Mankind is still embryonic … [humans are] the bud from which something more complicated and more centered than [humans themselves] should emerge. ~ Teilhard de Chardin
1. The End of Religion
Transhumanism appears to have nothing in common with religion, defined as: “the belief in and worship of a god or gods, or any such system of belief and worship…”
In transhumanism gods plays no role.
Yet the two are not entirely dissimilar. Like transhumanists, the religious generally want to overcome the limitations of the body and live forever in eternal bliss. Religions, arising before transhumanist ideas were conceivable, advised its followers to accept death and hope for the best, with no other options available. And religious beliefs provided comfort against natural evils before the advent of science and technology.
But must we relinquish religious beliefs now, before science gives us everything we want? Might we allow the comfort of religious beliefs to those who need them, to those who must tell their children something when someone dies? The most important reason to abandon religious belief is religion’s opposition to most forms of progress. From the elimination of slavery, the use of birth control, and women’s and civil rights, to stem cell research, genetic engineering, and science in general, organized religion often opposes progress. The comfort provided by archaic superstitions often impedes advancement and should be set aside.
2. Transhumanism as a Cosmic Narrative
But can humans function without the old religious narratives? As I said in a previous post, humans need a new narrative based on a scientific worldview. This narrative could be a transhumanist one, of humans playing their role as links in a chain leading to more complex forms of being and consciousness. But against this seemingly infinite temporal background, what can be said of the significance of a single, finite human life? Not much. For now we must be content to hope that our post-human descendants will experience more meaningful consciousness, grateful to us for the part we played in bringing about their future.
And what is the point of all cosmic evolution producing these higher and more conscious life forms? Again we must hope that our post-human descendants will understand these ultimate questions and that our own lives—by then long past—will be given significance by that knowledge. We can also hope that somehow, in ways presently unimaginable, we will be aware of how we helped bring about a better and more meaningful cosmos. If not, we can still take solace in the fact that we played a cosmic role.
No doubt humans need a new scientifically based cosmic narrative to replace the older less plausible religious ones. Such narratives are beginning to emerge as our understanding of cosmic evolution and our proper role in it increases. But whatever shape those narratives take they will be informed by the belief that humans can evolve into something much more than they are now.
1. This quote is from the Humanity+ website’s FAQ section.
2. From “The Cambridge International Dictionary of English.”
John G. Messerly, Ph.D taught for many years in both the philosophy and computer science departments at the University of Texas at Austin. His most recent book is The Meaning of Life: Religious, Philosophical, Scientific, and Transhumanist Perspectives. He blogs daily on issues of futurism and the meaning of life at reasonandmeaning.com