The Myth of Natural Law

Posted August 15, 2018 by Sean Gerety
Categories: John Robbins, Theology

 

cap freedomI recently had a troubling exchange on a “Gordon Clark Discussion” Facebook page where a participant made the following statement:

Libertarianism’s axiom is the non-aggression axiom, which means it is never OK to initiate aggression against person or property. Christians ground this axiom as a principle in divine natural law … Anarcho-capitalism is simply the Bible consistently applied.

I wondered where someone could possibly get this idea, even asserting that Christianity has anything to do with “natural law,” much less someone on a Gordon Clark discussion group.  As it turns out it’s from a group calling themselves “Reformed Libertarians.” This became clear when another person posted a piece by Brandon Adams titled, “Natural Law: Greek or Hebrew?”  In his article Brandon positively extols the so-called “natural law” as normative, even Christian.  Brandon writes:

… there is disagreement over the content and source of natural law. Greek natural law and Isralite natural law are seeking to answer two different questions. Greek natural law asks “What is man’s good?” Hebrew natural law asks “What does God require of man?” The Christian is going to answer “What is man’s good?” with “Doing what God requires,” so there will be a great deal of overlap. But the two questions are distinct…. When we talk about the importance of natural law for a biblical political philosophy on this site, we are not at all endorsing the use of fallen man’s reasoning from the general principle of “seek what is good” to specific conclusions about civil government. Rather, we are simply referring to the fact that the precepts of the moral law are binding on all men from all time. There can be no appeal to natural law in distinction from revealed law in Scripture because the two are the same. Nothing can be deduced from natural law that cannot also be deduced from Scripture. (emphasis mine)

The idea that “natural law” and the revealed law in Scripture are one and the same is absurd. Calling one “Greek” and other “Hebrew” misses the point.  There is no natural law. And, the assertion that “nothing can be deduced from natural law that cannot also be deduced from Scripture” is demonstrably false.  There are any number of things that can be logically deduced from the vagaries of  “natural law” and the non-aggression axiom that cannot possibly be deduced from Scripture. One of the most glaring examples of this in Libertarian circles is Murray Rothbard’s argument defending the natural right of parents to starve their own children to death:

Applying our theory to parents and children, this means that a parent does not have the right to aggress against his children, but also that the parent should not have a legal obligation to feed, clothe, or educate his children, since such obligations would entail positive acts coerced upon the parent and depriving the parent of his rights. The parent therefore may not murder or mutilate his child, and the law properly outlaws a parent from doing so. But the parent should have the legal right not to feed the child, i.e., to allow it to die. The law, therefore, may not properly compel the parent to feed a child or to keep it alive. (Again, whether or not a parent has a moral rather than a legally enforceable obligation to keep his child alive is a completely separate question.) This rule allows us to solve such vexing questions as: should a parent have the right to allow a deformed baby to die (e.g., by not feeding it)? The answer is of course yes, following a fortiori from the larger right to allow any baby, whether deformed or not, to die.

Then “Mr. Libertarian” adds this reassuring parenthesis:

(Though … in a libertarian society the existence of a free baby market will bring such “neglect” down to a minimum.)

Now, listen, little Johnny, if Mommy and Daddy don’t starve you to death we can always sell you to the highest bidder so be sure to brush your teeth.  Sleep tight.

Isn’t the “libertarian society” wonderful.

If you study Rothbard’s horrific argument his conclusions logically follow from his premises inexorably. The inherent absurdity of the non-aggression principle is not lost on Matt Zwolinski writing at Libertiaranism.org, even if it is seemingly lost on those writing at the “Reformed Libertarian”:

It’s one thing to say that aggression against others is wrong. It’s quite another to say that it’s the only thing that’s wrong – or the only wrong that is properly subject to prevention or rectification by force. But taken to its consistent extreme, as Murray Rothbard took it, the NAP [the non-aggression principle] implies that there is nothing wrong with allowing your three year-old son to starve to death, so long as you do not forcibly prevent him from obtaining food on his own. Or, at least, it implies that it would be wrong for others to, say, trespass on your property in order to give the child you’re deliberately starving a piece of bread. This, I think, is a fairly devastating reductio of the view that positive duties may never be coercively enforced. That it was Rothbard himself who presented the reductio, without, apparently, realizing the absurdity into which he had walked, rather boggles the mind. – Six Reasons Libertarians Should Reject the Non-Aggression Principle

