Can We Hack Humans? Should We?

John Stonestreet and Kasey Leander | BreakPoint, Breakpoint | Published: Jul 12, 2022
Can We Hack Humans? Should We?

Can We Hack Humans? Should We?

One of the most enigmatic, sensational, and misguided thinkers of the last 10 years is Israeli historian and pop philosopher Yuval Noah Harari. His book Sapiens, published in English in 2015, sold over a million copies as it told the story of mankind’s evolution. His 2017 book Homo Deus predicts a transhumanist future, a world where technology fundamentally reshapes what kind of entity human beings are.  

“We humans should get used to the idea that we are no longer mysterious souls. We are now hackable animals,” he told attendees at the 2020 World Economic Forum annual meeting. “By hacking organisms, elites may gain the power to reengineer the power of life itself,” he said two years earlier. “This will be not just the greatest revolution in the history of humanity. This will be the greatest revolution in biology since the very beginning of life 4 billion years ago.”  

Harari’s prophecy doesn’t end there:  “Science is replacing evolution by natural selection by evolution via intelligent design,” he continued in 2018. “Not the intelligent design of some God above the clouds, but our intelligent design, and the intelligent design of our clouds: the IBM cloud, the Microsoft cloud … these are the new, driving forces of evolution.”  

Conspiracy theorists might be forgiven for having a field day with such statements. After all, Harari’s outspoken fans include some of the most powerful people alive: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, former President Barack Obama, as well as executive chairman of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab. Despite a somewhat critical response from academics, the success of his books is undeniable.  

Still, Harari suffers from a fatal inconsistency. While positioning himself as a prophet, interested in solving the worst abuses that could befall our future hackable selves, he cuts the ideological ground out from anything standing in their way. A keen example is his critique of both liberal democracy and the entire concept of the “individual” as outdated political norms.  

“Liberalism,” he wrote in the Guardian “is unprepared for a situation when individual freedom is subverted from within, and when the very concepts of ‘individual’ and ‘freedom’ no longer make much sense.” Yet in nearly the same breath, Harari rushes us towards that exact conclusion: “In order to survive and prosper in the 21st century,” he writes, “we need to leave behind the naive view of humans as free individuals—a view inherited from Christian theology as much as from the modern Enlightenment.” 

Though he is right about the origins of classic liberalism, the result is a self-contradictory mess. In effect, Harari is saying we should stop people from being hacked by hacking ourselves first …  and defend universal values by denying that they exist. “I don’t know where the answers will come from,” Harari admits, “but they are definitely not coming from a collection of stories written thousands of years ago.”  

If those stories are just stories, Harari is correct. But as C.S. Lewis described, some stories ground us in reality. This is, in fact, what Christianity does, and what reductionist materialism makes impossible.  

Though new insight on technology may have helped Harari sell interesting books, dreaming of a world stripped of all values is as old as modernism itself. Had someone given him a copy of Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, he may have seen his exact premise tackled by an Oxford don nearly 80 years ago.  

All of this matters because ideas have consequences. Harari and those like him may be attempting to shape the trajectory of transhumanism towards a utopian future but, as often the case, public intellectuals with good intentions but bad worldviews are often the blindest to the practical implications of their thinking.  

“How does liberal democracy function in an era when governments and corporations can hack humans?” Harari asked in the Guardian article. A better question is: How does liberal democracy function in an era when people rush to assume they are merely pre-determined “hackable animals” instead of moral agents who are responsible for their decisions, living in a society of people created equal and “endowed by their creator with inalienable rights?”  

History tells us the answer to that question. It can’t. The entire concept of human rights is intimately connected with a Christian anthropology. Gut a society of that worldview, and there’s no limit to how far we can fall. 

If Harari’s predictions somehow do become reality, it will have less to do with technology, and far more to do with ideas: specifically, the nihilistic, reductionist humanity he so ardently promotes. Technology makes imagined futures possible, but ideas shape how and why we use technology. If he’s looking for a worldview that’s better for empowering techno-tyrants, corporatists, and demagogues, he could do little better than the one he’s promoting.  

On the other hand, if he’s looking to evade the oppression he fears, he should look to One of the old stories he derides.

Publication date: July 12, 2022

Photo courtesy: Ousa Chea/Unsplash

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

BreakPoint is a program of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. BreakPoint commentaries offer incisive content people can't find anywhere else; content that cuts through the fog of relativism and the news cycle with truth and compassion. Founded by Chuck Colson (1931 – 2012) in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends. Today, you can get it in written and a variety of audio formats: on the web, the radio, or your favorite podcast app on the go.

John Stonestreet is President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and radio host of BreakPoint, a daily national radio program providing thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Can We Hack Humans? Should We?