Nanotechnology and religion

In their paper “Genetically Modified Theology: The Religious Dimensions of Public Concerns About Agricultural Biotechnology” Celia Deane-Drummond, Robin Grove-White, and Bronislaw Szerszynski talk about the way different groups of people – including scientists, politicians, and everyday people on the street – talk about biotechnology (as well as other technological developments). This creates environments where technology, such as biotechnology, is viewed in a myriad of different ways within society.

For example, there are some significant concerns being expressed by the general public about biotechnology, and about genetically modified organisms and food in particular. These concerns tend differ from those envisaged by those charged with overseeing or implementing policy, or with researching and developing biotechnology. Rather they reflect questions that are concerned with the very essence of human personhood, about human nature, and the character of the relationship between human beings and the natural world. Commenting on public resistance and antipathy towards particular forms of biotechnology in Britain and Europe at the end of the 1990s they write,

It seems conceivable that the intensity of current controversies around genetically modified crops and foods arises in part from the fact that, in their regulation in the public domain, conflicting ontologies of the person are making themselves felt in the politics of everyday life.

See: Deane-Drummond, Celia, Robin Grove-White, and Bronislaw Szerszynski. “Genetically Modified Theology: The Religious Dimensions of Public Concerns About Agricultural Biotechnology.” Studies in Christian Ethics 14, no. 2 (2001): 23-41.

In these environments religion can play a significant, and often underrated, role. Recent discussions of this with respect to nanotechnology include the following:

As one of the links notes, because nanotechnology is actually the product of a variety of convergent technologies (and is used in a variety of different ways) it doesn’t have the same ‘impact’ in public debate as something like genetically-modified foods or cloning research, but perhaps will have more impact in the long term.

Stimulating images

Links to a couple of images I saw recently on Mondolithic Studios’ web site.

Different Futures. The choices we make now affect those who follow.

Dark Energy. Resonates for me with William Blake’s lines from ‘Auguries of Innocence’, as well as with the dreams of the nanotechnologists.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

Related stuff – Mondolithic search results on Greenflame.

Fast Forward

0800634764H-1Lsnr22.7.06 L-150-150-206-206-1After managing to find this week’s NZ Listener (it gets delivered 7 days before the week it’s for, and often gets misplaced) I see the lead article is on the accelerating pace of technological change. A quick skim though highlights that it picks up on genetics, robotics and nanotechnology in the typical popular fashion. I’ll go back and read it in depth later today. Still, maybe an accessible article on those technologies. See New Zealand Listener | Issue 3454 | July 22-28 2006.

I was struck by the cover this week too. Very like Herzfeld’s book cover below, and you can find similar images at most online stock photo sites by searching for things like “robot” and “cyborg”.

Digital People (and digital publishing)

DigitalpeoplePicked up a copy of Digital People: From Bionic Humans to Androids by Sidney Perkowitz this week from the university bookshop. It looks quite interesting and I admit that once I saw the blurb on the back about science fiction movies – just after I’d edited some similar ideas in my introduction – I was keen to get it. From the back,

Robots, androids, and bionic people pervade popular culture, from classics like Frankenstein and R.U.R. to modern tales such as The Six Million Dollar Man, The Terminator, and A.I. Our fascination is obvious and the technology is quickly moving from books and films to real life.

Digital People examines the ways in which technology is inexorably driving us to a new and different level of humanity. As scientists draw on nanotechnology, molecular biology, artificial intelligence, and materials science, they are learning how to create beings that move, think, and look like people. Others are routinely using sophisticated surgical techniques to implant computer chips and drug-dispensing devices into our bodies, designing fully functional man-made body parts, and linking human brains with computers to make people healthier, smarter, and stronger.

Anyway, what is interesting in another way about this book is how it’s published. If you go to the publisher’s web site you can order a paper copy, buy a PDF (they have paper + PDF combos), buy a PDF of a chapter, sample a PDF, and search or browse the full text of the book.

Your book, delivered how you want it. Cool.

Would you like extra fries with your (human) upgrade

A few articles out recently that pick up on the potential of nanotechnology for the purposes of human therapy and enhancement.

Popular Mechanics has an article Redefining The Human: The Upgradable You which covers a range of technological developments relating to nanotechnology among other things.

The forever techno-optimistic Ray Kurzweil has an article in the latest Science and Theology News – Trends hint at a golden era of nanotechnology. Kurzweil see technology as part of the process of evolution, and follows the line of thought that human beings are in effect “nature’s technology.”

Then again working through indirection, biological evolution used one of its creations to usher in the next stage of evolution, which was technology. The enabling factors for technology were a higher cognitive function with an opposable appendage, so we could manipulate and change the environment to reflect our models of what could be. The first stages of technology evolution — fire, the wheel, stone tools — only took a few tens of thousands of years.

Kurzweil cites the synthetic red blood cell research noted in the Popular Mechanics article too.

And lastly, there’s an older article at the British Centre for Bioethics and Public Policy that looks at nanotech from within a Judeo-Christian framework. See CBPP – Going all the way? – cybernetics and nanotechnology (Philippa Taylor, April 2004) (and the closely related PDF “From Fiction to Fact: Christian Perspectives on Future Developments in Bioethics: Nanotechnology and Cybernetics” CBPP briefing series: No. 3, Philippa Taylor, Summer 2003).