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Findings are presented from a qualitative study in which participants from a Catholic university in New England, USA read a description of transhuman technologies (e.g., genetic engineering) and wrote lengthy responses indicating what they saw as the likely impact of these technologies on identity, society, and religion. In the subsequent content analysis, the responses were also examined for what Patrick Feng calls the “myth of technological determinism” — a sense that technological change is beyond human control. Most of the young men and women in the sample described negative impacts, identified a threat to religion and to their religious beliefs, and expressed concerns for the integrity of human nature. Many of the students wrote of their expectations regarding the future development or restriction of these technologies, with twice as many evoking technological determinism as compared to professing human agency. This passivity and sense of alienation can be understood as a variant of fatalism that Ulrich Beck describes in his account of “risk society”. Social scientists prefer to see the public constructively engaged with technologies. Ironically, a religious critique of advanced technologies may invite fatalism. The author suggests that a secular critique, informed by science and technology studies, is more conducive to the public debate.


Originally published:

Lilley, Stephen J. "Catholic Students' Fatalism in Anticipation of Transhuman Technologies." The International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences (2007) 2:1, 313-320.