I suggest that we object to the word ‘artificial’ for two reasons. First, it applies to things that are made by us, rather than by nature, or indeed by God, and is therefore taken to mean something unnatural, with connotations of spookiness and subversion. But also, secondly, it tends to mean machine-made rather than hand-made. Machine-made tends to mean unhuman, or indeed inhuman, while hand-made means craft – made with human skill and love (although of course the word ‘crafty’ tends to mean ‘devious’).
Why, though, should we look askance at things that we make, as opposed to things created by nature? After all, making things is what human beings do. If we did not make things we would not be human. The earliest recognised member of the genus Homo who lived around 2.2 million years ago was and in some circles still is called Homo habilis, meaning ‘handy man’. His fossil bones were surrounded by stones that had clearly been fashioned into tools. The descendants of H habilis went on to build temples and mosques, and to make lutes and harpsichords, bicycles and microscopes and mobile phones, vaccines and great works of art. As King Lear observed as he battled his way across the heath in wind and rain (Act 3, Scene 4), without the artifice of clothes a human being is reduced to ‘the thing itself’ – and then is ‘no more but … a poor, bare, forked animal’. In short, overall, the things we make – our artefacts, our technologies – have incomparably expanded the range of humanity; enabling us to realise our full potential; enabling us, indeed, to become ourselves.
Of course, too, human beings are not the only creatures that make things. As Jesus said (Luke 9:58), ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests’; and, he might have added, bees, wasps, ants, and termites build huge, air-conditioned engineering works of great complexity and subtlety in which to live, socialise, store and ferment their food, and raise their young. All are artificers. British biologist Richard Dawkins coined the felicitous expression ‘extended phenotype’ to describe the physical form and mental capacity of animals plus all their accompanying technologies. An animal plus the things it makes is far greater than the naked beast itself.