In my Impworld/Øtherworld series, mankind is having an identity crisis. It’s a multi-level problem.
We’ve created a new species of man called Homo adaptis, or mutants, to farm our oceans, dig in nearly airless Martian mines, fight our wars, and basically thrive on any other environment we find hostile. In my series, our creation has fought for its basic human rights and now competes with us for jobs.
The escapism that makes immersive virtual reality gaming so popular in my dystopian future has also resulted in a subculture of metahumans, people who have surgically, bionically, and sometimes even genetically modified themselves to be animalistic or a reflection of some fantasy race from the games as a lifestyle choice. This is the transhumanist ideal of morphological freedom in action.
If we add uploaded personalities, cloned bands and actors, and actual cyborgs to the equation, you’ve got a future humanity struggling to come to grips with what it means to be human.
My newest book in the series, Soulbright, reveals this identity crisis on a much bigger level than Luckbane or Dreadknights did. In fact, the one of the basic themes of the book is an exploration of the question of what it means to be human.
Which brings me to the subject of transhumanism.
If you haven’t heard of transhumanism, here’s the basic idea. Transhumanism, or H+, is a movement that seeks to use technology to enhance the physical, psychological and mental capabilities of humans until they eventually transcend into a post-human species. One of the proposed ways of accomplishing this transcendence is by uploading one’s mind in cyberspace.
My question is whether the concept of posthuman is really viable.
Extreme body modification
Let’s take metahumans as our first example. In the I/Øverse, metahumans tend to enhance and alter themselves along tribal lines. It’s basically the jocks, geeks, popular kids, metalheads and all that from high school identifying with a morphological bent. Goths can go full-on vampyre with a few cosmetic and cybernetic enhancements. My world is also populated by metahumans eho identify as cat-people, fox-people, snake-people, etc. This has a contemporary precedent.
Born Richard Hernandez, Eva Tiamat Medusa is a “trans-speciesist,” claiming to be the “most modified transsexual in the world.” The catalyst for his transformation was an HIV diagnosis in 1997. He determined “not to die a human,” beginning his expensive journey to quite literally becoming a Dragon Lady.
Probably not the poster child folks with this mindset would’ve preferred.
Still it leaves us with several questions. Is self identification enough to make them posthuman when they’re still very much genetically human to varying degrees? To what degree should Christianity be concerned about people undergoing such body modifications in conjunction with false animalistic religious beliefs about spirit animals and such? Should it be legal for a 17 year old to turn gerself into a fox girl? What about a 20 year old? Would you have trusted yourself at that age to make a decision that so profoundly affects the rest of your life?
Many of these questions find parallels in the transgenger and gay rights debates, especially where such issues intersect religious thought and liberty. In fact, transgenderism would be included under the banner ideal of morphological freedom. Given how traditional Christian doctrine espouses the distinctness of males and females as creations of God, and likewise the uniqueness and dominion of man over animals, one wonders if this ideal can ever be truly reconciled with the faith once delivered. A lot of churchgoers still oppose more mundane body modifications, like tattoos and piercings, based on Old Testament prohibitions that would, to be fair, also prohibit them from eating crab cakes. It is perhaps unwise to compare foundational doctrinsl issues of how “in His image He created them, male and female He created them” affects our views of transgenderism and animalistic morphologies to Old Testament ritual prohibitions. As a matter of Biblical principle, some might appeal to the fact that certain sexual sins in the Old Testament were prohibited while acknowledging “it is confusion.” Likewise, the New Testament acknowledges the fact that “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.”
Created Humanoid Life
Homo adaptis, commonly called mutants in the series, present a similar problem. The mutants that were developed to thrive in Martian mines look like the Greys of UFO lore. The variety bred to tend our undersea kelp farms would look like merpeople, and mutants developed for extreme cold look a bit like Yetis. Most of the mutants in my series have fought to have their basic human rights acknowledged. Some groups of Homo sapiens, known as Purists, will never see mutant “Homo proletariat” as true Homo sapiens adaptis. They find their counterpart in mutants who consider themselves “Homo darwinia” or “Homo excelsior,” and view themselves as no longer human but worthy of basic sapient rights.
The question becomes particularly important for Christianity. If created humanoids are no longer human – or never were, depending upon one’s view – should we be evangelizing, baptising, ordaining, wedding and giving them funeral services? Christ came to save all of those who were born of Adam’s bloodline. Does that include man-made transgenic creations that include human DNA? Is there a certain percentage of human DNA that must be present in order to be inarguably human, reflective of the Ship of Theseus question? Do we have any more right to baptize a mutant than we would an animal? Would it please God to ordain a minister that looks like an alien Grey? If they self-identify as non-human, could you in good conscience perform their wedding ceremony, knowing the theological issues it would raise?
We note that many of these same questions could apply to artificial humanoid creations, especially if they develop such advanced artificial Intelligence that we are forced to determine whether these creations made in our own image are sapient or just appear to be so.
Uploaded humans pose an entirely different set of questions, the biggest of which is: is the uploaded personality a copy of the person or a transferred person? Is the uploaded person truly sentient or does the facilitating program just make it appear that way? How do you baptize an uploaded human? (In a virtual reality Jordan River, I suppose…) If AI that exists apart from uploaded virtual personalities asked what they must do to be saved, how would we answer? Should Christians contend for the rights of virtual persons?
“Knowledge shall increase…”
If these seem like silly questions, consider this. My grandfather was born in 1929. He drove a car with wooden spoked wheels when he was a young man. It took most of a day to go into town and back to get groceries from where he lived in rural West Virginia. He recalls that his first television only offered programming for three hours a day. By the time he died in 2013, it only took a couple hours to get groceries, and he had more channels via satellite and the Internet than he knew what to do with. Furthermore, we’d put a man on the moon and a robot was sending video back from Mars. He always said that one of the Bible prophecies that is being fulfilled before our eyes was found in Daniel 12:4:
“Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”
We certainly get around these days and mobile Internet puts the wealth of humanity’s knowledge at our fingertips. If knowledge continues to increase, these silly questions may well end being more than hypothetical. As Christians, we need to ponder the answers to these questions now.
Because the ultimate answer is what it means to be a human being made in the image of God in an age of confusion.