A new movement called transhumanism is seeking to achieve immortality through technology, and to “advance” humanity to create super beings. This flies in the face of what we believe as Christians created by God and in God’s image.
Dr. Wesley J. Smith has been studying the transhumanist phenomenon through his work as chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, and he joins us on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters to discuss this complex topic.
Transhumanism is a belief system, according to Dr. Smith, that “would replace belief in God and belief in the afterlife with a belief that one can be immortal here and now in the world as we know it, once the technology is developed.”
This belief is antithetical to everything Christians believe and the Bible teaches. “Christianity is theistic and transhumanism—properly understood—is materialistic,” explains Dr. Smith. “Christianity is eschatological in the sense that it sees eternal life not here in this world, this fallen world, but in the new Jerusalem. Transhumanism believes that this world is all there is.”
The most concerning thing about transhumanism, argues Dr. Smith, is its value system. While technology is likely never to reach the heights to which transhumanists hope, the values system of this belief is dangerous. Along with beliefs in eugenics, transhumanism focuses on the self. “The call of the transhumanist is purely self-directed and self-centered—to live as long as possible and to have the greatest physical capacities as possible and to remake one’s self in one’s own image.”
“Christians focus on love, and you can’t genetically engineer a greater capacity to love…”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Dr. Wesley J. Smith discuss why Christians should oppose this new transhumanist movement.
DR. WESLEY SMITH: Thank you. How are you?
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Good, thanks. So, start off by explaining what exactly is transhumanism.
DR. WESLEY SMITH: Transhumanism is a modern social movement that seeks to use the wonders of technology to achieve immortality in the corporeal world, and also to allow people to gain superhuman-type capacities through technology. In a sense, it’s a belief system, and it would replace belief in God and belief in the afterlife with a belief that one can be immortal here and now in the world as we know it, once the technology is developed.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So, who are these people that are pushing our world towards this transhumanism?
DR. WESLEY SMITH: It’s very interesting. There’s a broad variety of people who are pushing this. It started in the high academy—you know, professors from places like Oxford and Cambridge and Yale and this kind of thing. But it’s been really picked up by Big Tech, Silicon Valley, people like Ray Kurzweil who works for Google, and some others. And then there’s also a popular version led by somebody named Zoltan Istvan—he even ran for president in 2016 on the transhumanist party ticket, and he gained worldwide attention and media coverage because he took a bus and redesigned it to look like a coffin and ran on the plank of defeating death.
So, you have a lot of people who have given up the idea of God or given up Christianity, and they’re seeking to find a replacement for where that hole is, and they’re looking to technology as the great hope to allow them to have if not immortal life forever and ever, at least indefinite life here in the modern world.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: And how exactly do they propose bringing this about?
DR. WESLEY SMITH: Well, there’s several examples, but the one that they find most intriguing is called uploading one’s mind into a computer. The idea here is that at some point, AI (artificial intelligence) will become so sophisticated that they will be able to upload their minds into computers, and then they will be able to live forever, perhaps even in blended consciousnesses in the cyber world of software. It’s a fantasy, but it is a deep desire because this is based on a tremendous fear of obliteration at death, because transhumanism is a materialist philosophy, and materialism breeds hopelessness and natalism. The point of transhumanism is to allow materialists who thinks that all we are is a bunch of carbon molecules to find some hope of rescue, if you will, if not salvation.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Right, so besides the mind, do they have some other ideas for keeping the body going?
DR. WESLEY SMITH: Yeah, there’s one idea that they would continually make human clones of themselves once cloning is perfected, and then they would transfer their consciousnesses into the new bodies. Some of them are having that when they die, they cryogenically freeze their heads, with the hope that they will be attached to a new body one day or onto a cyborg. These are the kinds of fantastical ideas that they’re actually pursuing, and people are putting a lot of money into. In addition, there’s a lot of money going into research to prevent aging and this kind of thing, as well as those more fantastical technological approaches.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: For those of us who are Christians, there’s a huge gaping hole here, and I think we would call it the soul. So, talk a little bit more about why transhumanism is incompatible with Christianity.
DR. WESLEY SMITH: Sure. Well, Christianity is theistic and transhumanism (properly understood) is materialistic. Christianity is eschatological in the sense that it sees eternal life not here in this world, this fallen world, but in the new Jerusalem. Transhumanism believes that this world is all there is. Christianity gets into issues in terms of improving—sanctification and that kind of thing—to improve oneself, to become more Godlike in one’s behavior. Transhumanism doesn’t believe in any of that and seeks to improve capacity, such as let’s say, have the eyesight of a hawk through things such as genetic engineering and other technological fixes. Christianity believes in sin, salvation, and so forth, and transhumanism again is purely materialistic. You can no more be a Christian transhumanist than you can be a Christian Muslim or a Christian Buddhist. These are just incompatible worldviews.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay, but they are appealing to Christians, aren’t they? And on what basis are they doing that?
