For nano, religion in US dictates a wary view

Dec 07, 2008

When it comes to the world of the very, very small — nanotechnology — Americans have a big problem: Nano and its capacity to alter the fundamentals of nature, it seems, are failing the moral litmus test of religion.

In a report published today (Dec. 7) in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, survey results from the United States and Europe reveal a sharp contrast in the perception that nanotechnology is morally acceptable. Those views, according to the report, correlate directly with aggregate levels of religious views in each country surveyed.

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.

"The level of 'religiosity' in a particular country is one of the strongest predictors of whether or not people see nanotechnology as morally acceptable," says Dietram Scheufele, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of life sciences communication and the lead author of the new study. "Religion was the strongest influence over everything."

The study compared answers to identical questions posed by the 2006 Eurobarometer public opinion survey and a 2007 poll by the University of Wisconsin Survey Center conducted under the auspices of the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Nanotechnology and Society at Arizona State University. The survey was led by Scheufele and Elizabeth Corley, an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University.

The survey findings, says Scheufele, are important not only because they reveal the paradox of citizens of one of the world's elite technological societies taking a dim view of the implications of a particular technology, but also because they begin to expose broader negative public attitudes toward science when people filter their views through religion.

"What we captured is nanospecific, but it is also representative of a larger attitude toward science and technology," Scheufele says. "It raises a big question: What's really going on in our public discourse where science and religion often clash?"

For the United States, the findings are particularly surprising, Scheufele notes, as the country is without question a highly technological society and many of the discoveries that underpin nanotechnology emanated from American universities and companies. The technology is also becoming more pervasive, with more than 1,000 products ranging from more efficient solar panels and scratch-resistant automobile paint to souped-up golf clubs already on the market.

"It's estimated that nanotechnology will be a $3.1 trillion global industry by 2015," Scheufele says. "Nanotechnology is one of those areas that is starting to touch nearly every part of our lives."

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."

The findings from the 2007 U.S. survey, adds Scheufele, also suggest that in the United States the public's knowledge of nanotechnology has been static since a similar 2004 survey. Scheufele points to a paucity of news media interest and the notion that people who already hold strong views on the technology are not necessarily seeking factual information about it.

"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."

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Noein
4.2 / 5 (24) Dec 07, 2008
This finding comes as no surprise. Religion has a long history of stifling and strangling scientific progress.
makotech222
4.2 / 5 (22) Dec 07, 2008
indeed. foolishness to base your life on writings made by people 2000 years ago.
Duude
2 / 5 (7) Dec 07, 2008
Duude
4.3 / 5 (15) Dec 07, 2008
Wow! What a stretch. The crap above is was based on a study of 1500 individuals. They concluded, "The determining factor in how people responded was their cultural values, according to Dan Kahan, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor at Yale Law School and lead author of the study. "People who had more individualistic, pro-commerce values, tended to infer that nanotechnology is safe," said Kahan, "while people who are more worried about economic inequality read the same information as implying that nanotechnology is likely to be dangerous."
People who worry about economic inequality are religious? That's a total disconnect. IN fact, if I was going to label anyone as being more concerned about economic inequality I would have to say that would be liberals.
While conservatives tend to be Pro-commerce. What does that have to do with religion?
Edward3
4.1 / 5 (7) Dec 07, 2008
The methodology has to be suspect - apart from anything else, in the U.S, religion tends much more towards fundamentalism than in Europe. So, how was a base established to enable classification of respondents as religious or non-religious?
dirk_bruere
2.7 / 5 (6) Dec 07, 2008
Anybody ask the Chinese what they think?
MGraser
3.6 / 5 (9) Dec 07, 2008
I also doubt that they're wary about ALL nanotechnology. If they feel that there are potential applications that go against what they believe to be morally acceptable, then I'm glad they say so. Aren't people allowed to have different views of morality?
NeilFarbstein
2.3 / 5 (15) Dec 07, 2008
I'm not in favor of self assembling nanomachines. They will be like bacteria made of indestructible stuff like nanotubes and antibiotics will not work against them What could stop mutant nanomachines or deliberately devised terroristic nanoweapons??? I have no idea. There is no justification for manufacturing self assembling nanobots other than a desire to make nano objects cheaper than if they were made in factories controlled by humans. It's a matter of convenience not necessity. Regular factories can make nanochips and self cleaning clothes, etc without using very dangerous self assembling nanomachines.
Scytherius
5.4 / 5 (17) Dec 07, 2008
Ah yes, "moral" input on science by people who believe in magic from 2000 year old writings that are based upon writings even thousands of years older. These are the same people that believe the Earth is 6k years old, that man walked with dinosaurs and that Creationism is a scientific theory.

