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2006 - 2009: Arizona State University

Facing the Challenges of Transhumanism: Religion, Science, and Technology


Upcoming Lectures and Activities
    • Year 1 Theme
    • Year 2 Theme
    • Year 3 Theme
    • Year 4 Theme
Project Leaders
Organizing Committee/Working Group
Additional Information



Humanity stands now on the precipice of a new phase in human evolution, referred to as “posthumanism” or “transhumanism.”  This new phase emerges due to the confluence of new developments in the life sciences (e.g., genomics, stem-cell research, genetic enhancement, germ-line engineering,), technology (i.e., robotics, nanotechnology, pattern recognition technologies), and neurosciences (e.g., neuro-pharmacology and artificial intelligence).  Today human beings are not only able to enhance their own performance and make important strides against devastating diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and AIDS, but also endow humanly-engineered traits to future generations.  The new technologies may be able to produce human beings with enhanced capabilities who will live longer and provide the capacity to create and modify (i.e., clone and engineer) existing forms of life, including humans.  In the transhuman phase, humans will become their own makers, transforming their environment and themselves.

Proponents of transhumanism believe that advances in robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and genomics will liberate humanity from pain and suffering.  Presumably, in the transhuman age humanity will conquer the problems of aging, disease, poverty, and hunger, finally actualizing happiness in this life. Yet, many people, especially those committed to a religious outlook, intuitively recoil from the trans-human vision and find within that vision an affront to human dignity.  It is precisely the belief that humans are created by God in the image of God that leads many people (including religious scientists) to resist the trans-human vision as a new hubris that will destroy humanity by “redefining” it, and further endanger life on our vulnerable planet through unforeseeable consequences.  Those who advocate transhumanism promote a utopian vision rooted in a host of unstated assumptions about the meaning of being human. To face the challenges of transhumanism with appropriate depth, an interdisciplinary approach is urgent.

Our interdisciplinary committee seeks to devote the Templeton Lecture Series to examine and evaluate the claims of transhumanism through public lectures, symposia, conferences, and an interdisciplinary faculty seminar. The first year will consider philosophical questions, the second year will be devoted to social and legal issues, the third year will engage transhumanism from an environmental perspective, and the fourth year will wrestle with the religious implications, with a focus on eschatology. We hold that only an interdisciplinary approach that is attentive to culture, social institutions, and history can address the challenges of trans-humanism by highlighting how religion, science, technology, law and public policy interface. Such an interdisciplinary approach does not treat ‘science’ and ‘religion’ as two reified a-historical categories, and thereby avoids falling into the pitfalls of either seeing them as necessary in conflict with each other or as separate and unrelated spheres.

We seek funding for four years of Templeton Lecture Series. The Templeton Research Fellow will deliver four lectures, advise faculty and students on research projects, and participate in our on-going faculty seminar “Being Human: Science, Religion, Technology, and Law.”  As potential Templeton Fellows we have in mind (in alphabetical order) scholars such as: Braden Allenby (ASU), George Annas (Boston University), David Buss (University of Texas, Austin), Nick Bostrom (University of Oxford, England), Brian Cantwell-Smith (University of Toronto), Geoffrey N. Cantor (University of Leeds, England), Leda Cosmides (UC-Santa Barbara), Eric Drexler (Institute for Molecular Manufacturing), Patricia Fara (University of Cambridge, England), Roger S. Gottlieb (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), Susan Haack (University of Miami), Andrew Feenberg (Simon Fraser University, Canada), Donna Haraway (UC-Santa Cruz), Donnald Kennedy (Editor of Science), David Magnus (Stanford University), Maxwell J. Mehlman (Case Western Reserve University), Robert Neville (Boston University), Norbert Samuelson (ASU), Daniel Sarewitz (ASU), Gregory Stock (UCLA) and Bron Taylor (University of Florida, Gainesville).  Each year the Templeton Research Fellow will have to produce a book manuscript to be submitted to an academic press for publication.  In the Spring semester of the first three years, there will also be an intensive workshop with scholars outside of ASU.  In the fourth year there will be an international research conference of a total 100 scholars, some invited and other recruited through a general “call for papers.”

