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America is a highly religious nation, and also a highly scientific and technological nation. In public opinion polls, over 95% of American consistently say they believe in some sort of god, and almost 60% say they attend church or some other place of worship regularly. At the same time, Americans love and rely on the technological byproducts of modern science.

MicrochipGenetically engineered crops provide food for our tables, microchips make our computers run - and increasingly control everything from our toasters and washing machines to the engines in our cars. Satellites transmit our phone calls and television pictures, and new high-tech materials make up our cars, planes, and sporting equipment. Yet despite the central role of both religion and technology in American life, some religious people are deeply ambivalent about (or even hostility towards) modern science - which is crucial for the development of new technologies.

Part of the problem here is that many people - both religious and non-religious - feel a certain fear in the face of new technologies. Some Christians have protested against genetic engineering, for example, fearing that it will be used in all sorts of disturbing ways. Likewise many religious people have been worried about the possible uses, and abuses, of cloning technology. These are legitimate fears, and indeed almost all technology has the potential to be abused. But we live in a technological age and knee-jerk negative reactions are not necessarily productive in the long run. A much better approach, says Rustum Roy (a leading materials scientist), is for religious people to become educated about science and technology so they can be involved in discussions about how we use them. As Roy explains "the religious community has to work in the real world in which technology is ever present, ever expanding, and if they don't understand how it functions they will never be able to interface with it." Rather than feeling frightened and immobilized by new technology, Professor Roy believes that if religious people get involved and learn about it, they will be empowered to enter the debates and to influence future decisions and applications.

Church SceneLikewise, he suggests that scientific and technological communities have something to gain from being in dialog with religious people. According to Professor Roy (who has been involved with US science policy for many years) scientists and technologists need to be aware of the ethical implications of their work, and of the potential uses to which it may be put - both good and bad. Here, he says, they can benefit from discussions with people of faith.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Margaret Wertheim

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