I’ve thought about Christian Transhumanism off and on in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever done a deep dive. I will be reading and listening more soon, but this article summarizes my current thoughts as of now.
This line of thought is inspired by listening to a pair of podcast episodes:
- Ep 37: Robin Hanson & The Elephant in the Brain — Christian Transhumanist Podcast
- Future Grind Ep. 51 – Micah Redding on Christian Transhumanism
Some of my early thoughts, in no particular order:
- I identify as an orthodox, evangelical, conservative Christian. Among other things, I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- I’ve had Lasik, I love my iPhone and other tech tools, and I’m a major caffeine user and vary occasional nicotine user.
- I’m a fan of at least giving a chance to the ideas of technological augmentation and biological augmentation which are advocated for by many transhumanists and futurists, although I acknowledge the many clear involved risks.
- For example, I welcome Neuralink, at the very least as a medicinal tool. I think we need to be careful about recreational use, and bugs will inevitably occur to some extent, but even so, I’m open to the idea of the general use of technologies like these for general cognitive enhancement as a potential solution to the idea of being out-competed by AI, or even other humans.
- I also buy Elon Musk’s argument that we already are cyborgs, or technology integrated and augmented humans. Our phones are essentially an extension of our brain, we have mechanical implants, things like Lasik, we take medical supplements, and so on. While I don’t buy the moral opposition to brain implants, I do buy the pragmatic opposition, at least until several generations have been tested. I also recognize the opportunity cost that comes with waiting as well, and I could be swayed either way depending on the magnitudes of interest at any given point in time.
- I was heartened to see that Micah Redding also identifies as a Christian, with at least an evangelical background. I also find it hard to believe he would reject the practice of evangelism in every form, seeing as how he practices it at least in the form of information sharing.
- On Micah’s Theology:
- I’m glad Micah rejects escapism in religious and non-religious forms. His position appears to be as it should: Christian first and without caveat, transhumanist second and with caveats. I quibble slightly on semantics with the term Christian Transhumanist and I wonder if Christian Neohumanist is a term which more clearly preserves the human aspect, but I see this as basically splitting hairs.
- I quibble a bit with Micah’s reading of the story of the Tower of Babel as presented in the podcast above. It seems Christian Transhumanists may need to refine their criteria for which specific projects to support. Flourishing per se, in my view, is morally neutral, not morally good.
- I appreciate Micah’s response to Mark of the Beast concerns. He actually allows for the possibility that the Mark of the Beast could be an augmentation. Instead of denying this common view, he simply points out that Revelations and other books in the Bible discuss the Seal of God, which could also be an augmentation.
- I appreciate this point because it is consistent with the moral neutrality of technology, which I currently hold to.
- The rebuttal reminds me of the rebuttal I often give to Young Earth Creationists. The rebuttal is to read the whole bible. Rather than taking a weaker Christian position, I am actually taking a stronger Christian position in this case. To maintain young-earth creationism on the basis of 2 Peter 3:8 is not a literalist view, it’s just an error. It involves not only omitting the broad context but indeed not even reading the entire verse.
- Another rebuttal to Mark of the Beast concerns that I would offer is that the Bible states it’s going to happen. It’s not like preventing it is even an option. At least by entering into discussions about how advanced technologies are developed and used, we can potentially minimize the negative effects involved.
- I was surprised to learn the Micah is a preacher’s kid and a programmer. I was even more surprised to learn that Robin Hanson’s father was a preacher and a programmer.
- I smell a trend that makes it less surprising that I would be open to Christian Transhumanism since I am a programmer and a passionate Christian. I shy away from calling myself a Christian leader, but I do serve a church as a middle school small group leader. I wouldn’t oppose being a preacher either, although I don’t see myself as currently qualified.
- It’s not clear to me whether Robin Hanson is actually a Christian, although he seems to be an ally among the well-educated. Perhaps in the same ballpark as Jordan Peterson in this regard.
- I am glad to see the existence of a Christian Transhumanist Association, with Micah Redding is founder and Executive Director.
- I’m not deeply aware of all of their beliefs, but what I see so far is promising.
- Even if I were to disagree with some beliefs, I’m glad this intersection is being explored in an apparently rigorous way.
- I might like to create a couple of other organizations.
- One would be something like a broader coalition of Jesus Freaks, with the intended reference to DC Talk. These individuals would claim to hold orthodox Christian beliefs plus other unorthodox beliefs outside of, but consistent with, Christianity. For example, Christian Anarchists and Christian Transhumanists would both be welcome. Getting these people together would allow for a psychologically safe space to think about really strange or creative ideas from a Christian perspective.
- Another group would specify Christian identification without requiring Christian orthodoxy. I think it’s useful for intellectual clarity to separate out these people and their thoughts.
