Readable and Helpful Book on Natural Law and its Value to Apologetics

     In Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law, Budziszewski defines natural law according to five criteria: 1) the testimony of creation, 2) man’s being made in God’s image, 3) appearance of God’s design in our physical and emotional makeup, 4) the law of conscience, and 5) the order of causality (cf. 180-181). His thesis is that, “as a Christian I regard the natural-law tradition as the nearest approach to the truth about the ‘law written on the heart’ which ethical and political philosophy have yet, by the grace of God, achieved.” (11) Budziszewski arranges his book into three sections: in the first section, he gives an historical overview of the philosophical treatment of natural law, focusing upon Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, and Mill. Next, the author presents his own view from a Christian perspective. His view of natural law is focused upon the law of the conscience, because of the teaching of Scripture and its apologetic value. Finally, the author presents some of the contemporary treatment of natural law, from Roman Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and secular perspectives. Budziszewski states his purpose in the following way: “My focus is on contributors rather than challengers, and my intention is to illustrate the possibilities rather than survey every thinker in the field.” (11)
     Budziszewski’s historical overview treats each philosopher’s view of natural law across the span of a few chapters for each one. Very briefly, Aristotle’s view can be summed up in this way: “the good of a human soul lies in the activity of using and following reason, and its highest good lies in the activity of using it and following it excellently.” (23) Aristotle saw happiness as the greatest good and the goal of every man. He recognized that there is an objective good that is acknowledged in human nature, but he could not know or understand the personal God who set that objective standard. Aquinas presented natural law in terms of the “grand design” model. All law is rooted in the eternal law, which is the pattern by which God governs the universe. From the eternal law flows the natural law (the reflection of the eternal law in the rational mind), the divine law (God’s law revealed in Scripture), and the human law (applications of natural law found in human societies). For Aquinas, the natural law represents “the ‘first principles of practical reason.’ (67) Locke bases his whole view of natural law on the existence of God. Because God exists, is in authority over man, and made man free, man has rights as well as law. Finally, Mill’s view of natural law is centered upon the one ultimate value that defines humanity—the law of pleasure.
     Budziszewski’s own view of natural law is rooted in the law of the conscience. He notes that the conscience cannot completely comprehend natural law’s meaning and therefore, cannot accept it. He wrote, “it is a far cry from knowing something to acknowledging it, and the human race has been in the condition psychologists call ‘denial’ ever since the Fall.” (183) For Budziszewski, in order for man to come to an acceptance of the content of natural law, that is, that which is written on the tablet of the heart by God, he must act in faith. He states, “that which is beside Scripture [natural law] can be vindicated only with the help of Scripture; that which is revealed before the gospel can be secured against evasion only in light of the gospel.” (183) Furthermore, the Christian’s primary use of natural law is for apologetics. The doctrine of natural law is the starting point whenever the Christian engages the unbeliever with the Christian message.
Budziszewski, J. Written on the Heart: The Case for Natural Law. Downers Grove: InterVarsity,  1997.
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