Human Flourishing and Contentment in a Biotechnological Context

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Flourishing and contentment are connected but distinct. In Christian perspective, the goal of human enhancement is not conducive to human flourishing, whereas a therapeutic approach to the body is. However, the virtue of contentment means willingness to forgo even therapeutic treatment under certain circumstances. This article attempts to argue for these conclusions with reference to the contrast between the natural and the transhuman and by considering the significance of disability and the church as the body of Christ.

Keywords: contentment, enhancement, flourishing, nature, therapy, transhumanism

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How should we think of human flourishing and contentment in a biotechnological context? “Flourishing” and “contentment” are obviously different things. “Flourishing” connotes growth, activity, maximisation of potential. “Contentment” connotes stasis, passivity, equilibrium. However, if we adopt a Christian perspective on their relationship in a biotechnological context, the superficially contrasting connotations or meanings of these words conceal important positive connections between them. Contemporary perceptions of human flourishing often spring from the soil of a seething discontent that animates modern life. Our instinct will surely be to appeal to the virtue of contentment as a salutary brake on restless aspirations and to affirm that true human flourishing occurs only when contentment grounds human life. Nor do we need to appeal to a Christian perspective in order to make that kind of conceptual connection; a significant recent contribution to the topic of contentment naturally slides into talk of “human flourishing” on the first page of its first chapter.[1] I am not aiming to tackle my subject by a conceptual analysis that systematically inter-relates flourishing and contentment. Rather, in the context of biotechnology, I am keeping both notions on the table in their ordinary-language sense. Firstly, I shall take a look at the surface, where flourishing has pride of place; then, a look at what lies beneath it, where contentment comes into its own.[2]

On the Surface: Flourishing and Limitation

The most radical proposal for human enhancement in a biotechnological context is the transhumanist proposal. Enhancement is viewed here as a mode of flourishing to the point where humans graduate to a new form of existence, sometimes called “Humanity +” or “posthuman” being.[3] Who can object to this aspiration—all-round enhancement to the point of felicitous immortality, the curses of disease and ageing nullified? It may be objected that this cannot be achieved. It may be objected that, even if it can be achieved, the risks involved in trying to achieve it should put a spoke in the wheel of the whole enterprise. But why should anyone fault the aspiration itself, considered simply as the expression of human desire? The maximisation of human flourishing is surely self-evidently a worthy goal, and if there are biotechnological means to that end, anyone who stands in its way on principle demeans human possibility and humankind. What can Christians (or anyone else) plausibly find objectionable about this line of reasoning?

Within the terms of our discussion, the obvious response is to challenge the claim that human enhancement, as understood here, is an authentic form of flourishing. A distinction between therapy and enhancement has long been familiar and handily steers our description of the moral limits of biotechnology. Where there is nothing amiss with the former, the latter runs into theological trouble. The distinction is valid. True, we are equally familiar with the difficulty that confronts it. Even where we enjoy tolerable success in drawing the line theoretically, it is sometimes hard to apply the distinction in practice when we tackle the appropriateness or moral implications of specific, given biomedical practices. However, we must not fall into the trap of abandoning or marginalising the distinction in question just because of problems in application. The distinction is neither constitutionally unstable nor irredeemably unwieldy. However hard it may be to apply it consistently in practice, the distinction signifies and is grounded in an important substantive insight. The core of the insight is an intellectual conviction about, or an intuitive sense of, what is natural for human beings as God’s creatures, as opposed to what transcends or contravenes the natural. Therapy re-constitutes its object in accordance with the proper functioning of the human body. Enhancement re-constitutes the idea of proper functioning. Of course, this has to be fleshed out, lest it be suspected that the distinction is conceptually fuzzy. But the underlying theological idea is that humans belong to a natural order so designed by their creator, and flourishing occurs when we tap into and discover the potential of the natural, not when we deny or ignore it for the sake of putative enhancement.

