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#God and #Man in the Machine: #Religion in the #Transhumanist Environment

posted Dec 29, 2013, 9:55 AM by Peter Joseph Moons

 God and Man in the Machine:

Religion in the Transhumanist Environment


By Peter Joseph Moons 

Transhumanism, and beyond that, Posthumanism, will impact man’s relationships to other beings, his community, and his religion.  Owing to the increase in intellect, reasoning, and logic, man may sense that he has reached a superior level.  What will really launch a discussion about religion, particularly, if there will any longer be a need for religion, is when technology permits the immortality of man, at least an intellectual eternal existence.  At that point, humans will wonder if they themselves are not godlike, because their hyper-connected brains will have access to all the information man has created and they will be able to live forever, either being part human-part machine, or more machine than human.  Thus, religion and the concept of spirituality will change when man can live forever in the Transhuman and Posthuman environment.

 

This paper will ask many questions, for which there likely no answers, as of yet.  Necessary for this discussion is a definition of Transhumanism, which, simply enough, is "the power of technology to transform humanity."[1]  Posthumanism is likely the point at which the human brain is the center of reasoning in a non-human body.  Most importantly for this discussion, Transhumanism is not therapy but enhancements.[2]  Both of these possibilities -- Transhumanism and Posthumanism -- prompt a central question: when humans are transformed through technology, will they think they can become God or will they think they are God?  They, meaning our future selves, may come to think thusly.

 

Regarding Transhumanism, owing to the perpetual pace of technology and people’s acceptance of its effects, many will see that an "enhanced person [is] still human,"[3] just as anyone with a pacemaker is still human.  The question that Transhumanism may lead to soon is this: Will enhancements mean the end of the human species?[4]  If we can change humanity, should we?  Christians and other believers will say we are made in the image of God, so to change that image is to violate God's intent.  This is what the Bible intends in the phrase about the body being ‘a temple.’  The question, ‘should we become Transhuman?’ is a moral one because after the threshold is crossed, there is no going back.  As just noted, one could say that we already crossed a line with health implants, prosthetics, and bio-engineering.

 

Concerning "the power of technology to transform humanity,"[5] after enhancements, will we still be fully human?  Currently, as far as we know, only humans on earth believe in God.  So beyond Transhumanism, if humans increase the intellect and consciousness of animals, could we raise them to the level of where humans are now, so that they too believe in God?  Further, what happens if we bioengineer animals to be super-intelligent, as we do the same to ourselves?  Maybe then humans and animals can worship God together.  Personal transformation is already a concept in Christianity[6] so perhaps there is a way for future technology[7] to work towards the improvement of man, animals, and the environment.

 

Certainly, technology is the conduit to achieve Transhumanism by changing humans' bodies, brains, and psychological mood.[8]  If God and evolution did well in creating the human species, at least our intellect and consciousness, will man's manipulation of man do any better?  We have to ask, what is the goal of Transhumanism?  There is logic in nature and faith in God;[9] what will we have when logic is the only method in a Transhuman reality?  The original use of technology was to change the world; now we use technology to change ourselves.[10]  When we do both simultaneously, we will have exponential growth, linking and leveraging our tools, our technology, and ourselves.

 

In terms of how Transhumanism may alter the human genotype as well as personality factors, we should consider N. F. Fedorov.  Fedorov addressed "the unbrotherly attitude"[11] between people, which causes all types of violence and hatred. Certainly, a positive outcome of Transhumanism would be to excise out of humans this tendency toward terrible violence; doing so would enable man to follow the golden rule without even realizing a rule was involved. I f the default attitude of man could be designed to treat everyone in a brotherly manner, then Federov's concern would be assuaged.

 

Fedorov also saw how death destroys "personal identity"[12] and is "evil."[13]  If technology aids man in conquering death, then he will no longer be human, but "post human."[14]  Christians believe in an afterlife, as does every other major world religion.  Once there is no death, for many people, there also may not be a need for an afterlife.  The End of Death[15] (which itself sounds like a book title) would be the biggest news ever, bigger than the splitting of the atom or Watson and Crick's discover of the double helix in DNA.  Believers know God is eternal now, though one wonders what will happen to this idea if man is also eternal.  At that point of Transhumanist development, or in Posthumanism, will man become divine too?

