Everyday Theology Mischaracterizes Transhumanism
3 July 2007 (updated 26 July 2021)
I recently came across a document produced by a Christian group that takes on the admirable task of presenting “Everyday Theology”. The document includes a chapter on Transhumanism. Unfortunately, however, it does not accurately characterize Transhumanists.
For example, it claims Transhumanists believe “whatever can be done scientifically and technologically should be done” and that “technology is inherently good”. There may be a Transhumanist out there that thinks in such ways, but I don’t know one that does. Most Transhumanists explicitly recognize risks, even existential risks, associated with technology. Transhumanists generally recognize that technology is power, and that power can be used both for good and evil. Transhumanists also generally believe that we can best avoid the evil possibilities by seeking after and embracing the good possibilities, rather than by ignoring or attempting to evade technology altogether.
The document entirely overlooks Transhumanists, such as those represented by the Mormon Transhumanist Association, that have a strong spiritual aspect to their beliefs. It claims that Transhumanists do not believe in the existence of greater beings or higher powers, yet some of us either fully embrace the existence of God or make allowances for such possibilities (reflecting the Simulation Hypothesis of the Simulation Argument).
The document claims that Transhumanists are individualists who believe that “one’s own needs, interests, and desires are more important than those of others or of any larger group or community.” Certainly some Transhumanists are radical individualists, but some of us simply are not. For example, although I identify as a moderate Libertarian, I do not believe that individual desires and wills are more (or less) important than community laws, and feel that this perspective is entirely compatible with my Transhumanist views. Moreover, I would argue that radical individualism will exacerbate technological risks; working together in friendship, we are more likely to avoid disastrous or oppressive outcomes.
The document claims that Transhumanists believe the visible material world is all that exists. However, while Transhumanists are generally materialists (in the philosophic sense) and empiricists, that does not mean they think sight is the extent of experience or that they think we will not encounter new extraordinary experiences. Rather, many Transhumanists simply take on the practical perspective that whatever cannot be experienced cannot affect us, and so direct their attention to that which can be experienced.
On the other hand, the document does get some things right, such as characterizing Transhumanists as being optimistic about technology. We do see technological opportunities to live longer, smarter and stronger. We do intend to act on technological possibilities for renewing our environment and extending the scope of our habitable world. Indeed, many of us feel that a decision not to pursue these opportunities would be a moral failing.