Articles About Natural Law
The concept of "natural law" in Christian ethics is generally considered to be a Catholic way of thinking. The natural law does not refer to the law of the nature - where the strong lion eats the sick antelope - but to what reason alone, reflecting upon human nature, can conclude about how we should act. The argument is that it is possible to know that God should be worshipped or that stealing is wrong even without divine revelation - natural reason alone is sufficient to know such things. Such a law is "natural" as opposed to a divinely-commanded law. The natural law tradition, which finds its biblical inspiration in Romans 2:15 - "the requirements of the law are written on their hearts" - was most carefully developed by Scholastic thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas.
R&L: Why is the natural law something that "we can’t not know?"
Budziszewski: Mainly because we have been endowed by God with conscience. I am referring to "deep conscience," which used to be called synderesis-the interior witness to the foundational principles of morality.
In a short, inconspicuous paragraph in the conclusion to the first edition of On the Origin of Species, Darwin speculates that "in the distant future ... psychology will be based on a new foundation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation." One hundred and forty years later, Darwin's eerie prediction about the revolutionary effect of his work on human beings' self-understanding seems all too prophetic. After a century of dissemination, the once-novel theory of evolution is widely accepted as established scientific fact. Given the quasi-religious hold of evolutionary theory over the modern mind, it is not surprising that it should serve as the spiritual inspiration for developments within the field of psychology. First popularized in the 1970s by Harvard's Edward O. Wilson, evolutionary psychology, originally called sociobiology, interprets all human behavior in light of the evolutionary process. Evolutionary psychology aims to be a comprehensive science, explaining the origins and ends of every human behavior and institution.
If we accept the fact that economics is a human discipline designed, in its original sense, to provide for the acquisition and management of household goods, we can perhaps admit that economics is not a wholly "autonomous" discipline that has no relation to other considerations about human life. The fact that economies are nation- and world-wide, themselves highly mathematicized, does not change the principle behind this observation.
When I was six or seven, growing up in Somerville, Massachusetts, my father took me into Boston to walk the Freedom Trail. As we progressed along the Trail, smelling the dust and exhaust fumes of old Boston, my father led me back into the eighteenth century. We strolled over the Common, and looked into Old South Church (the Tea Party started here, he pointed out), down to the Old State House (the Massacre happened in front of it), Fanueil Hall (stopping for lunch at nearby Durgin Park), and up to North Church (the lanterns signalling Paul Revere looked out to the Back Bay, which was water then, he explained). At each stop, he would have me picture the people, the conflicts, the emotions that accompanied the Revolution. It was a time of wonder for me. The names of Otis, Hancock, Revere, the Adams cousins, and even Crispus Attucks were impressed into my mind.
It is probably fair to say that many Christian intellectuals regard the positivist, rationalist social sciences with some suspicion. Many Christians would reject outright the proposition that the human person can be studied with the same tools and with the same detachment as inanimate objects. Probably many more Christians would be willing to make limited use of social science research, without accepting the whole philosophical apparatus that seems to go with it.
Freedom is an ideal long valued by citizens of the United States. By the very nature of the founding of the United States, the right to act freely is recognized and celebrated. Though their views were steeped in intellect and morality, many of the Founding Fathers embraced the concept of natural law when organizing the precepts of this nation. Natural law states that all men have certain rights endowed by God, their creator; it relates not only to American citizens but to all humans on God's Earth.
In 1945 the initial formation of the United Nations promised a renaissance in "natural law." Stating a "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person …" the preamble to the UN charter outlined what appeared to be a basic conception of natural law and human dignity reaffirmed by the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Even as the expansion of historical knowledge revealed an unfathomed diversity in global cultures and customs, the West's faith in a universal moral unity seemed firm.
David Theroux of the Independent Institute concludes his two-part article on "secular theocracy" here (the full article can be read here). In this second part, Theroux observes that "C.S. Lewis understood that natural law applies to all human behavior including government officials."
It has long been customary to distinguish characteristically Protestant and Roman Catholic approaches to ethics by understanding Protestants to embrace a dynamic divine-command approach and Roman Catholics to pursue stable natural-law methods.