In the early part of the 20th Century, the study and practice of selective human breeding known as eugenics sought to counter dysgenic aspects within the human gene pool and to improve overall human “genetic qualities.” Researchers in the United States, Britain, Canada, and Germany (where, under Adolf Hitler, eugenics operated under the banner of “racial hygiene” and allowed Josef Mengele, Otmar von Verschuer, and others to perform horrific experiments on live human beings in concentration camps to test their genetic theories) were interested in weeding out “inferior” human bloodlines and used studies to insinuate heritability between certain families and illnesses such as schizophrenia, blindness, deafness, dwarfism, bipolar disorder, and depression. Their published reports fueled the eugenics movement to develop state laws in the 1800s and 1900s that forcefully sterilized persons considered unhealthy or mentally ill in order to prevent them from “passing on” their genetic inferiority to future generations. Such laws were not abolished in the U.S. until the mid-20th Century, leading to more than sixty thousand sterilized Americans in the meantime. Between 1934 and 1937, the Nazis likewise sterilized an estimated four hundred thousand people they deemed of inferior genetic stock while also setting forth to selectively exterminate the Jews as “genetic aberrations” under the same program. Transhumanist goals of using biotechnology, nanotechnology, mind-interfacing, and related sciences to create a superior man and thus classifications of persons—the enhanced and the unenhanced—opens the door for a new form of eugenics and social Darwinism.
GERM-LINE GENETIC ENGINEERING
Germ-line genetic engineering has the potential to actually achieve the goals of the early eugenics movement (which sought to create superior humans via improving genetics through selective breeding) through genetically modifying human genes in very early embryos, sperm, and eggs. As a result, germ-line engineering is considered by some conservative bioethicists to be the most dangerous of human enhancement technology, as it has the power to truly reassemble the very nature of humanity into posthuman, altering an embryo’s every cell and leading to inheritable modifications extending to all succeeding generations. Debate over germ-line engineering is therefore most critical, because as changes to “downline” genetic offspring are set in motion, the nature and physical makeup of mankind will be altered with no hope of reversal, thereby permanently reshaping humanity’s future. A respected proponent of germ-line technology is Dr. Gregory Stock, who, like cyborgist Kevin Warwick, departs from Kurzweil’s version of Humans 2.0 first arriving as a result of computer Singularity. Stock believes man can choose to transcend existing biological limitations in the nearer future (at or before computers reach strong artificial intelligence) through germ-line engineering. If we can make better humans by adding new genes to their DNA, he asks, why shouldn’t we? “We have spent billions to unravel our biology, not out of idle curiosity, but in the hope of bettering our lives. We are not about to turn away from this,” he says, before admitting elsewhere that this could lead to “clusters of genetically enhanced superhumans who will dominate if not enslave us.”[i] The titles to Stock’s books speak for themselves concerning what germ-line engineering would do to the human race. The name of one is Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future and another is Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines into a Global Superorganism.
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FLASHBACK: Dr. Thomas Horn Discusses Prophetic Implications Of Transhumanism At Strategic Perspectives Conference
Besides the short list above, additional areas of attention where conservative Christians may find concerns include immortalism, postgenderism, cryonics, designer babies, neurohacking, and mind uploading.
HEAVEN AND HELL SCENARIOS
While positive advances have been developing and will continue to develop inside some of the science and technology fields discussed above, men like Prof. Francis Fukuyama, in his book, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, warn that unintended consequences resulting from what mankind has now set in motion represents the most dangerous time in earth’s history: a period when exotic technology in the hands of transhumanist ambitions could forever alter what it means to be human. To those who would engineer a transhuman future, Fukuyama warns of a dehumanized “hell scenario” in which we “no longer struggle, aspire, love, feel pain, make difficult moral choices, have families, or do any of the things that we traditionally associate with being human.”[ii] In this ultimate identity crisis, we would “no longer have the characteristics that give us human dignity” because, for one thing, “people dehumanized à la Brave New World…don’t know that they are dehumanized, and, what is worse, would not care if they knew. They are, indeed, happy slaves with a slavish happiness.”[iii] The “hell scenario” envisioned by Fukuyama is only a primer to what other conservatives believe could go wrong.
On the other end of the spectrum, and diametrically opposed to Fukuyama’s conclusions, is an equally energetic crowd that subscribes to a form of technological utopianism we call the “heaven scenario.” Among this group, a “who’s who” of transhumanist evangelists such as Ray Kurzweil, James Hughes, Nick Bostrom, and Gregory Stock, see the dawn of a new Age of Enlightenment arriving as a result of the accelerating pace of GRIN (genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology) technologies. As with the 18th-Century Enlightenment in which intellectual and scientific reason elevated the authority of scientists over priests, techno-utopians believe they will triumph over prophets of doom by “stealing fire from the gods, breathing life into inert matter, and gaining immortality. Our efforts to become something more than human have a long and distinguished genealogy. Tracing the history of those efforts illuminates human nature. In every civilization, in every era, we have given the gods no peace.”[iv] Such men are joined in their quest for godlike constitutions by a growing list of official U.S. departments that dole out hundreds of millions of dollars each year for science and technology research. The National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Commerce anticipated this development over a decade ago, publishing the government report, Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance[v]—complete with diagrams and bullet points—to lay out the blueprint for the radical evolution of man and machine. Their vision imagined that the “heaven scenario” will quickly result in (among other things):
- The transhuman body being “more durable, healthy, energetic, easier to repair, and resistant to many kinds of stress, biological threats, and aging processes.”