 

There is a transcendent element to overcoming death[16] and by becoming immortal, man will likely think of himself as a Nietzschean "Übermensch."[17]  A concern for religious believers will be the disposition of the soul.[18]  In many religions, when the body dies, the soul goes to another state.[19]  With Posthumanism, the body, in some manner, and the soul will exist in perpetuity.  So while the soul will exist in either the mortal or Posthumanist realm, with the mortal, the soul dwells in the bounty of the afterlife; with Posthumanism, the soul never reaches nirvana, nor heaven, etc.  Religious believers would clearly be disappointed at this outcome of Posthumanism.

 

Christians believe in salvation through Jesus Christ[20] but being Posthuman will mean man has already conquered death.  However, Christianity is not the only world religion that eternal man will affect, as Hinduism, with the cycle of samsara and achievement of nirvana, will also be affected.  For Christians, Posthumanism and it's version of life everlasting would mean, firstly, no death, but also no "resurrection" nor a "new body" from this event.[21]  These possibilities upset the doctrine of the Christian faith, and likely in some way other faiths, as well.  Perhaps if Posthumanism becomes reality, some or many religious believers would drop their faiths; others may embrace their faith more, as happens during times of turbulence.  Whole sectors of religious experiences will change, such as marriage ceremonies, or memorials for the deceased, who may no longer die.  So another question is, will religion seem superfluous when man's intellect is superior to its current state?

 

There are indeed secondary and tertiary effects of non-heavenly eternal life, especially concerning the Christian sacraments, such as baptism, penance,[22] and marriage.  There is a linkage between "human redemption and transformation" as well with technology[23] here.  Therefore, in the Transhumanist environment, humans will look at sin differently than today. Since technology may reprogram sin out of humans, such concepts as "the seven deadly sins"[24] may become defunct.  Some additional questions then arise: Will traditional, non-eternal priests want to baptism a genetically modified baby that will never suffer a natural death?  Will a priest or minister want to marry a couple that is destined to live forever?  Moreover, will couples want to marry if they know they will be with the same person endlessly, perhaps never growing old?  One can suppose, that if Transhumanism can modify the human psyche to maintain ‘honeymoon-level love between a couple, then, yes, that pair would want to live forever together.  However, this would mean having to maintain high levels of oxytocin in the human body; perhaps Transhumanism will adjust for that, too.

 

Humans are very accustomed to their virtual lives so we may even be ready for a Transhumanist existence that is part corporeal and part cyber.[25]  Eventually, Posthuman man may no longer need his body; he may live forever in cyberspace.  At such a point, there is the possibility that humans can still 'live' the bifurcated life as individuals and as a community…and spirituality can still remain a part of that existence.  Humans could spend time pondering the image of the face of Christ, only not have to travel to Russia for the experience.[26]  Moreover, future technologically manipulated humans existing in cyberspace may create their own gods or saints to worship or honor.

 

Additionally, humans seem to naturally meld the world around us into our religions, for we intertwine the cycles of nature with religious events, such as in the Abrahamic religions, or even ancient, "animist" cave-dwellers with their carvings and "figurines."[27]  Just as Hermes was honored as the patron saint of "service industry" workers,[28] or New Age followers worship Gaia, our future selves may collectively pay homage to some syncretic saint, slyly stated as 'GoYahMi’ -- an amalgamation of Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.  In a cyber-connected Transhuman existence, everyone would have access to ALL religious texts and media ALL the time, unlike the few who did in past eras.[29]  When all Transhumans are connected, such as in a ‘Singularity’ or ‘noosphere’ environment, we may collectively come up with a way to worship, or a thing to worship, that does not now exist.  Moreover, if there is "a correlation between brain activity an religiosity,"[30] then Transhumans or Posthumans will take the next step and communicate at the next level, whatever that will be, with God.

