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An Argument Against Divine Command Theory

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

Day 17


You sit in your living room. The rain gently taps down your window. You're content with your life, your morality. Your spirit is satiated.


Suddenly, a voice thunders down and speaks to you. Everything you've ever known about your morality is about to change. It is God themself speaking to you.


They say "abandon the morality you know to be true. Murder is okay from this day forward."


You sit perplexed, pondering. You have always believed in God, but how could they say something like this? Murder is not good, but God is good. How could something that is the ultimate good call for the ultimate bad? You muster up the courage to challenge God.


"Isn't murder bad? Don't you call it sin because it is bad?"


God responds, "No, murder is bad because I call it sin."


You've stumbled upon the Euthyphro Dilemma.


What do you do now?

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Divine Command Theory (DCT) is the theory that the rightness and wrongness of an action are intrinsically related to the fact that a God or Gods either command or forbid an act.


DCT does not touch on the motivations behind moral acts. Some proponents of DCT will argue that acting morally to avoid damnation is insufficient, but the theory doesn't actually say that is the case.


This theory is based on the assumptions that:

  • There is a God

  • God is the ultimate good

  • There is objective morality

  • God constitutes that objective morality

  • People are rational

  • Rational people will follow God's will

DCT has some pretty strong pros, such as:

  • You know what is objectively good and bad

  • The burden for humans to find morality is lifted

  • Following objective moral laws will lead to eternal salvation/avoid damnation

  • Fits objective and theistic morality together well

  • Fits any deity

However, when diving further into it, there are far more cons:

  • Lacks agreement

Which God is the authority? Is there then any truth to DCT?

Can people be held accountable if they are ignorant to God's will?

What happens if people interpret it differently?

To what extent can this help solve modern problems without opposing interpretations of religious authority?

  • How do you define God objectively?

In addition, DCT assumes that which God wills is good. However, you cannot find any meaning regarding the nature of God's will. There is a missing independent concept of good.


The biggest con, in my opinion, is one presented by Socrates. He asks:


"Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”

Meaning: are actions good because God commands them, or does God command actions because they're good?


If actions are good because God commands them, then morality is just dependent on the whims of a deity. God can just as easily command something as bad today, as he declared it good the day before. The absolute only reason anything is wrong is because God said so. This is what the supposed God said in the example.


If God commands actions because they are good then God is no longer the creator of morality, he simply recognizes it and therefore commands it. We have an independent concept of morality that runs parallel to God. Morality remains objective, but God isn't the foundation of it. God is like us, subject to eternal moral law, which is not compatible with many religions.


Supporters of the theory then have to ask, "Do I base my ethics on the arbitrary foundation laid out on the whims of a deity, or eternal law that God is not the creator of?" This is known as the Euthyphro Dilemma.


Responses to the Dilemma

There are several responses to this dilemma. The strongest I believe is the response of human nature from Thomas Aquinas.


This response works from the perspective that things are good because God commands them, and works to disprove the claim of arbitrary moral foundation. God has created us a certain way, and the commands that follow are for us to reach our full potential as people. In this case "sins" would always be something against our nature, something objectively bad for people.


I still find issues with this, at least in mainstream religious texts. If something is objectively bad for people, you should be able to prove it in a secular way. However, that is inconsistent with many things that are dictated as sins. Homosexuality is an example of this. It is not something objectively harmful to humans, but in many religious texts, it is dictated as sin.


What would make me reconsider?

I would have an easier time accepting Divine Command Theory if there was agreement, proof that the agreed-upon God is good, and an answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma that was compatible with the agreed-upon religious text.


I don't like to tip-toe around morality. As elastic as I think human morality may be (and might need an elastic foundation to match), I don't think Divine Command Theory is the answer. I think humans can have a concept of good independent of God. I would not want my morality to be based on the whims of a God. It seems immoral to me.


It seems as humans get better, the supposed Gods get better. Is God actually eternal? It seems contradictory to biblical texts. Humans used to think massacring was appropriate, and so it was commanded by God. As humans found it to be wrong, so too God called it sin.


Conclusions

Each individual person has a very different view and experience of God. Maybe to some God is not omnipresent. Maybe God can morally get better. Maybe God is the creator, but absent of morality.


So many "maybes" have to be added for me to consider DCT. I don't think it is a stable foundation for morality in and of itself. Humans can do better, and they have.


Sources:

https://www.iep.utm.edu/divine-c/

My old philosophy teacher (Shout-out to Mr. DiNetta)


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