- Brain-machine interfacing that will “transform work in factories, control automobiles, ensure military superiority, and enable new sports, art forms and modes of interaction between people.
- “Engineers, artists, architects, and designers will experience tremendously expanded creative abilities,” in part through “improved understanding of the wellspring of human creativity.”
- “Average persons, as well as policymakers, will have a vastly improved awareness of the cognitive, social, and biological forces operating their lives, enabling far better adjustment, creativity, and daily decision making….
- “Factories of tomorrow will be organized” around “increased human-machine capabilities.”[vi]
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Dr. Thomas Horn and Jimmy Evans Explain The Greatest Threat Transhumanism Poses To Humanity On Daystar
Beyond how human augmentation and biological reinvention would spread into the wider culture following ZEITGEIST 2025, the government report detailed the especially-important global and economic aspects of genetically-superior humans acting in superior ways, offering how, as a result of GRIN leading to techno-sapien DNA upgrading, brain-to-brain interaction, human-machine interfaces, personal sensory device interfaces, and biological war fighting systems, “The twenty-first century could end in world peace, universal prosperity, and evolution to a higher level [as] humanity become[s] like a single, transcendent nervous system, an interconnected ‘brain’ based in new core pathways of society.”[vii] The first version of the government’s report asserted that the only real roadblock to this “heaven scenario” would be the “catastrophe” that would be unleashed if society fails to employ the technological opportunities available to us now. “We may not have the luxury of delay, because the remarkable economic, political and even violent turmoil of recent years implies that the world system is unstable. If we fail to chart the direction of change boldly, we may become the victims of unpredictable catastrophe.” This argument parallels what is currently echoed in military corridors, where sentiments hold that failure to commit resources to develop GRIN as the next step in human and technological evolution will only lead to others doing so ahead of the U.S. and using it for global domination.
The seriousness of this for the conceivable future is significant enough that a House Foreign Affairs (HFA) committee chaired by California Democrat Brad Sherman, best known for his expertise on the spread of nuclear weapons and terrorism, is among a number of government panels studying the implications of genetic modification and human-transforming technologies related to future terrorism. Congressional Quarterly columnist Mark Stencel listened to the HFA committee hearings and wrote in his article, “Futurist: Genes Without Borders,” that the conference “sounded more like a Hollywood pitch for a sci-fi thriller than a sober discussion of scientific reality…with talk of biotech’s potential for creating supersoldiers, superintelligence, and superanimals [that could become] agents of unprecedented lethal force.”[viii] George Annas, Lori Andrews, and Rosario Isasi were even more apocalyptic in their American Journal of Law and Medicine article, “Protecting the Endangered Human: Toward an International Treaty Prohibiting Cloning and Inheritable Alterations,” when they wrote:
The new species, or “posthuman,” will likely view the old “normal” humans as inferior, even savages, and fit for slavery or slaughter. The normals, on the other hand, may see the posthumans as a threat and if they can, may engage in a preemptive strike by killing the posthumans before they themselves are killed or enslaved by them. It is ultimately this predictable potential for genocide that makes species-altering experiments potential weapons of mass destruction, and makes the unaccountable genetic engineer a potential bioterrorist.[ix]
Observations like those of Annas, Andrews, and Isasi support Prof. Hugo de Garis’ nightmarish vision (The Artilect War: Cosmists Vs. Terrans: A Bitter Controversy Concerning Whether Humanity Should Build Godlike Massively Intelligent Machines [http://www.amazon.com/Artilect-War-Controversy-Concerning-Intelligent/dp/0882801546]) of a near future wherein artilects and posthumans join against “normals” in an incomprehensible war leading to gigadeath. Notwithstanding such warnings, the problem could be unavoidable, as Prof. Gregory Stock, in his well-researched and convincing book, Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, argues that stopping what we have already started (planned genetic enhancement of humans) is impossible. “We simply cannot find the brakes.”[x] Scientist Verner Vinge agrees, adding, “Even if all the governments of the world were to understand the ‘threat’ and be in deadly fear of it, progress toward the goal would continue. In fact, the competitive advantage—economic, military, even artistic—of every advance in automation is so compelling that passing laws, or having customs, that forbid such things merely assures that someone else will get them first.”