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Transhumanism is the attempt to artificially improve humans: to enhance their physical and/or mental abilities either by genetic modification, by incorporating technology, or a combination of the two. The World Economic Forum is vigorously pursuing transhumanism with the goal of creating a better society by actually modifying the individuals. The idea is that genetically or technologically enhanced humans might have extraordinary athletic abilities, extremely high intelligence, resistance to disease, and lengthened lifespans. Is such a goal possible? If so, is it something that we should pursue? What are the scientific and moral implications?
The Science and Fiction of Technological Augmentation
Science-fiction books and movies often portray various forms of transhumanism in a generally positive light. The 1970s series, The Six Million Dollar Man, is one such example. Based on the book Cyborg, the series explores the fictional adventures of a man with “bionic” (artificial, technological) body parts that are superior in virtually every way to their biological originals. Astronaut Steve Austin (played by Lee Majors) is badly injured in an accident, resulting in the loss of both legs, his right arm, and left eye. These are all replaced with artificial (bionic) versions (for a cost of $6 million) that are far superior to the original. They enable Steve to run at speeds in excess of 60 miles per hour, and jump 40 feet vertically. Steve’s bionic right arm is able to lift 1000 pounds. And his bionic eye is able to zoom-in at will, as if using a telephoto lens.
The show’s title character is essentially transformed into a superhero thanks to technological augmentation. The show’s intro echoes the words of Oscar Goldman (played by Richard Anderson) who raised the funds for Steve’s bionic implants: “Gentlemen we can rebuild him. We have the technology.
We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.” Who wouldn’t want that? Many other television shows and movies explore the idea of replacing body parts with artificial parts that are far superior.
At the moment, the idea of replacing biological body parts with superior technological ones is only found in science fiction. Current technology does allow us to replace some body parts with artificial versions; but these are never as good as the original. It is certainly a blessing that we now have the capacity to produce prosthetic limbs for people who have lost their originals through disease or injury. But I suspect every such person, if given the choice, would prefer to have the original biological version.
For example, some people use an insulin pump to control their diabetes. This piece of technology is essentially an artificial pancreas. In a healthy person, the pancreas secretes insulin – a chemical that helps blood sugar enter the cells. When the human pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, the result is high blood sugar – hyperglycemia or diabetes. Such conditions can lead to other serious problems. An insulin pump can deliver insulin much like the pancreas. The pump is worn externally, and the insulin is delivered through a small tube with a needle that is inserted and taped to the skin. In most cases, the person needs to estimate the quantity of carbohydrates he is about to consume, and set the pump to inject the appropriate amount of insulin.
It is wonderful indeed that we have such technology. But consider how superior a healthy pancreas is to the artificial version. The pancreas God designed is entirely internal. It never needs new batteries. It never needs a refill of insulin because it produces its own. It does not need to be told how much insulin to produce because it automatically monitors blood sugar levels. And it requires no maintenance. The manmade version is certainly a blessing for those who need it, but is not as good as God’s original design. Such is the case with all artificial replacements. We should be grateful to God that we have technology to replace defective or missing biological structures in our fallen world. However, the replacements are never as good as the factory originals.
But will this always be the case? Will technological replacements eventually be superior to healthy biological versions? Will people begin to have perfectly healthy limbs and organs removed so that they can upgrade to superior artificial ones? It is certainly possible to produce a machine that does one or more things better than a biological equivalent. We can make machines stronger than human muscle, or cameras with greater resolution than the eye. But these devices are always inferior in many other ways. The machine that is stronger than a muscle might also require far more space, or be heavier, or require external power. The camera with greater resolution than the eye might not autofocus as fast or efficiently. And the eye has a far greater ability to accommodate ranges in brightness than any manmade camera to date. Moreover, our biological systems require almost no maintenance, and can even self-repair (to some extent) when damaged. They can even adapt depending on usage. For example, the more you use your muscles, the stronger they get. What manmade machine can do that?
