Nature is one of those concepts that seems to slide about all over the place and tends to become problematic. I’ve been tramping about cyberspace, particularly blogland and the province of philosophy, and I think it’s time to marshal a few thoughts. I, (you, we, one,) is/ are/ am ‘man’. At this point I haven’t decided what exactly that is: toolmaker, language-user, conscious being, or whatever. There is me, or the people, and then there is the world.
I am fairly familiar with the world, and to the extent that I am, it is natural. For example, I live by the sea; the tide comes in and goes out on a regular basis; it acts as expected by and large. Then there is a tsunami. This is unexpected and therefore unnatural; therefore it is supernatural. This is in barest outline, a ‘natural history’ of the way that Nature comes to be defined in a dual opposition to Man and God.
It is fairly obvious to me at least that nature is defined as being known or at least knowable, while God is the unknown, unpredictable. Of course there is always someone ready to come forward to interpret these unnatural events for me, or I can invent my own story to explain them, the point is that they need some explaining, as opposed to the tide, which is ‘natural’.
Now along comes science and says well here’s a better explanation for tsunami, or eclipses or whatever unnatural thing you may wish to consider, and actually if you look carefully you will see that all these things are perfectly natural, and are only to be expected. In fact as it happens, everything, including man, is quite natural – it was quite natural for us to have thought of God as an explanation in the old days, and it is quite natural for people to be reluctant to give up old ideas, but these explanations are not needed any more, and have no real meaning or value.
But to say that something is natural is not to explain anything, it is simply to say that no explanation is needed. ‘Man’ is ‘naturally’ selfish, as is ‘Nature’ itself. And this is somehow more satisfying, more useful, and more rational than a ‘religious’ explanation?