Study: Religion colors Americans' views of nanotechnology

Feb 15, 2008

Is nanotechnology morally acceptable? For a significant percentage of Americans, the answer is no, according to a recent survey of Americans' attitudes about the science of the very small.

Addressing scientists here today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dietram Scheufele, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of life sciences communication, presented new survey results that show religion exerts far more influence on public views of technology in the United States than in Europe.

"Our data show a much lower percentage of people who agree that nanotechnology is morally acceptable in the U.S. than in Europe," says Scheufele, an expert on public opinion and science and technology.

Nanotechnology is a branch of science and engineering devoted to the design and production of materials, structures, devices and circuits at the smallest achievable scale, typically in the realm of individual atoms and molecules. The ability to engineer matter at that scale has the potential to produce a vast array of new technologies that could influence everything from computers to medicine. Already, dozens of products containing nanoscale materials or devices are on the market.

In a sample of 1,015 adult Americans, only 29.5 percent of respondents agreed that nanotechnology was morally acceptable. In European surveys that posed identical questions about nanotechnology to people in the United Kingdom and continental Europe, significantly higher percentages of people accepted the moral validity of the technology. In the United Kingdom, 54.1 percent found nanotechnology to be morally acceptable. In Germany, 62.7 percent had no moral qualms about nanotechnology, and in France 72.1 percent of survey respondents saw no problems with the technology.

"There seem to be distinct differences between the United States and countries that are key players in nanotech in Europe, in terms of attitudes toward nanotechnology," says Scheufele.

Why the big difference?

The answer, Scheufele believes, is religion: "The United States is a country where religion plays an important role in peoples' lives. The importance of religion in these different countries that shows up in data set after data set parallels exactly the differences we're seeing in terms of moral views. European countries have a much more secular perspective."

The catch for Americans with strong religious convictions, Scheufele believes, is that nanotechnology, biotechnology and stem cell research are lumped together as means to enhance human qualities. In short, researchers are viewed as "playing God" when they create materials that do not occur in nature, especially where nanotechnology and biotechnology intertwine, says Scheufele.

He conducted the U.S. survey with Arizona State University (ASU) colleague Elizabeth Corley under the auspices of the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Nanotechnology in Society at ASU.

The moral qualms people of faith express about nanotechnology is not a question of ignorance of the technology, says Scheufele, explaining that survey respondents are well-informed about nanotechnology and its potential benefits.

"They still oppose it," he says. "They are rejecting it based on religious beliefs. The issue isn't about informing these people. They are informed."

The new study has critical implications for how experts explain the technology and its applications, Scheufele says. It means the scientific community needs to do a far better job of placing the technology in context and in understanding the attitudes of the American public.

The survey was undertaken in the summer of 2007 by the UW-Madison Survey Center and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

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User comments : 15

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bigwheel
1.8 / 5 (9) Feb 15, 2008
Religion has always gotten in Gods way. That doesn't mean we
shouldn't be careful but it also shouldn't stop us from accepting
gifts from our Father in heaven. The bible is clear He is going to
bless us with much knowledge in this age. God wants relationship
not religion.
Wicked
3.8 / 5 (5) Feb 16, 2008
I would recommend watching The Enemies of Reason (One and Two). Both are available on google video.
KB6
2 / 5 (4) Feb 16, 2008
Yet another reason the US will be "Left Behind."
How ironic.
Oh well, we're only about 5 percent of the world.
vlam67
3.9 / 5 (9) Feb 16, 2008
Its quite funny seeing US government foaming at the mouth demonising Muslim fanatics while conveniently overlooking the fact that an atheist have no chance in a million years of becoming the president, and speeches invoked the name of god not much less frequently than mullahs' preaches. It is quite evident that the US is just another fundamentalist state of different color, thus no surprise in the massive influence of religion in all fields and the general public thoughts. Great, let's them invoke the name of God fervently,righteously, indignantly and questionably at science until the atheist China copy, steal and improve all the technologies and rule the world!
Nikola
4.2 / 5 (10) Feb 16, 2008
When religion ruled the world it was called the Dark Ages.

Oh no! We're playing God! Well, someone has to fix God's mistakes. These same people who are afraid of science and technology due to moral reasons have no problems supporting illegal war that kills hundreds of thousands of people. What a bunch of hypocrites. I guess we should get rid of antibiotics, electricity, and the internet as well. It's sad to see the US turn into a theocracy police state where the sheep follow blindly. We must resist and speak out against this fairy tale nonsense.
SDMike
4.4 / 5 (7) Feb 16, 2008
Before anyone takes this article seriously think about what the questions were. Do you really think that if some one stopped you in the mall and asked you "do you think nanotechnology is moral" that people would think God was against it? Without seeing the questions we have to take the researcher's interpretation on faith. I don't have much faith in these researchers.
Doug_Huffman
4.3 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2008
Believe nothing you read or hear without verifying it yourself unless it fits your pre-existing world view (this latter to excuse the Luddites).
LarryG
2.5 / 5 (6) Feb 17, 2008
Right you are SDMike. I thought the scientific method was to question not conjecture. And the dark ages would have been the dark ages even if religion didn't exist.
highstates
5 / 5 (4) Feb 18, 2008
Indeed SDM. But even if this questionnaire might seen very uncertain, something is certain. Religion is conservative, and science is progressive. One wants to stay on church benches hours a day listening to a fanatic preacher, the other wants to clone sheeps and set foot on Mars.

The fact in this is that we are in constant evolution, change, and we do change at an allarming rate. To want to swim against this flow is just irrealistic, and plainly painfull. And I don't think religions have done anything truly miraculously great on earth since the last milleniums; let's see them as they are. Murderous, corrupted organisations having at their head overseers that send their populace warfare at will with other religions.

I wasn't surprised to see this study appear.
Lord_jag
4.4 / 5 (5) Feb 18, 2008
Right you are SDMike. I thought the scientific method was to question not conjecture. And the dark ages would have been the dark ages even if religion didn't exist.


I don't believe that at all. It was religion that made it the dark ages. Mankind would have experience the industrial revolution far sooner if people like Gallileo and Newton weren't prosecuted by their local churches.
Oderfla
4.5 / 5 (2) Feb 19, 2008
I only have one thing to say: what is the difference between something man made and something that occurs in nature?

I have the answer: nothing. For ants make anthills and we make cars. It makes no difference what organism is doing the organising. For both the man and the ant are natural creatures who utilize the resources in their environment to increase their comfort. The difference is that the ant will never question it's motives, making it a closer being to God than we are.

So, I would like to pose a question: Does God question it's motives?
COCO
5 / 5 (3) Feb 19, 2008
21st Century and so many people living under the illusion of mythology and magic. Margaret Attwood was rite.
Oderfla
5 / 5 (2) Feb 19, 2008
I agree with you on that COCO. Mythology is created to explain the frightening, beautiful, and unexplainable natural world. As we begin to explain the antique unexplainable, the myths about them should fall out of everyday thought; except perhaps as a novelty. As we all know, as humans, we can be rigid, and resist change.

The faster we embrace change, the faster we can evolve.
nilbud
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 19, 2008
Religion is a shitty diaper, it has served its function and is now best discarded as quickly as possible. The rules of the road is secular morality therefore religion has no function.
highstates
4 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2008
well said nilbud