A new hominid is on the way … what to do after homo sapiens?
‘Human enhancement’ is hot. It is thinkable that homo sapiens can be replaced by a new type of hominid. A so called ‘Singularity’ is coming. Would that possibly solve the many serious problems homo sapiens has caused to nature? Or is there a right for the species to stay homo sapiens?
But who is in control of this paradigm shift? Present democratic institutions may be not. The many issues related to this theme should bother also the Church (and other Religions). The Church has great expectations for a marvelous future for mankind. Does modern technological progress in genetics and artificial intelligence fit in? Or not?
What is the Church’s contribution to the public debate anyway?
When you search for ‘Singularity’ in Google, you will certainly find references to Ray Kurzweil.
And why would you want to? Because it will give you an opportunity to meet a scientist who is foreseeing what can be called the most sensational revolution mankind could ever experience.
In fact Kurzweil argues that a time where artificial intelligence surpasses the human brain is inevitable: by the year 2045. And apart from that, he argues that the human brain can be combined with that large artificial intelligence, Kurzweil states that the change will not be a gradual one . No, by then we will enter a fully new human situation. A trans-human era will start. When this happens it will be a completely singular event. The ultimate ‘one of a kind’.
The discussion should focus on the road towards this Singularity and its impact.
In his book ‘Singularity’ Kurzweil gives some characteristics:
- We will overcome the shortcomings of our biological body and brain.
- We will rule our own destiny.
- We will manage our own mortality and we can live as long as we please.(which is not exactly the same as eternal life, by the way!)
- We will fully understand human thinking.
- And by the end of this century, the non-biological portion of our intelligence will be trillions of trillions of times more powerful than unaided human intelligence.
It is obvious that this transition is enormous. In a 2010 interview on Dutch Television Kurzweil stated that we will never have a dull moment, because that huge brain will discover new facts all the time and the ultimate goal should be that the entire cosmos, which has had a rather rude construction up till now, will be blessed with intelligence.
Another Singularity you can think of is Creation; the Big Bang itself.
The worst way to react to this issue would be to wonder whether it will turn out exactly as Kurzweil says, or to discredit the whole discussion as Science Fiction. Of course there are many uncertainties. But the main point is : the change will be huge and we are not prepared.
Homo sapiens does not have the tools to organize a post-human order. How should he! The last and ultimate thing to be done by homo sapiens is to delegate authority to his successor. We have the very doubtful privilege to introduce the next human kind: a new hominid. Although our right to do this may be disputed, we will certainly claim that right as the real modern Prometheus who will make Mary Shelley’s modern Prometheus (Frankenstein) look like a schoolboy. But one should ask what that right would be – to what purpose should we use it?
Another bad way to react to Kurzweil would be to stress the enormous threats that will undoubtedly accompany the outburst of intelligence. Only a small amount of malice would suffice to inspire the owners of this intelligence to launch unprecedented disasters.
Although that is true, a better approach would be engaging in a discussion by the general public. Actually that discussion can only look in to the direction to Singularity. Singularity itself is not a part of our experience. We cannot rule beyond homo sapiens’ grave.
So, how do we deal with e.g. the following topic: do we really want to effectuate the potentiality of replacing homo sapiens; and is it up to us to have any wishes about the matter anyway. Now that we can change major parts of the human body and brain, what kind of improvement is required? And another very important question will be: who is to decide what is socially desirable. Who are we that we may replace our own species in the first place? Well, certain parts of modern science and technology can make it happen, but do they represent us, the human species as a whole? Our democratic laws are not well geared to dealing with these problems, is the impression one gets more and more strongly.
Let us take a small step back. It is very revealing of course that computers and the technology that comes with it were introduced into our daily lives before we figured out what impact they would have on society at large. This evidences the same old naiveté (if not worse) that gave us cars before there was traffic control, or the evil spirit of atomic bombs without our having developed a moral code that would absolutely preclude the use of those bombs.
Basic functions of our own biological existence are within the process of change that is happening on the road to Singularity, involved. Meanwhile we have the mistaken idea that computers are no more than complex toys: as long as they are operated by the proper technicians, everything will be fine.
