The news of extended human life, possibly even for centuries through artificial means, seems good. Accelerating trends in medical devices, nano-technology, 3D printing and biotechnology are converging to potentially achieve what was once thought impossible—human-engineered immortality.
We’re not talking about immortal life trapped in an older body wracked with painful arthritis, debilitating spinal degeneration and fading mental capacity. An emerging scientific focus squarely targets youthful immortality—being always young—forever!
But what will this pursuit amount to? Is there a real path to immortality? Just what does the future hold?
Steps toward youthful immortality
Some anti-aging measures are already here, while others are being developed. Breathtaking advances make possible routine joint repair and replacement, extending active lives. Kidneys, lungs, livers, even hearts are all resettled from person to person in an almost commonplace way.
Yet expectations include the capacity to one day “create” fully functioning organs through 3D printing. Neuroscience advancements are supposedly paving the way for computers and human brains to communicate directly and stave off age-related cognitive disorders like dementia. We appear to be on the cusp of massive change.
Elon Musk, mega-industrialist of SpaceX and Tesla fame, backed a new brain-computer interface venture in 2017 known as Neuralink. While chip implants in people are becoming more common—companies in Sweden and the United States are already using them with employees—a direct interface between brains and computers is currently in early development.
MIT Technology Review recently profiled a mind-preservation service being explored by a startup company called Nectome. Those involved are “committed to the goal of archiving your mind.” But here’s their current challenge: The initial procedure is 100 percent fatal. You have to die first (Antonio Regalado, March 13, 2018).
But it does further the question: Can people put their knowledge, personalities and very being into a digital “cloud” to thereby live on forever?
Old body worn out? Just print out a fit and healthy new one, and download digitally backed-up memories and personality traits. And keep repeating the process.
Still, many yet hope in preserving the bodies they have. In an interview with Britain’s Sunday Express newspaper, Google’s director of engineering Ray Kurzweil said: “I believe we will reach a point around 2029 when medical technologies will add one additional year [per year] to your life expectancy” (quoted by Sean Martin, March 20, 2017). He believes super-tiny “nanobots” will soon be constructed and programmed to patrol human bodies to clean up disease and make repairs at a molecular level.
Earlier, in 2013, Google established its secretive Calico division, a group with more than $1.5 billion to invest in delaying aging and age-related disease. Company leaders hint at delivering a “profound” development to the world within a decade.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem-based historian and New York Times best-selling author Yuval Noah Harari makes even bolder predictions. He writes in his controversial 2017 book Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow: “In the 21st century humans are likely to make a serious bid for immortality . . . The breakneck development of fields such as genetic engineering, regenerative medicine and nanotechnology fosters ever more optimistic prophecies. Some experts believe that humans will overcome death by 2200, others say 2100.”
The driving force of the super-elite
What’s currently driving this obsession? Consider for a moment: What if you were a multimillionaire or billionaire and a recognized industry leader for many decades? But as you see the inevitable end of your life approaching, you resentfully feel like you’re just getting started. It’s a terrible feeling.
Your understanding of technology, financial insights and managerial innovation will all soon be lost. In spite of all your awesome resources, you can’t stop your frail human body from breaking down. You already see your friends, family and associates carving up the fruit of your many achievements. You will soon be dead.
That is, unless you find the secret of immortality.
Thus, the uber-rich daily pour tons of cash, people and resources into a near-frenzied race for immortality. The deadline is the no-turning-back moment of death, the greatest all-time fear of humanity.
Ascension to godhood?
What is the end game in all this?
Harari writes in his popular work, “We will now aim to upgrade humans into gods, and turn Homo sapiens [Latin for “wise man”] into Homo deus [or “god man”]” (emphasis added throughout).
Ready for a shocking thought? As people “advance” toward man-made immortality, they have no need for any belief in a supernatural God, claims Harari. He touts that humanity is now posed to supremely transform “incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges. We don’t need to pray to any god or saint to rescue us from them. We know quite well what needs to be done in order to prevent famine, plague and war—and we usually succeed in doing it.”
