In the past when I have preached in various churches I have asked the members of the congregation to indicate, by a show of hands, how many of them believe that they will not die. Not a single person answered in the affirmative. I would venture to guess that these congregation’s responses to this question are typical among the vast majority of Christians across the world today. Even so, the eschatological hope of avoiding death that was prevalent in the early of days of Christianity may soon return to the church universal via a seemingly unlikely source – mainly - human technological advancement.
Early Christians understood that death is the enemy of humankind. Many early Christians actively maintained the hope, throughout their lives, that they would never have to die. The Apostle Paul, for instance, was hopefully optimistic that Christ might return in his lifetime to transition his existence from his mortal body to his immortal one.
And while the early Christians refused to live in fear of their mortality, their hope was to avoid it, if possible, without compromising the integrity of their faith. Over time though, due to experiencing generations of death, this eschatological hope has slowly faded among Christians. That is until recently when the technological world has made popular the concept of the technological Singularity.
In simple terms, the Singularity is a projected future point in history when humans will be able to develop artificial intelligence that is smarter than the most intelligent human being. The concept logically follows that such strong AI then would be capable of recursive self-improvement. This subsequently could produce unending iterations of increasingly more intelligent and advanced AI that could result in super-intelligent beings unfathomable to current human understanding.
So how does the Singularity potentially impact Christians? Well, one concept is that human beings will continue to technologically modify and improve themselves as these exponential technological advances take place. One possible result of such modification is that humans may be able to one day develop immortal bodies that ultimately free them from death.
While this may sound like extreme science fiction, it is important to consider that human beings have long been physically maintaining and improving themselves using technology. Today, vast numbers of people have hip, knee, and dental implant replacements regularly. LASIK eye surgery allows individuals to have 20/15, better than perfect, vision. Pacemakers stimulate persons’ hearts. Cochlear implants provide human hearing. More than this, the list of developing technologies aimed at improving the human physical condition is ever increasing.
As we continue to advance technologically, it is rational for us to to expect that such progress in only going to increase in speed and complexity. Anti-aging technologies are going to be invented. Radical life extension is going to become a reality. It is possible too that, by way of the Singularity, technological immortality may even be achieved.
These advancements should provide hope for Christians because, in a very tangible way, they represent the reality of the Christian belief that God, through Christ, has begun the process of redeeming humanity and all of Creation. Now, as we share in Christ’s invitation to aid in this renewal and restoration of humanity and the world, we too potentially have the privilege of assisting God in bringing this new deathless reality to fruition as well. As such, Christians should begin to be intent in aiding and empowering technologists with the formational tools that will encourage their work to be for the good of all humanity. In so doing – one day - Christians may be able to fully realize the early church’s hope of never having to face death.
Reality Changing Observations:
Q1. Do you think God can or cannot use technology to bring about eternal life?
Q2. In what ways do you see technology helping Christians to participate in Christ's redemptive purposes in the world?
Q3. How might Christians proactively aid technologies in developing practical new technologies to better humanity and the world?