Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Budziszewski's Critique of Darwinian Natural Law

J. Budziszewski (pronounced "Boojee-shef-skee") is a professor in the Departments of Government and Philosophy at the University of Texas.  He is a prolific author best known for his writings on his Christian interpretation of natural moral law, which he finds in the work of Thomas Aquinas. His most recent book is a commentary on Aquinas's "Treatise on Law."

In a series of papers, Budziszewski has criticized my defense of natural law or natural right as grounded in a Darwinian account of human nature.  He criticizes me for my "determined attempt to make natural law safe for atheists."  For "natural law," he argues, one must "regard nature as the design of a supernatural intelligence."  By contrast, for "naturalism," one must "regard nature (in a physical or material sense as all there is."  What I defend, he says, is not "natural law" but "naturalism," and thus atheism.

I have responded to his criticisms in previous posts (here and here).

I was reminded of this debate while attending the recent meeting (October 28-29) of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  There was a special panel on Budziszewski's interpretation of natural law. 

As some of the panelists indicated, one of Budziszewski's main ideas is to oppose what he calls "the Second Table Project."  It is said that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai Ten Commandments on two tablets of stone.  Traditionally, the first four commandments are identified as the first tablet or table, and they concern the worship of God; the last six commandments (beginning with honoring father and mother) are identified as the second table, and they concern moral laws.  Some Christians (Roger Williams, for example) have seen here a separation of Church and State, in that the Church enforces the first table of theological law, while the State enforces only the second table of moral law.  The first table requires religious faith.  But the second table can be known by natural reason.  The first table corresponds to divine law that can be known only by those who are believers in the Bible as divine revelation.  The second table corresponds to natural law that can be known by all human beings, even those who are not biblical believers, because it depends on natural human experience.  The second table can stand on its own natural ground without any necessary dependence on the supernatural.  But this is exactly what Budziszewski denies, because, he insists, there cannot be a natural law if there is no divine lawgiver.

I have argued that if we see what Aquinas calls natural law as corresponding to what Darwin calls the natural moral sense rooted in evolved human nature, then those people who have been infused with religious faith can understand that evolved human nature as the product of God's creative design working through the natural history of evolution, while those people who lack such faith can understand that evolved human nature as the product of an unguided natural history of evolution. 

Darwin leaves open the possibility of theistic evolution by employing Aquinas's idea of "dual causality"--the religious believer can see natural causes as secondary causes, as distinguished from divine causes as primary causes (the subject of a previous post).  (I have also written posts on the Catholic Church's acceptance of Darwinian evolution.) 

Whether we have faith or not, whether we are on the side of revelation or on the side of reason, we can all recognize the common morality of natural law or natural right.  Religious belief can reinforce that natural morality for those who are religious believers.  But those who lack any religious belief can still recognize that natural morality as dictated by our natural experience and natural reason.

Some of my critics--not only Budziszewski, but also Craig Boyd, C. Stephen Evans, John Hare, Carson Holloway, Matthew Levering, Stephen Pope, Richard Sherlock, John West, and Benjamin Wiker--have complained that this distorts Aquinas's teaching by ignoring the ways in which Aquinas makes natural law dependent on God as the creator of that law.  After all, Aquinas indicates that natural law belongs to God's eternal law, because a human being as a rational creature "has a natural inclination to his proper act and end, and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law" (ST, I-II, q. 91. a. 2).  Moreover, Aquinas indicates that human beings are directed to eternal happiness in Heaven as their final end, and for this they need divine law--the divinely revealed Biblical law of the Old and New Testaments--to instruct them how to achieve that eternal happiness (ST, I-II, q. 91, aa. 4-5).

But doesn't this confirm my claim about the autonomy of natural law as separated from divine law?  By natural law, Aquinas says, human beings are directed to their natural end of earthly happiness, which is "in proportion to the capacity of human nature."  Human beings cannot recognize their supernatural end--eternal happiness in Heaven--unless they believe in the divine law of the Bible (ST, I-II, q. 91, a. 4, ad 1).  The need for divine law to reveal supernatural ends shows that natural law by itself is directed to purely natural ends that can be known by natural experience without any belief in God or His commands.

Moreover, it is only by recognizing the autonomy of natural law that allows us to use the natural law to correct the divine law of the Bible.  Budziszewski's denial of natural law's autonomy makes this impossible.  Consider three examples of how natural law can correct the moral mistakes in the Bible.

