality, anger, oppression, injustice, and the other human issues we’re so intimately familiar with? As with humanism, this ideology faces the intractable curse of the human heart turning away from what’s good.

At best, under the transhumanist vision, we’ll live for thousands of years while being extremely intelligent and full of maximum sensual stimulation and yet just as likely lacking wisdom, character, virtue, justice, morality, and even happiness. Brave New World peers into a dystopian future like that.

These three foils undercut transhumanism, even from a secular perspective.

But what does the Bible say about transhumanism?

The Pax Romana and the City of God

Worldly ideologies often result in the bitter, ironic opposite of their goals.

Communism and Marxism attempt to eradicate economic inequality and class, yet the countries that implement them consistently create the largest inequalities. Authoritarian elites rule atop wealth and corruption. Capitalism attempts to allow people to freely choose the value of goods and services, democratizing the market. Yet, in capitalist countries, large corporations become monopolies over time and create powerful lobbying groups to influence policy, as well as sway our desires through advertising.

While transhumanism wants to extend and enrich our lives, it will lead to death and emptiness.

This trend matches the Bible’s analysis of cities and empires. Systems made by humans will feel the corruption of sin. Though we should actively strive to bring society toward peace, justice, and mercy, we cannot put our hope in any political system or ideology besides Christ.

A parallel ideology in the days of Christ was the Pax Romana, the cult of Roman emperors and peace through Roman rule. The grand, lofty goal of bringing world peace has existed since at least then. Peace is nearly universally loved—but how to achieve it? Rome employed sophisticated technology: well-built roads, concrete, aqueducts, sewage systems, advanced weapons of war, stable currency, etc.

For a first-century Christian, it would have been difficult to deny the achievements by secular standards. The Romans seemed unstoppable and opulent. Jesus would have stood under the shadow of Herod’s palace. Standing in front of such illustrious advancements, it would have been difficult to deny the possibility of Rome’s achieving its dream of world peace.

Yet, as we know, Rome used subjugation, slavery, and, ironically enough, war to achieve peace. Marcus Aurelius was a stoic philosopher and strong emperor who wanted nothing more than peace, yet he spent much of his life doing what he considered necessary: leading his armies to quell rebellions. Such is the human condition.

We can draw parallels to modernity.

Algorithms are already used to capture our attention spans and make us addicted to content online. We’re already on the slide to transhumanism as our lives are intertwined with phones, cars, and earbuds. We’re moving toward augmented reality.

The slide toward transhumanism can seem inevitable.

We’ve indeed progressed in objectively measurable ways. There’s no denying that we’ve significantly lowered infant mortality and hunger in the past century. We’ve nearly tripled life expectancy since first-century Rome, from twenty-five to seventy-five years old. We’ve walked on the moon. We’ve eradicated several major diseases. There’s reason to think that, if we’re lucky, the trajectory will at least level out or even get better still. We might colonize Mars or cure cancer.

But in a biblical worldview, there’s absolutely zero chance that sin suddenly evaporates.

If we live to be two hundred years old with constant augmented reality, death and sin will remain. Personal and systemic brokenness will perpetuate.

In the place of infant mortality rates, our society has reintroduced abortion on a massive scale (incidentally, infanticide was common in Roman days). Our society promotes a “death movement.” Suicide and mental health issues are on the rise.

Our weakness reminds us of our need for Christ. “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:28–31).

Indeed, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Transhumanism can seem inevitable, but we only need to step back to see the cracks in the foundation.

“You will be like God”

Genesis 3 tells the story of the first man and woman turning away from God’s command. They speak to a mysterious snake who, unprompted, deceives Eve into taking the fruit and eating from the “knowledge of good and evil” (possibly translated as “good and bad.”) Centrally, the snake tells Eve, “You will be like God.”

We replay this sin constantly. While humans were meant to reflect God’s image into the world by tending creation, ruling peacefully, naming the animals, and creating God-centered culture and families—basically acting as mini-rulers on God’s behalf—we disobeyed. Instead, we took good and evil into our own hands, thinking we could do better. In many sins, we’re still trying to “be like god.”

