Special Issue "Religion and the New Technologies"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 February 2017)

Printed Edition Available!
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Noreen Herzfeld

Reuter Professor of Science and Religion, College of St. Benedict and St. John's University, 207 Peter Engel Hall, St. John's University, Collegeville, MN 56321, USA
Website | E-Mail
Phone: 320-363-2693
Interests: artificial intelligence; transhumanism; religion and technology

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

In 2000, Bill Joy wrote a controversial article in Wired magazine entitled "Why the Future Does not Need Us", in which he called for a moratorium on research in AI, nanotechnology, and genetic manipulation until we have got a better handle on the ethical questions these new technologies would raise. The intervening 15 years since Joy's call have brought significant advances in each of these technologies—Deep Learning, nanobots on the horizon, CRISPER-Cas9 just to name a few. These advances have implications for what it means to be human and how human life will unfold in the coming decades. This Special Issue will explore the religious issues AI, nanotechnology, and genetic modification raise. How do these technologies change our understanding of ourselves, our place in the world, our relationships to one another, our understanding of death, or our relationship to God?

Prof. Dr. Noreen Herzfeld
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • artificial intelligence
  • transhumanism
  • posthumanism
  • biotechnology
  • nanotechnology
  • robots
  • genetic manipulation

Published Papers (13 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial Introduction: Religion and the New Technologies
Religions 2017, 8(7), 129; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8070129
Received: 17 July 2017 / Revised: 19 July 2017 / Accepted: 19 July 2017 / Published: 21 July 2017
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Abstract
In April 2000, Wired published a controversial article entitled “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” by Joy (2000), co-founder and chief scientist at Sun Microsystems.[...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available

