Transhumanism and Christian Social Concern
School of Theology, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Journal of Evolution and Technology Vol. 14 Issue 2 - August 2005 - pgs. 89-103
Both Christianity and transhumanism
create social visions capable of engendering hope, motivating action
and describing the universe. While some transhumanists see the
Christian vision as competing with the transhumanist equivalent,
others within transhumanism see a place for ‘traditional values.’
Certainly in the area of social justice concerns, say addressing
poverty and physical suffering, each has potentially compatible
things to say. This paper argues that while certain areas of concern
overlap, and mutual agreement on the use of certain transhuman
technologies can be found, the different anthropological,
soteriological and eschatological understandings create potentially
In the contemporary world both transhumanism and Christianity offer
visions of a better world. The former, following the belief in human
reason and scientific progress, argues that the development of
appropriate technology will lead to a world with less suffering and
more freedom for individuals and communities to achieve their
potential. The latter holds that the person and work of Jesus Christ
provides the basis for social transformation achieved, in part, by
the development of new communities and behavior, shaped by God’s
continuing creative presence in the world.
While one vision tends toward the secular and the other toward
religion both are committed to social concerns, either directly or
as a by product of their distinctive emphases. Therefore, a valid
question is whether or not there can be dialogue between the two in
the area of social concern. If, as Nick Bostrom asserts, “it is
perfectly possible to be a transhuman – or, for that matter, a
transhumanist – and still embrace most traditional values and
principles of personal conduct”
there points of contact between the two social visions?[i]
The purpose of this paper is to enter a conversation, not as a
definitive word on it, but rather to begin to identify possible
avenues of positive engagement as well as other areas of
disjunction. As such it aims to examine transhumanism through the
lens of Christian social concern, and in particular from within the
Protestant tradition. After précising the transhumanist and
Christian social visions several of areas of social and
technological concern will be used to compare the two positions. The
emphasis is then, not so much upon the assumptions that each makes
about the nature of the human person, as it is about the practice of
The previous quote of
Bostrom’s about ‘traditional values’ immediately lends itself to some
manner of clarification. What are these values and who determines
them? By traditional values are we assuming the dominant social
norms of the culture of the day or something else? The list of
possibilities is endless. For some they may be particular
perspectives on the family, sexuality, economic theory, the rights
of the individual, or the need for collective self-governance. James
Hughes notes “[t]here is a latent majority constituency for social
justice, a caring society, technological progress, and health and
longevity for all.”[ii]
Are these traditional values? And do they embrace various religious
values or frameworks as asserted by people like Hughes and Mark
For the purpose of this essay I will nuance ‘traditional values’ as
those found primarily within the Christian social justice tradition.
Both transhumanism and Christianity are in a sense utopian. Both
assert that all is not right with the world, that there is
potentially more – ‘rumors of another world’ as one popular
Christian writer puts it – and that a better, fuller, more realized
world or society is possible. Duncan Forrester comments that social
visions such as these provide hope by “raising the horizon of
meaning within which a society exists, policies are formulated, and
actions taken.” A social vision offers to those who adopt it a
utopian vision that generates goals and momentum towards the future,
and allows ethical considerations be to examined outside of existing
The transhumanist social vision is a current end product of the idea
that the human condition can be improved through reason, science and
technology. Predominantly it focuses upon the autonomous human
individual, asserting the primacy of reason as a force for personal
and therefore social transformation. In this transhumanism offers
the hope of a better world with the increased presence of values
such as rational thinking, freedom, tolerance and concern for others
achieved through the use of applied reason. Ultimately, this leads
to an ever increasing improvement of the human condition.[v]
However, just as within a tradition such as Christianity there are a
range of communities and emphases found within the breadth of
transhumanism. While transhumanists are, by their very nature, at
the techno-optimistic end of the biopolitical spectrum they vary
across cultural and economic axes.
For example, those who would call themselves ‘democratic
transhumanists’ align themselves not only faith in reason and
technological development but also with the political values of
liberty, equality and solidarity. Thus while they are
techno-optimistic and see a significant place individual choice they
claim to be open to the needs and concerns of the wider community
acting as a guide to technological development.[vi]
At the other end of the spectrum are those who are influenced
predominantly by libertarian ideology. These, including those
identifying with Extropianism, emphasize the autonomous individual
and freedom from outside intervention or regulation.[vii]
Seeing as much of the current literature tends to be from the
libertarian end of the transhumanist spectrum it is this type of
transhumanism that will be predominantly engaged with in this paper.
