Frankenstein, Transhumanism, Artificial Intelligence

06-26-2022Weekly Reflection

Most people are familiar with the name Frankenstein most probably from the movies that have been made with this title. The caption above is a famous scene from the Frankenstein movie after Dr. Victor Frankenstein “creates” life by piecing together bodyparts from dead cadavers and “juicing” them with electricity. Part of the caption was censured in the 1930’s. The audience only heard: “It’s alive. It’s alive. The rest was eliminated because it was thought to be blasphemous.

Dr. Frankenstein says he knows what it feels like to be God. No he doesn’t. What he did and sought to do was nothing like God’s creation. In fact human beings are incapable of creation in the strict sense, because creation means bringing things into being from nothing. The Catechism teaches and an element of blasphemy is mocking God, a sin against the Second Commandment. The lie of the serpent to the woman was that if she disobeyed God she would be a god knowing good from evil. Genesis 3:2.

The reality of this tragic lie recorded in God’s word found its way into Greek mythology with the name Promotheus. The alternate title of the novel Frankenstein is The Modern Prometheus. Prometheus is known for defying the gods by stealing fire from them and giving it to humanity in the form of technology, knowledge, and more generally, civilization. In some versions of the myth he is also credited with the creation of humanity from clay. Prometheus also has been described as “a spiritually reprehensible figure, though frequently a sympathetic one, in terms of his dramatic situation and in his close alliance with mankind against the gods.” What else is the drama of original sin: the continuing rebellion and rejection of God and the gift of His creation wounded by the rebellion of the first man and woman.

Father Edward Oakes S.J. wrote in his commentary on Frankenstein: “Although Hollywood’s trope of the mad scientist implies the fault is located not in the technology as such but in the dubious psyche of the technocrat, Shelly’s novel knows better: the real problem comes not from scientists but from the Promethianism of science.” That’s not entirely true because using science to rebel against and reject God and creation, like Prometheus, is by a human agent and the fault also lies in the bad use the scientist makes of the science. Father Oakes also notes that the real question addressed by the novel Frankenstein: does reanimation include the infusion of a soul? He remarks Shelly answers this with a Yes. Dr. Frankenstein’s “creation” does have a soul shown by his eloquence, pathos, pride and his insistence, that he have an Eve for companionship.

The claims made for artificial intelligence (AI) by some scientists and technocrats especially in robot technology are attempts to redefine humanity in terms of being without souls engineered by humanity in its current state they claim. AI and the notion of transhumanism are being coupled so much so that there is a claim that these “robot-creations” can be considered persons. It should be said that artificial intelligence is not intelligent. It requires human agents who are intelligent and who program the machine/robot to mimic human intelligence seen simply as the brain-computer. Recall the sound mimicking a human voice in the early days of aol saying: You have mail. The notion of machine-intelligence is wedded to a philosophy of intelligence called materialism, the doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Your intelligence is your brain. There’s no spiritual component. There’s no soul.

But Catholic Philosopher Edward Feser remarks: …(I)f we start instead with the materialist’s conception of mind. The prevailing tendency for decades now among materialists has been to think of the mind in functionalist terms. That is to say, it is to analyze mental phenomena in terms of what they do rather than in terms of what they are made of. That idea, in turn, is typically developed in terms of the thesis that the mind is a kind of software that can be run on any number of different kinds of hardware. On this analysis, mind, like matter, turns out to be a kind of abstract structure. Like matter, it is essentially dematerialized, in the name of materialism. And you get other results that sound odd coming from a materialist, such as the idea that a mind might jump from one embodiment to another by way of software being uploaded from its old hardware and downloaded onto new hardware. See his discussion of materialsm here:

Transhumanism is a philosophical and intellectual movement which advocates for the enhancement of the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies that can greatly enhance longevity and cognition. It also predicts the inevitability of such technologies in the future. Wesley Smith provided an essay on the incompatibility of the transhumanist claims, another version of Frankenstein without a soul, with Christianity. You can read the whole essay here: Here are some bullet-points:

-Transhumanism is a futuristic social movement. Its adherents believe that immortality is attainable in the corporeal world through the wonders of applied technology. The goal is to become “H+,” or more than human.

-The problem with these efforts is that the transhumanist worldview and the Christian faith are incompatible. One cannot be a “Christian transhumanist”—any more than one can be a Christian Buddhist or Christian Muslim.

-That transhumanism became a phenomenon is not surprising. Western society is becoming increasingly secular, with an exponential growth of “nones” among the young.(A none is a person who claims to have no religion.) Such a societal shift has consequences. Removing God from the human equation engenders hopelessness and breeds nihilism.(Nihilism is the rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless) This is the crucial weakness of modern materialism, one that transhumanism seeks to remedy. By offering adherents the hope of technological rescue from the ultimate obliteration of death, transhumanism offers nonbelievers a postmodern twist on faith’s promise of eternal life. I can live forever, the transhumanist believes fervently, if we just develop the technology soon enough.

-…(S)ome transhumanists hope to repeatedly renew their bodies through breeding clones as sources of organ replacements. Others plan to have their heads cryogenically frozen to allow eventual surgical attachment on a different body or a cyborg. But transhumanists’ greatest passion is to eternally save their minds—as opposed to souls, which is not a transhumanist concept—via uploading into computer programs, a concept known as “digital immortality.” This is hardly what St. Paul meant when he asked, “Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?”

-Transhumanists not only believe that life is too short, but that human capacities are inadequate. Thus, the second great goal of transhumanism is “morphological freedom,” i.e., radical quality improvement—not through self-discipline, embracing the virtues, or focused efforts at character building, but via materialistic means such as gene editing, brain implants, and merging with AI technologies.

-Transhumanists don’t just want to manipulate their own bodies, but also those of their children. They hope to do this through genetic engineering and unnatural means of family formation. According to the Transhumanist Bill of Rights, “All sentient entities are entitled to reproductive freedom, including through novel means such as the creation of mind clones, monoparent children, or benevolent artificial general intelligence.” And I haven’t even gotten into how, by granting rights to AI computers and proposing to “upgrade” animals into rational beings, the movement rejects Christianity’s view of human uniqueness.

-As Istvan wrote in 2016 in the Huffington Post: “We must force our evolution in the present day via our reasoning, inventiveness, and especially our scientific technology. In short, we must embrace transhumanism—the radical field of science that aims to turn humans into, for lack of a better word, gods.” It’s hard to see how any of that squares with the Christian’s call to humility.

Radio personality and commentator Rush Limbaugh used to refer to the Huffington Post as the “Huffington Puffington” Post. Whether that blog huffs and puffs you can see for yourselves but there’s a lot of prideful dangerous huffing and puffing threatening humanity in its rebellion against God and His creation not our creation. In that light Friedrich von Hardenburg a writer in the Romantic era known as Novalis pointed out” We cannot know anything on our own; all real knowledge must be given to us.”