Please stop anthropomorphizing nature

Nature is not a person, or a being, or a conscious entity of any kind. I point this out because apparently it needs to be pointed out. Barely a day goes by when someone doesn’t describe nature to me as if it was a living, breathing creature capable of making decisions and having opinions. Even self described atheists and anti-theists (who seem to miss the point) seem to do this on a fairly regular basis.

To make matters worse, when describing nature as if it were a person, people get the description horribly wrong. “Mother Nature” is generally conceived of as being an Earthly being, whose domain is separate from the rest of the cosmos. She is motherly, kind, gentle, benevolent and loving by nature but capable of terrible wrath when angered.

In reality, of course, if there were a Mother Nature, or some other conscious ‘nature’ entity it would govern not just the Earth but the whole of the cosmos and would be more terrible than any god or devil ever conceived of my man: Beautiful but harsh, cruel and generally without attachment to any living creature - capable of wiping out individual species, whole planets and entire solar systems on a whim. She’d be incapable of remorse and impossible to appease or appeal to.

Sort of this ... but meaner:

Once you set aside the idea of nature as a person, you can start to set aside some other silly ideas:

There is no such thing as “unnatural” anything that happens in this cosmos is natural because it happens according to nature’s “commandments” (which in this case are described by the laws of physics, biology, chemistry etc.)

“All natural” is a fairly useless term because, again, it describes everything in the cosmos.

You cannot get “back to nature” because you never left and you cannot get “closer to nature” because you’re standing on it, even if you’re on the International Space Station.

Even as a concept, however, getting ‘closer to nature’ is a bad idea. We used to be closer to nature, in the sense that we were more susceptible to things like weather and disease. Our life expectancy was much lower, our quality of life was much lower, our health was worse, disease was rampant and a relatively minor illness or injury could be a death sentence. Getting “farther away from nature” has been our salvation as a species and has allowed our social, cultural, technological and political progress.

The cult of nature, like most large organized religions, has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry and for the most part it’s as useful as faith healing or televangelism. Most natural remedies are snake oil:

  • You do not need to detox, it isn't a real thing
  • GMO's aren't that bad (there's actually no real evidence that they are bad at all)
  • Organic produce isn't that good
  • Positive thinking won't make you healthy or wealthy. 
  • Vaccines work and don't cause autism. 
  • Most herbal supplements don't work and most vitamins are useless
  • Etc., etc., etc., (if you have doubts about something 'natural' do some checking, if you don't have any doubts, get some doubts and then do some checking. 

That is not to say that the idea of the Earth as a living organism is useless. It's a helpful metaphor to help people understand ecosystems and sustainability. On the whole though when we talk about environmentalism and sustainability, we aren't talking about natural vs. unnatural. Instead we are talking about things that could impact the ability of humans, and/or other species to live on this planet which is a different question.

The point here is that nature is not a person, kind, benevolent or otherwise and whatever humans do or don't do is irrelevant to nature.
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