The term transhumanism is also often used interchangeably with the
related term posthumanism, though for some there is a clear
distinction between the two. For example, Bostrom sees the posthuman
as the end product of the application of the transhumanist project,
the development of individuals who transcend the existing
limitations of humanity both physically and mentally.[viii]
Others, such as Robert Pepperell, are happy to use the term
posthuman to embrace a range of approaches to the convergence of
biology and technology that alters the fabric of human existence,
though he stops short of including Extropianism in it.[ix]
What is clear however, is that transhuman and related posthuman
projects represent a broad spectrum of ideas about the human
development in light of potential technological advances. As such,
these projects represent both the narrow view of human bodies and
minds being technologically modified, enhanced and repaired,
and on the other as a kind of speculative thought experiment that
offers “an opportunity to think anew about the relationship between
humans and their environments, artifacts and tools in a digital and
Furthermore, in the transhuman differences or demarcations are
blurred or obliterated. Bodily existence and computer simulation
might be the same, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism are
merely constructs of the same basic elements, and robot teleology
and human goals merge. The rational mind becomes the definition of
the person and the body is seen merely as a temporary vessel for the
mind – possessed so to speak. Identity derived from the body, such
as gender, race and ethnicity is rejected, as markers of bodily
difference are removed.[xii]
From within this framework transhumanism, in a broad sense, has a
social agenda. It wishes to make the world a better place through
the application of technology. In particular to provide choices for
individuals so that they can be free of those things such as ill
health, inheritable diseases, poverty, prejudice and even finite
life span. To allow the human individual to choose to transcend
existing limitations and to be able to do so. Democratic
transhumanists would nuance this by asserting that the goal is to
benefit not just the individual but wider society as well. Therefore
enabling wider or equal access to technology within society also
becomes a priority for them. As we shall see in the following
section some of these goals share many similarities and resonances
with Christian social concern.
It should also be mentioned at this point that parts of
transhumanism ponder the risks involved with technological
development, though as Russell Blackford recently commented more
effort in recognizing the downsides of transhumanist technologies
might not be amiss.[xiii]
Indeed, one of the areas of contention between transhumanists is
over whose role it is to manage the risks involved. Furthermore
risk, real or potential, is one of those areas that Christian social
concern would also speak to.
A significant part of the wider Christian social vision is a social
concern, an understanding of social justice that is rooted in both
the Christian understandings of God, particularly as revealed in
Jesus Christ, and of human nature. Both Protestant and Roman
Catholic views hinge on the understanding that the individual
person, the person in relationship and the wider world matter to
In Roman Catholic social teaching this concern is seen in the two
core principles of social transformation and human dignity. The
first of these principles argues that the relationship of faith
between the believer and God demands that faith be engaged with
every aspect of the everyday world, whether that be socially,
politically, culturally or economically. The second principle is
that human dignity, realized in social relationships or community,
is of utmost value.[xiv]
This approach tends to be manifested through engagement using
natural law, where Aristotelian concepts have been routed through
figures such as Thomas Aquinas.[xv]
Specifically, this view holds that human self-interest is
transcended by a natural order present in the wider world, an order
derived from the one who sustains it. This, following the Thomist
approach, allows for the recognition of some fixed general
understanding of good and evil by human beings, and to a lesser
degree other creatures, across historical-cultural settings.[xvi]
In the Protestant tradition the basis primarily for understanding
social justice concerns rests with the interpretation of biblical
texts – the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the prophetic literature,
and the writings of the early church found in the New Testament.
This is not to say, however, that philosophical thought is ignored
within the Protestant tradition. For example, Luther uses it in
regards to socio-political engagement, but theologically it has
tended to be downplayed. Likewise, in the Catholic tradition
biblical material is not ignored for, as Forrester notes, it has an
increasing presence in papal encyclicals.[xvii]
The biblical traditions drawn upon in shaping Christian social
concern are various. There is the assertion the physical universe is
somehow intentionally created and therefore of value to God. There
are the prophetic traditions of the Hebrew Scriptures, and in
particular the writings that date from the eighth century BCE. Here
we see in the tradition of Micah that human beings should be doing
justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.[xviii]
And so too in the writings associated with Amos where suffering
caused by social and economic oppression condemned.[xix]
Justice is expressed in social relationships, as the very substance
of faith, not just its application. It becomes the how and why of
These themes are picked up in the Gospels. The Lucan tradition
narrates Jesus reading the prophets and proclaiming that the good
news was for the poor, the oppressed and the blind to be released
from their suffering,[xxi]
while in the Matthaen tradition biblical justice is constantly seen
as the vindicating the poor and the oppressed as they can turn to
God and those who follow him for redress and support.[xxii]
While not predominantly oriented within this type of theistic
framework these concerns are ones that transhumanists can sympathize
with. In a literal sense things like recovery of sight, helping the
lame to walk and freedom of choice for those oppressed by physical
and economic suffering are key aspects of transhumanist social
concern, and echoes of this biblical language can be seen in some
Two final strands weave together with these previous ones. Firstly
that justice is always set into an eschatological framework, the
sense that Christianity looks forward to the full realization of
God’s justice in the future. That justice is to be done here in the
present in anticipation of the coming kingdom of God.[xxiv]
The second strand is the anthropological metaphor, the imago Dei,
that somehow human beings bear the image and likeness of God.[xxv]
At this point is it well worth noting that the combination of these
strands into a vision of social concern serves to convict much of
Western Christianity. While many examples of individuals and groups
that embrace social concern can be given, historical relationships
between Church and State, as well as the institutionalizing of the
Christian faith and often equating it with the contemporary value
system of the age, e.g. repacking Christianity as Western consumer
culture, mean that social concern has often been tragically lacking.
It is not without good reason that the prophetic tradition of the
Hebrew Scriptures spoke critically about the people of God in this
respect. Nevertheless, it is this vision of social concern that will
be used here, with the critique of the actuality of Christian social
concern needing more scope that can be dealt with in this paper.
