I say that "Natural Law" is baseless.
Baseless or worse.
"I cannot see why man should not be just as cruel as nature" -Adolf Hitler
Natural law theory can in principle justify just about anything one wants it too, as the example of Hilter suggests.
"Nature evolves" has taken a great deal of the wind out of the sails of "purpose"/telos in nature as self-evidencing moral laws via autonomous human reason. Not to mention the collapse of classical foundationalism in philosophy. The Reformers rejected natural law and rather held to natural revelation. Philosophical based theology and/or philosophically based morality, which became staples of the Latin Catholic tradition from the middle ages, have never been of any sort of central import dogmatically or otherwise for Orthodoxy. Father Gregory R. Jensen relates "two contemporary Orthodox theologians—Fr Alexander Schmemann and Vladimir Lossky—seem to reject the idea that natural law has any application in Christian theology since (following ironically enough, an argument which St Augustine, that paragon of Western theology, would have embraced) what is “natural” for human is our state before Adam’s transgression. Now what we know about humanity is profoundly unnatural" (http://palamas.info/?p=522
"...most ethicists today are skeptical of reliance on natural law. Yet natural law ethics is not without its defenders... theology of the evangelical type has difficulties with this conception. Instead of a universal moral law, which connotes a certain independence from God, it is more biblical to speak of the personal law rooted in the very being of God. Our appeal is not so much to a general moral law as to the living voice of the Lawgiver... There is no revealed morality in the sense of divinely given moral principles that are accessible to natural reason and universally binding" Donald Bloesch, Freedom For Obedience: Evangelical Ethics in Contemporary Times
, p. 21.
Arguably it was failure to achieve the inflated claims regarding the capacity of rationalism to create a scientific natural ethic and a natural theology which contributed respectively to the postmodern moral malaise and the Death of God in the West (and/or retreat from the God of the Gaps to the God of the Guts etc.). It is not so easy to get round those like Nietzsche and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who thought Nietzsche did Christendom one of the greatest favors in the history of philosophy by showing the Emperor that is natural law morality has no clothes at the end of the day.
Most contemporary secular thinkers deny the possibility of discovering in nature any reason for restraining natural passions. Atheist James Sanson believes natural law establishes an ethic of self-indulgence. Hugh Hefner defends a natural law ethic of sexual indulgence on the basis of “a sense of connection to nature on this planet.” Peter Singer of Princeton University sees nothing in nature making sex with animals “an offense to our status and dignity as human beings” (Peter Singer, “Heavy Petting,” http://www.Nerve.com
).Homosexual advocate Andrew Sullivan argues natural law justifies “a diversity of moral sexual experience and identity” because, “by empirical observation, Homo sapiens is a moderately adulterous species, made up primarily of mildly unfaithful male-female couples with a small minority of same-sex coupling" (Andrew Sullivan, The Conservative Soul
(NY: Harper, 2006), p. 97).
Natural law theory itself has "evolved." Arthur Harding, in Origins of the Natural Law Tradition, says “concepts of natural law are almost as varied as are the philosophical systems which have been evolved in the history of Western civilization” (Arthur L. Harding, ed., Origins of Natural Law Tradition
, p. v). Daniel O’Connor affirms “various versions of the doctrine differ so much both in their detail and in their philosophical bases that it is very misleading to talk of the theory of natural law" (Daniel John O’Connor, Aquinas and Natural Law
(London: Macmillan, 1967), p. 57). Carl C. F. H. Henry affirmed natural law means so many different things to so many different people some have argued natural law has no “precise content” and “changes with an evolving society” (First Things (January 1995): 54-60).
Catholic theologian Charles Curran claims "the concept of natural law as a deductive methodology based on eternal and immutable essences and resulting in specific absolute norms is no longer acceptable to the majority of Catholic moral theologians writing today" (Curran, Charles, "Catholic Moral Theology Today" in New Perpectives in Moral Theology
, ed., Charles Curran (Notre Dame: UNDP, 1982), p. 6).
The notion of immutable essences or purposes has completely evaporated with the advent of contemporary paradigms of biology, as biologist/paleontologist Stephen J. Gould explains: "Natural selection may build an organ 'for' a specific function or group of functions. But this 'purpose' need not fully specify the capacity of the organ. Objects designed for definite purposes can, as a result of their structural complexity, perform many other tasks as well... Jury rigging of ordinary components for special functions as confutation of design -not "ideal engineering." (Stephen J. Gould, The Panda's Thumb
, pp. 57, 20-21). For Gould social and moral norms cannot be derived from nature period "Darwinism compels us to seek meaning elsewhere -and isn't this what art, music, literature, ethical theory, personal struggle... is all about?" (ibid, p. 83). There are evolutionary ethicists who disagree, yet their conclusions are invariably at odds with revealed theology at many points, e.g. the common claim that human beings were biologically designed for unfaithfulness to a single spouse.
