Category Archives: Transhumanism – Religion

Is Transhumanism A Religion?

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(This post was reprinted in Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, May 22, 2018)

Transhumanism is an intellectual movement that aims to transform and improve the human condition by developing and making available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physiological, and moral functioning. Transhumanists argue that humanity in its current form represents an early phase of its evolutionary development. A common transhumanist thesis is that humans may eventually transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities that they will have become godlike or posthuman. Notably, this includes defeating the limitation imposed by death.

Now many claim that transhumanism is just another religion. But is this true?

While transhumanists want some of the same things that religious believers do such as infinite being, infinite consciousness, and infinite bliss, religion and transhumanism are dissimilar in important ways. Whereas religious beliefs are often superstitious and implausible, both an affront to the intellect and an insult of our best scientific knowledge, transhumanists want to replace the delusions of popular religions and use science and technology to transform reality.

There is little similarity between imaging there is a mansion in the sky populated by angels and gods on the one hand and creating a heaven on earth and minds as powerful as gods on the other. In other words, there is a great difference between saying that unicorns exist and using biotechnology to create them. The first is fantasy, the second an engineering project. (Although transhumanism may be more compatible with some form of process theology or other more sophisticated versions of religion.)

Others object to transhumanism because they worry about the risks associated with the project. But there is no risk-free way to proceed into the future and if we are to survive and flourish we must augment our moral and intellectual faculties. We either evolve, or we will all die. And no help will come from the gods. They are either imaginary or just don’t care, as an honest evaluation of history readily reveals.

Transhumanism and Religion

(This article was reprinted in the online magazine of the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, January 18, 2015 and in Church and State.)

Transhumanism is: 

The 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 … transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.1

Transhumanism appears to have nothing in common with religion, defined as: “the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or any such system of belief and worship…”In transhumanism the gods play no role.

Yet the two are not entirely dissimilar. Religious people generally want to overcome the limitations of the body and live forever, just like transhumanists. Arising before transhumanist ideas were conceivable, religions had no other option but to advise their followers to accept death and hope for the best. Religious beliefs provided comfort in the face of death and natural evils before the advent of science and technology. We might think of religion as premature transhumanism. Religion is not the opposite of transhumanism but a seed from which transhumanism can grow.

However today the comfort provided by archaic religious superstitions impedes advancement and therefore should be set aside. We need to grow beyond religion. But must we relinquish religious beliefs now, before science gives us everything we want? Yes. The most important reason to abandon religious belief is religion’s opposition to most forms of progress. For the most part, religion has opposed: the elimination of slavery, the use of birth control, women’s and civil rights, stem cell research, genetic engineering, and science in general. Religion is from our past; it opposes the future.

Can humans function without the old religious narratives? They can, they just need new narratives based on a scientific worldview. Such narratives could be transhumanist, of humans playing their role as links in a chain leading to greater forms of being and consciousness; or perhaps they will focus on the idea that cosmic evolution is the story of the universe becoming self-conscious through conscious beings like ourselves. Whatever shape those narratives take, they must be informed by the belief that humans can evolve into something much more than they are now.

But against this seemingly infinite temporal background, what of the significance of a single, finite human life, and what is the significance of all of cosmic evolution? We are significant if we play our part in advancing evolution if we accept our role as the protagonists of the evolutionary epic. And if we succeed our post-human descendants will understand these ultimate questions, giving our own lives—by then long past—a significance we can now hardly fathom. For the moment we must take solace in the hope that the better world we imagine is indeed possible.

1. This quote is from the Humanity+ website’s FAQ section.

2. From “The Cambridge International Dictionary of English.”

Transhumanism and the End of Religion

(This article was reprinted in Humanity+ Magazine, July 21, 2014)

Mankind is still embryonic … [humans are] the bud from which something more complicated and more centered than [themselves] should emerge. ~  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J.

1. The End of Religion

Transhumanism is: 

The 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 … transhumanism is a way of thinking about the future that is based on the premise that the human species in its current form does not represent the end of our development but rather a comparatively early phase.1

Transhumanism appears to have nothing in common with religion, defined as: “the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or any such system of belief and worship…”In transhumanism gods plays no role.

Yet the two are not entirely dissimilar. Like transhumanists, the religious generally want to overcome the limitations of the body and live happily forever. With no other options available religions, arising before transhumanist ideas were conceivable, advised their followers to accept death and hope for the best. Religious beliefs provided comfort in the face of death and natural evils before the advent of science and technology.

But must we relinquish religious beliefs now, before science gives us everything we want? Might we allow the comfort of religious beliefs to those who need them, to those who must tell their children something when someone dies? The most important reason to abandon religious belief is religion’s opposition to most forms of progress. Religion has generally opposed: the elimination of slavery, the use of birth control, women’s and civil rights, stem cell research, genetic engineering, and science in general. Organized religion typically opposes progress. It is from our past; it opposes the future. The comfort provided by archaic superstitions often impedes advancement and  therefore should be set aside.

2. Transhumanism as a Cosmic Narrative

But can humans function without the old religious narratives? As I said in a previous post, humans need a new narrative based on a scientific worldview. This narrative could be a transhumanist one, of humans playing their role as links in a chain leading to more complex forms of being and consciousness. But against this seemingly infinite temporal background, what can be said of the significance of a single, finite human life? Not much. For now we must be content to hope that our post-human descendants will experience more meaningful consciousness, grateful to us for the part we played in bringing about their future.

And what is the point of cosmic evolution producing these higher and more conscious life forms? Again we must hope that our post-human descendants will understand these ultimate questions and that our own lives—by then long past—will be given significance by that knowledge. We can also hope that somehow we will be aware of, and possibly participate in, this better and more meaningful cosmos. For now we must take solace in the hope that the better world we imagine is indeed possible.

No doubt humans need a new, scientifically based cosmic narrative to replace the older, less plausible religious ones. Such narratives are beginning to emerge as our understanding of cosmic evolution and our proper role in it increases. But whatever shape those narratives take they must be informed by the belief that humans can evolve into something much more than they are now.

1. This quote is from the Humanity+ website’s FAQ section.

2. From “The Cambridge International Dictionary of English.”