Tuesday, 9 December 2008



Once again, people bend over backwards to give religion and the religious a free ride. This is a story about how the more religious a country is deemed to be (by what measure and what this even means is not clear), the more suspicious its inhabitants tend to be about nanotechnology (also, the Internet, GM foods and some other stuff). I haven't read the paper yet, but the validity or otherwise of the study isn't my point.

My point is about the speculative reasons the researchers give for their result, which is a fawning feat of bending over backwards.

"Religion provides a perceptual filter, highly religious people look at information differently, it follows from the way religion provides guidance in people's everyday lives,"
-- Professor Dietram Scheufele, University of Wisconsin

Excuse me? Guidance? Oh, do you mean the idea of needing to be told by god not to randomly kill people? Religious people may well look at information differently, but this doesn't suggest we should tolerate it because - and this is important - THEY ARE DOING IT WRONG. Religion has absolutely nothing to say - no 'guidance' - about whether nanotechnology (or whatever) is dangerous. Only science can do that because we need evidence. Vague feelings that it might be dangerous backed up with bully-boy religion to try to force others to accept the vague feeling just won't do.
"It's not that they're [the religious] concerned about not understanding the science, more that talking openly about constructing life raises a whole host of moral issues," said Professor Scheufele.
There's a rabbit away here. Is Professor Sheufele really saying that only the religious face a moral dilemma about the possibility of creating life? I don't think so. I think he is once again bending over backwards to throw a sop to the religious because of their embarassing beliefs. I'm an atheist and just as qualified as anybody religious to speculate about the moral implications of creating life.
"We need to get to grips with the idea that the exact same piece of information can have a different meaning to different people, its the age-old dilemma for science about what could be done versus what should be done."
We should certainly be concerned about whether we should do certain things. But we should also question our ideas of morality. The newsflash to Professor Scheufele is that believers' morality doesn't, in fact, come from a holy book. It comes from exactly the same place everyone else's morality comes from. It isn't that the religious have different filters for information, it is that they use their religion as an excuse to try to force their uneasiness on everyone else. Should we be doing stem cell research to help eradicate the suffereng of millions? No doubt you have your own opinion, but if it is based on some fuzzy idea that it is 'just wrong', then you need to evaluate why you feel that way. If someone shamelessly inventing (they may call it 'interpreting') from a holy book says something about the sanctity of life which helps you justify this fuzzy feeling, then you need to examine yourself a whole lot more. And above all, you need to find out what is really going on with stem cell research, how it is conducted, what are the implications (beneficial and harmful) and to base your opinions on knowledge rather than ignorance.

Yes, Professor Scheufele, I've no doubt that the religious do filter information differently. They ignore the bits they don't like and fixate on the bits they do. This isn't something to be understood or even tolerated (when making decisions about the lives of countless others). It is something to be ridiculed and stamped out.

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