Science fiction sometimes becomes reality. There were stories of us visiting the moon before we had the technology to get there. Space stations, artificial intelligence, and 3D printers are examples of real things that were once the stuff of fiction.
Transhumanism is something that is still mostly confined to books and movies. But even as you read this, people are working to make it a reality.
Let’s discuss what transhumanism is and what Catholics should think about it.
What is transhumanism?
Transhumanism is a project that seeks to radically enhance humanity. It wants to overcome our fundamental limits as human beings, such as getting sick, losing our memory, and even dying. It wants to produce a Human 2.0.
There are different levels of this enhancement project. Cognitive enhancement makes us smarter. Physical enhancement makes us stronger. Mood enhancement improves our emotional life. Moral enhancement facilitates our collaboration with each other.
Sounds like something we all want, right? And you can accomplish these things — to a very limited extent — in human ways, via exercise, study, and other natural aids.
Transhumanists, however, want to take these enhancements beyond what we are naturally capable of. Some transhumanists envision a future where we live forever, free of suffering, in our world. (Note that they are not talking about heaven.)
What’s the one thing standing in the way of these new humans? Our bodies. Sickness, aging, and death take place in the body. Transhumanists imagine a future where we are disembodied and therefore free of these evils.
This means we would exist in some sort of digitized state. One proposed stage of this would mean uploading our brain data to a computer.
What should Catholics think about this?
We can relate to some of the aspirations of transhumanists. We would all like to be free of pain and suffering and many of us may want to live forever. Not all enhancements designed to improve us are inherently wrong. There are moral ways to improve our memory, health, and longevity.
That being said, there are many problems with transhumanist thought. First of all, Catholics can’t share its disregard for the human body. Our bodies are holy and part of what makes us human. The Church has always strongly condemned ideologies that treat the human body as something to be fully rid of or inherently evil.
Some strands of transhumanism support eugenics. In a scenario echoing Huxley’s “Brave New World,” embryos would be engineered with an eye to enhancement. Others would be destroyed. All future humans would be produced in labs and sex would become merely a recreational activity. This goes against our belief in the dignity of human life at all stages and the meaning of sex.
We as Catholics already believe we will live forever — with our bodies. Our glorified bodies in heaven will be free of all the limitations that transhumanists seek to overcome.
Be wary of promised enhancements that come at the cost of human dignity. There are trade-offs. Enhancements in one area of your life can come at the cost of other goods.
God created us as beings with body and soul. Although sin has wounded us, God has promised to redeem those who turn to Him, giving them everlasting life free of pain and full of love. It’s a future far brighter than any utopia promised to us by transhumanism.