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Transhumanism + Religion = 42 By Newton Lee - Essay

Updated: Apr 28, 2022


This article was originally published exclusively for Immortalists Magazine's

Issue No. 9 (pg. 40). This is an unedited version.

On October 6, my game design student Jaden scored a victory in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for round 1 of the first game in the NJCAA e-sports tournaments this Fall 2020. It is not just winning that I care about. It is also about sportsmanship and team building among students. In my game design and development classes, I asked all my students why they enjoy playing video games. One student answered, “If it weren’t for video games, I would have killed myself already.”

The spiritual void is staggering among young people today. That is why in my university classroom I not only teach computer science but also discuss Transhumanism and God.

Is God Often Misunderstood?

God is often misunderstood by people—not only by the atheists and the agnostics but also by the religious and the Christians.

The current capability of human cognition makes the comprehension of God a difficult matter, even for a genius like Albert Einstein who wrote in a 1954 letter, “The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses.”

Human weaknesses are indeed the limiting factors, as Jesus told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Despite our limited understanding of God, more than 4 billion people (i.e. more than half of the world’s population) are followers of three major Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Another 1 billion people are adherents of other faiths with their own interpretations of God. One may argue that the majority of these 5 billion people are paying lip service to their religions. Nevertheless, the religious influence on their way of life and decision making process cannot be understated.

Prof. Joseph Campbell wrote in his book The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology, “It is clear that, whether accurate or not as to biographical detail, the moving legend of the Crucified and Risen Christ was fit to bring a new warmth, immediacy, and humanity, to the old motifs of the beloved Tammuz, Adonis, and Osiris cycles.”

Different masks of God are represented by different religions subject to “the imperfections of man and the limits of reason”—a phrase borrowed from President Barack Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

Google My Religion

Nowadays, when we want to find an answer to just about anything, we often turn to Google search.

Google search can drastically transform one’s life forever, especially when it comes to religious beliefs and world views that aim to explain the meaning of life. Questioning one’s religion can lead to a complete hundred and eighty degree turn.

Morten Storm switched sides from being a radical Islamist in the al Qaeda organization to assisting the Danish intelligence agency and the CIA fight the war on terror. Storm credited his change of heart on his laptop computer: “I hit the ‘enter’ and I saw plenty of websites talking about contradictions in the Quran. It took some time to research them, but once I concluded that they were genuinely contradictions, that’s when it wiped totally away my faith.

That’s when I stopped being a Muslim in my heart—in my belief.”

By Losing His Religion, He Has Found God

In the CNN documentary “Atheists: Inside the World of Non-Believers”, former Pentecostal preacher Jerry DeWitt recalled how he became an atheist after 25 years of pastoral services. “One word: Google,” he said. “The questions have always been at hand, but now the answers are within our grasp.”

David Silverman of American Atheists opined, “Religion is factually wrong. As a result, religion lives on ignorance of facts. The reason people are giving up on mythology is the Internet, and the access to information it represents. When religion can exist in a bubble, the lies it pushes cannot be challenged. But when there is a wealth of information at the fingertips of every believer, those lies can be refuted easily, from multiple sources and multiple perspectives.” Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein at Harvard University added, “People are learning more about science.”

Theologians have long struggled to reconcile religion and science. Fundamentalists maintain that the Scripture is not a buffet where you can cherry-pick what you want. The Scripture is all or nothing.

Is It The End Of Religion?

First we need to ask the question: Are religion and science at odds with each other?

Not so according to Albert Einstein. In the November 1930 issue of the New York Times Magazine, Einstein wrote, “For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary. Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts. According to this interpretation the well-known conflicts between religion and science in the past must all be ascribed to a misapprehension of the situation which has been described. ... Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

On one hand, Einstein believed that god was a product of human weaknesses. On the other hand, Einstein acknowledged the importance of religion in humanity, and interestingly, in science as well.

Let’s consider a few miracles described in the Old Testament: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown in the fire; but they walked around freely in the fire, completely unharmed (Daniel 3:1-30). Samson was so strong that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands (Judges 14:5-6). Today, science and technology have enabled us to recreate the same miracles using fire retardant and bionic arms.

