Is Natural Law just "faith seeking understanding"?

Good post.
I think above all else understanding this issue requires discipline, honesty, and clarity of thought.
It can be difficult to separate the competences of philosophy/theology/spirituality. I have a hard time with it.

The homosexual practice that the faith teaches is immoral is not the inclination. It is the application of the genitals that it may entail. And it is that application which is starkly at odds with the evident nature and purpose of our genitals. The faith teaching, and the natural law observation, are in accord and without any selective reading of the situation.

I wonder what conclusion you feel follows from the fact that some persons experience SSA? Or from the experience of some persons toward an unhealthy desire for food? Or from an experience of a desire for inappropriate intimate contact with children? In each of these cases, the desire (or inclination) is real, but that fact offers no justification or vindication or endorsement of the acts it is ordered toward.

The above responses were helpful.

I’m not necessarily disagreeing with church teaching. I have a hard to understanding it and applying it in my own life.

I guess the issue is connecting natural law to divine law: that is, from saying something is contrary to an obvious natural process and thereby concluding it is sinful or wrong. I think a lot of Christians use Natural Law inappropriately in this way. They want to show gay marriage is WRONG or IMMORAL by the use of natural law arguments; when really, at most, it seems that natural law can only correlate certain societal norms and biological facts.

So you’re claiming that “mating for life” is part of “natural law” for humans? Can it be demonstrated from anthropology and history that most humans have mated for life? And what about polygamy? Is it also part of “natural law” for humans or is it only natural for humans to have one spouse at a time? If monogamy is what is natural, can this be demonstrated from what we know from history and anthropology in various cultures and areas of the world?

I don’t think anyone here has pointed you to solutions to the “is/ought” problem I mentioned, so let me direct you to wikipedia article. In particular, read the “Responses” section. I would pay special to the discussions of MacIntyre. He is one of the great modern philosophers in the Greek tradition and gives some of the best modern defenses of telos based moral theories.

That said, he’s still a Catholic thinker. Which is to say, your original question remains about why non-Catholics never use these sorts of arguments these days if they are right. The easy answer is that “Well, anyone who thinks clearly about morality ends up Catholic”, but I hope you would agree that answer is too easy.

Ask yourself whether the initiation presuppositions already control value statements. What does it mean to define human flourishing? What does it mean to say you’ve honestly examined what a human is supposed to do? What facts about human nature are allowed to go into your observations?

Natural law supporters will always point out the ubiquitous nature of marriage in human societies as support for it being natural. But what about the fact that in all societies, once women are given control over their reproduction, they chose to have many fewer children. This is true everywhere, even in very Catholic Poland, in the Indian subcontinent, and in Africa where birth rates are rapidly falling. Why is that not a compelling natural fact to go into one’s moral calculus?

I’m not trying to argue that it is, but rather to help illuminate the point that if you aren’t Catholic already, you probably won’t find the Church’s teachings compelling. And not everyone reads the ancients and thinks they’re right. But if you want good reasons to think they are, read MacIntyre. He’s great.

My understanding of the anthropology is that monogamy was not normal in early hunter-gatherer societies, but that with the transition to agricultural, seems to have become to norm most everywhere. That said, of course there were typically exceptions for high status males and then some really weird cases, in say, Tibet, where you would have one woman with many men, often brothers.

I am feeling a bit lazy to look up references and am open to being corrected.

So, in a sense, the answer is both yes and no. It seems that in ‘civilized’ societies, marriage is very natural, but in early societies, no.

There is a very interesting school of thought which posits that as we are becoming very rich, we are able to relax the constraints forced on agricultural societies and revert back to norms (not just sexual ones) of earlier societies. I don’t mean to endorse this view, but if you are interested, you might want to look into it.

I feel that the secular side requires some defense. A liberal person does have a clear principle to point to, that of harm. They would say homosexual acts take place between consenting adults and harm no one while pedophiliac acts do not, they lack consent and necessarily hurt the child.

You can chose to disagree that the “consenting adults can do anything they want” principle (as clearly the Christian does), and you can disagree with them about whether no harm is done. A very smart Protestant minister of mine argues that a society endorsing homosexuality is necessarily undermining the sanctity of marriage, which is really about children. And we have seriously injured marriage in the West, especially amongst the lower classes. Look at how many children are born out of wedlock these days.

So it’s not so easy as saying liberals can’t distinguish between homosexuality and pedophilia. I think liberals have an intelligible line to draw and Christians have intelligible responses, but you can see why neither side convinces the other.


I said “‘Natural Marriage’ is what we call the natural, lifetime matting process of humans.”

I didn’t say anything about monogamy. But even in polygamy, there is matting for life.

