Monday, October 13, 2014

Natural or Supernatural?

Last week’s brief series on whether or not “the rich” are automatically criminals based on mere unproved assertion and faith caused a minor flurry of commentary.  The cause of the tempest in a teapot was the implication that humanity can only enforce human law.  Divine law is God’s business.  This upset a couple (okay, we’re “under-exaggerating” here) of people.  There just seems to be a visceral reaction with some people that if God just can’t or won’t enforce His law to our satisfaction, we must take up the burden and start acting as judge, jury, and executioner until the poor, old, Divine Duffer finally wakes up and starts doing His job.

That, of course, is a trifle arrogant, not to say blasphemous, whether you’re Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or Pagan.  What gives us the right to do any such thing?  Nevertheless, there are a lot of people who insist that they have the authority to do so, or at least the right to demand that the State take over and enforce God’s law.

Obviously we disagree . . . or we wouldn’t have a blog posting for today.  The natural law, per the constant teaching of the Catholic Church and pagan (Aristotelian) philosophy, is something to which we can come to knowledge by human reason alone.  It is manifestly true, and thus subject to demonstration by logical argument and empirical evidence.

The supernatural law, on the other hand, per the constant teaching of that same Church, is something that we accept on faith, faith being that which applies to that which is not manifestly true.

Some people, however, assert that the natural is only valid because it is derived from the supernatural, and therefore cannot be separated from it.  There are two errors here.

1) Creator and Creation are distinct.  They share a certain analogy of being up to a point, but an analogy is not an identity.  As human beings we are created in the image and likeness of God, but that does not make us God.  That is the error the theosophists (the old name for New Agers) and the modernists make.

2) We Cannot Prove the Natural from the Supernatural.  Proving the natural from the supernatural is impossible because it contains an inherent contradiction, violating the first principle of reason.  A proof is a demonstration of the manifest truth of something.  Faith applies to that which is not, repeat, not manifestly true.  Matters of faith are accepted as certainly true, but cannot be proven as manifestly true, or they would, ipso facto, fall under reason, not faith.  Claiming to prove the natural from the supernatural is claiming that we can demonstrate the truth of that which is manifestly true, by means of that which is not manifestly true.

Thus, we must treat the natural law and the supernatural law in different ways in human society.  Human positive law can only be based on the natural law because it must be manifestly true; an unjust law is not a true law.  This is the lex ratio doctrine: “law is reason.”

God’s law is not subject to proofs by reason or empirical evidence and can only be accepted by faith; it cannot, to remain truly God’s law, be enforced with coercion as can human law.  God’s law falls under the lex voluntas doctrine, “law is will.”  It can only be accepted by faith, not proven by reason.

Human positive law must, therefore, never be based on the supernatural law based on faith in something that someone accepts as God’s Will on faith.  This violates freedom of conscience as well as the first principle of reason.  Faith in civil society is necessarily regarded as opinion, and we cannot base human law on opinion.  We can only base human law on fact; the precept of the law, both human and divine, is that someone is innocent until proven guilty — and something accepted on faith is, again, not proof.

The law requires a fact, not a supposition, not an assumption, not a surmise, not a suggestion, not a logical fallacy, but a fact, and facts in human law are demonstrated as true by logical argument and empirical evidence, not faith.  To claim otherwise is to fall into the “enthusiast trap” of maintaining that the “ungodly” or those otherwise deemed unworthy in some fashion have no legal rights.  (Msgr. Ronald Knox, Enthusiasm. New York: Galaxy Books, 1961, 584.)

To say otherwise and claim to be enforcing God’s law is to make three additional errors.  To summarize what we had in last week’s series,

1) We cannot prove that the supernatural law even exists.  We can only accept it by faith.  We cannot, therefore, know even that what we accept as God’s law is, in strict fact, God’s law.  Knowledge, “knowing,” is always true because it can be proved.  Faith must be regarded as opinion in human terms because it cannot be proved; faith applies to that which is not manifestly true.

2) Even assuming that we can prove that what we accept as God’s law really is God’s law, we must still prove that the people whom we accuse of violating it have indeed done so.  This, again, means logical argument or empirical evidence, which raises the issue of how we prove that something is not sufficiently faithful, hopeful, or charitable?  That is something only God, not we, can know.

3) Even assuming that we can prove that something is God’s law, and even assuming that we can prove that someone has violated God’s law, we have no authority to act as judge, jury, and executioner.  No human agency does.  “Vengeance is Mine says the Lord, I will repay.” (Heb. 10:30.)

We can prove the existence of the natural law through logical argument and empirical evidence.  Until we can prove the existence of the supernatural law the same way, we cannot make the claim that we are enforcing God’s law.

We can prove that a criminal committed some specific act in violation of human law.  Until we can prove that “the rich” have committed specific acts contrary to human law and thereby gained their wealth dishonestly, we cannot prosecute them or punish them in any way.

We can prove that we have the authority to exercise our own rights.  Until we can prove that we have the authority to exercise God’s rights, we cannot justify doing so.

That’s really all that needs to be said.


No comments: