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Dreaming At The Crossroads

The first glory of speculative fiction is to imagine things that do not exist. The second is to ponder things that do. The endless possibilities are captivating — Elves and aliens, distant planets and hidden realms, the power of unbounded technology and the inscrutable laws of faerieland. At the center of these foreign things is everything human and divine.
| Nov 25, 2011 | No comments |

Nietzsche once declared that God is dead. Later he added that Man ought to be. “Man,” he wrote, “is something that is to be surpassed. … What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just the same shall man be to the Superman: a laughing-stock, a thing of shame. … Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman—a rope over an abyss” (from “Zarathustra and the Overman”).

Some would think this epitaph premature. Others would like to chisel the date of death beneath it. They call themselves transhumanists, and they are looking forward to a post-human world.
Max More, one of the pioneers of transhumanism, asserted, “Humanity is a temporary stage along the evolutionary pathway. We are not the zenith of nature’s development. It is time for us to consciously take charge of ourselves and to accelerate our progress. No more gods, no more faith, no more timid holding back. Let us blast out of our old forms, our ignorance, our weakness, and our mortality. The future is ours.”

The road to this future lies through nanotechnology, meets cybborg technology, and ends in a post-human utopia. The dream of transhumanists is to reinvent humanity with nanotech and cybernetics. As Katherine Hayles summed it up, “In the posthuman, there are no essential differences, or absolute demarcations, between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot technology and human goals.”

At this point, it’s a crazy theoretical. And all crazy theoreticals are the happy playground of speculative fiction.

* * *

Science fiction has sometimes been viewed as atheistic and humanist, fantasy as sorcerous and pagan. The stereotypes are not wholly groundless. The space-future, as drawn for us, is often blank with irreligion. The magic realms of fantasy are always entangled with spirituality — sometime the light, sometimes the dark. We wander far in speculative fiction, but never too far from our existential dilemmas. Sometimes we move closer to them.

Take, for example, the ambitions of transhumanism. That’s rich fare for SF readers and writers. Many good books and movies could be spent mining the possibilities of that. And inevitably we would have to borrow the question from the theologians, dust it off from the philosophers’ shelf: Is there such a thing as the human soul?

The transhuman dream lives or dies on that. If we’re all biology, then we are, to borrow a phrase, up for revision. If we have souls — if we are souls — then there is something in us no technology could ever touch.

Beyond the issue of whether we have the power to recreate humanity, is the issue of whether we have the right. If we were brought this far by blind evolution, there’s something to be said for a little guided evolution. Why not make a calculated evolutionary leap?

But if God lives, the enterprise takes on a darker nature. It thrums with the blasphemy of Philip Ivywood: “The world was made badly, and I will make it over again.”

“Woe,” the prophet said, “to him who quarrels with his Maker.” It’s unwise, and more than a little dangerous, to criticize your Creator’s work. How much more unwise, and how much more dangerous, is it to try and do His work over again?

And so the brave new world of nanotech and transhumanism leaves us standing with our oldest ancestors, asking the oldest questions: Who is God, and who are we?

I have always been fascinated by the intersection of religion and speculative fiction. I enjoy exploring the new ideas through the old ones, and the old ideas through the new ones. It’s an interesting exercise to fit strange, imagined realities with the Ultimate Reality.

I am sure some would say that dogma runs against imagination. I would say that of such clashes stories are made. Think again of transhumanism — a wild piece of imagination in its own right. The transhumanist sees nanotech leading to utopia. Secularists who would not go that far can still see a Great Society without poverty or disease or environmental damage. But Christians see a dangerous path, riddled with pitfalls, with the doctrine of Original Sin dictating that whatever can be used for good, humanity will use for evil. We can debate which of these visions is the most rational. There’s little debate which has the most story potential.

The Christian view of a nanotech revolution is tight with tension — the tension between the potential for doing good and the potential for causing harm, the tension between breaking nature’s bounds and abiding by God’s, the tension between creature and Creator. There is the tension of embracing the promise of nanotech while dodging the danger. And tension, as any good writer will tell you, is the heart of story.

The first glory of speculative fiction is to imagine things that do not exist. The second is to ponder things that do. The endless possibilities are captivating — Elves and aliens, distant planets and hidden realms, the power of unbounded technology and the inscrutable laws of faerieland. At the center of these foreign things is everything human and divine. Right and wrong, courage and fear, sin and faith, God Himself — in our most far-flung tales they are right at hand.

Speculative fiction has a way of elucidating spiritual ideas, showing the ends of beliefs. Often the ideas elucidated in SF were grown in the philosophy of Nietzsche and Darwin. No doubt that has worked to spur Christian leeriness of sci-fi and fantasy.

Yet we should be at home in the crossroads of imagination and truth, because our God is the God of both. Seeking His creativity, holding on to His Reality, we can tell great stories — and even greater truths.

