I think this is a genuine semantics question so I’m posting it here instead of in “Great Debates”:

Since humans are a product of nature, doesn’t it follow that anything created by them would also be a product of nature by extension?

In other words, isn’t everything that exists in the universe “natural” and there is no such thing as an “unnatural” occurance or object?

I’m thinking in a logics/semantics vein here so, please, no eco-screeds (I’m an ecologist/conservationist so you’ll only be preaching to the choir).

Hey, watch me do this! - an idiot’s last words.

Reminds me of something George Carlin once hypothesized. He said that maybe Earth/Nature/Evolution created humans so that we could make plastic. The Earth needed plastic for some reason and created humans to mass-produce it. Now that the Earth has plastic, we’re obsolete and taking up tons of space. Send in the pathogens.

I think your point interesting, TT. But then “unnatural” is a useless word. Everything in the universe comes from something else in the universe. So there is no “unnatural”.

Unless one considers theology. Then an event like a miracle would be “unnatural”. Since it did not come from nature.

But wait, if you believe God created the universe, then the whole universe, by that previous logic, would be unnatural.

OK I confused myself.

Well, I think it has to tie into creationism. God created the universe and whatnot, and then he create man, then man began trashing everthing.

Looking at in more of a darwinian view, animial have an impact on the environment, and people are animals.
Why is it unnatural for us to impact our environment.
Pretty much the distinguishing factor with humans are our large brains, which are large enough to feel bad about screwwing stuff up, which puts us into a selfdepricating group by ourselves.

Curiously enough, Native Americans seems to be granted special dispensation here. I suppose because their culture didn’t evolve the kind of technology that other cultures did, but they killed animals, had trash, polluted water, and cut down trees. Yet they’re regarded as being more natural.

One question would be: have we always caried this “human”=“not nature” view, or is it a recent development in human culture?


I remember that Carlin bit - verrry funny.

That’s the point that I was trying to make. Although “useless” is a little harsh - people put a specific meaning to the terms “natural” and “unnatural” for descriptive purposes but I’m trying to get at the logic beneath the linguistics.


Um…did you read the question?

So there’s four opinions here really:

  1. Everything is natural
  2. Everything is unnatural
  3. Everything is natural, except miracles
  4. Just humans are unnatural

Ok, if humans are unnatural, why were we created or evolved? There goes theories number 2 and 4. But if everything is natural, where does that leave things considered acts of God? So that leaves us with #3. And where does that put serial killers, child molestors, and other such people. Or does that just fall into the category of unnatural beings. And don’t even start with the alien issue. This isn’t the X-Files!

“So, he wears makeup and has a girl’s name; isn’t that original!” - Alice Cooper, about Marilyn Manson

I think it only natural that a god of men be a bit of a showoff.

In the broadest sense of things, I’d have to agree - we’re all a part of the cosmos, so if something exists, it is therefore “natural.”

But I also think there can be things that go against nature. For example, feeding meat to an herbivore would seem to me unnatural, because it goes against the nature of the organism.

If we believe that the “natural” state of man (read: mankind) is to be free, than slavery would be “unnatural.”

The rub comes in deciding what is natural and what goes against it - this is where the moralists usually come in. Since I have no morals - only ethics - this is where I usually go out.

What a coincidence! I tried to post a similar question a few days ago, but was vetoed by the Net gods. I haven’t got around to reposting it until now.

What is the legal definition of 100% natural? I saw an ad for some diet pills that claimed to be “100% natural, so you know it’s safe.” I thought, yeah right, that’s what they told Socrates as he drank down the hemlock. Then I started thinking on the same lines as Tom T. Obviously they’re not harvesting these pills directly from some “diet weed” bush. How much can you do to something and still call it 100% natural? For example, I would accept that a bran muffin fits the definition, even though many ingredients are unnaturally mixed, and then cooked. I’m more skeptical about aspartame (Nutrasweet), even though it’s a blend of two “natural” amino acids.

If I had to define the term natural I would say that it applies to anything that was created without intelligence (avoiding the argument that an intelligent God created everything).

“You’ve heard about the need to protect our natural resources. But what about our unnatural resources?” - Lily Tomlin

The political definition of natural is different from the physical definition.

Politicians would think a computer to be artificial and not natural. But in physics, the computer obeys the same laws of nature as does a tree.

