Monday, July 19, 2010

"Natural" and "Artificial"

I think it's good when practitioners of conventional medicine listen with an open mind about alternative theories and practices.

In a similar vein, I think it's bad when practitioners of alternative medicine are closed-minded about conventional practices, and when conventional medicine is prematurely condemned and demonized.

A while ago, the strangeness of the general usage of the words "natural" and "artificial" struck me. Calling man-made things "artificial" seems to suggest that they are somehow less real than other things. Bees take material from plants and elsewhere, manipulate them in a complex process, and make honey -- honey that we call "natural" because humans didn't make it. When we manipulate substances, or build structures, it's "artificial." It really strikes me as a strange, arbitrary, artificial distinction.

Now it's true, some artificial things are bad for us -- but to stick to the example of bees, a lot of natural things are bad for us, too. Like bee venom.

But why I'm posting right now is because I was suddenly struck by the connection between this distinction in the human mind between natural and artificial, with artificial being bad or at least not as good as natural, and the traditional Judaeo-Christian view of humankind as being essentially wicked and depraved. What comes from a wicked, depraved being must be inferior to that which comes from God.

Of course, a practitioner or consumer of natural cures is not necessarily Jewish or Christian, nor does he or she consciously accept the traditional Judaeo-Christian doctrine of the depravity of mankind. But the mental distinction between natural and artificial seems to me to be a clear example of what Nietzsche described, at the beginning of the third book of Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft, as the shadow of the belief in God, which will endure long after people no longer believe in Him.

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