Biotechnological advance has put pressure on the whole notion of the “natural,” an advance possible only because the “natural” was already under pressure from scientific, philosophical, and cultural quarters. Advance has taken place against the intellectual and cultural background of the standard scientific picture of humankind as an evolved species, and the standard picture generates the question of what we mean by the notion the “natural” and what room there is for it. It is not that the vocabulary of “natural” has no place within the framework of evolutionary history. It may be applied to describe what biologically constitutes a given entity that has evolved without the shaping hand of humans. It may even be applied to humans themselves with reference to the acquired biological characteristics of homo sapiens sapiens. But when Christians or any others claim that certain proposed enhancements contravene what is “natural,” they are judged guilty of imposing on what has emerged in the course of evolution some sort of historicist, contingent norm drawn from evolutionary history, or an ideological norm external to that history. If such norms are brought to bear critically on proposals to enhance the human species, they function to constrain without warrant the further development of the evolved entity. When Christians aver that human flourishing and contentment are rooted in what is natural, a normative standpoint gets in the way of an account properly constrained by dispassionate scientific description. So it looks to critics.

Conflict over the natural lies close to the heart of disputes over what makes for human flourishing in a biotechnological context. “Human beings appear to the biotechnological industry as a state of possibles at a given moment of evolution,” including with respect to their genetic material.[4] The notion of the natural is systematically ambiguous within Christianity, because the traditional affirmation that humankind is fallen entails that it has thus acquired a kind of second nature.[5] It is a controversial, as well as ambiguous, notion. When more broadly or more narrowly traditional theology takes on board mainstream scientific anthropology, the question of whether disease and death are “natural” provokes theological disagreement. I mention this issue not in order to discuss it, but just to indicate that I am not assuming that the “natural” is a theologically straightforward matter. What we can and must say is that humankind, as created by God, has a determinate earthly structure; that the vocabulary of the “natural” indicates that structure; and all this implies limits to human rights of biological self-determination. How that structure should be described, and what constitutes those limits, are legitimate subjects of debate, but the existence of both a structure and a limit entail that whenever the scope of human enhancement is determined by what is technologically possible, rather than by what accords ontically or morally with God’s created order, the operative notion of human flourishing is skewed. However tricky the notion of the natural, our take on it underlies our view of human flourishing. True flourishing occurs when we rightly apprehend the created order. Biotechnologically induced enhancements that ignore that order do not promote human flourishing.

It is not implied that creation should be theologically viewed simply and straightforwardly as a once-for-all, completed event. The tragedy of the fall, however we understand it in a scientific context, is not only that humankind becomes spiritually alienated from God. It is also that it fails to exercise the dominion over the non-human created order for which it was itself created. It is thus alienated from creation as well as from God. It is hard, if not impossible, to know fully just how that alienation works, because we cannot envisage what the result would have been had humankind fulfilled its mandate obediently and discovered its capacities and potentialities under the acknowledged lordship of God. While creation may have been complete prior to the arrival of humankind in terms of the basic structures within which human and cosmic life were divinely established, it was incomplete in that humankind had a job to do in and with it. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen 2:15, ESV).[6] On account of the fall, creation awaits its redemption, and not just its completion.

Included in the eschatological prospect is the redemption of the human body, and the way in which Scripture speaks of its eschatological form invites comparison with transhumanist ideals of human enhancement and flourishing, which may differ amongst themselves in their detail with respect to embodiment but make common cause in their aspiration to overcome disease and ageing technologically. Unparalleled biblical attention is given to the question of the future of the body in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (15:35–58). While Paul maintains that there is some principle of material continuity between the present fleshly and the future spiritual existence of humans, the whole force of his argument depends on establishing discontinuity; his disputants mount their challenge on the false presumption that our future bodies are in fleshly continuation with the present one. Whatever the principle of continuity is, the body that is sown is emphatically not the body that is raised. In making the point, Paul strongly implies that an empirical type of account of the constitution of our future spiritual bodies is not available to us. Sufficient for us to know that God has the power to bestow on us an appropriate form of eschatological existence. Perhaps there is an echo of our ignorance on this score in John’s observation that “what we will be has not yet appeared” (1 John 3:2).

