A while back we got into a rather pointless argument — with a lawyer, no less — about whether the natural law is discerned by faith, or by reason. Despite what you might think, it was the lawyer who argued for a faith-based understanding of natural law! (And he was supposed to be an expert on constitutional law, too, oy weh.)
Believe it or not, the Catholic Church says that the natural law not only can be discerned by reason, it insists that it is and it must be. The rationale is that if (as the Catholic Church claims) the natural law is written in the heart of every human being, then it necessarily follows that it must be “knowable” by every human being, whether Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Muslim, pagan, atheist, or agnostic.
It doesn’t make any difference. If you’re human, you’re expected to know right from wrong — the fundamental precept of the natural law — by the time you reach the “age of reason.”
|Pope Leo XIII|
This brings us to what is called a “paradox.” That is the startling conclusion (startling, at least, to those who want to base everything on faith and reject reason) that good faith, which cannot be empirically verified, requires a solid basis in proven fact, that can, indeed, has been empirically verified. (Leo XIII, Æterni Patris (“On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy”), 1879, § 27.)
Facts can only be proved by reason, whether logical argument or empirical evidence. We can never justify doing what we will simply because that is what we want, or because we have something we call “faith,” regardless how strong it may be, if it in any way contradicts reason.
We cannot, therefore, justify circumventing or denying reason because of faith. Instead, we must confirm faith by supporting it with reason. Anything less is unreasonable, and is therefore contrary to human nature.
Thus, just as building a foundation “limits” where (and how) you can afterwards place a house, reason “limits” that in which you can put your faith. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out,
Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. (Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908.)
Those who would eliminate reason and overcome facts with faith would thereby destroy all boundaries and limits. The will might triumph, but such a Pyrrhic victory leads inevitably to “the suicide of thought,” that is, to madness.
Faith without boundaries is not faith or enlightenment. It is instead a worship of one’s personal will, that is, of one’s own self. It should come as no surprise that worship of anything on the basis of a personal conviction of one’s own self or some “inner light” is (at least according to Chesterton) the worst form of insanity:
Of all conceivable forms of enlightenment the worst is what these people [the unselfish egotists] call the Inner Light. Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Any one who knows any body knows how it would work; any one who knows any one from the Higher Thought Centre [A theosophical or “New Age” organization in London] knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. (Chesterton, Orthodoxy, op. cit.)