While there are many things attractive about Libertarianism to include its belief in limited constitutional government, the acceptance and adherence to Austrian economics as an approximation of biblical economics, and even the non-aggression principle if only as a crude measure to identify some examples of government overreach, what is troubling is there are a number of young Christian men, some even calling themselves Scripturalists, who don’t seem to realize that in their youthful infatuation with Libertarianism and the non-aggression axiom that they end up juggling two competing and mutually exclusive axioms.  That’s because the non-aggression axiom is grounded on “natural law” theory, whereas the precepts of  Christianity are grounded on the axiom of the Bible alone.  To confuse the two, or even to equate them, is a fatal error.  Besides, the very idea of natural law fails before it even starts, as Gordon Clark explains in his Essays on Ethics and Politics:

The theory of natural law commits a major logical blunder when it tries to deduce a normative conclusion from descriptive premises. No matter how carefully or how intricately one describes what men do, or what the provisions of nature are, or how natural inclinations function, it is a logical impossibility to conclude that this is or is not what men ought to do. The is never implies the ought. This criticism applies to all empirical theories.

John Robbins writing in Freedom and Capitalism calls this “Hume’s Gap.” As Robbins  explains:

Law is not something that can be discovered in nature; it must be and has been revealed by God. Christian law is supernatural law, not natural law. The phrase “natural law” itself is capable of so many interpretations that anyone who advocates nature law must expend a great deal of effort explaining what he means.

Ironically, Brandon Adams quotes this last sentence above in the introduction to his article yet didn’t seem to grasp its significance when he concluded that natural law and the law revealed in Scripture are one and the same. Which is weird since only a page later in the same chapter in Freedom and Capitalism Robbins argues;

One of the principle objections to any theory of natural law is that it fails to take into account the fact that nature is cursed and man depraved. Nature is not normative; it is abnormal.

The doctrine of total depravity and even the historicity of the Fall are things any group calling themselves “Reformed,” even “Reformed Libertarian” should positively affirm, yet any discussion of man’s fallen and cursed state is missing from Brandon’s examination of natural law in both his imagined “Greek” and “Hebrew” varieties.

So while there may be some superficial overlap with natural law theory and the non-aggression axiom with the Christian system when it comes to things like the command not to steal or murder, the similarities begin to break down in areas like suicide, infanticide, abortion, so-called “homosexual marriage,” the legitimacy of taxation, the role of government in the administering of justice, and the list goes on. Which makes sense, because if you start with different axioms you are going to end up with different systems, any accidental coincidence between the two notwithstanding.

Contrary to Brandon above, the appeal to natural law stands in stark contrast to the revealed law in Scripture and the two are mutually exclusive for the simple reason that there is no natural law.  As Robbins explains above the precepts revealed in Scripture are supernatural, not natural, and are not discoverable in any sense (no pun intended) by the study and observation of nature.  According to Robbins “natural law” is nothing but vanity and idolatry:

Is it not obvious that only Christianity can furnish a valid ethical system precisely because it does not proport to derive law from reason or experience? David Hume … has laid an ax to the root of all efforts to devise a valid system of ethics from human experience. It it not evident that we must go out of — or rather, Someone must break into — our world in order to give us law? Only propositional revelation — only commands from the Lawgiver — can provide us with the needed ethical guidance.  Gordon Clark has formulated the Christian ethical principle in four words: “God’s precepts define morality.” Jerome Zanchius wrote that God “did not therefore will such things because they were in themselves right and he was bound to will them; but they are therefore equitable and right because he wills them.”

Those professing Christians — the Romanists and the Arminans  — who believe that natural law theory is compatible with the Bible or is even taught in the Bible itself have not grasped the implications of the first two chapters of Romans. Paul there wrote that ‘when the Gentiles (who do not have the law) do by nature the things of the law, they are a law to themselves, showing the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness with them’ (Romans 2:14-15).

