Is Natural Law just "faith seeking understanding"?

When people attempt to look beyond faith, doctrine, tradition, and scripture to support a moral teaching of the Church, they often look to the Natural Law – or some interpretation of it, at least.

But isn’t the Christian’s resort to Natural Law more of a kind of faith seeking understanding? By this I mean it appears that the perspective of Natural Law is influenced by Christian sources, such as doctrine and scripture, in the first place – rather than being its own unbiased source to begin with.

It seems that a lot of the time, the Christian starts with faith or what the church teaches and then* defends* the particular teaching using Natural Law. For it also seems that many people who do not come from the perspective of faith hold ideas opposite of what the Church proclaims as part of natural law. For example, the necessary sexual complementarity in marriage, or the need for sex to always be an undivided unitive/procreative act, are predominately faith perspectives within churches, and hardly anyone outside the church holds to them as objective reality. That does not eliminate the truth, of course. I am not wanting to debate particular topics, but feel free to use such examples when explaining your thoughts.

Please discuss.

The evidence for sexual complementarity is not merely that it’s “necessary” for us to exist. It is that.
In addition to sexual complementarity being necessary, it simply is. Observably.
In the context of your question, maybe you could say natural law is reality, or truth, seeking understanding.

The natural law is written on the heart of every person. It is not necessary to know scripture or any particular religious belief to see there is a natural law. Those things definitely help discern it and understand it. But there is not natural law because the Church says so.
The Church observes natural law and recognizes it.
Denying that a natural law is in place leads to pointless circular arguments with people dodging the obvious by twisting words in to vague knots, so as not to be faced with what is obvious.
Which dodging will likely start very quickly:popcorn:.

No, Natural Law was used by the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans, before Christianity.

The Natural Law is exactly that… the law of nature. In regards to same sex marriage, while you do have instances of homosexuality in nature, you cannot have two male organs or two female organs coming together to create new life.

In nature, life is either asexual or sexual. NOTE: While there are some sexual species with both male and female parts and even some species that can naturally change their sex; it takes the male and female sexual reproductive systems to come together to create offspring.

This whole matting process is complex and some species mate for life. “Natural Marriage” is what we call the natural, lifetime matting process of humans.

Furthermore, same sex attraction has always existed and sometimes was even promoted in ancient pagan society. But never would they consider same sex couples to be married, because marriage was the legal way to establish heirs.

Gay men in antiquity would marry women simply to have a legal heir. Even if they only loved men. Alexander the Great was most likely gay, if not bi-sexual. But he surely had homosexual leanings, yet he still had wives for his empire and heirs.

The point is: the idea that marriage is mainly about love is really a modern concept. Historically, marriage was about establishing the legitimacy of children and tying them legally to the father. And it was also about inheritance.

Just look at how many societies, all over the world, had arranged marriages. If the institution of marriage was primarily about love and mainly love, the history would be different. It was more important for a woman to marry someone who would protect her and her children than it was to marry for purely love. Sometimes people were lucky and got both, but it would have been crazy for a woman to marry a “weakling” she loved who couldn’t protect her and the children.

We have to stop thinking with modern ideas… life was very different and frankly alien when you don’t have modern technology.

In regards to a Christian view of the Natural Law in regards to Marriage, Christ later raised the marriage to a Sacrament to provide it further religious significance.

The study of the Natural Law is Philosophy. Theology is the study of God’s Divine Law. While the two are similar, and have some overlap, they are not the same. To a degree, Theology is depends on Philosophy, but Philosophy is independent of Theology.

If you read Thomas Aquinas, you can learn more about the differences.

I pray this is helpful.

God Bless

This is an excellent post. :thumbsup:

In every philosophy class I took back in college, it seemed to me that moral philosophy works backwards. You figure out what are the main results you want and then you try to develop a theory that explains them.

If you don’t accept a divine moral code, morality is really hard. For a secular person, your only insight comes from your moral intuitions. Does this seem right? Does this seem wrong? Those intuitions are invariably shaped by your culture. Now that the dominant culture has shifted it mores away from traditional Christian morality especially in all things concerning sex, there’s no way that a ‘work backwards’ approach is going to end up with natural law.

