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Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, Technology

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A Workshop on Transhumanism and the Future of Democracy

Description | Program | Participant Bios

Templeton Research Lectures Workshops
April 23-24, 2009
ASU University Club at the Tempe Campus

Workshop Description

Transhumanism envisions the emergence of a new human being who will possess enhanced mental and physical traits that will be radically different from present standards. The acceleration of knowledge in emerging fields such as biotechnology, information technology, and applied cognitive science makes this scenario possible.

But how does the enhancement of human beings through such technological means affect our understandings of autonomy, personhood, responsibility and free will? Of individual rights, privacy, fairness and equality? This year’s Templeton Research Lectures workshop will tackle the challenge at the heart of these questions: on the one hand new technologies challenge the very foundations of American law, modifying our notions of autonomy and free-will. On the other hand, legal thinking has not kept pace with the new technologies or developed robust conceptual frameworks to manage these legal, social, and political challenges. This situation has far-reaching implications for democracy, and this year’s workshop will help us examine the situation critically and constructively.

Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, Technology” is a multi-year, interdisciplinary project that addresses the implications of transhumanism. The first year (2006-07) examined the transhumanist vision by focusing on the concept of human nature as understood by evolutionary psychology. The second year (2007-08) explored new ways for understanding the relationship between technology and culture. This year we focus on the implications for democracy in a world in which the enhancement of humans has the potential to transform our understandings of individual rights, free will, and equality. What does democracy mean in a context where notions such as equality, autonomy and personhood may be altered by genetic design?

Workshop participation is by invitation only. Those interested in attending and receiving an invitation should contact workshop coordinator Carolyn Forbes.

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Thursday, April 23

7:30pm Keynote Address – “ The Price of Perfection: Individualism and Society in the Era of Biomedical Enhancement”
Max Mehlman (Case Western University, Templeton Research Fellow)

Friday, April 24

8:30am Breakfast

9:00am Welcome and Introductions
Linell Cady
Hava Tirosh–Samuelson

9:15–10:15am “Does the Wall Still Stand? The Implications of Transhumanism for the Separation of Church and State”
Steven P. Goldberg (Georgetown University)

10:30–11:30am “Transhumanism and the Limits of Democracy”
Ronald Bailey (Reason Magazine)

11:45am–12:45pm “Opposing the Opponents of Human Enhancement — and Then What?”
Michael H. Shapiro (University of Southern California)

12:45–2:00pm Lunch

2:00–3:00pm “Doing What Comes Naturally: Is there a Human Nature?”
Jean Bethke Elshtain (University of Chicago)

3:15–4:15pm “Is My Mind Mine? Neuroscience and the State”
Paul Root Wolpe (Emory University)

4:15–4:45pm Closing Discussion: A Response by Charles Townes (University of California at Berkeley)

4:45pm Closing Reception

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Workshop Participant Bios

Hava Tirosh-Samuelson (Arizona State University) is Irving and Miriam Lowe Professor of Modern Judaism, professor of history, director of the program in Jewish studies, and director of the project, “Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science and Technology.”She specializes in premodern Jewish intellectual history, Judaism and science, Judaism and ecology, and feminist philosophy. She holds a Ph.D. in Jewish philosophy and Kabbalah from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1978) and a B.A. from SUNY-Stony Brook (1974). In addition to articles and book chapters, she is the author of Between Worlds: The Life and Work of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon (1991), Happiness in Premodern Judaism: Virtue, Knowledge and Well-Being in Pre-modern Judaism (2003) and Nature and Judaism (forthcoming). She is also the editor of Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed World (2002), Women and Gender in Jewish Philosophy (2004), and most recently Judaism and the Phenomenon of Life: The Legacy of Hans Jonas; Historical and Philosophical Studies (2008). She sits on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion and is on the academic advisory board of the Metanexus Institute.

Steven P. Goldberg (Georgetown University) is James M. and Catherine F. Denny Professor of Law at Georgetown University. He is best known for his work at the intersection of law, religion, and science. His books include Bleached Faith: The Tragic Cost When Religion is Forced Into the Public Square (2008), Seduced By Science: How American Religion Has Lost Its Way (1999), and Culture Clash: Law and Science in America (1994), which won the Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award. Following graduation from Yale Law School, he was a law clerk to D.C. Circuit Chief Judge David L. Bazelon and to U. S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. He then worked as an attorney with the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. At Georgetown Law, Goldberg has served as Associate Dean and has won the Frank F. Flegal Award for Outstanding Teaching.

