In the Declaration of Independence, we read about "nature's law and nature's God." Since Thomas Jefferson was the main author of this document, there are many people today who point to this phrase and say that this does not mean there is a God whom we should worship but rather this phrase means that "God" is nothing more than nature or the natural course of events that happens without any divine intervention.
Such people claimt that Jefferson himself was not a Christian but rather was a man who relied on reason and logic based on scientific, provable facts gained from careful observation. From this they conclude that the "Creator" spoken of in the Declaration does not refer to God but to nature itself who created us, not in some supernatural way, but by the laws which govern nature. Therefore, they say, man is a product of nature, not of God and is therefore under nature's law rather than God's.
To further their argument, those who hold this view tell us that this concept of God was common among a movement known as the Enlightenment that flourished in Europe in the 18th century and that Jefferson was one of its adherents. However, such a conclusion can only be reached by selectively quoting certain statements of Jefferson and ignoring many others that could be quoted. When we look at the full range of things Jefferson both wrote and said, such a conclusion becomes easily disproved.
Yet, even if we take the critics at their word, their argument still fails to prove their contention that nature gives no rights to man that government must protect.
DEFINING NATURE'S LAW
Those who believe in evolution are forced to believe in nature as the ultimate source of what is good for living things because Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest infers that nature is what determines what will help a particular species to survive and thrive and what will doom it for eventual extinction. Of course, what is "good" for one animal may be "bad" for another.
For example, claws are good for those animals that survive by digging in dirt for either finding food or for protective shelter but they are useless for those animals that eat vegetation for food or fly as their form of protection. What nature has provided for a bear to survive is not necessarily good in helping a tiger or a horse to survive.
Thus, nature's law can be defined as that which is good for the improvement and success of a particular animal.
The question then becomes: What is it that nature has given to man to help him improve and insure the preservation of his species?
NATURAL RIGHT TO LIFE
Nature has equipped all living creatures with everything they need to survive. More than that, each living organism has inherent within it all the systems necessary for it to live and thrive. Every living creature, both plant and animal, has a system that allows it to take in the particular kind of nourishment it needs to grow but all creatures also have multiply systems, specifically designed to protect its life from external and internal threats to its life.
All animals have an instinctive urge to survive, especially when attacked by other animals, and nature has endowed each animal with its own defensive mechanism. Within the body, nature has provided white blood cells to ward of the attack of germs and viruses and has given each creature back up organs so that if one organ fails the body can still survive. If man loses his eyesight, nature increases his sense of hearing. If a man loses the use of one arm, the other arm naturally becomes stronger. This is a law of nature.
Therefore, the first and most basic law of nature is the right of every creature to have life along with the preservation and defense of that life.
THE NATURAL STATE OF REPRODUCTION
The next thing we see in nature is that all living things reproduce themselves. Within every plant and animal, nature has provided them with a system whereby they are able to make exact copies of themselves. More than this, the law of nature seems to almost demand that this process be carried out ceaselessly with profound rapidity.
Some animals mate and then walk away from their partner and their offspring such as what fish do. But other animals remain together after mating. Humans not only have a natural desire to reproduce themselves but to remain together both before and after offspring have arrived thereby creating family organizations. Therefore, another law of nature among humans is the natural, inherent desire of men and women to marry each other. Therefore, marriage is a natural state of man.
In the animal world, the ability to create offspring is a natural force that drives a male and a female to mate and no animal is immune to or exempted from this force. And once offspring have been produced, humans, especially, have a natural desire to love and care for them. This is the natural order that nature has decreed. So the next basic law of nature is the need of humans to not only mate and have children but to care for them by providing the things needed for their physical, emotional, and intellectual growth so they can one day survive on their own.
To do this, humans must be free to work in order to provide food, clothing, shelter, and other things necessary for the health, growth, and survival of their family. In nature, all animals have this right but among humans this involves more than just work. It requires accumulating property such a food, housing, clothing, and other material objects which would also include the tools necessary to provide for the support of the family. These tools can be both tangible and intangible. For example, tangible tools can be a shovel, plow, horse, car, telephone and other items. Examples of intangible property include health, strength , skills, intelligence, knowledge, ideas and other similar human abilities and traits. Therefore, another law of nature is that it is natural for men to work and to obtain both material and immaterial possessions.
