Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Equivocating on law

The comparison between laws of nature and moral law is a useful one however I fear there is a degree of equivocation that goes ignored.

We have a creator who is also a lawgiver; we are to love the Lord our God and our neighbours, amongst other things. We are moral creatures are are to submit to our maker. He requires of us and we do best to obey him. As such these laws are rules we are to commanded to obey; ordinances that are prescriptive: you shall do, you shall not do; you may, you may not. Are free creatures we are able to acquiesce, or not. That is, there is the possibility of disobedience.

The ancients applied the idea of standards to the natural world. Our world is orderly because our God is orderly and immutable. God made the world a certain way and the planets continue to orbit the sun which continues to emit its light. Matter and energy obey their laws, but such laws (in as much that they are correct interpretations of nature) are descriptive not prescriptive.

In the case of men we study habits and generalise common behaviours as "laws": descriptions of how people tend to act. But the descriptive law that thirsty people seek out drink is distinct from the prescriptive law that says it is wrong to steal someone's drink.

Perhaps the physical laws are rules, and matter cannot but obey its maker. We have laws to describe matter doing what God prescribes matter to do. Though some laws may be corollaries of fundamental constructs. God created space and time and matter and light, but the inverse square law may just reflect the geometry of 3 dimensional Euclidean space: a constant force will be diluted if it acts from a point out into 3 dimensions but the inverse square of the distance. Now it seems that the natural world could have been otherwise in which case the laws would have been different. But the physical laws would reflect how God intended that world would act. But even if physical laws are in some way prescriptive from God's perspective, moral commands are prescriptive in a different way. They are commands to free creatures that can love and obey, or refuse to. We must be careful we do not let the analogy of physical law to moral law get away on us.

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