There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
Proselytizers for “transhumanism” claim that through the wonders of technology, you or your children will live forever. Not only that, but within decades you will be able to transform your body and consciousness into an infinite variety of designs and purposes—self-directed evolution leading to the development of “post human species” possessing comic book character-like super abilities. Indeed, one day we will be god-like: “In the distant future,” Princeton biologist Lee Silver sighed in his bookRemaking Eden, we will become immortal “mental beings” as “different from humans as humans are from the primitive worms with tiny brains that first crawled along the earth’s surface.”
Transhumanism is becoming the world’s newest religion, offering adherents the kind of hope once within the exclusive province of faith—and without the humbling concept of an omnipotent God to whom one owes prayer and thanksgiving. No need for divine forgiveness. No karmic debts to be paid by reincarnation. No need to believe in any reality beyond the strictly material universe.
Inventor extraordinaire Ray Kurzweil is probably the most famous proponent of transhumanism. Now the head of engineering for Google, Kurzweil predicts that “the Singularity”—a forthcoming “tipping point” of exponential technological acceleration—will unleash an unstoppable cascade of scientific advances that lead to an inevitable overcoming of physical death.
Human immortality, Kurzweil predicts, will be here by 2045, achieved through the means of uploading our minds into computers. We will “have non-biological bodies,” he has prophesied, “allowing us to live in a virtual reality in which the virtual reality will be as realistic as the actual reality.”
Other transhumanist projects include genetic engineering of embryos to produce enhanced children, living in a group consciousness, and radical body altering to better express hyper-individuality.
Transhumanism is a very serious part of many people’s lives, with countless books, articles, blogs, and university courses devoted to exploring the technology, ethics, and associations dedicated to pursuing prospects for achieving a transhuman future. Why all the attention paid to concepts once primarily within the domain of science fiction? A big part of the appeal, I think, is a yearning to become extraordinary—without actually having to work for it. Why spend years honing one’s musical talent if it can be technically engineered into the package?
But more fundamentally, transhumanism offers a materialistic replacement for the psychic damage caused when religious belief is lost or evaporates. Indeed, it strikes me that the Singularity is a materialistic echo of the eschatological belief of some Christians in a pending “Rapture.” Consider:
Transhumanism even holds out the promise that the dead will be raised, a core principle of Christian faith. For example, if he doesn’t live long enough to become immortal, Oxford Professor Nick Bostrom—perhaps the leading intellectual light in transhumanism—plans to have his head cryogenically frozen. Once the Singularity kicks in and the resulting technology enables his reanimation, Bostrom plans to have his mind uploaded into a computer and thereby “live” forever.
Meanwhile, Kurzweil is pursuing his own version of resurrecting the dead by planning to construct a technological version of his long dead father. From the ABC News report:
The 63-year-old inventor has been gathering boxes of letters, documents and photos in his Newton, Mass. home with the hopes of one day being able to create an avatar, or a virtual computer replica, of his late father. The avatar will be programmed to know everything about Kurzweil’s father’s past, and will think like his father used to, if all goes according to plan.
“You can certainly argue that, philosophically, that is not your father,” Kurzweil said. “That is a replica, but I can actually make a strong case that it would be more like my father than my father would be, were he to live.”
The Letter to the Hebrews states that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” That seems to me to be a pretty good definition for the transhumanist belief that man will live forever by recreating himself in his own image. If that isn’t religion, I don’t know what is.
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. He also consults for the Patients Rights Council and the Center for Bioethics and Culture.