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Eve Without Adam: What Genesis Has to Tell America About Natural Law

David Forte (Senior Policy Analyst), May 1, 1996
There is a pdf version available from the orginial page containing scans of the publicated version. I will link it here.

Here are the highlights:

In that one majestic verse, God's creation astonishes us in two simultaneous ways. First, He creates everything ("the heavens and the earth") out of nothing. Second, He brings order out of chaos. In the image of the ancient Hebrews, the stuff of the cosmos was water, and water symbolized chaos -- which God orders. Think for a moment of the difference between farmers and fishermen: A farmer subdues the land and makes it his servant, but an experienced fisherman knows he is always a stranger on the sea and is never home till he reaches shore.

In Genesis, God's mighty spirit moves across the water, pushing it where He wills. He orders chaos itself. Recall in the New Testament, when Jesus awakens in the boat to still the storm that was threatening to overwhelm the disciples. "Who can this be," they ask in awe, "that the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mark 4:41.) The disciples understood that this was no ordinary wonder-worker. In Genesis, God pushes the water out of the world by creating a domed firmament and separates the remaining water in the world into seas while permitting some of the remaining cosmic waters to sluice in as rain through holes in the dome, or bubble up from below through springs (oases perhaps) or rivers.

The point of creation is that without order, there would not be nothingness, but utter chaos. Let us reflect on that. People will give up their lives for order. They will die for their country, their faith, their family, or their friends. But a life without meaning leads to despair. Chaos, not death, holds the real terror for man. In the most primeval sense, a terrorist does the devil's work.

Notice also in this first chapter, that as soon as God controls chaos, pushing a mighty wind over the seas, He creates light. (Genesis 1:3.) Light is the greatest of the elements. Light is good. It illuminates the order he is creating. It is understanding. Throughout scripture, the notion of light is always seen as illuminating an understanding of the inner reality of things.

In the first chapter of Genesis, God creates man and woman equally in his image; that is, unlike the animals, men and women are to reflect the divine. In the second story of creation, God creates man (adam = universal humanity) and finds that "it is not good for man to be alone, I will make a suitable partner for him." (Genesis 2:18.) God's creation is incomplete. It is not yet "good." In natural law, too, things are good only when their nature is fulfilled, when their potentialities are brought to completion.

In Genesis, for man (that is, mankind in its individualization) to be complete, he needs a helpmeet. Likewise, in the natural law tradition, Aristotle insists that man cannot truly flourish as a human unless he is associated together in the polity. From Aristotle on, the natural law tradition emphasizes the fundamental good of friendship, defined as seeking the good of the other. In Genesis, there is a special complementarity in the friendship of a man and a woman, which becomes the fundamental experience of the good of sociability of each individual.

In natural law, sociability (which I think is natural law's unique contribution to understanding contemporary problems) is something without which man cannot flourish as a human person. It has its most intense fulfillment in the relations between a man and a woman in the family. That ordering of human relations is a fundamental good attached to human nature itself.

We can see already how radically similar the views of revelation and natural law are on the nature of reality and of man. Order, reason, community, purposeful action, the goodness of being, sociability, sexual complementarity are essential to both.

By eating the fruit, Eve names good and evil for herself. Remember that earlier in this chapter of Genesis, God had given Adam the right to name the animals, to distinguish them, to find their inner scientific order. But the naming of good and evil, God retains to himself. Man was given reason to apprehend good and evil, but he does not, in his nature, possess the capacity for creating it.

Aristotle teaches that a just man is one who practices virtue, and he defines virtue as the habit of acting rightly. When one acts rightly, one reflects or participates in the objective moral order (the image of God in the words of Genesis). But when one defines the moral order for himself, he images nothing but his own will. By definition, under the natural law, one cannot act virtuously if one is knowingly acting outside of the objective moral order.

Having asserted one's own will as defining good and evil, the results ineluctably follow. For, as the story of creation predicted, without order there is not nothingness, but the terror and distress of chaos.