Up to a point, one might call major inventions like the printing press or revolutions like the industrial revolution progress; although this is quite debatable. But here we are talking about developments which may not fit in the category of progress.
Man has always had a desire to become more beautiful, better, more sublime or bigger. There has always been that dream of mankind to overcome shortcomings and misery; to leave the vale of tears behind. It wasn’t to stay the same for ever, people were moving on to a great future! Everything would be different, later. Future man would be great and glorious. Will it in fact not be homo sapiens himself but his successor who will enter the marvelous future, like homo sapiens himself became the future version of the other primates?
This is called the “Human enhancement” concept. But we have to question this concept like we did above: Do we want this? Who wants it? What kind of dangers will it entail? What may we be unleashing, when we tinker with the basics of life? Etcetera.
On the basis of these questions most people may prefer not to go any further: this is so serious, let us not even start with it! But that would not put an end to all problems at all. Because the other question remains: would an enhanced ‘release’ of man be the one and only solution to clear up the mess homo sapiens has made of this world and to eventually stop his everlasting foolishness and cruelty?
Up until now a human being with increasing potential was no more than a dream. Philosophers tried to formulate modern and post modern portrayals of man; theology tried to put into words the belief in a ‘new man’ ; the church comforted people with this belief, and celebrated the new life in its songs and in its liturgy full of pretension. But all this is now being transformed into something companies and laboratories can use to earn money. The dream is available now as a concrete business project. On top of that, the nearly sacred free market forbids its not being executed, because so much money has been invested in it.
This is why the term ‘paradigm change’ has been used. But maybe, if we try very hard, mankind itself can set the parameters for this change. Only homo sapiens is responsible.
The church is not quite familiar with this theme yet. Nor are other religions. This paper deals with the question of what service the church has to offer in this critical situation where the new hominid is coming.
Religions pay much attention to man and mankind. Religions should therefore engage in this discussion. Because all in all, mankind is at stake. Kurzweil, with whom I will finish this introduction, states that in Singularity “we will transcend our biology, not our humanity”. Well, that is just what needs to be discussed.
He also notes that according to some, his ideas are a substitute for lost religious ideas of modern people. He himself does not think so. But rightly it can be said that modern-day technological development has had a great impact on several religious topics – just to mention one: “the nature of mortality and immortality, the purpose of our lives and intelligence in the universe.”
Let us face the fact that a major change, a major transition, is coming up. Surely all basic elements of homo sapiens will be affected by that change, as will all fields of society and culture.
How to deal with this?
- Set-up of this article
The first section outlines the phenomenon of making a new hominide. What are we talking about in a nutshell?
Next I present what the Bible has to say on the future of man and on future man. To the church, human existence on earth, now and in the future, has always been core business.
The third section lists some major issues to be researched. The research confronts the new hominid project with the Biblical understanding of man as ‘the image of God’ and as a ‘new human being’.
- About a new hominid
The issue of the new hominid has not appeared out of the blue. It is the result of a centuries-long evolution. German Philosopher Günther Anders, in his book entitled ‘Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen’ (The Outdatedness of Human Beings), states that man is outdated by his own fantastic creatures. We can make things beyond even our own imagination. Twenty first century mankind will be forced to adjust to its own artifacts. Eventually he can be replaced by such an artifact: a new species.
As a result of today’s highly developed technology, nature’s self-restoring powers do not work properly anymore due to the products of technology. Discussions around the Copenhagen Climate Summit 2009 showed this very clearly. To put it in other words: management of the world has become so complex, and a matter of opposite interests to such an extent, that present mankind cannot provide a proper solution anymore. Or can he do so by launching a new hominid?
The two problems are closely linked. The anthropogenic endangerment of our environment is not separate from the problem of mankind’s (super) self development. Throughout the ages man has had to interact with his environment. He has no choice other than acting in a context of physical surroundings. His environment has to supply food for his energy, health and procreation. Nature produces materials for man to protect himself and to provide shelter; in short: well being. But nature also poses risks to man’s health and life and can make it unsafe and instable. To survive man has learned to cultivate his environment.