Romanists and Arminians illogically conclude from this passage that natural law theory is found in and sanctioned by the Bible. But Paul says that men suppress the truth in unrighteousness; they refuse to glorify God; they are ingrates, fools, and do not like to retain God in their knowledge. He is describing all Gentiles, that is, the natural law theorists, among others. So long as they are men and are the image of God, they are responsible for their actions. Men cannot, however, construct theories upon this innate information, for their intellects are depraved: “The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Could there be a better refutation of natural law theory than that? The Gentiles, Paul says, performed some of the deeds of the law, almost, as it were, by accident. They show the work of the law written on their hearts, Paul wrote. Thus many Gentiles have never murdered anyone. But while Aristotle may never have actually murdered anyone, he recommended abortion and infanticide, and attempted to prove the existence of a finite, ignorant, anchoretic god. While the Gentiles may perform the law, Paul does not say – he says the opposite – that they can advocate or expound the divine law.… Yet this suppression of the truth is overshadowed by the idolatry involved in elevating nature – or rather, Nature – to the position of lawgiver. Natural law theorists, rather than worshipping the Creator and obeying his law, worship the creature and attempt to discover her laws. Natural law theory is, in the final analysis, a form of idolatry. What has nature to do with law? Nothing. Law is God commanding.

 

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Douma on Clark, Barth, and Van Til

Posted July 14, 2018 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

Here is a link to Doug Douma’s Gordon “Clark and Other Reformed Critics of Karl Barth.”  The piece is a sweeping and excellent review and analysis of Gordon Clark’s, Karl Barth’s Theological Method.  I say sweeping because in the review Douma doesn’t limit himself to Clark’s book or even other Reformed critics of Barth. Douma explains:

barthIn comparing Clark’s critique of Barth with those made by other Reformed theologians, especially Cornelius Van Til, I intend to demonstrate (1) that Clark’s critique can be differentiated from the others in the importance he places on proper logic, (2) that despite Van Til’s opposition to Barth’s theology, Clark had good reasons to contend that Van Til, in fact, fell into some of the same errors, and (3) that the Westminster Confession of Faith, which Clark subscribed to as an ordained Presbyterian minister, has proven to be a considerable bulwark against Barthianism.

I think the most important paragraph in the whole piece is this:

The problems here, as much for Van Til’s view as for Barth’s, include (1) the inability to distinguish between apparent contradictions caused by exegetical mistakes and apparent contradictions supposedly inherent in the Scriptures, (2) the destruction of any claim of Christianity’s superiority to other systems based on its demonstrated consistency, and (3) the destruction of the central biblical hermeneutical principle of comparing Scripture passages with other Scripture passages based on the assumption of non-contradiction. Van Til’s doctrine of paradox, like Barth’s, is destructive to the entire enterprise of exegesis and Christian doctrine.

Point 2 above is a particularly damning implication of Van Til’s apologetic that most people miss, yet a point that Vantilian James Anderson explicitly concedes in his Paradox in Christian Theology. Christianity has nothing to say in response to the inconsistencies of competing non-Christian systems. This is a major blow to Van Til’s presuppositionalism.

Another point Douma examines is that while Reformed confessionalism is a bulwark against Barthianism, Vantilianism fails because it is at odds with the WCF particularly WCF 1. Not sure why Van Til’s followers have trouble even identifying this since it is so painfully black and white.

Finally, I also appreciate this review because of how well Douma deals with and explains Clark’s criticisms and even his approval in places of Barth. I confess I found Clark’s book when I read it probably the most difficult one for me to get my mind around. I’m sure that part of the reason for my difficulty was due to my unfamiliarity with Barth and the other reason because I read it while on vacation in the Outer Banks (I’ve since learned to stick to crime novels and other light fiction while on vacation).

I should point out that Douma is currently looking to have his article published and warns that it may not be available on his blog for too long.  I hope he succeeds because it deserves a wider audience.

Scripturalism and the Cessation of Continued Revelation

Posted April 27, 2018 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

Lots of good citations and hard to find Clark quotes … but it does make the case.

A Place for Thoughts

Does Scripturalism allow for the possibility of continued revelation?

