A response to an article from a Christian bioethics website that condemns Transhumanism as a resurgence of the Gnostic heresy.
In a recent article appearing on the website for “The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network” entitled Transhumanism: 2000 Years in the Making by David Pauls M.D, we can read about the concerns among that group of Evangelical Christian academics vis a vis Transhumanism, or to be more precise, their understanding of Transhumanism.
Dr. Pauls informs the reader as follows:
With the Transhumanist movement, one sees the Gnostic strain reasserting itself in the quest to transcend the degenerate body. The body is held in disdain. Advocates for enhancement technology exhibit disdain for the current status of the physical body. There is an abhorrence of the limitations that nature has placed upon the species. The insufficiencies of height, strength, vision, hearing, longevity and cognition are roadblocks to happiness and perpetual fulfillment. Nature has gotten the human race this far, but the inherent limits of existence are hurdles to be leapt.
I am assuming that since Dr. Pauls is a board member of an evangelical christian organization which is explicitly devoted to preaching the “literal and inerrant teachings of the Bible”, that his views and in fact all of the views of that organization have that singluar goal as their inspiration and guiding ideology. With that point made we can deduce the goals and the purpose of Dr.Pauls repudiation of Transhumanism in light of it’s theological premise. That premise is that the ideology and ethics of Transhumanism is somehow different in a major fashion from that of his own “Bioethics” which is based on his religious convictions. Let us first examine his use of “Gnosticism”.
Gnosticism has it’s roots in India via the Persian influence in the middle east as well as many Indians who also lived throughout the middle east during the Gnostic era. The word Gnosis is related and derived from the sanskrit Jnana [gyaan or gyaana], and they both mean the same thing: spiritual knowledge often derived from intuitive apprehension of spiritual truths, but not limited to that.
Essentially the two types of Gnostic paths have their cognate in the Indian Vedantic Yogic paths. The Sattvic [passionless, wholesome, clean, pure etc] and Vairagi [ascetic]centric path versus the Tamasic/Rajasic [unclean, passionate, etc] Non-Vairagi path [Tantric sex, sensual fulfillment etc].
Just like the Gnostics both paths [called left hand and right hand paths] were meant to elevate the consciousness, enabling transcendence of the physical world and the attainment of esoteric wisdom, along with Moksha or Enlightenment.
And just like the Gnostics after attainment of Moksha the Yogi may be able to gain mystic siddhis or powers, and ultimately be able to leave the plane of death or Martya-Loka, and then gain an existence among perfected beings in the perfected realm.
Just like the Gnostics the material realm is seen as an inherently debased form of existence, ruled over by a force of nature which is designed to create suffering based on peoples Bad Karma or sinful acts, or conversely temporary enjoyment based on their Good Karma or good works. Either way the material world is seen as the plane of death and suffering, as well as temporary pleasures.
The goal of the Yogi is to elevate himself through the pursuance of the Gnostic Yogic path thereby enabling him to transcend the world of suffering and death permanently. This Vedanta based philosophy was the original teachings and philosophy found among the Indian and Persian Aryans. These original ideas were changed by the prophet Zoroaster in Persia and the result was a bastardized version of Vedanta known as Zoroastrianism.
Zoroastrianism is the source of Gnosticism, along with Vedantists from India living in the middle east during the pre-gnostic era. The dualism found in Gnostic theology can be traced to it’s origins in non-dualistic Vedanta. The Gnostic and Zoroastrian ideology of a demiurge or Satan figure has it’s origins in misinterpreted Vedanta, courtesy of Zoroaster, although little to nothing is known of his life. This demiurge ideology would find it’s way into the Christian tradition as Satan or Lucifer.
The roots and origin of the Demiurge or Satan figure is found within two distinct philosophical mythologies within Vedanta. One concept is that the material realm of suffering and death [Martya-Loka] is controlled by God through His plenary potency Maha Maya or Maya. Maya is tasked to govern over everyone’s destiny, dispensing enjoyment or suffering based on the individuals Karma or past deeds. Another aspect of Vedantic dogma was the Brahma mythos. Brahma is the first born living being in every Brahmanda. Brahmanda is usually translated as universe, but it is better translated into our concepts of space as a Galaxy. Brahma is empowered by God to create the material realm within each Brahmanda. Therefore Brahma is known as the Creator among the “Hindu” trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. These dogmas were and are allegorical in nature, although many people take them literally.