Since time immemorial man has used tools to facilitate this task of cultivating. Using tools gave him an opportunity to keep up with other creatures who could run faster, were stronger, bigger etcetera. He could adjust to the changing circumstances of the seasons. With tools he learned to store food and he developed new sources of energy and nutrition. A great variety of animals were domesticated for human purposes. Man compiled knowledge and wisdom to cure diseases in such a way that death could partly be postponed.
A number of phenomena like lightning, earthquakes, severe epidemics and volcanic eruptions stayed out of his reach for a long time, but step by step he has succeeded in understanding more and managed to be in control and to direct.
Highly developed research has yielded great skill to influence certain circumstances at a basic level and to fight the causes of illness. Social health care measures are being implemented and ever better drugs developed.
It is not a big step from the desire to cure diseases and injuries to the wish to improve man’s condition both physically and mentally. Long before high tech tools were available, man already tried to upgrade plants and animals. By selecting the best individuals he made great progress towards improvement.
With hard, rational science man has developed ever better tools to ‘attack’ nature. Now he can compute what he wants to improve and even make predictions in many cases. The skills to understand and even design life and matter on the most basic level are multiplied every day.
Since the second half of the 20th century science and technology have made enormous progress because computer based methods of diagnosis and treatment became available. Now damaged tissues, human organs or limbs can be replaced. Also hormonal functions within the body can be influenced. Cell research has mapped the entire human genome. Scientists can now treat parts of the human genome in some cases of ‘mistakes’ or damage or even consider improvements at the level of DNA.
Up until now research at this basic level was only able to discover what was present in nature and make use of it as such. Nowadays this pattern is shifting, and man can design matter and shape it at will. Man can even create chemical elements which do not exist in nature. That is a big difference. And this is far more fundamental than a media hype about ‘designer babies’.
By means of computers many fields of research converge with each other, which will cause an enormous boost in spectacular discoveries. Nanotechnology, biotechnology, computer science and cognition technology in combination will have an incalculable impact on nature and the possibilities of living matter.
All these remarkable events are taking place in what is called the Information Society. Virtually all knowledge and all results of research are being exchanged all over the world. Scientific and technological projects are a matter of business and are ruled by the laws of the free market. Without this world without borders homo sapiens would not be able to create his own successor.
Technology affects the formation of a new hominid in two ways.
The first one is found in the field of modern genetics. It takes human genetic material as its starting point and changes the human genome into new forms of life. This approach was motivated by the human desire to cure physical problems. But more and more methods to influence or manipulate human behavior come into view. Some genes relate to specific human behaviors; when it becomes possible to locate those genes and their modus operandi exactly they might be monitored. For example : if a gene could be found that is responsible for aggression in general, maybe a less aggressive species of man could be developed. Or, if sexuality could be made unnecessary for maintaining mankind, a major cause of aggression would disappear.
The second way is found in the field of Artificial Intelligence and robotics. One trend in computer science is the development of devices which can make ever faster and more complicated calculations. Attempts are made to reduce human ways of thinking to algorithms. The time is very near when computers will surpass human brains by far. In addition, more and more parts of human behavior can be simulated by devices. One could ask whether people still differ that much, compared to devices which run computer software. Such devices can easily monitor human tasks and even do so more efficiently or faster than the homo sapiens edition.
Developments in these two fields might delete the boundaries between man and machine; man and nature; living material and dead material; mind and matter. These highly qualified combinations of human material and artificial material will take over more and more thinking, computing, and regulation of tasks that are vital for human society and the world itself. One might think that here lies the solution for the unmanageability of the future world, partly. To manage the future world, so much information processing is needed that human brains are not up to the task anymore. Or these devices could replace human beings in locations too unhealthy, or too dangerous for homo sapiens.
The stage we are in is still very unclear. There are no realistic projects to make complete artificial humanoids. The research mainly focuses on separate functions and disjointed parts. That even goes for Robotics (Japan, South Korea).
It can also be said that if the devices that might take over very important tasks from man do not become more and more human, homo sapiens is in deep trouble. Therefore we must use this grace period (“Gnadenfrist”) for very broad discussions, in which all parts of society should take part.
