Natural Law

Return to Topics List


There is at our disposal, an easily applicable aid to reasoning to the right moral decision in the face of the moral dilemmas we face. This stage in reasoning to a right moral decision is to ask about the nature of things that we confront in considering the morality of an act: what is the nature of the act? This is called the application of natural law.


The Law of Nature


Have you not noticed that all things appear to be created, appear to work, appear to function according to some design that we are not able to change? Try as I like, even with an abundance of stone around me on an isolated island, I cannot make a stone boat to sail on water. The "nature" of stone is to sink in water. Floating alone on the ocean makes no difference to the fact that I am thirsty but cannot drink salt water. The "nature" of the salty ocean water is not designed to satisfy my bodily thirst for water no matter how much I would like to drink it.

I would love to have my automobile run on water. There is plenty of it around. But the "nature" of combustible energy necessary for the automobile to run is the need for gasoline. The Apostle Paul may have had some of this realization in mind when he addressed the mutuality of part of the body of the Church needing each when he said that the toe does not see, nor does the eye hear (1 Corinthians 12:16-17). Planets stay in their orbits, the seasons of the year follow each other year after year, the whole universe manages effortlessly to function with order and harmony.


The “Manufacturer’s Manual”


There appears to be what some call "a manufacturer's manual" to all creation. To understand the function of created things seek out the maker's design of the object (Rice, 1995, p. 28). Have you ever purchased software for your computer? If you are as I am, you installed the computer program and immediately started using it. Rare is the person who reads a manual first for all software use! But, confront a problem getting the software to do what you think it should do or know it should do and you will search the manual for the correct procedure to get the software to function as it was designed to function; so too with all created things.

The Manufacturer is God. The built-in design is called "natural law." And yes, natural law presupposes the existence of God. All we have to do is study creation and then reason to its design and function. Our human reason is capable of leading us to God's design for all things. And God's design and our utilization of all created things are going to be the right and good use of those things. It is part of the process of reasoning to a right moral decision.


The long history of philosophy and theology--which includes individuals as Aristotle (535 BC) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1210 AD)--has applied the concept of natural law to explain and articulate the rule of human morality. As an example of applying natural law to human acts, consider human sexuality. In considering the right and good use of human sexuality one has only to think through the use of male and female genitalia in design and function to understand what is God's will to the use (intercourse) and end (procreation) of human sexuality. There is no other cavity of the body that is an apt receptacle to the male penis than the female vagina to satisfy the natural purpose to deposit of semen and its nature to open itself to the creation of new life. It doesn't take a high IQ to determine that. There is no manufacturer's way to avoid conception 100% of the time but not-to-have-intercourse during a woman's fertile periods.


There is no natural and complimentary design to human bodies to accommodate same sex union. Human bodies have a design created by their Manufacturer. Try as we like to the contrary, there is no 100% contraceptive, there is no bodily union to create new life than what natural law affords. Nothing outside the natural bodily union satisfies the Manufacturer’s intent for procreation. And sexual pleasure was created and needed by the Creator to entice and make the procreation of our species pleasurable. The natural law provides an objective standard of right and wrong. Any act that we may be judging either is or is not in accordance with the natural law as it relates to the circumstances of the act. This is a great help in determining the rightness or wrongness of our behavior.


Romans 1: 18-32

The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.  For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.



Finnis, John (2000). Natural Law and Natural Rights. Clarendon Law Series. Oxford University Press. Oxford, UK.


Rice, Charles E. (1995). 50 Questions on the Natural Law: What It Is and Why We Need It. Ignatius Press: San Francisco, CA


Return to Topics List


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture texts are taken from the New American Bible with Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms © 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


© 2011 Robert J. Schihl


Email comments to