Returning to the image of God motif, it is perhaps best expressed as
an understanding of a functional relationship. That being made in
the image of God human beings possess a dignity by virtue of God
valuing them. That valuing of the individual cascades out into
embodied social relationships between human beings and the wider
world that God values too. In the past one hundred years or so the
interpretation of the image has shifted from something that is found
inherently in the human person, e.g. reason, through the concept of
relationship and to a definition of humans as agents of God within
the world. As such it has moved to reinforce the concept that human
being is linked to embodiment within the natural world, and with
technological agency within that world.
The concept of imago Dei continues to be nuanced by
conversations with others both inside and outside the Christian
tradition. Within the tradition the imago Dei forms a key
part of many contemporary liberationist, feminist and ecological
Criticism from outside, such as White’s view that Judeo-Christian
anthropocentrism being responsible for an ecological crisis, has
prompted many to reexamine the concept.[xxvii]
And others, such as Lutheran theologian Philip Hefner, look to both
culture and genetics to develop an understanding of the image that
takes them into account.[xxviii]
The concept of the imago Dei though represents a possible
point of disjunction with transhumanism. Beyond the obvious
disagreement between secular and theistic worldviews that might
occur, one of the ethical distinctives noted by some transhumanists
is the rejection of speciesism. That is, moral status is
conveyed not by being a particular biological species, such as
homo sapiens, but rather by the combination of factors such as
individual autonomy and membership in a community.[xxix]
The emphasis upon how privileged humanity is in the scheme of things
within the Christian tradition varies but it is unavoidable in one
form or another.[xxx]
As we shall see later the metaphor of the imago Dei do not
necessarily force a rejection of technologies such as genetic
engineering or cloning, but it does affect both aspects of Christian
ethics and the understanding of why human beings are technological.
The theological virtue of charity is a common argument for the
development and application of technology. The technological
endeavor becomes the avenue through which “material mercies” are
introduced into society delivering humankind from suffering.[xxxi]
But it may be that justice and charity are not always the same
thing, in that justice is often concerned with the maintenance of a
social peace and stability that resists technological innovation.
Such innovation may lead to society having to renegotiate what
public opinion is on new issues raised by technology and often this
is a traumatic and combative process. Thus there is a tension
between science and technology and wider society as new questions
are raised when old ones are answered.[xxxii]
Ian Barbour picks up some of this tension when he recognizes that
within the biblical tradition human potential is considered
ambiguously. On one hand he argues it offers an idealistic vision
affirming the potential to promote human flourishing through
intellectual application, while on the other the tradition is also
pragmatic about the human tendency to abuse power. A tendency he
sees manifested in both the individual’s quest for power and
institutional rationalization in corporations, labor unions,
governments, and religious institutions of their own self-interests.[xxxiii]
Furthermore, Barbour argues that technology’s potential tends to be
interpreted in three categories of relationship in both wider
society and within Christianity. Here, he asserts, technology is
perceived as either a liberator, an oppressor or an ambiguous
instrument of power.[xxxiv]
These types of relationships are identified by the emphasis they
place upon different sets of values. From the perspective of the
individual, things such as food and health, meaningful work and
personal fulfillment are to be valued. In a social setting justice,
participatory freedom and economic development become concerns,
while in an environmental context resource sustainability,
environmental protection and respect for all forms of life are
likely to be considered.[xxxv]
Emphasis on particular combinations of these values in the process
of doing social justice leads to a variety of responses to
For example, transhumanism falls within the category that sees
technology as liberator where the values of personal fulfillment,
participatory freedom, economic development and utilitarianism form
key influences upon its thought and direction. Within Christianity
each of the types of relationship is manifested, from pessimists
that see technology as somehow introducing more problems than it
solves and dehumanizing persons, through to others that clearly
identify all technological progress as divinely mandated.
Both Mark Walker’s proposal of a neo-Irenaean technological
theosis and Kevin Kelly’s concept of regenesis fall
within this latter techno-optimistic category.[xxxvii]
Barbour himself falls within the third category which sees
technology as both a product and instrument of social power and fits
with the theological understanding of human beings as being capable
of both great good and great evil.
It is with these categories in mind that the following two examples
of engagement with transhumanist ideas, uploading and
biotechnology, will be considered before some more general
comments are made.
Notwithstanding the influence of Neo-Platonic thought upon historic
Christianity, nor premillennial rapturist visions of escape from the
material world, the orthodox Christian understanding of the human
person as an embodied individual raises questions relating to
transhumanist aspirations for uploading their understanding of the
essence of a person, the intellect or consciousness, into a
synthetic environment. In particular the narrative being told here
seems to argue for an escapism from the physical. Hayles puts it
Such views are
authorized by cultural conditions that make physicality seem a
better state to be from that to inhabit. In a world despoiled by
overdevelopment, overpopulation and time-release environmental
poisons, it is comforting to think that physical forms can recover
their pristine purity by being reconstituted as informational
patterns in a multidimensional computer space.[xxxviii]
Margaret Wertheim argues this is vision is similar to the one of a
Gnostic ascendancy to becoming one with the Infinite and is
concerned that the tendency of such religious traditions to lead to
a lack of earthly concerns – specifically for the physical world and
communities embedded within it.[xxxix]
As we noted before the Christian motif of the imago Dei roots
Christianity in valuing the flesh, of being intentionally part of
the physical created order and in a web of relationships with the
divine and the natural – a notion that the physical community is
important to both human and God.[xl]
A danger here is, that assuming a materialist vision that intellect
or consciousness is an epiphenomenon of the biological hardware,
then the flesh becomes in a Manichean sense evil or at least an
intermediary state to be transcended. What then binds those in
fleshly existence to those in living in cyberspace? Is it possible
for community to be maintained? And in Wertheim’s words “[w]hy
bother fighting for earthly social justice if you believe that in
cyberspace we can all be as gods.”[xli]
Brenda Brasher raises similar concerns to when she argues that the
increasing hybridization of the human person will lead to a time
when the non-augmented human will be perceived negatively,
redefining the essential nature of human identity and perception.[xlii]
Transhumanists favoring uploading rejection of these criticisms in
two ways. Firstly, they argue that uploaded existence would provide
the full range of experience available to a biological human. And
secondly, interaction with the physical world and persons would be
Yet solidarity with the other is often forged in the bond of common
human experience. If this bond is radically changed, say by the
hypothetical increase of speed in the ‘uploadee’s’ thought
processes, and the underlying motivation for uploading is driven by
a concern for individual liberty of choice, the possibility for
disjunction from the physical world becomes very real. Furthermore,
it is unclear in transhumanist literature how the uploaded community
are supported economically, of what their obligations are to the
structures supporting their existence, which raises questions of how
oppressive those support structures might become.