Time to keep nutballs out of science and put them back in the Churches where they belong.
groupthinker1984
4.4 / 5 (12) Dec 07, 2008
I am a fundamentalist who happens to be pretty much all for nano. And I know plenty of others like myself.

We have been wary of other strides forward in technology, I think rightly so, but somehow we have remained at the cutting edge in America. So I do not appreciate this attempt to once again show religion as the problem.

Bad people will exploit dominant paradigms for their purposes. They will use religion, or science to justify their actions. They will use technology of all kinds to enable themselves. The failure to acknowledge this on all sides of these debates is disingenuous.
E_L_Earnhardt
3.4 / 5 (9) Dec 07, 2008
These people know as much about religion as the religious know about nanotech. Why on earth should one field of knowledge affect the other? "Truth and knowledge" are interchangable and complementary. We deal in FACTS, not fiction!
Xio
2.9 / 5 (9) Dec 07, 2008
Unless nanotechnology is a component of gay marriage, the scientific community has nothing to fear.
Modernmystic
3.1 / 5 (10) Dec 07, 2008
Absolute bull$*&^...this article is thinly disguised bigoted bile.
Wasabi
2.4 / 5 (9) Dec 07, 2008
This is percisely why people with religious convictions should not be involved in primary nanotechnology related decisions.
E_L_Earnhardt
1.5 / 5 (8) Dec 07, 2008
These "Religious People" may be the only ones who CARE about your welfare!
thinking
2 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2008
What a bunch of garbage. With nano tech, Christians would have the same opinions that non-christians (even athiests) would have. Is it safe? If yes... then it's ok.... dangerous... then it's not ok..... anti christian biogry...
sleidia
1.3 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2008
I'm all for science but I'm very concerned about nano stuff invading my body cells.
bmcghie
3 / 5 (6) Dec 07, 2008
^ I agree. While the self-replicating machines may be a bad idea, ineffective control of nanoscale pollution will lead to SERIOUS problems. It would be most inconvenient if all of the UK was dosed with a new anti-cancer drug due to some lab mishap. That said, look at how many viral outbreaks we have had. I'm sure future nanotech labs will be safe. Of bigger concern is people obstructing the progress of what is looking like more and more awesome discoveries, simply because they don't understand what is being done. Example: "...inspire synthetic life." I would LOVE to see any lab coming even close to claiming that. That statement is pure sensationalism, and exactly what the scientific community does NOT need to waste time explaining and appeasing the public about. Whatever happened to "science writers?" You know, those reporters who UNDERSTOOD the science, and were relied upon to translate it into the layman's language. Clearly the air-headed journalists seem to have pulled ahead in terms of coverage. Shame.

Oh, I would also like to state that certain religious groups probably do represent concentrations of people more inclined to be against nanotechnology. This is unfortunate, as science will have to deal with some roadblocks from them... but in the end I can't see it being a problem. The U.S.A. will get mighty pissed off when it sees other countries pulling ahead in the areas of stem cell research, nanotechnology, and genetic manipulation, simply because they are not hobbled by crushing government-mandated restrictions.
norfy
3 / 5 (2) Dec 08, 2008
Sounds like a vaguely worded or imprecise question was asked about a technology which has many implications for both extraordinary usefulness and abuse.It seems absurd that a serious publication or study would draw conclusions about positive or negative views of something few people understand. Suffice to say that religious people tend to be concerned about morals and the use of nanotechnology has potentially serious moral implications. Either that or the conclusions of the study should have been better represented. It doesn't seem like anything surprising was learnt from this. Why is it news? It must have been a slow day. Reminds me of the "Female art students have more sex than the science nerds study reported earlier this week' Maybe time to start looking elsewhere for intellectual stimulation.
BeverlyNuckols
3 / 5 (2) Dec 08, 2008
Association is not causation -- perhaps those who took and those who wrote the survey were unaware of this truism.