When Zoroaster changed the Persian Aryan Vedanta, these two stories of Maya and Brahma morphed into a single entity, of evil intent. The Gnostic traditions furthur distorted the original ideology. So we end up with an evil Demiurge who created the material world and who is responsible for suffering. God is far away in Heaven and does not or cannot involve Himself in our realm, but He does send emissaries. The Gnostics created various complex theologies based on the original theology of the Vedanta and Zoroastrianism, as well as associated Yogic paths. There were various Gnostic religions, although they did not refer to themselves as Gnostics, that was a later appellation.
During the beginning of the Christian era one of the strongholds of the earliest forms of Christianity was in Alexandria in Egypt. And that is wherefrom the influence of the Gnostic sects on Christianity, morphing into various forms of Christian Gnosticism, has come into our knowledge, asides from attacks on Gnosticism from Catholic writers. The famous Christian Gnostic codices found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, became world famous as the Gnostic Gospels and supposedly they are some of the earliest teachings attributed to Jesus. Although they are very different from the Non-Christian Gnostic belief systems. The scrolls found in the caves at Qumran, in Israel, are also believed by many to be influenced by Gnostic thought, as well as being the original or earliest form of Christianity.
The point Dr. Pauls is trying to make is that Transhumanism and Gnosticism have the common belief that:
There is an abhorrence of the limitations that nature has placed upon the species.
He makes this statement in the context that his own beliefs, or the common beliefs of everyone in general, are in some way very different then the above. This is certainly not true. Even his own religious beliefs teach that people on Earth are suffering and that we should attempt to alleviate suffering. Is that not really the core belief of the Evangelicals ? The Evangelicals and in particular the branch of Evangelicals represented on Dr. Pauls website believe they have the duty to spread the Gospel of Jesus in order to save souls from damnation, and from suffering and spiritual unhappines due to the lack of the fellowship of God. They certainly believe in using technology to advance the cause of the human condition. After all they are using advanced technology to spread the Gospel. They are not satisfied with “nature’s limitations”. They are active in disaster relief, medical relief, spiritual and psychological counseling for drug addiction, etc. These problems are all a result of nature’s limitations, aren’t they ? We can take that one step furthur and ask Dr. Pauls why he finds it necessary to try and change the natural order that God has set down in terms of his own evangelizing. If God or the master and maintainer of the natural order sees fit to keep people in ignorance of Jesus, why is Dr. Pauls intent on changing that natural limitation ?
In fact Dr. Pauls is being a bit disingenuous. His website is the voice of an Evangelical group who teach that suffering is due to original sin, and that salvation is only obtained through Jesus Christ. This ideological framework is what drives and informs the opinions expressed on that website. The attack on Transhumanism using the Gnostic comparison is illogical in that they believe and in fact are engaged in the same types of efforts to raise up the human condition found within “nature’s limitations”. They simply disagree with certain aspects of Transhumanism, not the actual philosophy of utilizing technology to advance and enhance the human condition. They have a strong moral objection to abortion, stem cell research, or anything that in their view goes against the teachings of the Bible. This is really their objection with Transhumanism. They believe salvation from the human condition is only through Jesus Christ. And they will preach this message in any way that suits them. It is alright for Evangelicals to use technology to unlift the human condition either through philosophy or technology, but the real problem he has is that if Jesus is left out of the picture, then there is something wrong. If Transhumanists were to simultaneously preach about Jesus within the Evangelical framework, dedicating all of their research and goals to Jesus, then you can bet Dr. Pauls would have no objections.
The attack on Transhumanism is not really an attack on Transhumanism per se. It is an attack on a non Biblical world view, for religious reasons. Their world view is based on the so called moral template of their interpretations of Biblical dogma. Therefore any ideology which presents another form of release from the human condition [suffering, dying], is going to be subject to their condemnation based on their conviction that humanity is suffering due to original sin and the lack of a Jesus centric lifestyle.
