Transhumanism is likely not what you think it is. Many confuse it with transsexualism, a strange sexual deviancy that, only a few years ago, was considered obscure and foreign. Anyone who thought they were born the wrong gender, or who desired to change their gender, was often considered mentally ill and, on occasion, diagnosed with gender dysphoria. But while transhumanism is somewhat related to the idea of desiring to change one’s gender, it goes far beyond physical gender characteristics. Transhumanism encompasses all body modifications a person may desire to execute.
As the penultimate part of God’s symphonic creative act, humanity stands as the crescendo. Biblical creationism affirms the specific and special telos of mankind, created in the image of God to reflect the resplendent glory of God.[i] Yet, modern systems, such as posthumanism and transhumanism, deny this marvelous and beautiful truth. For both post and transhumanism philosophers, humanity is not special or designed by God, but is only a cosmic accident of sorts, needing to be both annihilated and then recreated by any means necessary. The goals of these two humanistic views are “transcendence” apart from God, and for humanity to be remade in the image of the machine. The worldviews of posthumanism and transhumanism are demonstrably wicked and antithetical to the Christian worldview represented by Scripture. Thus, Christians must guard against such philosophies and soundly reject them.
The advocates of these views are searching for transcendence apart from God. The similarities between mankind’s sin in the Garden of Eden and at the Tower of Babel are worth exploring.
What is a Man?
Posthumanism and transhumanism are relatively new systems of thought, which have grown exponentially over the past few decades. Though sometimes confused, the two are not the same. Michael Plato, Professor of History and Christian Thought, provides a detailed definition of posthumanism:
“At its core, posthumanism is a rejection of the humanist tradition in the West of human exceptionalism (the notion that humans are unique in the world) and human instrumentalism (that humans have the right to control and dominate the natural world).”[ii]
For the post-humanist, a man is little more than another animal, and if he is exceptional in anything at all, it is the destructive force he has wrought on the earth. More alarming is what Plato describes as the way of posthumanism:
“[It] seeks to place humans in a much closer networked relation with both machines and nature…through technological means, such as ‘wiring’ human brains directly to computer systems or grafting body parts from other animal species onto human bodies, a process called xenotransplantation.”[iii]
Further, Plato also provides a helpful definition for transhumanism, explaining:
“It is techno-deterministic, keenly progressivist and argues that technological and biological modifications can enhance the human in its present healthy state. At its heart, the transhumanist movement has as its goal the achievement of immortality by entirely human means… [They] regularly invoke transcendent language, talking of immortality, the spiritual capacities of technology, and humans becoming “god-like.””[iv]
With those definitions provided, it becomes clear that both posthumanism and transhumanism are different sides of the same coin. Posthumanism views man in a negative light, as the scourge of the earth who needs to be either destroyed or improved upon in some fashion, and transhumanism views man as all-wise, all-intelligent, and able to reach god-like, transcendent status through technology; each seeks to remake man in order to transcend his current reality.
The biblical view of man, of course, greatly contradicts both the post-humanist and transhumanist views. The very opening chapter of Scripture shows that the true God creates mankind in His own image. After the act of creation, God then gives man a purpose and mission to fulfill. In Genesis 1:26-28, the Word of God records:
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.””[v]
As a being created by God in His own image and called to the purpose of being “fruitful”, “multiplying”, “filling the earth”, “subduing the earth”, and “having dominion” over the other creatures, it is clear that man has intelligent design and purpose that motivates his entire life. The image of God in man is an ontological reality, for even after original sin, the image remains. G.K. Beale notes, “Adam and Eve and their progeny were created to be in God’s image in order to reflect his character and glory and fill the earth with it (Genesis 1:26-28).”[vi] This is the purpose for which man is created, and it is a glorious purpose to be embraced.
In both post-humanist and transhumanist thought, however, mankind is flawed in his design and intelligent design is rejected altogether, alongside Genesis 1:26-28. For example, Peter Clarke, a transhumanist, writes:
“…transhumanism advocates for improving humanity through genetic modifications and technological augmentations…there is nothing particularly sacred about the human condition…our bodies and minds are riddled with flaws that not only can but should be fixed.”[vii]
This is once again contrasted with the biblical account, where God sees what He has created and that He declares it to be very good (Genesis 1:31). Of course, many in the post-humanist and transhumanist movements see humanity not as good, but as bad. Christian writer and thinker Sharon James responds:
“…rejecting the idea of our Creator God means that we reject His creation as a ‘given’ to be respected—and that we demand the right to de-construct and re-construct it as we please, to suit ourselves.”[viii]
While Christians should certainly acknowledge that sin has marred the image of God in man, it is sinful to think that man is inherently flawed in his design and needs improvement since God is the one who designed him.