Several units make Arizona State University the ideal place for innovative research on religion, science, and technology:  The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, the Center for Law, Science, and Technology, The Consortium of Science, Policy, and Outcomes, the Arizona Biodesign Institute, the Center of Biology and Society, the School of Life Sciences, and the Lincoln Center of Applied Ethics.  For the past two years faculty members from these units and from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (History, Physics and Astronomy, Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Psychology) constituted a faculty seminar that studied select books on the intersection of science, religion, technology, and law, and participated in public symposia and research conferences.  The conferences have resulted in book publications with academic presses.



Upcoming Lectures and Activities

The four years of the Templeton Lecture Series will examine the meaning and implications of transhumanism. In addition to public lectures delivered by the Templeton Fellow, this examination will take place in the interdisciplinary faculty seminar (22 faculty members), “Being Human: Religion, Science, Technology, and Law.”   The Templeton Fellow will participate in meetings of the faculty seminar and will contribute to the on-going conversation on science and religion at ASU.

Year 1 Theme: Transhumanism and the Concept of Human Nature
The claims of Transhumanism emerge from the confluence of new developments in the life sciences, bioengineering, and the neurosciences.  The transhuman vision, which places much confidence in the ability of humans to change nature including their own, conflicts with the claims of evolutionary psychology that there is a universal human nature based on a species-typical collection of complex psychological adaptations that are universal among and unique to human beings.  We hypothesize that the debate between the two camps rests on a lack clarity concerning the meaning of the phrase “human nature” and that to clarify the confusion we need to integrate the study of neuroscience, cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and philosophy.  We will explore, on the one hand, whether the arguments of the transhumanists undermine the evidence about human nature marshaled by evolutionary psychologists (e.g., Steven Pinker, David Buss, and Leda Cosmides), and, on the other hand, whether the claims of evolutionary psychologists hold up against the new findings about the non-linear nature of brain processes as discovered by neuroscientists (e.g., Steven Rose).


Year 2 Theme: The Social and Legal Implications of Transhumanism
If the transhumanist vision becomes a reality, all our social institutions—the family, the workplace, the political system—could be profoundly affected.  According to transhumanists, the enhancement of cognitive abilities (e.g., verbal fluency, memory, abstract reasoning, social intelligence, spatial cognition, numerical ability or musical talent) is ethically good and socially beneficial.  We hypothesize that while transhumanism seeks to benefit all human beings, it could in fact increase inequality and undermine the most cherished value of American democracy—equality of opportunity.  The transhumanist vision reflects the interests, life-style, and political preferences of affluent, secular, Caucasian males in Western post-industrial societies.  Moreover, the transhumanist vision does not take into consideration the social needs of people in developing societies, for whom the new technologies are either irrelevant or even harmful.  Even for members in materially advanced societies, the promises of tranhumanism need to be carefully examined in light of our belief in equal opportunity and fairness for all individuals and our concern for communal well-being and human dignity.

Year 3 Theme: The Environmental Impact of Transhumanism
Transhumanism expresses human confidence in the power of technology to improve human life.  The human being is viewed primarily as a maker of the environment, a homo faber.  While humans have always interacted with and transformed their physical environment, the current technology ensures that changes will be transmitted to future generations.  The technological revolution of the past three decades has posed serious challenges to the precarious sources of our planet.  We hypothesize that genetic engineering (either somatic or germline), which is essential to the transhumanist vision, will further exacerbate the current ecological crisis, alienating humans from the natural world. While it is true that technology has extended human life-span, increased the food supply, cured diseases, and improved life material conditions, technology has also problematized the relationship between humans and the natural world and called into question the very biological foundation of human life. The transhuman vision must be engaged from an ecological perspective in order to assess the potential impact of humans on biodiversity, delicate ecosystems, and future generations.

