Natural Law Or Natural Flaw?

When, in the past, I pressed those on this site who support “natural law” as a significant philosophical and theological tool about what they mean, it tends to reduce down quite a bit:

“I think one of the ways in which natural law can be helpful, even if it only understood and/or acknowledged to a limited degree, is that it is common ground that all people have. This is useful for political purposes: it means that we can, at least in theory, construct a common order on the basis of reason. The alternative seems to be to admit we have no rational common ground, which then damns the political process to just being an covert or overt contest of various wills-to-power.”

This is a very palatable sort of sentiment. It is, incidentally, an argument that can have an entirely secular account as well. By that I mean not that it can be antithetical Christianity, but that it can be stated without any regard to religion or worldview. An anthropologist could just as easily talk about how human beings, being highly social, would benefit from having common sorts of rules that can be implemented for an orderly society and that these could be intelligible and reasonable to all group members.

Golly, natural law sounds like, well, just the most, well, natural thing. Except that’s not how the concept of natural law is rhetorically deployed. Here’s a bit of the typical use of such a concept that Doug Wilson wrote and to which Brad Littlejohn approvingly linked:

“There are more words that we have to use in our evaluation than lawful, helpful, or enslaving. We should also consider natural, unnatural, honorable, dishonorable, shameful, and so on. . . . we need to have a hermeneutic of nature.”

In what context is Wilson raising this? It’s in reply to Mark Driscoll’s much-discussed marriage book. I’ll spare you the details, but Wilson goes on to write about how the problem with Driscoll is that he doesn’t stop to consider what sex acts between a married man and woman might be unnatural. Wilson’s evidence appears to consist of what he finds icky. Of course with the magic elixir of Natural Law™ Wilson doesn’t need evidence (he claims there’s a conspiracy to hide what really happened to 7 WTC “evidence” about how icky some sex acts might be), he just needs to claim that something is “unnatural” and just like that it’s verboten.

In other words, I can just make up anything and add it to the canon of Natural Law based on my own sentiments. Let’s try: People over 70 should not have sex, they can’t make kids anymore (sit down old people, you aren’t Abraham) plus it’s gross and no one wants to think it’s happening anyway and they could hurt themselves what with those bad hips and heart disease and so on. Bad hips are proof that old people sex is unnatural.

Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but this appears to be the logic behind this kind of use of the term “natural law.” Old people, you can go back to having sex, just don’t ever tell me about it. In the meantime, Wilson can ban some sex acts, the Vatican can try to tell you that birth control is “unnatural” and so on because they’ve taken natural law to mean that anything they deem gross or otherwise undesirable is also now unlawful. It’s a weak case with an impressive-sounding name. Advocates for natural law should be the ones most strongly denouncing such a dilution of their views.