In the animal world, most of those species that form families also live with other families of the same species. This is especially true of humans. When a man and female create a family, it is extremely rare that they live all by themselves with no association with other families. In fact, psychiatrists and sociologist tell us that man has a psychological need to associate with other people. It's in our genes to be around and join together with others. Throughout history people have naturally formed groups, clubs, and other social organizations for the express purpose of being together for various common reasons.
But, in every organization there must be a leader of some sort. In the family the man has most often been the natural ruler but when families combine themselves together it is natural for someone to become the leader of the community. Sometimes it is a small group or a council of men but more often than not it is one person who takes the lead. This process happens naturally rather than because someone has decided that this is the way humans should behave.
And the reason why this happens is to bring order to the community. Even within other animal kingdoms where they exist in communities, there is a natural order to their society that all within it obey, and often times there is one animal who is the head of that organization. For example, bees live in a very highly structured society with a queen at its head. Elk and moose gather together in herds and there is one bull that is the head of it. For these social species this is the natural way they behave. So the next thing we learn is that humans are naturally social beings who have an ingrain desire to be together and to be ruled over.
The word we use to describe someone ruling over others is called a government and the process of governing we refer to as politics. Thus, governments and politics are as natural to man as anything else found in nature.
The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who lived in 350 BC, had not only been a student of Plato, who was another renowned Greek philosopher but was also a teacher to Alexander the Great. He wrote extensively on many different subjects including physics, biology, zoology, and music, as well as on religion, ethics, government, and politics. Although he is credited with originating the term "natural law" that concept had been taught both before and after his time.
In his writings Aristotle points out that man is naturally a political animal. It is his natural behavior to gather into communities, whether it is called a village, town, city, or state, and it is just as natural for groups of humans to be governed by someone. From this he reasons that for man politics itself is a law of nature and therefore politics is just as much subject to the laws of nature as is man.
Aristotle observed that all men do what they think is in their own best interest or what they feel is good for them. For example, a thief steals because, in their mind, they see good in acquiring things without having to work for it. On the other hand, a soldier willing gives up his life in time of war because he sees good in sacrificing himself in the defense of his country.
Since governments are nothing more than a gathering of individuals, the purpose of a government is the same as that of the individual, which is to insure the growth and survival of the entire group over which it rules by doing those things that are good for the group.
The question is not whether governments should or shouldn't do good for their people because that will happen naturally. The real question is: What is considered "good" and what is not "good" for society as a whole?
Aristotle answers that question by saying that whatever is natural is good and whatever is not natural is not good. Furthermore, he states that all humans, even children, instinctively have an innate sense of fairness and justice and understand the difference between what is just and unjust. Therefore, governments have a duty to make rules that are fair and just as well as insuring that justice is fairly and equitably done.
NATURAL MORAL LAWS
Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Nature has written her moral laws on the head and heart of every rational and honest man, where man may read them for himself. If ever you are about to say anything amiss, or to do anything wrong, consider beforehand you will feel something within you which will tell you it is wrong, and ought not to be said or done." That something is nature's law which is hereditarily bred within each of us.
Since life and its preservation, along with freedom, property, family and the right to associate with others are natural impulses possessed by all humans, then whatever governments do to maintain, protect, and increase these natural desires is good and just, while anything that violates these laws of nature is bad and unjust.
The word we use to describe what is fair, just, good, and right is "virtue." Therefore, virtue is the principle upon which human governments should be based if they are to help their society improve and flourish. Any rule used to govern an individual, family, village, town, or state that is not virtuous violates the laws of nature and will ultimately harm the community as a whole in some way.
There is also order throughout all of nature and whenever anything gets out of order, nature seeks to bring it back into order. Jefferson was an accomplished scientist and from his careful study of nature he made note of the order he observed in the universe, including the rotation of the planets and he made meticulous notes of the order he witnessed in nature.
