artificial humans and mad scientists

techno-heaven: antiquity through the machine age

The religious vision of a techno-utopian future derives from
an ancient attraction to machine-based utopias. The Bible, in the Book of
Revelation (21:1–27), projects a mythical image of a techno-transcendent
utopia: the New Jerusalem. Manufactured by God out of pure gold, this lustrous
super-city emerges from the Day of Judgment skies signaling Christ’s
triumphant return to earth for a thousand-year reign.

The radiant, geometrically precise Heavenly City represents a perfect place, beyond nature,
where we are resurrected into immortal life, freed of pain and anxiety.
Its techno-religious aspect is captured by architecture professor Michael
Benedikt, who describes it as ‘‘laid out like a beautiful equation. The image
of The Heavenly City, in fact, is an image of . . . a religious vision of cyberspace.’’
This apocalyptic vision of heaven on earth would inspire, in the words
of Eric Davis, ‘‘the secular offspring of Christianity’s millennia list drive:
the myth of progress, which holds that through the ministrations of reason,
science, and technology, we can perfect ourselves and our societies.’’
At the same time, technology as a means of redemption flourished in the
minds of medieval monks who elevated the practical crafts as a path to
Heavenly Jerusalem. ‘‘Technology had come to be identified with transcendence,’’
says David Noble, ‘‘implicated as never before in the Christian idea
of redemption.The worldlymeans of survival were now redirected toward
the other-worldly end of salvation.’’ 3 Technologism—the posthuman religion
of technology—originated with the early Christian fusion of technology
and salvation. Linked to religious ideas of heaven, divine perfection,
and the Promised Land, utopia became a worldly technological goal,
rather than an otherworldly post-death reward.The termutopia was coined
by Thomas More in Utopia (1516)—a book influenced by Plato’s Republic as
well as by the Gospels. For More, utopian perfection would be achieved
through social reform, religious tolerance, good moral example, and widespread
Scientific thinking fueled the utopian imagination in the seventeenth
century. An awareness of the socially transforming power of scientific
knowledge infuses Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627) and Tommaso Campanella’s
City of the Sun (1637), which ‘‘enshrined the worship of science and
technology as principles of social development and moral perfection.’’ 4 Arguably
a work of science fiction,5 Bacon’s New Atlantis imagines vast technological
progress through an advanced research institute—the House of
Salomon—and prophesies various scientific marvels, such as submarines
and aircraft. Though not a scientist himself,6 Bacon was the first to see the
connection between science and the improvement of mankind. With religious
fervor, he viewed science as a source of illumination, power, progress,
and even redemption, linking it to Christianity.
In The New Atlantis, English sailors are shipwrecked on the island kingdom
of Bensalem, ruled by a Christian priest supported by the supreme
wise men of the secretive House of Salomon. They embody Bacon’s ideal
of a benevolent scientific elite whose knowledge would increase human
control of nature and eventually lead to utopian comforts. ‘‘It seemed that
we had before us a picture of our salvation in heaven,’’7 says one of the
shipwrecked sailors. The House of Salomon satisfies materialistic human
wants through technology. Yet, despite this, the first technocracy’s inhabitants
seem as regimented and obedient as automata as they chant in unison,
‘‘Happy are the people of Bensalem.’’ 8 The techno-priest expresses divine
aspirations for science: ‘‘The end of our Foundation is the knowledge of
causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of
human empire, to the effecting of all things possible.’’ 9 Bacon advanced the
medieval Christian idea of science as divine salvation. ‘‘Largely through
the enormous and enduring influence of Francis Bacon,’’ says David Noble,
‘‘the medieval identification of technology with transcendence now informed
the emergent mentality of modernity.’’ 10
With the rise of science, utopian visions of the future divided between
two contrary philosophical views: anti-technology and pro-technology.
The nineteenth-century socialist writer William Morris exemplifies the
