Tag Archives: Eschatology

Transhumanism

What is Transhumanism? And how should Christians respond to its philosophy?

The twenty-first century has been described by some as the ‘Age of Bio-technology’. Advances in science and technology, especially in cybernetics and nanotechnology, are so rapid and significant that futuristic techno-utopians or ‘technopians’ are predicting that it would soon be possible for scientists to engineer ‘better’ human beings who are not vulnerable to certain weaknesses and diseases. In fact some have predicted that the future that awaits humankind is ‘trans-human’ in that these new technologies will enable the human race to possess powers beyond our imagination.

The World Transhumanist Association based in the United States defines transhumanism as a ‘sort of humanism plus’. Transhumanists believe that human beings can ‘better themselves socially, physically, and mentally by making use of reason, science and technology’. At the heart of the transhumanist movement, therefore, is the desire to create a utopia by improving ‘humankind and humanity in all their facets’.

In June 2000, the first artificial retinas were implanted in the eyes of three patients in Chicago suffering from retinis pigmentosa, which enabled them to see. The implants, which are 2mm in diameter each, 1/1000 of an inch thick, converts -3500 microphotodiodes that changes light energies into electrical impulses, which in turn stimulate the functioning nerves of the retina. This is the exciting world of ‘cybernetics’, the science which attempts to combine living organisms with machines.

The journal Science published a report in its June 2000 issue that scientists Edwin Jager, Olle Inganas and Ingemar Lundstorm have successfully developed a synthesized micro-robot that can move micrometer-size objects and manipulate single cells and cell-sized particles in an area of 250 x 100 micrometers.

The term ‘nanotechnology’ was brought to public consciousness by Eric Dexler in his book, Engines of Creation, first published in 1986. The term refers to precision machining with the tolerance level of a micrometer or less. Imagine a robot so small that it can be sent into the human body to detect and destroy malignant cells and cancers. Imagine using these micro-robots as immune machines to detect and combat infection. Imagine robots that could repair or replace damaged tissues and non-cellular connective tissue materials such as the extracellular matrix, or remove atherosclerotic plaque in coronary and cerebral arteries.

Although none of these technologies exist presently, scientists believe that these nanorobots will be a reality in the near future, and that their appearance will revolutionize medicine. Inspired by the promises of cybernetics and nanotechnology, transhumanists look forward to a future in which the limitations and the burdens of the present can be overcome by science and technology. Transhumanists therefore could speak of an alternative immortality.

The transhumanist vision can be critiqued from various angles from the Christian perspective. The optimism that transhumanism exudes regarding the future betrays the fact that its ideology is very much influenced by the Enlightenment. Its confidence in science and technology to secure a promising future for (post-) humanity merely shows that it has given scientism a new face. Scientism is the view espoused by some that the natural sciences (and its close cousin, technology) not only has the ability to unlock the mysteries of the universe, but also the ability to solve all the problems we currently face.

Science is here presented as revealer and saviour, the roles which the Christian Faith properly accords to God alone. Its confidence in science and technology, and its very optimistic view of human nature has led transhumanism to boldly present its own secular ‘eschatology’. It envisions a posthuman future in which, according to Katherine Hayles, ‘there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulations, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot technology and human goals’.

Because transhumanism is a secular ideology, it has no conception of the divine, and so no understanding of the radical nature of human sinfulness. Seen from another perspective, however, transhumanism presents itself as something of a religion. Although it is a secular ideology, it is in some ways profoundly religious. It has deified science and technology, and gives them the powers to change human nature itself, and to bring about ‘eschatological’ perfection through the emergence of a posthuman race, the cyborgs.

At its very heart, transhumanism despises the nature that human beings now possess, with all its frailties and limitations. The goal of the transhumanist is to press towards the posthuman future in which homo sapiens become techno sapiens (‘transhuman’ is short for transitional human).  Hence the transhumanist writer Bart Kosko could assert: ‘Biology is not destiny. It was never more than tendency. It was just nature’s first quick and dirty way to compute with meat. Chips are destiny’. In similar vein, Kevin Warwick, another transhumanist writer could declare: ‘I was born human. But this was an accident of fate – a condition merely of time and place. I believe it’s something I have the power to change’.

