A recent survey shows that most (70%) Americans think that nanotechnology is “morally unacceptable”. Europe is the other way round: with most thinking that it is morally acceptable – 54% in the UK, 63% in Germany, and 72% in France.
These are extraordinary numbers. What people are complaining about here is not that nanotechnology might be dangerous – in fact earlier results from the survey showed that the US public are perhaps not concerned enough about the potential hazards of nanotech. What they are worried about is that it is literally immoral, in the same way that theft and torture are generally thought to be are immoral. But ‘nanotech’ is simply that – a technology, not an application. How can a technology be inherently immoral?
The guy who organised the survey, Prof Scheufele at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has a hypothesis:
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.
Yeah right. Aluminium is also a material that doesn’t occur in nature. It also enhances human qualities – it lets you fly (and drink carbonated beverages…). Yet the god squad don’t have a problem with aluminium (although they do have a problem with fluoride in their precious bodily fluids).
So what’s the real deal here? Why does god have a beef with nanotech? It’s not simply fear of the new or concern over about mucking around with life (for instance, Americans are not particularly against GMO).
Hat tip: Tangled Up In Blue Guy