Man at the beginning of the 21st century is a product of evolution. This evolution is the result of biological and social processes. In this article I will only deal with some issues regarding biological evolution.
Up until now, biological evolution has always been seen as ‘untouchable’. It was never defined quite exactly but it was obvious that man did not have a grip on evolution. It was considered as fate; others believed God was in charge of evolution somehow, and they called it creation.
Throughout most of history, man could only respond to evolution. With social skills and ever growing knowledge and science. One could only discover what was put into nature by fate, evolution or by God.
Compared with the long time it took for evolution to come this far, homo sapiens showed up only very recently. Therefore man does not have a long history in coming to grips with evolution. In order for that, modern instruments and ways of thinking of modern science are needed. So we do not have a long tradition in managing this highly sophisticated equipment. And it must be added that there are so many developments and they are taking place so rapidly that it is very difficult to foresee what exactly the results will be. Therefore developing a consistent strategy is not easy.
But it is clear that man is about to take charge of evolution. People can monitor it, rule it. In relatively short term projects man can change the human genome, while evolution ruled by nature has needed ages for its method of ‘survival of the fittest’. It is not merely a matter of time; it is not a matter of chance anymore, – let alone a matter of God’s invisible Hand – but it is a matter of human design and human management.
All these possibilities together raise the question of what Man himself is. Originally he is a kind of being that is subject to changes. He is connected with his surroundings that may influence him. And he may (try to) change his environment. But nowadays man can design human genetic matter itself at the most basic level,- how far will that go? Will adding more and more artificiality to human beings take us to a boundary where the species ends? When do you stop being a human being, after how many changes and additions? Where are the limits of our species? It is becoming clear that we lack an exact definition of man.
When someone’s knee is replaced by a prosthetic one, none will think this makes the person inhuman in any way. Glasses, a hearing aid, or a pacemaker don’t cause any moral problems. Insurance companies will even pay for it. But linking computer power to a human brain is something completely different. It can be asked whether money will decide who will be able to afford the desired amount of improvement. Putting more and more artificial intelligence into cyborgs and combinations with human tissues may result in a new hominid that acts like a human being, and feels the same way pretty much.
The view of man behind this type of technological development is highly materialistic. Nevertheless this does not mean that within this materialistic (or monistic) view ‘higher functions’ (spirituality) are impossible. But even those ‘higher functions’ run on materialistic processes in our brains. Whether that is a degradation of the human brain or not is still a matter of dispute. When a materialistically constructed hominid is capable of beautiful insights and emotions, is he or she then ‘just’ a thing? And is that a pity?
It is not yet certain that cyborgs always will remain merely devices. There are too many options and the results of ongoing research in so many fields are very uncertain. As artificiality can be upgraded more and more, our disdain for ‘things’ may be canceled. Non-western cultures seem to handle the difference between man and things not in the same way as western cultures. We need a definition that covers matter and man properly.
When the Church wants to confront those scientific and technological developments which will have such an impact on mankind during the years to come, it ought to prepare the dialogue from the heart of the church, the Bible. Therefore I will present important data from the Bible in the next section of this document, which show why the issue of the new hominid is core business for the Church, and requires a lot of theological research.
- Christian thinking about man and the future
- The Bible on ‘Man in the image of God’
There is no phrase in the Bible that has shaped Christian thinking about man more than the expression that man was created in the image of God. Nevertheless the term can be found in Holy Scripture only a few times, and without any kind of a sharp definition. The Bible does not use the word ‘ image of God’ in the meaning of a concept, as it is used in dogmatic theology.
The term ‘image of God’ cannot say everything. And modern science and technology do not care at all about the image of God. The Church and theology cannot speak anymore from the power position of the old days. The Church has been faced with completely new challenges since the Age of Enlightenment. Modern theology which wants to be relevant has to justify its spiritual luggage once more in the presence of a secular world. By the way, this is not a result of the way to be Church, it is the way to be Church as such. The Church can only exist by answering challenges of the time it is living in.
It has always been noted that the Bible does not say that animals are created in the image of God as well. Animals were just ‘created according to their kinds’. Man is not God but ‘the image of…’; and animals are not human because they were ‘created according to their kinds’. The difference is clear. But not as a definition.
