December 16, 2013
“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” -1 John 4:20
It is interesting that love is connected with sight in this Biblical passage. Elsewhere in the New Testament, the Bible teaches that a human is much more than a physical, visible entity (2 Corinthians 5:4 refers to the body as a “tent”, and 1 Corinthians 6:19 refers to the body of a Christian as a “temple of the holy spirit.”). Scripture also states that God created man in His “image,” specifically in Genesis 1:26-27: “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image’. . . [and] God created man in His own image.” However, it is highly debatable (if not entirely unlikely) that the reference to “God’s image” has much to do with the physical appearance of human beings.
The thesis of this post is that the removal of the “sight” of a second party may actually hinder one’s propensity to love someone, and that that has consequences in our political and social lives. This may seem obvious, but I am going to take it a step further than the obvious.
We know intuitively that a blind person must be able to love a person, so physical sight is not necessary to love someone. But it is surely easier to avoid loving another person if one does not have to see that person. If your community keeps homeless people relegated to a rough corner of town that you never visit, it is easier not to think of them or help them. But if you have to face homeless people every day, your conscience is more likely to be bothered and perhaps spur you to do something to love the homeless, even if only donating to a local charity or giving a few bucks to a homeless person who appears to be in need. On the other hand, one might choose to become callous toward the homeless, particularly with the aid of stereotypes and rationalizations such as “homeless people are lazy.” Accordingly, it is said that if you cannot even love those who you see (and sight should make it easier to love someone), you cannot love God, whom you cannot see (because it is presumably harder to love God, who you cannot see).
But what if you owned a small private business in a neighborhood with homeless people? I would imagine it would be even more difficult to resist a sense of sympathy to (and even responsibility for) the needs of those in the community.
Setting aside private companies, the “owners” of a publicly-traded corporation could be shareholders from all across the world. If the corporation runs nation-wide chain retail stores or restaurants, the shareholder is far removed from the faces on the ground. A corporation cannot truly love a person. The corporation exists to provide profit to its shareholders. Sure, a corporation can give money to a charitable cause, but it generally does so because it helps the corporation’s bottom line in the long run by building good will with consumers. The private small business owner is in a much better position to help those with needs in the community because the private small business owner can actually “see” the faces of the need in a real way.
Furthermore, the private small business owner sees his or her employees and is more likely to treat them in a loving manner. Grace and mercy cost a business owner no more than he or she is willing to voluntarily contribute. The shareholders of a private corporation cannot see the employees and thus will not care about them. The corporate hierarchy will provide little grace or mercy at the sacrifice of the company’s (and the shareholders’) bottom line. Employees within a corporation can still exercise some grace and mercy, but with a much greater risk. If an employee in a corporation shows mercy to a subordinate and it does not work out, the managerial employee loses his job, which is more than the comparatively negligible amount of profit lost by the corporation.
Now enter politicians.
Politicians, surviving largely on the backs of private corporations (this goes for Democrats as well as Republicans), answer these bottom-line focused entities rather than the rank and file individuals. Moreover, federal government politicians are far removed from their constituents (often by thousands of miles). If politicians need not look many of their constituents in the face for most of the year, it will be easier to forget to love them or serve their interests, just as people forget about the homeless in the bad areas of town that they never visit.
Is the link between “sight” and “love” a good reason to be suspicious of corporations and support local businesses? Is it a good reason to prefer local to state or national government?
In a recent exchange with a scientist, I came upon an argument that intelligent design should not be taught in public schools because it is not science and is not falsifiable. I am not a scientist, but this argument led me to a question: what would falsify the theory of evolution by means of natural selection? I decided to get some of the basics of the theory of evolution from a hostile source. Here are some quotes from Douglas Futuyma, professor of evolutionary biology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, president of the Society for the Study of Evolution and the American Society of Naturalists, that I find relevant to my thoughts:
The reason that natural selection is important is that it’s the central idea, stemming from Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, that explains design in nature. It is the one process that is responsible for the evolution of adaptations of organisms to their environment.
Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection caused quite a stir when it appeared in 1859. Evidence to support evolution and natural selection, of course, has accumulated over time, and now science accepts that evolution is a fact and that natural selection explains very well how adaptive evolution takes place.
You can’t have any evolutionary change whatever without mutation, and perhaps recombination, giving rise to genetic variation. But once you have genetic variation, there are basically two major possibilities:
- First, there is simply no difference between the different genotypes or different genes in their impact on survival or reproduction, and in that case, you can have random changes of one versus the other type in a population or a species until eventually one replaces the other. That is an evolutionary change. It happens entirely by chance, by random fluctuations. That is what we call the process of genetic drift.
- Genetic drift is very different from possibility number two, natural selection, which is a much more consistent, predictable, dependable change in the proportion of one gene vs. another, one genotype vs. another. Why? Simply because there is some consistent superiority, shall we way, of one genotype vs. another in some feature that affects its survival or some feature affecting its reproductive capabilities.
. . . .
Evolution certainly does involve randomness; it does involve unpredictable chance. For example, the origin of new genetic variation by mutation is a process that involves a great deal of chance. Genetic drift, the process I referred to earlier, is a matter of chance.
. . . .
[N]atural selection is not like Mother Nature watching over us. Since natural selection is totally an impersonal process that is nothing more than a difference, generation by generation, in the reproductive success of one genome over another, there’s no way that it can look forward to the future or guard against the possibility of extinction. What individuals have right now that gives them superior adaptation may lead to disaster tomorrow.
. . . .
[F]irst of all, random processes are involved in the evolutionary process. For example, the origin of new mutations: a lot of evolution is dependent on particular mutational changes in genes that were very, very rare or unlikely, but that just happened at the right time, in the right species, in the right environment, but it need not happen that way. So, there’s this unpredictability. In addition, the particular sequence of environmental changes that the Earth underwent and that organisms were exposed to over billions of years has left a long-term imprint on species as they are today. If the sequence of environmental changes were different, you would have a different evolutionary history, leading to entirely different organisms over time.
. . . .
The philosopher Daniel Dennett called natural selection “Darwin’s dangerous idea” for a good reason: it is a very simple natural mechanism that explains the appearance of design in living things. Before Darwin, the adaptations and exquisite complexity of organisms were ascribed to creation by an omnipotent, beneficent designer, namely God, and indeed were among the major arguments for the existence of such a designer. Darwin’s (and Wallace’s) concept of natural selection made this “argument from design” completely superfluous. It accomplished for biology what Newton and his successors had accomplished in physics: it provided a purely natural explanation for order and the appearance of design. It made the features of organisms explicable by processes that can be studied by science instead of ascribing them to miracles. The contemporary “intelligent design” movement is simply a repetition of the predarwinian argument, and of course it cannot be taken seriously as a scientific explanation of the properties of living things.
So what I take from the above is that evolution involves a process of random and unpredictable mutation, combined with a predictable process of natural selection whereby certain mutations win out over others, but all mutations in all species began in a single common ancestor. [Another more succinct summary is available here.]
Professor Futuyma admits that there is an “appearance of design in living things.” He claims that the theory of evolution by means of natural selection—which is to say, one way of interpreting the evidence—explains that appearance of design based on random occurrences. The intelligent design (ID) crowd claims that the theory of evolution by means of natural selection is not the best explanation of the appearance of design. The ID people claim that life appears designed because it is designed; it is not random. Now, keep in mind, the ID scientists make no claim for the source of this designer—it could be aliens; they can’t (and won’t) say (“Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural”). But ID scientists claim that life was designed by some intelligent source. I’ll allow some of the ID people to speak for themselves:
The theory of intelligent design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. . . .
