Appeal to Nature Fallacy

“Your tea has artificial flavorings so my drink is healthier than yours,” says Bob as he drinks a glass of maple syrup.

You commit the appeal to nature fallacy when you assume something is better because it is natural, or worse because it is unnatural. This fallacy is often committed on pseudo-scientific health-related social media posts, such as when people argue that natural treatments are better than unnatural ones, or that you shouldn’t eat a certain food because they are full of chemicals.

There are several problems with these claims. First of all, many natural things are harmful, such as poisonous mushrooms and berries. There also many “unnatural” things that are important for your health, such as antibiotics. I put unnatural in quotes here, because whether antibiotics are “unnatural” is up for debate. This brings me to the second issue:

What is “natural”, anyway? Everything is made of chemicals, and everything, ultimately, comes from nature. Sometimes people use how easy it is to pronounce ingredients as a guideline: “If you can’t pronounce a food’s ingredients, you shouldn’t eat it.” However, many things are difficult to pronounce if we use their scientific names. For example, it is a bit tricky to say “ascorbic acid,” but this is just vitamin C.

Advertisers are very aware of this fallacy and often write things like “Natural Choice” on the packaging. Because there is no clear definition of “natural”, this can mean anything. Consumers should not be afraid of ingredients that sound “unnatural” and should not be swayed to buy something just because the word “natural” is on the packaging. The appeal to nature fallacy can be dangerous if people choose less effective but more “natural” treatment options for illnesses.

One of the reasons we commit the appeal to nature fallacy because it is a way of simplifying decision-making. However, we should consider all the information available when choosing foods, treatments, etc. and not jump to conclusions based on how “natural” something seems.

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