Jesus transforming water into wine (John 2:1-11) and raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44) will require much more advanced science and technology that Transhumanism is championing for. British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke rightly postulated that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Being a computer scientist and a Christian fundamentalist, I believe that all life forms are combinations of intelligent design and evolution. Creationism and evolution are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the former gives rise to the latter. God gives life to human beings who in turn give birth to artificial intelligence; and artificial intelligence is evolving into superintelligence.

Humans are slow learners. Modern humanity with some 5,000 years of recorded history has been experiencing growing pains, with no end in sight. History too often repeats itself, and not always for the better. It is high time for humanity to grow up, and to transcend itself by embracing Transhumanism.

Unlike humans, machines are fast learners. They adapt and evolve until they reach perfection. For example, AlphaGo Zero from Google’s DeepMind completely self-taught without learning from human games, and it managed to surpass all human Go masters in just 40 days. 18-time world Go champion Lee Se-dol decided to retire in 2019 due to the rise of artificial intelligence that, in his words, “cannot be defeated.”

Without any human weaknesses such as biases and closed-mindedness, superintelligence will one day teach humankind about God better than any religions, denominations, or preachers can.

After all, Google does not spell the end for religion. Rather, Google has become a religion in and of itself. Former executive chairman of Alphabet Inc. Eric Schmidt spoke at the Aspen Institute, “There’s a particular religion that we all represent, and it goes something like this: ‘if you take a large number of people and you empower them with communication tools and opportunities to be creative, society gets better.’ … The combination of empowerment, innovation, and creativity will be our solution, but that is a religion in-of-itself.”

The Spiritual Void Is Getting Bigger

Regular church, synagogue, and mosque attendance have been on the decline in the West for decades. Many people—especially the younger generations—are turning away from religion. The spiritual void is getting bigger as science and technology are getting better. A case in point: Research has shown that the more people check Facebook, the worse they feel about their lives.

Where religion is falling short, others are filling their shoes. Some young people turn to video games to try to fill the void. One of my students told me, “If it weren’t for video games, I would have killed myself already.”

Hilary Tisch, jewelry designer and daughter of New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch, lost her battle to depression at the young age of 36. In August 2020 she committed suicide in spite of her success in fashion business as well as her humanitarian work in volunteering for Operation Smile. There is more to life than personal successes and doing good deeds.

Transhumanism touts the eradication of diseases, aging, and death. But if the meaning of life is futility, human longevity loses its luster.

What If We Live 1,000 More Years?

In the 2011 sci-fi movie In Time, people are genetically engineered to stop aging at 25 years old, and time is literally money because currency is measured in hours and minutes instead of dollars and cents. People would use time as currency to pay for daily expenses.

Factory worker Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) ran into a 105-year-old young-looking man Henry Hamilton (Matt Bomer) who transferred 116 years of his time to Will, leaving himself with only 5 minutes to live. Will in turn gave some of his newly acquired time to his best friend Borel (Johnny Galecki) who tragically ended up dying prematurely due to alcohol intoxication. In the 2017 science fiction movie Ghost in the Shell, detective Togusa took a jab at his colleague Ishikawa about his cybernetic liver, “You got enhanced so you can drink more?”

At the 2018 Christian Transhumanist Conference at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, I asked the audience, “If we live 1,000 more years, will we use the time to serve Jesus or will we serve ourselves?” (See Figure 1)

Figure 1: A tweet from Emily McFarlan Miller, a national reporter from Religion News Service. The partially obscured twitter banner reads “The Truth is Out There.”

The Old Testament tells a story of King Hezekiah who begged God to cure his terminal illness and spare him from his imminent death. While enjoying his extra 15 years of life, Hezekiah showed off his immense wealth to the king of Babylon—an action that proved to be disastrous.

Hezekiah also fathered a son named Manasseh, who later became king at age 12, did evil in the eyes of God, and led Israel into ruin. The sad part was that Hezekiah did not seem to care as he thought to himself, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?” (2 Kings 20:19).

Had Hezekiah devoted himself to serving God instead of himself in the last 15 years of his life, he could have been a great king and his son might not have become an evil ruler.

Transhumanism should focus not only on physical health but also on spiritual wellbeing—the meaning of life and the purpose for living not only as an individual but also as a society.

Julian Huxley—evolutionary biologist and first Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)—advocated the necessity of Transhumanism to improve the human condition. He wrote in 1957, “The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself—not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity.”