If [evolution] simply means “change over time,” or even that living things are related by common ancestry, then there is no inherent conflict between evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory. However, the dominant theory of evolution today is neo-Darwinism, which contends that evolution is driven by natural selection acting on random mutations, an unpredictable and purposeless process that “has no discernable direction or goal, including survival of a species.” (NABT Statement on Teaching Evolution). It is this specific claim made by neo-Darwinism that intelligent design theory directly challenges.
Now, as to the claim that the theory of evolution by means of natural selection is scientific and ID is not because ID is not falsifiable: how is the concept of randomness possibly falsifiable in any way that ID is not? Is the question of whether some certain pattern is random or designed not a proper subject of scientific inquiry? If not, then scientists have no business saying anything is random (and thus Professor Futuyma’s brilliant explanation above is not scientific; the concept of randomness is all over the place). But if that question is a subject of science, then ID certainly belongs in the scientific discussion. ID is merely an interpretation of the evidence which, as Professor Futuyma admitted, establishes the appearance of design in nature.
Thus, the ID proponents claim that what they are doing is science:
Is intelligent design a scientific theory?
Yes. The scientific method is commonly described as a four-step process involving observations, hypothesis, experiments, and conclusion. Intelligent design begins with the observation that intelligent agents produce complex and specified information (CSI). Design theorists hypothesize that if a natural object was designed, it will contain high levels of CSI. Scientists then perform experimental tests upon natural objects to determine if they contain complex and specified information. One easily testable form of CSI is irreducible complexity, which can be discovered by experimentally reverse-engineering biological structures to see if they require all of their parts to function. When ID researchers find irreducible complexity in biology, they conclude that such structures were designed.
So, if we’re going to teach the evolutionary process in public schools, either we include arguments for randomness and arguments for intended design, or we exclude both. I do not buy Professor Futuyma’s conclusory dismissal of ID on the ground that the design argument is “pre-darwinian” and therefore wrong or unscientific. Darwinian evolutionary theory is pre-Naturallawyer (Darwin died long before I was born); so is it wrong if I disagree with it? The age of an argument is a remarkably bad reason for discarding an argument. Equally suspect is the argument that ID is wrong because the “scientific consensus” says that it’s wrong. The consensus of the scientific community is constantly changing. If scientific consensus is a reason to abandon a controversial argument, the emperor is wearing some mighty fine new clothes on his way to public schools these days.
September 17, 2009
To follow up on an earlier brief post, I want to give a more detailed accounting of the meaning of Natural Law from Thomas Aquinas. I’ll pick a couple of his comments in his Treatise on Law (a subpart of his Summa Theologica).
1. On the substance of the Natural Law itself, Aquinas states:
[T]he first principle of practical reason is one founded on the notion of good, viz. that “good is that which all things seek after.” Hence this is the first precept of law, that “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.” All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this: so that whatever the practical reason naturally apprehends as man’s good (or evil) belongs to the precepts of the natural law as something to be done or avoided.
Since, however, good has the nature of an end, and evil, the nature of a contrary, hence it is that all those things to which man has a natural inclination, are naturally apprehended by reason as being good, and consequently as objects of pursuit, and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance. Wherefore according to the order of natural inclinations, is the order of the precepts of the natural law. Because in man there is first of all an inclination to good in accordance with the nature which he has in common with all substances: inasmuch as every substance seeks the preservation of its own being, according to its nature: and by reason of this inclination, whatever is a means of preserving human life, and of warding off its obstacles, belongs to the natural law. Secondly, there is in man an inclination to things that pertain to him more specially, according to that nature which he has in common with other animals: and in virtue of this inclination, those things are said to belong to the natural law, “which nature has taught to all animals” [*Pandect. Just. I, tit. i], such as sexual intercourse, education of offspring and so forth. Thirdly, there is in man an inclination to good, according to the nature of his reason, which nature is proper to him: thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society: and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law; for instance, to shun ignorance, to avoid offending those among whom one has to live, and other such things regarding the above inclination.
