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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Great Debate

Science versus Religion or evidence versus faith is one of our age old great debates that, whichever way you look at it affects everyone, everyday. A report published this week in Nature Nanotechnology from The University of Wisconsin’s Department of Life Sciences Communication investigates religious and cultural attitudes towards nanotechnology and finds that ‘when it comes to the world of the very, very small – Americans have a big problem’.

According to Dietram Scheufele (lead author and LSC professor) ‘nano and its capacity to alter the fundamentals of nature, it seems, are failing the moral litmus test of religion’. Twelve European countries were rated along with the US in terms of ‘religiosity’ to measure attitudes of technological acceptance and whether these findings have implications for scientists and politicians making policy decisions in regulating the usage of nanotechnology.

The main findings of this research suggest that in religiously strong countries (Italy, Austria and Ireland) people are less accepting of nanotechnology, viewing its capacity to alter the fundamentals of nature in a negative light. Yet in secular social systems (like France or Germany) the potential to modify living organisms or even inspire synthetic life with science is perceived to be more morally or ethically acceptable. For Scheufele these findings:
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.

For more see: BBC Science and Environment; Religious beliefs and public attitudes toward nanotechnology in Europe and the United States (pdf).

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