The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be
June 30, 2019 Kobe Union Church Tim Boyle
Among the most universal of all human traits is the desire to know what is going to happen in the future. Sometimes this takes the form of a hope in the future, but oftentimes it comes as a sense of foreboding. Thinking about the future is something that all humans have done since the beginning of humanity, but there is something about our present situation that is perhaps fundamentally different from what past generations have faced, and this is why I’ve entitled my message this morning, “The future isn’t what it used to be.” What sparked my thinking is this new book I’ve just read entitled, “The End of Life as We Know It,” with the subtitle, “Ominous News From The Frontiers of Science.” And I also just finished another book that is in fact so new, it is not yet available for purchase, though it soon will be. It is from the ministry I’m associated with, “Reasons To Believe,” which is why I got an advance copy, and it is entitled, “Humans 2.0.” Both of these books are written or co-written by scientists who are followers of Christ, and they address the complicated issues we are already facing or soon will concerning the emerging technologies of gene editing, artificial intelligence, robotics, and other such technologies that are rapidly transforming our societies.
In taking up this subject, I don’t want to turn this into a lecture on futuristic technologies, but to tie it in with what the Bible has to teach us about what kind of future God has in mind for our world. This obviously relates to the topic of Bible prophecy, and so I want to begin with a few comments about this rather controversial topic. As I look back on my own experience, I recall a time when I was in college and shortly afterwards where I took quite a deep interest in the subject, and I recall being rather impressed with a new book at the time entitled, “The Late Great Planet Earth,” by Hal Lindsey. That was almost 50 years ago, and so we can now test the various predictions Lindsey made as to how this present age would come to an end. I haven’t specifically gone through every one to see how he fared, but he attempted to tie specific countries and alliances to the various prophecies written in highly symbolic language, particularly as found in the books of Daniel and Revelation. Prominent in his scenario were the as-of-then-yet-to-be-established European Union, which was to be made up of 10 nations with its headquarters in Rome, and also how the Soviet Union would invade Israel and bring about Armageddon. Needless to say, his predictions didn’t turn out to be very accurate. That is not to say that the prophecies made in the Bible concerning the end of the age will not happen, for I am confident that they will. It is just that we need to be a bit more humble and careful in our speculations as to how and when they will be fulfilled.
I think a good way to look at this issue is to compare how the Old Testament prophecies concerning the first coming of Jesus into the world relate to the End Times prophecies that are yet to be fulfilled. There are two main points I want to make here. First is that the Old Testament prophecies concerning the promised Messiah constitute a powerful witness to the divine inspiration of the Bible and its amazing accuracy. Through the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have positive proof of these writings having existed long before these prophecies were fulfilled, and the facts of history show that they took place just as predicted. In other words, fulfilled prophecy is powerful evidence of the truthfulness of Scripture.
The other point is that when it comes to End-Times prophecies, we are actually in a very similar situation to that of the Jews of Jesus’ time with regards to the prophecies of the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. They knew the Old Testament Scriptures far better than most of us do, and yet none of them, including Jesus’ followers, properly understood those prophecies and how they were to be fulfilled until after the fact. In hindsight, we may think that many of them seem so obvious, and yet nobody at the time properly understood them. Of course, they had the complication of having prophecies concerning the first and second comings of Jesus mixed together so that they didn’t know one from the other — something we don’t have to face now. Nevertheless, we are in a very similar situation with respect to End-Times prophecies to that of the 1st Century Jews concerning the coming of the Messiah. They simply could not see how those prophecies were being fulfilled before their very eyes until after the fact, when they could finally put two and two together and clearly see how they had been fulfilled.
Broadly speaking, I believe that we are in the “End Times,” but whether I will be alive to see that day or not, I have no idea — not only from the fact that my earthly life might come to an end at any time, but also that Christ’s return could yet still be many decades in the future, long after many or even all of us are gone. Nevertheless, there are “signs of the times” that certainly do lend themselves to the interpretation that the world we know can’t last much longer. That brings us back to the topic of this book I mentioned, “The End of Life as We Know It.” What the author means by that is not that life itself will soon end, but that the kind of lives we now lead will change dramatically in the near future. Whatever form that takes, it will not be “life as we know it” now.
The thesis of this book is that the future will not simply be a continuation of our present order, but depending on how we deal with these emerging technologies, it will either become a kind of “utopia” or its opposite, which is termed “dystopia.” The author, Michael Guillen, believes it will be a kind of combination of the two — and I would agree with him — but given sinful human nature, without an ethic that is based in an understanding that every human being is created in the image of God and therefore of infinite value, I think that an increasingly hellish future is the more likely outcome. That is the theme of the other book, “Humans 2.0,” which is authored by biochemist Fuz Rana and theologian Ken Samples.
