Sunday, February 05, 2006

Natural Law: Its Source and Discernment

[Number two in a series]

I posted "Natural Law" at both Brain Cramps for God and Street Prophets. I said at the time that I intend to spend some time looking at natural law, or as C.S. Lewis called it - the law of human behavior. I outlined three books I intended to start from and see where I got to from there.

I have not really "gone" anywhere because I haven't really known where to start. It is an important subject because it is important in this world to understand our similarities of belief so that we can try not to kill each other over our differences. If we understand where our philosophies and religions overlap, then we have some common ground to resolve our issues. In the actual field of law, it separates those moral issues that we can reasonably be certain that all people understand from those that may only embrace a narrower viewpoint: we are going to legislate morality, and natural law may give us a guide to which ones (and why) we decide to legislate. As individual Christians, it is far easier to love one's neighbor if we understand that they have the same moral underpinnings we do - even if they are halfway across the world.

I am going to start with this comment by Expat Britain at Street Prophets:

But how do we discern [natural law] except through nature? I think that's what I don't understand. Is the idea that animals generally don't kill their own kind a manifestation of natural law in the natural world, or are we trying to discern this moral framework through some other system?
My answer then was that this was a "whole post" kind of question. Here is that "whole post". So, what is the source of natural law (the law of human behavior) and how do we discern it?

The first answer is this is not genetic. It is not natural in the sense that we are born with it. It is not natural in the sense that the principles would be seen in anything else but humans. In fact, some indications of the laws existence can only be seen in humans; or at least known by anything else but humans. We cannot look to other beings than ourselves to understand it.

Natural law is not innate - we are not born with it. J. Budziszewski describes it as "what we cannot not know" or "cannot help learning". The natural question here is if it isn't instinct and we are not born with it - isn't it a result of societal moral and ethical education. Hasn't it been imposed on us from the outside by parents, schools, society, etc.? As such, what is "natural" about it?

The curiosity is that those things that natural law theorists would say comprise the natural law cut across cultures, time, religion, and philosophy - in other words they are nearly universal. The reason is that these are general revelations of God that overflow from His character because we are all created in His image. That, of course, leads us to the means to discern it: we look in the moral codes of the whole planet for those similarities that appear - those things that we "just know" are right and wrong.

In the chapter "Some Objections" in the book linked above Budziszewski raises an objection and answers it:
Objection: "You natural law thinkers seem confused about whether natural law comes from God, from nature, from conscience, or from reason.

Answer: Traditionally, the authority of natural law has been found in the Creator, its content in the design He has imparted to us - which is also part of the design, and which includes deep conscience as a part.
Next time (unless I get another really good question that comes first) I will try to identify some of the moral/ethical code that comprises the Law of Human Behavior - natural law.

Your assignment: read "The Abolition of Man", by C.S. Lewis. We will meet back here at some point.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly