Another ISM of which to be aware
June 17, 2009
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Humanism is an ideology that advocates the goal of the happiness of man. According to humanists, the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness. That is, “whoever dies with the most toys wins.” We exist to be happy. Humanism is in direct conflict with the Biblical worldview. The Bible says the purpose of life is to serve God out of reverence and holy fear. (see Ecclesiastes 12:13,14). This humanism has leaked into Christian churches, causing many to reject a literal interpretation of the Bible. Humanism has been around for decades. However, there is a lesser known ideology, similar to humanism, which poses the same conflict with a Biblical world view. Transhumanism, like humanism, seeks the happiness of man. Transhumanism pioneer Max Moore, Ph.D, defined transhumanism as “Philosophies of life, such as extropy, that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.” In other words, transhumanists desire to create in humans superhuman abilities, abilities which God never intended us to have. They advocate any and all technologies that will enable said enhancement.
The Goal of Transhumanism
Transhumanists desire to create a posthuman species, a humanoid with so much advanced capabilities that it can no longer be called human. This, they say, would be the next step in human evolution, as humans take control and speed up the process. The World Transhumanist Association (WTA) defines transhumanism as “[t]he intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally improving the human condition through applied reason, especially by developing and making widely available technologies to eliminate aging and to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities.” According to the WTA, posthumans are “possible future beings whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards.” A posthuman need not even be a humanoid. “Posthumans could be completely synthetic artificial intelligences, or they could be enhanced uploads, or they could be the result of making many smaller but cumulatively profound augmentations to a biological human.” In order to produce a posthuman species, “[r]adical technological modifications to our brains and bodies are needed.” Fortunately, these technologies are not currently available. A transhuman is defined as an individual in transition from human to posthuman. A transhumanist is an advocate of the technologies and philosophies that would make this possible, but is not necessarily a transhuman or posthuman.
The Beliefs of Transhumanism
The core beliefs of this movement are set forth in the Transhumanist Declaration of the World Transhumanist Association. This Declaration states
(1) Humanity stands to be profoundly affected by science and technology in the future. We envision the possibility of broadening human potential by overcoming aging, cognitive shortcomings, involuntary suffering, and our confinement to planet Earth.
(2) We believe that humanity's potential is still mostly unrealized. There are possible scenarios that lead to wonderful and exceedingly worthwhile enhanced human conditions.
(3) We recognize that humanity faces serious risks, especially from the misuse of new technologies. There are possible realistic scenarios that lead to the loss of most, or even all, of what we hold valuable. Some of these scenarios are drastic, others are subtle. Although all progress is change, not all change is progress.
(4) Research effort needs to be invested into understanding these prospects. We need to carefully deliberate how best to reduce risks and expedite beneficial applications. We also need forums where people can constructively discuss what should be done, and a social order where responsible decisions can be implemented.
(5) Reduction of existential risks, and development of means for the preservation of life and health, the alleviation of grave suffering, and the improvement of human foresight and wisdom should be pursued as urgent priorities, and heavily funded.
(6) Policymaking ought to be guided by responsible and inclusive moral vision, taking seriously both opportunities and risks, respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe. We must also consider our moral responsibilities towards generations that will exist in the future.
(7) We advocate the well-being of all sentience, including humans, non-human animals, and any future artificial intellects, modified life forms, or other intelligences to which technological and scientific advance may give rise.
(8) We favour allowing individuals wide personal choice over how they enable their lives. This includes use of techniques that may be developed to assist memory, concentration, and mental energy; life extension therapies; reproductive choice technologies; cryonics procedures; and many other possible human modification and enhancement technologies.
In point #2, “Enhanced human condition” refers to bodily modification (or even a complete design of the human body). The term “human condition” is used often by transhumanists, as they are always talking about improving the “human condition.” What they really mean by this is an extreme makeover of the human body. This links with the humanist ideal of the happiness of man. In point #3, the risks of this technology are mentioned. However, the risks due to abuse by an oppressive government are rarely mentioned. What if a despot forces a modification upon a population? What if one is required to have a brain chip to work a certain job? Transhumanists appear to have an utopian view of technology. According to point #7, artificial intelligence (AI) machines and robots, along with animals, have the same rights as humans. This is pure lunacy. Why should machines which we have created have the same rights as us? #8 Says that transhuman favors “wide personal choice” over the enhancement technologies individuals choose to use. However, “reproductive choice technologies” also includes abortion. “Do you believe women should have the right to terminate their pregnancies?” asks the WTA's “Are you a Transhumanist? Ten Questions.” What happened to #7, that all humans have a right to well-being? This apparently applies to artificial intelligence robots, but not to unborn children. The WTA even hinted that posthumans may be preferred above those that cling to their humanity.