Given the current impracticability of uploading the main concern
with uploading from a Christian social justice perspective comes
more from the its intent to reject embodiment. Just as religious
fixations with transcending the physical world can lead to emphasis
on saving ‘souls’ rather than addressing physical need, and also to
environmental neglect, so too fascination with uploading might have
similar implications. Embodiment though is key to discussing
implications raised by biotechnology, and it is here that maybe more
helpful connections can be made.
Lutheran theologian Ted Peters is one who sees the positive
possibilities present in transhumanist technologies such as genetic
modification and cloning. He rejects the predominantly conservative
religious reaction that tends to retreat towards perceived safety in
the face of new technologies. In particular he asks of these
technologies, “Does God really say ‘No’?”.[xliv]
Motivated by the potential of a future vision found in Christ,
Peters argues that humanity is being drawn forward towards an end.
Under this ‘evolutionary’ pressure morality changes or adapts,
making it is wrong to morally place what is delivered to us by
nature above how nature can be influenced through technology. In
fact, he argues that it is immoral not to strive to make the world a
better place through the use of technology, just a morality develops
through history bringing about a fairer and more just society. He
puts it succinctly when he comments “[t]he situation as it is does
not necessarily describe how it ought to be.”[xlv]
However, while Peters is optimistic about the use of technology he
is not so optimistic about technologists and the socio-political
forces that shape the use of technology. So, when it comes to a
technology like cloning Peters bases his assessment upon human
dignity being found in relationship to God. For him this provides
the basis to resist what he sees as to the dignity of children under
pressures of commodification.[xlvi]
Peters rejects the ideas that our DNA is in someway sacred and that
human beings are strictly individuals. Rather he argues that we are
individuals in relationship and that those relationships define
human dignity. That is, in practice dignity is experienced as worth
or value communicated by relationships. So he says,
It is not
individualism or identity per se that constitutes a person’s
dignity. Uniqueness does not determine dignity. Our value as a
person comes experientially from the people who love us and,
ultimately if not ontologically, from God’s love for us.[xlvii]
From this position two other strands of thought are interwoven,
those of origins and beneficence. The first of these, origins,
demands that humanity stop looking back to some early stage that we
can say is or isn’t human and instead continually look forward with
hope and potential. And in doing this we need to engage with
technology not just in the ethical sense of non-maleficence, of
doing no harm, but also with beneficence. If we can use technology
to do good then we are obliged to do so and if we don’t then we
reject the potential God has given humanity for social
transformation found in the imago Dei motif.[xlviii]
This anthropological understanding draws upon the term ‘created,
co-creator’ that Hefner develops in his theological reflection upon
Peters picks this up and highlights human beings as finite creatures
who are part of a wider creative enterprise which transforms the
natural world, including humanity, and is governed by an ethical
mandate derived from discerning God’s purposes.[l]
So interacting with transhumanist ideas, and in particular
biotechnology, Peters’ approach would see merit in the transhumanist
claim that the current state of the contemporary world is inadequate
and even “characterized as a ‘vast sea of human suffering due to
However his ethical stance derived from giving priority to those yet
to come and of value being derived from relationship with God would
mitigate against those who would view children produced by asexual
reproduction as the product, rather than the person, of a
technological process with quality-control standards.[lii]
This model of engagement focuses on the value of the individual from
being in relationship with others. The fact that it is not based
upon an innate property or aspect of the human person will place it
in tension with perspectives that do. For example, Hughes provides a
framework of basing personhood primarily upon cognitive
capabilities. In Peters’ scheme children and adults are ascribed
equality of dignity and personhood, while in the other it is
possible to interpret a progressive scale of personhood or humanness
that alters a person’s inherent rights based upon the level of
Dena Davis notes though that the concepts of beneficence and respect
for the autonomy are often in tension in the area of biotechnology.