Carl F. H. Henry reminds us "proponents of evolutionary theory who stressed the variation of human nature in its supposed stages of development (cf. Poddimattam, Relativity of Natural Law
) dealt a serious blow to natural law theory and prepared the way for merely sociological and behavioristic conceptions of law and justice. The Utilitarians and Pragmatists then soon championed law on merely sociological grounds. Today the focus in law and justice centers on specific rights, although the concept of human rights often balloons into vague and vacuous notions like freedom and secularity. Such terms mean different things in different societies. Humanist attempts to deduce human rights simply from the nature of man cannot vindicate such rights as normative. When rights have only pragmatic justification, they soon become postulates that can be easily modified and overturned..." (C. F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority
, Vol II, p. 423).
Natural law theories and their content are culturally conditioned. "...every attempt to spell out the intellectual content of natural law can be shown to be historically and culturally conditioned. While all people seem to have a moral sense, when they begin articulating what this means, their own cultural and religious background proves to be determinative in their judgments. We need to take seriously this telling criticism of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn: 'Is there such a thing as a natural law in the sense that we all 'naturally' reject murder, lies, deceit, wanton cruelty, adulterary, theft, or contempt of parents? As a world traveler and student of ethnology I deny this in the face of certain Christian theological tradition " Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, "Jews, Christians, and Gentiles," National Review
35, no. 20 (Oct. 14, 1983), p. 1282).
Jacques Ellul has pointed out that speculative natural law theory -whether that of the Stoics or of Thomas Aquinas -has exerted only limited juridicial influence since in practice juridicial systems pay little if any attention to it. Human beings disagree over the content as well as over the source of law and justice.
In his essay “Pastoral Considerations on Current Problems: Sex, Natural Law and Orthodoxy,” Fr. George Morelli, a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Orthodox priest (Antiochian) writes "Extra-marital sex is not against the natural law. In science, when we speak of natural we mean what is in nature. In nature, many types of behaviors exist. There are many varieties that we see in our own culture and even more varieties that we can see in cross cultural comparisons. Sociological and anthropological studies lead the way here. Thus monogamy, polygamy, war, murder, chastity, and homosexuality, etc., are all equally lawful in nature because they all exist. For example, we may observe that in a certain culture, homosexual behavior occurs and thereby deviates from what the average individual does. But that neither makes it unnatural nor immoral. The fact that it exists means it is natural, as natural as a sunrise or an earthquake, a flower or a flood." For Fr. George moral norms cannot be based on empirical science, but on the Gospel and the witness of God to the heart alone. “We do not obey a proscription, sexual or otherwise, because it adheres to some so-called “pseudo” natural law. We obey according to the measure of our faith. The measure of our faith will be based on the depth of heart and sincerity of our prayer. It would be well to keep in mind what our holy fathers have taught us – obedience leads to faith and prayer, and in turn, faith and prayer lead to obedience. Being excellent psychologists, the fathers tell us that the main pitfalls to prayer and obedience to God’s will are forgetfulness, ignorance and laziness. Possibly we could sum up these three categories into two: knowledge and perseverance (or persistence). Real knowledge of the Christian spiritual-moral life can only come from the light of faith in accordance with the Gospels and the guidance of the Church. Persistence in seeking the will of God and obedience to His commandments also comes through faith. Obedience itself makes for even greater love, faith and obedience."
Protestant/Reformed author Gary North writes "Natural law theory has always suffered from the dualism of all Greek thought: law vs. change. The unchanging pure logic of Parmenides cannot be reconciled to the constant historical flux of Heraclitus. Greek philosophy never resolved this dualism. No humanist philosophy ever has, either. The problem today is that the tiny handful of natural law theory defenders are trying to breathe life into a long-dead horse. They are wasting precious time. Natural law theory has never worked as the basis of any social order, but after Charles Darwin, the academic community abandoned natural law theory. Darwin taught that nature is impersonal and not normative. There is no universal ethics. There is only a constant struggle for personal survival... If the vast majority of men refuse to accept a concept of a fixed, universal common logic, let alone fixed, universal social and ethical laws, we cannot build a society based on natural law. This has always been true, but after Darwin's theory of natural selection, it has become more obvious to all but a handful of natural law defenders. They defend the idea of a universal theory of ethics and social order, the details of which have yet to be presented in a form that more than a few social theorists are willing to accept. Natural law theory requires logical universality to be true, yet the supposedly universal practical details of the system have never gained anything like a simple majority. Christian social theorists (there are not many) are among the few remaining defenders of natural law theory. This is ironic..."