Jul 1, 2006

The Antidote to Post-humanism

3 Min Read

Are you ready for the posthuman future? We are living in an age of radical transformations in science, technology, and worldview. Standing at the center of the worldview now dominant in our society is an affirmation that human beings have the right, if not the responsibility, to “improve” themselves in every way. In a culture that celebrates youth, attractiveness, and achievement, the idea of personal improvement is now being stretched beyond what previous generations could have imagined.

“It is a natural human desire to manipulate our bodies to look better, feel better, and age better,” ethicist Wesley Smith explains. “We not only wish to be free of disease, but also deeply desire to remain youthful in appearance and physical vigor.” With “Botox parties” and cosmetic surgery now becoming routine, many Americans simply assume that personal enhancement is a basic right. Now, some want to push beyond natural biological barriers in order to achieve even greater “enhancements” in the future. We now face the undeniable truth that at least some of our fellow citizens are ready to use genetic enhancements, cloning technologies, and germ-line engineering to achieve what some now call a “posthuman” future.

Genetic modifications and germ-line therapies differ from previous technologies of personal enhancement, Smith explains. Plastic surgery — even something as radical as sex-change procedures — affect only one individual’s body. Nothing from those surgeries impacts the genetic inheritance passed down to subsequent generations.

All this changes when genetic modifications and germ-line technologies enter the picture. “What if a father could insert a gene to transform his daughter into the concert pianist he always wanted to be, or an atheist to likewise ensure that his children would be genetically predisposed (if it proves possible) to shun religious belief?” Smith asks, adding, “And what if these modifications passed down the generations?”

Smith, and others, now warn that all this could lead to what some call a “posthuman race.” Others are now pushing for what they call transhumanism, which Smith warns is now “organizing with the intensity of a religious revival.”

Once confined to academic debate and the literary world of science fiction, these proposals are now taken seriously by scientists, medical doctors, and ethical observers. As Smith notes, “While transhumanism is relatively new, the idea that we should apply the full array of new technologies to remake the natural human order has been bubbling up in radical bioethics and academic philosophical discourse for decades.”

Reckless confidence in new scientific technologies is often translated into a sense that every new technology shifts from what is possible to what is necessary. Many of the proposals now taken seriously by the scientific establishment are simply breathtaking. Gregory E. Pence promotes human cloning as a means to allow parents to pass down a “wonderful genetic legacy” to future generations.

Some see a day when the human species will branch off in different directions. In this new posthuman age, parents would order their children like designer products and would, like all informed and demanding consumers, insist upon the latest chromosomal enhancements.

Gregory Pence goes so far as to argue that children will one day be chosen as we now choose pets. “When it comes to non-human animals we think nothing of trying to match the breed to the needs of the owner,” Pence asserts. Wouldn’t all this lead to a deep unfairness in terms of competition among human beings? Some advocate a form of “egalitarian eugenics” that would require government support, Smith explains, “to ensure that all parents have an equal choice to participate in the coming genetic arms race.”

This is nothing less than an audacious attempt to redefine what it means to be human. As Smith understands, “The deeper one delves into the posthuman agenda, the clearer it becomes that dissatisfaction with natural humanity lies at its heart.”

The biblical understanding of the human being begins with the fact that we are creatures made in the image of God and for His glory. The special status of human beings in the order of creation is not an accident of evolutionary development, but the sovereign will of the Creator, who made human beings in His own image. This biblical worldview stands in absolute and uncompromising opposition to the concepts of transhumanism and a posthuman vision of the race.

East of Eden, human beings have often been frustrated with the limitations of our nature. The first sin was, after all, an attempt to defy God’s authority by claiming for human beings what had been forbidden. The new vision of humanity promised by the prophets of genetic engineering and biotechnology is, in reality, a nightmare.

There is no higher vision of humanity than that revealed in the Bible — human beings as the image bearers of God. Keep that firmly in mind when you hear of a promised posthuman future.