By creating man, God provides Himself with a tool ‘to rule over everything’. God reveals himself in man ruling over creation. One can call this a kind of substitution. I even think it is a first form of incarnation. No more, no less. Man is not just there. He was created for a purpose.
Being a human is not a condemned existence ; it is good. In Psalm 8 it says:
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
It is to be noticed that the Psalm does not call man the ‘crown of creation’. But he is a crown bearer. In this way the Psalm says more about God than about man. But related to this God (in a Covenant as the Torah sees it) man’s high position can hardly be overstated.
But even that ‘little bit lower’ cannot be defined exactly. One never knows how big or how small the difference will become, because being created can only happen by means of changing. Nothing is rock solid or unchangeable. In today’s day and age that is even clearer than before: every form of organic life depends on metabolism. Created existence equals metabolic existence. God obviously decided so when creating the cosmos.
God did not deliver creation as a final product. Everything is changing. To me, creation is a dynamic concept. And so is ‘the image of God’, apparently, because there is no world other than a changing world.
The Bible is very explicit about Gods active relationship with his materialistic creation and people living their physical lives. This means basically a positive attitude towards science and technology.
Philosophical concepts that are based outside the Bible have contributed ontological traits to the image of God over time. In those views the image was given an existence of its own. It acquired the function of being a measuring stick: does life meet the standard of the image of God? In this way of thinking the image is fixed. The only debate remaining is where that image can be found.
The main objective of this view was to have a clear tool to point out the difference between man and animals. But we have already seen that the difference between man and animals has become gradually smaller due to modern scientific discoveries regarding to humanity. When man’s genetic material is virtually the same as that of animals, what does that say about the ‘image of God’?
- The Bible on ‘the changeability of man’
The authors of the Bible did not know that man as a species descended from other species of animals. Man, in the Bible stories, is homo sapiens. In the biological sense of the word there is no idea of any successor to this species.
But there is this view that life is subject to all kinds of influences. Surely the Bible knows that change and damage play a part in human life. Humans react to those influences and changes with the experience of suffering, and with resistance and with healing if possible. And there is always the expectation that better times or conditions will come. Using his changing skills he is moving towards those better conditions.
In the Bible we find among the Prophets (i.e. during the Babylonian exile) the first awareness of judgment of the evil committed to the People of Israel, and of judgment of the evil deeds committed by Israel itself. Evil has to change very urgently! There is a big complex of thoughts and beliefs covered in the concept of ‘The coming of the day of the Lord’. It is the terminus technicus for the great judgment of liberation and retaliation that marks the beginning of the everlasting kingdom of peace.
This is not a scientific term. But it indicates a complete turning around of concrete cosmic reality. This change is so big that it can be called a new world and a new heaven. As Holy Scripture unfolds itself, the figure of the Messiah becomes the center. Especially his Resurrection, because that is the mother of change.
I would like to emphasize again that the Bible does not use any scientific terminology to indicate changes to human life. In the Bible it is rarely taken into account that man can effectuate changes. Mostly people are called upon to abandon wrong ways of living. But it is obvious that conversion can exert a very important influence on the development of society. Therefore the term ‘a new heavens and a new earth wherein righteousness dwells ‘ is justifiable.
- The Bible on human ruling
The Bible is quite clear about the fact that God rules life and the universe. But that does not mean that what man does, does not really matter. Especially the evil man does matters very much. And the two creation stories make it very clear that man has to manage the earth. This can only be conceived as ‘managing in the spirit of the Creator’. It is also written that non-human creation received its own blessing from God. And man is supposed to not disturb that blessing of his fellow creatures. By destroying them man cannot be ‘Image of God’ at all.
The Good Life that God needs a Creation for is the standard for all human activity. Therefore it is not defined precisely what only God can do and what man may do and may not do, because of the principle of changeability that I mentioned above. Therefore human input has no limits as such.
On this basis one cannot say that man has to refrain from ruling evolution or from using it for his own projects, now that he has developed great potential in that field. The main question is whether The Good Life (that is to say, ruling according to the Spirit of the Creator) is served by human input or not, and whether man is up to it.
