Chris Toumey, a cultural anthropologist at the University of South Carolina NanoCenter, has written an article for Nanowerk about the impact that religious belief has on nanotechnology and other science issues. In the Nov. 16, 2011 article on Nanowerk, “Nanotechnology and religion,” Toumey opens with this,
Survey research indicates that religious belief will be a powerful influence in shaping public views about nanotechnology, while knowledge about nanotech will be less influential. And yet religious thought about nanotech has received little attention. We know that nanotechnology has evoked a large body of literature on moral and ethical issues, but almost all of this is expressed in secular voices, e.g., those of philosophers, ethicists, and scientists. Religious commentaries about nanotechnology have been much more rare. Now it is worth knowing what religious voices have said about nanotechnology, so that we might anticipate future religious reactions.
Toumey cites three studies, George Gaskell and colleagues’ 2005 paper, “Social Values and the Governance of Science“, Dominique Brossard et al.’s study “Religiosity as a perceptual filter: examining processes of opinion formation about nanotechnology” (the abstract is free; the article is behind a paywall), and a third study compared the US and twelve EU nations “Religious beliefs and public attitudes toward nanotechnology in Europe and the United States” (the abstract is free; the article is behind a paywall) as forming the basis for his own paper, “Seven Religious Reactions to Nanotechnology,” to be published in the December 2011 issue of NanoEthics. From Toumey’s Nanowerk article,
Because of those considerations, I assembled a collection of seven religious reactions to nanotechnology from a variety of faiths. Four are documents from religious organizations that deliver official institutional positions, namely: a major American Lutheran denomination; the Catholic Bishops Conferences of the European Community; a coalition of German Protestants; and, a Muslim think-tank in the United Arab Emirates. The other three are: a certain line of Jewish thought about technology; a group of Catholic and Protestant who oppose transhumanism; and, a pair of focus groups, one in England and the other in Arizona US.
Two common themes appear in those religious reactions.
According to the first, many religious persons worry that nanotechnology will contribute to re-defining human nature in ways that are amoral or dangerous. … For the second theme, religious persons worry that the control of nanotechnology by irresponsible entities will lead to adverse consequences like inequality or injustice.
At any rate, these seven case studies remind us that those who create new technologies can benefit by listening to the voices of thoughtful religious people.
I find the discussion about the impact of religious belief on one’s attitudes to nanotechnology and other emerging technologies quite interesting. After all, the Amish drew the line at allowing electricity and subsequent modern technologies into their lifestyles. Drawing on that example, I wonder what other groups may choose to reject one or more new technologies based on their religious beliefs.
I have one other thought about these studies with their focus on organized religion as opposed to spirituality. I expect it’s easier to study a religious group rather then something so nebulous as spirituality but I think it would be interesting to attempt an investigation into the impact that one’s ‘spirituality’ has on one’s response to emerging technologies.
In the meantime, it is possible to get a copy of Chris Toumey’s paper, “Seven Religious Reactions to Nanotechnology,” by contacting him (Toumey@mailbox.sc.edu).