The authors should know better, however.
Quantum_Conundrum
2 / 5 (8) Dec 08, 2008
This finding comes as no surprise. Religion has a long history of stifling and strangling scientific progress.


Um, I can't speak for Islam or other religions, but the Bible actually promotes scientific study in all aspects, and demotes crankery.

1 Timothy 6:20
...keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:

Proverbs 15:14
The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
===

The difference is atheists basicly don't believe in morality of any kind anyway: everything is just a random pile of goo, so you think its "OK" to murder babies and tinker around with stuff.
Quantum_Conundrum
2 / 5 (4) Dec 08, 2008
I'm probably the most "conservative" Christian I know of. I consider George Bush to be a Liberal, but I'm not opposed to nanotechnology per se.

I am very, VERY wary of genetic modification, because, as I've always argued, the interactions between genes are far more complicated than scientists admit. I don't want to see some idiot make a new variety of a crop, and accidentally cause some shapeshifting super-virus that can jump across 3 or 4 species from plant to animal to human and back.

I also don't want to see "The Clone Wars" or "The Sixth Day" or "The Island" or "Aeon Flux" scenarios, where human beings DNA becomes the property of the military or some wealthy entrepreneur.
Roach
2 / 5 (2) Dec 08, 2008
This is kinda weak. I'm not entirely sure I like the way this was phrased. I'm guessing using hotbutton questions such as "potential to alter living organisms or even inspire synthetic life is perceived as less morally acceptable" kinda slanted the response the same as if I asked if nano technology to aid in Eugenics was a good thing. Somehow I suspect everyone who is not a member of the "master race" would dislike that, but it does not make them anti-technology.

The same logic could be applied to anything. Do you like to run over babies with cars? Are you in favor of drunk driving? No? So you are anti-automobile, great.
Avitar
1 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2008
This clearly explains why the genetically engineered crops are so well accepted in France and Germany and are met by torch bearing mobs of activists in the United States. (For the sarcasm immune, the United State religious regions have readily accepted nanotechnology and the "Old Europe" regions have a raging phobia toward what little has already been introduced.)

Yale is not a credible institution for social research. Their first priority is social manipulation. I may have to drive down there to find out what they are trying to accomplish with this bit of twist.
D666
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2008

Absolute bull$*&^...this article is thinly disguised bigoted bile.



The difference is atheists basicly don't believe in morality of any kind anyway: everything is just a random pile of goo, so you think its "OK" to murder babies and tinker around with stuff.


BWAAA HAHAHAHAHAH!!!

So there you have it. While one religious nutbar is accusing everyone one else of mindless bigoted bile, another religious nutbar is engaging in full-on mindles bigoted bile. And they'll both feel good about it, and neither will see the conflict, and both will try to justify it based on their nutball beliefs.

Quantum, you are not only wrong, you are exactly at the complete polar opposite of right (i.e. not just "a little" wrong). In fact, it is IMPOSSIBLE to come up with a real morality system on a religious basis. the *only* way to get a real morality is through humanist, secular thought. Even the self-professed religious person filters the spew that comes from the bible through their own common sense before nailing it down. I'll take the morality that comes from atheism over the crap that comes from religion any day, and myself and my children will be much safer for it.
Roach
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2008
And one more important question, "There is absolutely no change in what people know about nanotechnology between 2004 and 2007..." Aren't the people who rely on mass media for science news the same morons who believe the news everytime another redneck builds a Perpetual Motion device in his garage with his drinking buddy? I'd venture it's safe to say the average american's understanding of cars hasn't drastically changed in over 100 years. But the car is infinitely more complex than it was. And everyone owns a car, much like everyone (in the US) by now owns something touched by nano tech.

I'd understand if this was more AP post drivel, but this is supposedly research from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Is that a real school with 4 year degrees or is it more like ITT Tech? Why are they adding bulking text? This is supposed to be a science post site, not a literary version of Citrucel.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2008

Absolute bull$*&^...this article is thinly disguised bigoted bile.



