Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.

Nanotechnology or the study of manipulating matter on the atomic and molecular scale is something that rarely captures the attention of theologians. A newly published study, however, looks at the various ways religious communities may consider nanotechnology.

Chris Toumey, a cultural anthropologist at the University of South Carolina NanoCenter, decided to research seven religious groups as most thought given to nanotechnology’s role in society has been approached from the viewpoint of ethicists.

His paper states that it is worth knowing what religious voices have to say about the new technology as a way to anticipate additional religious reactions in the future. The paper, “Seven Religious Reactions to Nanotechnology,” presents seven case studies of religious reactions from a variety of global groups.

He collected four documents from religious organizations that deliver official institutional positions, namely: a major American Lutheran denomination; the Catholic Bishops Conferences of the European Community; a coalition of German Protestants; and a Muslim think-tank in the United Arab Emirates. The remaining three groups are: Jewish group focused on technology; a group of Catholics and Protestants who oppose transhumanism; and a pair of focus groups in England and in the U.S.

The views of nanotechnology seem to be mostly negative in nature. Toumey found that many religious persons worry that nanotechnology will contribute to re-defining human nature in ways that are amoral or dangerous. He says this is a sense that “transhumanist” values are the enemy of religious values and that nanomedicine is part of a transhumanist agenda.

Secondly he found that religious persons worry that the control of nanotechnology by irresponsible entities will lead to adverse consequences such as inequality or injustice.

Toumey writes, “The question of whether nanotech is tantamount to transhumanism is part of a broader question of whether science should be able to change human nature. Both of these themes express a worry that science is beyond political or moral control.” (For one Lutheran theologian’s approach to transhumanism see Hefner’s reflections published here in Covalence.)

In the long run, the question remains whether religious voices will participate in the conversation taking place in nanotechnology and its long range implications. The conversation is just beginning.

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