Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What does the Bible mean by "Natural"?

Some think the biblical language about homosexuality being unnatural is merely referring to cultural norms. However, that is not the case:

The ancient worldview is that there is a moral order to reality, which is tied to functionality. So, the reason why male/female sex is natural is because the function of sex is procreation. This may be a cultural belief in the sense that a certain culture held this belief, but it is not cultural in that the assumptions are purposefully based on societal norms. The assumptions are based on primitive observations of the world.

Today we, especially the highly educated, don't hold these assumptions: A) there is inherent functionality in nature, B) this inherent functionality prescribes a moral order, and C) following this moral order is key to flourishing and happiness as human beings. It is we who have had to be educated that our primitive observations are wrong, so technically speaking our views are the more 
culturally conditioned.

You can notice this in every day language, such as how we use the terms right and wrong and natural and unnatural - they all tend to be tied to the notion of a moral order and natural function. For example, you probably don't consider it too strange to say that eyes are for seeing, the mouth is for speaking and eating, the stomach is for digesting food, etc. But these are all instances of a primitive notion of functionality, which we have been taught is wrong.

However, none of this is to say the primitive view is right and our modern view is wrong. It is to show that people in Paul's day did not think they were referring to cultural norms when saying homosexuality was unnnatural. What they are saying is homosexuality goes against the natural purpose of sex and is destructive to humankind as a whole because it reduces the likelihood that the society will survive (i.e. it contributes to reducing the birthrate below sustainable levels, see Europe). For example, Plato gives the death penalty for homosexuality and masturbation in his Laws dialogue for precisely this reason. Christians went further and claimed the natural moral order was ordained by God Himself, and those who engaged in unnatural behavior were going against God, not merely going against nature.

Intelligent Design is one scientific technique for identifying instances of functionality in nature, the same functionality that underlies the traditional moral order.