Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”
The Book of Genesis aside, the genuine expectation of conquering death has long been a hallmark of the more extreme formulations of the innovationist[i] approach to the future, and of the hopes it tends to place in modern medicine and science.[ii] As far back as 1793, English philosopher William Godwin (father of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein) looked forward to intellectual advances that could bring about a “total extirpation of the infirmities of our nature,” including not only pain and disease, but also melancholy, sloth, aggression, and hate. At the end of it all, he foresaw the prolongation of human life “beyond any limits which we are able to assign.”[iii]
Naturally Godwin was ignored by society overall, as Christianity still held sway over the hearts and minds of most men and women in England, and the father and daughter team were viewed as part of the lunatic fringe of the Enlightenment age of Lord Byron. Yet they would not remain “fringe” for long as help was on the way. The concepts of atheism and Darwinian naturalism[iv] blended with the ideas of the psychologist Sigmund Freud who believed man was controlled by his passions (violent or sexual)[v] thus in need of restraint and modification by education, legislation, and medication. Eventually came B.F. Skinner (man as animal trained by outside forces)[vi] whose impact is still felt in university psychology classes and utilized in court rooms to justify criminal behavior.[vii] Life was no longer a gift from God nor were human beings created in the image of God with a duty to their creator.
These men and women were the thinkers and scientists that wanted extra-biblical reasons for explanations to the afflictions, psychological or physical that afflicted both man and society. Said “reasons” were the impetus behind the motive that they could then “fix man” and enable him to truly be alive in the scientific age of modern times whether for a better “normal” life or athletics.[viii]
In their approach to imagining the future, some contemporary partisans of unrestricted science and biotechnology clearly echo Godwin’s prophecy of progress. Similar to B.F. Skinner, they also believe that man is only an animal trained by outside forces, thus he is truly free. Any act of constraint upon him morally and legally is ultimately artificial because the only empirical basis for truth is matter, and man is biologically only body and brain governed by impulse, physical need, and memory – nothing more (the official terms for this is “Robust Physicalism” or Metaphysical Naturalism and is held to by many academics).[ix]Thus, there was no reason “reasonable” enough for innovationists to not attempt to lay hold of man’s evolutionary destiny to help him along the path to an endless life as Godwin insisted was the future of man.[x]
From Philosophy Text…to Laboratory
A step away from men and women that only wrote books about the ancient quest to live forever is actual laboratory experimentation. With the bio-eugenic advances in technology we now have the arrival of techno-medicine in which human nature might be advanced biologically, psychologically, and intellectually via the “Transhumanist” movement which seeks to modify the human person to the point that he transcends his old nature to become something altogether new.[xi] Assorted “transhumanists” and “extropians”[xii] dream of even greater things, including liberation from the bonds of the body and the possibility of endless life.
According to the prominent transhumanist writer Alan Harrington, “death is an imposition on the human race and no longer acceptable.”[xiii] Max More continues, “Transhumanists regard human nature not as an end in itself, not as perfect, and not as having any claim on our allegiance. Rather, it is just one point along an evolutionary pathway, and we can learn to reshape our own nature in ways we deem desirable and valuable. By thoughtfully, carefully, and yet boldly applying technology to ourselves, we can become something no longer accurately described as human – we can become posthuman.” [xiv]
The Quest for Hell?..
As with all “forbidden fruit” mankind reaches for in the name of “helping people” have better quality lives or defeat illness, the results are not always readily apparent to society nor its citizens who just want better quality lives. The great British writer C.S. Lewis was an exception, however. Lewis understood the consequence of our increasing power over man in 1944, even if he did not foresee the precise technological means of achieving it. In The Abolition of Man, Lewis wrote:
A picture is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them.… The real picture is that of one dominant age – let us suppose the hundredth century A.D. – which resists all previous ages most successfully and dominates all subsequent ages most irresistibly, and thus is the real master of the human species.[xv]
Such a prospect gives one pause for thought regarding man having defeated nature through technology only to awaken one day to discover that the servant has become the master (2 Peter 2:19). What kind of world would this be? What kind of beings would inhabit this world having been begotten through a laboratory experiment, and socially through natural selection as well as modified through human engineering and technology?[xvi] Would said “beings” even know that they had been the result of fringe intellectuals long ago whose ideas had finally found an audience willing to reach out and touch the forbidden fruit of knowledge and run with it?
