Being Human in the Era of Transhumanism

Oliver Dürr will publish with Herder-Verlag a concise critical introduction (200 pages) to the thinking and practical implications of transhumanism from a Christian perspective (in 2023). The book is intended to be a further contribution to a Techniktheologie (theology of technology) for the digital era.

Introduction and purpose of the book project

The transformations of the digital era have given rise to 

a plethora of contributions of anthropological self-reflection. For decades, contemporary transhumanism has been promoting anthropological future-visions whose imaginative impact on our societies goes far beyond the boundaries of nominal transhumanism. Conversely, they seem to feed upon the cultural currents of the Zeitgeist.

 

The concern to psycho-physically improve human beings in has a long and, in many respects, ambivalent history. What is new in the present are the design potentials and scope for action opened up by revolutionary bio- and digital technologies. On the horizon of these overall social developments, transhumanism confronts contemporary consciousness with the question: can the finite be saved? Or else: Does the individual human being have a future in the face of disease, suffering, and death? In answering this question affirmatively, transhumanism propagates an inner-worldly self-redemption through science, medicine and technology within the framework of a radical 'utopia of freedom'.

The project aims at a generally understandable introduction to the phenomenon of contemporary trans- and technological posthumanism, at a constructive dialogue with its concerns, but also at a systematic critique of its program against the background of both its own anthropological and ideological background assumptions and the alternative view of the Christian faith.

Content

Using E.T.A. Hoffmann's "The Sandman" as an example, the introduction takes a sober look at the digital-technological transformations of our society in terms of media or technology philosophy, taking into account both the imaginative potency of technology and the formative effect of human interaction with it. This makes it possible to understand how bio- and information-technological developments affect human self-understanding, especially when they are underpinned by ideological presuppositions of transhumanist visions of the future. Thus the question in the room: How do we humans want, should and can (let) determine ourselves in the future?

The first chapter outlines the central concerns of transhumanism and thus attempts to give this heterogeneous movement a consistent profile. The focus is on reductive secularist transhumanism. Central to this are the themes of human autonomy, individual self-determination, morphological freedom, "enhancement" or human optimization, and the overcoming of disease, aging, and death, which are to be accomplished through science, medicine, and technology. In the background is an "instrumentalist" attitude of making the world available, which amounts to a "technological solutionism" (Morozov). This chapter introduces the differentiation between a "biological" and a "postbiological transhumanism" (or technological posthumanism), which also pursue different goals of human improvement with different strategies.

The second chapter delves into the perspectives of "biological transhumanism" and thus locates transhumanism as a whole in its history of ideas and historical context. The interweaving of evolutionism, eugenics and technological optimism becomes clear here, which have an impact (in a partly weakened form) on the dynamics of the current optimization society.

The third chapter traces changes in the conception of humanity that culminate in the transhumanist "computer anthropology" as it crystallizes in the current debate about so-called "artificial intelligences" and "artificial life" in general and especially with regard to the trans- or posthumanist notion of so-called "mind uploading". In this context, quasi-mythically charged potentials of black-box algorithms, a so-called "general artificial superintelligence" and the figure of thought of a "technological singularity" play a central role. Overall, this chapter thus takes a closer look at "postbiological transhumanism" and contextualizes its visions within the framework of a worldview that is capricious on information and data processing.

The fourth chapter asks whether transhumanism, under its own auspices, can deliver what it promises. It analyzes and critically examines the ambivalences and structural contradictions of the transhumanist agenda. Central to this will be the dynamics of dehumanization: both in the sense of a biologistic reduction of humans to the animal or to their genetic dispositions and in the sense of a postbiological reduction of humans to the mechanical or to their digitalizable aspects. This chapter also locates transhumanist visions in the context of cultural, economic, and social dynamics and brings transhumanism into conversation with Christian faith as an "inner-worldly eschatology."

In this constructive-critical dialogue, the fifth chapter explores an alternative way in which the transhumanist concern for a salvation of the finite can be appreciated but its internal contradictions avoided. To this end, the resources of the Christian tradition(s) are mobilized in the form of creative attempts to respond to transhumanist inquiries: What can man be? What creative and creative potential does he possess? Where do his limits lie? From this, finally, impulses of a "theology of technology" for the bio- and digital-technological age arise, which reflects the potentials of an eschatological "perfection" of man and creation.

Project LeadDr. Oliver Dürr