Throughout history, the advance mankind has been inextricably intertwined with the advance of technology. Technological advancement has allowed us to reduce poverty and hunger, save lives through modern medicine, and generally improve human flourishing. For example, advancements in the use of prosthetics, implants, and robotics have allowed the disabled to regain mobility and independence. We have seen paraplegics walk again with the use of exoskeletons and a double amputee compete in the Olympics. Indeed, it appears there is no limit to what the future may hold.
But there are always limits to what is right and just: Merely because we can do something does not mean that we should do it. We must move forward not only safely, but also ethically and morally. Too often morality is determined by the prevailing societal preferences of the day rather than grounded fundamental truths, such as the fact that we are all children of God, created in His image. Too often, the pursuit of the next great breakthrough forgets this, as with the recent case of researchers successfully growing monkey embryos containing human cells.
The line between technology that helps humanity thrive, and that which changes humanity on some fundamental level, can be difficult to police. As technology continues to advance rapidly, it can become enmeshed in our lives before implications of its use have been fully considered. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly enmeshed in our lives in myriad different ways, such as answering emails, shopping online, getting driving directions, or even parking your car. That AI makes our lives more efficient, few could deny. Yet many, including technology pioneer Elon Musk, are concerned that AI is the greatest threat to humanity, running the risk that it will be our undoing or change us in some fundamental way.
One need only look at transhumanism to see the potential dark side of technological advancement. Transhumanism in simple terms means “beyond human.” It is the transformation of the human condition through technology that promises to enhance human intellect and physiology. Transhumanists would use emerging and exponential technologies like AI, nanotechnology, biotechnology, stem cells, and gene therapy to overcome fundamental human limitations. Often called “Humanity+” or simply “H+,” it is also telling that some prefer the term “posthuman.”
A leading futurist and transhumanist, Ray Kurzweil, believes that technology will allow humans to transcend the physical limitations of biology. As the head of engineering at Google, and an awardee of the United States’ highest honor in technology and innovation, his analysis carries weight. He mused, “Does God exist?, Well, I would say, ‘Not yet.’” Transhumanism posits that if one believes the mind and body are separate, and that the mind is made up of information patterns that are produced by the brain, then one should be able to capture that pattern and move it to a different vessel that does not decompose and break down as our biological bodies do. Transhumanists see this as a positive development, for according to them, not only would an individual live beyond a normal life span and overcome limitations such as sickness and the cognitive and physical decline of aging; one might also achieve singularity — the ability to live forever through technological enhancements.
Such is the potential of scientific discovery. Indeed, the scientific method has greatly benefitted humanity. And contrary to what some believe, there is no conflict between faith and reason; the university as we know it grew out of the monastic model developed by Benedictine monks in the 4th century. It was Roger Bacon, a 13th century Catholic priest, who created what became known as the scientific method. Yet, in order for science to benefit mankind, it must be pursued in good faith and grounded in truth, which is why scientific discovery has historically been successful when paired with a religious tradition that provides it with just and moral guidance.
Without a grounding in truth and values, science becomes perverted — as our society is witnessing at this very moment. Indeed, under the mantra of “follow the science,” what is purported to be science increasingly becomes a religion unto itself, and we find ourselves wearing masks despite being vaccinated, being told that there are more than two genders, and that men can conceive children, all of which are political and ideological agendas operating under the thin veneer of (false) science.
As it relates to transhumanism, the pursuit of technology-enabled eternal life for the physical body carries not only important considerations for technology, but also for faith as well.
Unfettered or politicized advancement could lead to dangerous outcomes for the human species, and more importantly for our souls. Thus, science cannot the final arbiter of our society. Given the promises and the pitfalls of technology, it is we the American people who must assume that role. Technology will continue to progress and for the sake of our advancement, it should. But we, the American citizens, need to be having these discussions now, and policymakers must engage, listen, and lead. We must necessarily take part in important international discussions happening lest we get left behind.
At the American Cornerstone Institute, we believe this conversation must occur at the intersection of religion, science and technology, and culture. Leadership in thought and action is required to ensure there is a powerful voice for doing what’s right in this ever-evolving arena. As Christians, we know God exists and that it is not our mind and bodies that are immortal, but our soul. As President Ronald Reagan said, “If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.”
• Dr. Ben Carson is founder and chairman of the American Cornerstone Institute.