It might be nice to discuss this matter purely theoretically and free of consequences or necessity and with a clean start. But that is not possible. The Good Life has already been damaged seriously. Major improvements are necessary. The Earth is getting out of control more and more; there are places on earth where life has become unbearable for human an non-human creatures. When it becomes clear that the present human species, homo sapiens, plays a role that is becoming more negative all the time one should ask if that human species should not be replaced by a new one.
To put it in other words: even if technology did not provide tools to introduce a new hominid, there is still the problem of a corrupt earth where homo sapiens has less and less potential to solve the problems. Is it time for a successor?
So far for a few outlines based on Biblical data. How can those data become part of a so called ‘missionary dialogue with science’? I will list some main issues for research.
- Research to be done On Christian faith / confession
A very important issue to discuss is the confession of the Church regarding the future of creation and creatures. There is a feeling that it needs a thorough upgrade. The old Confessions do not have a distinct article about man although man is mentioned throughout the whole Confession. But time has become so critical now that there is a need to further elaborate the power of modern man in relation to the Creator and creation.
In this context the old confession of the Coming of the Kingdom of God should be expressed more carefully in the perspective of the results of modern science and technology and the environmental crisis humanity finds itself in. The Kingdom of God can get a secular high-tech version. When God’s Kingdom is coming, what can be contributed by man? Nothing? Much? How much?
Homo sapiens is so powerful that it is very realistic to discuss his co-creatorship in relation with God’s Spirit working in creation. So the doctrine of incarnation and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit are very important topics to review.
In fact the confession, as a whole should be discussed once again. It should be renewed to serve today’s mankind in its context. One could regard this discussion as homework for the church (religions in general). But we should avoid holding that discussion indoors.
The Church should develop a new view of man and mankind confronted with modern and even post-modern notions which have come up recently. Although in fact the questions which are put are age-old! In our time it has even been asked if we have reached the borders of a post-human area, or are on the threshold of it at least. The Church should deliberate whether it is prepared to take a decisive step.
This matter should not be discussed with others in a pedantic way. The time when the church was in the leading position is definitely behind us. The church should pursue an attitude of service, diaconate, nothing more, nothing less. The time for a morality just for Christians or believers has passed. It should also be possible for moral guidelines arising out of the spiritual treasure of the Church to be followed by heterodox or secular people.
There is a need for a new self esteem for the Church at the beginning of the 21st century, where the Church seems to put all of its energy into trying to survive. It would do better to redevelop itself as a center of service to mankind which is in crisis.
The Church can continue on from lots of activities it has already involved in through the ages in the field of ’view of mankind’. It has always been engaged in welfare projects for people. Not always in a positive way, admittedly. But in diaconate, learning, and preaching, the daily life of mankind in the reality of nature has indeed been central. This interest in compassion of the Church and of groups of believers has been closely interlinked with criticism of the Church trying to achieve rich positions among the big powers in the world.
The Church has been involved in many programs to help individual people, who were damaged in so many different ways. In the same spirit the Church has joined projects to deal with the causes of injustice, diseases or disaster. Churches cooperated whole-heartedly in the realization of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the second world war.
It was already said above that the Church is not alone in being responsible for this. Other religions also focus on human reality and human wellbeing. It is very obvious that all religions should join forces to stand up for the future of man and for the man of the future.
- On the Image of God and the image of man
The question of who or what is a human being was already mentioned above in the framework of some remarks about the confession. Here I will discuss this subject a little further.
The Bible does not give us a conclusive definition of a human being. The biblical way of approaching man in all the changes he is involved in corresponds with a dynamic God, traveling along with His people. The people who wrote the Bible also developed a vision of a future in peace and integrity. Change is not always improvement by definition, but the hope of improvement for man and his world is very vivid in the Bible. There is mention of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’. This new earth contains a notion of solidarity between man and the rest of creation (but apparently this solidarity can be oppressed or frustrated). In this way man can be seen as being responsible for the liberation of a desecrated creation.