Research

Jump to: Editorial

Open AccessFeature PaperArticle The Glorified Body: Corporealities in the Catholic Tradition
Religions 2017, 8(9), 166; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8090166
Received: 5 August 2017 / Revised: 23 August 2017 / Accepted: 25 August 2017 / Published: 28 August 2017
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Abstract
The rise of new technologies—robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology among them—gave the American computer scientist Bill Joy certain pause for deep concern; these, he cautioned, carry the very real potential to push humankind toward extinction. In this essay, I explore an often understated [...] Read more.
The rise of new technologies—robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology among them—gave the American computer scientist Bill Joy certain pause for deep concern; these, he cautioned, carry the very real potential to push humankind toward extinction. In this essay, I explore an often understated reference in conversations on the promises and shortcomings of said technologies: the disposability of the human body. The Catholic tradition, in particular, boasts a rich and extensive collection of teachings on the theology of the body, which addresses, among other things, the significance of the body for human identity, its relationship to the soul, our (restrained) rights and mastery over it, its (proper) uses over the course of life, its relationship with other bodies, the value of its limitations, and its postmortem fate. Here, I engage the Church’s understanding of the centrality of the body alongside currents in transhumanist philosophy which champion technologies that neglect, or intentionally seek to discard, the body in the name of progress. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle The Catholic Church and Technological Progress: Past, Present, and Future
Religions 2017, 8(6), 106; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8060106
Received: 18 February 2017 / Revised: 26 April 2017 / Accepted: 17 May 2017 / Published: 1 June 2017
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Abstract
Over 2000 years the Catholic Church has slowly developed a posture towards technology which is predominantly techno-optimist and techno-progressive, and yet the Church does not have this reputation today. Concomitantly, Church institutions and individuals have made crucial contributions to the advance of science [...] Read more.
Over 2000 years the Catholic Church has slowly developed a posture towards technology which is predominantly techno-optimist and techno-progressive, and yet the Church does not have this reputation today. Concomitantly, Church institutions and individuals have made crucial contributions to the advance of science and technology, yet despite this practical effort to better human development, Christian theology has been remarkably uninterested in the subject of technology. This lack of interest is no longer tenable; scholars of religion and theologians should seriously engage technology because it is empowering humanity in ways that were previously reserved only for gods. This blind spot has not only hampered the Church’s ability to understand itself and our world, but also impeded the ability of the Church to fulfill its mission. Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si has begun to address this neglect, but is best understood in the context of Christian history, not only as written, but more so as practiced. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle The Limits of Machine Ethics
Religions 2017, 8(5), 100; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050100
Received: 17 March 2017 / Revised: 17 April 2017 / Accepted: 17 May 2017 / Published: 19 May 2017
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Abstract
Machine Ethics has established itself as a new discipline that studies how to endow autonomous devices with ethical behavior. This paper provides a general framework for classifying the different approaches that are currently being explored in the field of machine ethics and introduces [...] Read more.
Machine Ethics has established itself as a new discipline that studies how to endow autonomous devices with ethical behavior. This paper provides a general framework for classifying the different approaches that are currently being explored in the field of machine ethics and introduces considerations that are missing from the current debate. In particular, law-based codes implemented as external filters for action—which we have named filtered decision making—are proposed as the basis for future developments. The emergence of values as guides for action is discussed, and personal language –together with subjectivity- are indicated as necessary conditions for this development. Last, utilitarian approaches are studied and the importance of objective expression as a requisite for their implementation is stressed. Only values expressed by the programmer in a public language—that is, separate of subjective considerations—can be evolved in a learning machine, therefore establishing the limits of present-day machine ethics. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle Resurrection of the Body and Cryonics
Religions 2017, 8(5), 96; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050096
Received: 2 February 2017 / Revised: 10 May 2017 / Accepted: 14 May 2017 / Published: 18 May 2017
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Abstract
The Christian doctrine of resurrection of the body is employed to interpret the cryonics program of preserving legally dead people with the plan to restore them when future medicine can effectively address the cause of death. Cryonics is not accepted by mainstream science, [...] Read more.
The Christian doctrine of resurrection of the body is employed to interpret the cryonics program of preserving legally dead people with the plan to restore them when future medicine can effectively address the cause of death. Cryonics is not accepted by mainstream science, and even if the vision is never realized, it is worth the effort to use it as a thought experiment to test the capability of the Christian theological system to address this issue in the unfolding new world of human enhancement. Drawing on the apostle Paul, whose view was based in the Jewish notion of psychosomatic unity, Christian resurrection includes emphases on physicality, radical transformation, and continuity of personal identity. Successful cryonics scenarios can include restoring a person to more or less the same life they had before or, more likely, utilize robotics, tissue regeneration, and other future advances in human enhancement technology to restore one to an enhanced state. Christian resurrection and the more likely cryonics scenario both entail physicality, radical transformation, and continuity of personal identity and, as such, can be understood to be technological expressions of Christian resurrection. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle Willful Control and Controlling the Will: Technology and Being Human