He further asserts that, as part of this transformation, the “big project of humankind will be to acquire for us the divine powers of creation and destruction.”
Is such incredible arrogance justified? It is really idolatrous blasphemy to assume we can take on ourselves the powers that belong only to God.
Others in the high-technology realm, like Elon Musk, fervently desire to export these exclusive “god men” beyond planet earth, eventually settling on Mars or farther out in deep space.
Early joint venture to reach the place of God
Here’s a critical point: Those obsessed with man-made immortality generally disdain the ancient writings of the Bible, tragically dismissing critical truth that would lead to real prosperity and peace. Without this truth, terrible consequences will ensue, many at man’s own hand.
The Bible is plain that this is not the first time humanity was collectivity poised to delve into things that seemed to bring godlike powers.
Around 4,000 years ago, the collective mental and physical creativity and innovative powers of humanity were cresting. People were joined together in technological achievement. The leaders of these innovators boasted, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky” (Genesis 11:4, New Living Translation).
The real God—God the Father and the Word who would later become Jesus Christ—watched this development, stating: “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them” (Genesis 11:6).
Once the city was established, how long would it take to become one like ancient Alexandria with an incredible, world-changing library? Or even, within a short time, an early Silicon Valley of the Middle East?
The potential was there. As would actually happen thousands of years later in the first Industrial Revolution, accelerating technology could bring humanity from a horse-and-buggy agricultural age to the nuclear and space exploration epoch in barely more than 100 years.
But in God’s plan for humanity, it was not time for this to happen then. He wanted a full 6,000 years for humanity to learn the hard lessons from every man-made way of governing and directing human affairs, to contrast it with the divinely revealed way of God we find in the Bible.
So God intervened, stopping human interaction and collaboration in this enterprise cold. God said, “Come, let Us go down and confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech” (Genesis 11:7). The result? The combined technology and innovation effort collapsed. The once-united peoples migrated away, and “they ceased building the city” (Genesis 11:8).
Yet today, in this latter stage of the working out of God’s incredible plan for humanity, He has determined to allow the world to experience the full impact of human folly.
Eternal bliss—or a dark future for most?
What does the future Homo Deus paints look like? A New York Times review of the book said this: “The short, chilling answer: a future that looks like Westworld [a dystopian fictional world of androids], rather than Disney World. A small breakaway republic of superhumans and techno-elites will eventually split off from the rest of humanity. Those who acquire the skills and proprietary algorithms to re-engineer brains, bodies and minds—the main products of the 21st century, Harari suspects—will become gods; those who don’t will be rendered economically useless and die off” (Jennifer Senior, Feb. 15, 2017).
Despite the fact that major figures like former President Barack Obama and Microsoft founder Bill Gates have highly recommended Homo Deus, the reviewer ends with this warning: “If any part of the future Harari describes is true, all I can say is: #Resist.”
Even Harari recognizes that humanity is flawed, and people who can live forever will carry those flaws with them, even magnifying them. Such would be the outcome of an interplanetary venture, despite all good intentions. As Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Let’s pray that the human race never escapes Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere.”
Technological advances possess a dark side. As Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote following the recent Florida school shooting: “What has happened in the past 40 years or so to produce a society so ill at ease with itself, so prone to violence?” Her answer? “We have been swept by social, technological and cultural revolution . . . America is experiencing a mental health crisis, especially among the young” (Feb. 15, 2018). Who wants to live forever in a state of mental illness?
And then there are all those left out. The techno-elite focus on man’s immortality is blindingly expensive and utterly exclusive. Riff-raff need not apply. Man’s artificial, technology-powered “immortal life” (if this theoretical idea could even be achieved) is limited by physical barriers. And such a flawed “life everlasting” leaves people and loved ones behind.
In powerful contrast, God has a great plan for humanity’s future that offers immortal life as a free gift to all.
