Appeal to nature is a common type of logical fallacy — that is, a reasoning error that weakens your argument — which, in essence, states that natural things are either good or better than synthetic ones.
It’s often used in contexts involving medicine, food, genetics, as well as many other topics where nature and science collide.
What Is Appeal to Nature?
Appeal to nature occurs when it is claimed that something must be good or true because it is “natural”, or conversely, if something is “unnatural” it must be bad or untrue.
As such, it may be committed in four different ways:
- Something is said to be good solely due to its virtue of being “natural”.
- Something is said to be bad solely because it’s seen to be “unnatural”.
- Something is said to be better than its alternative because it’s perceived as “more natural”.
- Something is said to be worse than its alternative because it’s perceived as “less natural”.
These types of arguments are fallacious since the fact that a thing is “natural” cannot alone prove that it is somehow true or superior; it would be the factual evidence supporting the claim that makes it so. Moreover, it isn’t typically clearly stated or agreed upon what “natural” exactly means; it can differ from person to person.
It occurs, perhaps most frequently, in the domain of alternative medicine. For example, someone insists that a particular herbal medicine must be a better or healthier option for treatment than a synthetic one (the result of human intervention) simply due to it being natural.
- “Vaccines are unnatural; therefore, they are bad for you.”
- “How could something so natural as the sun cause skin cancer?”
- “Genome editing must be stopped; it intervenes with the work of nature.”
- “Mushrooms are healthy and safe to pick; after all, they are grown exactly as nature intended.”
- “Animals have gone extinct all the time for millions of years; it is simply how evolution and nature works. Therefore, we shouldn’t make any effort to preserve endangered animal species.”
- “You must refuse to take any man-made medicines, they’ll harm you more than anything else. Instead, you should take natural ones, such as herbal medicine.”