Quaker Universalist Conversations

Natural law and Quaker environmentalism: A blog reader’s response

The pamphlet “A Way of Being,” written by British Quaker David Cadman, makes many strong points, as could be seen in the excerpts published earlier on this site.  However his reliance on the writings of Thomas Aquinas has raised some disagreement.  I have received the following comments from Robert Beutel, who is trained in philosophy, and Lois Yellowthunder, an anthropologist and student of Quaker history and beliefs.   — Rhoda Gilman

David Cadman in “A Way of Being,” is trying to find a philosophical and theological foundation for creation of a Quaker theology of the natural world.  Unfortunately, he grounded this endeavor in the philosophy and theology of Thomas Aquinas and by extension Plato and Aristotle who represent the exact opposite of what Cadman is attempting.  What confuses is to assume the word “nature” in “natural law” is about ecology and the environment.  Natural law doesn’t have anything to do with nature and wholeness with the environment.  It’s called natural law to distinguish it from supernatural law which is revealed.  Natural law is supposed to be universal and not dependent on divine authority.  It applies across cultures, a consensus on what is good — derived from Plato and Aristotle(Ethics).  Truth, goodness and beauty represent the highest development.Everyone tends toward these and you don’t need revelation to tell you this.Aristotle and Aquinas are anti-integrationists. They present a dichotomy between the spiritual and physical.  Spiritual comes out on top.  Nature issomething to be conquered, not an integration of the physical and spiritual.

Cadman is undertaking a worthy and useful task.  However, he needs to find other philosophical and theological grounds on which to build his case.