The future God intends for His children
When people commit to a changed life that focuses on spiritual transformation, embracing and exhibiting the fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), they become, as 1 John 3:1 states, actual children of God! And if we are children of God even in this life, what shall we be when born again into the eternal family of God?
Again, what Homo Deus purports to achieve in a short-sighted, exclusive fashion is idolatrous blasphemy. It assumes we can make ourselves divine. Moreover, God actually does intend that we be raised to eternal, divine life—but only as His gift to us and on His terms. This is the singular theme of the Bible and the purpose revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
God created human beings in His own image and likeness—according to His kind, to be like Him (Genesis 1:26-27). Jesus later quoted Psalm 82:6 in stating, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’” (John 10:34), the psalm further calling us “children of the Most High”—children being like their parents in terms of what they are or will become.
Returning to 1 John 3, consider this powerful truth: “Beloved, now we are the children of God; and . . . we know that when He [Jesus Christ] is revealed, we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2).
Can we grasp what this means? The apostle Paul makes it plain: “We also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly [human] body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (Philippians 3:22-23). This glorified body is described in Revelation 1:13-17, the resurrected Jesus’ head and hair being “white like wool, white like snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire . . . His voice like the sound of many waters.”
Perhaps the best attribute is that immortal life from God includes the matchless gift of divine love—unlike the greedy, death-fearing techno-elites anxiously seeking an artificial quasi-immortality. God is love (1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16), and His marvelous love will fully saturate every aspect of His coming immortal Kingdom!
We can now only barely begin to grasp the fullness of the transcendent spiritual life ahead (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Consider this critical fact: The Homo Deus construct only allows for the super-rich and techno-elites to achieve some form of physical immortality. Billions of people are left out. This man-made scenario is highly exclusive. It shuts out common people. It represents an astonishing “haves and have nots” divisive barrier. Further, families and friends would rarely—probably never—be reunited.
God, in stark contrast, plans to bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). God is totally inclusive, desiring that all would come to salvation (1 Timothy 2:4-5). That includes all who have ever lived!
The greatest human fear is the fear of death. For millennia people have wondered what lies beyond one’s final breath. Those who tragically reject the Bible also reject the comforting and inspiring knowledge that Jesus, who came to lead us in following God, has already conquered death! As Paul wrote, “Our Savior Jesus Christ . . . has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).
The true pathway to immortality
There exists a defined pathway for you and me to achieve immortality. While the actual gift of immortality comes only from God and cannot be “earned,” God does expect that those to whom He would give eternal life embrace and adopt His way of life—the way of ultimate peace, prosperity and blessing.
Those who commit to God’s way of life have their names written in His Book of Life (Revelation 20:12). If your name is written in this book and you don’t turn away from God, you have nothing to fear. Your immortality—youthful and vibrant life everlasting—in the coming Kingdom of God is assured.
Don’t allow yourself to be led astray by those who would—however well-meaning—pursue a flawed and exclusivist man-made “immortality.” Instead, seek true immortality, an incredible gift of God, where you may, as Daniel 7:18 says of those who ultimately remain faithful to God, “receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.”
Immortality Through Space Travel?
Some futurists and entrepreneurial industrialists tout a mission to Mars as the first step to the preserving the human race. Elon Musk effectively referred to Mars colonization as a “backup drive” for civilization (“Elon Musk: We Need to Leave Earth as Soon as Possible,” Business Insider, Oct. 10, 2015).
What challenges are posed by a journey to Mars of around nine months each way?
Much has been learned about the barriers to long space voyages from astronauts spending extended time in earth orbit. Here are a few of the challenges as detailed by NASA:
Vision problems, possible blindness. Many male International Space Station (ISS) astronauts suffer severe eyesight problems beginning during spaceflight. NASA calls countering eyesight problems among male astronauts (some permanent in nature) its “top priority” in space medicine for long-term spaceflight, including a manned mission to Mars. Issues include the flattening of the back of the eyeball, folds in the vascular tissue behind the retina, and excess fluid around and presumed swelling of the optic nerve.
