Nanotechnology and religious influence

In yet another example of how a religious influence opposes humanity’s progress, a new report shows a possible correlation between religious views and the idea that the use of nanotechnology is “morally acceptable”. From the article:

In the United States and a few European countries where religion plays a larger role in everyday life, notably Italy, Austria and Ireland, nanotechnology and its potential to alter living organisms or even inspire synthetic life is perceived as less morally acceptable. In more secular European societies, such as those in France and Germany, individuals are much less likely to view nanotechnology through the prism of religion and find it ethically suspect.

It is reasonable to ask if other possible causal effects were taken into account. Again, from the article:

To be sure that religion was such a dominant influence on perceptions of nanotechnology, the group controlled for such things as science literacy, educational performance, and levels of research productivity and funding directed to science and technology by different countries.

“We really tried to control for country-specific factors,” Scheufele explains. “But we found that religion is still one of the strongest predictors of whether or not nanotechnology is morally acceptable and whether or not it is perceived to be useful for society.”

Nanotechnology is expected to a booming future 3.1 trillion dollar industry by 2015. The backwards superstitious thinking of many of my fellow Americans means it may be possible that we will be left behind. That is the true pathetic legacy of religious thinking. Instead of embracing and furthering our advances, many seem content to wallow in iron and bronze age myths.

Nanotechnology, besides being a very cool technology, has the potential for many wonderful applications, including medical diagnostics, memory storage, new kinds of semiconductor devices, opto-electronic devices, quantum computing, and much more. One possible application that seems to have some religious folks worried is that of synthetic life of some sort. I would argue that this could actually lead to a deeper understanding of what life really is (which is what I imagine they are afraid of).

That being said, of course we don’t want to rush pell mell into every technological advance that comes along. For example, we don’t want to build nuclear reactors everywhere and be dumping the waste on every street corner. But we can take a reasoned look at the possible technologies. We are capable of using evidence based information to explore implications, thereby guiding our decisions. But to make these types of decisions guided by superstition is less than useless. In fact, it is harmful.

As the article noted, one of our problems is that media coverage of science and technology is so poor. Again, from the article:

“There is absolutely no change in what people know about nanotechnology between 2004 and 2007. This is partly due to the fact that mainstream media are only now beginning to pay closer attention to the issue. There has been a lot of elite discussion in Washington, D.C., but not a lot of public discussion. And nanotechnology has not had that catalytic moment, that key event that draws public attention to the issue.”

This is the tip of the iceberg of scientific media coverage in this country. Take a look at CNN’s latest move to further dumb things down by dropping its science coverage unit. This may be the beginning of a demise of an already too sparse media science and technology coverage, exactly when the public needs this information the most. Generally, online sources are good, but usually are found by people actually looking for the material.

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