There is first the disorder of the soul, in the form of shame. Second, social cohesion is shattered. God strolls through the Garden of Eden and accuses Adam of eating of the forbidden tree. And Adam dissembles: "The woman whom you put here with me -- she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it." (Genesis 2:12.) Even in the garden of Eden, the man abandons the woman. They are no longer friends. The bonds of sociability are broken. As soon as we take unto ourselves the right to define good and evil, we jettison the interconnectedness between one another that our natures call us to have. Trust vanishes.

Lest you think that such insights come only from a religious tradition, let me read to you Cicero:

True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting; it summons to duty by its commands, and averts wrongdoing by its prohibitions.... It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to attempt to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and at Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is, God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact he will suffer the worst penalties, even if he escapes what is commonly considered punishment. (De Republica 3:21.)

Cicero never read Genesis.

The Supreme Court's definition of human nature in Casey has given us Eve without Adam, and Adam without Eve. We are solitary autonomous beings, unconnected, without responsibility for each other. The Court empowers us to define ourselves, to create our own universe, to be, as Genesis predicted, "like God." In the same way in which the Supreme Court makes law without a constitutional standard, it has declared that there is no rule of law against which we must measure our own actions. We make the rule of law for ourselves, each one a different rule of law. So, for example, we often hear the familiar non sequitur, "I believe abortion is the taking of human life, but I would never want to impose my values on you." It denies us the fundamental natural law standard of an objective basis of morality, and equally denies us the opportunity to strive to that perfection to which we are constituted.

The other issue is liberty. Two points should be made here. First, we sometimes forget that under the plan of God, mankind was utterly free, except for eating of the tree of good and evil. As Pope John Paul II emphasizes, freedom and virtue depend upon there being an objective order, which we can accept or not. Without an objective moral order, there is no true freedom, for it has nothing to measure itself against. Second, modern natural law theory must acknowledge the great advances in the justification for liberty that 18th century natural rights theory made. Modern natural law theory, in its mature form, finds the freedom of the human individual rooted in the good, and holds that political authority is contingent upon that human freedom.

But what natural law offers in addition is that the free, flourishing individual prospers in his social relations, most especially in the family. What Adam Smith and John Locke presumed in their vaguely perceived notions of natural law and in the social experience of the Enlightenment was that these social relations would flourish of themselves. For the most part they were right. But we have learned in the two centuries past, and especially in this country, that those relations, the family, are much more fragile than we imagined and that for true liberty to be enjoyed, such relations need to be fostered and nurtured. For natural law not only judges what human laws ought not to be passed, but also illuminates the benign face of the law: It looks to those laws that ought to be enacted to assist human persons in the flourishing of their free individual personalities. Natural law is not only imperative; it is aspirational.


When a philosophy -- even one like natural law -- is in the ascendancy, intellectual fatigue, as well as impatience with the imperfections any human system has, slowly brings on criticism and perhaps even rejection. But when order threatens to break down altogether, when chaos looms, then the mind reaches back to the stability of principle. Man cannot abide error for too long, for error produces a disintegration, a disorder of the soul, and a disorder of society. We can live a complex life; we can live a life of contradictions; but we cannot live an absurd life. That is our nature.

Whenever subjective relativism and objective truth have come into contest, whenever the choice is one or the other, man will ultimately opt for the truth, no matter how discomfiting it may be. Just look at whom we choose for heroes:

Is it Antigone or Creon?

Socrates or Alcibiades?

Is it Ruth, who embraces the One God despite the humiliation it brings, or her sister-in-law Orpah, who remains comfortable with the pagans?

Is it Lincoln or Douglas?

Solzhenitsyn or Brezhnev?

Jesus or Pilate?

Only when faith and reason are rejoined in mutually respecting friendship and are cognizant of liberty can the bonds of civil society, of civilization itself, be renewed. That moment may be upon us once again. May it come soon.

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February 23
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