On its surface, the Pauline prospect of a humanity immortally freed from fleshly encumbrance may look rather like a description of the posthuman condition. Yet, the prospect he holds out is one of human fulfilment. Can we credibly say: “fulfilment, not enhancement?” Can we not say that human eschatological enhancement is clearly a fulfilment? So, should we state the problem that Christians have like this: the attempt to remove creaturely limitations is an illicit enhancement when we undertake it technologically here and now, but their removal under eschatological conditions is a welcome divine gift, properly reckoned as human fulfilment, whether or not we allow the vocabulary of enhancement as well? One and the same thing counts as mistaken human enhancement under earthly conditions and as blessed human fulfilment under eschatological conditions?

If that is the right way of putting it, the problem with radical biotechnological advance is that it tries to anticipate under earthly conditions what is rightly reserved for eschatological life. But why should different timings and different methods—earthly/technological as opposed to eschatological/gift—make one and the same thing a case of illicit enhancement in the first and welcome fulfilment in the second instance? The answer is that we are doing more than just saying that radical biotechnological advance aspires to anticipate under earthly conditions what is properly reserved for eschatological life. The pivot on which the movement from the earthly present to the eschatological future turns in Scripture is redemption. Humans flourish when their temporal lives are ordered to eschatological redemption. Biotechnological enhancement is not redeeming. In theory, the technologically enhanced state and the eschatologically fulfilled state may have some external bodily features in common. But a humanity constituted without redemption and a redeemed humanity are different humanities. Only the latter is a fulfilled humanity.

Our question about human flourishing in a biotechnological context is a question about human flourishing in a fallen context. Obviously, no technology is evil just for that reason, because a good creation underlies fallen human existence. “Fallen context” means the context of a fallen creation, not the entire substitution of fallen for created order. But the first eleven chapters of Genesis issue a biotechnologically relevant warning in their account of dominion gone awry. The dominion for which humans were created is corrupted in embryonic form when Eve wrongly judges the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to be desirable for the attainment of wisdom (Gen 3:6). It is not; hers is a mistaken judgement, not a true perception, and sustained human error consequent on her wilful misperception culminates in the building of the tower of Babel (11:1–9), following a series of judgments that include increased pain in childbirth, work being transmuted into toil, years of human life truncated, and a flood. The building of the tower was motivated by the will to “make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (11:4). A commentator aptly observes that this reflects the pride and anxiety that are the joint drivers of culture.[7] There is hubris and there is pathos, and transhumanism evidences both a desire to rise high and a worry about the global scene.

Is my discussion of biotechnology skewed by treating it with reference to transhumanism, which is only one of its applications? I think not. Transhumanism is wheeled into my discussion in order to get a grip on the question of flourishing and contentment in a biotechnological context. It is being treated neither as a subject in its own right nor as representative of all biotechnology. What is on biotechnological offer will (in theological perspective) potentially be a mixed bag of what makes for true flourishing and for unwarranted enhancement in the earthly lives of humans. But where biotechnological advance takes place without reference to either divine creation or the limits of human dominion, Babel issues a canonical warning about what is all too possible or even all too likely. Transhumanism is a standard-bearer of a cultural movement to enhance humans, as far as is technologically possible, without prior commitment to the kind of definition of humanity found in Scripture, which sets human flourishing within assigned limits. According to the opening chapter of Genesis, human dominion does not extend beyond the non-human realm. It does not extend to unlimited authority over our own bodies. It is certainly important to explore the relationship between the limits of the dominion given to humans and the limits of legitimate biotechnological cultivation of the human body, if it ever is legitimate. Constraints of space do not allow this. My article is a rudimentary attempt to get discussion of flourishing and contentment off the ground, so it is not directly focussed on ethical issues in biotechnology. As a matter of fact, “flourishing” has reared its head hitherto far more than has “contentment.” Time, then, to move on to the second, and deeper, level.

