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Sunday, February 11, 2018

God, Natural Law Theory and Homosexuality

In his challenge to my Bloomington Statement, Mr. Jensen Carlyle has referred over and over again to Natural Law Theory. Hence, in anticipation of some statement by him on the subject, I thought that it would be helpful to him, the readers of this blog and myself to dig a little deeper into the theory. It is hoped that this exercise will offer some clarity on the subject and better articulate my view of its impact on the viability of the Bloomington Statement.

To begin, it is clear to me that Natural Law Theory (NLT) means different things to different people. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP) tells us that NLT can refer to either a moral or legal theory. As a moral theory, the IEP article on the subject https://www.iep.utm.edu/natlaw/ states: "the moral standards that govern human behavior are, in some sense, objectively derived from the nature of human beings and the nature of the world." The same article goes on to say that, as a legal theory, "the authority of legal standards necessarily derives, at least in part, from considerations having to do with the moral merit of those standards." Now that seems clear enough, doesn't it? Don't get too comfortable with our definitions just yet. The IEP article goes on to inform us that there are many different manifestations of these theories.

For instance, most would probably agree that classical NLT finds its best expression in the writings of the Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas discusses his view that there are four types of law (eternal, natural, human and Divine). He wrote: " Wherefore, since all things subject to Divine providence are ruled and measured by the eternal law...it is evident that all things partake somewhat of the eternal law, in so far as, namely, from its being imprinted on them, they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends. Now among all others, the rational creature is subject to Divine providence in the most excellent way, in so far as it partakes of a share of providence, by being provident both for itself and for others. Wherefore it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end: and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law." You can read more at this location: http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/sum229.htm

Now others would point out that Aquinas was not the first to espouse these theories. They would point to antecedents among the Greek philosophers (Aristotle, Plato), which many conservative Christians would say automatically disqualifies the theory (by virtue of its having roots in pagan philosophy).

However, to avoid distraction with another lengthy and complex set of arguments, let us assume for the sake of argument that Aquinas was correct. I have pointed out that it is in the nature of at least some humans to be sexually oriented toward members of their own sex. I have also pointed out that because something occurs with less frequency in nature than some other occurrence, it does not necessarily follow that it is abnormal or unnatural. Earthquakes may not be the norm, but they are certainly part of the nature of the planet on which we live. Finally, I have pointed out that a rationale exists (though Jensen would say it is flawed) for believing that homosexuality does not exclude the possibility of moral behavior. Hence, from my perspective, homosexuality is not incompatible with Aquinas' notion of NLT.

As for some of the other expressions of NLT and their relationship to this subject, I would point to the works of others who find problems inherent in interpreting NLT in a fashion consistent with Jensen Carlyle's previous comments on the subject. For those who are interested in pursuing the subject further, I have provided a number of links for your convenience:
The Morality of Homosexual Conduct: A Response to John Finnis - https://scholarship.law.nd.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1416&context=ndjlepp


  1. Natural law existed from Greek and Roman times. I have many examples. It evolved through christian times when it was assumed that the superseding law flowed from God, thus God or the Church had power over it. Then we enter "the age or reason" with Thomas Paine, Locke, Thomas Jefferson who many assume were talking about God but in fact called certain rights "self evident" not deriving from external sources. Later definitions of natural law involve in what you quoted. So when discussing natural law it is extremely important to also include the time frame of the theory your quoting.

    In general they are considered laws that even without codification can be deduced through rational thinking. Since they are self evident and in no need of external justification by a God. They are innate in nature themselves. And nature serves to propel and disseminate the most "efficient" way of survival of "information" (dna) through individuals and groups that empower that individual to reach its full potential it could not achieve alone. We all stand on the shoulders of prior giants.

    I consider the Romans, the Greek philosophers, JJ Rousseau, Paine , Thomas Jeffeson amongst those to have lifted the human spirit and liberated man from the shackles of codified law and the worst of interpretations of them.

    Of course there are theories that at best even natural laws is adapted to respective societies and population groups. Therefore to either drive right or left is not moral in itself. But to deliberately choose to drive right in England may be considered one of the most immoral acts of all.


    1. nck, great post - thanks for your contribution which provides more context (although I did give a nod to the Greeks). As your comments suggest, this is a deep well in and of itself and could easily justify many posts.