If mating for life wasn’t the natural norm for humans (before the sexual revolution wrecked it) then why does marriage for life appear all around the world, throughout the ancient civilizations? I’m not claiming that divorse didn’t happen. I’m saying that if we were not naturally inclined to life long mating, our history would be different.

Biologically, humans are inclined to mate for life because it takes 14-18 years for a child to biologically become a productive adult in society (though more now due to education). If you had 7 kids, each 12 months apart, a couple would to be together for at least 21-25 years before the last one was an adult.

The point is simple… If we were not inclined to life long marriage, you would see it so much across the historical record.

One last post, just to illustrate the wondrous diversity of our planet. Read about the Mosuo of China and their wander marriages. From the wikipedia article

The Mosuo men practice tisese which misleadingly translates as walking marriage in Chinese. However, the Mosuo term literally means ‘goes back and forth’.

Women have the choice to invite men of interest to their private sleeping room. If the man does not reciprocate this desire, he may simply never visit the woman’s household. Men perform tisese in the true sense of the word. They can seek entry into the sleeping chambers of any woman they desire who also desires them. When feelings are reciprocal, a man will be allowed into a woman’s private sleeping area (Hua, C.) There he will spend the night and walk back to his mother’s home in the early morning.[citation needed]

male suitor has been known to commonly descend into the woman’s bedding chamber from a designated opening in the ceiling, commonly using a grappling hook, or modern rock climbing apparatus.

Anthropologist Cai Hua termed tisese as ‘furtive’ or ‘closed’ visiting, meaning no public acknowledgement or obligations are required between parties. At night Mosuo adults are free to experience sexuality with as many or as few partners as they wish.

Though a Mosuo woman is allowed to change partners whenever she likes, having only one sexual partner is not uncommon. Typically walking marriages are long term. During these unions a woman may become pregnant by the same man multiple times. But when children are born, they become a responsibility of the woman’s family. Instead of marrying and sharing family life with spouses, adult Mosuo children remain in extended, multigenerational households with their mother and her blood relatives.

The whole article is worth reading. But again, this is an extreme exception. Marriage seems pretty universal in all post-agricultural societies.

Harm is a relevant factor in judging the morality of an act, but Christians don’t take it as definitive, as, say the negative precepts of the divine law are definitive.

As to Natural Law, the dissonance in same sex sexual acts is not overcome by an inability to identify “harm” in the act, or even by its actual absence, if that is held to be the case.

Aquinas, and natural law, would, I think, say a child has a right to know his father. This seems to be often unachievable in the case your Wiki article describes.

The problem with you birth control argument is that it’s not natural. It’s a cheat. The human desire to have sex is not deminished. Without artificial birth control, in order to limit birth is to limit sex. To limit sex is to control our instincts. According to Aristotle, the difference between man and beast is our ability to control our instincts and to rise above them. According to Aristotle, that is our purpose. We flursh when we control our animal instincts.

Artificial Birth Control allows human to give into our animal instincts without accepting the consequences. That’s why it goes against the natural law. It’s artificial, it’s not natural.

In regards to why non-Catholic Christians (mostly Protestants) don’t often use the natural law, I think it has to do with the fact that we are using something other than the Bible. I’ve hear Protestants say many times that you can use Aristotle to defend Christian teaching. While a Catholic will say truth is truth, regardless of where it comes from.

Today, people don’t find the Church’s teaching appealing because the Church teaches that we must die to ourselves and teaches redemptive suffering. If a person doesn’t believe that we humans should rise above our animal instincts and that suffering plays a positive in our salvation and has a positive affect on society; Catholic teaching will remain alien to them.

BUT if Catholics all starting living like Catholics should, things would change just like it did in the first century AD.

God Bless

I also agree, very good post.

Maybe society will revert back to these things in the future or something similar, and our current view is just whats popular right now.

I definitely agree! This doesn’t seem like a model society in any sense. I wanted to give the link as interesting exception to, well, almost everything. There are a lot of surprising things in God’s Creation.

In regards to the is-ought problem it is not scientific, that is the problem. It was proposed by a historian, not a scientist. When philosophy doesn’t follow scientific principals, you get pseudo-science. Unfortunately, social “scientists” have a knack for spoiling their observations with their own biased opinions. (Which btw some physical scientists are starting to do too)

In regards to your school of thought regarding the rich… Rich society has always had a tendency towards giving into pleasure and greed, and turning away from morality. Theologically, we can point to the Beatitudes. But philosophically, we can measure how power corrupts. People with money & power have a tendency to feel entitled. Entitled people focus on what they are materially lacking. While hard working, poor people have a tendency to appreacate what they have.

God Bless

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