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Natural Law Falacy

Natural law is a view that certain rights or values are inherent in or universally recognizable by virtue of human reason or human nature. The law is derived solely through the use of human reason and without a reference to biblical law to determine its moral norms. However, it leads to ambiguity since there is not a universal agreement among people as to what the moral law actually is. On the other hand, the ambiguity of natural law is what makes the revealed law given by God in the Bible (Biblical Law) so valuable. It provides us with an objective source of law, located outside of human reasoning, that provides the moral principles for all laws. 

Currently, there is a revived interest in natural law within the seminaries of the evangelical community. This is not a good sign. As Dr. Robert Morey points out, whenever there is a lack of biblical understanding, the appeal of natural law flourishes. This is because of its attraction to human wisdom and reason. Morey states:

It is no surprise that Natural Law and Natural Theology rise and fall in popularity in tandem with the level of sound biblical knowledge. In Roman Catholic and Orthodox countries, where biblical illiteracy is the norm, all you have is Natural Law and Natural Theology. Wherever the Sola Scriptura of the Protestant Reformation gained ground, biblical preaching and revealed theology became dominant, and as a result Natural Law and Natural Theology died away.

Morey continues, Luther thundered that "Reason was a whore" who slept with anyone, and stated that Thomas Aquinas was in hell. Calvin always spoke of Aquinas' "schoolmen" as enemies of the gospel. Sola Scriptura was the basis of the Reformation and the Bible was the final authority on what to believe (theology) and how to live (law). Biblical law and Biblical Theology replaces Natural Law and Natural Theology. (Morey, xxi)

The vanity of human reason

Dr, Morey points out that the renewed interest by many evangelical leaders in the natural law is because of its deadly appeal to human reason and vanity. He states:

The beginning of the new millennium has witnessed new aggressive forms of Reasonalotry in evangelical circles. "Reasonalotry" is the enthronement of human reason in place of God as the origin of truth, justice, morals, meaning, and beauty. Man's faculty of reasoning is abstracted, absolutized, idealized, and romanticized into a false idol.

Reason is an idol because it supposedly infallibly knows all things. Everything, including God, must bow before the "Bar of Reason" for judgment. Human reason is the "god of the gaps," who can explain all things rationally.

Why has Reasonalotry been revived in our day? Biblical knowledge, theology, law, and expository preaching are at an all time low. Most "mega" churches, with thousands in attendance, do not focus on Biblical truth but on the "felt" needs of the community. "Deeds, not Creeds" and "Works, not Words" seem to be the mantra of today. The darker the religious situation, the more aggressive Reasonalotry becomes. (Morey, xxi)

The "Original Lie" revisited

The original appeal that Satan used in the Garden of Eden was for Eve to take the initiative and determine what the law was for her. Rather than trusting in God and resting in his revealed law, regarding eating from the tree of the  knowledge of good and evil, Eve disobeyed God. The appeal was to her vanity. Satan convinced Eve to rely on her own human reasoning to determine what the law was. She took on the role of God in order to determine what the law was going to be for her. She wanted to usurp the role of God as "law maker."

Today, the appeal is still the same. Rather than referring to biblical law for moral absolutes, evangelical leaders today want to determine right and wrong using their own reason. Just as with Eve, the appeal is to our own human reasoning and the temptation is to become our own law makers.    

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Natural Lawvs Statutes and Judgments

Jul 26, 2011 by GaryDeMar 15 Comments

 I received thefollowing from an advocate of Natural Law: “Natural Law is simply Biblical Lawwritten on the conscience of every man.” If this is true, then why did Godfind it necessary to give us revealed law? He goes on to say:

The Reprobate knowsthat murder, adultery, rape and theft are morally wrong because of God’s Lawwritten in their conscience. The proof for this is Romans Chapter 2. This iswhy the aforementioned crimes are punished in every civilized culture we knowof. Another proof that these acts are wrong would be to look at the sanctionsthat follow these acts. Cultures which do not punish these acts like someAfrican/Cannibalistic tribes around the world bear the proof of God’s Judgmentin their being. These races of savages are usually enslaved and conquered bycultures which practice Natural Law to a larger degree. Look at the Arabconquest and enslavement of Black Africans over the centuries as an example.

First he argues thatreprobates know that certain actions, like cannibalism, are wrong. This doesn’t seem to be the case since therewere and probably are today cultures that practiced cannibalism. They didn’tbelieve eating an enemy was wrong. In fact, some cannibals believed that eatingan enemy or drinking his blood enhanced one’s essence. What was powerful in theperson being eaten was transferred to the person doing the eating. To reallyconfuse things, he argues that cultures that do practice Natural Law alsopractice slavery. But I thought slavery was wrong. Natural Law tells us it’swrong. If this is true, then why would those who practice Natural Law enslavepeople?

A Natural Law theorynot tied to biblical law would have done nothing for slaves since there weremany Natural Law advocates who believed in slavery because of what theybelieved Natural Law taught.Enslavement was best for some people. This was Aristotle’s view, and it wasfollowed by a lot of New World explorers. He believed in the reasonableness and“natural order” for the institution of slavery because there are some peoplewho are “slaves by nature,” a phrase found in his Politics. Aristotle’s views, as a champion of reasonand Natural Law, were foundational for centuries, as was his distorted views oncosmology:

Of all the ideaschurned up during the early tumultuous years of American history, none had amore dramatic application than the attempts made to apply to the natives there theAristotelian doctrine of natural slavery: that one part of mankind is setaside by nature to be slaves in the service of masters born for a life ofvirtue free of manual labour.1

It’s true that thework of God’s law is written on the heart and that every person in the worldwill be held accountable to that work of the law “their conscience bearingwitness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom. 2:15). Butit’s another thing to say that the replica of revealed law in its many detailsis written on the heart and that it can be accessed like pages in a book.

I asked the aboveNatural Law advocate the following: “Using only Natural Law, show meobjectively and empirically that murder, adultery, rape, and theft are morallywrong.” He couldn’t. He needed biblical law to construct his Christianversion of Natural Law. It’s not that sin has destroyed every vestige of theimage of God in us. The conscience still operates, but this is a far cry fromthe comprehensive nature of God’s revealed law that God gave Israel as a lightto the nations (Deut.4:1–2, 5–8). If Natural Lawis satisfactory, then why bother with giving Israel “statutes and judgments”?Douglas Wilson makes an important distinction:

Daniel in Babylon andPaul in Rome both show that believers can function in a society guided bynatural revelation; this shows the legitimate authority of such realms is notthereby set aside. The authorities that exist are established by God whether ornot they know His proper name. The question is not whether this can happen,but whether Christians should be content with it. The civil realm can besub-Christian and remain a true civil realm. But should Christians work to keepit sub-Christian? Certainly the Bible does not require this of us. And if webase our civil involvement on natural revelation only, where does naturalrevelation teach or require pluralism?

Henry Van Til wrotethat “Man does not need special revelation for acquiring the arts ofagriculture or of war, the techniques of science and art; these things arelearned from nature through the inspiration of the Spirit.”2 No one is disputing the use of generalrevelation in this way. But even this type of investigation has numerousethical implications. For example, knowledge of what works in the field ofmedicine still leaves doctors and legislators with, for example, decisions thatrelate to abortion and euthanasia. An abortionist can be an expert in the wayhe performs an abortion. He has honed this “skill” through scientific study ofthe created order (general revelation). But is it right and just to use thisknowledge in the destruction of preborn babies? That’s the question. Dosuch ethical principles exist solely by a study of nature?

The late Dr. JackKevorkian (1928–2011) designed a “suicide machine” that is efficient,effective, and painless, three criteria to consider in the practice of modernmedicine.3 But is it right and just? Procedures that weredesigned as part of the healing craft are now being used to destroy life. Thereis no doubt that abortionists and the new suicide “doctors” are skilledpractitioners of their respective crafts. So were some of Hitler’s doctors. Inthe Foreword to By Trust Betrayed, former Sen. Bob Dole writes:

Perhaps the ugliestaspects of Aktion-4 [a systematic program of killing people with disabilities] were its moral pretensions, its disregardfor the intrinsic worth of people with disabilities, and the essentialcomplicity of physicians and lawyers. The killings were justified by phraseslike “final medical assistance” and beliefs about “natural selection,” but itwas nothing but murder of some of the most vulnerable.4