So, the idea of replacing body parts with artificial versions that are superior in every way to the original may not be possible. The body is already amazingly well-designed. Might the notion that it isn’t stem from an evolutionary view in which humans are merely a collection of mutations (mistakes) in the DNA that happened to improve the odds of survival? Many evolutionists believe that the human body is a bad design since it supposedly has no intelligence behind it. In such a view, of course anything we design should be better than what happens in nature by chance.
But in the biblical view, our bodies and minds have been deliberately designed by God – the same God who created the universe we inhabit. It may be that our bodies are as optimally designed as they can be to do what God made them to do. Any “improvement” to one area may involve many tradeoffs in other areas. As a biblical creationist, I am skeptical that technology will ever allow replacements that are truly superior in all ways to the biology that God designed. However, I am grateful for those researchers who study ways to make artificial replacements as good as possible for the purpose of helping those who are injured or disabled in this fallen world.
The Science and Fiction of Genetic Augmentation
Another way in which humans might be “improved” is through genetic engineering. This involves the alteration of genes: the sequences in DNA that produce a physical trait. Unlike technological augmentation, genetic augmentation has the advantage of using the amazingly designed biology already in place in living organisms. It simply alters the instructions so that the body itself forms new or different structures.
Genetic engineering has also been well-explored in science fiction. In the original Star Trek episode “Space Seed,” the crew of the Enterprise must deal with the villainous Khan (played by Ricardo Montalbán). Khan is a genetically engineered human with physical and mental abilities far exceeding those of ordinary men. This makes him very difficult to defeat. The supervillain returned in the second Star Trek movie: The Wrath of Khan.
The Outer Limits episode, “The Sixth Finger,” depicts the story of a man who participates in a genetic engineering experiment. The experiment alters the man’s DNA, artificially “evolving” him into an advanced superhuman with telepathic and telekinetic abilities. Genetic augmentation to produce advanced humans was also explored in the sci-fi series Fringe, in which enhanced superhumans from the future are able to travel back in time.
Are such advancements actually possible? Can we improve the intelligence and physical abilities of people by making changes to their DNA? Could it be as simple as identifying and inserting the genes for high intelligence, creativity, and athletic prowess? Could we also remove the genes responsible for aggression, hate, wickedness, and so on? The science of genetics has made tremendous advancements in the last few decades. But the issues are more complex than many people assume.
The Search for the Blue Rose
The nuances of genetics are illustrated in a fascinating experiment that began in the early 1990s. The goal was to create a blue rose – a rose that was genetically modified to produce blue petals. In naturally occurring species of roses, the most common petal colors are red, white, and pink. Less common colors include yellow, orange, and green. However, blue roses do not exist in nature, and no hybridization of existing species has ever produced a blue rose. Blue roses can be made by dyeing white roses with a blue pigment; but roses do not produce blue petals on their own. The reason was apparently simple: no species of rose has a gene to produce the blue pigment delphinidin – the chemical that causes many other species of flowers to have blue petals.
Conversely, petunias do have the genes to produce delphinidin – resulting in blue pigment in the petals. So, perhaps the solution would be to isolate these genes from the petunia and insert them into the DNA of a rose. In 1994, geneticists did this experiment, but the resulting roses had no delphinidin in their petals and no blue color. Apparently, other genetic instructions interfered and prevented the desired result. Yet, when these same genes were inserted into the DNA of carnations, the resulting flowers did produce delphinidin in their petals, resulting in a bluish hue. So, the method worked for some flowers but not for roses.
Similar experiments involving genes from the pansy were also successful in producing the blue pigment in carnations. So, geneticists isolated the genes from pansies that produce delphinidin, and inserted those genes into the DNA of roses. This time, the resulting genetically modified roses did have delphinidin in their petals, but they were not even remotely blue. Why?
Delphinidin produces the bluest colors in flower petals that have a ph factor of 7 or higher – those that are neutral or alkaline. In an acidic environment, the chemical turns purple or red. Rose petals are naturally acidic. So, the delphinidin does not result in the rich blue color that it does in other flowers. Several other color pigments native to the rose also contributed, resulting in a dark red rose. Geneticists began looking at other components in flowers that enhance the blue color.