I can’t hold up a copy of that book just yet, as its public release is next month, and so I have a digital copy only that is marked “confidential” on every page. While those of us who were given a copy are not allowed to share it with anyone just yet, we are encouraged to publicize the book, and now that I’ve read it, I think it will prove to be a very important book for the Christian community in particular. Both books describe the kinds of emerging technologies that are already here or soon will be that will radically change the world as we know it. Robots and the artificial intelligence they contain are fast surpassing their human creators in numerous ways. Jobs that are now done by humans will increasingly be taken over by robots that will be able to do them cheaper and better than humans can. Lots of new job opportunities will, of course, open up — particularly for people who can make and maintain these robots, but even much of that will be taken over by robots. It is estimated that by the year 2050, 50% of all people of working age will be out of a job because so many jobs have been taken over by robots. This, together with a lot of other factors will greatly widen the already wide gap between the rich and the poor, thus creating and exacerbating all sorts of tensions in society.
I remember a popular TV show back in the 70’s called “The Six Million Dollar Man.” The basic plotline was that an astronaut by the name of Steve Austin was severely injured when his spacecraft crashed, and the government transformed him with various “bionic” parts to make him into a superhero. It was science fiction, of course, but as has so often happened with science fiction, that futuristic fiction sometimes becomes present-day fact. We’re not quite that far yet, but the kinds of human enhancements that were portrayed back then are fast becoming quite feasible. With inflation, it might need to be called “The Sixty Million Dollar Man,” but “cyborgs,” as they are referred to — namely combinations of humans and machines — are not so far-fetched anymore. Fitting those who have lost arms or legs with high-tech prostheses has already begun, and so there is great promise and a real hope for people with such handicaps. But such technologies also introduce all sorts of ethical dilemmas, such as the gap between the haves and the have-nots and the human rights issues that would entail and what it will even mean to be human. Likewise, genetic engineering holds the promise of being able in the not-so-distant future to cure various genetic disorders and relieve much human suffering. Anti-aging technologies promise to lengthen our lifespans and give us old folks better health. For instance, the Methuselah Foundation is an organization whose mission is to “make 90 the new 50 by 2030,” and at least for a portion of the population, they very well may make that a reality. How about the name of that organization, Methuselah Foundation, named after the biblical character who lived 969 years!
While that particular group may name themselves after a biblical figure, they certainly do not hold a biblical worldview, as their mantra is what is known as “transhumanism.” Humans 2.0 defines transhumanism thusly:
Transhumanism constitutes a broadly defined intellectual and cultural movement that seeks to transform the human condition through science and technology. Its audacious futuristic plan is for human beings to reach an exponentially greater step in evolutionary development called the “posthuman” state. This transmutation will occur when humans overcome biological limitations and greatly extend their abilities through the development of robust human enhancement technologies. These enhancements are aimed toward extending the human lifespan as well as eradicating pain and suffering in the world. Transhumanists hope and expect that the near future will see a technologically advanced utopian state where humans stand transformed in kind—with the change extending holistically to the entire being: mind, emotion, and body.
You can see why people would be attracted to this vision. Who doesn’t want to see an end to pain and suffering in the world? The various technologies transhumanists are counting on to bring about their vision of a future utopia all have tremendous potential for improving our everyday lives, but they also have tremendous potential for evil if we are not careful in putting them to proper use. This is where an ethic based in a biblical worldview becomes so necessary. And so in my remaining time, I want to look at the message the Bible has for us as we face these difficult issues surrounding the rapid technological advances that are transforming our world.
First of all, let’s review our Scripture reading for today, Genesis 3:1-5.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Exactly how this scene played out in real life, we don’t know, as the symbol of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” stands for something other than merely a physical fruit of some sort — and presumably it wasn’t an apple, as Eden is described as a kind of tropical place, where apples as we know them wouldn’t grow. The “serpent,” of course, represents Satan, the tempter, who deceives Adam and Eve by using their desire to be like God. That, of course, was the very thing that Lucifer, the highest created being of God, had done in the angelic realm. While only a few scant details are revealed to us about that, it is described as a rebellion, where Lucifer — the angel of light — decides he wants to usurp the status of God and tries a celestial “coup d’état” with approximately 1/3 of all the angelic beings joining in. This is how the origin of Satan and his demons is described. At any rate, the point of the Genesis story is that human beings likewise “desired to become like God, knowing good and evil.” The fruit is described as being “desirable for gaining wisdom,” and so these first humans follow their feelings and not their better judgment. They didn’t have “wisdom” yet, and that same scenario plays out over and over throughout the history of the world.