2. On the extent to which Natural Law is present in all people, true for all people, and known by all people, Aquinas states:
As stated above (Articles ,3), to the natural law belongs those things to which a man is inclined naturally: and among these it is proper to man to be inclined to act according to reason. Now the process of reason is from the common to the proper, as stated in Phys. i. The speculative reason, however, is differently situated in this matter, from the practical reason. For, since the speculative reason is busied chiefly with the necessary things, which cannot be otherwise than they are, its proper conclusions, like the universal principles, contain the truth without fail. The practical reason, on the other hand, is busied with contingent matters, about which human actions are concerned: and consequently, although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects. Accordingly then in speculative matters truth is the same in all men, both as to principles and as to conclusions: although the truth is not known to all as regards the conclusions, but only as regards the principles which are called common notions. But in matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles: and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all.
It is therefore evident that, as regards the general principles whether of speculative or of practical reason, truth or rectitude is the same for all, and is equally known by all. As to the proper conclusions of the speculative reason, the truth is the same for all, but is not equally known to all: thus it is true for all that the three angles of a triangle are together equal to two right angles, although it is not known to all. But as to the proper conclusions of the practical reason, neither is the truth or rectitude the same for all, nor, where it is the same, is it equally known by all. Thus it is right and true for all to act according to reason: and from this principle it follows as a proper conclusion, that goods entrusted to another should be restored to their owner. Now this is true for the majority of cases: but it may happen in a particular case that it would be injurious, and therefore unreasonable, to restore goods held in trust; for instance, if they are claimed for the purpose of fighting against one’s country. And this principle will be found to fail the more, according as we descend further into detail, e.g. if one were to say that goods held in trust should be restored with such and such a guarantee, or in such and such a way; because the greater the number of conditions added, the greater the number of ways in which the principle may fail, so that it be not right to restore or not to restore.
Consequently we must say that the natural law, as to general principles, is the same for all, both as to rectitude and as to knowledge. But as to certain matters of detail, which are conclusions, as it were, of those general principles, it is the same for all in the majority of cases, both as to rectitude and as to knowledge; and yet in some few cases it may fail, both as to rectitude, by reason of certain obstacles (just as natures subject to generation and corruption fail in some few cases on account of some obstacle), and as to knowledge, since in some the reason is perverted by passion, or evil habit, or an evil disposition of nature; thus formerly, theft, although it is expressly contrary to the natural law, was not considered wrong among the Germans, as Julius Caesar relates (De Bello Gall. vi).
3. Aquinas further explains how people who know the Natural Law can deny the Natural Law and end up affirming things that are obviously wrong:
As stated above (Articles ,5), there belong to the natural law, first, certain most general precepts, that are known to all; and secondly, certain secondary and more detailed precepts, which are, as it were, conclusions following closely from first principles. As to those general principles, the natural law, in the abstract, can nowise be blotted out from men’s hearts. But it is blotted out in the case of a particular action, in so far as reason is hindered from applying the general principle to a particular point of practice, on account of concupiscence or some other passion, as stated above (Question , Article ). But as to the other, i.e. the secondary precepts, the natural law can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions, just as in speculative matters errors occur in respect of necessary conclusions; or by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among some men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states (Rm. i), were not esteemed sinful.
4. With respect to human laws, Aquinas states that all human laws must conform to the Natural Law:
As Augustine says (De Lib. Arb. i, 5) “that which is not just seems to be no law at all”: wherefore the force of a law depends on the extent of its justice. Now in human affairs a thing is said to be just, from being right, according to the rule of reason. But the first rule of reason is the law of nature, as is clear from what has been stated above (Question , Article , ad 2). Consequently every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. But if in any point it deflects from the law of nature, it is no longer a law but a perversion of law.
