No matter how we view our upbringing, morality stems from a higher power. Philosophers question rather this higher power comes from God or somewhere else. When reading religious books, they speak about God and the ten commandments which lay down the laws about right and wrong. Therefore, religious people are more conscientious about their actions. Yet we have the naturalist who believes human laws are defined by morality but not from a higher authority figure. They feel rather right or wrong we are better off the ore our actions are fulfilled by our true nature. This begs to differ, when it boils down to religion and natural law are these two the same thing?
Divine command theorist believes what’s moral and what’s not is commanded by the divine. The foundation of the divine is the ten commandments. Which tells us it’s forbidden by God for us to commit things that are wrong or unethical. Plato’s book Euthyphro opened our eyes to how one may view religion compared to the next person. Euthyphro got into a heated conversation with Socrates about the Gods. Euthyphro suggests what is considered holy is agreeable to the Gods. This explains his reasoning for being at the courthouse. He wants to persecute his father for committing murder. He believes he’s acting accordingly since the commandments states thou shall not kill. Euthyphro asked are our actions right because God commands them? Or are our actions right since they are commanded by God because they are right? If we obey any of God’s commands, then we’re acting accordingly.
He suggests when we give sacrifice to the Gods then our prayers become answered. Yet thesis believes something outside of God is bounding us to him and his command. Socrates suggests if holiness is gratifying to the Gods, then we are still saying holiness is what’s approved by the Gods. This asked the question are there things God can’t command? If God is bounded by standards outside of himself then God’s goodness doesn’t mean anything. When learning about Aquinas’s Natural Law theory, he doesn’t discard the fact we were all created by God. In fact, the world was created in his eyes, which God made sure humans were preloaded with all that’s good. “At its most basic, natural law theory tells us that actions are right just because they are natural, and wrong just because they are unnatural. And people are good or bad to the extent that they fulfill their true nature- the more they fulfill their true nature, the better they are.” (The Fundamentals of Ethics, Shafer-Landau, Oxford Universities Press, p.77). Therefore, God gave us the desires that’s best for us. This cause Aquinas to question how some humans can function a certain way in life, if they’ve never picked up any religious books and read them. Aquinas’s believes we seek God in our lives rather if we were exposed to him or not. This caused him to bring science into the natural law theory. Humans were created with seven basic instincts, also known as the basic principles. They’re made up of life, reproduction, educate one’s offspring, seek God, live in society, avoid offense, and shun ignorance. Religion doesn’t teach us about the basic principles, instead our instincts kicks in allowing us to derive from the natural law.
Example, killing someone is considered inhuman. Since we all value our own lives, killing someone would be considered a violation of the natural law. We don’t need a Bible or any other religious book for that matter to teach us this. Since most if not all humans value life. If someone think killing an innocent person is a good thing then they don’t have value for their own life. This would mean they seek what they think is good but is wrong because they’re just ignorant. We as humans are rational emotional creatures, when we think we’re doing the right thing our emotions overpowers our reason, therefore we fail to do the right thing. Killing innocent people is by far the right thing to do no matter in what instances it’s presented. Yet, we could be faced with the principle of double standard effect, when we do something morally good with intended effects but have a morally bad unintended side effect. Example of this would be bombing a military plane with innocent civilians. Even though innocent lives are being lost, this could still protect thousand if not millions of other people. This why even though God created the moral order, following the natural law just makes life better.
While both morality and natural law pose some interesting arguments, I must admit one really doesn’t overtake the other. I believe it’s based on one’s own opinion in which method they choose. Morality to me does stem from a high power such as God, because I’ve seen his work rather good or bad. My example goes back to how Euthyphro stated when we give sacrifices to the Gods, then our prayers become answered. Now I’m certain why he states the Gods because I only believe in one. But when we look at 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, it states, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” This verse alone could work for either morality or natural law. If we act moral by helping others big or small, we will reap a return in blessing either big or small for the positive actions we committed. On the nature law perspective doing the right thing which is helping others rather it has an ending for one’s own sake or not we’re doing what’s right in our human nature. If we do something immoral or unethical, we will be punished while on Earth or in our afterlife.
Rather you agree with the naturalist or believe in God, either way morality stems from a higher power. When it’s broken down between God and the naturalist, it’s the same text being presented it’s just being presented in a different light or a broader perspective. Religious people believe in the text of their religious books while naturalist believe in our human nature. Either way it goes one doesn’t make one better or vice versa.
- Shafer-Landau, Russ. “Chapter 6/ Natural Law.” The Fundamentals of Ethics, 4th ed., Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 77–77.