Does Naturalism Aid the Environment?

Cross posted at Uncommon Descent 


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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One thought on “Does Naturalism Aid the Environment?

  1. Why ‘global warming aside’ Joel? Is this not the key issue in environmental concerns?
    Also, why is humanism to blame for this state of affairs ?(I agree that consumerism most definitely is) Humanism affirms the equal dignity and worth of all people. Surely in this framework, damage to the environment that negatively impacts one person is a negative? And with the added insights of ecology, wouldn’t the damage to other species which improve human quality of life similarly be a negative?
    Surely the ‘natural progression of things’ must be the actual progression of things, within a naturalistic framework? In which case we are still faced with the reality of an intelligent species. Why should they behave as if they were an unaware species, when it clearly flies in the face of their own self preservation. There are many examples in nature of animals who conserve, store, and prepare for future events. Humans are just the most obvious.
    I would be interested what the basis is for your Mars claim. And also in what makes you sure that we have that much time to make such a transfer. Is this not just wild speculation? How is it logical to hold off on taking action for self-preservation on the basis of future possibilities?
    While I agree that humans will most likely be able to adapt to an environmental catastrophe to some degree, I feel you are missing the point somewhat. That being the cost in human lives. From a self-preservation standpoint, that’s surely a reason to try to avoid it? As food prices rise, conflicts break out, extreme weather events increase, famines take place, and wars break out over scarce resources, it’s unlikely anyone will be totally able to insulate themselves from the effects. Unless you’re in the top 1% that we hear so much about (say an exec for ExxonMobil or something) you’re going to suffer. From a purely self-interested naturalistic standpoint, that is something to avoid, surely? There is no logical reason to speculate that technology will advance fast enough, and on a wide enough scale, to avoid such things. When it comes down to survival of the organism over survival of the species, (as it so often does in the natural world) it becomes entirely rational to avoid environmental damage on the basis of self-preservation.
    And even disregarding the damage that wide ranging extinctions will do to ecological systems upon which humans depend (along with the atmosphere itself), there are still entirely selfish arguments for preservation of diversity. One is scientific study. There are potentially thousands of plant species still undiscovered within the Amazon. Who knows what properties they possess, what diseases they might cure, what we might learn from them that might improve our own chance of survival. Then there is the argument from human pleasure. It seems that generally speaking, we enjoy seeing a diverse range of animals (hence zoos, nature docs etc.) It is therefore in our own selfish interests to preserve them if possible.

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