AMERICA AND THE RULE OF LAW(Natural Law, Part One)

Science has sometimes been said to be opposed to faith, and inconsistent with it. But all science, in fact, rests on a basis of faith, for it assumes the permanence and uniformity of natural laws - a thing which can never be demonstrated. ~Tryon Edwards

It has often been repeated that America is a nation of laws and that without the rule of law America would not exist. Let’s examine the various forms that law takes and see how each is and has been a necessary component in the existence of our nation.

Rule of Law: According to Wikipedia (a useful source for this particular question), the rule of law, also called supremacy of law, simply means that the law is above everyone and it applies to everyone. Whether governors or governed, rulers or ruled, no one is above the law, no one is exempted from the law, and no one can grant exemption to the application of the law.

This is a fair definition and applies to all forms of laws as we will discuss them. And, not only is everyone subject to the law, no one is exempt on the basis of ignorance. The law exists, in each of its forms, whether we know it or not (or whether we like it or not).

Positive, or man-made law: There are a smattering of views and philosophies about Natural Law dating to Plato and Aristotle who wrote: “Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state, in my view, is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state” (350 B.C.). This is a reference to the law as devised by man, for the purpose of governing a people and creating orderly behavior in a community or state. But where did the laws devised from man come from? The laws created by man were posited by man based on religious and philosophical ideas. Various philosophers and theologians have written about the nature of the world, the causes and purposes of things in the world, and the purpose and relationship that Man has to the world. These ideas are called Natural Law.

Before we discuss Natural Law, it is important to examine our own beliefs about the Nature of the World. These beliefs fall into three general categories:

Realism: The belief, based on observation and logic, in the real and true existence of things. This is the systematic attempt to demonstrate Reality through logic and the Scientific Method of testing and falsifiability. This is principally demonstrated in Physics.

Nave Realism: Most of us believe that the world is real, that things really exist, and behave as if this is so. However, most of us do not engage in the systematic effort to logically and empirically prove that that there is a reality. Most people behave as Nave Realists.

Constructionism: Constructionism is a very conservative philosophical position that we have no way of knowing whether something is real or not because we are limited as human beings. For each of us our experience is limited and unique. It has been said that all we are capable of experiencing is the stimulation on our nerve endings. There may or may not be something real out there, however, all we really know is what our nerves tell us. The Constructionist believes that whether there is a reality or not, it is useful to act as if there is, and that it is most useful to construct models of reality which educate and guide us. Some of these constructions are Laws.

Natural Law: In a sense, Aristotle was right in positing that no one is above the law—that no man is above the law and that every man is subject to it. But, in a sense he is wrong in that there is something, or someone above the law of man and that someone is whomever or whatever put the principles in place from which Man’s Law was derived. These sources fall into two categories, Nature and God. Natural Law, regardless of its derivation, is the attempt by Man to know the order and relationship of things and to posit universally true principles based on this knowledge. These principles could then be used as a guide for living and for the pursuit of happiness whether that happiness was temporal or eternal (i.e. salvation). In fact, Aristotle had a distinctly temporal or earthly definition of happiness: “Happiness is striving one’s utmost under favorable conditions.” Certainly, the Laws of Man represent attempts to conform to that definition, and it is the obligation of a just government to set up the conditions under which its citizens can be happy. Any government failing to set up favorable conditions, should at the very least, adopt the Hippocratic Oath equivalent and refrain from the violation of Natural Law. That is, governments should do no harm to its citizens, and they should not, most essentially, violate Human Rights as derived from Natural Law.

The sources of Knowledge: As stated, Man can gain knowledge from a variety of sources, principally Nature and God. Let’s start with the Laws of Nature. Using the scientific method, beginning with rudimentary ideas based on observation, we can systematically describe, categorize, control and predict the natural phenomenon of this world and beyond—to other worlds and the universe. Knowledge, beginning with a notion, progresses to an idea which is put to some sort of empirical or observable test. The idea, if not contradicted by the results of the test, is further refined into an hypothesis which, along with alternative or competing hypotheses is subject to further tests. If the tests support one hypothesis consistently while disproving other hypotheses, then, according to the scientific method, we have the beginning of an explanation for the phenomenon. But, in science, we never have the final explanation. In science, the effort to find more and more explanatory hypotheses, which can be incorporated into paradigms or theories, never ends. In science, the effort for knowledge must go on in order to find the “first cause.” The problem is that it is not known whether the explanation now present for any phenomenon is the first or basic one, and so the scientist must go on to seek more and more basic explanations. This is vitally important in science and technology where better and more basic explanations lead to faster, smaller, less energy consuming technology and the unburdening of Mankind in his pursuit of happiness. If scientists were to stop with early explanations, we would believe now what was once believed—that there are four elements, Fire, Water, Earth and Wind, and our devices would be constructed in accordance.

