Divine Command Theory and Opposition Questions

One of the ways in which people choose to live their lives in a philosophical sense is by following the guidelines of Divine Command Theory. Divine Command Theory supports the idea that the concept of morality depends on God. In this theory, God has the final say in determining what is and what is not morally acceptable. This means that we are obligated to be in agreement with God and follow his commands. From this, it is concluded that God’s commands are always morally acceptable or right. Although there is quite a bit of critical commentary in response to Divine Command Theory, I find that it is quite reasonable to be a follower of this theory due to the fact that it is presented in such a way that logically justifies its premises. However, there does need to be some sort of emphasis placed on the prerequisite for some type of preexisting knowledge with religion in order to fully accept and follow this theory in its entirety.

Due to my background of being raised in a devout Christian family, the ideas brought to light in Divine Command Theory are not anything new to me. I view the theory in a way similar to those who view, “ethics to be a matter of God’s will”. Simply put, this view argues that God is always right and that he should be the basis of how we live our lives. The classic definition of Divine Command Theory says that:

God’s will is necessary and sufficient in determining the content of morality—it actually defines it. Thus, for an act to be ‘right’ it is both necessary and sufficient that the act be performed in compliance with God’s will. God’s will is necessary in that if the act if not in compliance with God’s will regarding that right, it is not the right action. God’s will is sufficient in that all that is required for an act to be ‘right’ is that God wills it right. 

At a superficial glimpse, the divine command theorists have a pretty comprehensible position. First off, due to the high prevalence of individuals who believe the world is a product of God or some other divine/supernatural being, it is only reasonable that these same individuals believe that everything that exists in this world, including morality, is in fact due to God and depends on his will. This highlights the importance of the need for a religious relationship between the individual and God. From this initial generality, it is not preposterous to think that the creator of the universe reserves the right to define the term of morality. In conclusion, the actions that we perform that go against God’s will are obviously not morally right; likewise, the only thing required in determining if an action is morally right is that God approves of it. With the application of additional time and consideration to the premises presented in Divine Command Theory, it is obvious that there exist certain objections to the different parts of the theory.

At the forefront of these controversial objections is the counterargument that develops from Plato’s Euthyphro Dilemma. In the context of this topic, the question is reconstructed to ask, “‘Does God command this particular action because it is morally right, or is it morally right because God commands it?’”. It is from this question that a very debatable subject arises. Based on Divine Command Theory we would never be allowed to inflict harm upon another individual for just the purpose of hurting that person because it goes against God’s will. However, if we find that God has commanded us to do exactly that action, the action itself becomes morally right due to God willing it so. From this scenario, multiple contradictions arise. There is a sense of confusion as to what morality is and is not, we also might have to think that “God is not the source of ethics and is subject to an external moral law”. The latter part of which takes away from his superior sense of being a divine force. This scenario is similar to the anything-goes objection that we discussed momentarily in class. The anything-goes objection says that divine command theorists are bound to claims that say: “If God were to intend that someone at some time were to do action X, then it would be morally obligatory for that person at that time to do action X, even if action X is intuitively wrong.” An example of the anything-goes objection arises from the Bible story of Abraham and his son, Isaac. In this story, God attempts to test Abraham’s obedience. God commands Abraham to sacrifice and kill Isaac. The primary question that plagues this command by God is that if Abraham killed his son, would Abraham be morally right or wrong in doing so? While this question sums up the valid concerns in regard to the Divine Command Theory, those concerns are not exempt from rebuttal.

The primary objection to this dilemma of where God demands an individual to do something that seems intuitively wrong is met in response with multiple explanations. The first, explains that since “God is the source of life itself, and no person deserves life on account of original sin; thus if God wills that life to end, He is entirely justified and his servant justified in carrying out His will”. This explanation states that any harm that is willed by God cannot be deemed as immoral because God is the original creator himself. This stance holds credibility in the eyes of an individual with a religious upbringing as it is true that we only exist under the mercy of God. Therefore, God withholds the right to do as he pleases. Another explanation that debunks the argument against Divine Command Theory presents the mere fact that a God who is so loving would not command his people to do anything of such contradictory nature. This response states that a command from God that demands an action such as harming another, must be accepted because it is morally right. However, the crucial part here is to distinguish that while God does possess the ability to demand something of such contradictory nature, he will not actually do so. Quite clearly, there is a need for religious experience here as well. But with that being said this still addresses the potential flaw of Divine Command Theory, that says morality is rather arbitrary. In a religious setting, God is a perfect being, which leads to how morality deviates from God’s perfection. Additionally, God is a constant, meaning that he does not change as people do. Which also means that a concept such as morality, that is dependent on God, never varies. Therefore, God would never command the harm of another person. There is no exception to this, as God’s decision of permitting or not permitting the harm of another person does not just rely on chance. “Hence, morality is not arbitrary” (Austin). While this argument is somewhat dependent on the presence of religious knowledge, this aspect is further supported by the end result of the Abraham and Isaac story. In its finality, Abraham is stopped by an angel right before he kills Isaac. God is pleased by Abraham’s obedience. The argument that could be raised here is the possibility that God never intended for Abraham to kill his son. An omniscient God must have known the final results of his willingness of Abraham to kill his son. He would see that Abraham would follow him unquestioningly and Isaac would remain unharmed. With this, we can conclude, that God does not perform acts that contradict his nature. And from his perfection, we can see that external law that pertains to morality only exists because God allows it to do so. Therefore, God’s role as a divine figure remains intact.

In all, Divine Command Theory holds validity through a comprehensible layout. Although, there are some questions in opposition to Divine Command Theory, regarding to scenarios in which God commands his people to perform wrongful moral acts. It can be concluded with the presence of religious devotion, that these divine command theorists would be justified in following the will of God. Performing immoral acts because God wills it would be morally acceptable because he is the creator of everything and has the right to do so. But this would never be a problem as God would also never command such an intolerable act because it would contradict his perfect nature. Ultimately, morality is dependent on God. The stable and unchanging characteristics of morality deviate from the perfection of God.

Works Cited

  1. Austin, Michael W. “Divine Command Theory.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, www.iep.utm.edu/divine-c/.
  2. Driver, Julia. Ethics: the Fundamentals. Blackwell Publishing, 2007. 
07 July 2022
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