In the case of transhumanism, we’re trying to become like God, reshaping ourselves after our own vision of good and bad, what’s best and worst. In a later story, the whole earth united around the goal: “let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). They want to glorify themselves and reach the heavens through technology (in their case, bricks). Notably, God does not say to himself, “How laughable! They’ll never reach the heavens.” Instead, he says, “This is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (v. 6).

So, he confused their language, forcing them to disperse and spread across the earth. Humans united around technology to make themselves great can lead to grand things, like the Tower of Babel, but ultimately it leads to sinful ends. In the story, the Lord prevented their self-serving aim.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were fully equipped to image God. In their oasis Garden, communing with God, no longer alone with each other, they were ready to fulfill their purpose of reflecting God’s likeness.

Jesus, when he came to earth, did not need enhancements to live a sinless life. While we were and are made in the image of God, Jesus is the image of God (Colossians 1:15). The “fullness of God” dwelled in him on earth without brain implants or any other technological improvements.

This means that, to follow Christ and image God, we need a renewed body and mind free from the curse of sin, but not one exceeding Edenic perfection. That’s not to say for certain whether our new bodies will in some way exceed Adam and Eve’s—perhaps they will. As for us now, we shouldn’t feel the need to become like God, exceeding our human limitations, even as we strive to escape the limitations of sin and the Fall’s curse.

So where does that leave medicine? Should Christians take medicine or use surgeries?

Transhumanism and medical ethics

In philosophy, especially in ancient and medieval thinking, “privations” were a way of thinking about something that lacked an important feature essential to its kind. For example, a coffee mug with a leak is still a coffee mug despite the fact that it can’t hold liquid (and surely, an essential property of a mug is “holds liquid”). If you melt the ceramic and make it into something else, like an ashtray, it’s no longer a coffee mug. When, exactly, one thing becomes another is an ancient and debated issue in philosophy, often called “vagueness.”

Take people as another example. We can say humans have two arms and two legs, but an amputee is still a human.

In this sense, medicine generally should aim to fix privations. Disease, hearing loss, broken bones, cuts, organ failure, and countless other ailments should be helped by medicine. However, medicine crosses a line when it tries to enhance human ability beyond natural ability. This by no means solves all medical ethical issues, but it serves as a place to start.

Other areas, like in vitro fertilization, abortion, genetic manipulation, transgenderism, and more bioethical areas, are heavily disputed in our culture. We’ve written on all of these issues in one way or another. Our contributing writer Jackson McNeese has written excellently about various bioethical issues.

While they aren’t all directly related to the issue of transhumanism, they run parallel to it.

For example, transgenderism rests on the premise that human nature is malleable and our personal purposes should supersede our biology. This doesn’t necessarily mean every trans person thinks technology will solve humanity’s existential crises—far from it. Nevertheless, they both rest on similar assumptions.

As another example, take the technology of CRISPR, a recently developed gene-editing technique. One of Dr. Jim Denison’s areas of expertise is in medical ethics, and he argues that CRISPR should be used to help cancer patients and combat other genetic diseases.

At the same time, CRISPR should not be used to edit transmutable genes; in other words, genes we know will be carried on through children. CRISPR is an example of a technology that can be used to further transhumanism and lead to “designer babies,” where couples could choose the traits of their offspring. Or CRISPR can be used to heal people of serious maladies. A gray area in gene editing would be “healing” Down’s Syndrome before the child is born.

So, while even employing CRISPR may seem like a black-and-white issue, even it faces difficult moral ambiguities.

That said, the rule of thumb that medicine should help repair gives us a bulwark against the slippery slope of transhumanism. Beyond this, we should live holistically healthy lives to prevent the need for repair work when possible. This ethic allows us to work toward Edenic blessing and a life of abundance, knowing that even when we face death and illness, Christ is our support.

Christians, watch out for conspiracy theories

Most Christians will likely agree with the rejection of transhumanism. Yet even in rightly rejecting worldly philosophies, Satan may tempt us to despair or fear.