On one hand the need to do good for an individual comes up against
that individual’s right to make their own decisions.[liv]
Within the Christian worldview the doctrine of imago Dei
might be a helpful starting point for resolving this tension. There
the emphasis on the individual as valuable in their own right before
God is combined with the sense of obligation toward others because
they are also equally valued by God. The human individual is not
isolated from the rest of the world, but rather embedded in a range
of social and physical relationships, and that need to be
The tension between individual and community priority is an ongoing
one. On one hand the Christian tradition affirms that individuals
are responsible for their own actions and should be free. Yet on the
other, communities are also held to account for their actions, or
lack of them, and the command to love one’s neighbor puts the other
before self. Where individual Christians are on this spectrum is
often more in line with their political affinity rather than
A practical way forward might be found in adapting the ‘ethic of
accommodation’ that the apostle Paul uses in his correspondence with
the Corinthian church.[lv]
Here Paul describes the tension between believers being ‘free in
Christ’ yet also having responsibility toward others. As he puts it,
everything is permissible but not all things are beneficial. In
dealing with how to live within Corinthian society Paul sets out a
three-tier ethic. Firstly, you are free to do what you want provided
it does not compromise your allegiance and witness to Christ.
Secondly, if the first criterion is met, then you must never do
anything to destroy the faith of another. And finally, if the first
two conditions are met defend your freedom. So an ethic nuanced by
concern for God, other and then self.
In applying technology, say psychopharmaceuticals, the ethic might
serve as follows for a person or community within the Christian
tradition. Firstly, does the application bring glory to God in some
way or not compromise the understanding of God’s will in this area?
Secondly, what are the implications for others – not just for those
immediately around, but the wider social and physical networks was
well? And if both these areas can be satisfied then consider
proceeding with it. Admittedly this is a very brief sketch and
questions like “what is God’s will?” will be debated but rigorous
discussion and engagement must form part of the consideration.
While discussion about transhumanism is often on particular
technologies, such as the ones mentioned above, there are a variety
of broad areas of engagement as well. Areas such as technological
risk, economic and political forces and the relative definition of
terms like poverty and suffering will be discussed in the following
section before some final concluding remarks are made.
One of the issues that arises in the discussion of technological
development is the concept of risk. In the case of transhumanist
technologies this is particularly pertinent and there is ongoing
discussion for the potential of things like nanotechnology to cause
harm in the world.[lvi]
Transhumanist literature recognizes the possibility of these risks
and proponents have gone as far as categorizing technological risks
into those which might be considered endurable and those which are
existential in nature. The latter being defined as those that result
in the annihilation or restriction of intelligent life originating
on this planet, while the former are risks that individuals or
communities would survive.[lvii]
It is the endurable risks that I wish to concentrate on
specifically. One of the previously noted strands of Christian
social concern is the biblical theme of God’s concern for those who
have no voice or power in society. In effect, their autonomy as
individuals and as a community has been restricted. In the case of
survivable technological risks it would be those with less resources
available to them, say economically, who are most at risk. Thus
there isn’t a single level of risk to be assessed but rather a
spectrum of risk that needs to take this into account. As Graham
states, “[s]ocio-economic inequalities may thus represent as
profound a threat to human dignity as biotechnologies.”[lviii]
An example of this might be the recent case of famine-struck African
nations wrestling with whether or not to accept food aid that
contained genetically-modified grain. For them the power to manage
the technological risk was limited by the socio-political situation
they found themselves in. So policies that work to empower these
communities and reduce their perceived exposure to risk should be
Thus the use of these technologies is not simply rejected but rather
its use is nuanced by a social ethic that takes the potential risk
to other parties into account.
The assessment of risk might however prove problematic. In the case
of emerging technologies who should decide what is or is not
permitted? Bostrom comments that a differential development of
technology is desirable, separating out the beneficial options from
the harmful ones, but who makes this subjective decision?[lx]
As previously noted libertarian transhumanist respect for individual
autonomy and choice tends to resist overt pressure from the state or
other public bodies in directing what would or wouldn’t be
acceptable. Furthermore to say that the decision would be determined
purely on rational grounds would fail to take into account wider
economic and political agendas present in society.
The situation involving generic pharmaceuticals in developing
nations demonstrates this by showing that simply developing the
technology to address particular issue of suffering only goes part
of the way toward solving the problem.[lxi]
The tension between the valid concern for compensation for costly
research and the immediate and pressing problem of
suffering is unresolved. The perspective that in the long term
technological benefits will become cheaper and trickle down to the
less affluent does little to alleviate suffering in the short to
This last point brings us to a final issue raised by Mitcham and
Grote as to the relative nature of terms such as poverty and
suffering. What might be considered poverty and suffering in one
society may not be considered so in another. They argue that
suffering might be seen as “the result of an unsatisfied need”.[lxii]
If this is the case then the range of individual, communitarian and
environmental values proposed earlier by Barbour might be helpful
here in moving the term away from merely a problem of the
individual, as well alerting us to the possibility that it is not
merely a product of the material body being oppressed or restricted.
They comment that if dissatisfaction is integral to a human
condition exiled from God then it will ultimately be unable to be
Nevertheless the vision constructed by Christian social concern
demands that Christians take the possibilities of alleviating human
suffering and oppression through technological application
seriously. It is not possible to love one’s neighbor, to work on the
side of those who are suffering, without being accountable to God
for the creative abilities that human beings possess. Therefore
engagement with both the reality and possibility of transhumanist
technologies is demanded by this social vision. The human condition
can be improved through the judicious use of technology, though the
Christian understanding of this condition is that it will reach its
consummation in the ultimate coming of the Kingdom of God.
Therefore it is possible that dialogue with transhumanism can exist
where there are avenues to work together to achieve similar ends
with respect to improving the human condition.
