I appreciate Dan Clossen’s 2002 essay “Does the Future Need Us? The Future of Humanity and Technology”.

I like that he takes for granted that the nanotech and biotech revolutions will be soon upon us. I believe that by recognizing that in the next decades the world and humanity will be vastly different, we can begin preparing for the incipient changes now and better determine and express our global goals and values.

I like that Closson knows and has first hand experienced the power for good that technology brings–as Probe Ministries has benefitted many thousands through its webiste www.probe.org. It is important to know that technological innovation is just as double edged as language: it can bless or curse. It is like dance: beautiful and one display of the heights of human accomplishment, but contextual and necessary to be driven by care (one wouldn’t dance a jig at a somber funeral).

I also like the two points he closes his essay with:
1) acknowledging the power of and continuing the tradition of prayer and the spiritual disciplines. The distinctive traditions and practices of Christianity will continue to play an important part in the solidarity of the church and supplying of meaning and positivity. These will always be a part of the Christian search for justice, compassion, and service. Like the age old (bad) joke says of the pastor’s advice to the boaters: “Pray while you bail water.”
2) retaining the core tenets of Christian faith and allowing those to direct values rather than lust for power or greed. The Christian model of egalitarianism, social justice, advocacy for and solidarity with the marginalized must be the values that our churches reflect in the coming generations.

To best express these Christian values that Closson emphasizes, I believe that Christians will also need to be equipped with the best knowledge about the real risks and benefits of any given innovation. We need our Christian leaders, and outspoken Christian thinkers (Closson among them) to be reasoned, well researched, and prudent in their assessment of new technologies. We also will need our Christian communities to embrace the liberty and freedom of others who may wish to enjoy new (non-3rd party harming) technologies.

A few comments and responses of disagreement or critique follow:

Closson includes a sentiment of Francis Fukuyama that as our meaning of what it is to be human changes, so will our idea of dignity. I am not a fan of Fukuyama because his portrayal of humanity is not aligned with any experience I have had or any one else I know and he proved himself to be incapable of being intellectually challenged in Joel Garreau’s excellent book “Radical Evolution”. Fukuyama’s implication is that humanity’s change is a negative change in our idea of human dignity. I am not sure if one would be able to prove a decline in widespread notions and moral expressions of human dignity through time. It would have to be rigorously argued with some contemporary examples from developed societies that technological advances decrease human dignity. Fukuyama has not accomplished this, and I doubt anyone will.

Closson writes, “The Christian basis for human dignity is the imago Dei, the image of God placed within us by our Creator. Many are questioning the wisdom of chemical and genetic manipulation of humanity, even if it seems like a good idea now.” I am not sure how the manipulation of the physical or chemical construction of human bodies is related to the ‘imago Dei’, and if Closson is expressing that this is the case, I disagree. I do not believe that the ‘image of God’ is specific to the range of human bodies we have seen so far. Christians do not currently exclude humans whose physical or genetic characteristics or technological access place them outside the statistical norm from being ‘in the image of God’ now do they? At what point would they? Or does being in the image of God have to do with freedom of choice, consciousness, moral accountability, sociability, ability to love?

Closson also includes a few dire warnings that seem to be completely out of touch with what is historically quite common. He writes of a threat seen by Francis Fukuyama, “It might even become possible to adopt different personalities on different days, extroverted and gregarious on Friday, reserve and contemplative for classes or work on Monday.” Yes, I believe that amazing ‘futuristic’ technology would be called beer. 

Closson writes, “Terrorists have a growing number of inexpensive technologies available to use against civilians including anthrax and so-called radioactive dirty bombs that depend on recent technological advances.” Yes, with each technological advance, there appears ways to use it in violent ways. But let us remember there will always be low-tech ways of causing large scale harm (it is easy to make napalm at home and simple fertilizer can be used in creating bombs). Let us also reflect on the worries that many had about hackers who would make computer viruses for either terrorism or buffoonery: when was the last time you’ve heard about a massive viral ‘worm’? We did confront those issues in the late 1990’s but defenses against crime are always improving and stay ahead of the curve quite well.

So to all you Christians of the future: remember that just because you may have a genetically modified nanoblooded cyborg standing next to a traditional bio-human, there is nothing to say that they are deserving of any inequal dignity and protection and celebration. We embrace people of all abilities, religious affiliations, gender attraction and gender identity and all levels of body modified folk. The future will need you Christians to use technology for good–better feed the hungry, better teach the uneducated, better liberate the unfairly imprisoned. 

Let’s make it a pretty future together, shall we? Okay. See you there.

Closson, Dan. “Does the Future Need Us? The Future of Humanity and Technology”