As a first-year MTS student, I have the privilege of meeting each week in a colloquy session with Dr. Kraftchick (the program director) and the other students in the program. In general, our discussions this year relate to the various intersections of technology and theology. More recently, we have broached the topic of the posthuman future and what it means for faith. The next few paragraphs contain some of my disparate, although not entirely random thoughts on the matter.
I am interested in the implications of the transhuman agenda for the doing of Christian theology and, equally, its implications for faithfulness to Christian confession. The possibility of humankind co-opting the bio-evolutionary process and implementing advanced technologies for the purpose of enhancing and transcending the human experience seems nearly inevitable, given the significant progress in regenerative medicine, nanotechnology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. Futurists predict that in a short time (considering the telescoping nature of technological and cultural evolution) humanity will be able to dramatically prolong human life, reduce mortality, and even eventually transfer human consciousness to non-organic, computing entities. In the sphere of virtual reality, it is being realized more and more that reality itself is a construct of patterns of information. The ability to manipulate and transform these patterns into other patterns is increasing exponentially. This suggests that the limitations of human experience (physical laws, natality, mortality, and sensory dynamics) are more permeable than ever imagined.
The horizon of the post-human emergence is then, in fact, quite proximal to us. The human species, for the first time, faces extinction, not because of predation or cosmic catastrophe, but because of its own self-willed transcendence into something physically, cognitively, spatially, and temporally superior. This is cause for great concern among today’s religious ethicists and theologians. The protest(s) go(es) something like this: If humans can, by their own design, bring an end to suffering as they have experienced it since their advent after mutating from their ancestral hominids, then the long-standing moral institutions of charity, compassion, empathy, and care will no longer be needed by them. Suffering and mortality provide the foundation for the maternal and paternal instincts of nurturing and care. If the (post)human can live indefinitely in an un-embodied state and in a space where manipulated patterns of information provide limitless and timeless realities, then the need for progeny itself will be terminated. Among those existing entities, physical pain, morbidity, and death will be non-existent metaphysical categories. Thus, there is no longer a need for the Christian ethos of love, care, and compassion. Additionally, the Christian theological paradigm, which is predicated on embodied (incarnate) life in need of salvation from God’s eternal enemy (Death) will cease to be relevant to anyone: an outdated historical artifact from humanity’s violent and unstable past. Therefore, according to these rightly concerned members of theological academé, fidelity to the Christian cause demands resistance to the transhuman agenda. This manifests itself in objection to public funding for stem cell research and other scientific ventures that push the limits of human ability and experience.
While I do not altogether disagree that the self-willed extinction of the human species presents daunting ethical and religious challenges, I also cannot fully endorse the feelings and actions of those who resist it. And this hesitancy arises precisely from my my theological sensibilities. While the Christian tradition does speak to those who have an embodied existence, I believe that Christian proctology and eschatology call for participation (or, as some theologians have put it, co-creation) with God in the revision and reconstitution of conscious life into something that radically affirms creativity, unending life, and a just-peace. The capacity to project oneself into multiple virtual constructs at once, to constantly reinvent environments for the betterment of those entities that exist in them, and to think at such a level as to appropriate the very fabric of the universe (or multiverse) through cognitive enhancement is an actualization of the Christian hope. It is not some far-fetched utopian dream, but a dynamic, gradual process whereby people can rise to new levels of harmony and productive engagement. Additionally, it does not remove (post)humanity from dependence on God, but radically reaffirms our need to rely on the source of life and energy itself for our happiness and future.
- Justin Rose
Justin is a 1st year MTS student from Navarre, FL and a Student Ambassador