Michael Burdett has a great review of Alain de Botton’s “School of Life” and introduction to the growing movement known as “transhumanism” in The Marginalia Review of Books. Transhumanism is a movement that seeks to overcome the limitations of the present human condition. Primarily through scientific and technological advances, proponents of transhumanism believe they may transcend the present human condition and perhaps achieve immortality.
Transhumanism shares much with its older cousin, secular humanism. Burdett notes that both espouse,
the central values of reason and science, human progress, and the value of our present life. Both focus on the flourishing of humanity and the improvement of the human condition through rational and scientific thinking. But transhumanism then takes these shared humanist ideals and advocates the enhancement of the human species through biotechnology and information technology, moving beyond the utilization of these technologies for therapeutic purposes alone.
In other words, transhumanism is akin to a sci-fi version of the Babel narrative in Genesis 11. Though no less a desire to “make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4), it may be friendlier than other forms of human autonomy. As a sort of religious belief in its own right, critics have noted that transhumanism may be a kinder, gentler form of atheism. Atheism 2.0, exemplified by figures such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris was harsh and often vitriolic toward all forms of religious belief. But transhumanism as the next iteration of atheism is open to spiritual questions of transcendence, transformation, and even glorification, though in a qualified sense.
As a theologian, apologist, and technophile, this movement connects several of my interests. Many years ago, I was introduced to transhumanism through the research and writings of Ray Kurzweil, a leading futurist. Kurzweil has worked for decades in the field of natural language processing and artificial intelligence. He has identified the exponential rate of increase in machine intelligence and foresees a future “singularity” in which the rate of increase will eventually increase so rapidly, it will seem instantaneous (think Terminator 2). It may sound far-fetched, but Kurzweil’s beliefs are plausible enough and his predictions accurate enough to fuel this burgeoning movement.
There are plenty of websites, a magazine, and documentaries (e.g. Transcendent Man and Plug and Pray) featuring aspects of the transhumanist movement. It’s a fascinating topic that I suspect we may address in a future episode of Christ the Center.