The image of God in man as an ontological reality speaks to the truth that man is a special part of God’s designed order. While secularists may disagree, man is exceptional in that he is the only part of God’s creation bearing God’s image, and the only part of creation to receive direct commands. Both posthumanism and transhumanism have misunderstood and refused to acknowledge what makes humanity valuable. It is, obviously, totally unethical to modify what God created as good and in His own image.
Pursuing Transcendence Apart from God
Denial of man’s exceptionality and the Imago Dei does not do away with humanity’s desire to experience something akin to transcendence. All of us recognize that something is not quite right, though we struggle to identify what the problem is exactly. Having rejected the true God, man finds a worthy object to exalt and deify in himself. Things like machines are elevated to godhood, yet the desire for something greater remains.
Interestingly, in both posthumanism and transhumanism, the concept of transcendence is often expressed. The idea within both systems is that, through technology, man can and must transcend his current metaphysical reality. Futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil writes:
“Before the next century is over, human beings will no longer be the most intelligent or capable type of entity on the planet. Actually…[t]he truth of that last statement depends on how we define human.”[ix]
Kurzweil at least acknowledges that terms must be defined. For him, humanity is constituted by one thing only: intelligence. In another work, he writes, “This is one aspect of the uniqueness of our species: our intelligence is just sufficiently above the critical threshold necessary for us to scale our own ability to unrestricted heights of creative power…”[x] Conflating this further, he states that, “Sexuality and spirituality are two ways that we transcend our everyday physical reality.”[xi]
For Kurzweil and many others in this camp, there appears to be a direct correlation between intellect, sexuality, technology, and spiritualty; which, when used in a particular way, results in transcendent experiences.[xii] Transcendence, in these terms, is sometimes referred to as the “singularity”, a concept that includes both Artificial Intelligence surpassing mankind and mankind becoming integrated with machines in his existence.[xiii] Kurzweil concludes, “Singularity…inherently changes one’s view of life…”[xiv]
The science fiction concept of the “cyborg” as a half-human, half-machine chimera is not far off from what transhumanists desire. As sinful as such thoughts are, it’s not as simple as, “this man now wants to be a woman”. No, this is far worse still, with such concepts as, “This man now wants to be a woman and a dog and a machine, all rolled into one. And, of course, he doesn’t want to ever die.” With technology, such modifications are becoming increasingly more possible.
A desire for transcendence apart from God is witnessed in the earliest pages of Scripture and is always considered sinful. First, we see it first in Genesis 3, when the serpent tempts Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which God had explicitly forbidden. Ultimately, man and woman succumb to the temptation, eat the fruit, and sin against God because they see “the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6).
Part of man’s sin is the decision to try and act as God, thus attempting to transcend his creaturely nature. In exegeting Genesis 3, Christopher Wright notes:
“God accepts that humans have indeed breached the Creator-creature distinction. Not that humans have now become gods but that they have chosen to act as though they were—defining and deciding for themselves what they will regard as good and evil.”[xv]
But man is not designed to make such decisions.
This same sort of sin is then repeated only a few chapters later, in Genesis 11, at the Tower of Babel. Here, after God has explicitly commanded man to spread out across the earth and subdue it, mankind once more rebels and decides to centralize and spread upward rather than outward by constructing a tower to reach into the Heavens (Genesis 9:1-6). In verse 6, God Himself declares that what they are doing is not good. In verse 7, God confuses their language and then graciously causes them to do what He had originally commanded, for He “dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city” (Genesis 11:8). Only that which is not created and is eternal can fulfill the role of Creator-God, and transcendence is found in Him alone.
This desire for transcendence actually points to the grand plan of God for man, once more proving the value and worth of man created in God’s own image. Theologian, Thomas Schreiner, writes:
“[T]he image of God was not lost after Adam and Eve fell into sin, even though it was marred…full restoration of the image means that human beings come to know God (Col. 3:10), and all those who know God become righteous and holy (Eph. 4:24).”[xvi]
Sin has marred the image, and it is this marring that makes man so desperate to grasp at something higher up and even transcendent. Inherently, man recognizes there is a problem, but rather than doing what he should—namely, turn to God—he rejects the knowledge of God in favor of worshiping the creature. He does exactly what Romans 1 says mankind does: exchanging the truth of God for the lie.
But, as Schreiner continues, “[H]uman beings are restored to the purpose for which they were made when they are ‘conformed to the image’ of God’s Son (Rom. 8:29).”[xvii] True transcendence, which is really salvation and the restoration of the image of God, is only found in the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ, His Son.