At every turn, transhumanism presents itself as not just inimical to the teachings of the Bible and the Christian tradition, but as antithetical to them. The Christian Faith teaches that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator to bear his image. Our nature is not an accident, but a gift from our Creator. The Christian Faith speaks about sin and the fall which affects all that we do – even our science – and from which we must be saved. That salvation comes only from God, who in his love and grace has sent his only begotten Son to die on the cross for sinful humanity. Nothing from human culture, not even the most profound science and the most precise technology, can bring about salvation.

The Christian Faith teaches that God alone will bring about a new creation at the eschaton, a new heavens and a new earth. It speaks about the resurrection, not the ‘borgification’ (from the word ‘cyborg’) of humanity! In the final analysis, transhumanism presents itself as another attempt at constructing a Babel. It is as much a defiant expression of self-reliance as a manifestation of a sinful and perverse titanism of the human spirit.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was published in The Bible Speaks Today, January 2015.

Is The Recent Spate Of Natural Disasters ‘The Signs Of The End’ About Which Jesus Spoke In Matthew 24?

The recent spate of natural disasters and the serious threat of the avian flu pandemic have led some Christians to think that perhaps we are living in the period when the predictions of Jesus in Matthew 24 are being fulfilled. Even the media is beginning to speak of these natural calamities in language reminiscent of the apocalyptic passages of the Bible.

What are we to make of this? Do these disasters indicate that the end of the world is round the corner and that the return of Christ is imminent?

In order to answer these questions, we must clarify what the New Testament means when it speaks about the ‘end times’. By this term, the New Testament refers to the inauguration of the kingdom of God by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Through the first advent of the incarnate Son, the eternal kingdom of God has entered into human history, thereby signaling the beginning of the end. The consummation of the kingdom will be brought about by the parousia or the return of the risen and ascended Lord.

The ‘end times’ that the New Testament speaks about therefore does not refer to the period in history that immediately precedes the return of Christ, as some Christians have mistakenly thought. It is the period between the incarnation and Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The ‘end times’ have lasted for two millennia so far!

When the New Testament speaks of the ‘signs of the end’, it is referring to certain phenomena that will take place during the period that it designates as the ‘end times’. Thus, the signs do not indicate that the parousia is about to take place soon. This is made clear by the fact that some of the signs predicted by Jesus were already evident to his contemporaries. In Matthew 24:34 Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened’.

Some scholars interpret this statement as referring not only to the cataclysmic events that Jesus spoke of about but also to the parousia. If this were the case, then Jesus’ prediction was obviously wrong. But careful study of the context shows that ‘all these things’ does not include the return of Christ, but refer only to the events which are delineated in the preceding verses.

The signs therefore point to the fact that the end times have already arrived, although the end itself remains elusive. ‘Such things must happen’, Jesus says, ‘but the end is still to come’ (Matt 24:6b). These signs are therefore just ‘the beginning of birth pangs’ (Matt 24:8).

Jesus does not dismiss the importance of these signs, but in the Olivet Discourse he urges his hearers not to schematize the signs as if they present a kind of calendar of the end times.

Throughout the history of the Christian Church numerous attempts have been made to calculate the exact date of Christ’s return. Each generation of Christians would read the events in their own time as indicating the imminent return of Christ. Well-meaning Christians have forwarded many speculations about the possible identity of the antichrist throughout the Church’s history. Even in our day such speculations have not abated (Bill Gates being the latest candidate!).

Matthew 24:36, however, alerts us to the fact that such speculations are futile: ‘No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father’.

We inhabit a world that is changing rapidly, a world that has become very dangerous. The question that we need to ask ourselves is: How then should we live in such a world? Interestingly, this is the question that Matthew 24 and 25 seek to answer. The parables that bring the Matthean version of Jesus’ eschatological discourse to a close have to do with watchful discipleship.

The faithful and wise servant (Matt 24:45-51) will by his watchful obedience prepare himself for the return of the Master. The delay in his Master’s return would not in any way affect his commitment and resolve. The parable of the ten virgins (Matt 25:1-13) again drives home the point that Christians must be constantly prepared for the unannounced return of their Lord. And the parable of the talents (Matt 25: 14-30) emphasizes this same point yet again. This parable also stress that Christians should not wait for the end passively, but should immerse themselves in active service by using the talents that God has given to them.

The ‘signs of the end’ in Matthew 24 therefore are not meant to draw Christians into futile speculations. Rather they invite Christians to be prayerful and diligent, and to commit their lives to unflinching obedience and faithful service.


Dr Roland Chia


Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.
This article was originally published in the Methodist Message.