And now for something completely different: The birth of a Transhumanist Party

Were you perplexed by those 17 Republican candidates for president way back when?

The Religion Guy has no way to check this but attorney Ron Gunzburger’s names hundreds of 2016 hopefuls who are running in some sense and catalogues 33 “third parties.” The oldest is the 147-year-old Prohibition Party, which captured 519 of the 128,556,837 presidential votes cast in 2012.

This listing includes the newly minted Transhumanist Party of Mill Valley, Calif,, and nominee Zoltan Istvan, businessman and Huffington Post columnist. Reporters may be hearing more about this movement, which has been tiny and on the cultural fringe in the U.S. but is now emerging enough to furrow some Christian brows.

Few religious folks would argue in general against applying modern science, technology and medicine for human betterment. But ethical disputes are frequent on specific issues, for instance genetic manipulation of the human species or of vegetables, or experiments that destroy human embryos or risk harm to chimpanzees.    

Istvan defines transhumanism as “beyond human” and explains that the movement is a union of “life extensionists, techno-optimists, Singularitarians, biohackers, roboticists, A.I. proponents, and futurists who embrace radical science and technology to improve the human condition.”

For many enthusiasts the chief goal  is to totally eliminate human death, hopefully by 2045. The more optimistic Istvan thinks with a trillion dollars spent on life extension research “we will conquer human mortality within 10 years.” But, he complains, “religious extremists” have so far prevented the dream.

Immortality, anyone?

His fledgling political party’s platform advocates shifting serious federal money from national defense to creating longer lifespans. Other spending should protect against risks from “artificial intelligence, plagues, asteroids, climate change, and nuclear warfare and disaster.” Another tenet is “morphological freedom,” which translates as “the right to do anything to your body so long as it doesn’t harm others.”

Perhaps this sounds too far out there for journalistic treatment. But an article in the online Christian Post contends that this “may very well be the next big science vs. religion battle.”

The movement was taken quite seriously at a “Transhumanism and the Church” confab last September (click here for more information) sponsored by the lively Center for Science and Religion at Alabama Baptists’ Samford University. Already, scholars in the American Academy of Religion have formed a “transhumanism and religion” seminar to discuss the issues. Its co-convenor, Pittsburgh Seminary’s Ronald Cole-Turner, was a major speaker at Samford and has edited the anthology “Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement.”  

One proponent of Christian transhumanism at Samford was Christopher Benek, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He is upset that Istvan’s faction is turning the cause in an atheistic direction. The Transhumanist Party, for example, proclaims an emphasis on “reason and secular values.” Rather than the anti-religion wing’s narcissism and self-glorification, Benek says, Christians should take moral responsibility to guide a humane version of “technologies that significantly enhance the intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities of human beings.”

Other Christians think all this gives utopia a bad name.

John Stonestreet of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview warns against the arrogance of those who dream of “reinventing the human species” and for whom “empirical science is the only measure of truth. . . Every other would-be re-inventor of humanity has failed. And so will the transhumanists. The only question is how much suffering will they cause along the way.”

Here is a link for information on the interrelated Extropy Institute, World Transhumanist Association, Humanity+

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