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Paul Hair is a national security expert and an author. He writes under his own name and as a ghostwriter. Connect with him at http://www.liberateliberty.com/. Contact him at paul@liberateliberty.com.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Coming of the Superhuman Warrior: How Will Christians Respond?

Editorial Note: I wrote this specifically for submission to a journal that focuses on foreign policy and Christianity. I received no response from it. So I am publishing this in-depth article (featuring exclusive, original commentary from interviews I conducted) here at The Security and Culture Intelligencer. It features in-line citations, and no hyperlinks, as per the guidelines of the magazine to which I submitted it.


Superheroes continue being all the rage in movies and pop culture. But whereas once they were thought of merely as a child’s fantasy (and perhaps still are), they are now approaching the realm of reality. Or, at least, superhuman abilities are. And as the advent of superhuman abilities occur, they will change the nature of humanity and warfare. How will Christians respond to this? What will the Christian view be on the ethicalness of human enhancement, the use of superhuman warriors, and how the altering of the human body changes the nature of mankind?

Superhumans: Fiction No More

A man in powered armor sprints across a battlefield and destroys enemies and their weapon systems with well-placed shots. Another man, with enhanced physical strength, takes on 10 men, easily overpowering and defeating them. Cyber and other implants enable a third man to think faster and react quicker to enemy attacks, and a rapidly changing battlefield environment. All these things sound fantastic. Many people probably think they sound far-fetched or completely unrealistic. But they aren’t.

Discussions about scientific advancements that could result in giving people superhuman abilities have occurred for a long time. But to understand why Christians should begin thinking about how to react to them when they become a reality, it is important to understand just how much closer to reality they have become during the past several years. Everyone from individuals in the private sector to the US government are talking about such changes and how they will transform the world, including the way warfare is fought.

Iron Man is one of the more well-known superheroes in modern pop culture. And one of the most prominent military developments regarding superhuman abilities has centered on the so-called “Iron Man” suit that the US Special Operations Command, and the US armed forces in general, are developing.

An October 18, 2013 press release from the US Department of Defense was an early, official announcement about this suit. “In September, Socom announced it is seeking proposals for prototypes of the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS,” the press release said. “The goal of TALOS is to provide ballistic protection to Special Operations Forces, along with fire-retardant capability, said Michel Fieldson, TALOS lead for Socom.”

The same press release later quoted Fieldson as saying, “‘We sometimes refer to it as the “Iron Man” suit, frankly, to attract the attention, imagination and excitement of industry and academia.’”

Updates on the progress of developing this suit periodically pop up in media reports. One of the most recent ones, a February 7, 2019 article from Defense One titled “The US Military Is Chopping Up Its Iron Man Suit for Parts,” indicates that it likely was overhyped.

However, if the US ever successfully fields it, then it will provide troops with an advantage through the use of external technology. But it isn’t the only advancement on the horizon with the potential to give troops superhuman ability. There is more. Much more.

On April 30, 2015, the US Army published a story titled, “‘Sentient data’ may one day augment Soldier capability.” It focused on a 2015 conference sponsored by Mad Scientist, an initiative of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command. The conference “addressed how existing technologies will be used in new ways in 2025 and beyond and what new technologies would become game changers then.”

In addition to talking about how sentient data (described as data “that can feel and perceive things”) and other fascinating technology will affect warfare, attendees of the conference discussed human enhancement. Christopher G. Cross, who was at the time a colonel in the US Army, said that he “was learning just how fast the biological sciences are advancing in terms of genetic manipulation and what impacts that might have on the Army.”

And what he was learning was quite surprising to him.

“The first forays into genetic manipulation will be altering DNA to eliminate diseases or provide enhanced capabilities in embryos,” the 2015 Army story said. “Then, that research could focus on changing the genetic structure of adults. ‘This caught me off guard,’ he [Cross] said.”

And Cross realized how significant such advances are.

“While this would likely not occur in the United States due to ethical and moral repulsion, state and non-state actors, who are our potential adversaries, would no doubt want to use it against us, he said, meaning designing super soldiers,” the Army story reported.

Interest and concern over enhancing humans with superhuman abilities have only accelerated since that time. The US Congress has even held hearings on the subject. A November 3, 2015 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing called “The Future of Warfare” provides one such example. During this hearing, Paul Scharre, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, provided expert testimony.