At Greater Depth: Contentment and Culture

Human flourishing has certainly received theological attention, both generally and specifically in the context of bioethics.[8] In connection with it, I have adopted a broadly intellectual perspective on biotechnology. However, there is a biblical text about contentment that conducts us to deeper level: a broadly spiritual and emotional, more than narrowly intellectual, orientation to biotechnology. It is Paul’s injunction to Timothy: “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim 6:8). Paul has referred to “contentment” just before that (6:6). On the lips of a first-century Stoic around the time the New Testament was written, the Greek word for “contentment” (autarkēs) would have connoted or denoted “self-sufficiency,” a fact that would have been lively in Paul’s mind, a mind familiar with Stoicism in Tarsus from an early age. Potentially, there is mileage in studying the contrast between Stoicism and Christianity in our current technological context. There is plenty on the web about contemporary Silicon Valley Stoicism, Ryan Holiday having led the way in its promotion. Perhaps the potential mileage is not very great, because we cannot assume that first-century Stoicism is the same animal as prowls around the Valley sporting that label. Viewed from ground-level, Silicon Stoicism, though united in self-mastery, apparently harbours some diversity of attitudes and practical philosophies that, at their best, seek to foster an attitude of acceptance where technological (and, consequently, biotechnological) limits are encountered, a humility to accept what lies outside our control.[9] As a counter-balance to unbridled hubris and impatience with limits, this slice of contemporary Stoicism is doubtless palatable. However, in a secular context, it is a recipe for self-sufficiency rather than for finding our sufficiency in God. It is certainly very different from that state of contentment with food and clothing which Paul commended.

Contrast between Christianity and Stoicism is one thing; contrast between the church and Silicon Valley is another. All too frequently, the Christian in the Western church can ill afford to impress effectively on the Stoic in Silicon Valley the Christian-Stoic contrast. Silicon Man and Woman who subscribes to his or her style of Stoicism may be far more consistent than the Christian who professes subscription to Pauline contentment. Not that Paul came by it easily: he had to learn it.[10] What does proper Christian contentment realistically entail in a biotechnological context? I have alluded to the position that human flourishing countenances therapy, but not enhancement, on the grounds that therapy accords with God’s design and with what is natural, where enhancement is not limited by it and knows no constraints from the allegedly “natural.” But can we simply substitute contentment for flourishing here, and say that contentment entails settling for therapy and eschewing enhancement? We surely cannot. That therapy is in accord with God’s created design for human flourishing, where enhancement is not, is an intellectual conviction. We may correspondingly be intellectually convinced of the importance of contentment, but contentment itself is a spiritual disposition. On examination, the introduction of spiritual disposition into matters blocks an automatic move from the premise that human flourishing is consistent with availing ourselves of therapy to the conclusion that the pursuit of contentment is consistent with availing ourselves of it. Why so?

There is a widespread, though inadvertent, tendency to approach ethical issues in biotechnology from what is customarily described as “a Western perspective.” As an example of how distorted this perspective can be, take a remark made by a man devoted to the expanding practice of biohacking, the implantation of devices that function as convenience technologies in our bodies. He asked why on earth we should carry around in our pockets cumbersome things such as wallets, mobile phones, and sets of keys, when implantation enables us to transfer, communicate, scan, or access what we need without carrying around numerous physical items.[11] His question well illustrates the blindness that biotechnology can induce or, more accurately, further. Although the incidence of mobile phones amongst many people otherwise deprived is quite extraordinary, it remains the case that a vast number of people in the majority world would give anything—if they had anything to give—for the luxury of a functional phone, a building into which they could insert a key and that gave them shelter, and a wallet that actually contained money—paper, let alone plastic. In fact, we do not have to travel to the majority world to witness that; the condition pertains to an alarming and increasing number of people in Western societies. When we probe the question of human flourishing in a biotechnological context, we are often at risk of presupposing a standard of living, luxury, and access that exposes the fact that we do not in practice settle for the Pauline terms of contentment. Indeed, many questions or dilemmas in bioethics more widely apply only in our highly privileged and, from a global point of view, rarefied Western or Northern Hemispheric context.

