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Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, Technology

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Humanity stands now on the precipice of a new phase in human evolution, referred to as “posthumanism”or “transhumanism." This new phase emerges due to the confluence of new developments in the life sciences (e.g., genomics, stem–cell research, genetic enhancement, germ–line engineering,), technology (i.e., robotics, nanotechnology, pattern recognition technologies), and neurosciences (e.g., neuro–pharmacology and artificial intelligence). Today human beings are not only able to enhance their own performance and make important strides against devastating diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and AIDS, but also endow humanly–engineered traits to future generations. The new technologies may be able to produce human beings with enhanced capabilities who will live longer and provide the capacity to create and modify (i.e., clone and engineer) existing forms of life, including humans. In the transhuman phase, humans will become their own makers, transforming their environment and themselves. Proponents of transhumanism believe that advances in robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and genomics will liberate humanity from pain and suffering. Presumably, in the transhuman age humanity will conquer the problems of aging, disease, poverty, and hunger, finally actualizing happiness in this life.

Yet, many people, especially those committed to a religious outlook, intuitively recoil from the trans–human vision and find within that vision an affront to human dignity. It is precisely the belief that humans are created by God in the image of God that leads many people (including religious scientists) to resist the trans–human vision as a new hubris that will destroy humanity by “redefining” it, and further endanger life on our vulnerable planet through unforeseeable consequences. Those who advocate transhumanism promote a utopian vision rooted in a host of unstated assumptions about the meaning of being human. To face the challenges of transhumanism with appropriate depth, an interdisciplinary approach is urgent.

Our interdisciplinary committee seeks to devote the Templeton Lecture Series to examine and evaluate the claims of transhumanism through public lectures, symposia, conferences, and an interdisciplinary faculty seminar. The first year will consider philosophical questions, the second year will be devoted to social and legal issues, the third year will engage transhumanism from an environmental perspective, and the fourth year will wrestle with the religious implications, with a focus on eschatology. We hold that only an interdisciplinary approach that is attentive to culture, social institutions, and history can address the challenges of transhumanism by highlighting how religion, science, technology, law and public policy interface. Such an interdisciplinary approach does not treat ‘science’ and ‘religion’ as two reified a–historical categories, and thereby avoids falling into the pitfalls of either seeing them as necessarily in conflict with each other or as separate and unrelated spheres.

Upcoming Lectures and Activities

The four years of the Templeton Lecture Series will examine the meaning and implications of transhumanism. In addition to public lectures delivered by the Templeton Fellow, this examination will take place in the interdisciplinary faculty seminar (22 faculty members), “Being Human: Religion, Science, Technology, and Law.” The Templeton Fellow will participate in meetings of the faculty seminar and will contribute to the on–going conversation on science and religion at ASU.