The development of transhumanist technologies and ideals provides
both an ongoing challenge and an opportunity for those working
within a framework of Christian social concern.
In a positive sense, Christian concern or ‘traditional values’ found
in love of neighbor, compassion for the poor, justice for the
oppressed, and an vision of human equality found in the imago
Dei, demands that technology that can alleviate suffering and
improve quality of life must be taken seriously. That means that an
automatic rejection of technology, say found in bioconservatism,
would be antithetical to the calling to love and serve others. It
also means that those operating within this framework of social
concern are obliged to commit themselves not only to the application
of new technologies, but also to a deeper understanding of them and
to contribute toward the development of new ones.
However, while one might be positive about new developments this
must be nuanced by a rejection of overt techno-optimism. There are
plenty of examples that demonstrate that human ingenuity and the
promotion of human reason does not always work out positively. It
would be better to assume a position that recognizes that technology
is often a two-edged sword and seek to highlight the risks involved
and the need to maintain a balance between the rights of the
individual and those of the community.
While many resonances might be found between Christian social
concern and variants of transhumanism such as democratic
transhumanism, with its apparent stress on equality of all, there
are also significant differences in the understanding of the human
person. If one follows the view that human dignity or personhood
derives not from some quality inherent in a person, such as
rationality, but rather is sourced outside the human in value
bestowed by God then difficulties will arise as to what is or is not
considered appropriate application of technology within the human
community. Furthermore, strands of transhumanism that follow an
emphasis upon individual liberty will also find tension with a
social vision that recognizes the dignity of the individual but also
balances that against ethics such prioritizing another over oneself
for the benefit of the wider community.
Other difficulties will also arise between strands of each tradition
or community that see secularism or religion as diametrical opposed
to each other. While the ultimate goal of each may be the easing of
human suffering the fundamental motivation for performing
technological work is different. The basic understanding of the
human person and its place in the universe are radically different,
as are the visions of the future that each holds. Secular
transhumanism has its own good news of salvation through human hands
and minds alone, while Christianity is shaped by the perspective
that salvation is sourced in God alone and humanity is capable of
both great creativity and destructiveness if left to its own
It is with both these positive and negative aspects of engagement in
mind that Christian social concern will have to wrestle with as it
seeks to critique not only transhumanist agendas, but also those
within the wider Christian community.
Ball, Jim. "The Use
of Ecology in the Evangelical Protestant Response to the Ecological
Crisis." Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 50, no.
1 (1998): 32-40.
Barbour, Ian G.
Ethics in an Age of Technology: The Gifford Lectures 1989-1991.
Vol. 2. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993.
———. Nature, Human
Nature, and God. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002.
Bird, Phyllis A.
""Male and Female He Created Them": Gen 1:27b in the Context of the
Priestly Account of Creation." Harvard Theological Review 74,
no. 2 (1981): 129-59.
2004. Transhumanism at the Crossroads : To Survive and Thrive
Transhumanism Must Become an Inclusive Social Movement. In,
(accessed 16 November, 2004).
Bostrom, Nick. 2002.
Existential Risks : Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related
Hazards. In, Journal of Evolution and Technology,
http://www.jetpress.org/volume9/risks.html. (accessed 13
———. 2003. The
Transhumanist FAQ : A General Introduction. In, Version 2.1,
World Transhumanist Association,
http://transhumanism.org/resources/FAQv21.pdf. (accessed 1
Steven. For the Beauty of the Earth : A Christian Vision for
Creation Care, Engaging Culture. Grand Rapids, Mich.:
Baker Academic, 2001.
Brasher, Brenda E.
Give Me That Online Religion. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001.
Genesis, Interpretation. Atlanta: John Knox Press,
Carroll, Rory. 2003.
Africa's Aids Drugs Trapped in the Laboratory. In, Guardian,
(accessed 30 November, 2004).
Davis, Dena S.
Genetic Dilemmas : Reproductive Technology, Parental Choices, and
Children's Futures, Reflective Bioethics. New York:
Durbin, Paul T.
"Thomism and Technology : Natural Law Theory and the Problems of a
Technological Society." In Theology and Technology : Essays in
Christian Analysis and Exegesis, edited by Carl Mitcham and Jim
Grote, 209-25. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984.
The Technological Bluff. Translated by G.W. Bromiley. Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.
Forrester, Duncan B.
"The Scope of Public Theology." Studies in Christian Ethics
17, no. 2 (2004): 5-19.
———. "Social Justice
and Welfare." In The Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics,
edited by Robin Gill, 195-208. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2001. Reprint, 2002.
"Bioethics after Posthumanism : Natural Law, Communicative Action
and the Problem of Self-Design." Ecotheology 9, no. 2 (2004):
A Theology of Liberation. Translated by Sister Caridad Inda
and John Eagleson. London: SCM Press, 1974. Reprint, British
Hayles, N. Katherine.
How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics,
Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, Ill.: University of
Chicago Press, 1999.
The Human Factor : Evolution, Culture and Religion, Theology
and the Sciences. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.
and Human Becoming. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.
Citizen Cyborg : Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the
Redesigned Human of the Future. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press,
———. 2002. Democratic
Transhumanism 2.0. In,
(accessed 3 June, 2005).
Technologies of Self-Perfection : What Would the Buddha Do with
Nanotechnology and Psychopharmaceuticals? In, BetterHumans,
(accessed 6 June, 2005).
