September 5, 1996

Natural Law

The background for this question is rather lengthy and due to the fact that I think in absolutes, could I get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to the following question? When you are born, has God given you the ability to know the difference between right and wrong? Thanks

Hi, thanks for writing. Yes. Now the explanation, even though you only wanted yes or no: The ability isn’t developed, of course, and neither the intellect nor the body have matured to the point where there is a capacity for sin. This is strictly my opinion, of course. The Church does consider both intellect and will, though, and the will is fully formed in any human, although it may “change” over time. Out of curiosity, have you been considering an Original Sin question? Your original question is usually related to this topic.

Good evening, Sorry for the delay in responding. Sunday is my first day of work ( I only have to work half a day….midnight till noon. ) then no work until Wednesday. Anyway on to your Inquiry and where I was coming from. My wife and I were having a discussion, (That’s how it started anyway) about a baby put up for adoption and it’s chances in life regardless of whether the child’s parentage included MBA’s or crack heads. My wife’s spin on this was that you are in essence a victim (My word, not hers) of your environment and upbringing. At this point I should have just smiled and agreed, not in my nature I guess, so I had to throw in about children coming from good homes and turning out evil and ghetto kids rising up and making something of themselves regardless of surroundings. Should I have stopped at that point? Probably, but I went on to say that God has instilled to you at birth the knowledge to know the difference between right and wrong, without this you couldn’t ever make a choice between taking the high road or stumbling along blind. At this point she called into play my parenting skill (that hurt a lot) and asked ‘What are parents for then if children already know the difference’. Too late, by then I was hurt and angry and feeling no need to argue my point. So Ed, boxing up your Original Sin question I do believe that my original question would relate. Hey, when I can sit down and compose my thought on the matter I have a question about Age of Accountability. Thanks for your time.

Hi, thanks for writing back. A quick review of some Catholic theology: in humans, we look at two aspects of human nature, the will and the intellect. The will does not exist as a material object, it is spiritual and is the closest thing to our ‘self’. The intellect, though, is material, and develops over time. The will directs the intellect somewhat, and the intellect informs the will. In time, the will seems to take a kind of ‘orientation’, and the intellect (hopefully) grows and sharpens. There has been the old discussion of ‘nature vs. nurture’, but this doesn’t really take God’s help into account, unless we count it as nurture. To complicate matters, we have no immediate (in the sense of ‘non-mediated’) experience of anybody, including God. All nurture is through the media of language, touch, sight, sound, etc… Our only immediate experience is of ourselves. So, what you were describing is called “Natural Law,” and it is an ancient idea. Here is a good link, by the way: So in this sense, we are predisposed to know and desire the good, but we lack the intellectual development at birth. In other words, the intellect is not sufficiently developed to inform the will. This is where parenting comes in: the parents take the place of intellect and may even override the will of a child. Done correctly, parenting slowly turns over the control of the child to the child. For instance, at five, I might compel my child to eat green beans, but at some later age, it would be inappropriate. In my case, much of my training at a young age was bad, but I had a sense that something was wrong. When I found another way to live, I took it. This could be an example of how we can turn out better than expected. On the other hand, there are so many temptations, and a child raised well may choose comfort or wealth over virtue. And this illustrates another problem: along with issues of parenting and environment, the world is full of wonderful things like food, sex and play, and these things can be abused in the pursuit of pleasure. This is a far too simple explanation of a very complex reality, but perhaps you can find something useful in it. This sort of information has been very useful in raising our six children, and it is what I’ve tried to teach them as they grew, along with a couple thousand other necessary things. Please do write anytime, I enjoy thinking and writing about this. Peace, Ed

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