Dr. Pauls also wrote:
If strong advocates of transhumanism have their wish, a new species of Techno sapien will emerge.
If we take his words seriously we would outlaw pacemakers, artificial limbs, hearing aids, even eyeglasses. After all, these are all products of a new “techno sapien” culture.
Then Dr. Pauls wrote:
The vast majority of the population, living in an ignorant and confused state, will be led by the chosen few to a new utopian existence or left behind to wallow in their naiveté.
I have as of yet never seen this kind of compassionless tyrannical ideology espoused by any Transhumanists. Although can the same be said of the Evangelicals ? Those ideas seem to be taken straight out of their own Evangelical rhetoric. They teach that the few chosen people will be led by the Evangelical leaders to the new utopia after Christ has arisen, or to the superior realm of their own fellowship until that time. The mass of ignorant people of the fallen so called civilized world, they will all perish or live in Hell for eternity. The Chosen Ones have a duty to therefore take control of all governments in order to enforce the will of God on Earth, by force if necessary. Many of them have a Calvinist view that the Elect are pre-destined to be God’s chosen, and the rest of humanity is pre-destined to Hell, and therefore the Elect can do no wrong. Anything they do, even causing great suffering to others in their mission to dominate over the world in the name of Jesus, is alright because they are the chosen, and anyone who disagrees with them is going to hell anyways. They are sinless even if they sin. This is indeed the dogma found with their Evangelical ideology.
Then Dr. Paul wrote:
The capability to move the mind into the machine will mark the attainment of the final goal of the Gnostics, that of overcoming the body completely, living in a psychic Nirvana with the constraints of nature, time and history left behind.
This is another canard. The goal of the Gnostics was liberation from the material condition, to leave the world of suffering and be with God. We find this exact ideology among Christian believers. There is a long ascetic tradition within the Christian world. Priests, monks, celibacy, monastaries, renouncing the world, hermits, etc. The idea is that “the world” is sinful and a cause of the desire to sin. It also causes forgetfulness of God, unbridled lust, etc. Therefore they have devised many ways to escape from the influences of “the world” and the demon lust, flagellation for example. So they also teach that this world is inherently debasing. And ultimately the goal of all Christians and all theistic religions is to transcend the material realm, to transcend the limitations of our bodies. Our bodies get sick, grow old and die. All theistic religions promise an eternity of bliss in Heaven without these problems, and that is in the fact the motivation of religious people. They seek release from misery, from old age, from death, permanently.
Transhumanism is really not very different philosophically from religious goals. Both religious philosophy and Transhumanism seek to gain release from temporal problems. Religious concerns about the physical suffering of humanity is evident by the large amount of relief organizations within the religious communities. Transhumanists want to apply all available technology to uplift the human condition. In this way the two philosophies are really no different in immediate application. There may be differences among religious ideologues and Tranhumanists when it comes to theology, but that is also true amongst all religious ideologues.
The search for transcendence is humanities common denominator. Many search for it within various religious frameworks or dogmas, others search for transcendence in technology. I see no real difference and in fact a lot of crossing over in the quest for transcendence. There are many religious scientists and religious medical doctors and religious engineers who endeavor to find newer and newer technologies to enhance the human condition, this is all part of the natural quest for transcending the natural order. Otherwise we would not treat disease, we would not utilize any form of technology, we would not do anything other then simply rely on nature in it’s most primitive state for our existence.
Religious beliefs are a spiritual form of Transhumanism. The goal of religion is to end suffering and to live forever. That is also the goal of Transhumanism. One is totally dependent on faith, the other is something that we can gain from in the immediate sense. Ultimately a non-gnostic religious viewpoint should see God manifest within all things, including Transhumanism. The Gnostic dualistic vision of seeing the material world and all things and events within the material world, as separate and distinct from God, seems to have crept somewhat into some Christian ideology. A pure Christian vision would be that God is immanent within our world and within all of our subjective and objective experience. And that God is also transcendent to our subjective and objective experience. A pure Christian viewpoint will see God’s hand and presence in all things, including Transhumanism.
Posted by maahaadave