Should Atheists Be Transhumanists?

Dec 15 2013 @ 2:24pm

Controversial novelist Zoltan Istvan argues in the affirmative, asserting that “atheist voices and their writings have paved the way” for the age of transhumanism. He defines “the core of transhumanist thought”:

It begins with discontent about the humdrum status quo of human life and our frail, terminal human bodies. It is followed by an awe-inspiring vision of what can be done to improve both — of how dramatically the world and our species can be transformed via science and technology. Transhumanists want more guarantees than just death, consumerism, and offspring. Much more. They want to be better, smarter, stronger — perhaps even perfect and immortal if science can make them that way. Most transhumanists believe it can. … If you don’t care about or believe in God, and you want the best of the human spirit to raise the world to new heights using science, technology, and reason, then you are a transhumanist.

Peter Lawler nods, writing that “what Ishtan says makes some sense”:

It seems to me, however, that a philosopher today would still be on firm ground in thinking that transhumanist hope of particular persons around today is no more reasonable that the Christian hope for personal salvation. From that view, transhumanism isn’t really so atheistic. The hope is that we can transform ourselves into the functional equivalent of gods.

Brendan Foht isn’t convinced that atheism and transhumanism are naturally linked:

Istvan is certainly right that transhumanists are motivated by a sense of disappointment with human nature and the limitations it imposes on our aspirations. He’s also right that transhumanists are very optimistic about what science and technology can do to transform human nature. But what do these propositions have to do with atheism? Many atheists like to proclaim themselves to be “secular humanists” whose beliefs are guided by the rejection of the idea that human beings need anything beyond humanity (usually they mean revelation from the divine) to live decent, happy, and ethical lives. As for the idea that we cannot be happy without some belief in eternal life (either technological immortality on earth or in the afterlife), it seems that today’s atheists might well follow the teachings of Epicurus, often considered an early atheist, who argued that reason and natural science support the the idea that “death is nothing to us.”

Previous Dish on transhumanism here, here, and here.