Implicit here is the idea that nature is a repository of abiding moral and ethical values — and that we can say with confidence exactly what those values are. Philosophers often call this the “naturalistic fallacy”: the idea that whatever is (in nature) is what ought to be (in human behavior). But if nature offers a moral standard by which we can measure ourselves, and a set of values to which we should aspire, exactly what sort of values are they? Are they the brutally competitive values of “nature, red in tooth and claw,” in which every individual is out for him- or herself? Or are they the values of cooperation on display in a beehive or ant colony, where the interests of the community trump those of the individual? Opponents of same-sex marriage can find examples of monogamy in the animal kingdom, and yet to do so they need to look past equally compelling examples of animal polygamy as well as increasing evidence of apparent animal homosexuality. And let’s not overlook the dismaying rates of what looks very much like rape in the animal kingdom, or infanticide, or the apparent sadism of your average house cat.
Michael Pollan, “Altered States”, The New York Times Magazine (3 May 2015), 16-17.