The Transhumanism Trap: Using Technology to Perfect the Human Race

by Rebecca Taylor | Washington, DC | | 8/29/11 3:58 PM

Bioethics, Opinion

The Transhumanism Trap is out there.  I am seeing it more and more often.

If you do not know what transhumanism is let alone know that it has a logical trap into which the average person is likely to fall, don’t worry.  Most people don’t.   Transhumanism is a movement that wants to use technology to go beyond curing or preventing disease or disability.

Transhumanists hunger for technology that will take an otherwise healthy individual and enhance him or her beyond normal human ability.  Transhumanism seeks not just to cure disease but to change the very nature of man.  To make him more than human, even immortal, with whatever means are available, whether it is with nanotechnology, artificial limbs, artificial intelligence, or genetic enhancement.  Transhumanism is a insidious philosophy because it rejects the nature of humanity and our natural limitations.  Rejecting the nature of man, it also rejects the inherent dignity of every human person in the process.

In their imagined technological utopia, transhumanists often turn a blind eye to the medical realities of enhancement, genetic, pharmaceutical or otherwise and the possibility that without proper ethical guidance we may no longer control technology.  Instead it may control us.  You may think that transhumanism is just a fringe ideology but they have journals, societies and even conferences.

Anyone who has seen any science fiction film like “Surrogates,” “Limitless,”or “Splice” has seen transhumanism in action.  What begins as science enhancing humans with artificial bodies, brain-boosting drugs or genetic engineering, becomes a nightmare where man becomes a beholden to the technology he creates. In “Surrogates,” technology that was meant to help the handicapped is used by the able-bodied and eventually everyone uses a robotic surrogate to go about their daily business.  People no longer interact face to face, but through their synthetic double.  Even husband and wife living in the same house need their surrogates to to relate to each other.  In “Limitless,” Eddie takes a drug that enhances his mental capabilities.  He finds out that not only is he addicted, but withdrawal may kill him and he spends the rest of the movie trying to get more.

In “Splice,” scientists mix human with animal DNA and create a mostly human, part animal organism capable of mating with humans.  It does not end well.So what is the Transhumanist Trap?  It is the blurring of the line, intentional or otherwise, between therapy and enhancement. Therapy is aimed at curing or preventing disease or disability and returning a patient to a more normal state. Enhancement takes an otherwise healthy individual and makes them more than human in intelligence, strength or other desired characteristic.  An example would be artificial limbs.  In therapy, an artificial limb are for a patients who are missing limbs.  In enhancement, a perfectly good limb would be chopped off and replaced with an artificial one that functions better than the natural ever could.  Therapy and enhancement may employ the same technology, but are two fundamentally different processes.

And there in lies the trap.  Transhumanists will insist that therapy is transhumanism because technology is involved. They argue if we embrace the use of technology for therapy, we automatically embrace transhumanist ideals as well.  In any article that denounces transhumanism, even on this very blog, there is always a comment suggesting that rejecting transhumanism means rejecting the good use of technology for healing.  Here is a good example.  In a post by Joseph Farrah on the dangers of transhumanism at World Net Daily, a commenter wrote the following:

So does Farah now believe that former VP Cheney should have the implanted defibrillator (that’s been keeping him alive for the last decade) removed?

Or does he think that onetime WND commentator Neal Boortz should have his artificial knee replacements cut out?

Or does he think that the myriad of WND readers who have had hip replacements, heart valve replacements, etc. should have them removed?…

Opposing medical and scientific progress does not make you “conservative” or a “traditionalist;” it just makes you a Luddite.

Sounds good right?  Now the trap is set. The average reader immediately takes the transhumanist side and says to themselves, “Well I am certainly not against defibrillators, or heart valves or hip replacements.  This transhumanist thing must not be so bad.” Trap sprung.

The transhumanist always presents the scenario that in accepting medical progress for treating disease or disability, one must also accept technology to enhance man beyond what can be accomplished by nature. Opposing transhumanism means “opposing medical and scientific progress.”  That is the Transhumanist Trap:  therapy equals enhancement and with one comes the other.  Rejecting enhancement means taking away Grandma’s hip and Grandpa’s defibrillator and only the angry, hate-filled Luddites of the world would want that.

In reality, technologies like genetic engineering, artificial limbs and pharmacology are not all or nothing.  We can make the decision to limit technology for therapeutic uses only.  Grandma can have her hip replacement and Grandpa can have his defibrillator without embracing a world where every human, not just ones in a deadly accident, has to become the Six Million Dollar Man.  The Church draws a clear and convincing line between therapy and enhancement.  That which brings man back to natural functioning is good.  That which goes beyond therapy to reject the nature God gave is us bad.

The only way to fight the logical fallacy of the Transhumanist Trap is to explain the difference between therapy and enhancement.  Every time you see the trap being set in a com box, point it out.  It becomes very obvious, very quickly, that the transhumanist philosophy has very little to do with healing.  Think about it.  If technology was limited to therapy in the movies, there would be no plot in Surrogates, or Splice or Limitless.  Hollywood seems to get it.  It is time for the real world to take a note. Note: Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for five years and has been interviewed on EWTN radio on topics from stem cell research and cloning to voting pro-life. Taylor has a B.S. in Biochemistry from University of San Francisco with a national certification in clinical Molecular Biology MB (ASCP).