In the previous blog, I talked about how theology has much to offer to the AI conversation. With that said, one must recognize that the conversation between AI and Theology is rather awkward at the moment. While sharing common points of references, there are still significant divides in values, worldviews and language. At the root of this disconnect is the last century and half ongoing conflict between science and religion. As a consequence, the theologian is mostly disinterested if not intimidated by technology. The technologist finds Theology antiquated and inconsequential to the rise of new technologies. To delve more deeply on this rift would take more than a blog but for now suffice it to say that work must be done to bridge this divide if we are to have a productive and meaningful conversation.
In that front, I am encouraged by the emergence of Christian Transhumanism. This budding movement shows promise in creating the space where Theology and Technology can learn from each other. How? Well, first some definitions are in order.
What is Transhumanism?
According to Nick Bostrum, Transhumanism is an “international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.”
Transhumanism is an optimistic view of the future that sees technology as the conduit for a new and improved humanity. This can translate into efforts to extend lifespan, enhance human abilities and or re-think the social order in light of these new possibilities. It is a movement driven by imagination mostly found in Science Fiction. Many of us may enjoy the thrill of watching or reading a Science Fiction story. The Transhumanist goes a step further and asks: what if those things actually happen? How would we live in these new worlds? What possibilities, conflicts and hopes would we experience? For the purpose of this blog, Transhuamanists are at the forefront of reflecting on the ethical implications of emerging technologies. That makes them an important conversation partner in the dialogue between AI and Theology.
Can Transhumanism be Christian?
In view of the description above, what would Christian Transhumanism look like? First, it is important to point out that Transhumanism in its purest form is a thoroughly secular movement. Most of its members claim no religious affiliation. This makes it for an even more intriguing proposition to espouse a Christian version of it.
The Christian Transhumanist Association (CTA) is probably one for the first attempts to pursue exactly that. At a high level, the movement merges Christian theology with Transhumanism in three meaningful ways. Firstly, it translates Transhumanism search for human evolution into growth. This growth is not limited to spiritual but more akin to what I have been describing in this blog as human flourishing – a holistic view that encompasses spiritual, physical and social dimensions. Secondly, it calibrates Tranhumanist telos towards the renewal of the Earth. That it, the goal is not progress for progress sake but it is replaced by a Christian eschatological aim – the new heaven and the new earth. Thirdly, it sees the use of technology as a way to fulfill our call to Christian discipleship. In a creative move, the group actually sees the pursue of technological advance as part of spiritual formation.
In doing so, CTA embodies a robust theology of technology laying the ground work for a dialogue between AI and Theology. This is not a problem-free path, as inevitably any deep engagement with another philosophy can lead to unbalanced syncretism or shallow proselytizing. That is, on the one hand Christian Transhumanism can alter its Christian base enough to lose its essence. On the other hand, Christian Transhumanism can engage in forceful imposition of Christian ideals into the Transhumanist community without genuine engagement. Walking this thin line is part of the challenge for the next years to come.
Intrigued? I invite you to visit their website for more information
Where do We Go From Here?
Christian Transhumanism is in its infancy stages and so it is too early to assess its role in bridging the divide between AI and Theology. It is an important line of thinking but not the only one. An alternative view would be a bioconservative Christian movement emerging as a counter-point to Christian Transhumanism. Bioconservatives are those who would advocate limiting or rejecting the use of technology in extending life or enhancing human abilities. Yet, this position will become more precarious as some of these technological advances are all but inevitable. Just think about taking a stance against automobiles in the beginning of the 20th century. I guess the Amish are a witness to this position and their legacy will live on in other movements in the coming future.
At the moment, I am leaning towards the Christian Transhumanist side. Christian history is filled with examples where the church has resisted change rather than shaping it towards desirable aims. At its best, I see Christian Transhumanism doing the latter, welcoming technological change with enthusiasm while also holding a theologically lens to expose its dangers. My hope is that CTA can live out its mission as both a reforming voice in the church and a beacon of hope in a fast-changing world.