A Christian Worldview: Technology & Medicine (3)

Self-Salvation Through Transhumanism

In the end, the greatest designer body will turn into a moldering corpse. Even with the most amazing genetic upgrades, the human container will still wear out. “The wages of sin is death” and “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Rom 6:23; Heb 9:27, ESV). Humanists, refusing to accept this cursed limitation, are seeking technological solutions to overcome it. Denying their place as God’s finite creatures and disowning the consequence of their sin, they believe that they will soon be able to convert themselves into transhumans, limitless creatures who are better than human. By overcoming mortality and reaching for infinity, transhuman technology allows man to be his own savior. He will conquer the last enemy, death, by himself (1Cor 15:26).

To transform from a human to a transhuman, a person simply needs to merge with a machine. This idea is not new: the use of mechanical parts has blessed many people. Orthotics and prosthetics first gave us peg legs and wooden teeth, then hearing aids and glass lenses, and now titanium joints, mechanical heart valves, cochlear implants, and biomechatronic limbs. However, as marketing forces continue to divert the business of medicine away from curing ill patients to enhancing well people, newer bionic devices become ethically troubling. Implantable computer chips that improve intelligence and memory, for example, would benefit patients with dementia, but would also attract wealthy narcissists with normal brains.

Proponents of transhumanism, however, see much further. They admire the sleek lines and shining chrome of machinery, and idolize the purity of purpose and cold logic of artificial intelligence. They believe that the brain is simply an information-producing machine, and that human consciousness is reducible to neural circuits and biochemical reaction. If the mind is merely data, then everlasting life simply requires uploading brain information into a supercomputer.

Once they have ascended to a digital plane of existence by transferring consciousness to an indestructible machine, these futurists believe that they will enjoy a perfect state of being. By discarding their mortal bodies, they will eliminate sickness and death. They will run no longer on DNA, that imperfect blueprint from their pre-converted lives so prone to mutation, but on infallible software. With their ultrafast microprocessors and unlimited memory banks, their mental capacity will expand incredibly. Their new computerized selves will remember being human, but their minds will be free from human limitations. They will have to become less human to become superhuman, but this will allow them to bypass the gospel and still secure for themselves that Christian promise of eternal life.

Lessons from Eden and Babel

The tsunami of biotechnology is about to engulf us. Since we have never found a technology we don’t like, we stand gullibly on the shore, eager for the next big thing. The dehumanizing effects of modern digital culture have never really fazed us. We see technology as an unmitigated good and an urgent imperative: What can be done must be done. But we are horribly mistaken. We are wrong to construe technology as entirely good, or even as morally neutral, because it operates in the shadow of the fall. It produces tools too powerful for fallen mortals to wield. Our ruined race lacks the ethical heft to handle nuclear bombs and cellular phones and will fall short again with genetic engineering. Although biotechnology in the right hands has blessed man and glorified God, the wrong hands are now exploiting it to defy God and demean His creature man.

“You will be like God,” the serpent assured Eve (Gen 3:5). Satan himself had coveted this autonomy, driven by radical self-love. Rejecting his place as a created being, he boasted, “I will set my throne on high … I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa 14:13-14, ESV). At the incident in Eden man took up the Devil’s treasonous pursuit of ultimate control. Greedy to be “like God,” humans first recreated truth and morality to their liking, and then set out to seize control of their destiny. Biotechnology brings a quantum breakthrough to this quest: man has hacked into the genetic program and is now rewriting it to wrest control of his future.

The early rebels of Babel banded together and said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Gen 11:4, ESV). These ancient conspirators misused technology to defy God, unify themselves against their Creator, and escape His judgment. Modern rebels, driven by the dread of death, are again hijacking technology to gain immortality through transhumanism. Rejecting God’s offer of “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23), they think they can thwart the death their sins deserve and so usurp the work of Christ.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil informs us that God has wisdom that is His alone, a wisdom beyond human capacity that we must receive by faith. The future of each person and the whole race belongs in His hands. We therefore must not question His goodness and wisdom: “Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (Rom 9:20, ESV). We gladly take our place as God’s creatures and trust Him. He wisely barred Adam and Eve from the Tree of Life to keep them from living forever as fallen creatures (Gen 3:22). Instead, He has promised a full salvation – eternal, abundant life – to all who receive His Son (John 3:16; 10:10). We can embrace the human condition, knowing that our destiny is to live forever in a fully reconciled universe (Col 1:20).

As stewards of our bodies, we must use them for God’s glory; the body of every believer belongs to Christ and is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19-20). Thus we pray for good health and welcome medical therapy (3John 2). However, we reject biotechnology as a savior. We refuse the offer of an ugly disembodied post-human future, and confidently embrace God’s final solution to frail mortality, the redemption of the body (Rom 8:23). We know that when Christ returns, He will transform our bodies of humiliation to be identical to His glorious body (Phil 3:21). Although we now bear the image of Adam, the man of dust, from that day on we will joyfully bear the image of Christ, the Man of heaven (1Cor 15:49).