– – – – –

Shannon McDermott is the author of The Last Heir, as well as the Christian Holmes series. She also works as an editor and researcher for SALT Magazine. You can read more of her articles at her blog.

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Galadriel
Guest

Interesting perspective. But I’ve read enough sci-fi to know that going “beyond” humanity is never a good thing…the Cybermen, anyone?

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Yet we should be at home in the crossroads of imagination and truth, because our God is the God of both. Seeking His creativity, holding on to His Reality, we can tell great stories — and even greater truths.

Great conclusion, Shannon, to an excellent article!

I have to admit, I’d never heard of transhumanism before. Reminds me of the Borg, to be honest. Which makes me think that the Star Trek: Next Generation writers may have had that line of thinking in mind when they created the assimilating enemy.

I agree, there is much fodder for the Christian writer in the philosophies of our world colliding with the Truth of God. Rather than shying away, you show how writers can embrace the opportunity to confront these ideas and expose them in story.

 

Becky

Shannon McDermott
Guest

Thanks, Becky.
Transhumanism is new to me, too. I only learned of it a month or two ago. I was doing some research on nanotechnology and ran into the idea. It was obviously anti-Christian and subtly misanthropic, and it fascinated me. I quickly concluded that great sci-fi is made of things like this – even great Christian sci-fi.

Andrea Graham
Guest

In Web Surfer ANI, I use nanotech and the transhumanist dream of man becoming the gods of a digital universe of our own creation to point toward the biblical truth of the triune God and man’s relation to him even if we ever do try to give him grandkids.

Reality is, this stuff would turn out bad on a Saint John’s revelation scale. Why I feel somewhat “safe for now.” I don’t think we’re yet quite advanced to where we’ll be when the Anti-Christ shows up; the image of the beast that moves and speaks sounds like a hologram of a digital/virtual being, 6 is man’s number in biblical prophetic imagery and means “image” at its root; 666 is six times ten plus six times a hundred. So taking the mark of the beast would be to willfully accept a post-human body upgrade that, in that terrible day, will so badly distort the image of God,  the soul so deceived will no longer be capable of repenting of sin, loving/worshiping God, or serving him, and will be good only for being thrown out into the fire.

Andrea Graham
Guest

Ten and 100 have to do with complete, perfection, culmination.  So sixty and hundred are increasing magnifications of the perfecting and culmination of the image of man; so 666 is pretty much what transhumanism is all about; the Anti-Christ will likely be transhuman and the gatekeeper who all others who enter in after him will worship him as the Christ (anti in Greek can mean a replacement of Christ, with the Lawless One, we already see the Lawless One at work, corrupting the church from within, teaching God’s thrown out rather than fulfilled the old law and entirely gotten rid of all the pesky rules despite clear biblical teaching otherwise. In reality, he wouldn’t have sent his son to pay the penalty for our sin if he was simply going to validate sin and make it okay. That move would render Christ’s death futile and entirely pointless and make the Father cruel and arbitrary, not to mention weak-kneed  and  unprincipled, which the evil spirit who inspired that false teaching well knows. At best, we make fools of ourselves to outsiders who can think it through objectively when we fall prey to that lie.

Sherwood Smith
Guest

The transhuman dream lives or dies on that. If we’re all biology, then we are, to borrow a phrase, up for revision. If we have souls — if we are souls — then there is something in us no technology could ever touch.
Beautifully said! Thank you for this thought-provoking article, which certainly goes against the received wisdom Out There that Christians are afraid of science.

Shannon McDermott
Guest

Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Andrea Graham
Guest

Whether science could ever touch the soul depends on the nature of the spirit and the soul. The soul is the combination of our body and spirits; we don’t have a soul, we are a soul. The spirit and how it is “sown in” to our bodies is something we know little about from the bible, other than that it is dead due to sin unless we are in Christ. 

One argument that atheists make is that they’ve studied every inch of the DNA that builds us and found no code for a soul. It is altogether possible, however, that’s because there’s a double cipher and they haven’t “decrypted” the flip-side and the code of the soul–and I doubt a human mind could ever grasp it, either. The Bible says the natural man can’t understand the things of the spirit, after all.

Since we know the spirit and the physical overlap  and we do not know how they interface exactly, messing with human DNA is messing around with something that man does not and cannot fully understand. Transhuman experiments could potentially have disastrous results for the victims of the experiments.

Shannon McDermott
Guest

Thanks for all the comments you’ve made on this, Andrea.
 
I’m sure that science can’t alter the human soul, as nanotech may someday be able to alter the human body. Science is about the physical realm, not the spiritual. Scientists can no more alter the human soul than they can build a rocket ship to heaven.
 
But you pointed out something I hadn’t thought of. Science can only touch the physical part of us, but that could affect the whole in ways we can’t calculate. It really does seem our personalities are partly formed by our DNA; all of us – and parents especially – know how often personality traits are hereditary. Messing with human DNA on a fundamental level could well have effects beyond the purely physical.