Hughes, James J.
2001. The Future of Death : Cryonics and the Telos of Liberal
Individualism. In, Journal of Evolution and Technology,
http://www.jetpress.org/volume6/death.htm. (accessed 13
A. The Image of God : Genesis 1:26-28 in a Century of Old
Testament Research, Coniectanea Biblica. Old Testament Series
; 26. Stockholm Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1988.
Joy, Bill. 2000. Why
the Future Doesn't Need Us. In, Wired Magazine,
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html. (accessed 29
1998. Go Forth and Multiply. In, Wired Magazine,
16 May, 2003).
Kelly, Kevin. "Nerd
Theology." Technology in Society 21, no. 4 (1999): 387-92.
Mitcham, Carl, and
Jim Grote. "Aspects of Christian Exegesis : Hermeneutics, the
Theological Virtues, and Technology." In Theology and Technology
: Essays in Christian Analysis and Exegesis, edited by Carl
Mitcham and Jim Grote, 21-42. Lanham, MD: University Press of
Transhumanist FAQ. In, Extropy Institute,
http://www.extropy.org/faq.htm. (accessed November, 2004).
The Posthuman Condition : Consciousness Beyond the Brain.
Bristol: Intellect, 2003.
Peters, Ted. "Cloning
Shock : A Theological Reaction." In Human Cloning : Religious
Responses, edited by Ronald Cole-Turner, 12-24. Louisville, Ky.:
Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.
———. 2004. Is Our DNA
Sacred? In, Response: The Seattle Pacific University
(accessed 5 November, 2004).
Theology, and Ethics, Ashgate Science and Religion Series.
Aldershot, Hants, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003.
Milburn. Justice and Peace : A Christian Primer. 2nd ed.
Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2003.
The Use of
Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries. 2003. In,
Nuffield Council on Bioethics,
(accessed November, 2004).
Becoming Gods: A Neo-Irenaean Theodicy. In,
http://www.permanentend.org/evil.html. (accessed 5 June, 2005).
The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to
the Internet. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. Reprint, London:
Virago Press, 2000.
White, Lynn, Jr. "The
Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis." Science 155, no.
3767 (1967): 1203-07.
 Nick Bostrom, The Transhumanist FAQ : A General Introduction
(Version 2.1) (World Transhumanist Association, October 2003
[cited 1 November 2004]); available from
 James Hughes, Democratic Transhumanism 2.0 [Internet] (15
May 2002 [cited 3 June 2005]); available from http://www.changesurfer.com/Acad/DemocraticTranshumanism.htm.
 James Hughes, Technologies of Self-Perfection : What Would
the Buddha Do with Nanotechnology and Psychopharmaceuticals?
[Internet] (BetterHumans, 22 September 2004 [cited 6 June
2005]); available from http://betterhumans.com/Columns/Column/tabid/79/Column/222/Default.aspx,
Mark Walker, Becoming Gods: A Neo-Irenaean Theodicy
[Internet] ([cited 5 June 2005]); available from http://www.permanentend.org/evil.html.
 Duncan B. Forrester, "The Scope of Public Theology," Studies
in Christian Ethics 17, no. 2 (2004): 14.
 Bostrom, Transhumanist FAQ ([cited]).
 James Hughes, Citizen Cyborg : Why Democratic Societies Must
Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future (Boulder,
Colo.: Westview Press, 2004), 183-84.
 Max More, Transhumanist FAQ [Internet] (Extropy
Institute, [cited November 2004]); available from http://www.extropy.org/faq.htm.
 Bostrom, Transhumanist FAQ ([cited]).
 Robert Pepperell, The Posthuman Condition : Consciousness
Beyond the Brain (Bristol: Intellect, 2003), 170-71.
 Elaine Graham, "Bioethics after Posthumanism : Natural Law,
Communicative Action and the Problem of Self-Design.,"
Ecotheology 9, no. 2 (2004): 178.
 Ibid.: 179.
 N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies
in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago, Ill.:
University of Chicago Press, 1999), 3-4.
 Russell Blackford, Transhumanism at the Crossroads : To
Survive and Thrive Transhumanism Must Become an Inclusive Social
Movement [Internet] (Betterhumans, 15 October 2004 [cited 16
November 2004]); available from
 Joseph Milburn Thompson, Justice and Peace : A Christian
Primer, 2nd ed. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2003), 195.
 Duncan B. Forrester, "Social Justice and Welfare," in The
Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics, ed. Robin Gill
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001; reprint, 2002),
 Paul T. Durbin, "Thomism and Technology : Natural Law Theory and
the Problems of a Technological Society," in Theology and
Technology : Essays in Christian Analysis and Exegesis, ed.
Carl Mitcham and Jim Grote (Lanham, MD: University Press of
America, 1984), 212-13.
 Forrester, "Social Justice and Welfare," 195-96.
 Micah 6:8
 Amos 8:4-8
 Forrester, "Social Justice and Welfare," 197.
 Luke 4:18-19
 Forrester, "Social Justice and Welfare," 198. Especially Matt
5:1-12 (The Sermon on the Mount).
 Hughes, Democratic Transhumanism 2.0 ([cited]). See
section “Disabled Cyborgs and Secular Scientists.”
 Forrester, "Social Justice and Welfare," 199.
 Genesis 1:26-28
 For liberationist, feminist and ecological see respectively,
Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation, trans.
