Expanding the Circle 1

The "Appeal to Nature" Fallacy and Eating Animals
from "The Logical Fallacy Tarot"

Appeal to nature is a fallacy, for even if there were consensus on how to draw the line between “natural” and “unnatural,” (and there isn’t) that would tell us nothing about acceptable or unacceptable behavior.

We used to hear that same-sex romantic relationships were unnatural. Since the Supreme Court, on Mon Oct 6, declined to review lower-court decisions in favor of same-sex marriage, we very quickly saw 10 new states begin to issue same-sex marriage licenses. It's clearer than ever that the idea that same-sex romantic relationships are "unnatural" will not stand.

We still hear appeals to nature when it comes to eating meat. We have the equipment for eating meat. We have incisors for biting into meat and a digestive tract that can process and use nutrients from the flesh of other animals. It’s natural.

Yes, we did evolve to eat meat. But we didn't evolve for there to be seven billion of us. More precisely, evolution equipped us fairly well for survival in the world of a million years ago, and less well for living sustainably in a world headed toward nine billion humans by 2055 consuming resources at the rate we do. If we're all going to be sustainably fed, we'll have to forgo the resource waste, greenhouse-gas emissions, and pollution of meat production.

So let us look more carefully at what nature really teaches. Appropriating a structure that served one purpose and putting it to a very different purpose is a common maneuver in evolution's playbook. Mammalian forelimbs get turned into bat wings – or dolphin fins. Antennae get turned into mandibles. A jaw bone in dinosaurs, fish, and reptiles got appropriated and made into an auditory bone in mammals. An ancestor of wasps and bees had an ovipositor that got appropriated and made into a stinger. Certain fish developed a swim bladder, which they could fill with air, allowing the fish to stay at a given depth.The swim bladder evolved into the lung of the earliest lungfish – and from there into the lungs of land animals. A device for staying at a given depth in water turned into the essential step for moving onto land! Structures that served one purpose get put to very different purposes. Happens all the time.

“Nature” gave us a lot of “equipment.” It’s up to us how, and whether, to use it.

Our reproductive organs evolved to serve the purpose of reproduction, yet we use them, with less and less guilt and shame these days, for intimacy and connection in ways that do not lead to reproduction. We can intentionally choose to do what nature itself also does: appropriate what is given and put it to completely different purposes. Our reproductive system can reproduce -- but it's just fine if it doesn't. Our digestive system can handle meat -- but it's just fine if it doesn't.

With the “appeal to nature” fallacy out of the way, we are free to use our moral capacity to reflect on the level of suffering, and the level of environmental damage, our dietary choices may inflict.

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This is part 1 of 4 of "Expanding the Circle"
Next: Part 2
This post is a condensed version of the longer post HERE.

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