Yuval Noah Harari, apparently quoting himself, recently wrote this horrifying Tweet:
From a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behavior, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist, so it would need no prohibition.
On its face, this comment is so brazenly idiotic that it’s easy to dismiss it. But because of the danger it presents, we shouldn’t. Ideas have real-world results, especially when those ideas come from a man who is advisor to the powerful Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum (WEF). Harari’s confused notions don’t just float around in cyberspace—they can become policies of potent organizations like the WEF.
From a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behavior, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist, so it would need no prohibition.#21lessons
— Yuval Noah Harari (@harari_yuval) August 24, 2023
In addition, we shouldn’t ignore the horror of Harari’s thought because it represents the logical conclusion of a long tradition of mechanism, with roots in the Scientific Revolution, now embraced by much of the modern world.
An easy test will show the falsehood of Harari’s statement. We can simplify his argument to this: If something can be done, it is natural; whatever is natural shouldn’t be prohibited; therefore, anything that can be done should not be prohibited. To disprove the claim, all we have to do is imagine an extreme situation where this principle is applied.
For example, suppose a newspaper delivery man decided that instead of delivering people the news, he would kill them (he wanted to get on the front page of the paper he delivered, maybe). That’s possible. According to Harari, it is therefore natural and shouldn’t be prohibited. This is obviously not true—common sense shows us that, and virtually all of humanity would agree that killing everyone on your paper route should be prohibited, so Harari’s statement fails this simple test.
We intuitively know Harari’s syllogism is false—but why? That first sentence (“From a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural”) might make us scratch our head, as it sounds reasonable on the face of it. The science of biology merely describes natural processes—how living organisms work and what they do—thus, if a living organism does something, that becomes a biological fact. And, surely, we can’t argue with biological facts or try to prevent them. So a man is attracted to children—that’s just his biology. Who are we to argue against it?
Not so fast. Harari is playing linguistic games here. He has committed the fallacy of equivocation with the word nature. Notice how his argument deftly substitutes the word nature for biology, thus equating the two: “Whatever is possible [read, biologically observable] is by definition also natural.” But that is not the proper meaning of natural in the sense of the natural moral law.
Nature is a slippery word that has different uses. It might refer to the natural world and its processes—the scientifically observable world of spiders and plants and thunderstorms, the type of thing described for us by David Attenborough on TV documentaries. This is the meaning of nature that Harari is using, where humans are merely Homo sapiens, just a bit more evolved than other aspects of “nature.”
But the word has another meaning. It refers to the essence of something—what makes it what it is and not something else. Merriam-Webster’s defines this use of “nature” as “the inherent character or basic constitution of a person or thing.” This is the definition of “nature” traditionally used in connection with morality. Harari thus invokes two completely different meanings of “nature” in his Tweet without properly distinguishing them. The scientific use of nature (definition 1) is inappropriate in connection with nature as it relates to morality (definition 2).
A thing’s nature is tied to its purpose. What is a thing’s purpose? It’s what that thing can do or accomplish better than anything else. For example, we say that the nature of a pair of scissors is to cut (that’s the purpose of scissors) and the nature of movies is to entertain and instruct through moving pictures (that’s the purpose of movies).
When we understand the nature and purpose of a thing, we can make a judgment about it. For example, a good pair of scissors cuts well (it fulfills its purpose well). A good movie entertains well. Conversely, a bad pair of scissors does not cut well, and a bad movie does not entertain or instruct.
In the same way, a good person acts in accordance with his nature (essence), which, according to Aristotle and the traditional philosophy of the West, is to live rationally and know the truth since man is a rational animal. This reasonable, virtuous living is our good and engenders true happiness, true human flourishing, or, as the Greeks called it, eudaimonia. Consequently, morality, reason, and happiness in human life stand or fall together.
So when our forebears prohibited unnatural behavior, they meant behavior that goes against reason and neglects the right purposes of things (including ourselves). They meant actions that don’t correspond to our unchanging human nature. The “natural” is not merely what happens, as Harari would have it, but rather what happens as it should. Contrary to Harari’s thesis, then, there are actions we could take that would be irrational and damaging to true human happiness. These actions are forbidden.
In the final analysis, morality stands or falls on whether or not we acknowledge a purpose to things, including ourselves. We arrived at a place where people can believe in the depraved moral principles of Harari because we became unsure of our own purpose and the purpose of the universe. For people like Harari, everything is morally neutral because nothing has an objective purpose and everything is just another glob of molecules.
This mechanistic view of the universe, developing out of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment, replaced the “purpose-based” view of the world that preceded it. Only someone thinking from a mechanistic point of view could believe that nature means merely natural laws; that is, what happens rather than what the ultimate purpose of a thing is.
The implications for human life are dark and dire. If we reject the truth that human life has a purpose, as Harari and his ilk have done, then all manner of malevolence and brutality becomes justifiable in the minds of the perpetrators—as 20th-century history has taught us. The thirty-some words of Harari quoted at the beginning of this article, if acted upon, are the harbingers of tyranny, terror, and torture.
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