The problem to be dealt with is man’s own input in developing and changing the world into a better one. Because man has always been under suspicion of revolting against God with his science and or technology, he has not always been seen as co-worker, let alone as co-creator. Nevertheless there is good reason for the Church and Christian theology to come up with new visions and new policies in this field. Man will use his potential as co-creator anyway. And one should add very seriously: “God willing or not”.
One also has to keep in mind that the great human potentiality can improve the world a lot. Even if modern man caused the crisis man and society find themselves in, it remains possible to call on man for his problem-solving powers. It is possible that with this power man will release a physically, intellectually and / or morally improved version of homo sapiens.
- On the new hominid as merchandise
There is another remarkable element in the expansion of technology which can lead to the introduction of a new hominid, and it is very urgent to research this item further. This is the fact that commercial enterprises working with techniques which can create a new hominid do so for economic reasons. They are economically driven according to free market laws. Law-making for this issue is still in its infancy and every country acts out of opportunism; the result is a free and unexplored territory where anyone can do what seems to be right in his own perspective. Huge investments are made in this type of research and shareholders expect to be paid off.
But it has not been laid down anywhere what improvements would be needed, or who might be licensed to produce a new hominid. Certainly it must be taken into account that several new hominids will be developed. It is totally unknown which relation of competition will exist between them.
Nor has anyone been able to make legislation for the relationship between homo sapiens and his successor. Most likely the improved version will displace the obsolete one, according to the old principle of survival of the fittest. That means: a vital element of human evolution, namely the fact that life itself is worth being protected, is at stake. It is desirable that the new hominid should be better than the current version but it cannot be guaranteed that e.g. compassion for weaker individuals or subspecies is built in.
- On medical science
It is also a matter of dispute and research whether medical doctors will come into conflict with the constructors of new forms of life or not. Will medical science shift from curing to improving? And is this shift justifiable? Highly advanced methods can be offered not only to indicate the odds of life even before conception, but even certain types of design can be put onto the market. There will be a great potential for improvement or beautification for everyone who can afford it. Medicine will end up as a consumer market. Parental freedom to choose what they think is best for their offspring even before conceiving will be a matter of discussion because those choices influence the children’s lives to a large extent.
Along with this, the media will exert increasing pressure on the choices future parents can make; and that also goes for the power of insurance companies by policies of premiums and exclusions. People may be forced to undergo available treatments even if these are counter to their view of life or religious convictions.
- On the rights of humankind
Because of the possibility that a new hominid is launched, questions can be asked regarding humanity as a whole. Such as: who is entitled to make decisions on behalf of mankind? Who has the right to do things that impact the entire species? These questions have not come up earlier, because the big changes that have taken place in evolution could not be identified as being caused by anyone or by anything directly. No purpose was detected; evolution was regarded as ‘blind’.
The attention of the Church was directed towards groups of people, society or during the last few decades more and more towards individuals. Justice evolved in that direction as well. The question of whether we have the right to remain homo sapiens has not yet been asked. Can homo sapiens as a species be protected by law against extinction? Do we have the right not to be replaced by a newer version of primates? And how can such a right be enforced?
There is a serious risk that modern technological developments will prove the impracticability or the injustice of the free market mechanism as such. If the survival of the human species is at stake, it can not be entrusted to the market. But how to find a new economic principle?
The concept of human rights has to be complemented with a right for humankind as such. That leads to the conclusion that the Church should add to its doctrine of the ‘Responsible Society’ which was established by the World Council of Churches after World War II this responsibility for the human species and bring it to a new understanding.
- On World government
As long as nothing has been settled, it has to be stated that the free market rules. Obviously the emerging Information Society also seems only to thrive on the largest possible freedom. Still there are questions to be asked. Because there are indications that with this type of freedom not even a single major problem that humanity suffers from can and will be solved. Injustice in relations will increase. There will be a hard division between haves and have-nots. It will end up with a genetic divide worse than the North – South divide or the global digital divide.
In this context it should be noted that present forms of democracy are becoming obsolete. They can no longer meet the new challenges. There is no form of democracy available that can be used to decide what is best for humanity as a whole, because to put it honestly one can not decide to abolish homo sapiens by majority.
