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Does Naturalism Aid the Environment?

Cross posted at The Christian Watershed

One of the biggest issues trends in the West – especially in America – is for people to go ‘green’ in what they do. Whether it be from getting a hybrid vehicle, to eating organic foods, to just installing energy efficient light bulbs, it is not considered chic to be ‘green.’

Though I happen to believe this is just a trend (I believe American society, at least the younger generation as a whole, to be nihilistic, narcissistic, and ‘empty-selves,’ thus concern for something other than themselves won’t last long), it is a trend that is much needed in the current world. I think all can agree that humans in the last two centuries have done a horrible job being good stewards of the environment.

On quick look at the Los Angeles skyline and we can see exactly what pollution can do. Global Warming aside, the fact does remain that Co2 emission is harmful for the environment and humans (look at asthma rates per capita in bigger cities as opposed to those in the country). This also doesn’t ignore the landfills that are constantly taking up space, the burning of fossil fuels, the toxic waste dumps that are harming land, and just random trash being strewn about on the sides of the road. Humans have done an absolutely horrible job at taking care of this world.

Should this environmental crisis surprise us though? Consumerism and humanism – focusing on ourselves and ignoring other species and even other humans – has left us blind to the effects of our desire for more. We are now left in desperate need for a solution, but can science help us?

Though I believe science can help us, it can only be justifiable under a designed perspective. I know, this sounds far fetched, but let me explain.

Before explaining how Intelligent Design can help in motivating people to ‘go green,’ we must first understand that the Naturalistic point of view – supposedly the only view that can make science work – fails miserably at motivating people for ‘going green.’

Naturalist Argument #1 – “This planet is the only one we have, therefore we need to do our best to protect it.”

Many naturalists attempt to argue for environmental awareness by stating that this is the only Earth we have, therefore we need to take care of it. This, however, is a non sequitur in naturalistic thought. For one, there is nothing written in the rules of naturalism for greater preservation of the world. Rest assured that if a non-intelligent, non-self aware species evolved that consumed as much as humans do, it would never stop until everything had eventually been consumed. Disease and disasters is what often keeps animal populations in check, not animals that consciously make a choice to ‘go green.’ My point in this is that the natural progression of things, even if detrimental towards the multiple species, is to continue consumption – there is nothing within nature (sola natura if you will) that makes a conscience effort to conserve.

Secondly, with human ingenuity this earth really isn’t the only “earth” we have. Assuming that with over population and an increase in pollution, if pushed scientists could place human colonies on Mars in fifty to one hundred years. Though this idea seems far-fetched now, fifty to one hundred years from now it might be entirely plausible and possible – meaning pollution wouldn’t really matter.

Naturalist Argument #2 – “In order to sustain the human species, it is in our best interest to save the environment.”

Arguing that our genes give us the instincts to do what is necessary to propagate the species, many naturalists argue that if the environment collapses, humanity will likewise follow suit.

This argument only goes so far, especially considering the previous scenario I gave. If humans are able to establish colonies on Mars, then it really doesn’t matter what we do to this environment. Secondly – and more importantly – humans are the most adaptable creatures on the planet. Even if we lose most of our food supply, have rampant floods, and begin to see severe consequences for our pollution, humans can adapt via technology. In other words, the change would have to be so cataclysmic as to render all technology useless, which under natural conditions probably isn’t likely. Certainly a majority of humans would probably be killed, but this – under a naturalist view – can be a good thing as this would lead to population control.

The end point, however, is that humans would adapt to any change that wasn’t extremely severe.

Naturalist Argument #3“Since we all share a common ancestor, it makes sense to help our fellow creatures since we are all distant relatives.”

Some naturalistic ethicists have stated that all creatures are related and therefore all deserve equal rights, equal treatment, and equal protection (think of PETA). This view, though, simply doesn’t follow from a naturalistic perspective. We do not see this behavior in nature, thus it cannot be observed or proven scientifically.

I would argue that intrinsic value simply cannot be validated scientifically or naturalistically – intrinsic value is something we ascribe to a creature and not something that naturally comes from the creature (under a nominalistic view at least, which the naturalist is committed to holding). This means the ideas of “equality” and “rights” really don’t exist within a proper naturalistic structure – both rely on there being intrinsic value in creatures, but under a naturalistic point of view intrinsic value cannot actually exist.

There might be other arguments out there to aid the naturalistic view of aiding the environment, but I’m sure those could be shown to be just as weak.

The point is not to show that naturalism causes environmental problems, but instead to show that it fails to provide an adequate motivator for taking care of the environment. Certainly a naturalist who loves nature and wants to preserve it can be an environmentalist, but his conclusion (“love of nature is good”) does not follow from his premise (“all life began by chance and evolved from this chance happening”). His actions do not follow from his core philosophy, or his metaphysics. Thus, for the American psyche that asks, “Why should I take care of the environment?” the naturalistic responses are going to fall short.

My next post (when I have time to write it) will deal with how Intelligent Design – specifically the Judeo-Christian version of it – provides adequate reasoning for protecting the environment.  

 

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7 Responses to Does Naturalism Aid the Environment?

  1. 1
    William J. Murray

    I’m really not so arrogant that I believe I know what is best for the world, humanity, and the future, or that I know how all the trillions of complex, interacting agencies involved will ultimtely manifest.

    I focus on far more achievable goals, like making the mortgage payment, bringing flowers home to my wife, and playing with the dog. If it’s up to me to save the world, the world will just have to die.