[xi] Academic scientists and technical consultants to the U.S. Pentagon have advised the agency that the principal argument by Vinge is correct. As such, the United States could be forced into large-scale, species-altering output, including human enhancement for military purposes. This is based on military intelligence, which suggests that America’s competitors (and potential enemies) are privately seeking to develop the same this century and to use it to dominate the U.S. if they can. This worrisome “government think tank” scenario is shared by the JASONs—the celebrated scientists on the Pentagon’s most prestigious scientific advisory panel who now appear to perceive “Mankind 2.0” as the next arms race. Just as the old Soviet Union and the United States with their respective allies competed for supremacy in nuclear arms following the Second World War through the 1980s (what is now commonly known as “the nuclear arms race during the cold war”), the JASONs “are worried about adversaries’ ability to exploit advances in Human Performance Modification, and thus create a threat to national security,”[xii] wrote military analyst Noah Shachtman in “Top Pentagon Scientists Fear Brain-Modified Foes.” This recent special for Wired Magazine was based on a leaked military report in which the JASONs admitted concern over “neuro-pharmaceutical performance enhancement and brain-computer interfaces” technology being developed by other countries ahead of the United States. “The JASONs are recommending that the American military push ahead with its own performance-enhancement research—and monitor foreign studies—to make sure that the U.S.’ enemies don’t suddenly become smarter, faster, or better able to endure the harsh realities of war than American troops,”[xiii] the article continued. “The JASONs are particularly concerned about [new technologies] that promote ‘brain plasticity’—rewiring the mind, essentially, by helping to ‘permanently establish new neural pathways, and thus new cognitive capabilities.’”[xiv] In 2011, the JASONs renewed their advisory to the Department of Defense, stating that it now has less than twenty-four months to establish leadership in these fields, after which the United States risks falling irreparably behind in defense-related human enhancement technology. Though it might be tempting to disregard the conclusions by the JASONs as a rush to judgment on the emerging threat of techno-sapiens, it would be a serious mistake to do so in my opinion. As GRIN technologies continue to race toward an exponential curve, parallel to these advances will be the increasingly sophisticated argument that societies must take control of human biological limitations and move the species—or at least some of its members—into new forms of existence. Prof. Nigel M. de S. Cameron, director for the Council for Biotechnology Policy in Washington DC, documents this move, concluding that the genie is out of the bottle and that “the federal government’s National Nanotechnology Initiative’s website already gives evidence of this kind of future vision, in which our vision of human dignity is undermined [by being transformed into posthumans].”[xv] Dr. C. Christopher Hook, a member of the government committee on human genetics who has given testimony before the U.S. Congress, offered similar insight on the state of the situation:
[The goal of posthumanism] is most evident in the degree to which the U.S. government has formally embraced transhumanist ideals and is actively supporting the development of transhumanist technologies. The U.S. National Science Foundation, together with the U.S. Department of Commerce, has initiated a major program (NBIC) for converging several technologies (including those from which the acronym is derived—nanotechnology, biotechnologies, information technologies and cognitive technologies, e.g., cybernetics and neurotechnologies) for the express purpose of enhancing human performance. The NBIC program director, Mihail Roco, declared at the second public meeting of the project…that the expenditure of financial and human capital to pursue the needs of reengineering humanity by the U.S. government will be second in equivalent value only to the moon landing program.[xvi]
NEXT: Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance
[i] Gregory Stock, Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, (Boston, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002), 115–116.
[ii] Francis Fukuyama, Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, (New York, NY: Picador®, 2003), 6.
[iv] Joel Garreau, Radical Evolution: The Promise and Peril of Our Minds, Our Bodies—And What it Means to Be Human, (New York, NY: Doubleday, a division of Random House Publishing, 2005), 106.
[v] Edited by Mihail C. Roco and William Sims Bainbridge, “Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science,” National Science Foundation, accessed April 25, 2011, http://www.wtec.org/ConvergingTechnologies/Report/NBIC_report.pdf.
[vi] Garreau, Radical Evolution, 106.
[vii] Garreau, Radical Evolution, 113–114.
[viii] Mark Stencel, “Genes Without Borders,” Congressional Quarterly, March 15, 2009, http://www.geneticsandsociety.org/article.php?id=4593.
[ix] George J. Annas, Lori B. Andrews, and Rosario M. Isasi, American Journal of Law and Medicine, vol. 28, nos. 2 and 3 (2002), 162. See also: http://www.geneticsandsociety.org/downloads/2002_ajlm_annasetal.pdf.
[x] As quoted by Margaret McLean, Ph.D., “Redesigning Humans: The Final Frontier,”Journal of Lutheran Ethics, accessed April 25, 2011, http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Journal-of-Lutheran-Ethics/Book-Reviews/Redesigning-Humans-by-Gregory-Stock/Redesigning-Humans-The-Final-Frontier.aspx.
[xii] Noah Shachtman, “Top Pentagon Scientists Fear Brain-Modified Foes,” Wired Magazine, June 9, 2008, http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2008/06/jason-warns-of/.
[xv] Quote written directly by editor Nigel M. de S. Cameron, in the collaborative work, Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy, in chapter 4, “Techo Sapiens: Nanotechnology, Cybernetics, Transhumanism, and the Remaking of Humankind,” by C. Christopher Hook M.D. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 76.
[xvi] C. Christopher Hook M.D., Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004), 87.