I went to a Christians in Science conference last weekend. The theme was ‘What does it mean to be human’. Talks covered various topic around this theme, but one in particular was quite…wacky. There’s no other word for it. It was a talk full of ‘ifs’, but nonetheless it sparked all sorts of thoughts. It’s mostly hypothetical at the moment, but probably won’t always be.
Here is a summary.
What makes humans special or unique amongst living organisms?
Self-consciousness? This isn’t unique to us. Dolphins and chimps, at least, can recognise themselves in a mirror.
What makes someone a ‘person'?
Individual substance? Then what about conjoined twins?
The capability of valuing existence? Then what about suicidal tendencies?
We define ‘human’ biologically – the human species, Homo sapiens.
Would clones count as Homo sapiens? Presumably so. What about hybrids?
Going further, what about what we might call ‘Techno sapiens’? Imagine a person receives a bionic eye to restore vision. Surely this wouldn’t discount them from the species. Bionic arms or legs? I think not. Bionic organs?
How far can we go? What if a person received so many technological additions, for whatever reason (obviously hypothetical at this time), that they were mostly machine? We’re basically talking cyborgs here.
Ok then, artificial intelligence. Could that count as human? Biologically, no, but theologically? If a form of AI was sentient and moral, capable o normal human activity and relationships, could it count as human? Could it have a relationship with God? I can’t think of a better example than Kryten from Red Dwarf at this point!
Aliens? Extraterrestrial life, if it exists, and if sufficiently advanced, could surely be capable of a relationship with God.
Or even enhanced animals. If, say, dolphins or chimps were enhanced to make them human-like, would that count?
Some closing thoughts:
Imago Dei, the image of God, is surely beyond the physical.
An embryo is a potential human being, given the right conditions.
A machine (in a possible future) is a potential human being, given the right conditions.
Is this true?
The idea of Techno sapiens, or cyborgs, is so much the Kingdom of God. The lame walk, the blind see…just with the help of technology.
Could a robot (AI) sin? Or be redeemed? Would ‘extra-terrans’ (enhanced chimps) be spiritually aware?
Jesus had relationships outside the norm…Samaritans, lepers etc…should we be embracing these new forms of life?