Immune system issues. During prolonged space flight, astronauts develop seriously weakened immune systems. T-cells, a critical component of white blood cells, do not reproduce properly in space. Further, research found that microbes adapt to the space environment and can become more virulent and resistant to antibiotics than on earth.
Cosmic radiation risk. NASA lists radiation risk as its top concern for interplanetary travel. Unless a spacecraft is adequately shielded, astronauts on interplanetary voyages can suffer DNA damage, potentially aggressive cancer and radiation-induced cataracts (including severely impaired vision) from exposure to cosmic radiation.
An episode of extreme solar weather (such as a coronal mass ejection) could prove fatal to astronauts traveling outside the earth’s magnetic field (which protects the planet’s surface from deadly cosmic radiation), even if the spacecraft were shielded. Severe neurological health risks also are thought to exist from cosmic radiation exposure, including brain damage.
Bone density and muscle loss issues. Serious bone loss associated with time in space, called spaceflight osteopenia, begins after an astronaut has been in space for three to four months, according to NASA. Some astronauts take up to four years to recover from bone loss after their return to earth. Confirmed muscle loss takes place among ISS astronauts, which could be of serious concern to astronauts completing a long round trip to Mars.
Mental health issues. Being confined in small space for months at a time can lead to serious interpersonal conflict and even mental health issues. Immediate connections to friends and family living on earth would become impossible as a spacecraft moved further away, producing a real source of stress. Cosmic radiation can produce minor visual and odor hallucinations.
Cardiac issues. A microgravity environment contributes to atrial fibrillation and other heart rhythm disturbance in ISS astronauts.
Decompression illness and barotrauma. Astronauts working outside the ISS in spacesuits generally work in an atmosphere of 100 percent oxygen at less than a third of normal sea level air pressure. This allows for a higher and easier range of motion. Decompression illness can occur if considerable care is not taken as astronauts reenter the more earthlike pressurization in the International Space Station.
X-rays not permitted. Radiation-based diagnostic CT scans and X-rays are not permitted on the ISS. Ultrasound techniques presently substitute, but images must be transmitted back to earth for medical interpretation and recommendations. During a long space flight, transmission delays could be problematic, even fatal.
Does all of this amount to some kind of divine prohibition for interplanetary human travel? Humanity has overcome many challenges in the past regarding aviation, deep-sea diving and other seemingly unsurmountable barriers.
C.S. Lewis once stated: “Let’s pray that the human race never escapes from Earth to spread its iniquity elsewhere.” With the present considerable barrier to human space travel, one can wonder whether God has already taken care of that in the short term.
But remarkably, God has much more in store for humanity. He intends for us to ultimately inherit the entire universe! Be sure to read our free study guide Why Were You Born? to learn more.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution: A Giant Leap to Where?
We stand today at the beginning of what is commonly called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a time of expected rapid change. Whether we like it or not, widespread change today blurs the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. Massive changes are ahead in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, the Internet of Things, 3D printing, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing.
Neural backup and transfer
Advances toward man-made “immortality” supposedly hinge on an unrealized breakthrough—the uploading and storing of human knowledge, memories and personality to an external “cloud”-type storage device. How far off is this?
Not far at all, if one can believe neuroscientist Kenneth Hayworth of Harvard University. A few years ago Hayworth, who founded a new field of neural brain mapping called “connectomics,” said in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education: “The human race is on a beeline to mind uploading: We will preserve a brain, slice it up, simulate it on a computer, and hook it up to a robot body” (quoted by Evan Goldstein, “The Strange Neuroscience of Immortality,” July 16, 2012).
Hayworth wants his own brain to be the first—after being plastinated and encased in resin, believing it will be revived sometime in the 22nd century after critical technological advances.
Other advances are occurring in genetic engineering and gene-splicing. On paper, genetic engineering holds much promise, including the virtual eradication of disease and birth defects. In application, numerous nightmare scenarios exist, including mutated viruses run amuck. At least one person has already died in a clinical gene therapy trial.
