Tuesday, February 19, 2008
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. ...Interestingly, on the heels of observing that so many Americans oppose nanotechnology on moral grounds, Scheufele attempts to suggest a remedy -- but succeeds only in exemplifying the real underlying problem:
The [reason for the big difference, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dietram] 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. [bold added]
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.I submit that the problem doesn't lie in better explaining how beneficial the technology can be or in somehow trying to "sell it" to religious zealots. One need only consider a more widely-appreciated example of applied science, modern medicine, and its willful rejection by one well-known, "mainline" Christian sect (among others) to see the flaw in this reasoning.
Science, as I have noted numerous times in the past, is not a worldview and cannot, dependent as it is on certain underlying philosophical principles, provide a philosophical alternative to religion. That is the job of another discipline, philosophy, as I have also mentioned before. (And fortunately, one philosopher, Ayn Rand, has single-handedly, and in the nick of time, addressed many of the issues that have discredited this discipline and made religion a powerful cultural force again in the West.)
More scientists must educate themselves on the proper philosophical underpinnings of their discipline and either advocate rational philosophy or support those who do. Until then, they will find that they can explain until they are blue in the face the wonders they have discovered and the grand vistas they have opened for all mankind -- and still be damned by evil, Bible-thumping men and their witless followers for "doing the Devil's work".
What needs to be explained isn't that science, technology, and the freedom that makes them possible here in America are beneficial to human life. Even those points aren't lost on most followers of religion in America. What desperately needs to be explained, while most Americans still value their own lives, is that religion poses a mortal threat to their lives and to any rational values they may hold.
Scientists can help with that, but science -- as many Christian apologists well know -- is not and never can be up to the job of philosophy.