The difference is atheists basicly don't believe in morality of any kind anyway: everything is just a random pile of goo, so you think its "OK" to murder babies and tinker around with stuff.


BWAAA HAHAHAHAHAH!!!

So there you have it. While one religious nutbar is accusing everyone one else of mindless bigoted bile, another religious nutbar is engaging in full-on mindles bigoted bile. And they'll both feel good about it, and neither will see the conflict, and both will try to justify it based on their nutball beliefs.

Quantum, you are not only wrong, you are exactly at the complete polar opposite of right (i.e. not just "a little" wrong). In fact, it is IMPOSSIBLE to come up with a real morality system on a religious basis. the *only* way to get a real morality is through humanist, secular thought. Even the self-professed religious person filters the spew that comes from the bible through their own common sense before nailing it down. I'll take the morality that comes from atheism over the crap that comes from religion any day, and myself and my children will be much safer for it.


Yeah because atheist societies have been soooo safe...Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist China. Kindly go blow it out your ignorant a$$. Secular morality doesn't exist because it's all a bunch of relativist nonsense. There's no higher authority to appeal to so it basically boils down to "what's right for me" which is the antithesis of morality.

Thank you for the belly laugh though. Rarely am I treated to such absolute puerile crap being spewed and passed off as having a nit of intellectual honesty in it...pfft.
groupthinker1984
3 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2008
Some of the above posters have good points I wanted to respond to, but this has become a flame war.

Even as a fundamentalist, I disagree with those who would argue that athiest are basically amoral or that no morality can be found in athiesm. You only have to study ethics and philosophy for a short time to see that there are solid bases for moral systems that exist independent of religion.

Christians often forget that morality is not THE central pillar of our faith. We already lost that, we needed redemption. We are supposed to be moral out of love for Him and our fellow man, not to "earn" salvation.

D666
3 / 5 (4) Dec 09, 2008

Yeah because atheist societies have been soooo safe...Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist China.

Yeah, and theistic societies have been so safe too. Can you say "taliban"? BTW, Hitler was a practicing catholic, but don't let facts get in your way. You may also want to read goupthinker's post immediately after yours. He actually has a working brain, and doesn't let it get in the way of his faith -- unfortunately a rarity among fundamentalists.

As to "higher authority", the basic trouble with that is that you can justify ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING WITHOUT LIMIT by reference to arbitrary higher authority. Want to enslave women? God told me so. Don't like alternative lifestyles? God says they're bad. Don't like psychiatrists? There's a religion for that. Believe you're the second coming? Create your own religion. Don't like a book? Burn it. God says so. God also approves of lying, cheating, sneak attacks, torture, and slavery, as long as it's done by the faithful. Cannibalism? No problem. Child abuse? Multiple wives? There's a religion for those. The bible explicitly places a stamp of approval on slavery and extorts slaves to know their place. I could go on and on and on and on and on, but I think even you with your atrophied reasoning powers will be starting to get the idea.

And let's not forget that even if you're one of the rare ones who actually walks the walk, it's at least partly because of the threat of hell. God is watching you. God will GET you. So you better be good!

But wait, there's more! If someone has the gall to not toe the line, you can excommunicate them, burn them at the stake, shoot them, blow them up, torture them, rape their family members, or if you don't have any imagination, just kill them. And god approves of all of it!

On the other hand, humanists don't have the benefit of the Big Club to MAKE people see things our way. Because we don't have a non-corporeal boogey man to threaten people with, we have to actually come up with a set of moral precepts that are fair, and that people will be willing to buy into for their own sake. We can't threaten -- we have to persuade.

And finally, just for a shot of irony, the "christian principles" that christians are always making such a big deal out of are not original with christianity, judaism, or Jesus. These principles were introduced to Judea starting somewhere around 160 BCE when the Hellenistic Greeks took control of Israel. The references to "Greek Jews" in the bible doesn't refer to Greeks who became Jews -- it refers to Jews who were taking on Greek culture and morality. Jesus was only one of many reformists who were trying to bring Judaism into the zeroth century.