We know that biotechnological availability, like all availability, generates and is not simply the end-product of desire. There are sophisticated analyses abroad of the connection between technology and desire.[12]  We enter deep waters here that eventually plunge us into the waves of discussion of Western capitalism.[13] And even here we appear to be in theological shallows when faced with Brian Brock’s averment that “it is not going too far to say that the technological age is the crucible in which the dross of certain forms of Christian theology must burn away.”[14] In this article, I am cravenly sticking to the shallows! When desire is not satisfied and discontent ensues, we are prone to moralise our spiritual state to our advantage—what starts life as personal desire is transmuted into a claim that we have a social and political right to its satisfaction. Where unsatisfied desire breeds discontent, rights language gets us off the hook of dealing with our spiritual state, for it is much easier to summon others to attend to my social rights than to summon myself to attend to my spiritual disposition.

Biohacking alerts us to the fact that bodily enhancement is liable to occur at the expense of the shrivelling of the human soul, a soul that is a light world removed from Pauline contentment, as demonstrated in its forgetfulness of the underprivileged. Our distinction between therapy and enhancement is valid, important, and practically, if not always easily, applicable. However, it does not follow that therapy is our right, nor will the quest for it—however conscientiously distinguished from the quest for enhancement—protect us from an attitude towards therapy that is also challenged by the Pauline injunction to contentment.

In a more extended discussion, we should need to explore the uncomfortable proposition that, in a world of need, those of us whose basic needs are met should choose to forfeit the maximal flourishing of our bodies by setting aside what is, in itself, a morally legitimate therapeutic provision for the body in order to promote the flourishing of the human soul.[15] Concretely, this means that we should be open to the possibility that there are occasions when availing ourselves of what, considered in their own right, are morally unimpeachable forms of therapy imperils the proper contentment of the human soul. For we cannot in practice consider them simply in their own right, as socially detached moral practices, but only in their social and existential context, including our relationship to the global population. To relieve the needs of others, I must consider forgoing what is morally permitted in principle and on paper so that resources can be re-allocated. Quizzed specifically on the question of contentment, Malawian friends have told me that if they have one square meal a day, one change of clothes, and healthy relationships, they are content. It is a sobering and salutary word to those of us who, distinguishing between therapy and enhancement in moral favour of the former, directly and carelessly infer from the moral permissibility of therapy our corresponding right to it. Must we not be prepared to forfeit the maximal flourishing of the body in order to achieve maximal contentment of the soul?

In this discussion, I am making an assumption that must be brought to light. All too often, when considering human flourishing and contentment, we envisage the able body and the able mind. Why? It is not only instructive, but important, to consider disability, whether physical or intellectual, at the ground level of our thinking about human flourishing, and not as though the subject were a casual appendage to our treatment of it.[16] On the contrary, it would be not only possible, but justifiable, to do what I have not done here, which is to orient to the phenomenon of disability our whole treatment of the question of contentment and flourishing. Attending to accounts of the experiences both of the disabled, when they can articulate it, and of those who work with them, enables us to grasp the need to examine critically the theological or philosophical anthropologies that explicitly or implicitly underlie our moral assessment of biotechnologies. Take the celebration of the value of autonomy, which intrudes forcefully into debate on biotechnology—indeed, we may say, less intrudes than informs. The companionship of the disabled reveals how dependence far more than autonomy expresses the relational depths of what it is to be human. If, accordingly chastened, we reform our thinking about the relative positioning of autonomy and dependence, the questions of human contentment and flourishing begin to look quite different, and their connection with biotechnology is accordingly affected.[17] All I can do here is to signal these questions; confines of space prohibit engaging with them.


Within the confines of this article, I have been general, viewing biotechnology through the lens of a spiritual disposition whose extreme form is Promethean aspiration, and within a contemporary cultural framework imbued with a neo-Darwinian anthropological outlook.[18] It is in this context that I have drawn attention, in Christian perspective, to flourishing as conformity to our created being and contentment as a disposition of the heart. As intimated at the beginning of this piece, I have undertaken no conceptual analysis of the relationship of contentment to flourishing—or, indeed, of either notion considered independently. Moreover, I have omitted discussion both of specific moral rights and wrongs in relation to biotechnology, and of human rights to accessing that technology.