There is order to the changing of seasons that come with predictable certainty. There is order to the elements of the earth which combine in such a way as to predictably create water, fire, iron, coal, and all the nutrients necessary for all living things to grow. And it's precisely because of this order that we have science. If things were unpredictable then the art of science would be impossible.
But what gives order to all things is that all things obey certain, predictable laws, such as the laws of physics. These laws are unchanging from one generation to another and they are independent of nature's creatures to change them. Instead, all of nature's creatures are required to submit themselves to nature's law or suffer for their disobedience. Thus, order is the natural state of all things in nature and, because of this, all things obey the laws of nature.
THE NATURE OF GOVERNMENTS
In every government, whether in nature or in human behavior, there must be a ruler and there must be subjects to the ruler. This is the natural order of humans. Aristotle describes this relationship in terms of a master and its slaves where the master rules over the slave and the slave obeys its master. He points out that each of us are both a master and a slave at the same time therefore it is important that we understand the duties and responsibilities of each.
Aristotle states that a human is made up of two parts - the body and the soul. In the natural order of things, the soul needs to be the master and the body is its slave, doing those things which the soul tells it. The soul is the home of reason and intellect while the body is the home of passion and desire. When the soul governs the body a person behaves in a reasonable and intelligent manner which leads to health, wealth, and happiness. But when the body rules the soul then the person becomes subject to all sorts of ills of the body and mind which render him miserable and unhappy.
When a child is born, they are slaves to their parents because their parents rule over them and require obedience from the child but this is good because it is the natural way humans improve. The parents rule because they are older and wiser and the child obeys so it can learn to someday rule over itself and others. When we expand this principle to a society we see that all members, including the ruler, must be slaves to just and virtuous laws and all slaves must be rulers of themselves for the good of the community.
Since all communities, including that of the family, are bound to one another in a dependent relationship, what one person does affects all the others. Therefore, both the ruler and the slave must behave in a virtuous manner if the society as a whole is to survive and grow. Aristotle taught, "if the ruler is intemperate and unjust, how can he rule well?... When man is separated from law and justice his is the worst animal of all. He is meant to use his intelligence and virtue. If he does not have virtue then he is the most unholy and most savage of all animals. Justice is the bond that holds all men together in a state and the administration of justice, or that which is considered just is the principle which gives order in a society" (On Politics, Book 1)
When the ruler governs unjustly they attack the laws of nature from without and when the slave unjustly disregards the decrees of the ruler, they attack the laws of nature from within. In either case, the body of society becomes subject to all sorts of ills that will affect it physically and mentally. If not corrected, the community will become sick and eventually die. This is what has caused even once mighty empires to crumble.
THE NATURE OF VIRTUE
Virtue encourages and enhances peace and harmony which are necessary for any society to prosper and grow. On the other hand, contention, hatred, and greed lead to war which destroys rather than builds. This is not nature's way of ensuring the survival of mankind. Rulers who permit unjust behavior to flourish will kill their society and themselves in the same way that cancer will kill the body if it is allowed to spread.
Some say that the animal world is not only full of violence but that it is necessary for the survival of some animals and for the population control of others. Therefore, they say, since we too belong to the animal kingdom, violence is as natural to us as it is to other animals. But nature did not equip all animals with the same traits so what is natural to one animal is not necessarily natural for another. For example, it is natural for lions to kill other animals for food but it not natural for horses to kill other animals for any reason. Just because birds are animals who eat insects and worms to remain alive doesn't mean that man must also eat insects and worms.
Our Founding Fathers understood the principle of nature's law but it is no longer taught in our schools because the concept of good and bad, just and unjust, fair and unfair, virtue and immorality has become linked to a religious belief in God. Since there are those who want to remove God from all of our public discourse they have also removed reason and the science of nature along with it. However, forgetting the fact that God, the Creator, is the God and Creator of nature, as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, even secularists who say we should rely on reason and science alone rather than in a belief of God, to determine how we should live seem intent on unreasonably violating the science of nature's law.