- A third group would be a group of allies who are explicitly non-Christian, agnostic, questioning, member to another religion, or perhaps even actually Christian but shy about admitting it. Membership in this group would signal sympathy to the ideas of the Jesus Freaks mentioned above. Again, I imagine Jordan Peterson and perhaps Robin Hanson would fall in here.
- I would also like to see a series of books written, with audiobooks for multitasking developers like myself. Perhaps the groups mentioned above could sponsor the series.
- This series of books would encompass both fiction and nonfiction to facilitate clarifying actual beliefs of these associations and then also, in a clearly disclaimed category of fiction, explore the less orthodox but interesting thought experiments, ideas, and possibilities of these innovative groups, without actually claiming them as held beliefs.
- Perhaps an accompanying game could help to normalize the lore of one or more of these fictional futures.
- I think the category of Christian Fiction has an established audience, and some of the topics inspired by the above podcasts might include:
- Interface robustness results in emulations, a la Hanson’s Age of Em, following many human conventions including adoption of Christianity and other religions. Ems adopt moral conventions such that many actively seek human preservation, a tiny minority wants to eliminate humans, and the vast majority simply don’t care. In addition, some augmented humans act as allies to non-augmented humans. As a result, non-augmented humans continue to live, although they live strange lives.
- An emulation of Jesus is created, which turns out to be an example of an antichrist, although he lacks ill intent and is generally charitable and, as far as ems can calculate, morally optimal. Even so, knowledge problems and other constraints lead to systematic negative unintended consequences.
- An exploration of what it means to be human. How much augmentation may occur before identity is eliminated, if any such limit exists?
- An exploration of AI-limiting factors. For example, data collection problems may result in the em-optimization of systematically flawed and missing bits of data. Pondering the machine learning development process quickly shows that whenever an apparent AI inflection point is hit, it likely still includes a natural upper limit. AI also face limitations in physical space, according to the degree to which smart devices have yet to spread on earth.
- A potential plot twist where aliens do exist, they recently began hiding (1900 AD or earlier) and then they stop hiding.
- A fictional illustration about why the Simulation Theory doesn’t make sense, and a running joke among lower-intelligence ems trying to make backward time travel happen.
- Other potential plot twists involving the Age after Em, the physical return of Jesus, physical resurrection of the saints, ems coming to physical space via 3d printing.
“A Conservative Christian Critique of Religious Transhumanism” by Carl Teichrib is an excellent critique of Christian Transhumanism and I fully agree with him. He highlights the point that Christian Transhumanism as a primary identity recommits the Sin of Adam to prefer knowledge over life and love of God, it implies a lack of belief in the sufficiency of God for salvation and all good things.
While I agree with his criticism, I just don’t see it as very powerful. He gets us to agree that Christian Transhumanism shouldn’t be our primary identity or worldview, but he does not at all undermine it’s value as a great secondary worldview. Agreed that the Christian Transhumanist is first Christian and second Transhumanist, and further agreed that the former shapes the way the second can validly obtain, but disagreed that the former implies there is no possible room for the latter.
A simple example of what I mean: Christians believe in the power of prayer, but it is common for a pastor to suggest we pray first and last, but act as much as possible in addition. We recognize that faith without works is dead. As with the penitent thief, faith is all you need for salvation, but faith alone and without action usually doesn’t have an optimal practical impact in the world.
It seems to me that transhumanism as it rightly modifies the Christian worldview is a tool of application. For example, the Christian believes in the resurrection of the Saints, but the Christian Transhumanist is working to make it happen at a technical level. This very well may be a completely foolish endeavor. It may be that God executes the resurrection in a mysterious way. It may also not be a foolish endeavor. God may execute the resurrection by means of technologies created by mankind or the Church.
The Christian Transhumanist appears to engage a form of Pascal’s Wager. If the Church is meant to provide a mechanism, the Christian Transhumanist participates. If the Church is meant to play no role in that and other miracles, the Christian Transhumanist has their faith to fall back on and loses nothing. The only error seems to be if the Christian Transhumanist’s fall back faith doesn’t exist or is in some way critically defective or heretical.
There is some reason to think that the Christian Transhumanist engages in moral labor even if they do not provide for major miracles like the resurrection of the saints. These folks at least seem to aid in minor miracles like improved health for people here on earth, life extension, and more efficient use of the natural resources of the earth. The latter is equivalent to giving to the poor in some sense, and the non-poor as well. All incomes benefit in real terms from better technology.
Christian Transhumanism is hardly a conceivable requirement for salvation, so I think Carl goes too far by suggesting Christian Transhumanism, when properly implemented anyway, requires works in addition to faith for the purposes of salvation and so on. It seems to me that the transhumanist modifier, or any scientific modifier, is a morally neutral moral multiplier to the thing it modifies.