One giant leap for humanity
- Published on 25 September 2010
- Written by Nicholas C. DiDonato
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Death gives life meaning. The frailties and contingencies of finite human life stir in many the journey called religion. Imagine a life without death or frailty; would such a life be free of religion? This is no hypothetical question—if the transhumanists are correct, such a life may very well soon be ours.
Transhumanists believe that sometime in the not-too-distant future humans will have the power to manipulate their biology (e.g., through genetic engineering or cybernetics). When this time comes, humans should embrace this opportunity and radically alter history. Proposed biological enhancements range from super senses (e.g., being able to hear like a dog and see like an eagle) to replacing almost all ephemeral human parts with machine parts to, at the extreme, uploading consciousness into a super-computer (some would push this even further and advocate for a virtual collective consciousness). Due to its potential to forever change human existence, transhumanism as been called "the most dangerous idea in the world."
Of particular interest is the role of religion in the world of transhumanism. Some see transhumanism as the death knell for religion:
"Transhumanism, more than any idea in the world today, threatens our very way of being. It asks us to release the last vestige of religion, the last bastion of superstition and bias–that is, transhumanism asks us to reject the delusion that our biology defines us, that our failings are our successes, that human nature is anything but change itself."The reason for this is the belief that religion’s function is to help humanity cope with events that transhumanism will render moot:
"Philosophy and religion have spent the past 10,000 years working to make virtues of the necessities of biological life; primal urges, emotional outbursts, problems of procreation, suffering, disease, and death are explained away as essential elements of humanity. But these ideas do not create the meaning and value in human nature. Instead it is human nature that has invested these terrors of the flesh with worth to make existence bearable."Humanity in the transhumanist vision will no longer need religion’s coping powers - for there won’t be anything left that religion helps us cope with.
Such a conclusion may be a bit hasty. Many religions capture the human mind’s struggle to grasp the infinite and ultimate reality. While disease, and possibly death, may disappear, it seems unlikely that humans will advance to a point where they become infinite in some sense or can penetrate into the nature of ultimate reality. That is, religion already exists in a broader form than simply coping with the tragedies of life.
Of course, whether religion will actually survive a transhumanist world remains to be seen. There are certainly no guarantees of its survival. After all, even if it is an essential part of what it is to be human, who would want to be merely human any more?
Quotations are from "The Most Dangerous Idea in the World."