Andrea Graham
Guest

You’re welcome. We would think science couldn’t touch the soul based on what it tells us, and I am tempted to agree, but I also keep coming back to how our own experiences tell us the spirit and the physical overlap and that physical mutations and changes to our DNA can impact us spiritually; science has found DNA sequences that predispose people to sin (not homosexuality I don’t believe, but other definite sins are linked to genetic corruption.) The bible suggests also that our *spiritual* sin nature is inherited from our parents and that *spiritual* curses can be inherited as well. By the way, I don’t know whether it is true or not, but in Jewish thought, our spirit is inherited from our father, which is really odd, because you also inherit whether you’re a Jew or not from your mother.

However, to mess with our souls, a few things would have to be true:

There would have to be another coding language hidden in our physical bodies’ DNA that says “Sara lives here,” basically that is how  God “knit us together” in our mother’s womb. This is pure speculative and not something we can prove or disprove; God didn’t care to explain DNA at all to us in the Bible, let alone explain how our spirits interface with our physical bodies, even if our finite minds are likely way too small to ever figure that one out scientifically. In pure theory, alterations in an existing, living person against their will would most likely send that soul to their eternal reward, of course, but would this also physically kill them? And alterations to an embryo, or to sperm and  ovum before conception . . . fun either way. Oh, and incidentally, science either has proven or believes (I forget which) that most adult mammal cells *do* have tags saying which specific animal they belong to; this makes cloning  uber-difficult. It’s almost like an intelligent designer putting up signs saying, “knuckleheads, don’t mess with this.”

But of course, even if this first condition were met, to make alterations directly to our spirits, scientists would both have to have a supercomputer smart enough to crack the code of the spirit and God would have to conveniently have the spiritual traits the knuckleheads want to change in a spot where it wouldn’t also make lethal changes on the “physical side” of DNA. Neither are particularly likely in my own opinion, and in our own life times especially, but if science is right, if they throw enough time and chance and scientists kooky enough to try to find such a  blatantly deliberate cipher in DNA that supposedly formed by random chance over tons of time rather than being coded by God  . . . 🙂 Regardless, he’s likely arranged things so the knuckleheads can’t mess things up royally like that, unless he for some reason let them.

Shannon McDermott
Guest

It’s almost like an intelligent designer putting up signs saying, “knuckleheads, don’t mess with this.”


We need all of those we can get.
 
I’m also inclined to think that altering the soul is beyond human ability and God will keep it that way. Still, it’s fun to speculate. You have some interesting thoughts.

Andrea Graham
Guest

Agreed; God is too good of a designer and way too higher than us in terms of IQ for little old man to thwart him and hack into his system, steal his code, and reverse engineer it into something else unless he allowed them to, and I sure hope that he never does–but it sure is fun to try to think of scenarios where he might plausibly allow that for some greater purpose in his plan. Though, in Web Surfer, I was going more for a modern-day parable comparing God’s relationship with us to a human cybernetics engineer’s relationship with his creation (artificial intelligence) and his human son’s complex relationship with his father’s creation. The AI reads his operating code from a man-made strand of DNA and the AI’s complete genetic code has been added into the cells of Alex’s body, leaving his human DNA completely intact and both the child (now a teenager) and the AI fully operational. I had fun unraveling along with Alex the truth of who he is and what the blazes his own father had done to him, and anticipating how the Church would react to him actually breathing in this shape despite the rediculous odds against him (guess.) Alexander’s a survivor with a capitol S.

Andrea Graham
Guest

Agreed; God is too good of a designer and way too higher than us in terms of IQ for little old man to thwart him and hack into his system, steal his code, and reverse engineer it into something else unless he allowed them to, and I sure hope that he never does–but it sure is fun to try to think of scenarios where he might plausibly allow that for some greater purpose in his plan. Though, in Web Surfer, I was going more for a modern-day parable comparing God’s relationship with us to a human cybernetics engineer’s relationship with his creation (artificial intelligence) and his human son’s complex relationship with his father’s creation. The AI reads his operating code from a man-made strand of DNA and the kid has had the AI’s code added into his DNA. I had fun unraveling along with Alex the truth of who he is and what the blazes his own father had done to him, and anticipating how the Church would react to him actually breathing in this shape despite all odds against him (guess.) Alexander’s a survivor with a capitol S.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

We don’t have a soul, we are a soul.

Biblically, a person is both a spirit/soul (with no distinction; the terms are synonymous) and body. That’s the way God made us, and that’s also why the Apostle Paul said in passages such as 2 Corinthians 5 that it’s not natural for the spirit/soul to be “unclothed,” that is, separate from the soul.

By the way, there’s also a quote that gets about, that goes like You don’t have a soul; you are a soul. You have a body, which is attributed to C.S. Lewis. However, it doesn’t appear anywhere in his writings. And the Bible views the whole person as spirit/soul and body.

