Transhumanism and Transcendence

Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Transhumanism and Transcendence
    Book Description:

    The timeless human desire to be more beautiful, intelligent, healthy, athletic, or young has given rise in our time to technologies of human enhancement. Athletes use drugs to increase their strength or stamina; cosmetic surgery is widely used to improve physical appearance; millions of men take drugs like Viagra to enhance sexual performance. And today researchers are exploring technologies such as cell regeneration and implantable devices that interact directly with the brain. Some condemn these developments as a new kind of cheating-not just in sports but in life itself-promising rewards without effort and depriving us most of all of what it means to be authentic human beings. "Transhumanists," on the other hand, reject what they see as a rationalizing of human limits, as if being human means being content forever with underachieving bodies and brains. To be human, they insist, is to be restless with possibilities, always eager to transcend biological limits. As the debate grows in urgency, how should theology respond? Christian theologians recognize truth on both sides of the argument, pointing out how the yearnings of the transhumanists-if not their technological methods-find deep affinities in Christian belief. In this volume, Ronald Cole-Turner has joined seasoned scholars and younger, emerging voices together to bring fresh insight into the technologies that are already reshaping the future of Christian life and hope.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-794-8
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Chapter One Introduction: The Transhumanist Challenge
    (pp. 1-18)

    Technology is being used more and more today in an attempt to enhance human lives by directly modifying human traits or capacities. Athletes use drugs to increase their strength or stamina. Cosmetic surgery is widely used around the world to improve physical appearance, while millions of men take drugs like Viagra to enhance their sexual performance. University students take prescription drugs not just to treat learning difficulties but to enhance their mental abilities. Others take drugs designed to treat anxiety and depression in order to elevate or brighten their mood.

    The common feature here is the use of technology for...

  4. Chapter Two Contextualizing a Christian Perspective on Transcendence and Human Enhancement: Francis Bacon, N. F. Fedorov, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
    (pp. 19-36)

    Transhumanism is the contemporary movement that advocates the use of technologies—biotechnology or information technology—to transcend what it means to be human. Its dependence upon cutting-edge technologies might make it seem to be a fairly recent phenomenon. Today’s transhumanism has its antecedents, however, and its engagement with Christianity is not something that has only begun in the past decade. Although it is true that some Christian theologians have raised warnings about technology, it is equally true that other Christian intellectuals have promoted the use of technology, sometimes with a sense of urgency that rivals that of the transhumanists. Indeed,...

  5. Chapter Three Transformation and the End of Enhancement: Insights from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
    (pp. 37-50)

    Few theologians have offered more suggestive openings for a constructive dialogue with transhumanism than the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Because he was also a paleontologist, he sensed deeply the dynamic of evolutionary development that has shaped the world from its origins, and he recognized that human beings have become agents of their own evolution. Having been born in 1881, he was prophetic in his realization that technology and human intelligence were beginning to combine to produce a potent new transformative force in biological, mental, and spiritual life.

    The lack of engagement by transhumanists with Teilhard is surprising. In...

  6. Chapter Four Dignity and Enhancement in the Holy City
    (pp. 51-62)

    The enhancement debate appears as an “either/or”—either enhancement threatens something about our human dignity because it defies limits intrinsic to human beings and hence to human dignity, or enhancement may contribute to human dignity. The first is roughly the view of the President’s Council on Bioethics in Beyond Therapy; the second is a position expressed by Nick Bostrom in his critique of that volume.¹ I propose that, from a Christian perspective, the impact of enhancement on human dignity need not be an “either/or.” Rather, there are reasons both to offer some cautions and also to affirm many if not...

  7. Chapter Five Progress and Provolution: Will Transhumanism Leave Sin Behind?
    (pp. 63-86)

    “I like new things,” my mother said one day during my youth. She was sitting on the sofa, running her hand over the upholstery and feeling the texture. The sofa was brand new. It had just been delivered by the department store. My mother did not experience such new things very frequently. This was a special day.

    My father, in contrast, worked daily in the world of the new. He was an engineer for General Motors. Each day he awoke, dressed, and drove to work with the express intention of inventing something new—a gadget that hitherto had never existed...

  8. Chapter Six The Hopeful Cyborg
    (pp. 87-100)

    The transhumanist vision is an end product of the belief that the human condition can be improved through reason, science, and technology. It focuses predominantly upon the autonomous individual, asserting the primacy of reason as a force for personal and therefore societal transformation. Through the use of applied reason, transhumanism asserts that values such as rational thinking, freedom, tolerance, and concern for others are increased, which ultimately leads to an ever-increasing improvement of the human condition.¹ In this way transhumanism claims to offer the hope of a better world.