Reshaping Man in Machine’s Image
For the post-humanist and transhumanist, the desire for transcendence is directly related to the drive to reshape man in a machine’s image. Theologian Owen Strachan notes in his work Reenchanting Humanity:
“The post-humanist views the merging of technology and humanity as a positive outcome toward which society is headed. Someday, human people will not be needed. Posthumanism is antihumanism and nihilistic at its core.”[xviii]
Lest one believes transhumanism is the morally superior of the two, Strachan also notes that in transhumanist thought, “Salvation does not come by gracious renewal; salvation comes by genetic engineering.”[xix] Both philosophical systems are seeking to reshape man through means of technology. This is an evident wickedness.
This reshaping of humanity is littered with ethical problems. What happens when people redesign themselves with technological advancements that others cannot afford? Human beings have always followed popular trends; what happens when certain human traits, like dark complexions, dark hair, and dark eyes, are considered less than desirable? Will people possessing these traits be considered less than human? This could easily lead to the same problems of Nazi Germany, when the ideals of the Aryan race were sought, with the outcome of the near annihilation of the Jews, through the process of eugenics.[xx] But some of those traits that mankind views as less than desirable are actually the most glorifying to God.
Christian philosopher, Vern Poythress, comments, “If we reflect on the image of God…[t]he unity and diversity in human beings…have their ultimate foundation and archetype in the unity and diversity in God.”[xxi] In other words, diversity in ethnicity, age, gender, and physical and intellectual ability are fundamentally good for they reflect God, who is one God and yet three persons. This should not be conflated with the effects of sin, which have produced various diseases and mutations in man which can—and should—be treated by science. But diversity, at its most base level, is good.[xxii]
Jesus Christ, as the only begotten Son of God and the God-man Himself, came to the earth in the form of human flesh, and yet was declared perfect. In fact, Colossians 1:15 states, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” As a man, Jesus bore God’s image perfectly. This means that the image of God in man not only still exists, but that the design of man is still good, and to deny this is sinful. G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson comment on Colossians 1:15:
“Christ has come in human flesh and accomplished what the first Adam did not; consequently, as divine and ideal human, Christ reflects the image that Adam and others should have reflected but did not.”[xxiii]
Post-humanists and transhumanists can be affirmed in their belief that humanity, as it stands, is not what it is meant to be. They err, however, in believing the solution is in technology. The solution is to be conformed to Christ’s perfect image (Romans 8:29). In Christ alone is salvation, transcendence, and restoration of the image of God in man.
Is Human Technological Advancement Really so Sinful?
Objections raised to the view that post-humanist and transhumanist ideas are wicked and sinful may come in the form of Nietzsche’s famous phrase that “God is dead”,[xxiv] and so, in the words of Dostoevsky, “All things are lawful then, [men] can do what they like.”[xxv] In other words, if the majority of these thinkers do not claim to believe in God, why should they view what they attempt to accomplish as sinful? Scientist, Yuval Noah Harari, comments:
“We forget that our world was created by an accidental chain of events, and that history shaped not only our technology, politics and society, but also our thoughts, fears and dreams…we seldom try to shake ourselves free, and envision alternative futures.”[xxvi]
For Harari, Christian thought is harmful because it has held back science. Evolution, as chance chaos shaping humans, is “good”. Technological enhancements are merely the next step in the evolutionary process. Yet, the evolutionary process that he lauds so highly is only possible without the guiding hand of intelligent beings. The evolutionary process is controlled by random events. Post-humanists and transhumanists want to aid in the evolution of man, but this is not evolution.
Herein is also the obvious truth: that there must be inherent design within humanity. Apart from design, there would be nothing to improve. Chaos cannot be made into anything other than chaos. Thus, humanity can only be the product of an intelligent designer, thereby proving that humanity is exactly as God intends for him to be. By desiring to improve and change the biological design of mankind through technology, these worldviews actually affirm that mankind seeks the ultimate design, yet their worldview is unable to explain why this is the case.
A second objection arises from post-humanists’ and transhumanists’ desire to eliminate disease and do away with death. Christians can agree that science and medicine are beneficial to treat various ailments, cure diseases, and slow deterioration of bodily systems. But these worldviews see death as avoidable and a mere hurdle to be overcome. Again, Harari provides a point of reference for this line of thinking when he writes that Christians “viewed death as a vital and positive part of the world. Humans died because God decreed it, and their moment of death was a sacred metaphysical experience exploding with meaning.”[xxvii] Taking this line of thought further, Harari continues:
“[There is] Nothing metaphysical about [death]. It is all technical problems… And every technical problem has a technical solution. We don’t need to wait for the Second Coming in order to overcome death. A couple of geeks in a lab can do it.”[xxviii]
The Christian, however, recognizes that while death is not necessary for meaning (if Adam and Eve had not sinned, death need not have entered the fray), it is clear that death has significant meaning—namely, it stands as a judgment against sin and is part of the curse man incurred in Genesis 3.
