I’m excited for Lent to end and Easter to arrive. I love the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection, when we break the fast and enjoy the feast. It’s an opportunity to sing that great hymn by Wesley, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today!” (That’s a reference for our Wesleyan theologian Edgardo.)
Our resurrection hope is both personal and cosmic: God will “transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory” (Phil. 3:21) and “create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17).
This idea of transformation is one reason why a new book, Religion and the Technological Future: An Introdcution to Biohacking, Artificial Intelligence, and Transhumanism by Calvin Mercer and Tracey J. Trothen, fascinated me. It reminded me that when technology and science tinker with the world around us, it’s generally OK. Instead of roasting or freezing, for example, we can appreciate central heating and air conditioning.
But when technology promises fundamental change to us as human beings, it’s remarkably different. The church has not yet fully grappled with the potential for technology to change human nature, and I believe we need to. Mercer and Trothen agree and notch up the urgency, claiming that “the religions of the world will come to an end, or thrive, depending on how they respond to the topic.”
The question of how to relate technology to biblical resurrection is appropriate for this season. Is the promise of technological transformation going to win out over our hope of Christ’s Resurrection? Or is there some way that both can work together? At some level, this assertion might sound absurd. And yet, consider how my iPhone helps me outsource my brain—“Siri, what’s the best way to make lamb for Easter dinner?” But Siri can’t grasp what it means that we will be “raised on the last day.”
Three Modes of Technological Change
Mercer and Trothen highlight at least three technological changes on the horizon (and already here to some degree) that we need to grasp.
. Transhumanism, which is “generally understood as an intellectual and cultural movement that advocates the use of a wide range of increasingly powerful technologies to radically enhance human beings.”
. Cognitive enhancement, which employs “artificial means to optimize learning and memory systems.” This can range from garden-variety stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin to transcranial direct current stimulation, which reduces mental messages of pain and fatigue.
. Superintelligence: Mercer and Trothen clearly believe AI is the future, and they cite the oft-quoted Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, who says that “human-level machine intelligence … might perhaps fairly soon thereafter result in superintelligence.” This claim naturally leads to Ray Kurzweil’s theory of Singularity, in which he asserts that “general human intelligence is surpassed” and may be enhanced by computers. At that point, our thinking and computer thinking merge—thus the notion of a “singularity.” Is there a way to make that outsourced database of our smart phones directly connect to our brains?
Can these technological transformations bring about anything like the resurrection that the church proclaims every Easter?
. You can find the book Religion and the Technological Future here.
. Whenever I think seriously and biblically about the Resurrection of Jesus, N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God comes to mind.
. The final chapter of my book Creation and Last Things also addresses eschatology and science.
. One place to find resources on this topic is the Christian Transhumanist Association.
. Ponder how technology is changing the church or this simple list of the seven ways churches can engage technology.
. For a completely different approach, consider the practice of a Tech Shabbat.
The Biblical Way of Transformation
As mentioned above, God promises to transform both our very nature and creation itself (Rom. 8:19-25). And I see key differences between God’s promises and the claims of twenty-first century technological transformation. Briefly:
. Our hope is that God will transform the entire created order—both the seen, “the earth,” and the unseen, “the heavens” (Rev. 21:1).
. In God’s new creation, there will be no more death, mourning, pain, or tears (Rev. 21:4).
. This is available to all (Acts 2:17-18), regardless of gender, race, or economic status. Indeed, in the renewed creation people will come “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).
. It is permanent and does not depend on the presence or longevity of technology. It depends solely on God’s decision. “See, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
These four points highlight a contrast: the way we humans use our technological capacities cannot fully mirror God’s promises.
“But I Still Love Technology…”
Some think that technology will eventually do what God can do. For example, Mercer and Trothen state: “A feasible religious interpretation is that cryonics provides the technological means for how God accomplishes transformational resurrection.” (If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, cyronics “is the low-temperature freezing and storage of human remains, with the speculative hope that resurrection may be possible in the future.”)
At best this is a pale analogy of resurrection, and I, for one, am not sure I want to spend eternal life in this body! Not yet the good news of the Bible.
Consider instead this analogy: In the quirky film Napoleon Dynamite, Napoleon’s brother, Kip, meets his love LaFawnduh online and marries her. At the wedding ceremony (in an extended scene, by the way), Kip chooses a highly unusual song to express his love, singing: “I love technology, but not as much as you, you see. But I still love technology, always and forever.”
Likewise, we can be thankful for the positive applications of technology, even for an invention as pedestrian as Zoom conferencing that helps us connect with others, or the amazing inroads that genetic therapies have made in curing conditions like sickle-cell disease. I join then with Kip in proclaiming the goodness of the gift of technology.
But it’s not as good as the God who gives us technology. Furthermore, it’s not God’s ultimate transformation. With this in mind, I’m quite confident that we can still proclaim this Sunday, “Christ is risen!” and be assured that this is still very good news.
He is risen indeed!
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science