Buchanan on Human Enhancement

In coming years, government and religion will have to come to terms with new biomedical technologies that greatly enhance human capacity. The state will need to address the potential for vastly increased life spans – a nice problem, but an issue for entitlements, if nothing else — as well as possible distributive inequalities. Religions will face questions about traditional ethics, particularly in respect of human reproduction, and may even face deeper doubts about theologies that teach the need for transcending the human condition. Why would we need divine grace if we could correct our flaws ourselves?

I’m skeptical that we are on the brink of a “post-humanity,” myself, or that religion is about to become obsolete. Utopians always promise that we are only a breakthrough or two away from a Bright Tomorrow in which we will control our own destiny, and the “Singularity” sounds like another futurist fantasy to me. Still, it’s worth thinking about technologies that do seem likely. Allen Buchanan (Duke) has written a new book, Better Than Human (Oxford), that addresses the subject. The publisher’s description follows.

Is it right to use biomedical technologies to make us better than well or even perhaps better than human? Should we view our biology as fixed or should we try to improve on it? College students are already taking cognitive enhancement drugs. The U.S. army is already working to develop drugs and technologies to produce “super soldiers.” Scientists already know how to use genetic engineering techniques to enhance the strength and memories of mice and the application of such technologies to humans is on the horizon.

In Better Than Human, philosopher-bioethicist Allen Buchanan grapples with the ethical dilemmas of the biomedical enhancement revolution. Biomedical enhancements can make us smarter, have better memories, be stronger, quicker, have more stamina, live much longer, avoid the frailties of aging, and enjoy richer emotional lives. In spite of the benefits that biomedical enhancements may bring, many people instinctively reject them. Some worry that we will lose something important-our appreciation Read more

“Providence” Will Have To Go, Too

The Christmas Wars are really heating up, and December’s only just started. From Rhode Island, the setting of the Supreme Court’s first Christmas display case, Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), a new controversy over what to call the 17-foot blue spruce that decorates the statehouse. Governor Lincoln Chafee insists on referring to it as the state “Holiday Tree” rather than “Christmas Tree,” a decision that has exposed him to some ridicule, with critics accusing him of triviality and political correctness. The governor argues that “Holiday Tree” is more consistent with Rhode Island’s long tradition of separating religion and government. No word yet whether the governor will also seek to change the name of the state capital, Providence (est. 1636), so that it too conforms to state tradition.

Who’s Sick Now?

Here is an interesting story at the intersection of geo-politics, economics, and religion, about Turkey’s increasing skepticism about becoming part of the EU.  From the story:

A century ago when the Ottoman Empire was crumbling, Turkey acquired the unwelcome nickname “the sick man of Europe.” Now many Turks cannot help but gloat that Turkey’s economy is forecast to grow at a 7.5 percent rate this year while Europe is sputtering.

“Those who called us ‘sick’ in the past are now ‘sick’ themselves,” Zafer Caglayan, Turkey’s minister of economy, said recently. “May God grant them recovery.”