  2. This was a very poor article. The argumenst put forward are not “naturalist” at all.

    On argument 1 – saying “this planet is the only one we have” is not a naturalistic point, it’s merely a statement of fact regardless of the reason why it’s a fact (and evidence apart, the reason why we have only the one planet could be naturalism, ID or creationism of all flavours). Saying we need to do our best to protect it is the only logical conclusion for anything we actually need, even if temporary – I have only the one car, therefore I need to make sure I keep it well maintained, for example. That’s not naturalism, that’s just common sense.

    I don’t even recognise argument 2. I have never, EVER heard anyone claim that this was about sustaiining the human “species”. This isn’t a species-ist issue, it’s about maintaining the civilization and social structures that we have. And if you think that isn’t an issue then look at New Orleans after Katrina – the merits of not disrupting human society speak for themsleves.

    And I’m afraid argument 3 is simply nonsense. It has nothing to do with helping fellow creatures because they are our “distant relatives” – for pete’s sake, I am a naturalist and I actually EAT several varieties of those “distant relatives” each and every day!

    Those alleged arguments are nothing but strawmen.

  3. On quick look at the Los Angeles skyline and we can see exactly what pollution can do. Global Warming aside, the fact does remain that Co2 emission is harmful for the environment and humans (look at asthma rates per capita in bigger cities as opposed to those in the country).

    This is the only part of your essay I disagree with. It’s not the CO2 that’s causing the asthma. It’s the particulate emissions from the exhaust and brake dust of cars and trucks getting into the lungs of the people causing it. Raw carbon (not CO2), NOx, HC, CO, etc. all spew out our tailpipes and into the air.

  4. One of the biggest issues trends in the West – especially in America – is for people to go ‘green’ in what they do. Whether it be from getting a hybrid vehicle, to eating organic foods, to just installing energy efficient light bulbs, it is not considered chic to be “green.”

    Upon reading this first paragraph I am chuckling inside. The pure irony in this paragraph though lies in the sentence

    – especially in America –

    In Western/Central Europe this Trend has been here for what, 20 years, especially in Germany. Now, as Americans are faced with higher OIL prices, even driving down to Mexico to get gasoline (another chuckle), “GREEN” all of a sudden becomes a trend, is considered “schick”, becomes “être à la mode”.

    Even though, OIL prices in the US are still some ways away from those in Central Europe, Americans awake from a dream, realizing that reality is much closer to what they have cast aside the past 10-15 years. The American people have finally realized that they need to save the environment, or have they really?

    The real factor, I believe, for Americans to go “green”,is not the environment, its the OIL PRICE!!! This is what’s pushing the American people onto the “new” trend, and onto commuter trains, cause they sort of have to.

    I hope its not to late :), and I hope its “change we (the rest of the world) can believe in”, not just a trend.

  5. 5

    Clarence,

    Those are the only arguments naturalists are left with. If you haven’t seen them, then you should start watching shows that deal with environmental issues from a scientific standpoint and reading books that do the same. To date those are the biggest arguments I have seen (Peter Singer anyone?).

    Country,

    Thank you for the correction on that. Either way, it shows that by-products of pollution are causing an increase in asthma.

    TB,

    What I meant by “especially in America” is as a trend. From what I’ve noticed, it’s more of a lifestyle for Europeans, not really a fashion statement or something people get excited about. Americans have shorter attention spans, which is why I believe this whole “Green” thing IS caused by oil prices and is just a fad. Once Americans learn to live with higher costs, being “green” will fade away.

    I wasn’t in any way attempting to say Americans are more conscience about the environment than Europeans – I was saying the opposite. For Americans this is just a trend, but a trend that spots an actual problem that we’ve caused.

    Hope that clarifies it.

  6. Joel-
    Regarding your statement that:

    the Naturalistic point of view – supposedly the only view that can make science work – fails miserably at motivating people for ‘going green.’

    The naturalistic point of view, that all things can be explained by natural forces is indeed the main driving force of science, if not the only way that it can be done. But the naturalistic view has nothing to say about what people should do with regard to being green. It makes it possible to know more about the results of various behaviors, it does not tell us how to choose among them. So it’s not surprising that it fails at motivating people.

  7. Joel (5),

    I think you miss my point entirely -those are not “naturalistic” arguments. Argument #1 is one that ANYONE can use, whether naturalists or not. Yes, it is a common argument in documentaries and books, but it is not a “naturalistic” one.

    Argument #2 is not formulated in documentaries and books I have seen – it is not a “survival of the species” issue (except, as you say, in extreme events like a runaway greenhouse akin to Venus), it is about the maintenance of the way we live now or not. Again, not a “naturalistic” argument.

    Argument #3 is just plain off the wall. I have never heard anyone raise our kinship to all other life forms as an argument – and as I mention, we all of us eat such “distant relatives” all the time. I’m not even sure Pete Singer would raise an argument in that form but even if he did he would be raising them as an animal liberation issue. And I’m sure I don’t need to point out that “animal liberation” and “naturalistic” are not the same thing at all. Many people (such as myself) would take a naturalistic stance whilst vehemently disagreeing with the Singer view.

    As congregate mentioned, naturalism says nothing at all about whether or not you would take a green view or what you should do to be green. That is why you have raised a strawman. This work of yours is, frankly, not well thought out at all. What it looks like is someone desperately wanting to have a swipe at naturalism and trying to use the green agenda to do it. If that is the case, you have singularly failed to make any reasoned connection there at all.

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