Modern technology can do amazing things to help people in great need. But what if the same technology can be repurposed to enhance healthy people beyond their natural limits?
Has this ever happened to you? I went to the grocery store for bread, eggs, and cheese, but when I got home I realized I had forgotten the bread. My wife just laughed, and said, “I do that all the time!” When I was younger, I passed this off as absentmindedness.
But now I’m not so sure. As baby boomers like me get older, we worry (if you’re not there yet, then perhaps you worry about your parents or grandparents). One in nine Americans has Alzheimer’s dementia, a condition associated with memory loss, difficulty in performing daily activities, and severe mood swings. Alzheimer’s has no cure, and it worsens inexorably until death.
Who wouldn’t encourage almost any form of research to help? For instance, several “cognitive enhancement strategies” are on the market. These include drugs that stimulate the brain’s memory and learning. Such drugs do not prolong life, but they can improve its quality.
In an even more startling development, experiments have put silicon chips in animal brains, paving the way for human trials of a “memory prosthesis.” Such a brain implant might help restore lost memories and rebuild cognitive abilities.
But what if we could use these strategies to enhance “normal” people? It sounds like science fiction. Yet with our cell phones and ever-present computers, we have become increasingly comfortable merging our bodies with devices. D. T. Max, in a recent National Geographic article, put it this way: “Our cars are our feet, our calculators are our minds, and Google is our memory. Our lives are now only partially biological.”
So if it is okay to merge with machines to ease the decline of aging, is it okay to enhance the natural abilities of a healthy person? A modern movement called transhumanism wants to do all this and more. This philosophy claims we should accelerate “human evolution” to transcend our physical and mental limitations.
Transhumanism promises to make humans more advanced through robotics, merging us with machines, even “uploading our consciousness” into computers. In essence, it desires to reinvent humanity. Why not leave the shackles of our bodies and buy into the transhumanist vision?
These questions cry out for a clear
biblical perspective on healing and
wellness to guide us. We must first
acknowledge that disease, decline,
and death are a result of Adam’s sin.
Because of the Curse in Genesis 3, all
of us must age and die. Job laments that
man is born to trouble as the sparks
fly upward” (5:7). Moses reminds us,
The years of our life are seventy, . . .
yet their span is but toil and trouble”
Next, we must remember that our
God knows how much we suffer. We
can rejoice with Paul that our Lord is
the Father of mercies and God of all
comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). The medical
profession is but an earthly reflection
of this heavenly principle. So it is
completely reasonable to seek modern
medicine to lessen our pain and help
us live more productive lives.
But should we go even further? As long as our drugs and devices can help us navigate our senior years with grace and productivity, that’s a good goal. But should we try to become “better than well” to enhance human abilities to see farther, think faster, or lift more than our natural bodies and brains ever could?
The Fall has hurt our abilities in many ways, but restoring our original potential and grasping for something more aren’t the same thing.
Many biblical issues come into play. The transhumanist push seems pretty self-centered. On the sixth day of creation, God called his completed work “very good” (Genesis 1:31). We weren’t missing anything. True, the Fall hurt our abilities in many ways, but there’s a huge difference between restoring our original potential and grasping for more.
Modern transhumanists are saying to the Lord of life, “Actually, I can do better.” We know God has condemned such impulses, for he condemned Satan for tempting Eve, when he told her, “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). This may sound extreme, but it’s the kind of thinking that undergirds much of the transhumanist movement. Do Christians really support these goals? At what point does the desire to overcome the effects of the Fall go too far? It’s hard to say. Drawing a hard line between healing and enhancement will not be easy. But the question is important because human beings should not try to meddle with their very nature.
Helping others in their infirmities is clearly taught in Scripture (Romans 15:1). But wrong motives can pervert even justifiable actions (see Matthew 6:1). We shouldn’t trust a secular vision that doesn’t recognize God’s higher purpose (see Psalm 119:67).
What is wrong with seeking a long, pain-free life? Inherently, nothing. But Christians need to emphasize that our fundamental problem is not a lack of physical strength or a deficit in our brain capacity. Our problem is a corrupt heart and a sinful, self-centered will. The only cure for that is Christ, and the free gift of salvation that comes only from trusting him.