For instance, later on in the Genesis accounts, there is a new rebellion of sorts that is described in the Tower of Babel story. After the people have united against God to build their “tower to heaven,” it describes the Lord saying, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” Fast-forward many, many thousands of years until today, and this pretty well sums up the vision of the transhumanist movement. While not quite literally “nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them,” the things transhumanists have in mind come pretty close. Here is how Humans 2.0 describes it:
The transhumanist vision relies on advances in technology to improve the human condition, bring an end to pain and suffering, usher in a utopian future, and even attain human immortality—both for individuals and the human species. In other words, the transhumanist movement is the ultimate expression of techno-faith. It possesses a religious undertow, with technology serving as the means for our salvation (preservation from destruction). Transhumanism plays an eschatological role for people who embrace an atheistic, materialistic worldview. In this sense, transhumanism stands as a competitor to the gospel. Instead of looking to the cross as the means of our salvation and placing our hope for the future in Christ’s return, many people regard science and technology as their savior and humanity’s only hope.
For those of you who aren’t quite up to speed on theological terms, “eschatological” refers to the End Times, with “eschatology” referring to the study of what the Bible tells us will happen as God completes his plan for this universe he created and the “New Heavens and New Earth” that he will usher in at that time. So, what it means for transhumanism to be playing an “eschatological role” in this emerging “techno-faith,” de facto religion is that it serves as a human-centered “heaven on earth” that is to be the only hope for our salvation. It is a substitute for the real thing. Again, quoting from Humans 2.0,
While many people may never formally identify with transhumanism, we predict that they will increasingly adopt a transhumanist mindset, placing their hope for longer, healthier, and more productive lives in biomedical advances. Many people in our increasingly secular world will embrace a form of techno-faith—a “gospel” that seeks salvation in rationalism and techno-science. The transhumanist vision will have an alluring appeal to secular people who have bought into the myth of progress. Soon, the transhumanist vision is destined to become one of the most significant competitors to the gospel and the Christian faith. If we look at the entire sweep of human history, we can see this same theme being repeated over and over — namely human attempts to remove the one true God from the center and replace God with some sort of God-substitute that is more to their liking and doesn’t make demands on them. In ancient times, it was replacing God with various idols and gods of our own making, but as we became more sophisticated, these were replaced with idols of a different sort. In one form or another, we humans have done just as Paul states in his letter to the Romans, "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles."
Updating the context to a modern one, while it is not literal images of animals, etc. that are being substituted for “the glory of the immortal God,” transhumanism is a vision of us “taking the reigns of evolution” and becoming the captains of our own destiny, with God completely out of the picture. Transhumanism is fast becoming a secular religion that views Christianity and any other competing worldview as getting in the way of its vision and a hindrance to its “gospel.”
So what are we as Christians to do when faced with this challenge? Condemning the technology itself is not the right thing to do, and in fact plays right into the hands of those pushing this agenda. That is what they want us to do, since it provides them with a ready excuse to further marginalize us. And it is not the technology itself that is the problem anyway, but only the misuse of it. God has created us in his image, which includes endowing us with the capabilities to be “mini-creators” as it were. And he has mandated us to be responsible stewards of the natural world he created, which means we are to utilize the resources and ingenuity God has given us for the benefit of all humanity. But the big caveat in all of that is that everything we do is to be under his Lordship in gratitude to our Creator and not independent from him.
So, encouraging our young people to pursue careers in these emerging technologies is a good thing. Likewise, we need to encourage our scholars and leaders to be actively involved in the discussion on how to use these technologies properly and prevent abuse. We need to promote an ethic based on the biblical worldview in the “marketplace of ideas” and show how it is superior to any other ethical system. But as Christians we must first of all keep our eyes on Jesus, knowing that in the end it all depends on him. We must always remember that we are on the winning team, no matter how bleak things might get in the meantime. We have our own “transhumanism vision” as it were — one that is not dependent on our ingenuity alone, but the one that is guaranteed by the Creator himself. In that sense, the Christian faith is the “true transhumanism,” as it is those who place their trust in Jesus Christ who will receive new spiritual bodies in the New Creation — bodies that will transcend the human limitations we have in these mortal bodies. We will have immortal bodies that experience no pain, and we will be living in a utopia called the “New Jerusalem.”
I want to close with a reading from John’s vision as he recorded in Revelation chapter 21. Beginning in verse 1:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
The transhumanism of the secularist is in the end a false gospel and an empty hope. Death still has the final say in that form of transhumanism, as it is only a fleeting hope that will bring on great trials and tribulations in the hands of sinful people who thumb their noses at God. But the “transhumanism” we have promised to us in the Bible is the true gospel and the only hope of mankind in the end. That hope is the theme of our closing hymn, which begins with “My hope is built on nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”