With additional experimentation, geneticists were able to suppress other pigments, resulting in a rose with delphinidin as the only pigment in its petals. In 2004, the first successful “blue rose” was announced and given the name “applause.” However, the actual color of this rose is lavender at best and is not truly blue. This is due to the acidity of rose petals. As of the writing of this article, a truly blue rose has not yet been engineered.
Apparently, just because we know what a gene does in a particular organism does not imply that we know what that gene will do if inserted into a different organism. Genes interact with each other. And chemicals that do one thing in one environment may do something very different in a different environment. This is the danger of genetic experimentation. We do not know how all chemicals and structures in an organism interact with all other chemicals and structures. The addition, removal, or modification of a single gene may have unexpected and unintended results due to the way proteins interact with each other.
This isn’t to say that we never will understand these things. But it will take a great deal of very careful research to understand the nuances of how genes interact with each other. Genetic engineering in humans is clearly not as simple as locating the “intelligence genes” and inserting them into all humans to produce a smarter population. Any promises to safely enhance humanity through genetic modification are currently unfounded; we can’t even make a blue rose.
Currently, we do not possess the knowledge to create either technologically improved or genetically improved humans. Yet, these are the goals of many researchers. But should we be pursuing such goals? Should we be attempting to improve ourselves by genetic modification or technological augmentation?
Some might argue that genetic engineering should not be pursued at all. We have a genome that we inherited from our parents, which they inherited from theirs, and so on back to Adam and Eve who received their genome from God. Why should we tamper with what God created? On the other hand, due to the fall, DNA is not replicated perfectly. Errors have crept in. Would it be acceptable to correct those if we knew how to do it? Then again, some people argue that if we can use technology to improve the human condition, we should always pursue this. How we evaluate the morality of such issues will naturally flow out of our worldview.
In the evolutionary worldview, there is nothing objectively wrong with modifying humans. The reason is simple: in the evolutionary view there is nothing objectively wrong with anything. Objective morality cannot exist in the vacuum of a chance, non-designed universe. What happens in a chance universe simply happens; there is no right or wrong about it. If humans are nothing more than fizzing chemicals, there is no objective reason why we cannot seek to make those chemicals fizz differently. It is not surprising that most advocates of transhumanism are evolutionists.
Biblically, human beings were designed and created by God. We were created for a purpose – to glorify Him. The Lord also gave us dominion over the earth – to care for its creatures and use them constructively. God has given us some instructions that delineate how we are to behave. And we will ultimately be judged by God’s commandments. As such, we have an objective standard for right and wrong. That standard is God. Right is that of which God approves: that which invokes His blessings. Wrong is that of which God disapproves: that which invokes His wrath. So, does God approve of genetic engineering or does He disapprove of it? Or is the answer more nuanced? Namely, might God approve of some forms of genetic engineering and not others?
Of course, there is no explicit biblical commandment for or against genetic engineering. However, there are biblical principles that are universal. They pertain to all situations and therefore constrain what types of genetic experiments (if any) can be done and what the goal of genetic research should be. The objective here is not to answer every possible ethical question in this category. Rather, our intention is to ground our thinking in Scripture. Biblical principles give us some basic guidelines by which to evaluate the ethics of any proposed genetic experimentation or modification. For God to fully approve of our actions in any area, what we do must be done (1) with the right method (1 John 5:3), (2) with the right motives (Proverbs 16:2; Philippians 2:3), and (3) with the right goal (Hebrews 12:1-2; John 6:27; James 4:4; Genesis 50:20).
Our method is right if it doesn’t violate any commandment or principle in Scripture (Deuteronomy 28:1,15). For example, any form of genetic manipulation that results in the avoidable death of a person is necessarily wrong (Exodus 20:13). Although absolute certainty is rarely achievable in science, genetic engineers must take extreme caution so that they minimize the possibility of harm to human beings.
A person’s motivation can be either selfish or godly (1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Genesis 4:4-7; Matthew 6:1; James 4:3; Proverbs 21:27; Philippians 2:3). Are we pursuing genetic engineering for selfish gain or to accomplish something pleasing to God out of gratitude for salvation? The former motivation is wicked, and the latter is righteous.
The Goal: Alteration or Restoration?