Outline
I. Definitions
A. The cessation of continued revelation
B. Scripturalism

II. Continued Revelation contradicted by:
A. The Westminster Confession of Faith
B. Clark’s own comments.
C. Clark’s disciples.
1. John Robbins
2. W. Gary Crampton
3. Robert L. Reymond

III. A Scripturalist Continuationist?

IV. The Incompatibility of Continuationism and Scripturalism
A. Response 1 and rebuttal – Something Other than Knowledge?
B. Response 2 and rebuttal – Knowledge in Heaven
C. Response 3 and rebuttal – Private Knowledge and Assurance

Conclusion

Does Scripturalism allow for the possibility of continued revelation?
I. Definitions
A. The cessation of continued revelation
The doctrine of cessation of continued revelation — that God has ceased revealing additional knowledge to man following the completion of the canon of Scripture — is an element of “cessationism.” Cessationism can also refer to (1) the cessation of all miracles and/or…

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Doug Douma Reviews Can The Presbyterian Church In America Be Saved?

Posted March 21, 2018 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

canthepreschurchDoug Douma, author of The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, has reviewed my little book on some of the troubles in the PCA.  One small caveat is that Douma notes that one PCA church he is familiar with has left to join the Bible Presbyterian Church because “several of [the FV men] are still in good standing in the PCA poisoning congregations with their heresies.”  Then in the next paragraph, he observes the FV cancer may well be in remission as “one rarely hears of a Federal Visionist today.”

The problem is this radio silence may not be indicative of remission at all but rather resignation and acceptance. People are just tired of fighting a battle that has already been lost and to which the courts in the PCA have closed the door to any possible remedy.  It could also be that this fight has given the FV such a bad name that few will admit they are FV.  That explains why even Doug Wilson has been trying to distance himself from the name while retaining its central doctrines since it is hurting enrollment in his schools. As Wilson explains dollars speak:

Say that a student in their classical Christian school decides to come to New St. Andrews, and some concerned folks in the church start wondering aloud whether that is entirely wise, because they heard that they teach something out there called “federal vision,” and while they do not know what it is exactly, it sounds dubious. Our friend can now, without getting into the weeds, simply say no, that’s not true. This is not evasion because the concerns were pretty nebulous to begin with, and the answer addresses it at that same level. What do they teach there? We are Reformed evangelicals in the historic Westminster tradition.
https://dougwils.com/the-church/s16-theology/straight-outta-calvin.html

Of course, despite his protests, neither Wilson, the CREC, nor his hotbed of heresy New St. Andrews is “evangelicals in the historic Westminster tradition.”  While it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who knows him, Wilson lies.

Instead of remission, all that was accomplished was to drive these men further underground and in some cases, like the above, to simply try to reinvent themselves while never repenting of anything (see https://tinyurl.com/y8bogw2q). Besides, we see many of the same aberrant doctrines resurfacing in men like John Piper even though I don’t think anyone would call him a Federal Visionist.

You can read Douma’s review here: Review of “Can The Presbyterian Church In America be saved?” by Sean Gerety

Anti-Protestant: Lew Rockwell’s Ongoing Attack on the Reformation

Posted January 19, 2018 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

“As a Roman Catholic himself, it should come as no surprise that Lew Rockwell’s eponymously named website has long featured an undercurrent of Romanist thought running beneath its Libertarian superstructure.

What is interesting about this Romanist intellectual undercurrent is how it attempts to persuade the reader that Romanism, far from being the enemy of limited government and private property, what John Robbins called “constitutional-capitalism” in his 1999 book Ecclesiastical Megalomania, the principles of liberty were developed and nourished by the scholars of the Roman Church-State and it is the Protestants who are responsible for the growth of the contemporary statism.

But while touting the fantasy that the tyrants of the Roman Church-State actually were proponents of private property and political liberty has been a consistent theme on LRC, that theme was somewhat muted.

In recent months, though, what was once a fairly low-key attack on Protestantism appears to have become more aggressive.”

Lux Lucet

Lew Rockwell_LRCLewRockwell.com was at it again this weekend, publishing another hit piece on the Reformation.

Now some readers may be asking themselves, just what on earth is LewRockwell.com and why should I care what they publish or whether they attack the Reformation.

Fair questions, those. So before talking about their latest attack on the Reformation, a little explanation is in order.

By number of unique monthly visitors, LewRockwell.com (LRC) is one of the largest, perhaps the largest, Libertarian website in the world. Now by percentage of the population, Libertarians are a fairly small group, so it may be tempting to dismiss LRC as a big fish in a small pond and move on.