The study of generalrevelation might lead some medical practitioners to conclude that since animalsoften abandon and kill their young, therefore human beings are little different if they do the same. Amore highly evolved species like man can do it more efficiently. The greatHollywood moralist of our day, Scarlett Johansson had some thoughts to share onthe subject. Here’s how Nancy Pearcey describes it:

What are theimplications of seeing humans as “just another primate”? Even Hollywoodactresses know the answer to that question. In an interview, ScarlettJohansson was once asked to respond to rumors that she had a reputation forbeing sexually promiscuous. Her reply was unfiltered naturalism: “Humansare merely biological organisms therefore the practice of monogamy – beingsexually faithful to one person – is just not natural. “I do think on somebasic level, we are animals,” Johansson said, “and by instinct we kind of breedaccordingly.” (Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assaulton Mind, Morals and Meaning (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010), 145.)),

The modern-dayevolutionary hypothesis rests on a study of the created order. Modernscientists have made a thorough study of the created order and have concludedthat man has evolved from some type of primordial chaos. Such a view conflictswith the Bible’s clear statement that “In the beginning God created the heavensand the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Such aconclusion has numerous ethical implications that if carried out consistentlycan have disastrous results as the mass killings in Norwaydemonstrate.5

It is this independent study of what we call “general revelation”that leads to anti-Christian conclusions. The Christian views general revelation “through the medium ofa heart regenerated by the Holy Spirit. . . . The Christian looks at all thathe receives through general revelation, in the light of the Scripture. It isonly through the Scripture that he can see the true relationship between Godand creation, and that he can see in creation its unity and purpose.” Onthe other hand, “the knowledge which the natural man receives from generalrevelation comes to him through the subjective medium of an unregenerated,depraved heart.”6 General revelation without the guidance ofspecial revelation has no reference point.

A classic example ofthe claim that knowledge of God and His will is gained from general revelationis found in the ideology of Nazi Germany. Hitler’s National Socialistpropagandists appealed to the revelation of God in reason, conscience, and theorders of Creation as justification for the Nazi state theology or culturalreligion. Biblical revelation in Old and New Testaments was regarded by theThird Reich as a ‘Jewish swindle” and thus was set aside in favor of the Nazinatural theology. The Gottingen theologians Friedrich Gogarten and EmanuelHirsch, by postulating the primacy of conscience and the flow of history as thechief modalities of revelation, provided theoretical justification for the Naziideology, which later wreaked havoc in Europe and beyond. A majority withinthe state church (known as the “German Christians”) unwittingly or otherwiseembraced the new national religion, founded not on the Word of God but on the divinewill allegedly embedded in the natural order. Emerging from this fatalexchange came a semi-Christian natural religion (some would say a new paganism)in which the church became a servile instrument of Nazi policy.7

The debate is not overhow much one side depreciates the use of general revelation. Rather, the issueis over what ethical standard will be used to evaluate theconclusions formulated from a study of general revelation and Natural LawNatural Law takes on a life of its own as anation steadily depreciates God’s specially revealed Word as the norm for allissues relating to faith (redemption) and practice (ethics). This situationresults in using contemporary ideologies to build an interpretive framework sothat general revelation can become specific. This means that Natural Lawwill be interpreted in different ways depending on what ideology is in vogue.A prevailing atheistic regime will interpret Natural Law one way, while a NewAge humanist will put another slant on it. In each case, the church’sprophetic ministry is depreciated.

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1.  Lewis Hanke, Aristotle andthe American Indians (London:Hollis & Carter, 1959), 12–13. [↩]

2.  Henry R. Van Til, TheCalvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), 162. [↩]

3.  Jack Kevorkian, Prescription:Medicine: The Goodness of Planned Death (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1991). [↩]

4.  Bob Dole, “Foreword,”in Hugh Gregory Gallagher, By Trust Betrayed: Patients, Physicians, and theLicense to Kill in the Third Reich (Arlington, VA: Vanadmere Press, 1995), ix. [↩]

5.  Henry M. Morris, The Long WarAgainst God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990). [↩]

6.  William Masselink, GeneralRevelation and Common Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 71. [↩]

7.  Bruce A. Demarest, GeneralRevelation: Historical Views and Contemporary Issues (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academie, 1982), 15.[↩]