A classic example of this is the terror some Christians may feel in conspiracies of being “chipped” through vaccines as part of the “Mark of the Beast.” Despite resting on incorrect interpretive assumptions about that passage, it also is simply false that vaccines ever included microchips. (Besides, the tracking chip that the government could follow you on is in the device you may be holding, your phone—no conspiracy required.)

Such terror is not only irrational, it’s also unbecoming of a Christian.

While Revelation has been peddled by false teachers in service of fear-mongering, the entire point of Revelation is to bring assurance to persecuted churches. God’s vision to John of the Day of Judgment allows us to hope and find peace, not fear. Fear and reverence of God and his power? Yes, but certainly not of ideologies like the Pax Romana or secular transhumanism.

Of course, Christians should consider whether a brain implant is wise. (Almost certainly, that path is unwise for many reasons.) It’s simply appropriate to say that if passages in Revelation are obscure, they’re obscure for a reason. Christians are buying into worldly foolishness when we jump at shadows of “666,” when, if you are saved in Christ, the Mark of the Beast has no power over you, whatever the number signifies. Many believe the number might be an isopsephism referring to the Emperor Nero, an evil ruler of Rome who viciously persecuted Christians. (The earliest manuscript said “616,” by the way, not 666).

For more on spotting conspiracy theories, see “Alex Jones must pay nearly $1 billion to families of Sandy Hook shooting: The problem with conspiratorial thinking.” In fact, Alex Jones uses the phrase transhuman globalists frequently as the object of his raging, speculative rants. In that article, I wrote, “Jones claims to be a Christian. Yet his careless, angry speech laced with lies and unfounded conspiracies does not reflect a Spirit-filled life. Christian, be watchful of wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

For transhumanism, conspiratorial thinking, and all other kinds of rationalizing, Paul writes, “The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (2 Corinthians 10:4–6).

Christians can be wary and wise about secular ideologies while not falling into paranoia and fear. We should call transhumanism dangerous, for it is, but for Christians, our unassailable hope remains firm.

Transhumanism is right: we need a new body and a new mind

Christianity lives in a tension that the body is good and made by God yet is also fallen and cursed.

The “flesh” describes the spiritual reality that our body leads us astray (Galatians 5:19–21). Our spirit, mind, and body are intimately connected; we are our bodies in a real way. As Dr. Preston Sprinkle points out in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul uses the “body”  interchangeably with “you.” While we pursue spiritual things, we do not do so to neglect our physical person—they are inseparable. We are to “glorify God in [our] body” (6:12). If we sin in the body, it affects our spiritual status. Sin will also leave indelible marks on our bodies.

We need a new mind, spirit, new motivations, hearts, and physical bodies while preserving our unique identity. The only person I trust with that process is Christ. Thankfully, he will do exactly that for his followers.

Transhumanism’s goal to escape death and the frailty of our bodies will fail.

The “last enemy” Christ will destroy is death (1 Corinthians 15:26). When some in the Corinthian church doubted the resurrection of the dead, Paul responded strongly: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain” (vv. 14). As we are sanctified on this earth, in this body, we create a “seed” of the glorified body he will grant us (vv. 37–38). As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (5:17).

As new creations crafted by God from the old, we have a mission: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” and we become “ambassadors for Christ” (5:18–20).

It is worth quoting Paul at length on the perishable and imperishable body. When we shake off our mortal corpse, full of disease, flaws, and, often, old age, we receive something unimaginably beautiful and redeemed in return.

What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. . . .

Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:42–58)

While we await the new body and new mind, whether in the face of the Pax Romana or secular transhumanism, we are told by Paul: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). The tense of “transformed” in the Greek suggests a constant, present transformation. We must consistently allow God to renew our minds.

We know humanity’s future: The slain lamb will conquer Babylon, the symbol of sinful cities, and put an end to the dragon. Spiritual warfare will conclude (its victory is assured) and all God’s saints will rejoice. In the face of yet another worldly ideology, we can say with hope, “Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (Revelation 22:20–21).

With confidence, we move into the world with love, grace, and truth for all because we have a strong, sturdy hope for the future predicated on Christ rather than human invention.

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