Religion and nanotechnology

Religious people seem to have a more negative view of nanotechnology than others, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin's Department of Life Sciences Communication rated 11 countries in Europe and the US on "religiosity" and then looked at their attitudes on nanotechnology. Professor Dietram Scheufele and his colleagues presented their results in the scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology. (From the BBC News:
They found that countries where religious belief was strong, such as Ireland and Italy, tended to be the least accepting of nanotechnology, whereas those where religion was less significant such as Belgium or the Netherlands were more accepting of the technology.

The US was found to be the most religious country in the survey, and also the least accepting of nanotechnology...

The researchers say it is understandable that there would be a conflict between religious belief and nanotechnology, especially when looking at what they call "nano-bio-info-cogno" (NBIC) technologies, the potential to create life at a nano scale without divine intervention.

"It's not that they're concerned about not understanding the science, more that talking openly about constructing life raises a whole host of moral issues," said Professor Scheufele.
Religious 'shun nanotechnology' (BBC News), Religious beliefs and public attitudes toward nanotechnology in Europe and the United States (Nature Nanotechnology)

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  1. People who have faith in something they can’t see don’t have faith in something they can’t see?

  2. They’ve been wary of tiny things ever since the “angels dancing on a head of a pin” debacle.

  3. Interesting that those religious folks seem to know exactly when it is when god gets involved. – Apparently at the 10^-9 meter range.

  4. Please folks, remember that correlation does not equal causation.

    It could be the other way round. People who don’t like science might just turn to religion because the world says it’s an alternative.

    As a scientist with faith, I disagree with the conflict thesis, but also have to point out that “religion” and “faith” are not the same thing.

    As someone who works in ‘nanotechnology’, I also question what definition of the word they used, seeing as most of us see the word “nano” as Greek for “funding” rather than a meaningful tag for the science of small stuff.

  5. Whoa!
    There is a difference between being wary of creating life and embracing the other wonders of nanotechnology. Creating life opens a Pandora’s box of possible problems that could result in epidemic and who knows what. I continue to marvel at the people who are working to bring back dinosaurs. Did they miss Jurassic Park?
    The information o the study’s questions are sketchy. Granted the idea of creating life from scratch is frowned upon in Christian circles.

    Jews have stories and myth of such creations called golem. These are soulless creatures and these creations usually cause trouble.

    Nanotechnology tthat is used for other purposes other than creating life should be embraced bt the Abrhamic religions. The theology that when the Creator speaks the world into existence in Genesis 1 is expanded to mean the letters of the words of the Creator are (or represent) the essences of the universe. There are many corollarys between Hebrew Torah font The font used in ancient scrolls and also now) and string and M theory. That the Torah font letters represent the basic energy or pre-matter of the universe is a basic understanding held by all branches and denominations of Christians and Jews. In relation to Ireland and Italy, it is very Catholic.

    I know this as I use these letters for each and every stroke in my Post Conceptual paintings to represent elementary physics’ strings. I have been told how very Catholic this is by nuns who accepted my work into a group show.

    Nanotechnology presents many possible advances, and many may make our lives better. However, I wonder if we need to create life through nanotechnology more than we need to preserve the ecosystems and life that we now have? Perhaps these scientific minds could focus on global warming, problems of extinction, famine, plague, etc.?

    Judy Rey Wasserman

  6. “The US was found to be the most religious country in the survey.”

    I am sad now about that. Not surprised. Just kinda sad.

  7. Honestly, I don’t think this is a causal relationship. I would see America’s love of science-fiction to be more at fault here. Terminator, The Matrix, That One Episode of Star Trek, Jurassic Park … not nanites in particular, but there’s a definite “Science Will Destroy Us All” theme — and the article mentioned that people who were wary of Various Things were also wary of nanotechnology. It’s nothing specific to nanotechnology.

    I’d like to see the same data about reactions to science played against the box-office take for various disaster movies.

    I’d also love to see the survey that put America as more “religious” than, say, anything in the Islamic regions. How limited in scope WAS this research? It sounds pretty flawed to me, or at least poorly interpreted by the reporter.

  8. Judyrey @6:

    “That the Torah font letters represent the basic energy or pre-matter of the universe is a basic understanding held by all branches and denominations of Christians and Jews.”

    Been a Christian my whole life and I’ve never heard of this. Sounds a little like a form of Bibliolatry, which would be frowned upon in most Xian circles.

    Also, I have no problem with nanotech. At least none that has anything to do with my faith.

  9. “Religious people seem to have a more negative view of technology than others, according to a new study.”

    FTFY

    Judyrey, the Golem was created as a protector, not a mischief maker. In Golem stories that end poorly it is caused by the hubris of the creator, not the inherent flaws of the creation.

  10. I am wary of anyone who uses fables told by nomadic bronze age peoples as the basis to make scientific judgments.

  11. Just as a thinking person I have reservations about the “Since we can, let’s do it” attitude about any technology – nano or macro. That includes releasing bacteria to eat up oil spills, creating life on a nano scale and other breakthroughs. All I ask is that those in charge of hitting the “Go” button understand the ramifications and impact of their actions. This religion angle smells like a diversionary tactic to prevent sane people from rationally questioning the use of technology.

  12. the real tragedy is that the gods-botherers will actually make it harder to consider real nano-tech safety issues by all the dust they throw in the air. It’s like being in a crowded lifeboat with a cretin who owns his own brace and bit.

  13. David Pescovitz: “Religious people seem to have a more negative view of nanotechnology than others, according to a new study.”

    The BBC article: ‘”It is not a study about what religions or believers think about nanotechnology, but about the influence of religiosity on views of nanotechnology. Indeed what it measures as the national ‘religiosity’ of different countries seems odd compared with my experience of working with several of the countries on issues of religious belief and technology,” said Dr Donald Bruce, a technology consultant.’