The LRC website describes itself thus, “The daily news and opinion site LewRockwell.com was founded in 1999 by anarcho-capitalists Lew Rockwell and Burt Blumert to help carry on the anti-war, anti-state, pro-market work of Murray N. Rothbard.”

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Clark Quick Quote

Posted January 3, 2018 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

Not exactly how I ended up there but someone seems to have added me recently to an annoying Facebook group called: Calvinism Theology VS The Rest Of Christianity.  It’s really just a page where Arminians of various sorts bash Calvinists. What’s nice is that it’s usually Calvinists that are charged with being generally obnoxious and nasty. I can assure you I’ve never met a Calvinist who has anything on some of these guys.  With that said, and since I don’t really spend a lot of time around Arminians of any stripe, although I do know some, I didn’t realize how obsessed they are with the question of evil.  They seem to think that the notion of man possessing a free will somehow removes God from any culpability regarding the destinies of His creatures, but, of course, they’re wrong.   Now, I do admit that there is a certain logic in their position since if there is an independent force which can and does act freely and apart from any influence from God, or anything else for that matter, then God cannot be in any way liable for the choices of His creatures since they’re not under His sovereign control.  Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Gordon Clark’s Religion, Reason and Revelation (now available as an e-book for just $5) which effectively demolishes the imagined Arminian solution to the problem of evil:

It might seem that here is the proper place to ask the question, Does man have a free will? Is it true that his choices are not determined by motives, by inducements, or by his settled character? Can a person resist God’s grace and power and make an uncaused decision? However, these questions will not be answered here. They will be discussed later. The next step in the argument is a slightly different one. Let us assume that man’s will is free; let us assume that these questions have been answered in the affirmative; it would still remain to be shown that free will solves the problem of evil. This then is the immediate inquiry. Is the theory of free will, even if true, a satisfactory explanation of evil in a world created by God? Reasons, compelling reasons, will now be given for a negative answer. Even if men were able to choose good as evil, even if a sinner could choose Christ as easily as he could reject him, it would be totally irrelevant to the fundamental problem. Free will was put forward to relieve God of responsibility for sin. But this it does not do.

Suppose there were a life guard stationed on a dangerous beach. In the breakers a boy is being sucked out to sea by the strong undertow. He cannot swim. He will drown without powerful aid. It will have to be powerful, for as drowning sinners do, he will struggle against his rescuer. But the life guard simply sits on his high chair and watches him drown. Perhaps he may shout a few words of advice and tell him to exercise his free will. After all, it was of his own free will that the boy went into the surf. The guard merely permitted him to go in and permitted him to drown. Would an Arminian now conclude that the life guard thus escapes culpability?

This illustration, with its finite limitations, is damaging enough as it is. It shows that permission of evil as contrasted with positive causality does not relieve a life guard from responsibility. Similary, if God merely permits men to be engulfed in sin of their own free wills, the original objections of Voltaire and Professor Patterson are not thereby met. This is what the Arminian fails to notice. And yet the illustration does not do full justice to the actual situation. For unlike the boy who exists in relative independence of the life guard, in actuality God made the boy and the ocean too. Now, if the guard, who is not a creator at all, is responsible for permitting the boy to drown, even if the boy is supposed to have entered the surf of his own free will, does not God, who made them, appear in a worse light? Surely an omnipotent God could have either made the boy a better swimmer, or made the ocean less rough, or at least have saved him from drowning.

Not only are free will and permission irrelevant to the problem of evil, but further the idea of permission has no intelligible meaning. It is quite within the range of possibility for a lifeguard to permit a man to drown. This permission, however, depends on the fact that the ocean’s undertow is beyond the guard’s control. If the guard had some giant suction device which he operated so as to engulf the boy, one would call it murder, not permission. The idea of permission is possible only where there is an independent force, either the boy’s force or the ocean’s force. But this is not the situation in the case of God and the universe. Nothing in the universe can be independent of the Omnipotent Creator, for in him we live and move and have our being. Therefore the idea of permission makes no sense when applied to God.” – Religion, Reason, and Revelation, p. 204 -205. (1961)

Bitcoin And Biblical Economics

Posted December 10, 2017 by Sean Gerety
Categories: Uncategorized

matthewsSteve Matthews discusses the idea of intrinsic verse imputed value in economics and throws in some important theology along the way.

Lux Lucet

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