Saturday, December 05, 2015

Religious reasons and legislation: Does legislation have to pass the materialist test?

When we talk about "religious" positions, do we mean positions which are based on something we think God has revealed, or do we mean something that is based on what is called natural law, which isn't based on particular Bible verses, but is nonetheless built on a concept of human nature whereby there is a purpose for human nature, and we can satisfy it of fail to satisfy it based on what we do? Someone like Paul Ryan, for example, bases his opposition to things like abortion and gay marriage on the latter, not the former. 
Positions like his tend to be adopted by people of religious persuasions, but if you were to ask him why he believes what he does, his argument will NOT typically say "The Bible says" or "It is the teaching of the Catholic Church.  But I strongly suspect his reasoning would not be accepted by, say, a materialistic atheist. 
When we say we don't want religious views imposed on us through legislation, does that mean that the case of our laws has to pass the "materialistic atheist test." that is, the arguments for it have to be acceptable from the standpoint of materialism is they are to be legislated? 


planks length said...

acceptable from the standpoint of materialism

The only form of government capable of satisfying that requirement would be total anarchy. Any conceivable legislation would require two or more people to agree that there exists a standard independent of any one individual's opinion, and the Argument from Reason demonstrates that such is logically impossible for atheists.

Tony Hoffman said...

I can't think of any "natural law" advocates who aren't theists. Can you?

planks length said...

I can't think of any "natural law" advocates who aren't theists.

"Not that there's anything wrong with that!"

Angra Mainyu said...

That seems to depend on who says that and what a materialistic atheist test looks like (I don't even know whether I would qualify as a materialist or an atheist; the terms seem ambiguous to me), so I couldn't tell. What sort of reasoning do you think would pass that test?

That aside, the belief that there is a purpose of human nature seems to imply a person whose purpose that is - namely, some sort of creator who made people with some purpose in mind -, and that's a belief that many, perhaps most people got from their religion, not from other sources.

With regard to Paul Ryan, regardless of what he says, why do you think that Ryan actually bases his views on reflection about natural law, rather than on religious teachings (perhaps not always properly grasped) sometimes, on some other ideology some other times, and on moral intuitions (the most usual way of making moral assessments when religion/ideology is not a factor) on others?
His beliefs seem to match Catholic beliefs in a significant way (on economics, a conservative variant of Catholicism, it seems to me). He was raised in a Catholic school and by Catholic parents. All of that indicates a strong religious influence, even if he denied it. But it's not clear to me that he denies that, either. According to the Wikipedia article on him, he actually said he was "deeply influenced by his Roman Catholic faith and by Thomas Aquinas".

So, at least one of the two deep influences he cites is religious. But I would say so is the other. Aquinas was a Catholic philosopher, and even though he may have attempted to reflect from reason without Catholic doctrine, it seems unlikely to me that he succeeded. I don't see how reflection on natural law alone would give one such results.

In any case, while I do accept natural law (not in the sense of a creator, purpose, etc., but that there are rules of behavior which depend on the kind of minds we have), I don't reach Ryan's conclusions, or with Aquinas's. So, I would disagree with his reasoning, but not on the grounds that it's based on natural law. In fact, I would even disagree with his reasoning even if I grant for the sake of the argument that there is in fact a creator.

B. Prokop said...

Caveating my comment with the admission that I can't read Paul Ryan's mind, I doubt seriously that his political and especially his economic views are (primarily) influenced by his Catholicism. Ryan is on record about his great admiration for Ayn Rand, and specifically her views on economics and "social justice" - and these are diametrically opposed to Catholic thinking. He goes so far as to make her principle works required reading for all his staffers.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Angra Mainyu said...

B. Prokop,

He is also on record saying "as a devout, practicing Catholic, I completely reject the philosophy of objectivism." ( ), and in fact rejecting Rand's views in different ways, but he said other things before (e.g., )

His views on abortion, contraception, etc., seem pretty much Catholic, and diametrically opposed to Rand's thinking on the matter.
But you make a good point about some of his views on economic matters.

Maybe he was significantly influenced both by Catholicism and by Rand, taking some of Rand's views on economic issues, while trying to ban abortion, gay marriage, and so on, due to Catholic influence.

Angra Mainyu said...


There are non-theist supporters of natural law (the SEP mentions Philippa Foot and Michael Moore as examples).

In a broad sense of "natural law", I would tend to agree. But it depends on how broad that sense is.

oozzielionel said...

VR:" but if you were to ask him why he believes what he does," The answer likely matters greatly who is doing the asking or whom he hopes is listening. Politics is incredibly pragmatic. We shouldn't expect to hear the politician's true motivation or epistemology. Furthermore, influencing legislation requires a political strategy. Politics requires persuasion. In the past the most successful arguments used religious terminology or justification based on religiously inspired morality. There is currently a strategy to demonize any such arguments. Identifying a political position with religious beliefs not only intends to reject the argument on philosophical grounds but to use social pressure so that even those who are moved by religious values will reject those values as a tool to evaluate a political question. There is now a fear that any religious value expressed in politics leads to theocracy or a form of Sharia law. It is an ugly business that seeks to marginalize some of the best thoughts that can be truly helpful to society.