I’m loving the discussion … I hope to catch up on more of it, tomorrow.

Andrea Graham
Guest

I don’t know who said it first for certain, either (note I didn’t quote the have  a body part, lol, I don’t know about that.) It could be English teachers every where that said the soul part of it; the definitions of soul include “a person, a person’s total self” and the definition of “spirit” overlaps with the definition of “soul” too in English.

I have heard, in Jewish thought, the soul and the body are inseparable, and Paul’s teaching seems to reflect this. Since he was allowed to write scripture, there may be something to that. 

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

I have heard, in Jewish thought, the soul and the body are inseparable, and Paul’s teaching seems to reflect this (emphasis mine)

Andrea, I’m not sure how this squares with the passage I quoted above — the verses from 2 Cor. 15. Paul expressly says the perishable cannot inherit the imperishable, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. If he thought the body and the soul were inseparable, then he’d be saying that the soul also could not inherit the kingdom of God.

As to this being a Jewish idea, James was as Jewish as anyone else and he used the separation of the body and soul at death as an example of faith being dead if it isn’t played out through works:

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. (James 2:26)

I don’t understand, frankly, what people think happens at death if the body and soul and spirit are one.

 

Becky

 

Andrea Graham
Guest

Let me clarify one thing: I personally neither know nor care which interpretation of the relationship of the spiritual parts and the physical parts of the human being is actually correct. I simply find the topic and various views interesting and when I remember this  issue isn’t important and not worth me picking sides on, I even find it amusing how you can have people on both sides equally sure they have the one right interpretation. Keep in mind, though, that the Jewish apostles got into huge fights with the Greek Gnostic believers who reinterpreted the gospel through Greek philosophy and threw out, among other things, a bodily Resurrection for a non-physical spiritual Resurrection of both Christ and us.  

It would be ironic if you proved correct and one of their big points of contention with the Gnostics was wrong, beyond their also making that claim about Christ’s resurrection. The apostles were really big on the idea when we wake up in eternity, we’ll “be like him” i.e. have the same sort of body that the resurrected Christ had (minus his divinity, thank you very much, Mormonism.) And the Heavenly Christ can make appearances on this Earth and eat our food and physically touch us and our stuff. The reason John emphasizes that so much in his gospel is that the Gnostics wanted to turn him into a disembodied ghost. Of course, we haven’t seen him in the flesh in nigh 2000 years and when he does come back again, it won’t be for lunch. 😉

If you’re curious, though, the answer to what people thinks happens at death if the soul is tied to the body as it is in Jewish thought is  that your soul goes to sleep, basically, until God makes you a new body in Heaven; the “mansions” that Jesus promised he was going to prepare for us (that was a metaphor, though I’m sure our homes will be really snazzy, too.)

Despite the Jewish thought on this and that all of the bible writers excluding Luke were Jews and thought like Jews do, there is also talk in the Bible of spilled blood crying out to God from the ground in Genesis and John’s Revelation features evidently disembodied souls of martyrs under an altar crying out for justice and being given white robes. Personally, way I see it, whichever is the case, Heaven exists outside of Earthly time, so I don’t think we’re going to notice a difference. Either way, when we die, we’ll wake up in eternity, in a new glorified body, the very “superman” that transhumanism dreams of imitating via earthly means and hence also to eliminate their need for salvation and repentance of sins, just another manifestation of the violent attempting to take Heaven by force.  If we remember to care, we can ask him about it when we get there. 🙂

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

minus his divinity, thank you very much, Mormonism

I just had to chuckle at that brief snark, Andrea!

A few quick thoughts:

If you’re curious, though, the answer to what people thinks happens at death if the soul is tied to the body as it is in Jewish thought is  that your soul goes to sleep, basically,

Though I’m familiar with the concept of “soul sleep,” and understand the motive behind it to promote the unity of body and soul, I don’t think it matches with several texts that clearly suggest immediate awareness after death (can quote those upon request!).

One need not accept “soul sleep” to believe in the unity of body and soul. The separation of body and soul at some point, at physical death, is absolutely Biblical, because sin has that consequence.

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.

2 Corinthians 5: 1-3

Note: Paul compares resurrection, future embodiment, both with being clothed and in being sheltered. “Nakedness” is being without a body …

For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
   
2 Corinthians 5:4

So “we groan” (cf. Romans 8 ) not because we long to be free of our body, which is decaying thanks to sin and death, but because we long to be “further clothed,” to get more body, exchanging our mortal bodies for immortal ones — resurrection — the mortal turned into immortal.

But God will re-clothe the body even more at the resurrection — which, even for those who have already died, is still a future event. Scripture seems to hold both to the necessary unity of body and soul, and to the fact that they’ll be separated, for a while, until the resurrection.

until God makes you a new body in Heaven; the “mansions” that Jesus promised he was going to prepare for us (that was a metaphor, though I’m sure our homes will be really snazzy, too.)