Additionally, we may favor future people being posthuman rather than human, if the posthumans would lead lives more worthwhile than the alternative humans would. Any reasons stemming from such considerations would not depend on the assumption that we ourselves could become posthuman beings.
But the WTA asserts that transhumanism is not linked to eugenics.
The goal of transhumanism is the pursuit of technologies to make us “posthuman.” But it's ultimate goal is eternal life, here on earth. Much focus of transhumanists is placed on life extension technologies that would drastically extend the human lifespan. The extensions would be moderate at first, perhaps adding 20 to 50 years. But as the technologies are perfected, and new technologies are created, the extensions would grow longer. You would not need technology to live forever, but just until the next life extension advancement appears. Individuals could upgrade, adding to their lifespan an indefinite number of years (assuming they could afford the technologies). There is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of life extension, as the Bible records people living more than nine centuries in the book of Genesis. Man was created to have eternal life. If Adam had not sinned, he would have lived forever. Eating a proper diet and getting exercise will make one live longer. However, many of the life extension technologies advocated by transhumanists tamper with the very building blocks of nature, something of which God never intended.
The Technologies of Transhumanism
The technologies currently advocated to extend lifespans, and provide other bodily “enhancements” include biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology. Many of these technologies are in development or use, while some are anticipated in the future.
Biotechnology includes genetic engineering, stem cell research, and cloning. Genetic engineering is already established, as people seek designer “test tube” babies. Stem cells have proven valuable in treating various physical disorders. However, it destroys lives when utilizing embryos. Transhumanists support all forms of stem-cell research, including embryonic stem cells. (In case you haven't noticed, transhumanists are NOT pro-life.) Cloning is the self-replication of lifeforms, and is being used to create embryos to be destroyed to be used in stem cell therapy.
Nanotechnology is to atoms what genetic engineering is to cells. Nanotechnology is defined as any process which involves a dimension on the order of nanometers (ie, 0.000000001 meter). Nanotech is already being used to engineer fabrics that are waterproof, yet breathable, and nanoelectronics including an electric motor, and a single electron transistor (SET). With molecular nanotechnology, products will be built to atomic specifications. In other words, the atoms will be placed precisely as desired by the designers. These will be built by nanorobots called “assemblers.” These assemblers will, in theory, be able to create practically anything, including more assemblers. Nanorobots would supposedly be useful for other things, including reversal of aging, and brain enhancement. However, no one can really predict potential negative results of nanotechnology, as we were never intended to tamper at this level.
Nanotech may enable the development of certain information technologies, includes super intelligence and virtual reality. Super intelligence requires a much faster and smarter thinking ability than what we currently possess. The WTA speculates that the human brain could be completely re-wired or augmented by computer technology, perhaps with a brain chip. The use of virtual reality is also advocated:
An essential element of immersion is interactivity. Watching TV is typically a passive experience. Full-blown virtual reality, by contrast, will be interactive. You will be able to move about in a virtual world, pick up objects you see, and communicate with people you meet....In the long run, VR could unlock limitless possibilities for human creativity. We could construct artificial experiential worlds, in which the laws of physics can be suspended, that would appear as real as physical reality to participants. People could visit these worlds for work, entertainment, or to socialize with friends who may be living on the opposite site of the globe.
In other words, this is an endorsement of the Matrix system. This is already being fulfilled to a certain extent by Second Life, where users play and work in a virtual world.
Other technologies anticipated by transhumanist include mind uploading and cryonics. Mind uploading is the transfer of the contents of one's mind into a computer. Yes, I know that sounds crazy. The dangers of this will be discussed in a future article. “Cryonics is an experimental medical procedure that seeks to save lives by placing in low-temperature storage persons who cannot be treated with current medical procedures and who have been declared legally dead, in the hope that technological progress will eventually make it possible to revive them.” In theory, advancements in nanotechnology would, in the future, be able to repair both the cause of death, and tissue damage resulting from freezing. This would, in theory, offer life extension to even the dead.
In conclusion, transhumanism is a philosophical and cultural movement which aims to use emerging technologies to create the next step in human evolution. However, those accepting a Biblical worldview, including a literal creation, reject evolution, and with it, transhumanism. It is not inherently wrong to treat disorders using technology, like using genetic engineering to correct a genetic disorder. The real danger comes with superhuman modifications. We were created in the image of God. How much modification will cause us to lose that image? Herein is the danger, for eternity is at stake. And no technology can guarantee eternal life.