The only cure is to have sin dealt with first. Therefore, every effort to stall death apart from Christ will fail, for Scripture states, “it is appointed for man to die once” (Hebrews 9:27). If God desires to end a life, He need only will it. The hope to reverse the curse, defeat death, and find true significance for a meaningful life is in Jesus alone. As Hebrews 9:28 states, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Jesus, not technology, will alone save human beings.
Deus Ex Machina or Salvation in Christ Alone
Posthumanism and transhumanism recognize that something has gone wrong but err in what they see as wrong. For these two systems of thought, humanity needs to evolve through technology. The best hope for man is in the machine. If man can be integrated into a machine, diseases can be cured, the earth healed, and death destroyed.[xxix] Ultimately, these worldviews are seeking the restoration of the image of God in man, though they do not recognize this. However, their language of conquering death, healing disease, transcending human nature, and entering godhood is thoroughly religious language. They have not done away with God; they have merely found their god in the machine. Thus, man can only be made perfect in the machine.
The wickedness of these two schools of thought is revealed not only in their rejection of God, but also by their worship of man-made technology. By sidestepping God to the path of transcendence, man repeats the original sin in slightly different form. Greater sin will occur as humans use technology to make themselves seemingly superior to others, thus creating a new division in the human race between those who are technologically enhanced and those who are not. Though technology can be used as a gift from God, the only true answer and hope for the restoration of the image of God in man and the transcendence of man beyond his current, sinful condition is found in Jesus Christ. Christians must continue to stand firm in the hope of Christ, rejecting every scheme of man, for apart from Him, all attempts will end disastrously.
[i] This is reflected well in the thought of Jonathan Edwards, especially his work “A Dissertation Concerning the End For Which God Created The World,” in The Complete Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 94-119.
[ii] Michael Plato, “C.S. Lewis’s Nightmare: Christianity after the Abolition of Man (Part 1),” In All Things, October 11, 2016, https://inallthings.org/c-s-lewiss-nightmare-christianity-after-the-abolition-of-man-part-1/.
[iv] Michael Plato, “C.S. Lewis’s Nightmare: Christianity after the Abolition of Man (Part 2),” In All Things, October 12, 2016, https://inallthings.org/c-s-lewiss-nightmare-christianity-after-the-abolition-of-man-part-2/
[v] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016).
[vi] G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2008), 128.
[vii] Peter Clarke, “Transhumanism and the Death of Human Exceptionalism,” Areo Magazine, March 6, 2019, https://areomagazine.com/2019/03/06/transhumanism-and-the-death-of-human-exceptionalism/.
[viii] Sharon Jones, Gender Ideology: What Do Christians Need to Know? (Fearn, Ross-Shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2019), 80.
[ix] Ray Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (New York: Viking, 2000), vii.
[x] Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near (New York: Penguin, 2005), 4.
[xi] Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines, 149.
[xii] One of the earliest examples of posthumanist literature is feminist Donna J. Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto, which deconstructs gender, class, ethnicity, and sexuality while continually speaking of the transcendence afforded to humans in sexual experiences.
[xiii] Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, 7.
[xv] Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: InterVaristy Press, 2006), 164.
[xvi] Thomas R. Schreiner, Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 24-25.
[xvii] Schreiner, Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World, 25.
[xviii] Owen Strachan, Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind (Fearn, Ross-Shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2019), 272-73.
[xix] Ibid., 276.
[xx] For an example of technological modifications and genetic engineering leading to eugenic-like outcomes, see: Olga Khazan, “We’re Already Designing Babies,” (The Atlantic), July 03, 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/were-already-designing-babies/373896/ (accessed June 2, 2020).
[xxi] Vern S. Poythress, Interpreting Eden: A Guide to Faithfully Reading and Understanding Genesis 1-3 (Wheaton: Crossway, 2019), 237-38.
[xxii] For example, see John Piper, “Why Christians Love Diversity,” (Desiring God), March 31, 2016, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-christians-love-diversity
[xxiii] G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 852.
[xxiv] Scotty Hendricks, “’God is dead’: What Nietzsche really meant,” (BigThink), August 12, 2016, https://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/what-nietzsche-really-meant-by-god-is-dead.
[xxv] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, trans. Constance Garnett, (Mineola: Dover, 2005), 665.
[xxvi] Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, (New York: Harper Collins, 2017), 62-63.
[xxvii] Harari, Homo Deus, 28.
[xxviii] Ibid., 29.
[xxix] Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, 7.
Jacob Tanner is a husband, father, and pastor, living in Pennsylvania. Holding to the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, Jacob is focused on both evangelism and reformation. He is the founder of the Sound of Truth Ministries, where they have regular podcasts and preaches whenever the opportunity arises. His passion and motto are, “To know Christ and make Him known because He has made us His own.” He can be found spending time with his family or with a book in his hands in his free time.