The Naturalistic Fallacy

Üdvözöllek skeptics,

Tonight I am going to be talking about the naturalistic fallacy. When it comes to fallacies, it doesn’t get much more fallacious than this. The naturalistic fallacy is an argument used relentlessly by naturopaths, herbalists, homeopaths, and dozens of other pseudoscientific claims. In a nut-shell, the naturalistic fallacy is the claim that something is naturally better because it is found in nature or that it contains only natural products. At almost every level, there is something wrong with the naturalistic fallacy.

The most fundamental problem with the naturalistic fallacy is that there is nothing inherently different or special about things from nature. At the chemical level, there is nothing different about the vitamin C found in oranges and vitamin C which is produced in a laboratory.
If a company creates a banana flavoured confectionery out of flavour chemicals they extracted from a banana, they can call it natural. But if they manufacture these chemicals at the factory, rather than getting the from the banana, then they can no longer call it natural. There is nothing different between the two chemicals.

Another issue with the naturalistic argument, other than the argument which says “its better because its natural”, is the one that says, “if its natural, its good.” and there is something wrong with this argument for a very basic reason. Anybody who has watched survival shows on the television knows that there are very few things you can eat in the wild. No doctor would recommend going out into the forest and eating a random plant. Most of what you find in nature is dangerous or has no benefit to eat.
Nature doesn’t care about us, there isn’t any natural selection towards plants that are safe to eat, in fact, the natural selection is towards plants which are not safe to eat.

There is no advantage to a plant for it to be safe to eat the flowers (reproductive organ) off of it. If it was tasty and safe for animals to eat the reproductive organs of a specific plant, this species would soon go extinct, because there is no way for the organisms to pass down their genes t the next generations if they cannot reproduce. Some may say “aha, what about all the plants which are safe to eat, bananas, oranges, pears, apples, strawberries, the list goes on.” and this brings up another argument against the naturalistic fallacy.

All of the foods we eat today are not the foods that were found in the wild thousands of years ago when we first started to cultivate. The banana plant which we all know and love was just a stupid, disgusting little herb thousands of years ago, not the extravagant yellow fruits we know of today. We have selectively bred our food over the years to make it tasty and safe to eat. There is cyanide in apple seeds, because thousands of years ago, before we bred them, they had a lot of cyanide on them, now they have very little in them, because of our selective breeding.
The point is that the things we think of as nature are actually our own designs, which we have sculpted over the years to be tasty, safe and look good on a plate. It’s not nature just because it comes out of the ground, and it certainly doesn’t mean we haven’t interfered with it at some time.

Food or drugs are not better because they are natural, being natural does not make them safe, and a lot of the things we thin of as natural today are not what we found in the ground thousands of years ago.

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2 thoughts on “The Naturalistic Fallacy

  1. “The banana plant which we all know and love was just a stupid, disgusting little herb thousands of years ago, not the extravagant yellow fruits we know of today.”

    Where did you find that it was a “disgusting little herb”? I always thought that it was a fruit with big hard seeds which we bred to make it the soft chewy packet of deliciousness we bred it to be today.

    • Well, it probably was, but it was nonetheless still a herb that nobody would consider eating today.
      I didn’t really do a complete review of the scientific studies looking at what bananas used to look like, I just remembered that the banana was disgusting and not like the banana of today.

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