So it turns out your "christian principles" are actually greek pagan principles. Oh, well.
Falcon
1 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2008
Wow can you flamers cut the crap. Both religion and atheism are a way of life that some people use for their own ends (Eg. the Crusades, Hitler, Stalin.. The list goes on). Both sides have make their own mistakes and should admit to them and stop arguing. It only causes war...
Quantum_Conundrum
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2008
D666:

Have you ever actually even read the Bible?

Nothing of Jesus is even remotely related to greek or roman thought.

If you think the morality of Christendom was somehow "new" with Jesus, try reading Leviticus chapter 19, particularly verses 13-18.

"...thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself:"

Leviticus predates confucious by about 700-900 years, and predates the earliest greeks by around the same time.
Quantum_Conundrum
2.8 / 5 (4) Dec 09, 2008
According to Wikipedia article on Adolph Hitler, unter subtitle "religious beliefs", the destruction of Christianity was one of the NAZI party's purposes.

Hitler was born in a Catholic family, but never attended mass, and as the article indicates, his only associations with Christianity were largely for the purpose of deception.

So basicly he was simply using his own perverted beliefs and calling it "Christianity" even when it directly contradicted the Bible or any traditional Chrisitian church organization.


Calling Hitler a "Christian" is just as absurd as calling the universalist neo-pagan Oprah Winfrey a Christian.
Aeronomer
3 / 5 (4) Dec 10, 2008
This is percisely why people with religious convictions should not be involved in primary nanotechnology related decisions.
indeed. foolishness to base your life on writings made by people 2000 years ago.
Gee, all the bigotry seems to be on the other side. Imagine that. Science is the new religion and woe to anyone who deviates from accepted dogma.
Longshot
not rated yet Dec 12, 2008
Can't you all just get along? All i have seen on this post is is a bunch of bickering! Do any of you see the possible benefits at all to Nanotech? Would you rather be pumped full of drugs that can eventually damage your system more? Or have something that can go in and actually repair the damage then be removed or deactivated? I see this as a great alternative to drugs that mask the symptoms of a disease or injury! Especially with all the antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria or viruses out there now, If they can create nanotech that could detect the infection and eliminate it we would all be better off.
groupthinker1984
not rated yet Dec 15, 2008
I don't think there is any argument there Longshot. I would imagine that most of the people who visit a site like Physorg are pro-tech.

Some of us don't like the tone of the article, and some of us clearly do like it. It attempts reinforce a stereotype about religious people that some of us have grown sensitive to.

That said, I think its time for the arguments to end too. I really wish we could get out of this mode of knee-jerk attacks.
Velanarris
not rated yet Dec 17, 2008
This finding comes as no surprise. Religion has a long history of stifling and strangling scientific progress.


Um, I can't speak for Islam or other religions, but the Bible actually promotes scientific study in all aspects, and demotes crankery.

1 Timothy 6:20
...keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:

Proverbs 15:14
The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
===

The difference is atheists basicly don't believe in morality of any kind anyway: everything is just a random pile of goo, so you think its "OK" to murder babies and tinker around with stuff.
Whoa. QC, who says morals have to align with religion?
Velanarris
not rated yet Dec 17, 2008
Ok, I think we've all gone off the map here.

I'm an atheist, I have morals.
QC, MM, you're both religious, you both have morals. (I'm not going to say fundamentalist because that term is tossed about far to casually for anyone's taste and the connotation is negative although it needn't be.)

If I think murder is wrong in all cases, and QC you think murder is justified in self defense, and MM you think murder is justified as a punishment for heinous crimes, well who's right?
The answer is, what does the majority think?

Morals and ethics are an intangible, there are no rule sets to morals and ethics. One society's ethics are another's taboo and vice versa.

One doesn't have to look further than the old and new testaments themselves. The ethics and morality from one book to the other vary greatly. One encourages ignoring injustice perpetrated on you where the other exclaims eye for an eye. Two entirely different sets of ethics, one collective religious text. Does that mean one or the other is superior? No way, it just means one was the prevailing attitude at the time of writing the old book and the other was the prevailing attitude at the time of writing the new book.

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