Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Natural Law and the Ignorance Defence

We say that ignorance of the law is no defense. For example, if a man is charged with murder he can't claim that he didn't know it was wrong. This is based on the idea of Natural Law, that the dictates of God are written on the conscience. But our society is moving away from this, towards arbitrary law based on a Constitution. So... if we no longer believe the requirements of justice are written on our hearts, does that mean that ignorance is now a defense?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shawn,

Apart from the standard of Scripture, how can the concept of natural law function?

Put another way, by what standard do we determine what consitutes natural law?


10:48 a.m.  
Blogger Shawn Abigail said...

The Bible is the gold standard for understanding right and wrong. Natural Law simply says that all people, to some extent, have an understanding of right and wrong written on their hearts.

7:34 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what laws of the Bible fall under the rubric of Natural Law?


8:18 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


And what exactly is this "some extent"? If you can't define it (e.g., Does it include murder and theft? Does it include more than this? Less?), how can you appeal to Natural Law?

As a Christian, I of course agree that the law is written on our hearts. But I appeal to Scripture, not the nebulous concept of Natural Law.


11:38 a.m.  
Blogger Shawn Abigail said...

Hi Joel,

You are asking good questions. Unfortunately the discussion and answers would take far longer than I have available, and indeed I make no claims to being an expert on the subject of Natural Law (about which many books have been written).

The starting place is Scripture, and specifically Romans 2:15, "since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." I take this to mean that all people have some idea of the righteous requirements of God written on their hearts. The extent of it I don't know. And since the conscience can be deadened through sin, I would not hazard to guess what specific knowledge any one person might have.

All that being said, my understanding of Natural Law is that it is insufficient for salvation. Natural Law gives people some sense of guilt, but it is not sufficient for salvation; for that Special Revelation is required, leading to faith in Jesus Christ.

4:26 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the exchange, Shawn. I agree that general revelation is sufficient to condemn, but only special revelation is sufficient to save.

I guess the place I've arrived at is that Natural Law is arbitrary since one person will say that Natural Law is made up of a+b+c and another person will say that it is made up of a+d+e, etc. The only way to resolve this problem is to go to Scripture which, I think, defeats the whole purpose of Natural Law.

Anyhow, perhaps we can discuss this further sometime.


8:59 a.m.  

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