Toumey’s study summarizes seven recent research projects that explore the relationship between religious beliefs and attitudes toward nanotechnology. He cites a study by Brossard et al. entitled "Religiosity as a perceptual filter: examining processes of opinion formation about nanotechnology", which found that the "strength of religious beliefs is negatively related to support for funding of nanotechnology.”
One thing that concerns religious people about nanotechnology, Toumey says, is its possible link to transhumanism. He writes that “many religious persons worry that nanotechnology will contribute to re-defining human nature in ways that are amoral or dangerous.”
Underneath the fear of nanotechnology is a more fundamental fear of transhumanism. Religious people, says Toumey, “sense that transhumanist values are the enemy of religious values, and that nanotechnology, especially nanomedicine, is implicated in a transhumanist agenda.”
Toumey claims that of the seven studies he reviewed, six identified the religious objection to transhumanism as the basis for worries about nanotechnology. Not all six use the term “transhumanism,” but all refer explicitly to a deep anxiety that nanotechnology poses some sort of threat to human nature. Toumey writes: “Six of the seven religious reactions include a concern that nanotech will contribute to changing our sense of what it means to be human, and that this is clearly undesirable.”
All the more reason for religious scholars to take up the challenge of transhumanism and to disarm some of the anxiety. For me, at least, transhumanism is not to be feared. It is to be criticized theologically, not because it seeks to use technology to enhance human beings but because it sets its sights too low, or so I try to argue in Transhumanism and Transcendence.
A more complete version of Toumey’s review—"Seven Religious Reactions to Nanotechnology"—will appear in the December issue of NanoEthics.