former attitude. In his novel News from Nowhere (1890), Morris—troubled
by the horrors of industrial life—imagined a pastoral earthly paradise of
the future that recreated the pre-industrial past. In this perfect society, arts
and crafts provided the economy’s foundation. He objected to a future of
idle humanity whose needs were supplied by machines. In contrast, protechnology
utopias such as Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward 2000–1887
 (1888) viewed urban industrial life as the harbinger of heaven. Technoutopians
expected that humanity, rather than being crushed by the wheels
of industry, would be physically liberated and spiritually enhanced by advancing
technology. These utopian visions assumed that science would
understand, control, and perfect nature, including humans.
War, hunger, and hatred have been engineered out of the Eden-like
commune proposed as a literal heaven on earth by Looking Backward. As Bellamy
saw it, the United States would transform into a technopolis where
a factory-like efficiency controlled all aspects of life. Designed like a machine,
this paradise would not only increase happiness but bring people
closer to God. According to Looking Backward, the techno-utopian agewill
bring the human race ‘‘a new phase of spiritual development, an evolution
of higher faculties . . . the realization of God’s ideal . . . when the divine
secret . . . shall be perfectly unfolded. Humanity has burst the chrysalis.
The heavens are before it.’’ 11
Technological utopianism spread wildly in nineteenth-century America,
12 drawing energy from the same religious enthusiasm that made the
nation, in the words of Eric Davis, ‘‘a fiery carnival of revivalism, spiritual
experimentation and progressive communes.’’ 13 The enthusiasm for
technology and for religion fed off each other as the Industrial Revolution
encouraged dreams of technological heaven. A whole procession
of imaginary mechanized utopias, influenced by Looking Backward,
dominated the utopian imagination of the well-educated elite, including
such technology-hyping novels as The Crystal Button (1891) by Chauncey
Thomas, A Cityless and Countryless World (1893) by Henry Olerich, and Limanora,
the Island of Progress (1903) by Godfrey Sweven. The divine desire to
be like angels became literal in Limanora, as the citizens reject sex, sprout
wings, and ‘‘flit about in a state of gleaming innocence,’’ as author Chad
Walsh puts it in From Utopia to Nightmare (1962).14
Despite initially writing dystopian science fiction such as The Time Machine,
The Island of Dr. Moreau, and When the Sleeper Awakes, H. G. Wells
became the twentieth century’s greatest utopian seer, embracing science,
engineering, the myth of progress, and faith in man’s perfectibility.15 Possessed
by what H. L. Mencken described as a ‘‘messianic delusion,’’ 16Wells
—in books such as A Modern Utopia (1905) and Men Like Gods (1923)—promoted
his vision of a technocracy run by a scientific, technical elite. Appraising Wells’s
viewpoint in The Future as Nightmare, Mark Hillegas writes:
‘‘The application of science had almost automatically brought this heaven
on earth, which was inhabited by a finer race of human beings, who had
inevitably evolved to their state of near perfection.’’17
Wells’s Modern Utopia glowed with twentieth-century optimism—‘‘an
almost archetypal version of the scientifically planned welfare state,’’ 18 says
Hillegas. Wells elaborated the utopian dream of The New Atlantis, trusting
that Bacon’s House of Salomon would be achieved by a small group
of benevolent scientist-technicians who would rule the world. Being inherently
good, the techno-dictators would use science and technology to
manufacture a perfect future. This would require the subjugation of the
natural world. Wells argued that ‘‘man is the unnatural animal, the rebel
child of Nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh
and fitful hand that reared him.’’ 19 Called ‘‘the most transhumanist of the
early 20th century socialists’’ by the director of the World Transhumanist
Association,20Wells enthusiastically embraced an anti-nature viewpoint
that reinforces the techno-corporate notion of man as master and nature as
slave. Fiercely anti-flesh Wells devalued and diminished the physical body,
echoing the fascination for artificial alternatives found in the toy automata
of the age.

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