PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
Boston, MA
November 18-21, 2017

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Human Enhancement and Transhumanism Unit
Theme: Barbies, Bots, and Mere Mortals: Images of God?
Ronald S. Cole-Turner, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Presiding
Saturday - 1:00 PM-3:30 PM
Sheraton Boston-Back Bay B (Second Level)

Questions of theological anthropology arise at the intersection of technology, enhancement, and religion. Are there limits to the meaning of divine image-bearing? Establishing a foundation for the session, two presenters will probe the concept of the Imago Dei in relation to artificial intelligence, genetic technologies, and robotics.
The moral relevance of the most vulnerable to enhancement technologies will be explored through religious lenses. Taking an original approach, one presenter reflects on theological implications of the Roman Catholic Eucharist. What might the ritual celebration of the Eucharist suggest regarding AI and the vulnerable? Extending this theme is a presentation on companion sex robots. How will sex robots affect the vulnerable and what is the role of religion? Presenters will help us to explore what religion has to do with human enhancement technologies, what it means to be human, and how the marginalized must shape this conversation.

Victoria Lorrimar, University of Oxford
Does Co-creation Theology Encourage Human Enhancement?

The prospect of human enhancement through the use of genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology calls into question not only our general understanding of what it means to be human, but also theological understandings of human creativity. The concept of human-driven technological “redemption” challenges traditional Christian positions on human creativity and salvation, and the cry of “playing God” is often levelled at the use of technology to alter human nature. Theologians who offer qualified endorsement of human enhancement often draw on some form of co-creation theology, considering humans to be co-creators with God. This paper considers the “created co-creator” theological anthropology presented by Philip Hefner (arguably the most widely known example of this approach) and evaluates its utility and limitations for providing a theological response to the possibility of human enhancement.

Karen O'Donnell, Durham University
Performing the Imago Dei: Human Enhancement and Optative Image-Bearing

If the Imago Dei is not a taxonomic definition but rather something that is performed in context, what are the implications for artificial intelligence and questions of human enhancement? In this paper I propose considering Al McFadyen’s performative vision of the Imago Dei, one that actively seeks humanity in concrete situations, in the context of human enhancement and artificial intelligence. Briefly tracing the shift in perspectives on the Imago Dei before considering what a performance of the image might, indeed, look like, I propose three performances that have significant implications for questions about what it means to be human. These are performances of creation, of hope, and of wholeness. To be an image-bearer is not dependent upon human DNA or species membership, but on an optative performance of the Imago Dei.

Alec Arnold, Saint Louis University
Perceiving Souls in Bread, Bodies, and Bots: A Liturgical-Theological Evaluation of Transhumanism

In this paper I will explore how Catholic liturgical theology both condones and critiques human enhancement through technology, with an interest in how Eucharistic participation relates to future prospects of human interaction/integration with artificial intelligence. My strategy consists in identifying the Church’s liturgy as a particular kind of technological activity, which, without setting aside its theological dimensions, can nonetheless be compared and contrasted alongside transhumanism’s most representative ambitions (e.g., artificial intelligence), and in such a way that incorporates the 2017 theme regarding “the most vulnerable.” I will argue that, as a technological activity, the liturgy cultivates a form of perception (aesthesis) that (a) intrinsically orders the relative goods of other human technologies, measuring them against a more inclusive meaning of “human enhancement” than usually proffered by proponents of transhumanism, and (b) directly animates a concern for extending love and justice to those on “the underside,” those on the margins.

Kara Slade, Duke University
Michelle Wolff, Duke University
Beyond Barbie, Blow-Up Dolls, and Blondes: Sex Robots and the Transhuman Future

Advances in robotics promise a transhuman future marked by invulnerability, from the bedroom to the battlefield. The authors of this paper bring their expertise in mechanical engineering, ethics, religion, and sexuality studies to perform an interdisciplinary analysis of the visions of enhanced life presupposed in the development of both autonomous military drones and sex robots. The physiological distance that these technological tools offer is imagined to shield the user from harm; outsourcing sex and violence to robots will render human beings less emotionally and physically vulnerable. The authors of this paper, however, argue that this fantasy of the transhuman future exacerbates, rather than mitigates, the dehumanization of vulnerable populations.

Business Meeting:
Tracy J. Trothen, Queen's University, Kingston