What is Natural Law?

Many of the modern moral debates stem not only from a rejection of Scriptural teaching but also from a rejection of the natural law. But many today are not even sure what is meant by the phrase “Natural Law.” I hope to give a brief, not too philosophical answer to this question.

We live in a world governed by many laws and principles. For example, there is the Law of Gravity, the speed of light, the fact that some elements are poisonous to our bodies and so forth. To attempt to deny these laws is not only absurd but usually brings grave consequences. Try denying that gravity exists and then try stepping  off a ten story building. The denial lacks substance and gravity takes a deadly toll. Try denying poison exists and then swallow drano, the deadly results belie your denials.

So, the natural order has things to teach us. Refusing this teaching usually ends badly. Our bodies too are part of the natural order. When it comes to sexuality, the fact that men and women were made for each other is quite obvious. Without getting too anatomical the very physical structure and design of men and women make it clear that they are meant for one another sexually. Such is not the case with homosexual activity. Again, this is a family blog and we can’t get too specific but anatomically things are just not meant to be in this manner. Break this natural law and the consequences of disease announce the wrong-doing. However, it also seems clear that heterosexual promiscuity is against the natural law. Why?  Sexually transmitted diseases that can be quite deadly run through the population if we allow widespread promiscuity.

Now the Natural Law also points to the need for lasting, stable marriage. How? It is clear enough that to engage in heterosexual activity tends to result in children. Children require 18-20 years to raise and need a stability to be raised well.

So, briefly, the Natural Law manifests order to which we must be submitted or risk the consequences. Notice here, I did not even quote the Bible. What makes the Natural Law is that it provides some basis to discuss things with non-believers or to address a secular world that demand secular answers. Even here the Natural Law is not a slam dunk since many have had their minds darkened even to what is right in front of them. We have these slippery minds that can slither out or any argument if we simply refuse to acknowledged the truth.

Although I said I had not quoted scripture, you know me too well by now and understand I can’t resist SOME reference there. The Natural Law is referred to by St. Paul in the First Chapter of the Letter to the Romans: For what can be known about God is evident to them [The Gentiles who have not Scripture], because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools

The Natural Law, it’s right in front of me, if I have eyes to see it.  Now please understand this is very short, many more things can and will be said about Natural Law, but this is a start.

The following video briefly defines Natural Law and why our culture tends to resist it.

2 Replies to “What is Natural Law?”

  1. You appear to rely on the assumption that there’s this unchangeable “Natural Law” out there, something akin to the law of Gravity and I couldn’t disagree more. The problem is that Natural Law was once thought to justify many things that we would consider abhorrent today, slavery and judicial torture. Now everyone agrees that natural law wouldn’t allow such things. Your comment about deadly STDs and sexual promiscuity may have been valid in the 15th century but not after WW II, when the military spurred development of antibiotics and STDs became not so deadly, especially if one got treatment in time. When it turns out that the children raised by homosexual couples are as normal as children raised by heterosexual couples, does that mean we’ll have to revise the natural law in that area as well?

    The concept of natural law originated with Greek philosophers who were trying to cope with the disintegration of their society and was imported into Christianity by converts who admired their classical heritage and didn’t necessarily want to part with it. I’m not sure if the quote you provided “proves” that St. Paul would would approve of natural law, especially when Paul appears in the passage to be referring to revealed truth, not natural law. In another passage, he writes in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that “The natural man receives not the things of the spirit of God.” I’m not sure if you could find your justification for natural law in other parts of the Bible since it was written by people of a Jewish background who didn’t necessarily endorse, at that point in history, Greek philosophical concepts.

    1. Yes, I do rely on the assumption of an unchangeable natural Law “out there” (also “in here” that is in our very bodies. Now the fact that some have used natural law to justify some bad stuff is no more problematic to me than that some have used science badly. Remember Eugenics: the science of genetics gone mad. Margaret Sanger, Adolf Hitler et al. used their scientific theories to conclude that some races were inferior etc. But of course one might argue theirs was “bad science” I agree but many scientists of th etime held it. We don’t dismiss the entire discipline of science though we distinguish. Likewise, we don’t dismiss the discipline of Natural Law simply because some have misused it or developed bad natural law theory.

      Not sure I agree with your simplified history of Natural Law but even if I stipulate it’s accuracy, so what? Everythng has an origin and it endure because people find it accurate or useful.

      You misinterpret Paul. He is not rejecting natural law in the passage you quote. He is stating that Spiritual concepts cannot be understood by natural man. True enough, it is the Spirit who scrutinizes the the things of the Spirit. However, the natural man CAN grasp natural concepts such as natural law. Thus, far from reject Natural Law, Paul endorses its usefulness. Why? Because when addressing the world, the Church has recourse to natural law and reason. Such an approach does not require a “spiritual man” per se to understand since its premises are from the natural and visible world.

      By the way if you think STD are no longer a problem you are badly misled. THere are many incurable and resistant strains today including several forms of herpes and also AIDS.

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