At first glance, the “ancient quest” appears to be a story line for a retro Sci-Fi novel. Yet, upon careful consideration, if in fact people are writing about re-engineering life, studying how to do it, and teaching in our universities about bio-engineering a new being for a new world – clearly that world is upon us. The human engineers, and those fool enough to embrace “the ancient quest” may find themselves trapped in a sterile, technical world[xvii] of no restraint amongst those in power until their own death and call to the abyss for attempting to play God inevitably arrives (Luke 8:31).
At Christian Liberty Homeschools our curriculum makes it abundantly clear what a human being is, and what his or her destiny in time, in history, and in eternity is: www.homeschools.org
Books on my shelf:
How to Be a Christian in a Brave New World:
Institutes of Biblical Law:
[i] One who favors or practices innovation; a believer in or advocate of experimental change.
[iii] Quote taken from the first version of his book Political Justice, but later editions of the book omitted this topic due to political considerations.
[iv] David, Breese, Seven Men Who Rule the World from the Grave, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1990), p.23.
[v] Ibid, p.125.
[vi] David A. Noebel, Understanding the Times, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publications, 1991, 97), p.381.
See also: https://www.netflix.com/watch/81157840?trackId=14170033&tctx=1%2C3%2C11cad41d-958a-443b-9951-022525529f01-298125381%2CNES_B2540A444E79966699FF425C320A15-36BF935B00AD8F-7C027A3ED5_p_1691269171031%2CNES_B2540A444E79966699FF425C320A15_p_1691269171031%2C%2C%2C%2C81157840%2CVideo%3A81157840%2CminiDpPlayButton
[ix] Emmett Barcalow, Open Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy, 3rd Edition, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2001), p. 79-80.
[xi] Transhumanism is an international intellectual and cultural movement supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mentaland physical characteristics and capacities. The movement regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable. Transhumanists look to biotechnologies and other emerging technologies for these purposes.
[xii]Extropianism, also referred to as extropism or extropy, is an evolving framework of values and standards for continuously improving the human condition. Extropians believe that advances in science and technology will someday let people live indefinitely and that humans alive today have a good chance of seeing that day. An extropian may wish to contribute to this goal, e.g. by doing research and development or volunteering to test new technology.
[xiv] Max More, The Philosophy of Transhumanism, see: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781118555927.ch1
See also: media.johnwiley.com.au/product_data/excert/10/11183343/1118334310_109.pdf (p.4).
[xv] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947), p.149.
[xvii] Author Aryan Shah pushes beyond the usual question of whether endless life is even possible by asking pointed questions as to social, financial and moral concerns: “However, if we are able to stop aging altogether, should we? In the discussion of whether humanity should search for immortality, many moral dilemmas begin to appear. Some individuals might feel that, after a long period of time, they will be satisfied with their lifetimes and would want to die. Others, more focused on the whole of humanity, propose certain consequences related to overpopulation. If we were to stop aging, the human population would increase significantly, limiting already scarce resources such as food and water even further. These concerns are not invalid. Ever since the first signs of life appeared on our planet, there has been a natural order. Living things are born; they live; they die. Breaking this fundamental circle of life may bring upon consequences that we cannot foresee. So the question remains, if you could decide how long you could live, how long would you live? 100 years? 200 years? Forever?” https://medium.com/@arshah_46853/the-science-of-immortality-the-ancient-quest-for-eternal-life-883976bb7e94