Without doubting the importance of specifically discussing rights in their place, we also need to identify what that place is. Luke narrates an incident when someone in a listening crowd hails Jesus with the words: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus responded: “who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?’ He continued: “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness in the abundance of one’s possessions,” and proceeded to tell the parable known as the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13–21). In its place, resolution of an inheritance dispute is important and certainly necessary, but Jesus bids us set out on the path of moral reflection by scrutinising basic attitudes before tackling legal niceties. I have had those attitudes in mind more than moral or political detail in my overall discussion of flourishing and contentment in a biotechnological context.

The church is the place where our attitudes are meant to be on parade. When we face death with calm, age without desperation, or endure sickness without complaint, then we reveal what it is to flourish. We reveal that we flourish when we grasp the fact that contentment underlies flourishing. When we could spend money on a therapy that promotes flourishing in accordance with what we understand to be God’s design for the human body, but pause to ask how our expenditure is related to the needs of those in the majority world who do not possess even basic goods, then we disclose what it is to be contented. When such attitudes characterise us at heart, intuitions begin to crystallise about rights and wrongs, appropriate and inappropriate uses of medicine and technology, and thus of biotechnology, where we were previously unsure. Sure, intuitions need to be formalised into arguments, as far as they can be, and controversy will often be the order of the day. But let arguments and controversy take their rise from lived ecclesial obedience. The formulation: “The church does not have a social ethic; the church is a social ethic” is patient of misunderstanding and, even when not misunderstood, controversial.[19] Yet, it harbours more than a grain of truth, and this applies in a biotechnological environment.

Some time ago, Leon Kass referred to biotechnologies as a “ripple” on “the great wave” of the modern project of “the conquest of nature for the relief of man’s estate.”[20] This apt remark gives my article the appearance of myopia, where Kass opens out before us a whole Baconian vista.[21] It seems myopic when, instead of expanding our vision to take in the panoramic historical scene, we narrow it to conclude with the church. Yet, it is “through the church the manifold wisdom of God” is to be “made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10)—the inconspicuous church of the foolish and weak, the low and despised, who embody the wisdom of God given in Christ, author, perfecter, and exemplar of human flourishing and contentment in a biotechnological, as in any other, context.[22] The battle for ideas is important, but action must issue from an ecclesial base.


[1] Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey, Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2021), 1. This volume provides us with a deep background against which contemporary discussion of contentment may fruitfully take place.

[2] This article started life as a paper delivered in 2018 at the twenty-fifth anniversary conference of The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, Trinity International University, Deerfield, Illinois. While only the word “flourishing” appeared in the actual title of the paper, a request had been made for some reflection on contentment to be incorporated as well. Although I have substantially revised the paper here, I have retained this dual focus.

[3] Although “transhuman” and “posthuman” are often used interchangeably in the literature, they are strictly distinguishable. The transhuman represents the broadly transitional stage from humanity to posthumanity.

[4] Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 3: Cinematic Time and the Question of Malaise, tr., Stephen Barker (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2011), 202.

[5] A deliberate orientation to Christianity in this paper should not obscure the fact that there are plenty of analyses compatible with Christianity in salient respects that approach cognate matters from a different point of view. Amongst other contributions, see Jürgen Habermas, The Future of Human Nature (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2003), with its sobering plea for us to consider how freedom becomes straitened, not enhanced, when we tinker biotechnologically with what I am discussing under the rubric of the “natural.”

[6] In appealing to Genesis in this article, I am not dependent on any particular way of approaching Genesis but reading it theologically in a way which should be compatible with differing approaches.

[7] Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary (London: SCM, 1961), 145. Commenting on this passage, Claus Westermann observes that “the building of a massive structure that presumes definite technical discoveries and mathematical skills . . . in essence anticipates the possibility of a development that would be realized only in the technical age in a way that would affect the whole of humanity,” in Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg, 1984), 554. I quote Westermann to show that this sort of application of the Babel account to the contemporary world is not the sole preserve of those who approach the Bible conservatively.

