Saturday, April 30, 2011

Logical Fallacies - The Appeal to Nature

This entry deals with an error in reasoning known as The Appeal to Nature, often confused with the Naturalistic Fallacy, and its reverse, the Moralistic Fallacy.

To keeps things short n' simple, the Naturalistic Fallacy is the confusing of a statement of fact with a statement of subjective worth, a value judgment, an ought from an is, without sound justification, while the Moralistic Fallacy is the confusion of a value judgment with a statement of fact an is from an ought with an equal lack of good reason.

Is does not by necessity imply Should be, nor does Should be imply Is.

Either of these is an informal fallacy.

The Appeal to Nature typically takes the form of an argument that because something is natural, and of similar use are the familiar marketing buzzwords organic and holistic it is therefore right, good, safe or better than something that is artificial or more efficiently produced, or because something is artificial, it is therefore implied to be inferior, undesirable, bad or wrong...

...For example:
  • Someone tripped over an invisible turtle and staved in his skull on a rock. It is therefore correct to assume that the natural causation (gravity, and impact with a large piece of rock, a naturally-occurring substance…) of the damage to his cranium means that the damage is therefore right or desirable, and should thus not be treated by a physician.
The above is perhaps an extreme example, and then there is the following:
  • Vitamin A, when artificial, is harmful to the body, though not when it is natural, in any arbitrary amount for either.
The above is fallacious because whether natural or synthetic, vitamin A is exactly the same molecule regardless of how or where it is produced, and whether it is safe or harmful depends entirely on the dosage.

Because these last two examples are concerned with the goodness/badness or rightness/wrongness of something based on its origins they also constitute variations of a genetic fallacy.

There are a great many things of completely natural origin that are nonetheless rather unsafe. A few are below:
  • Arsenic, Cadmium, and Uranium are three highly toxic natural elements...
  • There are the herbs Hemlock, Foxglove, and Belladonna...
  • addition to all other animal, mineral, and plant toxins, such as the venom of certain species of trapdoor spiders, curare, rattlesnake venom, platypus venom, a huge host of poisonous fungi such as species Amanita muscaria...
A common argument using this fallacy is the assertion that behaviors and practices “found in nature” are good or more desirable than modern behaviors, such as some of our more detrimental evolved social instincts being “right,” even though in our modern technological society they no longer convey the survival benefits they did to our ancestors on the plains of Africa, now that we are a global species. The following is one such argument...
  • Before we were a technological species we were one with the natural world, but soon we shall pay for our continuous crimes against nature. For every illness we've bought temporary respite from through modern medicine, another, more resistant strain takes its place. How long can we keep at our unnatural and invasive medical procedures, when all we are doing is living longer and longer and getting sicker and sicker with each new 'advance' in treatment. The only way we can be truly healthy is to return to our roots, to return to nature and relinquish the evils of science and technology.
First, humans have always been a technological species, and we've been that even before we were human.

Second, we were then mostly ignorant about the natural world, and saw the supernatural everywhere.

As a species that better understands Nature now than we once did, instead of attributing everything to mystical influences in our ignorance, praying and chanting to invisible and probably nonexistent spirits in invariably failed attempts to cure horrible illnesses, with that better understanding comes a closeness to nature unparalleled by our ancestors even a century ago.

We understand better how nature works, and our scientific and medical advances, limited though they may be in some areas, have given those with access to them greater health and quality of life, and the greater modern life-expectancy and standards of living are reliable indicators of this.

Those belonging to a typical middle-class family live longer and in greater luxury on the average than a medieval king, though perhaps with less gold stashed in the cellar.

Yes, scientific advances are a double-edged sword, but we can't solve the problems brought about by knowledge by replacing it with ignorance. A problem caused by misuse of knowledge can only be remedied by the use of better knowledge than that which caused the original problem.

Have fun looking for this fallacy in everyday discussions and in the media, especially advertisements for questionable 'food supplements' and medical products using the previously mentioned buzzwords, products which tend more often than not to have a high price tag, at least in cash if not in possible health consequences.

Consider: Despite what mystics and quacks will tell you, it pays to be skeptical.

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