How does natural law differ from the laws of nature?


Full Question

Catholic moral theologians talk about "natural law," and scientists talk about "the laws of nature," but the two groups don't seem to be referring to the same thing. How does natural law differ from the laws of nature?

Answer

Pope John Paul II answered this question in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). He said that the natural law of moral theology "receives this name not because it refers to the nature of irrational beings, but because the reason which promulgates it is proper to human nature" (Veritatis Splendor 42). The moral law is called "natural law" because it is based on our nature as rational beings. It is not based on the nature of irrational beings, such as animals, plants, or inanimate matter. When scientists refer to the "laws of nature," they have in mind physical laws such as the law of gravity or the laws of thermodynamics.


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