Was just reading about that, actually, and I agree. (I think it was another book about J-Witnesses, resurrection doctrine, etc.) The term translated in the KJV “mansions” is better rendered “rooms,” and is indeed more metaphorical … yet it would seem that literal mansions would not be out of the question, in the New Heavens and New Earth — the resurrected, physical world that’s populated by redeemed saints in redeemed bodies.

Andrea Graham
Guest

The debate ended up in my manuscript briefly, though, because it became significant to my plot (don’t ask) and the hero is a Christian with the typical modern Christian view and his father is a Jewish Atheist pretty suck on the idea, if he’s wrong and God isn’t merely symbolic, then Heavenly things are the way his momma taught him they are when he was a child. That’s why I’m being such a know-it-all; I had to research this topic for Web Surfer ANI and try to handle it in a way that would be respectful to both major views in the Church on the nature of the soul and spirit to the body and each other, since some of our readers will think one thing and others will think another and some on both sides are going to be pretty insistent that they’re right.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Stephen, interestingly, I see the passage you mentioned, specifically 2 Cor. 5:2, as showing that we are indeed souls/spirits with bodies. Not by happenstance, mind you, or in accordance with God’s original creation. What we lost in the Fall, among other things, was an immortal, imperishable body, as I’m sure you agree.

Consequently, we have to experience a temporary-ness, dwelling in a tent rather than in a permanent body, and facing the imminent day when it will be laid aside (see 2 Peter 1:14). As Paul said in 2 Cor. 4:16, the outer man is decaying, which we all know and understand as the “natural” aging process. There’s nothing “natural” about it. Death and the process of dying is a direct consequence of the Fall. And yet it is as sure as taxes. 😉 (Proof, actually, that God’s word is sure!)

I Cor. 15:42-51 goes into more detail:

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;  it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly.  Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.

Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed

What a great promise and what a glorious future we have to look forward to — that God would so love us as to ensure an imperishable, heavenly body, one suited for heaven. It’s truly something to celebrate and something to generate praise.

I understand that people without Christ, especially atheists, look at this world as all there is, and therefore are driven by the desire to improve the earth and the body to the best of human ability. We see that already with cosmetic surgery and can expect more of it with the advent of human genetic engineering. These folks, after all, want to counter impending death. Why wouldn’t they? So these transhumans make sense to me even though I understand they are running as fast as they can in exactly the opposite direction they should go to accomplish what they so deeply desire.

I love the fact that Shannon has given us a glimpse of using these false assumptions and human endeavors, rather than ignoring or running from them, as the driving force for our Christian fiction.

 

Becky

Maria Tatham
Guest

Really excellent post, Shannon! A lot to think about, and a lot of raw material for a thoughtful writer.

About the potentially disastrous results for any victims of transhumanist experiments: The horror that results from blindly, proudly tinkering with nature, as a story premise, was done of course in the classic we all know, Shelley’s Frankenstein. There’s also a contemporary book about this, which I’ve read. It is described as, “A New England Gothic recasting of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” Gott’im’s Monster by S. Dorman.

 

Andrea Graham
Guest

Indeed, Shelley was before her time. It’s hard to come near her and not salute her for getting there first. 
 

Maria Tatham
Guest

Shannon, 

A Christian novelist will have to work very hard getting ready to write fiction that explores the transhumanist mindset, in studying the Word, and in understanding the ideology and any science involved. It seems light years beyond Shelley’s great premise worked out using the science of her day.  
 
One differences between Dr. Frankenstein and a Dr. Trans-Frankenstein:

Dr. F wanted to understand the ‘mystery of life,’ hoping to conquer death.
 
Dr. T-F wants to improve on life, hoping to create an immortal Superman.

Because Nietzsche’s mindset has already been such a pernicious influence in the real world, in the horror of Hitler’s Germany, novelists tackling this topic would have to be serious, called, and extremely careful, if their work is to be credited as a vision of what could happen. 

 

Shannon McDermott
Guest

Oh, definitely. An enormous amount of research would be required – especially since transhumans will not even be possible until nano- and cyber-technology have taken huge leaps. You’d have to create a whole world revolutionized by nanotech. Medicine, energy, law, industry, labor – all would be changed, most quite radically.

One thing would, happily, give the intrepid writer some breathing space. Molecular nanotechology is a scientific theory but not a scientific reality; no one really knows how it would work yet. The technology of “enhancing” humans would have, to a large extent, be faked.

But that’s what sci-fi writers usually do anyway. Were any of those Star Trek writers brilliant physicists who had a real understanding of how a “warp drive” might work? It does take research to make sham science convincing; still, it’s sham.

More important than the science aspect, and maybe harder, are the other issues you raised – truly understanding, and skillfully portraying, the colliding beliefs of transhumanism and Christianity. It’d take a deft touch.

