Two weeks ago, I attended a small gathering to talk about the intersection of faith, science, and technology called the Christian Transhumanist Conference. The conference, the first one put on by the Christian Transhumanist Association, explored ways that science and technology promise to make the world, including and especially humanity, better–and examined those promises in light of Christian theology and the Christian hope of eternal life and the renewal of all creation.
Transhumanism is a loose name for a philosophical movement that seeks to make humans something more than what we are–for better and worse–through technology. It’s the idea that things medicine prolonging life indefinitely, robotic interfaces with human bodies, augmentation of human intelligence with computers, and similar developments will make humans of the future effectively a different species from what we are now. In other words, for the first time in the long history of life on earth, science and technology will play a primary and active role in evolution. Christian transhumanism, then, links this philosophical outlook with the Christian understanding that God intends humankind to become better versions of ourselves–that eternal life and true human flourishing are, and always have been, God’s design for us. In this view, technology can be a means of participating in God’s work of renewing humankind and the whole cosmos. The implication is that Christian people ought to shape the use of technology, so that it might be directed toward God’s purposes in the world rather than lesser goals or just plain chance.
I discovered the conference because of a new Twitter follow I got a while back from an account called Christian Transhumanism (Check them out @xianityplus). “Interesting,” I thought. I looked them up, and found out that they are based for the most part here in Nashville, and that they were hosting a conference less than a month away at Lipscomb University, also in Nashville. The timing and location were great, so I decided to register and attend. If you’re curious, here is the list of speakers and topics from the conference.
The main reason I went was because of my interest in faith, physics, and space exploration. Certainly, the kind of technological advances that folks interested in Christian Transhumanism are paying attention to include those that will lead to humans inhabiting Mars and other worlds. In addition, it would be a great opportunity to meet other people who are asking similar questions to the ones I am interested in.
There was less talk of space exploration than I had hoped, but the conference was still inspiring. What I especially appreciated was how it turned me on to other innovations in the works that I hadn’t thought about as much. A human population in space and the discovery of extraterrestrial life are not the only major changes in human existence that will require a faithful Christian response. Artificial intelligence; dramatic increases in human longevity; inequitable access to technology driven by economic and social factors; these are some of the most important developments that the conference speakers and panelists highlighted.
I appreciated the opportunity to learn and think about these things in a Christian context, not least because doing so enabled me to think through their implications on space exploration and the Christian faith. If humans live to the age of 500 or longer, for instance, it may well bring travel to another star within the span of a single human life. (By the way, I discovered that anti-aging researcher Aubrey de Grey sees this as a very real near-future possibility.) If human bodies can be altered through robotics or biological manipulation, what changes will be beneficial as humans inhabit space or other planets? And how will such changes enhance or inhibit our ability to worship and connect with God; to grow into Christ’s likeness; to love?
I hope to write more specifically in future posts about some of these aspects of Christian Transhumanism. For now, I will stop at expressing my gratitude for a stimulating series of conversations, and how much I look forward to the next gathering.