Part of Scharre’s testimony included remarks about “human cognitive performance enhancement,” referring to the efforts to improve brain function. He also spoke about “human-machine synthesis,” where advancements allow for humans and machine to function together in increasingly complex ways.

Yet Scharre, not unlike Col. Cross, warned that “there remains a cultural prejudice in some military communities against human enhancement.”

Regardless of the thinking in 2015, the research into and interest in superhuman abilities has moved ahead quickly since that time.

The Pew Research Center published an in-depth article about emerging superhuman abilities on July 26, 2016. “Human Enhancement – The Scientific and Ethical Dimensions of Striving for Perfection” covered a breadth of ways humanity may be able to enhance itself, including through the editing of genetics.

“While gene editing itself is not new, CRISPR offers scientists a method that is faster, cheaper and more accurate,” the article noted, using the acronym for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.”

“‘It’s about 1,000 times cheaper [than existing methods],’ says George Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School,” the article continued. “‘It could be a game changer.’ CRISPR is so much more efficient and accurate than older gene-editing technology because it uses each cell’s immune system to target and splice out parts of its DNA and replace them with new genetic code.”

Fast forward to March 2018, when the US Army Mad Scientist initiative held one of its latest conferences. “Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050” was one of the most explicit events yet that focused on superhuman abilities. It specifically focused on the coming of the superhuman warfighter.

“While the technology and concepts defining warfare have continuously and rapidly transformed, the primary actor in warfare – the human – has remained largely unchanged,” the executive summary of the final report from the conference noted. “Soldiers today may be physically larger, more thoroughly trained, and better equipped than their historical counterparts, but their capability and performance abilities remain very similar.”

In short, the warrior of today remains quite similar to the warrior of decades ago, or even centuries ago. But a fundamental transformation is looming over the horizon.

“The limitations of human performance, however, may change over the next 30 years, as advances in biotechnology and human performance likely will expand the boundaries of what is possible for the human to achieve,” the executive summary continued. “We may see Soldiers — not just their equipment – with superior vision, enhanced cognitive abilities, disease/virus resistance, and increased strength, speed, agility, and endurance. As a result, these advances could provide the Soldier with an edge to survive and thrive on the hyperactive, constantly-changing, and increasingly lethal Multi-Domain Battlespace.”

Again, the “Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050” report wasn’t merely talking about developing improved physical workouts, better nutrition, and advanced training for American Soldiers; it was talking about profoundly changing them.

“There is also the potential to change and improve Soldier’s physical attributes,” the report explained. “Scientists can develop drugs, specific dietary plans, and potentially use genetic editing to improve speed, strength, agility, and endurance.” [Emphasis added]

We might not ever see people with heat rays coming out of their eyes. And we might not ever witness those who can fly without the aid of external technology, or people who can shrink to the size of an insect and grow to the height of a giant. But enhanced strength, durability, speed, and even cognitive ability appear to be tearing through into the bounds of reality. And when such breakthroughs occur, how will Christians respond to them? What will Christians think of the morality of them, and how will they affect Christian theology?

Ethical and Theological Implications of Enhancing Humans

Different parts of society increasingly find little in common with each other. Topics that people once generally agreed upon are now subject to intense ethical and theological debates. So enhancing humans will be yet another area where people will disagree. Outside the Church people will debate the ethics of superhuman abilities. Inside the Church they will have theological debates about them.

Ethical Implications of Enhancing Humans

Military and civilian leaders are already thinking about the ethical implications of superhuman warriors. For instance, in the “Bio Convergence and Soldier 2050” report, the US Army dedicated an entire section to “The Ethics of Soldier Enhancement.”

Part of the ethical concerns leaders have are linked to what responsibilities the US Army will have once it starts enhancing Soldiers. “Another consideration is whether or not the Soldier enhancements are permanent,” the report said. “By enhancing Soldiers’ faculties, the Army is, in fact, enhancing their lethality or their ability to defeat the enemy. What happens with these enhancements—whether the Army can or should remove them— when a Soldier leaves the Army is an open question.”

In other words, what happens when the Army puts an enhanced Soldier back into the civilian world as a superhuman civilian? How will that person reintegrate into society? Will he have social, professional, and economic advantages over the rest of the population because of his superhuman abilities? And how will society view that?