Maria Tatham
Guest

Shannon, I see! So, it is still theory, and writers can fake certain things. This makes sense. Warp drive–we don’t have to know how it works to use it, if we use skill. Right, it’s the ideological aspect and how it would face-off with and try to conquer Truth that is important, the thing that we would have to get right. Level-headed response! Thank you!

Andrea Graham
Guest

I took a stab at this kind of a future in my most recent WIP, Web Surfer ANI, focusing on the cyber-tech side, but it employs nan-tech, too. I tend to be of the “more things change, more things stay the same” mindset, but if anyone wants to give their two cents on how I did, I wouldn’t mind a few more beta readers. 🙂

Fred Warren
Member

Biblically, a person is both a spirit/soul (with no distinction; the terms are synonymous) and body.

Hmm. I don’t quite agree with that. Three problems:

1. Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. That there’s something to divide here implies a difference. What’s the point of dividing soul and spirit if they’re the same thing? It’s like dividing bread from bread. And why have another word at all if there’s no distinction?

2.  Genesis 2:7 – And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Three elements here: Body (dust) Spirit (breath of life – cross-reference Jn 20:22) and Soul (when Body and Spirit come together).

3. If only for the sake of symmetry, it’s intuitively appealing to me that the composition of man, made in God’s image, would echo the Trinity. Father-Son-Holy Spirit > Spirit-Body-Soul. This isn’t to say we’re a trinity, or that you can draw a one-to-one correspondence between the Persons of the Trinity and the components of man.

Anyhow, there’s enough ambiguity to allow for either interpretation, I think, but slashmarks give me hives.  🙂 

Andrea Graham
Guest

Certainly; in *English* the words soul and spirit have overlapping definitions, making them synonyms, but in places, the text of the bible indicates the word(s) translated as soul and the word(s) translated as spirit could be slightly different concepts in the original languages, but I also don’t think it’s too clear for anyone to say definitively; I try not to, myself. I’m inclined to your thinking, Fred. But elsewhere, other scriptures divide us up into a heart, mind, body and soul. LK 10:27, MK 12:30.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

This is one of those secondary issues I really like, because it’s among those Christianity beliefs on which true believers can hold very different views and still have fun debating the differences, because it really doesn’t matter as much as other secondary beliefs. (Although I have heard that the man-is-trichotomy belief can be used to support other stuff, such as the idea of the spirit’s superiority to the body or even soul.)

For anybody who’s curious for more, I can send you excerpts from one theologian’s discussion of the issue (in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology). For example, about the Hebrews 4:12 division, he suggests:

 

This verse, which talks about the Word of God “piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow,” is best understood in a way similar to 1 Thessalonians 5:23. The author is not saying that the Word of God can divide “soul from spirit,” but he is using a number of terms (soul, spirit, joints, marrow, thoughts and intentions of the heart) that speak of the deep inward parts of our being that are not hidden from the penetrating power of the Word of God. If we wish to call these our “soul,” then Scripture pierces into the midst of it and divides it and discovers its inmost intentions. If we wish to call this inmost nonphysical side of our being our “spirit,” then Scripture penetrates into the midst of it and divides it and knows its deepest intentions and thoughts. Or if we wish to think metaphorically of our inmost being as hidden in our joints and in the marrow, then we can think of Scripture being like a sword that divides our joints or that pierces deeply into our bones and even divides the marrow in the midst of the bones.In all of these cases the Word of God is so powerful that it will search out and expose all disobedience and lack of submission to God. In any case, soul and spirit are not thought of as separate parts; they are simply additional terms for our inmost being.

But perhaps that would further deviate from the column’s discussion — I don’t mean to imply, though, that I’m fully averse to that, because after all, I think I started it!

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Stephen, this commentary seems to me to be a good example of someone interpreting Scripture based on a preconceived idea. To claim that the Biblical writer was considering soul and spirit as the same would mean he also believed the writer considered the joints and marrow the same and we know they are distinct, or that he thought the thoughts and intentions of the heart were identical, and that isn’t true either. (I can intend to please God, for example, but have sinful thoughts).

 

Becky

Fred Warren
Member

Stephen: I’m still not buying Grudem’s analysis here. If anything, I Thess 5:23 undermines his argument. Once again, we have three parts delineated, and to say that “body, soul, and spirit” means “body, soul, and this other word we use to mean soul” doesn’t pass Occam’s Razor. It doesn’t explain why the writer wouldn’t simply say “body and soul” if that was sufficient. I suppose it could be flowery metaphor or a standard salutation, but the two words pop up in the same sentence as “this and that” too many times for me to be content with that explanation. Metaphor does come into play, though, as Andrea’s citations demonstrate, so…I don’t know.

Anyhow, I should know better than to try crossing swords with a theologian.

