J.K. Russell Research Conference with Noreen Herzfeld, More than Information: A Christian Critique of a New Dualism "
Dinner Board Room, Graduate Theological Union
In light of quantum theory and advances in computer science many scientists have posited that information, rather than matter, forms the bedrock of the universe. Thus it follows that the essence of our selves as human beings is the information housed in the neural connections of our brain, information that, in principle, could be reproduced digitally. Such a "cybernetic immortality" forms one of the bases of a new transhumanist vision, yet it introduces a new Cartesian dualism that separates mind from body, locating the self wholly in the mind. This contrasts with the traditional Christian understanding of humans as created in the image of God (imago dei), an image found not just in our mind, but also in our embodied agency and our relationships. We are neither just a mind nor just a body, but a mind that is both part and product of our human body, and embedded within the larger environment of the physical world and human culture. Our knowledge, functioning, and self-understanding are shaped and acquired by and through our bodies. Further, without a body we cannot feel emotion and thus have neither human-like intelligence nor compassion. My claim is that the dreams of transhumanism fail to capture the full nature of what it means to be human and are illusory hopes for an immortality of our own making. Instead any hope for immortality is best found, as Reinhold Niebuhr noted, beyond the scope of history. Further, this new dualism leads us to grandiose delusions--what Niebuhr called "the sin of pride"--regarding what we can accomplish in the here and now, delusions that are harmful to both our sense of self and our capacity to love one another.