Ronald Bailey (Reason Magazine) is the award-winning science correspondent for Reason magazine and Reason.com, where he writes a weekly science and technology column. He is the author of the book Liberation Biology: The Moral and Scientific Case for the Biotech Revolution (2005), and his work was featured in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2004. Bailey testified before a congressional committee in 2004 on the impact of science on public policy. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. In 2006, Bailey was shortlisted by the editors of Nature Biotechnology as one of the personalities who have made the “most significant contributions” to biotechnology in the last 10 years. His articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Commentary, The Public Interest, Smithsonian, TechCentralStation, National Review, Reader's Digest and many other publications. Bailey won a 2004 Southern California Journalism Award for best magazine feature for his story, “The Battle For Your Brain,” which delved into the ethical and political conflicts over new brain enhancement technologies.

Michael H. Shapiro (University of Southern California) is the Dorothy W. Nelson Professor of Law at University of Southern California Gould School of Law. Professor Shapiro earned his B.A. and M.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles and earned his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, where he was associate editor of the University of Chicago Law Review. He specializes in bioethics and in constitutional law, and in particular, medical and legal ethical issues surrounding research and experimentation; reproductive, genetic, and behavior control; and death and dying. He teaches Constitutional Law and Bioethics and Law. A prolific author on medical ethics and legal questions in the advent of new technologies, Professor Shapiro has written Cases, Materials, and Problems on Bioethics and Law, 2nd ed. (et. al., 2003), “Human Enhancement Uses of Biotechnology, Policy, Technological Enhancement and Human Equality” in Encyclopedia of Ethical, Legal, and Policy Issues in Biotechnology (2000), and “The Identity of Identity: Moral and Legal Aspects of Technological Self-Transformation” (Journal of Social Philosophy and Policy, 2005).

Jean Bethke Elshtain (University of Chicago) is the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics, with joint appointments in the divinity school, department of political science, and committee on international relations. A political philosopher, Elshtain has explored the connections between our political thought and ethical convictions in numerous books, lectures and articles, including Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political Thought (1981, 1992); Democracy on Trial (a New York Times “Notable Book” for 1995); Augustine and the Limits of Politics (1998); Who Are We? Critical Reflections, Hopeful Possibilities (Best Book 2000 by the Association of Theological Booksellers); and Just War Against Terror: The Burden of American Power in a Violent World (2004). She has lectured frequently on issues of biotechnology and ethics, and was a contributor to the volume Biotechnology and the Human Good (2007). In 2003, Elshtain was the second holder of the Maguire Chair in Ethics at the Library of Congress. In 2006, she was appointed to the Council of the National Endowment for the Humanities and also delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, published as Sovereignty: God, State, and Self (2008).

Paul Root Wolpe (Emory University) is the Raymond F. Schinazi Distinguished Research Chair in Jewish Bioethics and Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Bioethics in the Emory School of Medicine, professor of religion and adjunct professor of sociology, and director of the Emory Center for Ethics. A nationally recognized intellectual leader in bioethics, Wolpe holds a Ph.D. in medical sociology from Yale University and was at the University of Pennsylvania until 2008. With an intellectual focus on the role of belief and ideology in medicine and science, Wolpe is considered a founder of the field of neuroethics. He writes prolifically on emerging technologies, including genetic engineering, reproductive technologies, nanotechnology and prosthetics, and his article, “Religious responses to neuroscientific questions” (in Neuroethics: Defining the Issues in Theory, Practice, and Policy, 2006), is considered the definitive article on the religious questions raised by advances in neuroscience to date. A past president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, Wolpe is a co-editor of the American Journal of Bioethics and serves on the editorial boards of more than a dozen professional journals in medicine and ethics.

Charles Townes (University of California at Berkeley) is a Nobel Laureate, Professor Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley, and inventor of the laser. He earned a B.A. and a B.S. from Furman University, an M.A. from Duke University and a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology. Professor Townes was chair of the Physics Department at Columbia and Institute Professor at M.I.T. before joining the faculty at UC-Berkeley as University Professor in 1967. Dr. Townes was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964 for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics that led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle. His work in this area has been transformative: the Internet and all digital media would be unimaginable without the laser. In 1979, he received the Niels Bohr International Medal for his contributions to the peaceful use of atomic energy. Since his retirement in 1986, he has continued an active career, and in 2005 was named winner of the Templeton Prize for his work at the intersection of science and religion.

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