 

Curiously, in the online arena, there is much "sameness" in online personas even as people strive for "individuality,"[31] which leads to narcissism.[32]  So maybe there is a future for religion in terms of even more individuality. Certainly, the paradigm for 'atomization' of religious experiences already exists: online-religions have a uniqueness and individuality that the established world religions do not.  One possibility is that Posthumans may enjoy more cerebral or neuropathic connections in their religious experiences and in life in general vice the "alienated reflection"[33] common now.  If the internet has allowed for the creation of so many sui generis 'religions,' then Transhumanism, with its intrinsic manipulation of humanity, will allow for even more individualizations of religious experiences.  The next question is this: will religion matter anymore when humans transcend pain, hardship, bad weather, failed relationships, or even death?

 

            In conclusion, the real concern for religious believers is that altering the mind and body of humans through technology will mean to them that humans are attempting to become “godlike.”[34]  And, if so, then humans may think they are gods, which is a concept as old as ancient Greek philosophy.  Now, designing a syllogism is possible to encapsulate this concept:

 

God is eternal

Transhumanism will make man eternal

Man will become like God

 

For Christians, there is a falsehood embedded in this syllogism: humans are already like God, for the Bible says man is made in God’s image.  There are, as discussed here, many unanswered questions on Transhumanism and Posthumanism, on the physical, philosophical, and moral levels.  Thus, the persistent idea that man, in some form can live forever, will upset religion, religious institutions, and man’s concept of spirituality. 

 

Bibliography


Campbell, Heidi. Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media
     Worlds
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_____. When Religion Meets New Media. Routledge, 2010.


Cole-Turner, Robert. Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of
     Technological Enhancement
. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2011.

 

Davis, Erik. “Imagining Technologies” in Techgnosis: Myth, Magic and Mysticism in the
     Age of Information
. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998.

 

Foerst, Anne “Recreating Ourselves” in God in the Machine: What Robots Teach Us
     About Humanity and God
New York: Dutton, 2004.

 

Herzfield, Noreen. “Cyberspace on Our Minds” in Technology and Religion: Remaining
     Human in a Co-created World
. Templeton Press, PA, 2009.

 

O’Callaghan, Sean, “Cyberspirituality and the Sacralization of Information,”
     unpublished essay, 2013.

 

Partridge, Christopher. “Cyberspirituality” in The Re-enchantment of the West, Volume
     2
. London: T & T Clark International, 2005.

 

Possamai, Adam. “Yoda Goes to Glastonbury: An Introduction to Hyper-Real Religions”
     in Handbook of Hyper-Real Religions. Leiden: Brill Academic Pub, 2012.

 


[1] Ronald Cole-Turner, "Introduction: The Transhumanist Challenge," Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press, 2011), 4.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] Ibid.,10.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.,4.

[6] Ibid.,9.

[7] Ibid.,

[8] Ibid., 7-8.

[9] Anne Foerst, God in the Machine, What Robots Teach Us About a Humanity and God (New York: Penguin, 2004), 34.

[10] Cole-Turner, “Introduction,” 7.

[11] Michael S. Burdett, "Conceptualizing a Christian Perspective on Transcendence and Human Enhancement," Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press, 2011), 25. 

[12] Ibid., 26.

[13] Ibid., 27.

[14] Brent Waters, "Whose Salvation? What Eschatology?" Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, ((Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press, 2011), 165.

[15] Ibid., 166.

[16] Ibid., 168.

[17] Ibid., 169-170.

[18] Ibid., 171.

[19] I want my soul to go to the state of Hawaii.

[20] Ronald Cole-Turner, “Transhumanism and Christianity,” Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown Press, 2011), 197.

[21] Noreen Herzfeld, Technology and Religion: Remaining Human in a Co-Created World, (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2009), 66.

[22] Cole-Turner, “Transhumanism and Christianity,” 198.  Cole-Turner employs the biblical word “repentance.”

[23] Cole-Turner, "Introduction,” 4.

[24] Foerst, 26.

[25] Herzfeld, 64-65.

[26] Herzfeld, 85-87.

[27] Erik Davis. Techgnosis (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1998), 24-25.

[28] Ibid., 16-17.

[29] Ibid., 31.

[30] Foerst, 16.

[31] Herzfeld, 82.

[32] Ibid., 84.

[33] Davis, 27.

[34] Cole-Turner, “Transhumanism and Christianity,” 200.

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