In Science, there has been great progress in understanding the Laws of Nature, particularly in physics. The Laws of Gravity, Energy (E=MC2), boiling point of water, speed of light, speed of sound, etc. are particularly well known. Interestingly, there is a difference between a Law of Nature and a Law of Man and this difference is revealed when you break one of the laws. When breaking a Law of Man there is, or is supposed to be, a consequence and that consequence is punishment. If, however, you break a Law of Nature, it means that the law has been incorrectly derived and must be re-studied and rewritten to conform with the true Law of Nature.

Most of us have a belief in a supreme being or God. When applying logic to the question regarding who established the Laws of Nature, it could be derived that it was something superior or beyond the Laws of Nature—a being not subject to its confines. Interestingly, this supposition is no different to the scientist’s endeavor to search beyond what is presently known in the pursuit of first causes. And, there is no disputing the fact that the scientist’s search for principles not yet discovered is a faith-based activity. The scientist simply knows that there is something beyond what he knows. It seems that we all believe in a First Cause—which most of us believe is God. So, in believing that there is a God, how can we know what he wants from us and for us? And how can we derive principles from God? Well, the first way is what we have already discussed. We can systematically examine the physical principles that God has created and as revealed in the Laws of Nature. Others have sought guidance directly from God and reported it scripturally in the form of Prophecy, Inspiration and Revelation. Christians have also had the Word of guidance from God provided directly in the form of his Son, Jesus Christ who both existed as an example, a counselor, and a teacher and a leader about how to live on earth.

Moral Law: The supposition in Natural Law, is that regardless of the source of Knowledge, living within its boundaries or standards is the path to both temporal and eternal happiness. The idea of Moral Law could be derived from either source. We could study the behavior of mankind (which behavioral scientists do) and derive principles of happiness, success, etc. In the behavioral sciences, predication and control of behavior is well understood. The problem is that there is never complete prediction or total control and there is always variability in the behavior of human subjects. That is, the human being has been given something that does not exist in the Laws of Nature, namely Free Will. That a set of moral guidelines be established for the rightness or wrongness, for the health or sickness, for the salvation or damnation of Mankind is essential—because Man has the capacity to violate moral law but not the Laws of Nature.

We can see that both moral laws and the laws of Nature can converge on what would become known as Common Law which would be then codified as English Common Law, and eventually have great influence on our Founding Fathers in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Let’s take “Thou shalt not murder,” for example. The murdered person certainly has been deprived of his life, temporal happiness, and his future. In examining why this is wrong, it can be seen that murder, while physically possible, violates moral and biblical law if and only if the murdered man had the right to live. This idea implied that Man had rights, as could be derived from Natural Law. These rights were not given to him; he simply had them as part of his nature, or the nature of things, the nature of the world. Whoever created Natural Law, gave man the right to life. Were there other rights derived from Natural Law? Yes, the right to property, the right to freedom. These were both observed, exercised, and judged to be essential to healthy living. And they are the precursor to work—why work if your accomplishments are taken and you cannot depend, day by day that your family has the fruits of your labor or a secure place to reside? Therefore, laws such as “Thou shalt not steal” were derived from the right to own property.

Natural Law and the foundation of America: In this manner, we can see how human rights were derived from the study of Natural Law, and that this was most eloquently and basically stated in our Declaration of Independence. Our Founders stated that God gave us our inalienable rights—Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Our first President, George Washington, clearly had Natural Law (the relationship between God and government) in mind when he issued the proclamation establishing Thanksgiving (1789):

“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor…therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.”

Natural Law—the Order of Things: If we were to put things in their proper order, as suggested by the discussion of Natural Law, then we would say that to date, our human capacity to know the truth, to believe we know the truth, or to construct a model of the truth (from the stimulation of our neurons) puts the order as follows: A supreme being, God, created Heaven and Earth. Man, a lesser being, has the capacity to reason, to learn, and to discern the nature and purpose of things as well as his relationship to those things. This study leads to knowledge and principles about behavior which is both beneficial (good, moral) or (evil, immoral) for himself and others. It also leads to conclusions about human nature and the capacity for destruction and evil—also known as sin. From such observations and through logic, principles were derived about the rights of Mankind and man-made laws were constructed to justly establish standards for human conduct. Human rights were discovered from Natural Law. The Laws of Man, and the Lawful conduct of Government are man-made constructs that are established to protect those inalienable rights. Laws apply in our time and for all time. There is a consequence for violating either.


~Bryce Lefever