But perhaps that would further deviate from the column’s discussion…

Well, we’ve wandered from direct discussion of transhumanism, but the issue of what exactly makes a human being is vital to that conversation. How far can we go with bodily augmentation or replacement until we start crossing the line between “joints and marrow?” At what point does a technologically-modified human violate their soul and become something other than human? This also touches on the conversation we’ve had before about whether the possession of a soul equals “sentience.”
 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Hey, Grudem is not right on everything! I haven’t yet bought his defense of pre-millennialism, even though I want to stay pre-millennial; however, his defense of all spiritual gifts continuing today, even if they’re misunderstood, did convince me. That’s why I offered to send the rest of the content, which presents a better case.

Fully agreed with your main question: which “part” of a human would one need to remove, if it were possible, to make the begin less human, or even non-human?

I’d suggest that removing the body, or the spirit (a.k.a., soul), doesn’t do that. After all, God Himself permits redeemed people to be separated from their bodies for a while — e.g., “unclothed,” as Paul says in 2 Cor. 5 — and that doesn’t make the person inhuman. However, Paul does present that as a temporary and even less-desirable situation, unnatural, but necessary in this groaning world, thanks to the consequences of sin.

Fred Warren
Member

…and I keep forgetting to say this: killer article, Shannon! 🙂

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

All this is fresh on my mind, particularly because of some recent research I’ve been doing into Jehovah’s Witness beliefs — after they kept stopping by my place a couple of weeks ago, for interesting conversation. J-Witnesses don’t believe, or enjoy, the Biblical doctrine of resurrection at all. Maybe that’s what makes them so sad, you see. …

(Quiet, subdued rim shot.)

Studying what they believe about it makes the doctrine of resurrection all the more glorious by contrast. And it’s particularly welcome, this time of year when Christians have the wonderful true story of Christ’s Incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us, even more poignantly in mind.

From Becky‘s comment above (quoting and interacting through the rest of this one):

Stephen, interestingly, I see the passage you mentioned, specifically 2 Cor. 5:2, as showing that we are indeed souls/spirits with bodies.

Amen — though as you also say below, the separation or being “unclothed” is temporary, a sad result of sin. Not the way our human selves were originally meant to be. The human being is meant to stay “together,” more than the sum of its “parts” (whether those parts are two or three is a related issue!).

Not by happenstance, mind you, or in accordance with God’s original creation. What we lost in the Fall, among other things, was an immortal, imperishable body, as I’m sure you agree.

Amen. And God will give it back, the “self-same body” as the Westminster Confession says, though with amazing upgrades for the redeemed universe — most of which we can’t be sure about. Christ’s own redeemed body, with the same material components — thus its physical removal from the tomb — is the template, but will we also be able to drift through walls, or ascend, as He did? We don’t know. … Anyway, onward!

Consequently, we have to experience a temporary-ness, dwelling in a tent rather than in a permanent body, and facing the imminent day when it will be laid aside (see 2 Peter 1:14). As Paul said in 2 Cor. 4:16, the outer man is decaying, which we all know and understand as the “natural” aging process. There’s nothing “natural” about it. Death and the process of dying is a direct consequence of the Fall. And yet it is as sure as taxes. ;-) (Proof, actually, that God’s word is sure!)

Amen. And that’s also proof, I think, that no one will be able in this world to attain any sort of medically advanced aging reversal or semblance of “eternal life.” God simply won’t allow that to happen. I believe we would sooner see discovery of alien life, even sentient life, than see people able to reverse the Curse to that extent.

However, I’ve enjoyed Christian science fiction (such as Kirk Outerbridge’s Eternity Falls) that explore the what-ifs of “eternal life” in this groaning world.

What a great promise and what a glorious future we have to look forward to — that God would so love us as to ensure an imperishable, heavenly body, one suited for heaven. It’s truly something to celebrate and something to generate praise.

Amen again! … And this, by the way, is something that apparently the Corinthian believers were very confused about. Teaching Christ’s resurrection, and also their own future resurrection of their physical bodies, proved very confusing. How could this decaying body last forever? Seems Paul thought the confusion was silly. “You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.” (1 Cor. 15:36)

(In the ESV, the Eric Stephen Version, Paul: “Duh. You have to die first. Like a seed.”)

Apparently this is just as confusing to Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are stuck in the trap of assuming the only “resurrection” to believe is a “spiritual” resurrection. Not even Jesus rose bodily from the dead; His “body,” with the scars and everything, was just an elaborate show so the disciples could know He’d been completely re-created as a spirit being. 🙁 Yipes. Imagine the hopelessness this brings — along with, of course, very little regard for Jesus Christ the Word who was, is and forever will be, embodied, with His same yet supernatural body!