Moreover, moral philosophy also runs up against the “is/ought” problem. That is to say, given some statements about what “is”, how do you get to some statements about what one “ought” to do. Natural law presupposes that you look at how things “naturally are” and you get a “what you ought to do”.

For a Christian, that’s easy to justify by invoking God. For a secular person, you can just say “So what? We can do better.” So sex is associated with procreation. Well, we can use chemicals to change that and free ourselves from the biology. Why “ought” we not do so? I think natural law has a hard time answering that question without God. You might be able to do it, but again, if the implications disagree with your intuitions, why would you want to?

It might help if you read

Marriage, Natural Law, and the Truth of Sexual Ethics


From the non-Christian point of view “Natural Law” has little to nothing to do with actual Mother-Nature and the nature of homo sapiens species

It was invented to provide a “secular”(which it is not) response to challenges Christianity faces today because pure religious arguments didn’t work to push Catholic agenda onto the rest of our society and into our laws seeing as there are many unbelievers, other religions or religious denominations+Constitution…It is mostly based on pseudo-science and pseudo-philosophy entwined with a Christian belief system.

The natural law has everything to do with human nature. It is a statement of human nature.
Natural law does not require religions belief it requires a sentient and honest person.
It has to do with honest observation of ourselves and the world around us.

For instance “I am” is a statement of natural law. A person has an awareness of his own existence and that of others, recognizes it, and affirms it. From there you can go further…“I am…hungry”. It is innate in every person to recognize human traits and needs, affirm them, deal with them.

For instance: “human beings are male or female”. Any sane and honest person can observe this reality and affirm it.

For instance, “truth exists”, it is good to find it, to affirm it, to proclaim it. (Prime evidence being this conversation you are participating in).

“The sun rises in the morning”. I see, I feel, I affirm.

It is in human nature to seek, to look, to listen, to hear, to think, according to one’s abilities, and to find that which is observable and common to all people.

Ironically enough, it requires a rigidly superstitious religious belief to turn one’s head and deny what is. The abdication of sense and reason. And then the justification of that religion with a type of verbal nihilism where words will not admit of any specific meaning.

“Faith seeking understanding” will find natural law.

I think this is just one of the fruits of Catholicism. Catholicism’s teaching on contraception is a good example.

That is because they stopped teaching philosophy using the classical & scientific methods.

Not too many college level Intro to Philosophy course spend lots of time simply studying the Great Books of the Western World.

Furthermore, modern philosophy is a shell of what it once was. Instead of spending all class focused on the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Archimedes, Marcus Aurelius, Plutarch, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, etc.

Modern philosophers, like the professors in college, have a tendency to focus on "modern philosophy, and not ancient and medieval philosophy.

There is also an incorrect tendency among modern philosophy professors to to study religion in philosophy classes, divorcing it from theology. Theology, as mentioned by Thomas Aquinas is a science unto itself.

Furthermore, and most importantly to your point that I highlighted above; today most philosophy professors do not strictly follow the scientific method. They treat philosophy like a social science or pseudo-science and not like a real science. They should be using the scientific method, but most do not. It is unscientific to use the “work backwards” approach. Observations in philosophy (like the Natural Law) are observed in nature using the scientific method.

What today’s “philosophers” call philosophy would be an abomination to Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, & Aquinas. This is why philosophy is considered a joke today. One of the few places where true philosophy is still taught is in minor Catholic seminaries (a minor seminary is where a priest earns his BA degree). Catholic priests spend 4 years earning a degree in BA in Philosophy before they even start Theology.

This is simply not true. Natural Law has been around LONG before Christ was even born. Classical Philosophy is the Study of Natural Law / Natural Science.

There is a reason my most Doctor degrees are Doctor of Philosophy and not Doctor of Science.

Philosophy is the study of natural world. The problem is that modern philosophy professors don’t use the scientific method anymore and philosophy is considered more of a social science today than a natural science, like it was for thousands of years.

