Monday, February 20, 2006

Natural Law: Objections and C.S. Lewis's Tao

[Number five in a series ]


My last post on natural law [Brain Cramps for God or Street Prophets] drew a very interesting theological objection; and a criticism of my lack of charity. I should handle those now and not buried in the comments in two different posts.

Objection #1: The first from Elizabeth D at Street Prophets points out the fallacy of natural theology (as opposed to revealed theology) and accused natural law theory of falling into this trap; and some natural law thinkers have - both those that are theistically based and secularly based. I will point the reader to the series of comments starting here. Because it is so important, I will link the major articles that Elizabeth and I posted: The key quote to me in separating the natural law theory I am putting forth from natural theology is:

Henry: "William Klempa steers a middle course on Calvin, attributing to him a revised concept of natural law. [Calvin:] 'It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing less than a testimony of natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men.' . . . Klempa concludes that Calvin departed from the earlier natural law tradition by identifying natural law with moral law [As J. Bud has done] . . . as Harro Hopfl remarks, 'Calvin never allowed to natural knowledge of the moral law any independent adequacy as a guide to moral conduct for Christians.' [Nor do I - I have explicitly talked about a higher, specific revelation for Christians] Yet, contrary to Hopfl, says Klempa, Calvin held that natural law maxims provide 'enough moral knowledge to enable pagans to sustain a semblance of civility and to condemn them in their own consciences, and they are also supplementary political resources for the Christian.' [Precisely.]. Moreover, Calvin affirmed that a natural order of laws 'can be discerned, and men and women do in fact discern it.' But this is not unqualified, Klempa says. 'What is objectively available to them they subjectively repulse, or else misconstrue and pervert'"[through our sin nature]

Objection #2: From Tyler Simons - "my brother from another [theological] mother" - at [language alert] Habakkuk's Watchpost this criticism over at Brain Cramps;
"I actually agree that any belief system that excludes some form of theism is inherently incoherent, but I think that it is arrogant, intellectually dishonest and uncharitable to assume this without backing it up with an argument that is conducted on grounds those who don't believe in God would accept. I'll email you an essay by the excellent theologian Shubert Ogden where he tries to do this. It might actually help your case."
This essay, "The Strange Witness of Unbelief" (and indeed I hope it is argued on grounds those who do not believe in God will accept), is indeed very good; and I will email the PDF file to anyone who asks. My answer to this criticism was (with some insertions and rewriting):
This is, and isn't, a valid criticism. I did not even try to make an argument that would convince agnostics and atheists of God's existence - and realized when I put the first tablet in that it was a "slap in the face" of those who reject God. Guilty as charged.

In pleading for leniency, I have pointed folk to the first 5 chapters of
Mere Christianity where Lewis attempts to make that case from natural law. Of course, as Joe Carter (and Paul) rightly state:
Carter: "Denying the reality of God is, I believe, more a matter of the will and passions than of reason and intellect. This is one of the reasons that ontological arguments, which rely on reason and intuition alone, are almost completely unpersuasive to those of agnostic inclination."

1 Corinthians 2:10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. 14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ."
I should have pointed folks to Carter's series, "Dismantling Implausibility Structures" . . . However, it is unlikely to do any good - you cannot argue people into a belief of God. They must experience God and (since Paul says they already have experienced God) actually stop allowing their "will and passions" to get in the way of God's revelation to them. Since I will not be a Calvinist, I will believe that God has not left them out of the revelation; and that they have simply chosen in their free will to pass by it. And in that, your criticism may be wrong.
The Tao of C.S. Lewis

In the appendix to "The Abolition of Man" states some examples he thinks are from what he calls the "Tao" - natural law. I cannot introduce this better than he did:
"The following illustrations of the Natural Law are collected from such sources as come readily to the hand of one who is not a professional historian. The list makes no pretence of completeness. It will be noticed that writers such as Locke and Hooker, who wrote within the Christian tradition, are quoted side by side with the New Testament. This would, of course, be absurd if I were trying to collect independent testimonies to the Tao. But
  1. I am not trying to prove its validity by the argument from common consent. Its validity cannot be deduced. For those who do not perceive its rationality, even universal consent could not prove it.

  2. The idea of collecting independent testimonies presupposes that 'civilizations' have arisen in the world independently of one another; or even that humanity has had several independent emergences on this planet. The biology and anthropology involved in such an assumption are extremely doubtful. It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more than one civilization in all history. It is at least arguable that every civilization we find has been derived from another civilization and, in the last resort, from a single centre—'carried' like an infectious disease or like the Apostolical succession."
He lists the following general laws and sub-divisions. I originally picked out some examples; but editing the list down to a rational number killed the effectiveness. Please go print this out (if possible) and look it over.
  1. The Law of General Beneficence
    • Negative Examples
    • Positive Examples

  2. The Law of Special Beneficence
  3. Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors
  4. Duties to Children and Posterity

  5. The Law of Justice
    • Sexual Justice
    • Honesty
    • Justice in Court

  6. The Law of Good Faith and Veracity
  7. The Law of Mercy
  8. The Law of Magnanimity

Next time: The Four Witnesses of Natural Law.

1 comment:

  1. leslie piper10/12/2010 6:10 AM

    Thanks. Early raised in shallow dips in Prostestantism, well-treated by calumnied Catholics,
    parents and family converted to Jehovah's Witnesses as adolescent. Restless parents: 19 different grade schools. After high school escaped to college, married the first kind girl, fell into the US Army, have been at sea in America since, sometimes successful, continually more thoughtful.

    Will be back.


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