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natural

Something present in or produced by nature is natural, such as an earthquake or typhoon, or a poisonous mushroom. Death is natural in the sense that to die is to conform to the ordinary course of living things in nature. For a diabetic to die from lack of insulin would be natural. It would be unnatural for a diabetic to inject natural or synthetic insulin, since injections are not natural. Rotting wood on your porch is natural in the sense that you have not used anything artificial to protect it. The smell of rotting garbage is natural. Meanness and cruelty are natural to some people; that is, they are inherent, non-acquired personal traits. Some people are apparently natural born killers. Squishing bugs and kicking cats is natural for some people, in the sense that they do such things spontaneously, without reflecting on their actions. Nudity is the only natural state for animals, even humans. All clothing is artificial, that is, not natural. So are the fillings in your teeth. So is all make-up and jewelry. Bearded men are natural. To shave is to do something unnatural. The present Pope commits an unnatural act every day!

Just because something is natural does not mean that it is good, safe or healthy. Herbs are natural but they are also drugs when used in the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of a disease. The chemicals which comprise synthetic drugs are natural. St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is natural, but it is a drug. Why do some people say that they prefer St. John's Wort to drugs for depression? If someone said that he preferred Irish whiskey to alcohol, we'd think he was confused. St. John's Wort contains hypericin, which inhibits monoamine oxidase, a chemical associated with depression. In other words, St. John's Wort (hypericin) is an "MAO inhibitor". MAO inhibitors are commonly prescribed by medical doctors to treat depression. Other types of anti-depressants have become more popular because they have far fewer side effects. MAO inhibitors should not be used when a person eats substances containing the amino acid tyramine or bacteria with enzymes that can convert tyrosine to tyramine, viz., alcoholic beverages, products made with yeast, aged cheese, sour cream, liver, canned meats, salami, sausage, pickled herring, eggplant and soy sauce. Otherwise, convulsions, extremely high fever and death by natural causes may occur.

Some plants are lethal even though they are natural. But if you die from eating a lethal but natural plant, you will not be said to have died of natural causes. Ditto, if you die from being bitten by a poisonous snake whose venom is quite natural. If you die from lung cancer caused by smoking tobacco, a natural plant, you will, however, be said to have died of natural causes.

Fleas on dogs are natural. Flea collars are unnatural. Mosquitoes and flies are natural, though most people find them to be a nuisance and prefer the unnatural comfort of mosquitoeless nights and flyless barbecues. Eating meat might be a natural act, but eating cooked meat is unnatural. Most sauces put on meat are made with both natural and artificial ingredients. Salt is natural, but some healthy people avoid salt like the plague.

Civilization is unnatural. Indoor plumbing is unnatural. Corrective lenses are unnatural. So are automobiles. Think about that the next time you drive to the garden shop to get some natural fertilizer for your garden or to your naturalist herb shop for a little pick-me-up.

To have a broken arm set by a physician is unnatural. To let it heal spontaneously would be natural, even if debilitating for life. Getting a medical degree is unnatural. Foraging and experimenting by trial and error would be natural, even if often lethal. Children born with no brains or other monstrous deformities are natural. Brain surgery to remove a tumor is unnatural.

Anything supernatural is unnatural but is usually considered to be good by those who believe in the supernatural. Reading and writing are unnatural. Urinating whenever one has the urge is natural, but uncivilized. Marijuana is natural, so it must be good, right? LSD is unnatural, though mescaline is natural. Ergot is natural. Mold and bacteria and viruses are natural. Arsenic is natural. To strike back when struck is natural, but considered unchristian. Turning the other cheek when struck is considered Christian but it is unnatural.

Monogamy is natural among some mammals, but unnatural for most mammals. Reproduction is natural but marriage is unnatural. Using condoms is unnatural. Dying of AIDS is to die of natural causes. Herpes is natural. Raping women is natural to some men, but it is usually regarded as evil nonetheless. Pedophilia seems to be natural in some people, but does that make it good?

In fact, ultimately everything which is made is comprised of nothing but natural atoms, molecules, elements, or substances. So, if everything is basically natural, why do some people, such as the naturopaths, make such a big fuss about using only what is natural? Such an obsession seems unhealthy, but it helps one avoid having to ask difficult questions about whether something really is good, safe or healthy. All you need to know is that something is "natural" and you don't have to think about its value.

Note: The naturalistic fallacy is what some skeptics have called the belief that medicines that are natural are somehow magically safe and effective or, more generally, the belief that if something's natural, it's good. In logic, however, a false or questionable belief is not, in itself, considered a fallacy. A fallacy is an error in reasoning, not an error in belief. This herb is natural, therefore it is safe and effective would be a fallacy. All herbs are safe and effective would be a false belief. It is very unlikely that even the most ardent advocate of natural cures is so ignorant as to believe that anything that is natural is good for you. Defenders of natural cures may believe that when there are natural remedies and artificial remedies, like synthetic drugs, for the same health issue that the natural remedy is preferable to the drug. Frequently, one finds the naturalists claiming that this is so because there are likely to be fewer side effects from the natural remedy or that there is likely to be some unknown natural accompaniment to, say, vitamin C in fruit and synthesized vitamin C tabs. To believe that herbs are always better for you than drugs is a false belief. To believe that organic food is always better for you than food that has been grown using synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers is to hold a false belief. To argue that one should always take herbs or some natural food rather than drugs for pneumonia because natural products are always better for you than antibiotics is to argue fallaciously. To argue that one should always eat organic foods because they are healthier foods than conventionally grown foods is to argue fallaciously.

The term 'naturalistic fallacy' has a history in the discipline of moral philosophy. The English philosopher G. E. Moore (1873-1958) argued that since moral values such as 'goodness' are indefinable, it is wrong to identify such things as pleasure or utility as identical to goodness. He called reasoning that just because, as some might argue, the pleasurable is good does not mean that good is defined by pleasure. He called such reasoning the naturalistic fallacy. He believed that moral values are not natural properties of anything that might be studied scientifically because values are prescriptive, not descriptive. Moral values refer to what we ought to do, not to what we do. Whether Moore's views on moral values are correct or acceptable is debatable. In any case, there seems little to be gained by calling false beliefs about natural cures examples of the naturalistic fallacy. As I said, it is highly unlikely that even the dimmest nature cure advocate believes that having the property of being natural is identical to having the property of being beneficial to your health or that there is some kind of moral imperative to seek anything that is natural.

Sometimes one sees the expression 'appeal to nature' to refer to the fallacious argument that "a thing is good because it is 'natural', or bad because it is 'unnatural'." Such a designation is pointless since these arguments obviously beg the question. We might say they have the grammatical form of arguments but they are really statements, both of which are obviously false: Anything natural is good; anything unnatural is bad. The so-called 'appeal to nature' is not really an argument and, I repeat, not a position you are likely to find held by even the most demented believer in natural cures. But I could be wrong. There may be somebody out there who won't brush or floss his teeth because it's unnatural and therefore bad for your health.


See also detoxification therapies, natural cancer cures, organic, and supplements.

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news stories

Natural Does Not Mean Safe Herbal supplements are unregulated, overhyped, and potentially deadly. By Geoffrey Kabat "Between 1994 and 2008, the number of dietary supplement products on the market increased from 4,000 to 75,000. In the first 10 months of 2008, the FDA received nearly 600 reports of serious adverse events (including hospitalization, disability, and death) from these products and 350 reports of moderate or mild adverse events. However, the FDA believes that these reports are drastically underreported and estimates that the annual number of all adverse events is 50,000."

Health Canada pulls unauthorized arthritis pills (Specific-Formula Arthro-Ace, sold as a "natural" health product, was found to contain dexamethasone, a steroidal prescription drug used to treat inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and allergic reactions.)

Medicine Man Natural (remedies have been used for centuries - and generations of healers can't be wrong. Can they?) by Edzard Ernst, 

Herbal eczema cures damage children by Oliver Wright

Herb (St. John's Wort)  ineffective as antidepressant

St. John's Wort Reduces Chemotherapy Effects Popular Herb May Seriously Dilute Effects of Many Medications By Jeanie Davis WebMD Medical News

Some Herbs Boost Breast Cancer Risk Herbal Supplements to Fight Menopause Symptoms Can Be Dangerous By Liza Jane Maltin

Last updated 29-Nov-2014

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