The remaining constraint on what types of genetic engineering should be pursued may be the most disputed: the goal. What are we trying to accomplish? Is our goal something of which God would approve? One goal that we know God approves is the alleviation of disease. Jesus healed the sick. So, this is obviously something that pleases God; healing the sick is good (Matthew 12:10-12). In healing the sick, Jesus was reversing one aspect of the curse. Christ restored people (in part) to the health they would have enjoyed if there had been no curse.
Some diseases have a genetic component. They stem from mutations – errors in the DNA. Correcting such errors for the purpose of restoring health is a good and biblical goal. Genetic engineering for the purpose of restoring a person back to health is therefore a righteous goal.
When God made Adam and Eve, He said that they (along with everything else) were very good (Genesis 1:31). In their original state, Adam and Eve were exactly as God wanted them to be. Due to sin, we are no longer that way. We have fallen and cannot please God in our wicked state (Romans 8:8). It is therefore right to pursue a path of restoration. Spiritually, we need Christ to regenerate our hearts so that we desire to serve Him (Ezekiel 36:36). This is a restoration and is something that God approves (Luke 15:7).
Likewise, it is appropriate for us to attempt to reverse physical effects of sin (death and disease) as much as is possible for us. If we can identify mutations that cause disease and are therefore a result of the curse, it is appropriate to attempt to repair that damage. This path is good because it attempts come closer to the original very good state of creation. We will not fully achieve this goal, just as we will not succeed in becoming fully righteous in practice before glory. But the goal itself is good. And progress toward it is certainly possible.
Conversely, many secularists wish to alter human nature into something that God did not intend. One such goal is to increase intelligence. Imagine altering the genome to produce an enhanced cerebral cortex. Or imagine implanting technology in the brain that would allow direct, wireless access to the internet or to other technologies. What if the synapses of the brain could be replaced with synthetic microchips that perform the same function, but much faster, and never wear out? If similar replacements could be provided for the rest of the body, could humans be made immortal? Indeed, many transhumanism supporters imagine transforming humanity into super-intelligent, immortal beings – essentially gods.
These ideas very much appeal to our sin nature. We like the idea of having power and abilities that God never intended. But this is not something that is pleasing to God. If the temptation to become essentially a god sounds familiar, it should. It was the first temptation experienced by humanity and led to sin and the curse.
The First Temptation
Transhumanism is merely a modernized form of the original temptation that resulted in humanity being plunged into darkness. The serpent, Satan (Revelation 12:9), tempted Eve by telling her that she could be better than what God intended her to be (Genesis 3:4-5). Eve was living in a paradise, in perfect communion with her Creator and her husband, with a perfectly healthy, immortal body, surrounded by trees that produced all the food she would ever need. And yet, Satan was able to convince her to be discontent because there was something even better that she was being denied.
Satan claimed that God was withholding something good from Eve: the knowledge of good and evil. When she sinned, Eve did indeed gain experiential knowledge of evil. And Adam followed into sin. But was their final state better than the original? After sin, Adam and Eve knew shame. Eve would experience pain in childbirth, and Adam’s work would now be difficult and unpleasant at times. They would experience death. More importantly, they lost the perfect communion they once had with their Creator. Pursuing a path that is contrary to God’s instruction never results in something better. The best possible condition for man is to be exactly who and what God created him to be.
Altering humanity to be something allegedly better than what God created is clearly not a path that we should pursue. But, restoring humanity to health brings us closer to the original very good state in which we were created. It is a worthy pursuit, even though a full reversal of the curse is something only Christ can (and will) accomplish (Acts 3:21; Revelation 22:3).
What about the genetic engineering of other organisms? There are fewer restrictions here because God gave man dominion over all the creatures of the earth (Genesis 1:26-28). We are to care for the animals, but we are also permitted to use them for constructive purposes. There are some constraints on what is permitted. For example, animals should not be mistreated or needlessly harmed (Deuteronomy 22:6, 25:4; Exodus 23:19). But we are permitted to kill animals for the purpose of food (Genesis 9:3). Thus, animal death to preserve human life is permitted.
