Are humans part of nature?

Readers Digest Canada

Fact Box

  • The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘nature’ as all the animals, plants, rocks, etc. in the world and all the features, forces, and processes that happen or exist independently of people, such as the weather, the sea, mountains, the production of young animals or plants, and growth.
  • The Human Exemptionalism Paradigm (or HEP) states that “humans are different from all other organisms, all human behavior is controlled by culture and free will, and all problems can be solved by human ingenuity and technology.”
  • Similar to HEP, anthropocentrism is the worldview that “sees humans as the source of all value, since the concept of value itself is a human creation, and that sees nature as of value merely as a means to the ends of human beings.”
  • Gallup polling as of March 2024 found that 52% of respondents said protection of the environment, even at the risk of curbing economic growth, should be given priority. Only 38% said economic growth should be prioritized, even if it affects the environment.

Dae (No)

While humans have a distinct nature and live within nature, we remain separate and distinct from nature. Humans possess personality, moral agency, and rationality, whereas nature 'is ultimately non-moral, non-rational, and non-personal.' We also exhibit a remarkable capacity for cultural production, technological innovation, and societal cooperation. For instance, while an ocean can merely smooth a stone, it takes the ingenuity of a human to craft it into an arrowhead, embedding it into the rich tapestry of human-created culture and practice. This ability to shape and control our environment beyond mere survival sets us apart from the simplistic processes of nature. 

We have established intricate systems of living and produced a vast array of artifacts and inventions that distinguish us from the broader natural ecosystem. Humans have not only developed laws, social norms, and moral systems, but we also actively adhere to them, guiding our behavior in ways distinct from the instinctual behavior of many non-human species. Unlike nature, which is indifferent and inanimate, humans have an ethical code, a moral understanding of right and wrong. We knowingly make choices that impact others and the world. Likewise, we understand the importance of protecting the environment and even fight for animal rights.

Not only are humans elevated beyond the wild, ethics-free, natural world, but we aspire to be. Humankind inherently seeks transcendence, purpose, beauty, truth, goodness, and the like while contemplating the divine and our existence. We use language and art of all kinds to communicate these concepts. Some religions believe these longings point to humans having a spiritual nature, being uniquely created to steward and cultivate the world. Whether or not that's your view, one thing is sure: humans are responsible for generating so much more than what the natural world offers without human existence, demonstrating our complete otherness from it.

Gina (Yes)

As nature is defined as 'the phenomena of the physical world,' with the word originating from the Latin word meaning “birth,” humans fit into this description. Even in the idea of nature meaning birth, we have very little to do with this natural process. In fact, human conception is very similar to many animals; even plants have a sexual phase that produces more plants. We didn't design the human body, but somehow our functionality, like every other organism in the world, is natural—aka, nature-originated. 

Additionally, we’re intimately involved in nature in many ways, contributing to ecosystem health through large-scale farming and even the excretion used to replenish nutrients lost through human involvement in nature. This shows how humans are necessary to (and are quite literally) giving back to the earth. We have also adapted to different environmental conditions, just as other species have. Animals are forced to migrate when their homes are disturbed by human interference or disastrous environmental calamities. Humans are also affected in the same way; floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes impose a threat on the lives of all living things. 

Although humans are 'unrivaled in the area of cognition' and have the biggest influence on the environment, we are fundamentally similar to other animals. We all rely on the same basic necessities, such as food, water, and air. Charles Darwin's theory of evolution proposed that all living things descended from the same organism, highlighting the shared ancestry of every living thing. Perhaps most convincing, humans, composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, share 60% of the same DNA as an oak tree, a profound testament to our interconnectedness with nature. The evidence is in: humans are a part of, contribute to, and function as a result of nature.

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