Editor’s note: This Cape Town 2010 prep paper was written by Nigel Cameron and John Wyatt as an overview of the topic that will be discussed at the congress’ multiplex session on Ethics, Emerging Technologies and the Future of Humanity. Feedback on this material submitted as part of the Lausanne Global Dialogue will be shared with the authors and other congress participants to help them improve the material for presentation at the congress.
What does ‘human’ mean? In the traditional sense, there has always been a clear distinction between “natural” entities that arose naturally, and “artifacts” – products of human creation and ingenuity. For many centuries our material human nature has been the last frontier of the natural order of things. Although humans have succeeded in transforming and mechanizing virtually every aspect of their natural environment, they have not been able to move away from the “governess” of their human nature.
However, the rapid growth of the latest technologies is about to create a new extremely dangerous threat to human nature in the 21st century. This new threat will deeply affect our anthropology: it targets the fundamental relationship between our artifacts and our own nature.
between our abilities to manipulate and ourselves. It was this understanding that prompted K.S. Lewis in the distant dark days of 1943 to write his prophetic essay “Man Canceled” is probably the most prescient statement about the greatest problem facing the 21st century. The central tenet of the Christian faith, that man is made in the image of God, is being tested as never before.
Lewis argued that technology only externally increases the ability of the human race to control and subjugate nature, in fact, “what we call the power of man over nature is the power of some people over others with the help of nature.” A person cannot “just get stronger.
Any power he gains is directed against someone. Each step forward makes a person both stronger and weaker. With each victory, in addition to the triumphant general, there is also a prisoner who follows the triumphal machine From now on, we will be free to change our species as we want … The battle will indeed be won … But who, in fact, will be the winner? … By defeating nature, man canceled man.
In other words, by assuming the power to determine our own future, we will transform ourselves into beings of our own making, artifacts of our own making.
Human Dignity and the Age of Biotechnology
We are faced with the question of what to do with the extraordinary power that we have acquired. Advances in genetics, biotechnology, pharmacology, neuroscience, and nanomedicine give hope that dreadful diseases such as birth defects, cancer, and degenerative diseases will soon be cured. And yet, K.S. Lewis warned that the enticing prospects that these technologies offered, driven on the one hand by a noble desire to cope with the devastating consequences of diseases, always have a downside – the manipulation of vulnerable human life.
We are on the cusp of an unparalleled discovery of the human genome. This new knowledge offers hope for highly targeted drugs and advanced medical equipment. However, this breakthrough in genetics has also led to sophisticated new ways of identifying and destroying human embryos and fetal fetuses that carry undesirable genetic properties.
This way of fighting the disease by destroying its carrier offends the feelings of not only those who call themselves opponents of abortion. Therefore, it is not surprising that in Germany, where they have not yet forgotten what eugenics is, in vitro conception is legal, but the fetus is implanted without any quality control.
Reproductive technologies have allowed couples to overcome the pain of infertility, but they have also made it possible to artificially create a human embryo for subsequent destructive research, clone a human embryo, and create human-animal hybrids. As Oliver O’Donovan warned, we have changed the “old-fashioned crime of killing babies” to “the sophisticated new crime of creating babies of dubious human nature, of our species, who are hardly compassionate and loving.”
There is a tendency among ethically conservative religious people to relegate this debate to the realm of anti-abortion, with the result that, contrary to their own intentions, they help scientific, business, and political speculators who resist ethical calls to limit research data. By reducing the issue to the issue of abortion, they are unconsciously pushing it to the margins of the political arena and thereby depriving themselves of the support of other forces in the culture that share many of their concerns – about some aspects of these technologies, about the need for the principle of limitation, and about the global the significance of this issue in politics.
But we will make a big mistake if we reduce the discussion about the future of mankind to the problem of reproduction and experiments with fetuses, as gloomy scenarios are opening before us everywhere. In the field of neuroscience, the latest technologies allow us to monitor, control, manage and improve our brain functions. It becomes possible to control perception and memory through neuropharmacology (including the so-called “cosmetic neuroscience”) or through cognitive prosthetics.
The purpose of technology is not only to understand the world, but also to manage it, and neuroscience offers powerful opportunities for social control. Take the behaviors that threaten our future – violence, racial conflict, religious bigotry, drug addiction,
the selfish squandering of natural resources. Indeed, all this can be attributed to a malfunction of the human brain. If only we could understand how to correct these disturbed cognitive processes, we would then usher in a new age of social harmony and global peace. By making our own human functions the object of scientific study, i.e. having objectified ourselves, we hope to gain control over ourselves and achieve perfection.
Since so-called “religious fundamentalism” is considered a major source of social and political conflict, it is not surprising that neuroscience is actively exploring the brain mechanisms behind religious beliefs and experiences,