So a way to deal with these problems must be found; if not, ‘it will settle itself’, but it is doubtful if we want that to happen. The time has come where the nation state structure (accompanied by some international boards) is no longer sufficient. It is time to invent other ways to manage humanity and the world as a whole. I use the rather old fashioned term ‘world government’. It may be even better to think in terms of world spirituality; a world movement which handles this new type of problems. But organizing this movement will be an enormous problem itself, because it has to be protected from materialistic interests by multinationals or nation states. I am convinced that world problems will only increase and then they may force us to accept that we are running out of options!
It is a strange twist of history that the Church despite its fully ecumenical intentions has accepted the fact that there are nation states anyway. The Church should not claim that it is that world government I am talking about. It finds itself faced with matters regarding man, humanity and homo sapiens as a species, especially since those matters are not handled adequately by the pattern of nation states anymore. The Church is tested (once again) on the issue of how God’s governance will rule a world so dominantly built up by man.
- Issue: moratorium?
I present this topic with a question mark intentionally. It might possibly not be an issue that concerns religions or sciences. But it may be obvious that dealing with these difficult items will take a long time and ask for a great effort. If we could buy time by some kind of moratorium, that could be a bonus. Probably such a moratorium should not be a universal moratorium by which all scientific work must be stopped in the field of procreation and Artificial Intelligence, because that is not realistic. It had better be a commitment not to execute some extreme techniques. It is very important that scientists themselves stand up for such a moratorium as well. Perhaps even more important is that those scientists should be free to do so without any restrictions by the companies that provide their jobs.
This is a very difficult item, because we must be aware that a lot of this type of research is being done in rather secret laboratories. And it is also known that this field of research is a key area of military interest. In cases where the research is secret, a moratorium can obviously not be monitored.
- Issue: the new hominid as a weapon
There has been an ongoing discussion on weapons of mass destruction, such as the atom bomb, biological and chemical weapons. There is also great concern about the development of all kinds of so called smart weapons. But an even bigger problem will be that once a new hominid can be made, it can be used to terminate homo sapiens by replacing him. This could eventually become the ultimate weapon.
Science Fiction literature discusses many themes regarding the future of man and regarding the human species in the future. Most of these issues do not only exist in the realm of fantasy anymore, but have been tackled with a strong hard scientific approach during the last few decades.
This means a great potential for the wellbeing of man, even for the existence of man as such. A potential that did not exist until recently. That goes for the potential for endangering human life and existence as well.
A Church that realizes that God created man ‘in His image’ feels itself called by this state of matters very urgently. It must find a way to be of service by helping create a climate and a framework to handle the issues which are connected with this critical time for humanity.
- Some important literature
Anders, Günther (1980, 1981) Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen. 2 Bände. München
Dijksterhuis, E.J. (1950) De mechanisering van het wereldbeeld. (9e druk 2000) Amsterdam, Meulenhoff.
Heschel, Abraham Joshua (2005) God zoekt de mens. Een filosofie van het Jodendom. Amsterdam, Abraxas.
Houellebecq, Michel (1998) Elementaire deeltjes. Amsterdam, de Arbeiderspers.
Jonas, Hans (2005) Fatalismus wäre Todsünde. Gespräche über Etik und Mitverantwortung im dritten Jahrtausend. Hrsg Dietrich Böhler. Münster, LIT Verlag.
Jonas, Hans (1979/2003) Das Prinzip Verantwortung. Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Verlag.
Koops, Bert-Jan (e.a. red) (2009) De maakbare mens tussen fictie en fascinatie. Amsterdam, Bert Bakker
Küng, Hans (1990). Mondiale verantwoordelijkheid. Aanzetten voor een verbindende ethiek. Kampen, Kok.
Kurzweil, Ray (2005) The singularity is near, when humans transcend biology. London, Penguin books.
Sloterdijk, P.(2005) Regels voor het mensenpark. Amsterdam, Boom.
Sloterdijk, P. (2006) Het kristalpaleis. Een filosofie van de globalisering. Amsterdam, Sun.
Turkle, Sherry (1999) Leben im Netz. Reinbek bei Hamburg, RowaltVerlag.