But it must be noted that something may be derived from the natural law in two ways: first, as a conclusion from premises, secondly, by way of determination of certain generalities. The first way is like to that by which, in sciences, demonstrated conclusions are drawn from the principles: while the second mode is likened to that whereby, in the arts, general forms are particularized as to details: thus the craftsman needs to determine the general form of a house to some particular shape. Some things are therefore derived from the general principles of the natural law, by way of conclusions; e.g. that “one must not kill” may be derived as a conclusion from the principle that “one should do harm to no man”: while some are derived therefrom by way of determination; e.g. the law of nature has it that the evil-doer should be punished; but that he be punished in this or that way, is a determination of the law of nature.
Accordingly both modes of derivation are found in the human law. But those things which are derived in the first way, are contained in human law not as emanating therefrom exclusively, but have some force from the natural law also. But those things which are derived in the second way, have no other force than that of human law.
All of this is fairly easy to summarize: There is an objective code of moral laws (the “natural law”) that actually exists. The first rules are “do good, avoid evil,” and other obvious rules immediately flow out of or coincide with that (do not harm people, etc.). These laws are not a matter of opinion and we humans did not decide to make them up, these laws are what they are and always have been. Everyone knows these obvious laws, but honest men can disagree about the applications of these laws in certain complicated circumstances. People who violate these laws can become self-deluded and then think they do not know the laws that they know. Laws that humans make up through government should conform to these laws.
August 27, 2009
We hear a lot about “rights” in American discourse. Just watching Sportscenter, I heard the term “animal rights” (in reference to Michael Vick), which got me thinking. What is a right?
Civil rights. Animal rights. Equal rights. So-called “reproductive rights.” “Gay rights.” The right of privacy. We hear lately that everyone has a “right to healthcare”.
From America’s founding document: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I did a Wikipedia search on the subject just to see what was there, and the summary was brief and, in my opinion, incomplete, but it still mentioned a couple of the concepts I will discuss below.
August 24, 2009
With a blog called “The Natural Lawyer,” I suppose it’s about time I explain what I mean by the concept of “Natural Law.”
Professor J. Budziszewski at Texas University is one of the prominent scholars on the subject. I will briefly borrow from an interview he did for the Acton Institute; it’s useful here because it’s in Q&A format:
What is the natural law?
Budziszewski: Our subject is called natural law because it has the qualities of all law. Law has rightly been defined as an ordinance of reason, for the common good, made by the one who has care of the community, and promulgated. Consider the natural law against murder. It is not an arbitrary whim, but a rule that the mind can grasp as right. It serves not some special interest, but the universal good. Its author has care of the universe, for he (God) created it. And it is not a secret rule, for God has so arranged his creation that every rational being knows about it.
Our subject is called natural law because it is built into the design of human nature and woven into the fabric of the normal human mind. Another reason for calling it natural is that we rightly take it to be about what really is—a rule like the prohibition of murder reflects not a mere illusion or projection, but genuine knowledge. It expresses the actual moral character of a certain kind of act.
R&L: Why is the natural law something that “we can’t not know?”
Budziszewski: Mainly because we have been endowed by God with conscience. I am referring to “deep conscience,” which used to be called synderesis—the interior witness to the foundational principles of morality. We must distinguish it from “surface conscience,” which used to be called conscientia—what we derive from the foundational principles, whether correctly or incorrectly, whether by means honest or dishonest. Deep conscience can be suppressed and denied, but it can never be erased. Surface conscience, unfortunately, can be erased and distorted in numerous ways—one of several reasons why moral education and discipline remain necessary.
In fact there are at least four ways in which we know the natural law. Deep conscience, the First Witness, is the one primarily responsible for “what we can’t not know.” The others concern “what we can’t help learning.” The Second Witness is our recognition of the designedness of things in general, which not only draws our attention to the Designer, but also assures us that the other witnesses are not meaning ful. The Third Witness is the particulars of our own design—for example, the interdependence and complementarity of the sexes. The Fourth Witness is the natural consequences of our behavior. All four work together.
There is obviously a lot more to Natural Law Theory; this summary just provides the starting points. Professor Budziszewski has also written a fascinating article on the consequences of denying conscience, both societally and individually.
I also wrote another entry describing the basics of Natural Law Theory here.