CREATURES IN PURSUIT OF AUTONOMOUS PERFECTION
by Dr. Martin Erdmann
Medicine is no longer restricted to healing. Biotechnology’s popular uses constitute a long list, among them weight loss, hair growth, birth control, teeth straightening, and sex selection of children. Transhumanism takes human enhancement further, in morphing the vision of perfect man into a human-machine complex properly called “posthuman.” This is an effort to break every human limitation and redefine personhood. Nick Bostrom, Oxford philosophy professor and co-founder of the World Transhumanism Association, writes that posthumans will realize eternal youth and health, gain complete control over their minds and emotions, and “experience novel states of consciousness” that present human minds cannot imagine. Posthumans may even choose to discard their bodies in favor of life as “information patterns on vast super-fast computer networks.” Though this sounds bizarre, human-mechanic existence has entered mainstream movies as a radical potential – and many scientist, doctors, and philosophers call it attainable within decades. As the President’s Council on Bioethics writes, bioethics demands a current and public discussion of “what it means to be a human being and to be active as a human being.”
Transhumanists distinguish the value of human life from biology and creation, to place its value in human ideals and experiences. As long as man’s values guide him, this paradigm allows him to redefine all aspects of life. There is no attempt to retain “humanness” (that would be “bad”), but rather to be humane. In its Transhumanist Declaration, the World Transhumanism Association affirms “the feasibility of redesigning the human condition” in areas including “aging, limitations on human and artificial intellects, unchosen psychology, suffering, and our confinement to the planet earth.” Technology joins education, culture, and politics as a tool for advancement. Asked whether transhumanism tampers with nature, Nick Bostrom replies: “Absolutely, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. It is often right to tamper with nature.” The basic conditions required for posthumanity are global security to safeguard the explosive potential of transhumanism, technological process, and wide access to that technology. Transhumanism credits man with the potential to create an environment wherein he is perfected.
The actual work of transhumanism involves technologies such as brain-computer interfaces, neuropharmacology, and perhaps most notably, nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is a molecular science, whose other pursuits range from alternative energy to cancer cures. Since posthumanity requires futuristic nanotechnology, transhumanists advocate cryonics, or freezing of the human body, in the hope that posthumans will transform frozen humans into posthumans like themselves. Nick Bostrom argues that “even a 5% or 10% chance of success could make cryonics contracts a rational option for people who can afford it and who place a great value on their continued personal existence.” In the same article, he also proposes ennobling “personality pills” and space colonization. Far from the isolated ideas of an Oxford don, anti-aging and intelligence enhancement are also pursued by the United States government’s National Nanotechnology Initiative. Yet rather than confining itself to “simple” goals of healing cancer or even restoring sight, transhumanism posits that men are in an early stage of evolution, and pushes to enhance fundamentally humanity through nanotechnology and other sciences.
While creation of posthumans is based on human values, transhumanism allows room for posthuman values to differ from current ones. This is because values “come from minds.” Since a man’s values are but the ones he chooses, posthumans may embrace values that current men do not. The Transhumanist Church credo states unequivocally:
The memories we have, the thoughts we consider, the emotions we feel; these form the essence of who we are. For without these qualities we would cease to be us. And there need be no supernatural explanation for these qualities. ... Our soul may arise from the structure of our brain, but it need not be reliant upon it.
It continues: “We are our own saviors. We cannot rely on supernatural or external forces to guide us on our journey. Responsibility is on our shoulders to create the world we wish to live in.”
Despite transhumanist rejection of supernatural force, its philosophy mirrors mysticism. Mystics such as Hermeticists and Theosophists deliberately pursued self-transcendence. It was an ethical imperative and life’s best aim, while success merely hinged upon proper technique and attitudes. Transhumanism and mysticism alike rely on human technique. Since transhumanism’s stated goal is to transcend all limits, these philosophies must share their final goals: “either total union with the metaphysical One or total and perfect spiritual autonomy.” With remarkable consistency, transhumanism makes the implied mystical aspects of secular humanism explicit. Thus it becomes clear that humanism has always been a form of mysticism hiding behind a secular veneer.
Transhumanists are creatures in pursuit of autonomous perfection. While denying creation by any supernatural being, they freely claim their “ability and right” to “plan and choose their own lives.” This is a transhumanist ploy to deceive the unwary. Transhumanism is totalitarian to the core. Only to a small group of “posthuman scientists” (cultural and economic elitists) is “total freedom” granted. Their goal is clear: in order to dominate humankind they want to remake creation, including man, to suit their own purpose. C. S. Lewis’s question bears asking. He wrote that “human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. ... But who, precisely, will have won it?” Considering all the odds, it is rather doubtful, if transhumanism will finally succeed in its stated objectives to overcome human frailty and achieve paradise on earth. Despite tremendous advances in science and technology, most humans still suffer a cold during winter time. A brief glance at the obituaries will show that death is as grim a reaper as it always has been.
Utopians of all shades have, in the past, embraced pursuits similar to those found in Transhumanism and Gnosticism. As Jean B. Quant observes, “This secularization of the postmillennial tradition in the late 19th and early 20th centuries cut across the lines which divided theology and social science, clergymen and intellectuals.” As is the case with today’s Transhumanists, technology plays a rather large role in helping to develop man’s pursuit of utopian goals. Referring to the clergymen and intellectuals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Quant states that, “Technological developments were particularly significant for hastening the arrival of the new era. Man’s progress toward the kingdom [of God] had heretofore been slow because individual development and social solidarity always worked at cross-purposes.” Quant qualifies that not “all reformers who believed in some form of progress shared in the optimism of a religious or secularized postmillennialism.” Unlike the progressive ecclesiastics, these future-oriented Christians “did not belong to the mainstream of reform thought in the decades which surrounded the start of the 20th century.” Quant suggests that the “believers in a this-worldly utopia did belong to the mainstream. And these modern postmillennialists lent to reform thought much of its optimism, its perfectionism, and its faith in the ability of brotherhood, united to the modern scientific spirit, to conquer all the evils of the world.” Yet attempts to establish the perfect society is not only a futile attempt, but also contrary to God's eschatological plan, as revealed in Scripture.
