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On the Nature of Technology

Naveen Sunkavally

Often times, while reading arguments against the growth of technology or against the propagation of man, I encounter the phrases that so-and-so is "unnatural" or "not as nature intended." Such phrases sometimes appear in arguments against abortion, or the advancement of gene technology, the destruction of redwood forests, the contamination of rivers, or polluting the atmosphere, etc. For example, in Wednesday's Boston Globe, one activist in an article about biotechnology is quoted as saying, "We are on a reckless course. Entirely new life forms are being created. This is an aberration of nature and is a recipe for disaster." Hundreds of other examples exist and can be found in daily literature.

While I can understand what people who levy this type of argument are trying to say, I have to say that, in reality, nothing in the world is really "unnatural." In fact, everything in the world is natural. Man himself is a by-product of nature, and anything he creates or does is with nature and thus fully natural. How can something part of nature using something made by nature create something unnatural? It may be correct to say that certain advances in biotechnology are unprecedented, but we can't legitimately say that they're "unnatural."

Similarly, people against abortion may say that killing fetuses or clusters of cells does not follow "what nature intended." First, I have to ask myself if nature can intend something or if nature actually can have an ulterior motive for anything. Then I must resolve to myself that the notion that nature can intend something is essentially equivalent to saying that anything nature intended is what nature originally produced before man came around. And when I come to that conclusion, I must ask myself if everything natural must have been something originally created.

Smog, three-eyed fishes, the extinction of species - while unpleasant, these things are, in effect, all perfectly natural. Man, as a part of nature, has used parts and combinations of nature to create new things that, although not originally existent, are still perfectly natural. man's creation of, for instance, the computer or the locomotive is just as natural as a plant's creation of a bud, or a bacterium's manufacturing of a toxin.

Furthermore, I find the argument that so-and-so is "unnatural" or "an aberration of nature" very condescending and ironic. The argument assumes a false distinction between man and nature, as if man were not a part of nature, but somehow above it. After all, only if we assume that man is not a part of nature can we come to the conclusion that man's creations are "unnatural." It's ironic that people who claim things are "unnatural" are in effect assuming that man himself is "unnatural."

By trying to debunk the supposition that anything technological is "unnatural," I'm not condoning the widespread usage of technology for destructive purposes. What I'm trying to say is that people who use the word "nature" in arguments against the growth of technology are often probably irresponsibly substituting the meaning of the word "nature" with the meaning of the word, "God." It seems that people are using the word "nature" as opposed to the word "God" in order to lend an element of logic in their arguments against technology. People who argue from the standpoint of religion are intrinsically weakened in their arguments by the presence of so many religions and the presence of gods.

Ultimately, if movements against abortion or against the growth of technology are going to become more prominent, they will have to remove from their vocabulary the foolish notion that so-and-so is "unnatural." Everything is natural, and in nature only the law of evolution and "survival of the fittest" win out. Ultimately, man's creation of various technologies is a part of his own evolution, and if he is to prevent himself from destroying nature, it must be not because of some queasy feeling of "unnaturalness" or "ungodliness" but for the sake of his own survival.