We want to live forever. We seek immortality through a variety of means, living vicariously through our children, leaving a legacy in our community, and embracing the claims of religion.
But what if we could actually live indefinitely here on Earth? What if we could elect to live for centuries or even millennia? Would we want to?
Zoltan Istvan thinks so. Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller interviews the author of The Transhumanist Wager in the video above. They come to an interesting aside when Weissmueller inquires about cultural resistance to the idea of technological immortality. Aren’t some people actually revolted by the idea? Istvan answers:
America and many places around the world are quite religious, especially America…a poll said 83% are still declaring themselves Christian. That makes it hard to want to take death out of the equation, because a natural part of the Christian ideology is to die and to eventually reach an afterlife with God…
While Istvan may anticipate the reaction of some, the Christian faith doesn’t necessarily preclude an embrace of transhumanist technology. It depends on the particular nature of the tech. There’s nothing in mainstream Christian doctrine which would forbid something like artificial organs, for instance. And if replacing organs could extend life by decades or more, why not?
… it’s not as though wanting to live indefinitely is something that’s going to intrude and conflict with one’s religion. It’s just something that’s kind of the evolving nature of the species. And if you can get people to think like that, and not see it in conflict with their own ideologies, then I think they’re going to be more on board with saying, “Yeah, it’s good to live 150, 200 years.” And again, I’m not saying let’s live forever. I don’t think any transhumanists are saying that. I think what we want is the choice to be able to live indefinitely. That might be 10,000 years. That might only be 170 years.
The line might be drawn at technology which changes one’s nature to something non-human. When we look at something like uploading one’s consciousness to a computer, the question must be asked: would you still be “you?” Or would you be essentially committing suicide?
The notion of living indefinitely, unto itself, should actually appeal to the Christian. After all, everlasting life is the promise of Christian salvation, and lifespans greatly surpassing those common today are recorded throughout scripture. Adam lived to 930. Noah made it to 950. Enoch was “taken” before his time at the tender young age of 365. For the believer who takes scripture literally, the notion of living for centuries has precedence.
In a lot of ways, the typical human lifespan hardly seems long enough to get much done. You get just enough time to figure out what you believe, why you believe it, and what you’d like to do. You raise kids. Then you grow weak, get sick, and die. Imagine if you could ditch that last part, if your empty nest was only the beginning.
… what has happened is that we have been taught [that] we should die. We have been taught this taboo of living indefinitely or having too much power, because after all – except for the last few hundred years – we’ve been a species that’s been subject to diseases and war and lots of terrible things. Once people think it through, and once people realize that this science and technology is actually here… they’re going to start saying, “Wow, yeah, this is great. I can have multiple careers. I can have more time with my family. I can watch my kids grow to [do] whatever they want to do.
Further, you could postpone childrearing, or produce in waves spaced years apart. You could spend 50 years focused on something like playing piano. You could take vacations spanning years, travel the world. You could budget and invest toward becoming a multi-millionaire on a middle class wage. With time no longer constraining your goals, you could do all sorts of things that prove otherwise implausible.
Is any of that necessarily in conflict with the Christian walk? Like any form of abundance, increased vitality and longevity tends to fool people into believing they don’t need God. But that doesn’t mean abundance should be avoided. If the transhumanist goal is achieved, it will just be a new technological context for the same human condition.