Culture At Large

Waiting for the Techno-Rapture

Andy Rau

I've recently found myself reading up on the Singularity. "Singularity" is the term for a predicted moment in the future when technological and societal advances will occur so rapidly that computers, and possibly humans as well, will "awaken" to a higher stage of consciousness. It's a quirky theory to be sure--its original incarnation as outlined by sci-fi author Vernor Vinge focused on the Singularity as a technological awakening (computers abruptly attaining artificial intelligence, that sort of thing), but over time the idea has been expanded by the transhumanist movement to refer to a quasi-religious "awakening" of humanity to a higher stage of being.

It's all very strange, yet fascinating. Still with me?

It turns out that there are Christians attempting to reconcile the concept of the Singularity, and transhumanism in general, with Christianity. The whole Singularity concept is loaded with religious symbolism--it's been sarcastically described as the "Techno-Rapture"--and there are some curious parallels between Christian eschatology and transhumanism:

An example of a Christian transhumanist theology is to identify the singularity with the Second Coming, the return of Jesus.

The identification of the technological singularity with Christian eschatology requires a postmillennialist viewpoint, in which posthumanity is viewed as a good thing, the fulfillment of God's promises.... However, a premillennial theology could also be developed, in which the singularity is identified as the triumph of human pride over faith, a triumph in which Christ will intervene to prevent from occurring.

The TransVision 2004 conference specifically set out to discuss "faith, transhumanism, and hope," discussing the intersection of transhumanism and traditional religion (listen to MP3s of the conference sessions, which feature titles like "Is Catholic Transhumanism Possible?" and "Transhumanism and Religion").

What to make of all this? My sense, after listening to several of the conference speakers linked above, is that this is very dangerous ground. Christianity is based on the historic fact of Christ's life, death and resurrection; reducing Christianity to a great technological metaphor seems to me to remove the focus from Christ. Transhumanism's focus is on humanity's potential greatness; there's not a lot of room for the saving grace of Christ. (And then there are the strong hints of technology-worship and New Age-y gnosticism.)

Somehow I don't think Quentin Schultze would approve. Speaking a few years ago about technology in general, he took a definitely non-transhumanist view of humans and technology:

The information age is the great era of human hubris, the flowering of the Enlightenment ideas of the autonomy of humankind and the power of human beings to control their own destiny. Yet we can't even control the effects of the technologies that we create! This is the great, laughable irony!

We are a moral mess in this grand technological age. The first thing we ought to do is admit our condition and laugh at our folly. Then maybe we can begin to reacquaint ourselves with the reality of our fallenness and our utter need for grace rather than more techno "solutions."

The Singularity and other ideas about the future of our techno-fetish culture are worth pondering, I think, but in the end, it's not the machines that will save us.

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