It is therefore morally right to test medicines or genetic modification on animals before such methods are used on humans, particularly when there is the possibility of harm. The Bible indicates that humans have more value to God than animals do (Matthew 10:31). The goal should always be one of restoration and not arbitrary alteration contrary to God’s purpose.
With plants or microbes, there are even fewer constraints since these are not alive in the biblical sense of the term “nephesh” (Leviticus 17:11). There is nothing inherently wrong with genetic modification of plants (as one example) to produce greater yields for the purpose of providing food for more people. That’s a good and righteous goal. The main caution here is the science. We do not always know how the modification of a gene will manifest in the organism (as demonstrated by the attempt to make blue roses). Will the resulting food be as nutritious for human consumption as the original? Will genetically modified food be as resistant to disease as the original? These are important questions and therefore genetic experimentation should always be approached with great caution.
One very good and ingenious use of genetic engineering involves bacteria. Bacteria are amazing. They are microscopic, self-replicating, biological machines capable of chemical synthesis. There are many varieties of them and they do many wonderful things. People tend to think primarily of the disease-causing varieties. But these are the exception; most bacteria are very helpful to life. Could bacteria be genetically modified to produce chemicals necessary for medicine?
Geneticists have been able to isolate the genes in humans that produce insulin. In 1978, these genes were cloned and inserted into the genome of bacteria (E. coli). The result: these bacteria began producing insulin. Beginning in 1982, insulin produced by genetically modified bacteria was made available to treat people with diabetes. It is now one of the main ways this life-saving medicine is produced. This is a wonderful use of genetic engineering because it has the right method, motivation, and the goal of saving lives.
Genetic engineering is a powerful tool. It has already produced life-saving medications. Conversely, it could be misused to create more lethal forms of known pathogens. Genetic engineering might be used to correct disease-causing mutations. Or it might be used to alter the genome in ways God never intended. Of all modern technologies, genetic engineering has perhaps the greatest potential to bring about great good or to do unimaginable harm. Which outcome occurs will be largely determined by how people choose to use this technology. I encourage Christians to take the lead in this field, cautiously performing science in the right way with the right motives and goals – all for the glory of God.
This brief article is not intended to answer or even address all the ethical considerations involved in modifying genetic sequences. Rather, the goal is to introduce the topic so that Christians can be thinking through the scientific and moral implications as these issues become increasingly relevant. Whatever specific details are under consideration, we have three overarching biblical principles to follow. We must use the right method; this involves proceeding with extreme caution so that humans are not harmed. We should be motivated by love of God and gratitude for His provisions. Our goal should always be one of restoration and healing in accordance with God’s purpose for humanity.
 https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/08/ethics-not-technological-limits-will-be-the-guiding-factor-for-an-augmented-age/ <<9/21/2022>>
Phillips, K., World Economic Forum, August 16, 2022.
 How Steve’s spine and other non-bionic organs would be able to withstand such forces is never explained.
 Some examples are: The Bionic Woman (1976), Robocop (1987), the “Borg” from Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), Detective Spooner’s left arm from I Robot (2004), Jake 2.0 (2003), Inspector Gadget (1999 et al.), and Cyborg in Justice League (2017).
 This should not be taken to an unbiblical extreme. It is appropriate for us to attempt to alleviate disease and suffering as much as we can. It is also appropriate to ask God to heal the sick. However, in this fallen world, God can use disease and suffering to bring about good such as sanctification, patience, humility, and so on. Therefore, He does not always heal His people in this life. God sometimes allows bad things to happen in this world because He can bring a greater good from them (e.g. Genesis 50:20). That is His prerogative.
 Christ’s healing the sick was a partial reverse of the curse. He did not (at that time) restore them to the immortal state Adam and Eve originally possessed. A full reversal of the curse for God’s people is yet future (Revelation 22:3).
 There is nothing inherently wrong with using tools. The Bible mentions the use of tools approvingly. These do not alter the body in a way contrary to God’s design.
 God does provide right ways for a person to become smarter or more athletic. We can study to gain knowledge, or exercise to gain physical strength. These methods work within God’s plan, and are therefore right as long as the motivation and goal are also righteous.
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