Maybe the wording of verse 44 throws them off: “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Cor. 15:44). When I read “spiritual body,” I instinctively apply a preconceived belief of “spirit,” a floating white glob, intangible, bodiless; Caspar the Friendly Ghost. But:

You must emphasize to the Jehovah’s Witnesses that the apostle Paul’s usage of the word “spiritual” does not demand a reference to immateriality or nonphysicality. Note, for example, that Paul spoke of a “spiritual man” (NIV) in 1 Corinthians 2:15. It is clear from the context that he did not mean an invisible, immaterial man with no corporeal body. Rather, he was speaking of a “flesh-and-blood human being whose life was lived by the supernatural power of God. He was referring to a literal person whose life had spiritual direction.” [Quote from Norman Geisler; reference redacted.] Likewise, the phrase “spiritual body” in 1 Corinthians 15:44-50 does not point to an immaterial body but rather a spirit-dominated and supernatural body (soma).

From Reasoning from the Scriptures with the Jehovah’s Witnesses by Ron Rhodes, pages 191-192

(By the way, that’s apparently what “spiritual” means in the NT, not “bodiless” but “supernatural, guided by the Holy Spirit.” That’s something I plan to bring up the next time I hear someone say “I’m not religious, but spiritual.” Oh? You mean that your life is guided by the Holy Spirit Who points to worship of God and His glory, and illuminates the Word of God that He inspired? That’s great to hear!)

Rhodes goes on also to discuss the “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” truth from 1 Cor. 15:50, explaining that the phrase “flesh and blood” refers to “mortal humanity,” suffering the “natural” aging process because of sin’s consequences.

Back to Becky, not Rhodes:

I understand that people without Christ, especially atheists, look at this world as all there is, and therefore are driven by the desire to improve the earth and the body to the best of human ability.

Which is absolutely useless. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim. 6). Only God could bring things back, and only for His glory.

At the same time, I recall a casual conversation I overheard a few moments ago, between two people who were discussing Black Friday shopper craziness (which seems to be overhyped anyway, as store-related madness incidents occur all the time, and get more attention because of the particular day). They were talking about materialism and how gross it is, and how much better it is to  give, love, etc. So perhaps it’s stranger that any non-Christians may have this kind of ethic that rejects materialism, even if they have no ultimate basis for it.

Anyway, all this discussion will help a lot if I ever get back with those J-Witnesses. Last time I wasn’t able to invite them in because I had a cold (also, the living room was a mess). This time we have a better chance, and I’m better prepared, I hope. But, that same cold has come back to haunt me — and of course, to make me anticipate even more when God, not me, will resurrect this decaying, dying, groaning, sick body!

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Just finished reading the series. It’s brilliant. Thanks for posting it. I especially appreciated the “get them to read the verse out loud, themselves” bits — Rhodes in his book also heartily recommends that as a way both to manage time and truly interact.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Thanks, Becky! I’m still strategizing, but also becoming a little more confident that “winging it,” with the Spirit’s ever-present help to be sure, is still the best way to go. That’s what I did the first few times, but was suspicious because it felt too “easy” …

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Re. talking with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Stephen, I came across this article which I thought you’d find interesting — “10 Surprisingly Simple Tips for Talking with Cult Members – Part 3.”

 

Becky

 

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

This discussion reminds me of one of the few jokes I can remember.

One night an angel visited a rich man and told him to get his affairs in order because he was about to die and go to heaven. The rich man asked what he could expect to bring with him. The angel explained that he would need nothing. But the rich man, loath to leave behind all he had made in this life, begged for the opportunity to bring something with him. Finally the angel relented. “All right, I’ll agree to one suitcase,” he said, “but only one.”

The man thought and thought what he should take. Finally, he decided to liquidate his holdings and turn everything into gold bullion. When the day came, sure enough, he stood at heaven’s gates with his one suitcase packed full of gold.

The angel smiled and welcomed him in. “I see you have your one suitcase,” he said.

“Thank you, yes.”

“So, I’m curious, what did you decide to bring with you?”

The man, feeling pleased with the wisdom of his decision, proudly opened his suitcase, displaying the gold.

The angel looked confused. “Pavement? You decided to bring pavement?”

 

Becky

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Oh, it’s also one of the few jokes about going to Heaven that’s actually theologically accurate! 😀 (Speaking of which, I wonder if Peter will ever actually hang out at the New Jerusalem’s gates, just to enjoy some of the silliness that got around about him …)

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

I’ve always loved that one.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, thought that all the mentions of streets of gold, gates made of jewels, and so on, were metaphors meant to Symbolize the Real Thing. Of course, that could be true, but I would ask: how come? Could they not be symbols and real elements of the redeemed New Jerusalem? Oddly enough, Lewis seemed to show this even better in his fiction, especially The Last Battle with its New Narnia.

Maria Tatham
Guest

Andrea, you asked for a reader or two for your WIP. Could you give me a link?

Thank you,
Maria
 

Andrea Graham
Guest

It’s a word file, actually. I can email it to you or I can share a folder with you on Dropbox and put a copy of the file in there.

Maria Tatham
Guest

Andrea, e-mail would be great!
Thank you!
Maria  

Andrea Graham
Guest

Okay, I have that from your visit to my blog, thanks. 🙂

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