Religion and transhumanism: Perfect fit or sure to conflict?

Then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter (not pictured) is briefed on the robotic limb exhibit at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency “Wait, What?" future technology forum in St. Louis on Sept. 9, 2015. (Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

Last month, a science story spread across the internet that seemed more suitable for Halloween than mid-September: Researchers had found that injections of young blood appeared to protect old patients from age-related illnesses.

The controversial discovery stemmed from a growing realm of scientific research aimed at transforming the human condition. Doctors involved hope to help people artificially boost their intelligence, gain new athletic abilities and maybe even live forever.

Transhumanism, the philosophy or intellectual movement underlying this type of research, teaches that humans aren’t done evolving. Transhumanists look at scientific advancements such as gene editing or robotic limbs and see the promise of a future with longer lives and much less suffering.

Although transhumanism began as a mostly secular movement, people of faith, as well as organizations such as the Christian Transhumanist Association, play a notable role in this movement today. Religious transhumanists draw on teachings related to bodily resurrection or rebirth to explain their involvement, arguing that revolutionary science benefits from a stronger moral compass.

Religious transhumanism has been criticized by both secular and religious people, who see a contradiction between belief in a higher power and passion for extreme human-led medical advancements.

Prominent transhumanists in Silicon Valley, including Elon Musk and Peter Thiel, are bringing more attention to this intellectual movement. Here’s a list of the people and organizations that can help you cover the intersection of transhumanism and faith.

Background reading

National sources

  • Christopher Benek

    Christopher Benek is a Presbyterian pastor and frequent commentator on emerging technology and theology, including artificial intelligence and religion.

  • Chris Bradford

    Chris Bradford serves as president of the Mormon Transhumanist Association.

  • Donald Braxton

    Donald Braxton is a professor of religion at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. He has planned a conference on and written about transhumanism and can speak to issues related to religion and film.

  • Lincoln Cannon

    Lincoln Cannon helped found the Mormon Transhumanist Association and the Christian Transhumanist Association. He writes and speaks about the relationship between philosophy and technology.

  • Christopher Key Chapple

    Christopher Key Chapple is a professor of Indic and comparative theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He contributed chapters on Hinduism and Jainism to the 2014 book Transhumanism and the Body: The World Religions Speak and has written on what Jainism has to offer to end-of-life health care debates.

  • George Church

    George Church is a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and professor of health sciences and technology at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He co-launched the Human Genome Project in 1984. His current research includes efforts to extend animal lifespans.

  • Ronald Cole-Turner

    Ronald Cole-Turner is the H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, author of Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Advancement and editor of Design and Destiny: Jewish and Christian Perspectives on Human Germline Modification.

  • Todd Daly

    Todd Daly is an associate professor of theology and ethics at Urbana Theological Seminary in Champaign, Ill. His work on Christian bioethics includes research into transhumanism.

  • Marcy Darnovsky

    Marcy Darnovsky is executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society. She speaks and writes about why scientific advancements such as gene editing are a social justice concern.

  • John K. Davis

    John K. Davis is a professor of philosophy at California State University, Fullerton. He is the author of New Methuselahs: The Ethics of Life Extension

  • Celia Deane-Drummond

    Celia Deane-Drummond is director of the Center for Theology, Science and Human Flourishing at the University of Notre Dame, where she also teaches courses on theology and Christian ethics. She has written and edited books and essays on transhumanism.

  • Amy Michelle DeBaets

    Amy Michelle DeBaets is an assistant professor of medical humanities and clinical bioethics at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. She serves as co-chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Human Enhancement and Transhumanism Unit.

  • Ilia Delio

    Ilia Delio is a theologian and writer who is interested in the intersection of faith and science. She is a Franciscan sister.

  • Elliot Dorff

    Rabbi Elliot Dorff is a professor of philosophy and university rector at American Jewish University in Bel-Air, Calif. He is an expert in Jewish family issues, including adoption. He has studied the Jewish perspective on assisted death, transhumanism and ethics in general.

  • Brian Green

    Brian Green is the director of technology ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. He studies how emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, affect human life.

  • Scott Hawley

    Scott Hawley is an associate professor of physics at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. He spoke on Christian responses to artificial intelligence at the Christian Transhumanist Association’s 2018 conference.

  • Noreen Herzfeld

    Noreen Herzfeld is a professor of theology and computer science at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict in Collegeville, Minnesota.

  • James J. Hughes

    James J. Hughes is the executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, as well as a bioethicist and sociologist at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

  • Livia Kohn

    Livia Kohn is a professor of religion and East Asian studies at Boston University. She researches Daoism and Chinese life extension techniques.

  • Mike LaTorra

    Mike LaTorra writes and speaks about Buddhist transhumanism. He is a retired English professor.

  • Newton Lee

    Newton Lee is chair of the California Transhumanist Party and president of the Institute for Education, Research and Scholarships.

