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As medical technology develops rather slowly, it becomes an increasingly realistic possibility that human cryopreservation could lead us to the day when (perhaps) robotics dominate the world and people holiday on Mars. Like most cryonicists, we like to imagine what a possible post-revival future might look like. Where will transhumanism lead us and what will become of today's social models, ethics, morality, and religions? To find some answer, we decided to turn to Jonathan Gunnell, a member of the Christian Transhumanist Association (CTA). Jonathan lives in Brisbane, Australia, and is the Vice President of the Nashville-based Christian Transhumanist Association.
What is the Christian Transhumanist Association?
Many might think that technology and religion have nothing to do with each other. Several prominent figures in the major religious currents are elderly and of a conservative mindset. Yet, there is nothing to stop religion from adapting to today's world and embracing technology as a possibility rather than an enemy. This is precisely what the Christian Transhumanist Association is trying to prove.
- We believe that science and technology are part of the mission of Christ and of God.
- We believe that engaging the future can help faith come alive.
- We believe that Christ offers an ethical vision for scientific and technological progress.
So let's see who Jonathan Gunnell, our contact with the association, is and what he has to say about CTA, society, and the future.
How and when did you become interested in transhumanism?
As a child, I was always into Science Fiction, as well as reading widely in history, technology, popular psychology, and philosophy. I loved Isaac Asimov’s work (three laws, foundation) and C.S. Lewis’s, both fiction and non-fiction. His science fiction trilogy blew my young mind, and his ‘Mere Christianity’ became foundational to my faith.
The combination of SciFi, history, psychology, philosophy, and Christianity made me think about what humans might become. Deep questions emerged about the nature of the universe, what it means to be humans, and how we should live.
As an adult I read Ray Kurzweil’s “The Age of Spiritual Machines”. This was the first serious bridge I found between my years of wondering about human nature and our place in the universe, and tangible science. I realized there was a space between science fiction and emerging technology. Transhumanism became, for me, the best lens to view this.
Did you find it difficult to find a meeting point between your religious beliefs and the world being shaped by technological innovations?
Not at all, I find them complementary. Amongst my early reading I found wisdom in understanding and pursuing ideas and as far as they could go, expecting them to meet up with other ideas eventually. To hold conflicts lightly, to see echoes of commonality, to explore and be curious. To listen carefully to smart people I disagreed with.
I find the ‘first cause argument’ convincing, especially as the best atheists could respond was ‘who moved the unmoved mover?’ I thought they were being self-deprecatingly funny the first time I heard that. It’s posited that outside the creation, ‘causation’ is materially different to inside. Both ‘infinite regression’ and ‘brute fact’ do not match any reality we discern. For atheists who believe in ‘brute fact’ or ‘infinite regression’, that is “faith” as defined in Hebrews 11; that ‘assurance’ you feel that something is right although you can’t prove it. Such faith is the same for Christians and Atheists. The idea that faith is believing something despite evidence is a straw-man that is not supported by the Bible.
In deference to Nick Bostrom, Elon Musk, and other Simulationists, I’ve rephrased the ‘first cause’ argument as ‘Causation is a feature of the Simulation’. The best working hypothesis I can find is the universe is a creation/simulation, therefore inherently technological. Human technology is a faint and imperfect echo of the creation/simulation technology. This perspective means our ability to create technology is sacred and should be cared for in the same way we should care for the planet and Universe.
How did your relationship with the Christian Transhumanist Association start?
Ha ha! I googled them. I thought there must be other Christian Transhumanists out there. Thankfully I was right, I was feeling lonely!
What is this Association about and what does it do?
We’re a network of (mostly) Christians from widely differing theological traditions and across (most of) the political spectrum. Most of us don’t quite fit in our home churches, tbh!
We articulate the future of humanity. We do this by having a multi-perspective discussion, valuing those who with good will present alternate viewpoints, insights, and critiques. We want to offer new and better worldview choices to people of faith, especially to those deconstructing or reconstructing their Christian or secular world view. We also want to be salt and light to the Transhumanist community, to encourage them to share our understandings of the nature of the universe and the way humans should live. We want to present compelling and beautiful scenarios that dispel the cartoon caricatures of Faith and of Transhumanism.
As humans become something different, we have to ask what that will be? Carl Jung’s concept of Archetypes suggests we are striving to be something ever more beautiful and amazing. Jesus said we could change ‘from glory to glory’, an even higher goal but along a similar path. As technology grows exponentially, incredible opportunities will be created. We want to see new tech used in a manner that Jesus would use it, for the benefit of the world and excellence of humans.
What are the most common questions and doubts your Association receives? And what are the biggest difficulties you have to face?
