How should one conduct his life on a regular basis? Various ethical theories introduced opposing answers to this question based upon differing philosophical and religious presuppositions. Natural law is one such theory that essentially argues that morality derives from ontology. This definition is basic because it assumes design without any particular identity of the designer. Thus, any worldview that originates the universe, or especially humanity, in some creator or creators, whether supernatural or not, can ascribe to a natural law theory.[1] This amorphous natural law theory is worthy of critique and unable to stand on its own; however, given the correct metaphysical and metanarrative worldview, natural law is a comprehensive and coherent theory, backed up by the Bible, and applicable in commonplace moral discourse. This thesis will be developed by defining natural law comprehensively, looking at philosophical critiques honed by Van Til’s pressupositionalism, examining exegetical issues of Romans 1, and applying C.S. Lewis’s observations of the Tao.[2]

Natural law is the idea that humanity is designed to recognize right from wrong; that God’s law was woven into the fabric of his creation. Thomas Aquinas defines four different types of law: eternal, divine, natural, and human. He defines law as, “A dictate of practical reasoning emanating from the ruler who governs a perfect community.”[3] For Aquinas, natural law would be the innate recognition (by reason) of eternal and divine law. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Ethics defines natural as, “The form of life preserved by God after the Fall, with reference to the way in which it is directed towards the coming of Christ.”[4] In this sense, natural has to do with a human’s nature or essence. Ontologically, God preserved such a human nature through the Fall that can recognize God’s eternal law due to his grace. Haines and Fulford synthesize these ideas thusly concerning natural law:

The notion that there is, because of the divine intellect, a natural order within the created world, by which each and every created being’s goodness can be objectively judged, both on the level of being (ontological goodness), and, for human-beings specifically, on the level of human action (moral goodness). Ontological goodness is the foundation for moral goodness.[5]

David Haines and Andrew A. Fulford, Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense (Lincoln, NE: The Davenant Press, 2017), ii.

Steven B. Cowan and James S. Spiegel offer some critique against natural law in their work The Love of Wisdom: 1.natural law cannot provide clear direction on many moral issues and 2. it fails to provide a strong concept of obligation.[6] The first critique seems to take God’s two books as either/or rather than both/and.[7] A Christian understanding of natural law does not pretend to moralize apart from God’s written law. For the second critique, natural law theories devoid of the Bible certainly do lack an “ought.” Natural revelation makes people accountable; special revelation conveys obligation.

Assenting that natural law exists does not explain how people come to understand it. Haines explains that natural law is, “Knowable to all men through intuition and human reasoning.”[8] Cornelius Van Til, the father of presuppositionalism, critiques this epistemology because natural man would have no need of divine revelation, and thus would be autonomous.[9] Again, this critique seems to be an either/or for God’s two books, rather than a both/and. Furthermore, Van Til bases epistemology in divine volition rather than divine ontology.[10] In other words, predication is primarily what God does rather than what God is. Hence, because man is in rebellion to God’s will (and noetic effects of the Fall), he cannot know God’s moral will apart from divine intervention. In effect, this wholly does away with the book of nature as having any knowable significance for the unregenerate man.

Van Til’s critique and system brings out important nuances in natural law that must be brought out. Unregenerate understanding of natural law will always be insufficient. Presupposing naturalism, capricious deities, or other monotheistic unitarian deities will always arrive at a deficient understanding of natural law. Thus, the noetic effect of the Fall caused an inadequate rationality, not an incapable one. Fallen, unregenerate man uses reason for his selfish ends.

Romans 1:21 fleshes out this idea, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Douglas Moo comments on “futile in their thinking,” “It is in the ‘reasonings’ of people that this futility has taken place, showing that, whatever their initial knowledge of God might be, their natural capacity to reason accurately about God is quickly and permanently harmed.”[11] Therefore, the rational organ is harmed by the Fall but not left incapable. A balance is to be struck between thinking rationalism is supreme and believing a human’s rationality is irrelevant.

Fulford biblically defends three theses concerning natural law: there is an objective order to the universe, this order is knowable, and some unregenerate recognize this order.[12] The most important argument for this (outside Romans 1) comes from the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12). “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Fulford argues that, “Whatever you wish that others would do. . .” indicates implicit, natural knowledge of what is morally right and wrong.[13]

C.S. Lewis explains several ways that natural law will have positive effects on society at large. First of all, it creates virtuous men as opposed to men “without chest.” Lewis writes about men in their intellect seeing as just spirit (unimportant in the grand scheme of things) and by their appetite are just animals. Therefore, there’s no virtuous people willing to sacrifice self or have a drive.[14] Most important, seeking and conforming to natural law prevents the destruction of the human race. Lewis laments men seeking to conquer nature and contrasts that with what men used to be occupied with, “For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem has been how to subdue reality to the wishes of men. . .”[15]

Only within the Christian worldview, natural law is coherent and comprehensive theory that positively effects society. Outside of the Christian worldview, natural law still searches for positive morality, but can be used in order to reject God. Looking only at the book of nature runs into the danger of lacking the moral ought and specificity. Natural law in the confines of the Christian worldview provides society with virtuous citizens and the foundation and means for the continuance and flourishing of the human race.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Ethics. touchstone ed. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Cowan, Steven B. The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy Steven B. Cowan, James S. Spiegel. Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2009.

Haines, David, and Andrew A. Fulford. Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense. Lincoln, NE: The Davenant Press, 2017.

Lewis, C S. The Abolition of Man, Or, Reflections On Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

Moo, Douglas J. The Letter to the Romans. second ed. The New International Commentary On the New Testament. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018.

Morley, Brian. Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Wogaman, J Philip, Douglas M. Strong, and J Philip Wogaman, eds. Readings in Christian Ethics: A Historical Sourcebook. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.


[1] For instance, atheists who subscribe to some extraterrestrial hypothesis could believe the aliens designed humanity with a “nature” from which morality originates.

[2] The Tao is how C.S. Lewis describes natural law in his work The Abolition of Man.

[3] J Philip Wogaman, Douglas M. Strong, and J Philip Wogaman, eds., Readings in Christian Ethics: A Historical Sourcebook (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 95-96.

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, touchstone ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), 148. This, he contrasts with that which as “unnatural” in going against the coming of Christ.

[5] David Haines and Andrew A. Fulford, Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense (Lincoln, NE: The Davenant Press, 2017), ii.

[6] Steven B. Cowan, The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction to Philosophy Steven B. Cowan, James S. Spiegel (Nashville, Tenn.: B&H Academic, 2009), 361.

[7] The two books specifically being that of nature and the holy writ.

[8] Haines and Fulford, Natural Law, 5.

[9] Haines and Fulford, Natural Law, 10.

[10] Brian Morley, Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2015), 64-65

[11] Douglas J. Moo, The Letter to the Romans, second ed., The New International Commentary On the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), 161. Amazon Kindle.

[12] Haines and Fulford, Natural Law, 51.

[13] Haines and Fulford, Natural Law, 65.

[14] C S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Or, Reflections On Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 25-26.

[15] Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 77.