Year 4 Theme: Transhumanism as Secularized Eschatology
Transhumanism articulates a vision about the possibility of attaining happiness in this life.  The very use of advanced technologies, according to transhumanists will liberate humanity (both collectively and individually) from many ills.  While the pursuit of happiness has been the deepest longing of humanity, transhumanists have given this pursuit a strict materialistic interpretation.  The combination of neuroscience and genetics now promises to alleviate not only debilitating mental illnesses but also temporary sadness and occasional despair.  We hypothesize that the materialistic approach to human happiness, characteristic of transhumanism, should be understood in the proper historical and cultural perspectives.  The origins of transhumanism are the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century and the Enlightenment of the 18th Century, which culminated politically in the French Revolution. We maintain that if we study contemporary transhumanism in comparison with developments of the 17th and 18th centuries, we will be able to explore not only the religious roots of modern science, but also the utopian and even eschatological import of contemporary transhumanism.  As the scientific advances in the 17th and 18th centuries, with their social and political consequences, produced modern societies dominated by a secular vision of the utopian fulfillment of human history, how will contemporary scientific, social and cultural advancement transform our vision of end and fulfillment of human history?  Will it be the Golden Age of historical fulfillment or an apocalypse of human destruction?  Will transhumanism inaugurate a trans-ethical fulfillment of ethics or a decline into demonism?  Understanding transhumanism as secularized eschatology will frame this phenomenon in proper historical and cultural perspectives and enable us to understand the full implications of this contemporary development.



Project Leader

Hava Tirosh-Samuelson is Professor of History in Arizona State University.  She specializes in premodern Jewish intellectual history, Judaism and science, Judaism and ecology, and feminist philosophy.  She holds a Ph.D. in Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1978) and a B.A. from SUNY-Stony Brook (1974).  Prior to joining ASU in 1999, she taught at Indiana University, Emory University, Columbia University, and Hebrew Union College (New York).  In addition to articles and book chapters, she is the author of Between Worlds – The Life and Work of Rabbi David ben Judah Messer Leon (1991) received the award of the Hebrew University for the best work in Jewish history for 1991.  Her most recent book is Happiness in Premodern Judaism: Virtue, Knowledge and Well-Being in Pre-modern Judaism (2003). She is also the editor of Judaism and Ecology: Created World and Revealed World (2002) and Women and Gender in Jewish Philosophy (2004).  Her current projects include a book on Nature and Judaism (Rowman and Littlefield) and the edited volume Judaism and the Phenomenon of Life: The Legacy of Hans Jonas; Historical and Philosophical Studies (Brill).  She sits on the Editorial Board of Journal of American Academy of Religion and on the Academic Advisory Board of the Metanexus Institute on Science and Religion.



Organizing Committee/Working Group

Click on the name of a committee member for biographical information.

  • Braden Allenby is Professor of Engineering at the Fulton School of Engineering.
  • Linell E. Cady is Franca Orrefice Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.
  • Stuart Lindsay is the Director of the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics and Carson Presidential Chair in Physics.
  • Gary Marchant is Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Law, Science & Technology.
  • Michael J. Mobley is the Associate Director for Arizona Biodesign Institute, (AZBio), at Arizona State University.
  • Barry G. Ritchie is Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
  • Norbert M. Samuelson is the Harold and Jean Grossman Chair of Jewish Studies at Arizona State University and Professor of Religious Studies.
  • Daniel Sarewitz is Professor of Science and Society at the School of Life Sciences and the Department of Geosciences, and Director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes.
  • Hava Tirosh-Samuelson (Project Manager) is Professor of History in Arizona State University.
  • Professor Michael J. White is Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Law.



Additional Information

Web Site:

Project Director:
Hava Tirosh-Samuelson
Department of History
Arizona State University
Coor Hall, 4th Floor
PO Box 874302
Tempe, AZ 85287-4302
Tel: 480.965.7767

Project Coordinator:
Carolyn Forbes
Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict Arizona State University
PO Box 873004
Tempe, AZ 85287-3004
Tel: 480.965.7187



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