    I think it would be rather silly statistical practice to conclude from a study on the “overall religiosity ” of 13 countries that stronger religious views in an individual lead to less acceptance of nanotechnology.

    It wouldn’t be surprising, but there’s really no authority granted here to say such a thing.

  14. Oh they better be scared. One day we will build nanobots to cut out the religion from their brains!

  15. “It’s not that they’re concerned about not understanding the science, more that talking openly about constructing life raises a whole host of moral issues,”

    In other words, their major concern is that by opening up moral issues that were previously settled by their holy book or their teacher, they will no longer enjoy absolute certainty on these questions.

    It seems to me that the faith of such people is pretty weak anyways, and needs to be challenged.

  16. the worst thing nanotechnology has done to us so far is subjected us to the novel “prey” by Michael Crichton.

    although that might be bad enough.

  17. The entire problem with challenging religion is that it might force us to accept the fact that we’ll actually have to die one day and stop existing.

  18. prom77 @ 10:

    “Been a Christian my whole life and I’ve never heard of this. Sounds a little like a form of Bibliolatry, which would be frowned upon in most Xian circles.”

    That’s because Xians know nothing of Judaism, even though they claim to be the spiritual heirs of the tradition. And they like to make up nonsense words like Bibliolatry.

  19. i smile when one religious person calls out another religious person and uses terms like “nonsense” and “made up”

    next up: The 1701-D vs. a imperial class star destroyer.

  20. Well, they probably left out one religious group, the Singularity people, who would have helped skew the total religious attitude towards nanotechnology towards the positive.

  21. CPT. TIM #22
    >next up: The 1701-D vs. a imperial class star destroyer.

    Soylent Green is Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.

  22. @25 – Also any follower of the form of Scientism best characterized as Science-As-Religion. (ie. people who believe anything told to them by somebody who claims to be a scientist or doctor)

  23. #27 good point. i guess we’ll have to verify every scientific law for ourselves personally if we don’t want to be seen as followers of some made up “scientific mythology”

    I hadn’t realized the principia mathematica was on equal footing with the story of horus, zeus or christ, but now that i’ve been set right, i’ll go straight out and by some led weights and find a tall building.

    Away message: Brb, verifying principia

  24. Heruraha @21

    Hi Heruraha,

    By context, it should have been clear I was only referring to the fact that Judyrey claimed that all “branches and denominations” of Christians believe this. I’ve never heard of a Christian group that does (of course, it’s a big world, and I’m sure they’re out there somewhere). I didn’t intend to speak to any Jewish doctrines. You’re quite right, as a group, Xians know little about Judaism. We should be doing a better job on that (as with so many other things).

    As for Bibliolatry, it’s a real word meaning the worship of scripture, or the assigning of the characteristics of God to scripture. Most Christians of my acquaintance would consider it a form of idolatry. This wikipedia article may help. As the article notes, it is often a little bit pejorative, but I didn’t intend it that way. Just pointing out why I found Judyrey’s claim unlikely.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibliolatry

  25. Takuan @15

    “It’s like being in a crowded lifeboat with a cretin who owns his own brace and bit.”

    I agree with your pov.
    I like how you said it.
    I have no idea what it means.

  26. hmmm, to expand then:
    Why, sirrah, why may a caudled fillhorse be deemed the brother to a hiren candle in the night?

  27. “Religious people seem to have a more negative view of nanotechnology than others, according to a new study.”

    Fixed that for you.

    Doesn’t really matter how small the technology is, if it’s new, someone with a fancy hat and a big book of old fashioned rules is against it. Vaccines, microscopes, telescopes, doesn’t much matter. A thousand years ago, you could have said, “Religious people seem to have a more negative view of forks than others, according to a new study,” and it would have applied just as well.

  28. Could someone please explain at what point, ever, nanotechnology had anything at all to do with creating life? My understanding was that it had to do with making better sweaters with microfibres, or tiny gears to make tiny clockwork pieces to make smaller machines. At what point did creating LIFE enter into the equation, and how exactly does some obscure european religious community know that nanotech makes life and I didn’t?

    Or is that the point? That nanotech *doesn’t* make life, and thus such objections are silly? How exactly was the perception that nanotech=lifemaking allowed to continue — did the survey people even bother to explain that it doesn’t, but instead just sat back and snickered?

  29. @37 (EDINBLACK) – Biblical Giants = Atomic Supermen!

    The first sentence of this article could very well read: Neophobic people seem to have a more negative view of new things than others (neophiles), according to a new study.

    Old is comfortable. New is scary. New is exciting and the wave of the future. Old is the latticework that made discovering the new, possible.

  30. If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

    I’m wiling to admit that things may exist outside our senses’ range. After all, I can’t hear a dog whistle but it definitely makes a sound. And speaking of pets, just what ARE they seeing/hearing when they walk into a room and start flipping out at a blank wall?

  31. I’m still annoyed that the term “nanotechnology” has been allowed to apply to _any_ tech that involves particles of this <10^-7m size.

    So, Von Neuman nanomachines get lumped into the same category as housepaint additives, and potential perils as far apart as possible carcinogens in nanoparticle-laced sunscreen lotion and planet-devouring 'grey goo' are all part of the same survey question.

    Being against "artificial life" shouldn't put up barriers to funding better water filters or more efficient photovoltaic cells!

  32. This is such a load of bullox. Ireland much like England was ONCE a religious state but it’s just not the same. You can count the Irish priest graduating from seminary each year on one hand. The US is far more religiously inclined and we fricken love the internet.

    It sounds like the author just wants to make religious people seem backwards and antiquated.

  33. “I’m wiling to admit that things may exist outside our senses’ range.”

    and i am positive that they do.

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