Why do we push for technological progress? Whether it is stem cell research or genetic engineering or nanotechnology or enhancement drugs, people seem to be looking for the same general things:
- Extending life
- Finding cures for diseases (or eradicating disease all together)
- Decrease suffering
- Maintaining cognitive abilities through old age (or enhancing cognitive abilities)
- Maintaining good health through old age (or enhancing physical abilities)
- Overcoming some biological needs or limits
Consider the transhumanists. Transhumanists are often viewed as being on the fringes of science with a religious take on science and technology. However, I find their work interesting to read because I believe they are much more honest about their views of technology and medicine than many of us are. The transhumanist vision, as articulated by Nick Bostrom (See here for a 2003 article by Nick Bostrom on transhumanism)”
This vision, in broad strokes, is to create the opportunity to live much longer and healthier lives, to enhance our memory and other intellectual faculties, to refine our emotional experiences and increase our subjective sense of well-being, and generally to achieve a greater degree of control over our own lives.
In reality, most of us would sympathize with the desires of the transhumanists. Who wouldn’t want to end disease and suffering? Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a healthy body into old age? Who wouldn’t want to undo the effects of the fall? Not everyone would want everything that the transhumanists desire (e.g. cryogenic freezing), but we can certainly sympathize with those desires.
We live in a time that enjoys the fruits of the Scientific Revolution. We have seen remarkable advancements in medicine, pharmaceuticals, genetics, and technology over a very short period of time. The structure of DNA was only discovered in 1953. Now there are entire disciplines devoted to genetics or biochemistry. Medicine and technology provides hope for the weak, the infirmed and for those of us who will be weak or infirmed one day. But does it provide ultimate hope?
Despite all of the advances in science and medicine, we still do not have a hold on cancer. Many cancers are curable that were once not. We know how to screen for many cancers, but the mechanisms and causes of cancer in many cases remains elusive. We still do not have a cure for degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. We have drugs that can slow the progress, but nothing that will cure it. We also don’t have a cure for the oldest disease, death. Medicine and technology may hold off death for a while, but we have yet to conquer it.
And then again, maybe death has been conquered after all. Much of our life is spent concentrating on the physical, but it is at death that we must come face-to-face with the immaterial as well. The Bible provides a link with the physical and immaterial. Consider the promises of the resurrected body. All of the desires listed above are promised in the resurrection. At the resurrection our body will be transformed to be a body like Christ’s (Phil 3:20, 21). The body will not be riddled with disease, and it will not die. The resurrected body will not succumb to aging and it will not be limited by biological needs. It will be strong and healthy (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). The resurrection promises the very things that many people desire in medicine and technology.
In many ways, I sympathize and agree with desires of the transhumanists, but I do not agree with where they place their hope. I enjoy many of the benefits of medicine and technology, but I do not believe that they will ultimately save me.
Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?