  • Neal Locke

    The Rev. Neal Locke is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of El Paso in El Paso, Texas. He serves on the board of the Christian Transhumanist Association.

  • Hamid Mavani

    Hamid Mavani is an associate professor of Islamic studies at Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School in Clarement, Calif. He has written about whether Islam is compatible with transhumanism.

  • Gerald McKenny

    Gerald McKenny is a professor of Christian ethics and moral theology at the University of Notre Dame. He studies and writes about the ethics of biotechnology and the philosophy of medicine.

  • Calvin Mercer

    Calvin Mercer is a professor of religious studies at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. He studies the religious and social implications of human enhancement.

  • Russell Moore

    Russell Moore is editor-in-chief of Christianity Today. Named in 2017 as one of Politico Magazine’s top fifty influence-makers in Washington, Moore was previously President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

    He recently told Religion News Service that Christianity and transhumanism contradict each other, since the Bible says nothing about transcending humanity.

  • Sean O’Callaghan

    Sean O’Callaghan is an associate professor of religion at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. He studies New Religious Movements, religiously motivated violence and transhumanism.

  • Meghan O’Gieblyn

    Meghan O’Gieblyn is a freelance writer. In 2017, she published an essay on how learning about transhumanism led her back to Christianity.

  • Blaire Ostler

    Blaire Ostler is director of the Mormon Transhumanist Association. She speaks and writes about the relationship between her faith, feminism and transhumanism.

  • Erik Parens

    Erik Parens is a senior research scholar with the Hastings Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit bioethics research institute. He leads investigations into disability rights and what human flourishing means in the era of gene editing. Parens is the author of Shaping Our Selves: On Technology, Flourishing and a Habit of Thinking.

  • Ted Peters

    Ted Peters is a research professor emeritus in systematic theology and ethics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences and the Graduate Theological Union, all in Berkeley, Calif. He is the author of God in Cosmic History and Playing God?: Genetic Determinism and Human Freedom  and is co-editor of the journal Theology and Science.

  • Micah Redding

    Micah Redding is the founder and executive director of the Christian Transhumanist Association and host of the Christian Transhumanist Podcast. He has published numerous essays and articles on the relationship between religion and transhumanism.

  • Felipe Sierra

    Felipe Sierra is director of the division of aging biology at the National Institute on Aging.

  • Eric Steinhart

    Eric Steinhart is a philosophy professor at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. He researches and writes about the philosophy of religion, artificial intelligence, robotics and transhumanism.

  • J. Jeanine Thweatt

    J. Jeanine Thweatt serves on the Christian Transhumanist Association’s academic advisory council. She is the author of Cyborg Selves: A Theological Anthropology of the Posthuman.

  • Stephen Helms Tillery

    Stephen Helms Tillery is an associate professor of bioengineering and fellow of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University. He has helped develop cutting-edge technology related to prosthetics, but he’s skeptical that science will ever produce the advancements predicted by transhumanists.

  • Frank J. Tipler

    Frank J. Tipler is a professor of mathematics and physics at Tulane University and author of The Physics of Christianity and The Physics of Immortality, which argues that basic Christian miracle stories such as the Resurrection and the Virgin Birth can be consistent with the known scientific laws of the universe.

  • Hava Tirosh-Samuelson

    Hava Tirosh-Samuelson is a professor of modern Judaism and history at Arizona State University in Tempe, where she studies Judaism and ecology, bioethics, and religion and science.

International sources

  • Jon Bialecki

    Jon Bialecki is an honorary fellow with the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. He studies religious interest in transhumanism, with a focus on the Mormon community.

  • Anatoli Brouchkov

    Anatoli Brouchkov leads the geocryology department at Moscow State University in Russia. He recently earned international attention for injecting himself with bacteria that was 3.5 million years old in the hopes of slowing the aging process.

  • Aubrey de Grey

    Aubrey de Grey is the co-founder and chief science officer of the SENS Research Foundation, an organization dedicated to the study of radical life extension. He is based in Cambridge, U.K., and Mountain View, Calif.

  • Heup Young Kim

    Heup Young Kim is executive director of the Korea Forum for Science and Life in South Korea. He has written about how to apply East Asian religious teachings to the transhumanism debate.

    Contact: 82-31-280-3656.
  • Agbolade Omowole

    Agbolade Omowole serves as vice chair of the Christian Transhumanist Association. He lives in Nigeria.

  • Anders Sandberg

    Anders Sandberg is a research fellow with the Future of Humanity Institute at the the University of Oxford. He studies the ethics of human enhancement. 

  • Robert Song

    Robert Song is a Christian ethicist based at Durham University in the United Kingdom. He studies the moral implications of medical interventions such as gene editing.

  • Tracy Trothen

    Tracy Trothen is an ethics professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She has co-edited three books on religion and transhumanism. 

  • N.T. Wright

    N.T. Wright is a leading New Testament scholar and retired Anglican bishop. He is currently a professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

    He believes transhumanism is compatible with Christian teachings on the Resurrection.

Related organizations

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