There is also the mathematical definition of natural. But no one wants to get that deep. (He he, that’s what she said!)

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Re: Natural == safe
Clostridium botulinum is a perfectly natural little organism thats found all over the place in “nature”, but in the process of growing, it produces Botulism toxin, which is the deadliest neurotoxin known.

FDA Bad Bug Book

I like your definition more than most. But it’s not perfect. Your definition of “natural” would exclude a beaver dam and include the Republican Party.
Here’s a better one: “applies to anything having no qualities or properties that would require the existence of human civilization, culture, or human intelligence”.

“Who are all you people, and how did you get in my computer?”

Further up the thread, someone asked whether the “humans = not natural” mindset is recent or not. I believe it is. According to my history courses, people in the so-called Dark Ages did not consider themselves to be above nature. They were God’s greatest creation allright, but that did not translate into being seperate from everything else. According to the professor, the division came during the Industrial Revolution, when more people moved to cities and had little contact with anything but other humans.

“I had a feeling that in Hell there would be mushrooms.” -The Secret of Monkey Island

I agree. By my definition, most network television qualifies as a natural product.

But seriously, I wanted to distinguish between “human made” and “intelligently made”. In my world view, anything made by an intelligent source must by definition be a human product. But not every thing produced by a human would necessarily be the product of intelligence. Humans produce both natural and unnatural products.

Diceman, I have to disagree. It wasn’t until Darwin came along that it was widely accepted that humanity arose from nature.
Until then most people followed the ideas of Genesis which (along with most other creation myths) said that mankind is seperate from the rest of nature. I will agree that prior to the Industrial Revolution, most people had more awareness of nature, but that didn’t necessarily lead them to feel they were a part of the process.

“Natural” has more than one definition:

  1. “usual/common/typical” - “That sexual postion just isn’t natural!”
  2. “not man-made” - the beaver dam
  3. “anything that happens in the universe” - from the point of view of a scientist looking to discover “natural laws”

I agree with #3 - if a tree falls and dams a river, that’s natural; if a beaver or a human makes it happen, that’s natural, too. “Unnatural” is a loaded word used by people with an agenda, good or bad, and who are using definitions #1 or #2. e.g. “Homosexuality is unnatural, so let’s ban it.” “This product is natural, you should buy it.”

I don’t know about the history of the “humans=not natural” mindset, but IIRC the subject we now call “science” was in the past called “natural philosophy”.

I agree with Gilligan. But it seems to me that the original post addressed the question of whether a manmade thing can be considered unnatural in any logical sense. It would appear that if the word has any real meaning at all, then substances that can only be synthesized by humans (having a molecular structure that would not otherwise occur) could be considered unnatural.

Mike King said:
It wasn’t until Darwin came along that it was widely accepted that humanity arose from nature. Until then most people followed the ideas of Genesis which (along with most other creation myths) said that mankind is seperate from the rest of nature. I will agree that prior to the Industrial Revolution, most people had more awareness of nature, but that didn’t necessarily lead them to feel they were a part of the process.

Actually, Mike, the great theolgians of the Middle Ages and before considered human beings to be the top of what was often called “The Great Chain of Being”. Created by God (as were all animals and plants) and differing only because God had “breathed into [Adam’s] nostrils the breath of life”. Thus human beings were a part of “nature” and yet also contained a spark of the divine.

From the point of view of theology, there is the natural world and the supernatural world (IOW, this world and heaven). The things and creatures (excluding humanity) in this world are all natural – they follow their own internal laws implanted there in the Big Design. Dogs, corn, and rocks are natural.

Human beings, while having a natural body and mind, also have a supernatural intellect (i.e., abstract reasoning) and a free will (albeit limited free will, at times). Thus, humans can create New Things and Forms that were not part of the original Natural Order.

So, if human beings create plastic or computers or torture chambers or John Tesch music (oops, being redundant); then that is not natural, but unnatural. When God or angels or demons act in the world, then that is unnatural, i.e., not part of the natural order of creation, but supernatural.

That’s the theological definition. I, too, get annoyed with nature freaks who think that what is natural is necessarily good or safe for you and what is unnatural is necessarily bad. Thorns and viruses are natural; surgery and airplanes are unnatural.


This sort of ties in with the public’s concept of “chemical”.They think chemical is the same as man made. In fact, eveything here is chemical. So we need “Synthetic” or “man made” chemical to clarify the term for the public.