Distinguished professor lectures on technology's impact on humanity
Nicholas M. Bennett
For The Daily Reflector
Sunday, March 17, 2019
Perspectives on one of most controversial and hotly-debated topics in the worlds of humanities and technology came together in a lively discussion last week that capped off a three-day religious studies conference at ECU.
More than 100 East Carolina students, staff, observers and religious scholars gathered in the new student center ballroom Monday to hear Ron Cole-Turner deliver his keynote address, More or Less Human — Will Technology Enhance of Destroy Us.
The lecture on the ability of modern technology, genetics and medicine to alter the course of human life — and the degree to which society should allow it — was the finale of the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion AAR/SBL Annual Conference hosted by the ECU Religious Studies Program.
“Will the incredibly potent technologies unfolding in corporate and government labs around the world, enhance or destroy us — or both?” Cole-Turner asked the crowd.
A founding member of the International Society for Science and Religion, Cole-Turner, tackled this conundrum head on by drawing on his decade’s worth of experience and work in genetics, cloning, obstetrician and as an ordained minister.
“There is nothing about us that cannot be touched by Technology,” Cole-Turner said.
The three core areas of human nature that Turner believes can and are already being enhanced by technology are cognitive functioning, spiritual wellness and physical well-being. Turner weaved through examples and testimonials about ADHD medication enhancing the user’s focus and intelligence levels as well as how steroids and human growth hormones buffer physical characteristics.
He identified himself as a moderate transhumanists — one who believes in using technology to enhance or better oneself. He also spoke about the opposing bio-conservatives —those who believe that human enhancement through technology is spiritually wrong and violates the laws of humanity.
Cole layed out the arguments bio-conservatives have against what he believes and gave the audience an opportunity to decide which viewpoint to adopt.
The H. Parker Sharp Professor of Theology and Ethics chair holder at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary then took it a step further:
“Through many of their differences, transhumanists and bio-conservatives agree on some things, but none greater than this: The technology that we are talking about to enhance human nature has the potential to end man-kind as we know it.”
Turner continued, “This maybe species suicide. Whatever we define as humanity; if we transform or enhance it enough, we will cross some sort of barrier at some point where we will no longer be the human-beings that we know ourselves to be.”
Cole-Turner has authored and edited ninebooks on biblical and pastoral implications of science and is currently a minister in the United Church of Christ.
He addressed the perceived contradiction of a man of the cloth advocating for technological advances to change what God has created.
He quoted Psalms 82, which refers to men as Gods, and uses this biblical reference as his justification that human enhancement through technology or any other means to reach a higher elevated state is not an immoral practice.
In an interview outside of the lecture, Cole-Turner offered and a story about one time in his life that illuminated the fact that science and religion can co-exist on the same wavelength.
“I remember when I was young, the church praying for my healing when I needed hernia surgery at age 5. One thousand years ago I would have been dead, but I firmly believe that the technology that God created and placed into the hands of the surgeons healed me, so it wouldn’t make any sense for me to preach against the advancement of technology to improve our lives.”