Beyond that, what are the dangers of putting an enhanced Soldier back into society? A Soldier who served as part of a tank crew no longer has the tank when he’s a civilian. But a Soldier who was given superhuman abilities to make him a more lethal Soldier has those same deadly abilities as a civilian.

Theological Implications of Enhancing Humans

Yet while people outside the Church are already considering the ethical implications of superhuman warriors, few (if any) people inside the Church are considering the theological implications of giving people superhuman abilities. Indeed, few people inside the Church may even be aware of the issue.

So what are some of the theological issues (if any) that might arise?

Relatively few people have theological objections to a person replacing a lost limb with a prosthetic one. And few people theologically object to replacing a failing organ with one donated from someone else. The same goes for people putting on a mechanical suit to provide augmented strength and abilities. So in a sense, the Church already accepts augmentation and enhancement of the human body to a degree. Furthermore, the Church isn’t unfamiliar with superhuman individuals (with Samson being the first person that probably leaps to every Christian’s mind).

But what happens when humanity moves on from replacing a missing or failing body part or using external machines for enhanced abilities? What will Christians think when humanity starts going even further than that? Will the Christian faith challenge what is happening, or will what is happening challenge the Christian faith?

“I see problems with altering a human body but not improving it,” Dr. Don Boys, a former Indiana state representative and current Christian commentator, said.[1] “[M]onkeying around with genes is dangerous,” he added. “I do not believe informed Christians will accept any attempt to ‘fundamentally’ change man’s nature.”

John Biver, a veteran political science consultant and Christian commentator, also shared his thoughts on the issue, starting with some of his theological views on enhancing humans.

“In the late 1980s, there was a big to-do about Prozac and its impact on the brain, on personality, and on what people saw back then as ‘the person,’” Biver said.[2] “The brain is an organ. If they develop chemicals or whatever technologically that alters any organ to make it work better, first, I don’t think it changes who the person is. I think it enhances who they can be if they were not impaired. When a shy person becomes outgoing because they’re on some drug does that mean their nature is changed, or that more of their potential is reached? I’m just asking. I wonder what it would look like for Christians to actually operate with the mind of Christ.”

He explained further what he meant by giving an example of a person born with a disability. “Is that disability who they are? I don’t think so.”

Biver also addressed the issue of how giving people superhuman abilities might affect Christian theology. He doesn’t believe that initial advances will cause many people to question or change their faith.

“I think we’d need aliens landing on earth to see people attempt to justify that kind of change. That would affect some Christians’ worldview—unless those aliens were Christians,” he said. “But technology shouldn’t. Imagine Abraham’s battles and compare them to what our military can do today—incredible destruction. Things ‘evolve’ and that is clearly a part of God’s design.”

But Biver realized there are potential dangers.

“Does that mean everything is good? Of course not,” he said in reference to enhancing humans. “But I suspect the range of what is okay and not necessarily evil is bigger than what many Christians would accept,” he added, citing 1 Corinthians 10:23.

Military and Theological Debates on Superhuman Warriors

If enhancing humans with superhuman abilities will stir debates inside and outside the Church, then the idea of using superhuman troops in war will certainly stir even more. Outside the Church, military and civilian leaders currently argue about military laws and rules of engagements for warriors. Inside the Church, Christians argue over when and how wars should be fought, with some professing Christians entirely opposing war in any situation. As with the ethical and theological debates over enhancing humans in general, such vigorous debates about war will become even fierier when nations start fielding superhuman warriors.

Military Debates on Superhuman Warriors

Modern American warriors are governed by intensely restrictive rules of engagement. Any time they fire a weapon or otherwise engage in any form of combat, they not only run the risk of being wounded or killed by the enemy, they also run the risk of having their own superiors punishing them or even prosecuting them. They have to prove that used force because their lives, limbs, or eyesight were at risk. On top of that, they have to prove that the level of force they used was appropriate.

Imagine how much more restrictive and burdensome rules of engagement will become when the warrior becomes a weapon.

In addition to troops having to worry about their superiors, military leaders have to worry about politicians, journalists, and other activists scrutinizing their every action. Part of this scrutiny supposedly comes from US military forces having a significant advantage over current foes. If that supposed advantage becomes even starker by way of US troops possessing physically superior bodies (and not just weapons and training), then the scrutiny will become even more passionate.