    And yet this proposed vision of a better world is often...

  9. Chapter Seven Artificial Wombs and Cyborg Births: Postgenderism and Theology
    (pp. 101-114)

    What is a “posthuman”? In a sense, it is impossible to define this term, because the posthuman is not one single thing but rather a whole set of possible things.¹ One posthuman possibility is the feminist cyborg, first described by Donna Haraway in her landmark essay referred to in shorthand as the “Cyborg Manifesto.” The cyborg, as an organic–mechanical hybrid, functions for Haraway and other “cyberfeminists” as a symbol of the ways in which (post) human bodies often defy our assumptions about what does, and does not, count as natural and as human.² Other possibilities are offered by transhumanism,...

  10. Chapter Eight Taking Leave of the Animal? The Theological and Ethical Implications of Transhuman Projects
    (pp. 115-130)

    In this chapter I focus on the relationship between transhumanism and what might be termed human “animality” or “creatureliness.” I believe that this is important, because taken in isolation the kind of enhancements portrayed by transhuman philosophers might seem relatively innocuous. By drawing particularly on the work of Nick Bostrom, the philosopher and protagonist of transhumanism, I hope to uncover subtle tendencies toward perceiving human development in disembodied terms. This is important for theological anthropology. I argue against any linear historical trajectory from Augustine, through to René Descartes, and from modernity and transhumanism.¹ However, I suggest that patterns of relationships...

  11. Chapter Nine Chasing Methuselah: Transhumanism and Christian Theosis in Critical Perspective
    (pp. 131-144)

    On Monday, August 4, 1997, Madame Jeanne Calment died at the age of 122 years as the longest-lived person in modern history. Before her death she had become a local celebrity in her hometown of Arles, France. She took up fencing at the age of 85 and was still riding her bicycle at 100. She was fond of both chocolate and cigarettes, and only reluctantly gave up the latter two years before her death, when she became unable to light cigarettes on her own. Though she claimed that the secrets to her longevity were port wine and olive oil, few...

  12. Chapter Ten Human or Vulcan? Theological Consideration of Emotional Control Enhancement
    (pp. 145-162)

    Transhumanism encompasses a wide variety of views generally oriented toward “the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.”¹ So claims Nick Bostrom, the executive director of the World Transhumanist Association, now known as Humanity+ ( Bostrom, a professor of applied ethics at Oxford and the director of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, is one of the original cofounders of the World Transhumanist Association and is currently on its board of directors as founding chair....

  13. Chapter Eleven Whose Salvation? Which Eschatology? Transhumanism and Christianity as Contending Salvific Religions
    (pp. 163-176)

    Death, and more broadly finitude and mortality, has been a perennial religious concern, a universal yet nonetheless anxiety-ridden attribute of the human condition prompting some kind of salvific response. These responses have ranged from indifferent resignation to desperate struggle. On the one hand, the Pre-Socratics share with Nietzsche an amor fati that frees them from a hopeless struggle against a mortal fate that they cannot vanquish; on the other hand, the Aristotelians share with Hegel a hope that this old enemy can be overcome through human work and history. It is this latter response that concerns us in this chapter....

  14. Chapter Twelve Transcendence, Technological Enhancement, and Christian Theology
    (pp. 177-192)

    In an essay published in 2004 Francis Fukuyama famously (or for some, notoriously) identified transhumanism as “the world’s most dangerous idea.”¹ Many Christians would agree with Fukuyama’s condemnation of any program that has as its goal, or at least as a welcome prospect, the transformation of humans into “future beings whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards.”² Christians who share Fukuyama’s concern often align themselves with a position, prominently represented on the President’s Council on Bioethics during the administration of George W. Bush, that is often...

  15. Chapter Thirteen Transhumanism and Christianity
    (pp. 193-204)

    The scholars who contributed to this book hold differing views on transhumanism and on the use of technology for human enhancement. Even so, several shared themes and common perspectives are clearly visible. For example, the contributors generally recognize that on the surface, at least, there are notable similarities between Christianity and transhumanism. Christians hope for eternal life that will be enjoyed with the fullest possible knowledge, joy, and moral purity. Transhumanists look forward to extending the human life span perhaps indefinitely while also enriching human knowledge, attaining greater happiness if not joy, and achieving moral balance or social harmony. One...

  16. Contributors
    (pp. 205-208)
  17. Index
    (pp. 209-219)