BreakPoint Blog

The Quest for Immortality

God placed inside of us a yearning for everlastingness. It oozes out in the very way we think and what we do. The evidence for this is clearly seen in a recent discussion about artificial intelligence and immortality betweem Ray Kurzweil, a computer scientist and inventor, and others.

What futuristic thinkers like Kurzweil are pushing for is immortality sans death and resurrection through Christ. They instinctively know they are made for everlasting life. They believe death isn’t inevitable, and their wish can be actualized by advancing technology to the point were we have ability of downloading our brains into new vessels.

But it won't work. In his book And He Dwelt Among Us, A. W. Tozer diagnosis the problem,  “There is a battle royal between the brain and the heart. The brain makes one assumption and the heart completely disavows it. The brain revels in every modern advancement while the heart says “that won’t satisfy.” The brain cries out for improvement while the heart cries out for everlastingness. The heart will never be satisfied with the desires of the brain. The heart was made for everlastingness while the brain is suffocating under the cloud of depravity.”

Kurzweil "brain" is certainly reveling in technological advancement he and others have created.  In his book The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, he assures us that “interacting with the newly instantiated person will feel like interacting with the original person.” Why? Kurzweil assures us it is because the person will have all the same memories and, after all, it is just a matter of “walking into a scanner here, and [being] woken up in the machine there.” Of course, with a new brain we’ll have to have a new body be it upgraded bio-bodies, synthetic bodies, or virtual bodies.

Moral issues always seems to crop up in the discussion of immortality. Kurzweil maintains that we won't need stuffy old-fashioned morality. Morality is tied to our bodies, so “as we cross the divide to instantiate ourselves into our computational technology, our identity will be based on our evolving mind file. We will be software, not hardware.”

What does it mean to be human, why is our quest to become immortal flawed, and what does it say about material man and eternal man?

Technological quest for techno-man is problematic because it renders the form of Man as something unimportant, something to be tossed away. But man is a composite of matter and form.  In his 1936 essay, “The Problem of Man: (Toward the Construction of a Christian Anthropology),” Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyeav points out that, “Flesh and blood do not inherit life eternal…The eternal principle within the body is not in its physical-chemical constitution, but its form. Without this form there is no integrated whole image of the person.” To achieve the eternal or immortal our bodies must pass through death. Without which we are reduced to individuum or material man.

Kurzweil et al are right about one thing, death is unnatural. C. S. Lewis maintains that everyone understands that death is wrong, but death is the result of man’s rebellion against God. The reason why Christians are at the forefront of fighting pain and suffering which leads to death, is because we understand that life is good. God did not rescind His commission to create and restore.

In The Abolition of Man, Lewis warns that the price for conquest of nature “is to treat a thing as mere Nature.” We will be “slaves” or “puppets” to the machine we have given the power to. Despite Kurzweil and company’s quest for immortality, their dehumanizing plan of gaining total freedom and control over our very form, will still result in few people controling the rest of us. All they will need to kill someone is a powerful magnet.

Should we be afraid of technology? No. First, we need to become educated in the technology and the various ideas that are driving it. Second, we need to remind people of the horrors that occur when man treats man as purely material beings. Third, we need to introduce them to a Christian perspective—teach them what it means to be Man—matter and form, body and soul, finite and eternal.

Lastly, we need to have strong debates before we blindly look for technology to correct all of mankind’s ills. As my friend, philosopher Paul Nelson told me me years ago, "If the biblical worldview is reliable, then it would be foolhardy to try to achieve what only God can do. Immortality is the twenty-first century's Tower of Babel." After all, it is up to Christians to lead the debate because our worldview really fits reality.