Social historians such as Yuval Noah Harari, author of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, predict (even advocate) that future mothers will elect to fertilize several eggs and then have them tested. The best of the lot will then be reinserted into the mother for a full pregnancy. The remaining fertilized eggs with genetic flaws can then, prior to being discarded, be considered for genetic “repair.”
3D printing of human organs
The Fourth Industrial Revolution presents complex 3D printing of almost any device or component. 3D printing is a common name for additive manufacturing, which involves material being joined or solidified by computer to form three-dimensional objects. Now widespread, it’s particularly useful in rapid prototyping of new inventions. It has even been introduced to orthopedic surgery to better match joint, spine and bone implants.
Today, some medical professionals tout the 3D printing of human organs as a future viable alternative to “growing” organs in a laboratory. Called “bioprinting,” several scientists believe such artificial production holds great promise.
According to a CNN report, future bioprinting could follow this pathway: medical professionals first harvest human cells (stem cells) and enable them to multiply. The biological material is then inserted into a specialized 3D bioprinter, which recognizes and arranges cell types, sculpting the mixture into a replicated organ or organ part. The completed 3D “part” is then transplanted into a human host to repair or enhance human function. Companies like the California-based Organovo are already actively researching and creating artificially produced tissues (Brandon Griggs, “The Next Frontier in 3-D Printing: Human Organs,” April 5, 2014).
The availability of widespread 3D organ printing, coupled with advances in genetic engineering, could one day lead to the chemical production of all-new human genomes. The end game here could be to create human beings without the involvement of human parents. One bioengineer noted that, although highly controversial, it would then be possible to sequence and synthesize human genomes based on highly successful people like Einstein.
Does the Bible say anything about these near-miraculous discoveries? Tragically, many secular academics and scientists reject the revealed all-important knowledge of the Bible. The Bible shows that there exists a divinely created and sustained “spirit in man” (Job 32:8; 1 Corinthians 2:11). This human spirit enables physical human brains to develop self-awareness, intellect, creativity, personality and temperament. This non-physical spiritual component of the human mind cannot be retained or replicated by physical means.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution holds some very dark portents for humanity. As Jack Ma, the executive chairman of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba warned, “In the next 30 years, the world will see much more pain than happiness” (quoted by Bloomberg News, April 23, 2017).
The Bible explains why people will experience such pain, and it also powerfully shows the way to true happiness and the true purpose for humanity.
AI: “More Dangerous Than Nukes”
In the quest for immortality and other high-impact achievements, many scientists and technologists embrace the accelerating growth of Artificial Intelligence. AI, as it is commonly abbreviated, appears to hold much promise. In the past, computers largely operated on a binary—on/off, yes/no—platform and outcome. Artificial Intelligence comes about when computers perform tasks that involve the nuances of perception, patterns and tonality of human speech, optical recognition and inference.
This is a good thing, right? Not according to industry titans like Elon Musk, founder of billion-dollar companies like Tesla, PayPal and SpaceX. At the 2018 South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference, he publicly warned: “Mark my words: AI is far more dangerous than nukes” (March 11).
In a recent documentary, Musk went further. He believes that AI will potentially create the possibility of “godlike digital superintelligence” that, if subverted, “could take over the world . . . Then you’d have an immortal dictator from which we can never escape” (quoted at CNBC, April 6, 2018).
Going on, Musk cautions, “If AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it.”
Musk created and founded a company called Neuralink in part to corral and direct AI development in a manner that holds more of a promise of benevolence. Others, together with Musk, call for strict government regulation of AI, particularly in weapons deployment.
The Bible specifically warns that the worst time of conflict and devastation ever is yet ahead of us, when no one would survive if God did not intervene (Matthew 24:21-22). Terrible and destructive use of technology will certainly be a factor in this.
Yet there is good news! God will intervene. To learn more, request or download your free copy of our study guide Are We Living in the Time of the End? at ucg.org/booklets.
Don’t get ensnared. Learn what God has in store for you!