Sister Caridad Inda and John Eagleson (London: SCM Press, 1974;
reprint, British Edition).
Phyllis A. Bird, ""Male and Female He Created Them": Gen 1:27b
in the Context of the Priestly Account of Creation," Harvard
Theological Review 74, no. 2 (1981).
Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation
(Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982).
 Lynn White, Jr., "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis,"
Science 155, no. 3767 (1967). For a discussion of the
impact of White’s paper see: Gunnlaugur A. Jónsson, The Image
of God : Genesis 1:26-28 in a Century of Old Testament Research,
Coniectanea Biblica. Old Testament Series ; 26 (Stockholm
Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1988).
 Philip Hefner, The Human Factor : Evolution, Culture and
Religion, Theology and the Sciences (Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 1993).
 Bostrom, Transhumanist FAQ ([cited]).
 Jim Ball, "The Use of Ecology in the Evangelical Protestant
Response to the Ecological Crisis," Perspectives on Science
and Christian Faith 50, no. 1 (1998). He notes a variety of
approaches within Protestant theology with respect to imputing
creation with moral status.
Hefner too looks to reshape the imago Dei in such a way
as to reduce its anthropocentrism. See Hefner, The Human
 Carl Mitcham and Jim Grote, "Aspects of Christian Exegesis :
Hermeneutics, the Theological Virtues, and Technology," in
Theology and Technology : Essays in Christian Analysis and
Exegesis, ed. Carl Mitcham and Jim Grote (Lanham, MD:
University Press of America, 1984), 33.
 Ibid., 35-36.
 Ian G. Barbour, Nature, Human Nature, and God
(Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002), 136.
 Ian G. Barbour, Ethics in an Age of Technology: The Gifford
Lectures 1989-1991, vol. 2 (San Francisco:
HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 1-23.
 Ibid., 26, 53.
 For an example of a more pessimistic view see, Jacques Ellul,
The Technological Bluff, trans. G.W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1990).. An optimistic view can be found in Richard
Kadrey, Go Forth and Multiply (Wired Magazine, March 1998
[cited 16 May 2003]); available from
 Walker, Becoming Gods ([cited]).
Kevin Kelly, "Nerd Theology," Technology in Society 21,
no. 4 (1999): 388-90.
 Hayles, How We Became Posthuman, 36.
 Margaret Wertheim, The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History
of Space from Dante to the Internet (New York: W.W. Norton,
1999; reprint, London: Virago Press, 2000), 278-79.
 This is in spite of the escapist fantasies of things like “Left
Behind” theology, which in effect demonstrates this principle
with its depreciation of earthly concerns for things like the
environment. For a critique of eschatological escapism with
respect to the environment see Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the
Beauty of the Earth : A Christian Vision for Creation Care,
Engaging Culture (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic,
 Wertheim, The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace, 279.
 Brenda E. Brasher, Give Me That Online Religion (San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), 151-53.
 Bostrom, Transhumanist FAQ ([cited]).
 Ted Peters, "Cloning Shock : A Theological Reaction," in
Human Cloning : Religious Responses, ed. Ronald Cole-Turner
(Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 16.
 Ibid., 20-21.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 22.
 Ted Peters, Is Our DNA Sacred? [Internet] (Response: The
Seattle Pacific University Magazine, Summer 2004 [cited 5
November 2004]); available from
 Philip Hefner, Technology and Human Becoming
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 77.
 Ted Peters, Science, Theology, and Ethics, Ashgate
Science and Religion Series. (Aldershot, Hants, England ;
Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003), 222-23.
 Ibid., 215.
 Peters, "Cloning Shock," 22.
 James J. Hughes, The Future of Death : Cryonics and the Telos
of Liberal Individualism [Internet] (Journal of Evolution
and Technology, July 2001 [cited 13 November 2004]); available
 Dena S. Davis, Genetic Dilemmas : Reproductive Technology,
Parental Choices, and Children's Futures, Reflective
Bioethics (New York: Routledge, 2001), 22-23.
 1 Cor 8 and 10-11:1 with specific emphasis on 1 Cor 10:23-11:1.
 For example Bill Joy’s often cited paper on the perils of
emergent technology. See Bill Joy, Why the Future Doesn't
Need Us. [Internet] (Wired Magazine, April 2000 [cited 29
November 2004]); available from http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy.html.
 Nick Bostrom, Existential Risks : Analyzing Human Extinction
Scenarios and Related Hazards [Internet] (Journal of
Evolution and Technology, March 2002 [cited 13 November 2004]);
available from http://www.jetpress.org/volume9/risks.html.
Bostrom goes further in dividing each of these categories into
personal, local and global in scope.
 Graham, "Bioethics after Posthumanism," 189.
The Use of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries
[Internet] (Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 28 December 2003
[cited November 2004]); available from http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/fileLibrary/pdf/gm_crops_paper_final001.pdf.
For example, the supply of food aid consisting of GM crops in
milled form reducing the possibility of undesired environmental
 Bostrom, Transhumanist FAQ ([cited]).
 Rory Carroll, Africa's Aids Drugs Trapped in the Laboratory
[Internet] (Guardian, 21 May 2003 [cited 30 November 2004]);
available from http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,960106,00.html.
 Mitcham and Grote, "Aspects of Christian Exegesis :
Hermeneutics, the Theological Virtues, and Technology," 37.