Beyond this, military leaders may face challenges of fairly evaluating and promoting superhuman troops versus non-enhanced troops, or controlling enhanced troops when they are off duty. (Commanders have enough of a challenge with this already with non-enhanced troops. The challenge will greatly increase when troops, particularly younger ones, have superhuman abilities.)

And then there will be the most difficult challenges and circumstances that come with every leap of technology: the ones no one can yet imagine.

Theological Debates on Superhuman Warriors

Christians will be forced to consider the theological implications of superhuman troops too. Thinking and praying through the theology about enhancing humans is one thing, but using said enhanced humans in war is an entirely separate debate.

Christians who subscribe to the Just War doctrine might particularly be interested in this theological consideration. How will Christians react to warriors whose superhuman strength, durability, cognitive abilities, and otherwise altered physiologies make them capable of great destruction and make them disproportionately stronger than their enemies?

“Since Adam’s fall, men have been at war with ‘advanced’ weapons added from time to time,” Boys said. “The construction of a longer spear resulted in an advantage to the man with a short one. The bow and arrow gave men the ability to fight at a distance; the stirrup made the cavalry and mounted warfare practical,” he continued, adding that guns and grenades also were weapons that were innovative at one time. “Christians, like everyone, had to respond to each new advance.”

And Boys views superhuman abilities as another technological advancement. That means, aside from the theological reservations he expressed earlier about altering genes, he doesn’t see an issue with using superhumanly enhanced troops in war.

“I suppose this means replacing a leg or arm with artificial limbs that have unusual abilities,” he said. “I see no theological problem or moral problem with this. If ‘lethal’ weapons or artifices can be justified during warfare (and they can from Scripture) then ‘more lethal’ can also be justified. If it saves lives (on OUR side) then that is preferred,” he added.

“As to it being more brutal, I’m not sure that could be possible. When you can blow a man’s head off from a mile away or direct a missile into a specific window and explode the whole building, it can’t get much worse. No Christian, no sane person, likes war but if it is fought, it should be fought to win. Dead is dead however it happens,” he said.

Biver doesn’t see major theological problems with using troops who have superhuman abilities in warfare either. In fact, it’s possible for Christians to view superhuman troops as the opposite of a theological problem.

“Every time one side advances well ahead of the other, such as what happened with the machine gun or with tanks versus horse cavalry, it’s almost a clear example of God giving one side the advantage,” he said.

He then expanded on what he meant.

“Brutality is hell on earth, no doubt. But God wrote it into the script, didn’t he? Setting aside all the battles in the Bible, I often think about the centuries of hell-on-earth battles,” he explained.

In addition to the brutality of the wars themselves, they were even more vicious because they all happened in times of “pre-modern medical care,” he noted.

He concluded by reiterating that the idea of using superhuman troops in warfare for a decisive advantage shouldn’t be theologically troubling when considering the larger picture. “Christians need to buck-up and deal with life as it is,” he said. “And you can’t deal with anything in life properly without looking at all of history and what still goes on today. Some of those ISIS videos are an amazing view into what fallen man is capable of; things that people like me foolishly thought was a thing of the past.”

Christians Should Lead the Way

Superhuman abilities in humans will arrive. And the world will witness superhuman warriors too. Christians need to start thinking about these things today. Christians need to be ready to discuss the ethical and theological ramifications of them.

Providing people with advanced technology, increased abilities, and better performance through the use of exterior technology or improved medicine and fitness regiments won’t present most Christians with theological problems. But altering the human body through genetics or other means, possibly to the point where it greatly changes the appearance or functioning of a person, will be a different story.

And when superhuman warriors are put on the battlefield, that will provide Christians with even more theological questions to consider.

So instead of waiting to address these advancements and changes when they happen, Christians should have the foresight to think about them now, and start leading the debates and discussions on their implications.

Paul Hair is a lifelong Christian. He served in military intelligence in the U.S. Army Reserve and is a veteran of the Iraq War. He is an author who has written several fiction and nonfiction books under his own name and as a ghostwriter. Connect with him at www.liberateliberty.com.

[1] Email interview with Dr. Don Boys, September 4, 2018.

[2] Email interview with John Biver, September 8, 2018.

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