Nanotech as a religion has been a common thread on this blog for years, especially when connected to the Drexlerites and their belief in the book (see comments here). I’ve also been involved with a number of debates with philosophers where the subject of religion has come up, and as with many technologies there is a fear among some that technology is intruding into areas where God should be the final arbiter.
Of course the logical extension of that argument is that all medicine is playing God, and some sects such as Jehovah’s Witnesses even refuse blood transfusions on these grounds while others prance around the increasingly fine line between accepting the benefits of modern technology while keeping their moral compasses more or less correctly aligned, although in an often rather bigoted way. Moreover there is a growing tendency to accept only the elements of science which are directly beneficial and reject the rest.
A typical example is the dozens of hippies who travelled to Stansted airport this morning in order to protest against carbon emissions, none of whom presumably walked or travelled by home made wooden bicycle, or protesters who feel morally comfortable with beating up someone who works at an animal testing lab while happily using the drugs produced as a result.
Perhaps the problem is that the whole of science is just too big for people to make the connections between its constituent parts, and that some people are just too bigoted to listen to reason, which puts environmental protesters and terrorists rather too morally close for comfort – after all everyone claims that they were just doing what they believed was right.
The BBC makes its usual pigs ear of science reporting on today’s study of links between religiosity and scientific attitudes with the headline ‘Religious Shun Nanotechnology’ – perhaps they should listen to their own broadcasts – and misses the point by a mile. Asking a question such as “is nanotechnology morally acceptable will give the same answer as whether chemistry is morally acceptable. It might be a straight ‘no’, a heart ‘yes’ or a more educated “what part of chemistry are we talking about – weapons or pharmaceuticals?’
The survey is fortunately discussed in more detail by Dietram Scheufele who authored the study here) and his conclusion is both worrying to scientists and blindingly obvious to anyone with a smidgen of knowledge about marketing:
In other words, we may be wasting valuable time and resources by focusing our efforts on putting more and more information in front of an unaware public, without first developing a better understanding of how different groups will filter or reinterpret this information when it reaches them, given their personal value systems and beliefs
So what can we conclude from this? Probably nothing that we didn’t already know, that some people are blinded by prejudice and bigotry; rather more people have no interest in anything abstract that doesn’t affect their daily existence (so don’t bother discussing Schopenhauer with them and stick to Top Gear); a few people are very interested in nanotechnology, philosophy, the arts and everything else under the sun (the Melvyn Bragg’s of the world) and others will simply punch you in the face whatever you try to discuss with them (the Live and Let Live pub in Wood End used to be a popular place to try this).
Oh, and whether a Drexlerite or one camping on the runway of your local airport, never trust a hippie!