To a certain extent, the Church has compromised on the issue of transhumanism. Most notably, a large number of Charismatics and Pentecostals have already adopted similar views and many more are being drawn to it. Mike Oppenheimer writes, “It is the new trend to think of the Church in a powerful way and this is not going away.” In fact, he continues, this “is fast becoming the norm for a Church already operating under a new (fresh) anointing.” Some of those Christians who do not fully embrace Transhumanism accept many of its philosophies and are drawn by its motivations, particularly by the possibility of a kingdom of God in this world. They are being drawn to the Latter Rain movement, or the belief that Christians are Christ’s “on-going incarnation in the world” who will bring forth a Kingdom of God on earth. According to supporters of this movement, Christians will usher humanity into a new stage of its existence. Through individual Christians’ labor, death will slowly be conquered until it is no more. Then, immortality will be achieved and Christ will return. According to Mike Oppenheimer, “the new focus is on an earthly inheritance for the church.”
Proponents of similar movements are called Dominionists (a distinct group of postmillennialists). These people believe that Christians will continue to better the world until it is a kingdom of God on earth, as a result of human effort. Only at this time, they believe, will the Second Coming occur.
Why are Christians drawn to these movements? There are three reasons: 1) the belief that human cooperation helps in establishing God’s kingdom, 2) the appeal of God’s establishment of His kingdom through persuasion, and 3) encouragement and comfort for those in crises. James Moorhead writes that the “emphasis on human cooperation as an instrument of the Kingdom of God” appeals to many Protestants. Christians like to think that they play a part in furthering Christ’s redemptive work by effecting a good Christian society on earth. A sense of pride comes from the thought of the Church’s role in quickening Christ’s Second Coming. Also, many Christians are drawn to the belief that God will establish His kingdom through persuasion. To them, it would be offensive for God to subject a rational world by force. Moorhead sums this up: “Postmillennialism also guaranteed the rationality of the universe by asserting that God would win his dominion by persuasion.” Additionally, the belief of Christians helping to build God’s kingdom on earth and bring about Christ’s Second Coming comforts those facing troubles and encourages them to work toward this goal. In the history of the United States, postmillennialism has been revived during times of crisis for this very purpose.
Transhumanism calls for vigorous response from the church, though that response is currently lacking. The critical realization is that while transhumanism aims at posthuman perfection through technology, it misses the true nature of moral “perfection” (progressive sanctification) in its rebellion against God. The transformation Christians should be seeking is not the physical or psychological enhancement found in science, reason, or technology, but rather the transforming work found only in God’s supernatural work through His Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” This is the ultimate kind of transformation; and the only kind that can be truly attained with God’s help in this world. The goal is the ultimate (post-judgment) attainment of perfect humanity in heaven, not the attainment of full technological perfection on earth, as a quasi divine being (Phil. 3:20-21).
Christians need to be aware of Transhumanism and its various forms, but they need not concern themselves with seeking something they cannot and should not attain – autonomous perfection in a utopian world society. Man’s salvation is found only in the perfect and complete atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his promise of eternal life, as a free gift, to those who believe in him (Rom. 3:23-26; Eph. 2:8-9).
 President’s Council on Bioethics, Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, chapter one, footnote three, http://www.bioethics.gov/.
 Bostrom, Nick, “The Transhumanism FAQ,” #1.2, World Transhumanism Association, http://www.transhumanism.org/.
 President’s Council on Bioethics, Beyond Therapy, chapter one, section two.
 Bostrom, Nick, “The Transhumanism FAQ,” #1.1.
 Ibid., #4.3.
 World Transhumanism Association, “The Transhumanist Declaration,” http://transhumanism.org/.
 Bostrom, Nick, “The Transhumanism FAQ,” #4.2.
 Bostrom, Nick, “What Is Transhumanism?” http://www.nickbostrom.com/old/transhumanism.html.
 Bostrom, Nick, “Transhumanism and the True Nature of Mind: Creation and Discovery!” World Transhumanism Association, http://www.transhumanism.org/.
 Transhumanist Church, “The Beliefs of the Transhumanist Church,” http://www.transhumanistchurch.org/.
 Bostrom, Nick, “The Transhumanism FAQ,” #1.1.
 Lewis, C. S., The Abolition of Man, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers,  2001) 76-78.
 Quant, Jean B., “Religion and Social Thought: The Secularization of Postmillennialism” American Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Oct., 1973) 390-409
 Oppenheimer, Michael, “Kingdom Triumphalism 3rd Wave.”
 Ibid., part 1, quoting Paulk, “Held in the Heavens.”
 Postmillennialists believe that Christ’s thousand year reign has already begun. Christ will return at its conclusion.
 Moorhead, James, “Between Progress and Apocalypse: A Reassessment of Millennialism in American Religious Thought,” The Journal of American History, 71, no. 3 (1984): 529.
 Ibid at 530.
Dr. Martin Erdmann is author of "Building the Kingdom of God on Earth: The Churches' Contribution to Marshal Public Support for World Order and Peace, 1919-1945" (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005). For four years he headed up the New Testament department of the Staatsunabhaengige Theologische Hochschule Basel, Switzerland. In his position as Senior Scientist at the University Hospital in Basel, he has been involved in researching the ethical implications of Nanotechnology.
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