Can Technology Change Human Nature?

 

Editor's Note: Parallel Paper Presentation from CBHD's 2007 Annual Conference, Bioethics Nexus: The Future of Healthcare, Science and Humanity.

 

Groups like the World Transhumanist Association hope that we will soon be able to change human nature and become posthuman. Recent advances in the neurosciences and biotechnology have fueled these hopes. Christians rightly recoil from attempts to change human nature because we recognize the fundamental importance of being created in the image of God. David B. Fletcher has pointed out that certain of these technological advances would alter the moral standing of “engineered” individuals, because they “would no longer straightforwardly be persons, but would in fact be in important respects, things.”[1] This line of reasoning is consistent with a long philosophical tradition that holds that the mind is the sine qua non of personhood and that it is personhood that grants one membership to the moral community.

I examine the shortcomings of this position and propose a theological understanding of human nature that is grounded in our membership in the species Homo sapiens, our complete dependence upon God, and our relational nature. Contrary to Fletcher, I argue that individuals whose bodies interface significantly with machines would still be in every important respect persons bearing the imago Dei. Machines, on the other hand, even if they process information identically to humans, are never properly human, nor can they bear the imago Dei. Theologically understood, humans cannot change their nature in a meaningful way—that is, in a way that could effect salvation. To hold such a position runs the risk of either Pelagianism or Manicheanism. It is a mistake to allow strictly philosophical or biological understandings of human nature to take priority over the Christian narratives that should shape our relationships to those people whom some label subhuman, superhuman, or transhuman.

 

References


[1] “Unsociable Cyborgs,” in Christopher Hook, ed., Remaking Humanity? A Technological And Ethical Review of Re-Engineering Technology, Georgetown University Press, forthcoming.

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