First, Budziszewski says that recognizing "the wrong of deliberately taking innocent human life" is part of the natural law.  And yet, according to the Bible (Genesis 22), Abraham showed his faith in God by being willing to obey God's commandment to murder his innocent son Isaac.  Some Christians like Soren Kierkegaard have seen this Biblical story as teaching us "the suspension of the ethical" in our faith in God.  We must obey God's commands even when they are unethical.  But most people see this Biblical teaching as wrong, because we recognize that wrongness of killing innocent children, and thus our natural moral sense corrects the Bible.

Aquinas explains: "that which is done miraculously by the Divine power is not contrary to nature, though it be contrary to the usual course of nature. Therefore, . . . Abraham did not sin in being willing to slay his innocent son, because he obeyed God, although considered in itself, it was contrary to right human reason" (ST, II-II, q. 154, a. 2, ad 2).  Here Aquinas shows us a direct contradiction between reason and revelation, natural law and divine law, and if we take the side of revelation and divine law, we must allow--even honor--the killing of innocent people whenever we think God has commanded it, even though this is "contrary to the usual course of nature" and "contrary to right human reason."

For Aquinas, there is no way of escaping this shocking contradiction between natural moral law and arbitrary divine command, because if he appeals to natural law to correct the Biblical story, he will be exposed to persecution from church authorities.  In fact, the Bishop of Paris had condemned faculty at the University of Paris who were accused of teaching pagan natural philosophy that was contrary to the Christian faith, and there were suspicions about Aquinas being one of that group.  We might consider the possibility that this forced Aquinas to engage in esoteric writing.

A second example of how natural law might correct the Bible is in correcting the religious violence of the Old Testament.  The last three popes--John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis--have all acknowledged that the Church needs to ask forgiveness for the religious violence practiced by the Church and endorsed by the Bible, including violence against heretics and apostates.  As Cardinal Ratzinger, and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict XVI endorsed a remarkable statement of the International Theological Commission in 1999 on "The Church and the Faults of the Past."  This statement indicates that we must recognize that the Bible is mistaken when it reports God as commanding unjust violence.  This is said to require a "paradigm change"--"a transition from a sacral society to a pluralist society, or, as occurred in a few cases, to a secular society." 

So now, it seems that the Catholic Church has embraced liberalism in accepting the move from a premodern "sacral society," in which violence could be used to enforce religion, to a "pluralist society" or "secular society," based on religious toleration and nonviolence. (This has been the subject of a previous post.) 

At the conference at Aquinas College, conservative Catholics argued that the only escape from the morally corrupting relativism of America's liberal culture was to restore faithfulness to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church's Magisterium.  But they were largely silent about how the Church (beginning with Vatican II) has accepted the liberalism of toleration and pluralism as a correction of the illiberal religious violence endorsed by the Bible and by the premodern Church.  Until recently, the Church saw Protestant Christians as heretics who could be properly persecuted and even executed (see Robert Bellarmine, On Temporal and Spiritual Authority [Liberty Fund, 2012], 79-120).  Aquinas endorsed the Inquisition (ST, II-II, q. 10, aa. 8, 11; q. 11, a. 3). Now, even conservative Catholics like Budziszewski recognize that this was wrong in violating natural law.

A third example of natural law correcting the Bible is recognizing the wrongness of the Bible's endorsement of slavery.  While the Bible sanctions slavery (see my post here, which includes links to other posts), Budziszewski knows by natural law that this is wrong, and therefore he looks for some way to correct the Bible to conform to his natural moral knowledge that slavery is wrong.  He writes: "Consider how many centuries it took natural law thinkers even in the Christian tradition to work out the implications of the brotherhood of master and slave.  At least they did eventually.  Outside of the biblical orbit, no one ever did--not spontaneously" (The Line Through the Heart, 36).  The explicit teaching of the Bible is that the "brotherhood of master and slave" is consistent with preserving slavery as a moral good, and this was the understanding of many Christians in the American South before the Civil War.  But Budziszewski rightly judges that Christians had to correct the Bible by seeing that human brotherhood demands the abolition of slavery as a great moral wrong.

As I have argued in Darwinian Natural Right, Darwin and others were able to see the wrongness of slavery as a violation of evolved human nature, and particularly of the natural desire for justice as reciprocity.

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