“The “Glory of God is Man Fully Alive”: The Madness of Transhumanism

Utopian schemes, always fantasizing about progress, development, and evolution, envision the future of a brave new world detached from Mother Nature’s laws and God the Father’s teachings. They are always moving toward “the cutting edge,” some great advance or new discovery that will remove all the imperfections of the fallen human condition: disease, death, suffering, ignorance, and war. Mother Nature is too wild, prolific, unreliable, and unmanageable in her fruitfulness and abundance. Because God the Father does not improve the lot of mankind and the same problems of life’s injustices and miseries persist throughout the generations, man’s science and technology seek to transform both the created world and human nature to produce an improved natural order and a master race of perfect people intellectually gifted, athletically superior, and genetically unflawed. The agenda involves the transformation of the traditional meaning of human being and the re-creation of a “new man” whose intelligence, strength, health, and longevity surpass all former frontiers and limits. This transhuman world, however, leads to a dehumanized existence.

abbreviation for transhumanism

In That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis portrays an intellectual elite who belong to an organization with a transhumanist agenda—the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (NICE). They are disenchanted with the order of the created world with its cycles of birth and death which they despise as the great evil of “organic life.” The members of NICE propose to eliminate vegetation and replace forests with metal trees that have “No leaves to fall, no twigs, no birds building nests, no muck and no mess.” They equate the organic with the uncontrollable, the chaotic, the unclean and the unhealthy and feel repulsion for the by-products of plant and animal life: “sweat, spittles, excretions . . . . The impure and the organic are interchangeable conceptions.” These intellectuals envision a neutered, castrated, infertile world where love and marriage culminating in the fruitfulness of love and the reproduction of the species disappear so that a new species of man engineered by technology and science replaces the nature of man as the union of body and soul: “Who would work with stallions and bulls? No, no. we want geldings and oxen. There will never be peace and order and discipline so long as there is sex.”

The members of the Institute call this New Man “the Head,” a portion of the skull of a dead man resurrected and engineered with chemicals and tubes to function with an artificial intelligence separated from the body—a head with the top part removed and fixed to a bracket and appearing suspended. The intellectual elite imagine this New Man as “Man Immortal and Man Ubiquitous” and as “Man on the throne of the universe.” To destroy organic life, to reinvent man, and to substitute man’s scientific knowledge for Mother Nature’s wisdom amount to a modern version of classical hubris, the deadly sin of pride in Greek tragedy that caused the fall of kings and unleashed suffering on a vast scale. This New Man of course does not resemble the human being created in the image of God with right reason, free will, moral responsibility, and an immortal soul. A “transhumanized” man, then, represents another species with a highly developed superhuman intelligence that surpasses all the limits of man’s mind. Shakespeare’s famous definition of man expressed by Hamlet loses all meaning in the realm of transhumanism: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable; in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals” (II.ii.327-331). Transhumanism, then, envisions “The emergence of the Bodiless Men,” a technologically reconstructed version of human nature devised of tubes and bulbs in Lewis’ novel, a precursor to implants and drugs that lead to the evolution of man as a machine independent of Mother Nature’s laws and God the Father’s creation of man with his capacity for truth, love, goodness, and eternal life.

This new bodiless “man” as the product of evolution, scientific experimentation, and advanced engineering lacks both a body and soul. Though it does not die, it does not live. Its mind, though computerized with enormous powers of memory and stored with information that exceeds the capacity of the human mind, lacks the God-given intelligence that Aristotle and St. Thomas referred to as “capax universi,” the wide range of all-encompassing thought that spans universal truths from all bodies of knowledge—the ability to see truth as a whole or contemplate “all that is.” The artificial intelligence of the New Man, though efficient and rapid, lacks the contemplative mind that begins in wonder and ends in knowledge of the transcendental known as the One, the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. The New Man’s improved new brain does not possess what Blessed Cardinal Newman calls “the philosophic habit of mind” which he defines in The Idea of the University:

It is almost prophetic from its knowledge of history; it is almost heart-searching from its knowledge of human nature; it has almost supernatural charity from its freedom from littleness and prejudice; it has almost the repose of faith, because nothing can startle it; it has almost the beauty and harmony of heavenly contemplation, so intimate is it with the eternal order of things and the music of the spheres.

In short, this evolved, computerized intelligence that retains vast stores of information does not think in any human sense. The retrieval of information does not amount to the virtue of prudence that exercises wise judgment and a discerning moral sense that transcends mere calculation. Human thought and moral reasoning have both a subjective and objective dimension that involves the mind, heart, and conscience.

The artificial intelligence of the New Man lacks the gift of poetic knowledge, the ability to see the resemblances and striking analogies seen in poetry as metaphors–comparisons that penetrate the heart of reality and lead to an understanding of the invisible things of God by the things that are visible to paraphrase St. Paul. In the Song of Solomon, for example, the union of the bride and the bridegroom in love compares to the union of God with the soul. As the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins observed of the simple bluebell, “I know the beauty of the Lord by it”–the azure blue of the flower resembling the cerulean sky. Also the brain of the New Man cannot abstract generalizations from particulars or see the form in matter in the way Michelangelo remarked, “There’s a David in that hunk of rock,” and it has no power of intuition, that mode of knowledge Boethius called intellectus (the intuitive glance of apprehension that sees all at once instead of step by step). Transhumanist fantasies also ignore connatural knowledge, the knowledge of the heart that comes from the bonds of intimate love between spouses, family members, and the closest friends. Wherever deep loyalties, long friendships, and close unions form human relationships, a familiar, connatural knowledge of another person’s heart and soul follows.

In the words of St. Irenaeus, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Why should man forfeit this natural glory for an imaginary New Man without the fullness of passionate living in both the body and the soul, in the mind and in the heart? The reality of a fallen, imperfect world does not justify the radical agenda of the transhumanist agenda. Created in the image of God, man already possesses an inherent glory that distinguishes him from all of creation. Born with a natural love of truth, man does not require superhuman intelligence any more than he needs the body of an elephant. Born with five senses and a sensitive emotional nature with the widest ranges of perception and feeling, man needs no implants with vast memory banks and limitless information. Self-knowledge and common sense recognize limitations and fallibilities that exist and define man for a reason and that serve a valuable purpose. Man does not need to know everything, remember everything, foresee everything, or possess an unerring infallible intelligence. Man does not need to gain the longevity to live forever in the human world and bypass death, life everlasting, and the Beatific Vision. Like all animals and plants, man is endowed with the powers, faculties, and instincts that lead him in the natural direction most befitting his nature, happiness, and destiny—to life everlasting and heavenly joy. In Dante’s words from The Divine Comedy as he ascends from Purgatory to Paradise,

Already were all my will and my desires

Turned—as a wheel in equal balance—by

The Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

Mitchell Kalpakgian, Ph.D. has completed fifty years of teaching beginning as a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, continuing as a professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa for thirty-one years, and recently teaching part-time at various schools and college in New Hampshire. As well as contributing to a number of publications, he has published seven books: The Marvelous in Fielding’s Novels, The Mysteries of Life in Children’s Literature, The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, An Armenian Family Reunion (a collection of short stories), Modern Manners: The Poetry of Conduct and The Virtue of Civility, and The Virtues We Need Again. He has designed homeschooling literature courses for Seton Home School, and he also teaches online courses for Queen of Heaven Academy and part-time for Northeast Catholic College.
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