Humanity 2.0: What it Means to be Human: Past, Present and Future

March 1, 2012

As its title indicates, this book is an attempt to unravel what it means to be human in the past, present and future. Its ambition is to provide "a comprehensive set of historical, philosophical and sociological resources" for readers to ask their own questions and draw conclusions. In exploring the origin and fate of our biological roots as a defining human feature, Steve Fuller weighs our attempts to transcend biology via humanism and egalitarianism, and our divine aspirations to make the transition from animals to gods. He considers the origin and history of the sciences, and how today's converging technologies promise enhanced individual and social well-being - not to mention enhanced humans.

Finally, he draws on theological perspectives to argue that human and divine minds overlap sufficiently in their intelligence and creativity for the former to take full control of a techno-scientific (re)creation of the entire world, thereby permitting us to evolve into "humanity 2.0", which is, he says, a step closer to a divine standpoint. In other words, our intelligence and creativity is on a continuum with that of God, and we cannot do without faith in this deity if we are to cultivate enough enthusiasm in young people to inspire them to attempt techno-scientific conquests of the world and of ourselves.

Fuller is effectively preaching from the standpoint of his own theological orientation towards intelligent design and his rejection of the views of secular Darwinian diehards. As a result, the set of resources he provides his readers with to allow them to ask questions and draw conclusions is significantly limited rather than comprehensive. For example, he offers an idealistic and oversimplified depiction of science by repeatedly referencing Newton's reductionist achievement to explain a whole world on the basis of primitive elements. He also preaches an idealistic and oversimplified depiction of human purpose and direction towards greater productivity, efficiency and closeness to God as we evolve into smarter, stronger and longer-lasting humans. In doing so, he emphasises the etymological origins of common concepts in biblical texts and selectively draws on the histories of Abrahamic faiths, philosophy and 200 years of sociology (seen here as a politicising project of how we treat each other) to provide the underpinnings of his key argument.

The unfortunate result is that he leaves little room to properly argue or reflect on contentious points or offsetting considerations. For example, Fuller mentions that the project of techno-scientific progress should be subject to thorough debate. He claims that the living world and fossil records can be scrutinised without recourse to a theory of evolution (and notes that he expects to be ostracised for his theological orientations). But he will not convince agnostics and non-believers that scrutinising the living world necessitates a deity just because it does not necessitate a theory of evolution. He does not consider forms of thinking other than faith-based convictions of some sort, or forms of progress other than the techno-scientific version. His assessment of the technology with which this vision of human progress would be accomplished does not go beyond the simplest question of benefit versus risk.

While the title and its cover seem designed to attract those who are keenly interested in the implications of body modification, including advanced bionics and implant technologies, the book is not an easy read and it will not speak with clarity to readers other than those with theist orientations - or, perhaps, to affronted Darwinians. This is disappointing, because radically reconfiguring human materiality and conquering human-world relations (in other words, not merely conquering the world around us but our relational interdependence with it) would seem to be ideal topics to draw non-believers into critical dialogue. There are good reasons why agnostics and non-believers politely ignore the kinds of debates that secular humanists and theists find themselves drawn to. The latter two groups are both committed to belief systems (faiths) that are exclusive and biased in their righteousness, presupposing strong (and perhaps unhealthy) emotional investment. Engaging in constructive dialogue is futile when every time we ask for purpose and direction, believers can point a finger and exclaim: "Aha, teleology in disguise!" It is equally futile when every time we ask for creativity and inspiration, or taking care and caution with respect to innovation and development, believers resort to pointing out our hidden theist or secular humanistic inclinations.

Perhaps the most important question left unanswered here is whether, despite the theologically derived lineage of many ordinary concepts with elevated status in this book, we can explore collectively questions of purpose and direction, inspiration and compassion without our making recourse to strong faith-based convictions. Sadly, this is not the book to open that debate.

Humanity 2.0: What it Means to be Human: Past, Present and Future

By Steve Fuller. Palgrave Macmillan. 280pp, £60.00 and £19.99. ISBN 9780230233423 and 33430. Published 6 October 2011

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