We get attacked from both directions. Some Christian websites like getting clicks by picking on scary transhumanists. Then when they find out we exist we get called deceived, demon-possessed, all sorts of epithets ‘vegan carnivores’ etc…
Some transhumanists attack religion on principle, although thankfully there’s less of this now. The US Transhumanist Party (USTP) regards us as allies with common interests, and they are seeking to be inclusive. We’re happy to be included!
Do you often talk about the association with people you meet? Do you think you inspire more interest or opposition?
I talk to people on the internet who show interest, and occasionally to people I know or meet. But unless you build a meaningful relationship with people it’s nearly impossible to not be mis-understood in an elevator pitch. It’s easier in the US because people talk about religion more. I can be in a restaurant or Uber and say “hey we’re the CTA, we think AI should be more like Jesus than Skynet” and people get it.
It’s harder in cultures where some things you ‘just don’t talk about’ (e.g. Australia, where I live). But there’s a never-ending stream of people interested in exploring these issues in various transhumanist-allied organizations and academia, as well as giants of popular culture.
We hope to break down opposition, and to build bridges, especially between people with a twitter-length understanding of the issues.
If religion stands inflexibly against technological progress, what do you fear will happen?
Fear is not the right word. Anticipating, forecasting, observing trends, considering scenarios and responses is a better way to think.
No religion acts as a single political group on most issues. There are Christians on both sides of every hot-button debate. Everyone accepts and rejects various technologies. In the extreme, there will be the un-enhanced Amish in coming centuries. We should allow people to live the way they want to.
The church has a voice and should use it powerfully to keep technology on the rails. Some progress should be stopped, yes. Some should be pushed forward, some needs a tweak in direction, but it’s a horrendous straw-person to expect ‘religion’ to ‘stand inflexibly’. Christianity is generally way more flexible and responsive to technological trends than it’s given credit for. Numerous Christians have been at the forefront of science. Over 65% of 20th century Nobel Prize laureates espoused Christianity.
Have you ever heard of Biostasis aka Cryonics and what is your opinion about it?
Yes I’ve heard of it through Alcor. CTA has no official position on it, but I know some of our members are interested in signing up, either for themselves or family.
To me, it’s a moonshot. The jury is still out. I wonder about the social license risk. Then there are cultural risks for those who awake in a very different future. They will certainly need major modifications to fit in!
The question to me is “Can consciousness be re-instantiated in some other substrate using technology from inside the creation/simulation, or only from outside?” If yes, we may do better to look at silicon uploads than Biostasis. (Although currently I find ‘uploads’ implausible, especially if David Chalmers’ recent property dualism work stacks up). Personally, I think the Creator/Simulator is able to re-instantiate consciousness in a future body and new creation. To my faith this seems a believable path, but for those with faith that the universe is self-existent and wrote its own laws, Biostasis could seem attractive.
My assessment is that cryonics tech is unique and worth exploring. It could facilitate interplanetary travel, or life-saving medical procedures. Only time will tell if scaling to the mass market is right or not.
Do you think the Church will eventually oppose this practice? How do you think cryonicists should prepare for this eventuality?
It is rare for the church to speak with one voice on any topic. Some will support, some oppose. Cryonicists should answer reasonable objections on their merits, such as the use of resources and the perception that people ‘buy’ eternal life.
But we need first movers. If no one steps out to try this, it will never happen. Inequality drives progress. Cryonicists should see themselves as paving the way for others. Proving this technology could see it put to many other uses also.
If you could make people reflect about something, what would it be?
If you plan to be revived in the 23rd century and live for another 500 years, my question is, what do you want going on in your emotional and spiritual heart? As Tony Robbins says, “The quality of your life is the quality of your habitual emotions”. Christian spirituality promises the ‘fruit of the Holy Spirit’: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Jesus speaks into the existing human search for meaning. Religion is in no way separate from the deep questions we all have about “Why does existence exist?”, “How should we live?”, and “What should the future look like?”.
Christians and Transhumanists share this sacred quest. All humans need the spiritual transformation, the “new birth” Jesus described. Right now, we’re seeking a new birth as a society, in reforming our political systems, and also in Transhumanism. Let’s remember spiritual transformation is already available in our Christian spirituality.
Predicting the future is a daunting and often impossible task. The number of variables that can lead humanity in one direction rather than another is endless. The transhumanist thinking could prevail over the more conservative one, giving new life to spirituality. Religion could help humanity harness technology for the common good and reduce inequality.
We'll only find out by living (our first life and, possibly, our extended post-revival life). If you want to know more about this possibility, feel free to schedule a call with a member of our team. Or sign up here and join us in this journey.