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#310 Transhumans, Immortality, and Zombies

March 24, 2013

Dear Dr. Craig,

I truly appreciate the sacrifice of time and energy that goes into your scholastic work and debates. More importantly than that, I admire your courage in sharing your Christian testimony! It helps me to see prominent academics holding fast to the faith.

Now, to the point. I study bioethics and was recently asked to think about the post-human and transhumanist perspectives on death as an evil that should be eradicated. If we look at the advances in genetics, nano-technology and artificial intelligence, it seems likely that we will be able to greatly extend human life in the coming decades. I am wondering if you could comment on 1) the implications of an indefinite life-span; namely, if one were not to die, how would one enter heaven? 2) Supposing that research in neuroscience continues apace and that we will be able to upload our mind into a non-bilogical substrate and inhabit that space indefinitely, what would be the implications for a Christian who believes that eternal life only exists in the here-after? 3) Finally, as humans continue to merge with technology in new ways and the lines blur between what constitues a human person and non-human person, what does Christianity have to say to or about these new entities?

Thanks again!


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Dr. craig’s response


Kyle, it seems to me that those who adopt transhumanist perspectives in a bid to achieve immortality are doing nothing more than kicking the can down the road. They seem to be blissfully ignorant of the implications of physical eschatology.

Eschatology (the study of the last things) is no longer exclusively the subject matter of theology but has in the last half century or so emerged as a new branch of cosmology (the study of the large-scale structure and history of the universe), being a sort of mirror image of cosmogony, that branch of cosmology that studies the origin of the universe. Not that the future of the universe will resemble its past; far from it. But just as physical cosmogony looks back in time to retrodict the history of the cosmos based on traces of the past and the laws of nature, so physical eschatology looks forward in time to predict the future of the cosmos based on present conditions and laws of nature.

Physical eschatology paints a very bleak picture of the future in contrast to theological eschatology. The most likely scenario based on present scientific evidence is that the universe will continue to expand forever. As it does, the stars eventually burn out and the galaxies grow dark. Around 1015 years after the Big Bang most of the baryonic mass of the universe will consist of degenerate stellar objects like brown dwarfs, white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. Elementary particle physics suggests that around 1037 years protons will decay into electrons and positrons, filling space with a rarified gas so thin that the distance between two particles will be about the size of the present galaxy. At around 10100 years, the commencement of the so-called Dark Era, black holes themselves may have evaporated. The mass of the universe will be nothing but a cold, thin gas of elementary particles and radiation, growing ever more dilute as it expands into the infinite darkness, a universe in ruins.

Obviously, transplanting synthetic parts into human beings does nothing to avoid our ultimate extinction. Transhuman immortality is a vain hope. Each of us will eventually meet his Maker.

But we won’t have wait until the extinction of life from the universe. For on the Christian view God will bring about the end of human history and the present cosmos at such time as He deems fit (Mk. 14.32; Mt. 24.43; 1 Thess. 5.2; Heb. 1.10-12; 2 Pet. 3.10; Rev. 3.3). He will not allow events predicted on the basis of present trends in even the relatively near future, such as the extinction of the human race, to occur, much less events in the unfathomably distant future such as stellar extinction or proton decay. Before these events can take place, God will act to terminate human history and usher in a new heavens and a new Earth (1 Cor. 15.51-52; 1 Thess. 4.15-17; Rev. 21.1). When Christ returns, any transhumans about will be taken along with the humans.

As for the theological significance of humans’ having non-natural parts, it’s hard for me to see any more significance to this than a person’s having a prosthetic device. That’s because I do not think that a human person is identical to his body. A human person is an embodied soul. So long as one leaves the soul intact there can be no ultimate significance to changing bodily. The question, I suppose, is whether we might not produce changes in the body that would be so significant that it would effectively separate the soul from the body. That just would be the death of that human person. Any organism that continued to live after such a change would be a zombie.

- William Lane Craig