Logical Theology

…considered thoughts and opinions

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

Appeal to Nature Fallacy Part 2


Now that we better understand the appeal to nature fallacy, let us look at how this fallacy can be committed in Christian discourse.

Example 1:

Michael says, “Personally, I think that women should not teach men or have authority over them. Women should listen quietly in church and not take part in the discussion.”

Margaret asks,“Why do you believe that?”

Michael responds, “Besides what the Bible says, that is the way the natural world is. In the natural world, it is the female that is submissive and the male who dominates. The female raises the children, not the male. God made it that way; therefore, we should adhere to it.”

There are two problems with Michael’s response. First, he apparently does not know as much about the natural world as he thinks. Birds serve as a good example. For example, the male Cassowary bird is the one who sits on the eggs. The Mountain Plover male also incubates some of the laid eggs. Both the male and female Mourning Doves take turns sitting on the eggs and then feeding the chicks after they are hatched. Not only is Michael’s view of the natural world factually incorrect, but he has also committed the appeal to nature fallacy. Let us now look at how he made this mistake. Michael is assuming that if something is a feature of the natural world, it demonstrates how God intends for humans to live or interact. Think about that statement for a moment. Because God created animals with certain characteristics, humans were intended to have similar characteristics. There are multiple problems with that argument. However, I will use only two examples.

First, consider the Rhea bird. These birds are polygamous. The male bird has multiple females, sometimes as many as a dozen. Does this bird’s behavior legitimize polygamy? On the other hand, consider the Dunnocks. These birds are polyandrous, meaning that females mate with multiple males.

As can be seen, the natural world contains examples that contradict Michael’s view.  Even if it did not, that would not justify Michael’s conclusion. Just because animals behave a certain way does not mean that it is good for humans to do likewise. Thinking that it does commits the appeal to nature fallacy. This fallacy is not always as obvious as it was in Michael’s statement. Here is another example:

Example 2:

Jason says, “Personally, I do not support women wearing jewelry or makeup. I believe the Bible is clear on this matter, and nature further testifies that women should not wear jewelry or makeup.”

Sarah asks, “What do you mean when you say that nature testifies that women should not wear jewelry or makeup?”

Jason replies, “Look at the natural world. The females of animal species do not have the dramatic coloring or features that the males have. Nevertheless, they are still beautiful creations of the Lord. God obviously intended for females to have a modest, simply adorned appearance.”

Unfortunately for Jason, his argument is a logical fallacy. Attempting to legitimize or prohibit certain human behaviors solely based on the behavior or appearance of animals or the differences between male and female animals is logically fallacious. That is not to say that humans can learn nothing from the behavior of animals; for example, in the Bible, the hard-working ant is used as a lesson to teach people not to be lazy (Proverbs 6:6-11). This proverb provides an object lesson for humans, but it does not commit the appeal to nature fallacy, for the goodness and value of working hard is not derived from the behavior of ants. On the other hand, Jason’s assumption that differences between the sexes in animals tells us how God intends for humans to act does commit the appeal to nature fallacy.

The Bottom Line: While humans are similar to animals in multiple ways, the fact that a behavior is a part of the natural world does not automatically warrant concluding that humans should emulate this behavior. Just as certain foods and plants can be natural but unfit for human consumption, so certain behaviors can be natural but unnecessary or even wrong for humans to practice. In other words, being natural does not mean that is the way it should be for humans.

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