[8] For a characteristically solid contribution, see Neil Messer, Flourishing: Health, Disease and Bioethics in Theological Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013). When a version of this paper was originally delivered, the Center for Faith and Culture at Yale was sponsoring a project on “God and Human Flourishing.”

[9] I am basing this judgement on informed conversation rather than on explicit publication.

[10] Not that contentment came automatically to Paul; see his reference to the need to learn it (Phil 4:11). He uses here a different form of the same word as he uses in 1 Timothy 6:6.

[11] I encountered this in a newspaper report. I take the attitude to be fairly representative.

[12] Bernard Stiegler mounts an argument for the way the industrial and information revolutions have produced a situation “in which all the horizons of anticipation from which desire is constructed are effaced,” in Stiegler, Technics and Time, 75. See also 200–02: “What Do We Want?” Stiegler’s remarks on desire must be set against the background of his thesis that contemporary “technoscience,” i.e., science in the service of technology, privileges the possible over the real in its implied ontology. The importance of desire in his thinking is signaled early in Bernard Stiegler, “How I Became a Philosopher,” in Acting Out, trans. David Barison, Daniel Ross, and Patrick Crogan (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 7–8. Desire is also cemented into Jacques Ellul’s conviction that “in 1900 truth was central. After 1920 happiness is central.” Jacques Ellul, The Technological Bluff (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 174. But his remarks on the relationship between comfort and power indicate that Ellul looks at the connection between technology and desire from more than one angle; see, e.g., Jacques Ellul, The Technological System (London: Continuum, 1980), 69.

[13]Ellul makes a pointed remark on this too: “It was not the public which demanded air travel or television,” The Technological Society (New York: Vintage, 1964), 212. It is a weakness of Shoshana Zuboff’s instructive and thorough account of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (London: Profile, 2019) that she leaves capitalism in general out of account in her critique of surveillance capitalism. See Nathan Mladin and Stephen N. Williams, “The Question of Surveillance Capitalism,” in John Wyatt & Stephen N. Williams, The Robot Will See You Now: Artificial Intelligence and the Christian Faith (London: SPCK, 2021), 214–27, especially 225–26.

[14] Brian Brock, Christian Ethics in a Technological Age (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2010), 168. In his volume, Brock makes helpful reference to another important thinker on technology, George Grant.

[15] This formulation does not imply a dualistic understanding of the human person. It is simply an acknowledgement that there are such things as dispositional states of the soul (the word itself is not important), like pride or envy, that are distinct from physical states of the body.

[16] Different conventions sometimes obtain between different countries and languages with respect to the proper vocabulary to use in speaking of “the disabled” or using associated terms.

[17] In light of my allusion to the Baconian project in the final paragraph of this article, see the connection Jason Reimer Greig makes between our approach to disability and “the inordinate desire for the eradication of human contingency and the quest for autonomy” which he identifies as lying “at the heart” of that project. Jason Reimer Greig, Reconsidering Intellectual Disability: L’Arche, Medical Ethics, and Christian Friendship (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2015), 65.

[18] Neo-Darwinism refers here to a broad, secular worldview, not to specific biological science. It is often intertwined with a mechanistic view of human persons whose modern roots go historically deeper than Darwin and neo-Darwinism.

[19] Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983), 99. For the interpretation of that formulation, see 99–102.

[20] Leon R. Kass, Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs (New York: The Free Press, 1985), 69.

[21] There is also a Cartesian, not just a Baconian, trail to be followed when tracking the modern context of biotechnology, as Kass indicates from the outset. Kass, Towards a More Natural Science, 2.

[22] I draw here on Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:26–28.

Cite as: Stephen Williams, “Human Flourishing and Contentment in a Biotechnological Context,” Ethics & Medicine 37, no. 2 (2021): Early Access.

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About the Author

Stephen N. Williams, PhD
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Stephen N. Williams, is Honorary Professor of Theology at Queen's University, Belfast, and Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales. He earned his Ph.D. from Yale University, and has published in the areas of theology and intellectual history. His most recent book is on the occasion of the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of Blaise Pascal: A Thinking Reed: Pascal's Voice, Yesterday and Today (Wipf & Stock, 2023).

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