ABILENE—“Just who do you think you are?” is a more important question than people often realize, theologian Jeph Holloway insisted during the annual T.B. Maston Lectures at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary.
Holloway, professor of theology, philosophy and Christian ethics at East Texas Baptist University, delivered the lectures named for the late Maston, a leading Baptist ethicist who taught generations of pastors and missionaries to apply the Christian faith to everyday living.
How people answer who they think they are—the core of human identity—is increasingly vital, Holloway said. That’s because escalating advances in technology tempt some people to think in terms of “posthuman” existence, he explained.
“What if technology set its sights on erasing all vestiges of human limitation, even to the point of slaying death itself?” he asked. “Perhaps it sounds too sci-fi to entertain the notion that we will through our advancing technologies discover the holy grail of eternal life …, but that is precisely the agenda of what goes by the name ‘posthumanism.’”
In the first of two lectures, Holloway traced the technological journey toward posthumanism.
Posthumanists are on a “quest for limitless intellectual power, indefinite youth and vitality, and absolute control over emotions and consciousness,” he said. Those goals are “theoretically attainable through increasingly sophisticated and powerful bio- and computer technologies.”
“The ultimate prize is the transformation of humans from our present frail, risky and mortal condition into something beyond the limitation of death,” he noted.
Posthumanists who take their philosophy to its logical conclusion—called Humanity-plus or H+—see death as the primary enemy and offer several proposals to defeat death, he said.
Biological immortality seeks to protect the human body by editing genes to enable people to live longer and healthier. However, even genetically engineered bodies can fall to hazards and wounds and injuries.
Cybernetic immortality would replace defective or damaged flesh and blood with artificial components, such as synthetic blood vessels, skin and body parts. Tiny robots, nanobots, would be injected to repair or replace diseased organs. But parts can wear out, and accidents or malicious acts can interfere.
The ultimate proposal, then, is virtual immortality, in which “the essential self of the mind is up-loaded into an environment made suitable through developments in artificial intelligence,” Holloway said.
Evaluating the benefits and perils of technology is difficult for Christians because “‘the religion of technology’ has become our common enchantment,” and Christians join others in society in expecting “ultimate salvation through technology,” he said, citing historian David Noble.
“Christian critique of the H+ agenda will have to admit to our own eager and sometimes uncritical reliance on technology, and … evaluation of posthumanism technologies might expose our own idolatry,” he admitted.
In his follow-up lecture, Holloway acknowledged, “We do need to ask, though, if our awe and wonder at innovative technologies might breed an allegiance and loyalty, a set of expectations and hopes that none of our (technological) devices deserve.”
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians offers several resources “for resistance to the claims and assumptions of the H+ agenda,” he suggested.
First, posthumanism assumes “there is no ‘fixed’ or ‘given’ human nature, but only the malleable and subject, … to be defined or redefined as inclination directs or technology permits,” he said.
While “Christian faith shares with posthumanism the insistence that the current state of the human condition is less than ideal,” Ephesians “clearly assumes the necessity of and the possibility for genuine transformation,” he said.
That transformation does not generate from human imagination or technical possibility, but rather comes about through “a renewal ‘of your mind by the Holy Spirit,’” he noted.
Second, H+ assumes “no difference between human and non-human, blurring any lines of distinction between human existence and any technological substrate into which we might transfer ourselves”—a receiver for an “up-loadable mind,” Holloway observed.
In Ephesians, “Paul’s account of God’s ultimate purpose places humanity with a plan for ‘all things’ to be united in Christ,” he said. But Paul also alludes to Psalm 8, which “reflects on the role God has given to humans as agents of divine rule.”
“Paul’s gospel offers the fulfillment of humanity’s purpose for the sake of creation, neither the abolition of man nor the disparagement of creation,” he said.
Also, posthumanism assumes a loss of telos or human purpose and assertion of the sovereignty of the individual will. In Ephesians, however, Paul presents a clarified emphasis, Holloway said.
Regarding purpose, “it is hard to go through any paragraph in Ephesians without noting something of what God intends for those who are called to ‘walk worthy of the calling,’” he contended. He cited seven examples as a partial list that illustrates “Paul insists our lives are to be embraced within a will other than our own and a purpose larger than personal inclination.”
Focusing on sovereign will, Holloway noted, “We need to understand that what H+ offers as the solution to the human condition, an absolute autonomy that sheds the limits of creaturely existence, Paul describes as its basic problem.”
Ephesians also offers a strong alternative to posthumanism because Christianity’s “tenor and tone … is thanksgiving,” he said.
“This prison letter written by an ambassador in chains overflows with the language of praise, blessing and thanksgiving for the riches of God’s mercy,” he noted. “This stands in fundamental contrast to the dystopic tone of Humanity +. …
“While the embodied Paul in prison is able to see a wider reality beyond that which appears to hold over us the power of death, posthumanism can only see the prison of our bodies and is held captive by its fear of death.”