Religions 2017, 8(5), 90; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050090
Received: 23 February 2017 / Revised: 1 May 2017 / Accepted: 8 May 2017 / Published: 10 May 2017
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Abstract
One purported benefit of technology is that it gives humans greater control over how they live their lives. Various technologies are used to protect humans from what are perceived to be the capricious whims of indifferent natural forces. Additionally, technology is used to [...] Read more.
One purported benefit of technology is that it gives humans greater control over how they live their lives. Various technologies are used to protect humans from what are perceived to be the capricious whims of indifferent natural forces. Additionally, technology is used to create circumstances and opportunities that are believed to be preferable because they are more subject to human control. In large measure, the lives of late moderns are effectively constructed and asserted as artifacts of what they will themselves to be. This control is seen prominently at the beginning and end of life. Technology is employed to overcome infertility, prevent illness, disability, and undesirable traits, to select desirable traits and increasingly enhance them. At the end of life, late moderns have a far greater range of options at their disposal than past generations: they can choose to delay death, control pain, or end their lives at the time and with the means of their choosing. The greater control that technology offers helps humans to survive and even flourish, but it comes at a price. One such cost is that it tends to reduce humans to being little more than a will confined within a body. The body is thereby effectively perceived to be an impediment to the will that should be overcome. Is this troubling? Yes. I argue that the purported control technology offers often serves as a distraction or blind spot that may prevent humans from understanding and consenting to their good. In making this argument I draw upon the Christian doctrine of the incarnation as a way of disclosing the creaturely good of finitude against which the will should conform rather than attempting to overcome. I also draw upon Iris Murdoch’s and Simone Weil’s concept of “unselfing” as a way of conforming the will with this good. I revisit issues related to the beginning and end of life to draw-out some of the implications of my argument. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle Big Data, Ethics and Religion: New Questions from a New Science
Religions 2017, 8(5), 88; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050088
Received: 30 January 2017 / Revised: 7 April 2017 / Accepted: 3 May 2017 / Published: 10 May 2017
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Abstract
Hopes, fears, and ethical concerns relating to technology are as old as technology itself. When considering the increase in the power of computers, and their ever-more widespread use over recent decades, concerns have been raised about the social impact of computers and about [...] Read more.
Hopes, fears, and ethical concerns relating to technology are as old as technology itself. When considering the increase in the power of computers, and their ever-more widespread use over recent decades, concerns have been raised about the social impact of computers and about practical issues arising from their use: the manner in which data is harvested, the preservation of confidentiality where people’s personal information is concerned, the security of systems in which such data is stored, and so on. With the arrival of “big data” new ethical concerns surrounding computer-based technology arise—concerns connected not only with social issues, and with the generation of data and its security, but also with its interpretation by data scientists, and with the burgeoning trade in personal data. The first aim of this paper is to introduce some of these ethical issues, and the second is to suggest some possible ways in which they might be addressed. The latter includes some explorations of the ways in which insights from religious and theological perspectives might be valuable. It is urged that theology and data science might engage in mutually-beneficial dialogue. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle Awe and Artifacts: Religious and Scientific Endeavor
Religions 2017, 8(5), 85; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050085
Received: 4 February 2017 / Revised: 13 April 2017 / Accepted: 30 April 2017 / Published: 8 May 2017
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Abstract
The article takes as its point of departure the reflections of Henry Adams and Jacques Ellul on the possible gradual replacement of objects used in religious worship with objects used in technological worship, and advances the hypothesis that such a substitution is unlikely. [...] Read more.
The article takes as its point of departure the reflections of Henry Adams and Jacques Ellul on the possible gradual replacement of objects used in religious worship with objects used in technological worship, and advances the hypothesis that such a substitution is unlikely. Using information from psychology, history of religions, and history of science, the perspective proposed is that of a parallel historical analogous development of both religious and scientific attitudes of awe by the use of artifacts carrying two functions: firstly, to coagulate social participation around questions dealing with humanity’s destiny and interpersonal relationships across communities, and secondly to offer cultural coherence through a communal sense of social stability, comfort, and security. I argue that, though animated by attitudes of awe (“awefull”), both leading scientists and religious founders have encountered the difficulty in representing and introducing this awe to the large public via “awesome” artifacts. The failure to represent coherently the initial awe via artifacts may give rise to “anomalous awefullness”: intolerance, persecutions, global conflicts. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle Moral Bioenhancement through An Intersectional Theo-Ethical Lens: Refocusing on Divine Image-Bearing and Interdependence
Religions 2017, 8(5), 84; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050084
Received: 5 February 2017 / Revised: 19 April 2017 / Accepted: 26 April 2017 / Published: 8 May 2017
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Abstract
This article begins with a brief interrogation of the meanings of moral and virtue. Next, an intersectional Christian theo-ethical lens focusing on humans as divine image-bearers is used to generate critical insights regarding the influence of extreme individualism on approaches to moral bioenhancement. [...] Read more.