If you have children, I suspect even before their first catechetical class, they siad, “That’s not fair,!” “He’s lying!,” “That’s mine!” We have an innate sense of justice, truth and property rights (stealing is wrong).

I will respond more later when I have time.

But here is a thought.

For example, the faith teaches that homosexual practice is immoral and contrary to the nature of the human person. Some Christians then proceed to back this up, attempting to provide non-religious arguments, by pointing out certain biological facts: men’s and women’s respective biologies come together in a certain way, and has the potential to produce offspring.

However, this seems to be selectively drawing from elements of the human experience and trying to draw conclusions already arrived at by church doctrine. For, what are we to make about other elements of human experience – for example, the experience of homosexual persons? Or the societal fact that humans have always been involved with same-sex practice in one form or another? “Natural Law” is supposed to focus on what is truly good for the human person, and it is not necessarily about what exists in “nature.” But it seems the faith draws on certain elements of what is in nature, in the experience of humans, and names only some of those elements as good.

I guess my issue would be with certain *interpretations *of natural law, particularly in regard to sexual teaching. I think the idea of objective moral truth is separate from what actually comprises this truth.

Your “working backwards” argument really doesn’t hold water.

Let’s take 2 + 2 = 4 for example. When you are explaining this to a child, you are going to tell them that 2+2=4; then you are going to prove it. You provide it by showing two blocks and then adding another two blocks until you have four.

But you are not twisting the facts, you can’t show 1+2=4.

You have to understand; the Natural Law came first. It came before Christianity.

Christians did NOT invent it.

Catholic Apologists and Theologians often quote Aristotle many times in regards to Natural Law.

Aristotle (who lived between 384–322 BC) was obviously not Christian, nor Jewish.

St. Thomas Aquinus often quotes Aristotle (calling him “The Philosopher”).

Aristotle taught that virtue has to do with the proper function (ergon) of a thing. An eye is only a good eye in so much as it can see, because the proper function of an eye is sight. Aristotle reasoned that humans must have a function specific to humans, and that this function must be an activity of the psuchē (normally translated as soul) in accordance with reason (logos). Aristotle identified such an optimum activity of the soul as the aim of all human deliberate action, eudaimonia, generally translated as “happiness” or sometimes “well being”. To have the potential of ever being happy in this way necessarily requires a good character (ēthikē aretē), often translated as moral (or ethical) virtue (or excellence).

A lot of Aristotelian ethics is very Catholic :thumbsup:

Natural law refers to what we are “built” for, not what we are capable of doing. God has given people many different kinds of crosses to bear. Some involve sexuality some do not.

The issue is not Natural Law per se, but the understanding of it. What is included in it. Of course pre-Christian philosophers had some idea of Natural Law but it is not necessarily the same one we inherit, predominately, from Aquinas and later.

If by crosses you mean certain inclinations to sinful activity, then I do not think that at all makes sense.

I do mean sinful activity.

Have you read the Summa from Aquinas? If not, I highly recommend it. If you haven’t read it, you will want to first learn how to read it (it’s pretty easy, but you have to understand how Aquinas meant for it to be read - then it reads like a reference book).

Catholic (I can’t speak about non-Catholics) theologians do USE the Natural Law to defend positions, but they do not change the Natural Law to fit their arguments.

I really think the problem here is a mixing of Philosophy and Theology. You need to keep them separate.

The Natural Law does not say that homosexual acts are immoral. No Catholic Theologian will say that. It is the Divine Law that says the acts are immoral. The Natural Law says that homosexual acts are disordered, meaning they are not being used for their purpose.

Philosophy is the study of the Natural Law. While Theology is the study of the Divine Law.

Theologians use the Natural Law to help explain and defend the Divine Law, because the Divine Law cannot be in conflict with the Natural Law.

So again, the Natural Law looks at what is “normal” in nature. Another part of the problem is that today, people don’t like to use the words “normal” and “abnormal.” But we are talking about observational science, not humans as individuals.

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