DR. WESLEY SMITH: Well, there’s something called the Christian Transhumanist Association that basically I think is conflating the belief—which we all would accept: if you improve technology, life can be better on earth and you can alleviate suffering. But they conflate that kind of idea with what transhumanism poses, which is to change human nature itself. Transhumanism wants to change the very biological nature of human beings, and of course, Christianity doesn’t want any of that. So, the Christian Transhumanist Association will say things such as, “This is a way that we can improve the world as God would want it improved.” This kind of thing. But it has nothing to do with redemption, reconciliation, and renewal. Transhumanism is mechanistic, and of course Christianity is metaphysical.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Since many Christians don’t actually read the Bible, I think sometimes we fall for things that we shouldn’t. How much chance do you think that this movement is going to get a Christian following?
DR. WESLEY SMITH: Well, it depends on what you mean by Christian. In order to be a Christian transhumanist, you have to change the purpose and nature of Christianity, and you also have to in a sense change what transhumanism is. For example, there’s a great new potential technology that would help people with serious disabilities: an echo skeleton, that you could put the echo skeleton on the person who’s paralyzed, and they might be able to walk again. Now, transhumanists will say, “Oh, that’s transhumanism,” but that’s not transhumanism. That’s no different than say the glasses I wear that help me see better. You’re not changing the human condition; you’re actually providing a medical treatment to help someone live a better life. That’s of course purely consistent with Christian belief. But what transhumanists want to do are things like genetically engineer the human condition, the human being; they genetically engineer children to be able to design them to have the capacities that the parents want. They want to use various things like brain implants and merging with other consciousnesses, again, in cyberspace to change the very nature of life itself. Those are not compatible sources because Christians look to God and Christ as the ultimate savior; transhumanists look to technology, which of course is remaking man in man’s image, as opposed to being in God’s image.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: I read that these transhumanist advocates believe that we are actually closer than one might think to being able to do this. Do you believe that?
DR. WESLEY SMITH: I don’t, but I am worried about the value system. Transhumanists will say there’s something coming called the singularity, and you might look at the singularity the way some Protestants would look at the second coming of Christ—that it’s going to be a point in time in which life is going to be completely transformed. But again, instead of being transformed by Christ, it’s going to be transformed by technology. The singularity, basically, that point in time is when the crescendo of advances will be such that it will no longer be stoppable, and then the technology will grow so exponentially that the desires that transhumanists have for permanent existence can be held.
I don’t think that’s going to happen. I mean, we live in a fallen world and mortality is part of this world. In fact, I think it’s an important part because it helps us focus on what’s important, but I do believe that the value system of transhumanism is a threat. The materialism of transhumanism is a threat because it takes away the hopelessness part and brings in the idea of hope. The transhumanist is highly eugenic. It says that there’s a way to have a better—almost a Superman—philosophy, and that people who have these/H+ are better than human; that’s pure eugenics, which always leads to totalitarianism. So, there are very real dangers in the values of transhumanism, even if the technology that transhumanists embrace or hope to find I don’t think will ever come about.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you mentioned earlier nihilism, and I think you’ve also written that the growth of religious “nones”—is contributing to this. Could you, first of all, explain what nihilism and what religious “nones” are, and then explain why that is contributing to this?
DR. WESLEY SMITH: Well, nihilism kind of comes out of Niche, who is famous for writing that God is dead, and once God is dead, anything becomes possible, right? And it becomes a very depressing downward spiral of hopelessness and a loss of the concept of virtue and values. The nones are people who are increasingly telling pollsters that they no longer have a religious belief and that they are basically either agnostic or atheistic, and the nones are growing among young people. I don’t think it’s a secret that young people are leaving the church in quite large numbers, and many might be attracted to this value system because a lot of people would feel so despairing if they believe that death—as many do—is pure annihilation, as opposed to the chance for salvation and eternal life, or with Buddhist reincarnation, things of that sort. If you believe that all there is the material and that when you die, you are obliterated and there’s nothing left, that leads to despair. The hope of transhumanism is to alleviate that despair; it’s almost a Neo-faith. It’s a faith in technology, that technology will be the savior instead of God.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: For those of us who are believers, if we were to encounter some of this philosophy, what are some of the most compelling arguments and responses that you think we can pose?
DR. WESLEY SMITH: Well, I think if you’re going to be Christian, you have to a focus on your faith. The point of Christianity isn’t material improvement; it’s spiritual improvement. The point of Christianity, of course, is to mitigate suffering—that’s what St. Paul and St. James said when they said that we are to engage in works, but works without faith is dead. The point of transhumanism isn’t improvement in terms of your spiritual self; it isn’t growth in Christ; it isn’t sanctification. It’s to have a better body; it’s to have greater eyesight or greater strength or higher intelligence. The thing that transhumanists really focus on is intelligence. They want to genetically engineer human beings so that they have higher intelligence, because they think that makes a better person. Christians focus on love, and you can’t genetically engineer the greater capacity to love that comes through the effort of prayer, of fasting, of aestheticism, and of a spiritual practices to increase our capacity to love others as we would love ourselves. That’s our call as Christians. The call of the transhumanist is purely self-directed and self-centered—to live as long as possible and to have the greatest physical capacities as possible and to remake one’s self in one’s own image.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: We’re just about at of time for this week, before we go, Wesley Smith, where can our listeners go to read more about this and follow your work?
DR. WESLEY SMITH: My most recent article is called “The Impossibility of Christian Transhumanism,” and you can find that by going to The Discovery Institute website, and my podcast and blog humanize.today.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, thank you, Wesley J. Smith, host of the podcast Humanize, and chairman of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Thanks so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters.
– END –