BEING HUMAN, FUNDAMENTALLY (Natural Law, Part Two)

The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on Earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man, but only to have the law of nature for his rule. ~Samuel Adams

“Natural Law” has a long and important history in philosophy, the structure of our government, and in the realm of great thinking. An inquiry into natural law might take many directions and end up in myriad destinations. The idea of natural law is vast and encompassing. In fact, it is more than an idea. It is an entity which comprises truth, reality and existence. To put it succinctly, natural law is the idea that there is a nature and order to things. More to the point, that there is a natural relationship among all things ranging from how molecules, animals or human beings interact with one another. One can not hope to fully understand natural law for to do so would mean knowing all things. Our goal is to understand natural law as it generally applies in that there is a vital and necessary benefit to living within its parameters. For some, the goal is more ambitious—that is to understand facets of natural law in great detail. For example, Laws of Nature, while applying to everyone, is the specific domain of scientific inquiry in general, and physics in particular. And, from what I know of the laws of nature, e.g. gravity, speed of light, speed of sound, boiling point of water, properties of matter, etc., it is impossible to break one. To break a Law of Nature is tantamount to saying that we misunderstood its properties and our understanding needs to be revised and the law needs to be re-written.

There are other kinds of laws which are logical derivatives of natural law. These laws are established by man, attempting to control the behavior of members of a society or nations, for the good of everyone. What I know of the laws established by men or enacted by our legislatures is that it is possible to break them. The idea is that when we break a law of man the law is not wrong, the violator is wrong and should be punished so he doesn’t do it again.

Laws of Nature and the Laws of Man, both are subsets or derivatives of Natural Law which, broadly speaking, means that there is a nature to everything and that we live best by staying within the boundaries of Nature. The idea is that Natural Law was created by God—the same force that created the universe and the capacity for our existence in it. Man is unique among the creations in that he can derive from nature, from God, and from each other a knowledge and appreciation of Natural Law. We do this by observation, testing, using logic (both deductive and inductive reasoning) and through our experience in interactions and relationships. We find out what does and does not work, what does and does not hurt, and we learn what leads to what. If you jump of a high cliff, you are going to get hurt or killed. If you harm another person, you could realize that others could harm you—so civil behavior is discovered to be the Natural Law from which we derive our judicial law. The Golden Rule is the axiom upon which Common Law and then all Western judicial laws were built.

Behavioral Law: Once again, the fundamental idea in Natural Law is that there is an order and nature to everything and that, as humans, we can do a good (but not perfect) job in understanding it. Make no mistake, behavioral scientists are in the business of attempting to learn the nature of being human and deriving behavioral laws for our benefit using methods similar to physicists or any other scientist. We (behavioral scientists) do not understand the truth of any law in the way that God set it up, but we strive to get close. I tell my patients that I do not know the truth in a Devine way. However, I can give them some fundamental human truths based upon years of work on the topic and years of experience as a human being. The first statement of a behavioral law was described by Edward Thorndike (1911):

"Of several responses made to the same situation, those which are accompanied or closely followed by satisfaction to the animal will, other things being equal, be more firmly connected with the situation, so that, when it recurs, they will be more likely to recur; those which are accompanied or closely followed by discomfort to the animal will, other things being equal, have their connections with that situation weakened, so that, when it recurs, they will be less likely to occur" (p. 244).[1]

God created Behavioral Law, it is up to us to discover it.

There are three of these truths, being derived from Natural Law, that are fundamental to being human and should be included in the lexicon of Behavioral Law. The first is that we are responsible for our choices. We were given Free Will and the power to act—to make any choice our physiology allows. This makes each of us as individuals, solely and individually and personally responsible. This gives us agency and power to live in accord or in opposition with Natural Law, or any law, in any moment of choice. And all moments are moments of choice. The beauty of natural law is that, like it or not, or know it or not, it exists. We are responsible for ourselves, our choices, for anything that has anything to do with us whether we know it or not or like it or not. This truth is the Law of Responsibility. And, we were given it at birth. It is a base-state of being human. It is the most fundamental Law I know.

The second truth or Law is that everything in creation exists in relation to other things—if not everything. We are in relationship. This is the Law of Relationship. None of us exist independently of our environment (the natural world) or each other (where laws of man, behavior, and civility come into play). We have a relationship with things, with each other, and with God. These relationships exist whether or not we like them or whether or not we are aware of them. As humans, we are capable of being aware.

The third truth or Law becomes possible because of the first two. It is because we are responsible (have free agency over our choices) and because we are in relationship, that we are accountable. This is the Law of Accountability. That is, we all keep a kind of informal account of the behavior of others. We judge others and we are judged. This naturally occurring accountability can betray us if it is enacted too quickly or with too little data. Not really knowing someone is the foundation for bigotry. However, snap judgments about the behavior of others can also save our lives. It is just that by our relationships, and knowing the Law of Responsibility, we come to know who we can trust, who lies, who the go-to athlete on a team is, who are the kind, warm people and we know the ones who are mean, cruel, and unjust. So, like it or not, or know it or not, we are accountable to each other. And, we are accountable to the one who created us.

Whether or not we ever heard of Natural Law or its subsets in the laws of nature, behavior or judicial law, we know it to exist. That is, we believe in lawfulness. If we let go of a glass, we know that it will drop. If we hit the brakes while driving, we expect the car to slow down. If we cut in line at the Walmart, we can surely predict a reaction from others. If we throw a ball or swing a bat or pull the trigger we have an expectation based on lawfulness. If we give flowers to our spouse, we have an expectation of gratitude. All behavior is based on lawfulness. Every choice involves a prediction of an outcome, result or consequence. That we have lawfulness in the universe is what makes anything and everything possible. What a gift. Thanks be to God.


~Bryce Lefever