Friday, January 27, 2012

The Naturalistic Fallacy

Ah, yes. The appeal to nature gussied up with a bit of evolution. In other words, according to Sayer, because we co-evolved with pathogens, living with pathogens is "natural." And so it is. So is cancer, old age, and death. These are all completely "natural" too, as are strychnine and any number of "natural" toxins. (If you'll recall, a "toxin" is by definition something made by a living organism.) The point, of course, is that just because something is natural does not make it good, benign, or even just neutral. Nature is harsh, and the battle for survival brutal, and it's completely "natural" for all manner of animals to be eaten by bigger, faster, and hungrier animals. Yet the mindset behind so much of "alternative" medicine and antivaccine views is that natural is always good and that anything synthetic should be viewed with extreme suspicion. It's silly, because even "natural" nutrients and medicines are just as much chemicals as any synthetic nutrient or chemical. We have to judge whether such chemicals are harmful based on science and where the evidence leads us, not based on whether the chemical is "natural" or not.

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