This article begins with a brief interrogation of the meanings of moral and virtue. Next, an intersectional Christian theo-ethical lens focusing on humans as divine image-bearers is used to generate critical insights regarding the influence of extreme individualism on approaches to moral bioenhancement. This alternative lens emphasizes the interdependence of life, and the contextual character of moral dispositions. The questions of what it means to be creatures bearing the imago dei and making moral choices, is at the center of this exploration. The author concludes that while there may be justifiable exceptions, for now moral bioenhancements are unwarranted. Moral improvement will be better achieved through more effective educational strategies, and possibly spiritual enhancements, that are geared toward appreciation for the interdependence of all life. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle The Disappearing Human: Gnostic Dreams in a Transhumanist World
Religions 2017, 8(5), 81; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8050081
Received: 25 January 2017 / Revised: 14 April 2017 / Accepted: 18 April 2017 / Published: 3 May 2017
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Abstract
Transhumanism is dedicated to freeing humankind from the limitations of biological life, creating new bodies that will carry us into the future. In seeking freedom from the constraints of nature, it resembles ancient Gnosticism, but complicates the question of what the human being [...] Read more.
Transhumanism is dedicated to freeing humankind from the limitations of biological life, creating new bodies that will carry us into the future. In seeking freedom from the constraints of nature, it resembles ancient Gnosticism, but complicates the question of what the human being is. In contrast to the perspective that we are our brains, I argue that human consciousness and subjectivity originate from complex interactions between the body and the surrounding environment. These qualities emerge from a distinct set of structural couplings embodied within multiple organ systems and the multiplicity of connections within the brain. These connections take on different forms, including structural, chemical, and electrical manifestations within the totality of the human body. This embodiment suggests that human consciousness, and the intricate levels of experience that accompany it, cannot be replicated in non-organic forms such as computers or synaptic implants without a significant loss to human identity. The Gnostic desire to escape our embodiment found in transhumanism carries the danger of dissolving the human being. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle Incarnating the Unknown: Planetary Technologies for a Planetary Community
Religions 2017, 8(4), 65; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040065
Received: 1 February 2017 / Revised: 23 March 2017 / Accepted: 5 April 2017 / Published: 12 April 2017
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Abstract
This article suggests that current technological development is based upon outdated ways of understanding human beings as “exceptional” to the rest of the natural world. As such, these technologies help serve to reify certain human lives at the expense of others. I argue [...] Read more.
This article suggests that current technological development is based upon outdated ways of understanding human beings as “exceptional” to the rest of the natural world. As such, these technologies help serve to reify certain human lives at the expense of others. I argue that such exceptionalism depends upon an understanding of transcendence that is totally other. Using examples such as “Earthrise” and the UN’s International Treaty on Outer Space, I argue that an immanent understanding of “the other” renegotiates how we understand our embeddedness within the rest of the evolving planetary community. As part of renegotiating a planetary anthropology, we must also begin rethinking technologies as for the planet (not just for humans). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle Should CRISPR Scientists Play God?
Religions 2017, 8(4), 61; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040061
Received: 8 February 2017 / Revised: 1 April 2017 / Accepted: 5 April 2017 / Published: 7 April 2017
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Abstract
Will CRISPR usher in a new era of Promethean overreach? CRISPR makes gene editing widely available and cheap. Anti-play-god bioethicists fear that geneticists will play god and precipitate a backlash from nature that could be devastating. In contrast to the anti-play-god bioethicists, this [...] Read more.
Will CRISPR usher in a new era of Promethean overreach? CRISPR makes gene editing widely available and cheap. Anti-play-god bioethicists fear that geneticists will play god and precipitate a backlash from nature that could be devastating. In contrast to the anti-play-god bioethicists, this article recommends that laboratory science invoke the Precautionary Principle: pause at the yellow caution light, but then with constant risk-assessment proceed ahead. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
Open AccessArticle New Technologies—Old Anthropologies?
Religions 2017, 8(4), 52; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8040052
Received: 1 March 2017 / Revised: 29 March 2017 / Accepted: 29 March 2017 / Published: 31 March 2017
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Abstract
Eighty years ago, Nicholas Berdyaev cautioned that new technological problems needed to be addressed with a new philosophical anthropology. Today, the transhumanist goal of mind uploading is perceived by many theologians and philosophers to be dangerous due to its violation of the human [...] Read more.
Eighty years ago, Nicholas Berdyaev cautioned that new technological problems needed to be addressed with a new philosophical anthropology. Today, the transhumanist goal of mind uploading is perceived by many theologians and philosophers to be dangerous due to its violation of the human person. I contrast transhumanist “patternist” views of the person with Brent Waters’s Augustinian view of the technological pilgrim, Celia Deane-Drummond’s evolutionary Thomistic view of humanity, and Francis Fukuyama’s insistence on the inviolability of “Factor X”. These latter three thinkers all disagree with the patternist position, but their views are also discordant with each other. This disagreement constitutes a challenge for people of faith confronting transhumanism—which view is to be taken right? I contend that Science, Technology and Society (STS) studies can enrich our understanding of the debates by highlighting the transmutation of philosophical view into scientific theory and the intermingled nature of our forms of knowledge. Furthermore, I contend that STS helps Christians understand the evolution of their own anthropologies and suggests some prospects for future theological anthropology. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Religion and the New Technologies) Printed Edition available
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