Arbitrariness and the Divine Command Theory 4: God’s Solution

Read Part 3 before this.

However, if a person desires an objective morality, God must exist. In this case, morality would be binding, in some sense, beyond the general idea of feeling bad, or doing something for prudential reasons. The other moralities are ambiguous; a God-given morality is clear and distinct. That is not to say that Christianity, without a shadow of a doubt, could be proved to be absolutely true. The word “religion” has been used tautologically with “faith” for good reason – there is simply not enough proof one way or the other. There are logical or rational reasons (again, just as unreliable as any other thing under the sun like sense-perception and the like), but these are still arbitrary like every other thing.

Regardless, one can make a “leap of faith” towards the end of a God-based ethical and moral system. What if God exists? This is an “either/or” situation, but a relevant one. When I say something is “right” or “wrong”, what exactly is being expressed by that statement? In fact, these claims do not have any actual content and are not descriptive. Saying “This porch is blue” is a descriptive statement, regardless of what one might perceive “blue” to be. Saying “this action is wrong” does not tell anything about the action in question other than that it has this characteristic (whatever that definition might be).

Defining what “right” and “wrong” are becomes a difficult endeavor from this point, especially when moral and ethical commands are examined. For example, when a persons says “Do not murder someone,” this is merely an imperative command. An assumption (murder is wrong) underlies that command, but moral statements have no content beyond these assumptions. The same could be said for language as a whole, but moral imperatives fall into the trap regardless of definitions.

To make these statements intelligible, people must agree on the definitions; that is not to say that they agree on what “right” and “wrong” mean, but on what definition they are using in making a moral command or prescription. What has become obvious, from the previously examined systems, is that agreement alone will not determine what will be considered “moral.” The moment one ascribes an objective definition to morality, defense of that morality becomes impossible; it becomes relative to a person’s personal inclinations or wishes. Humanity may not use moral and ethical terms in that sense, but that is, in truth, what they are stating: a personal opinion.

In fact, the real problem lies in the lack of a meta-ethical framework from which to derive moral terms and definitions.7 Since human reason and any other unreliable faculties have been abolished herein, an objective standard, existing somewhere, would happen to solve the problems explicated above.8 If God exists, he inherently becomes that moral framework by default. Since God is defined as a being which is omniscient and omnipotent, God can choose to encourage or forbid any action within the reality He has constructed. One can call actions He forbids “not-God” and those that He encourages to be “Godly”. The majority of monotheists assume that the world was created ex nihilo, arbitrarily, in the first place.

In addition, though, whatever world God creates also retains characteristics that He wishes it to have. If God wants murder to be morally wrong or right in some particular reality, the universe where such a command would reside would be able to support it. Since saying “God is good” constitutes a tautology, meaning “God is God”, God cannot be either good nor evil in the moral sense. What God says, is the case. According to traditional Christian theologians, God is immutable as well, and thus the things He considers “right” and “wrong” stem from this characteristic; an unchanging God makes an unchanging moral standard. Therefore, morality in a monotheistic worldview is objectively sound.

This makes God’s commands no less arbitrary, regardless, but reducing moral commands to “God forbids x” or “God approves x” are far more sound than “I like x, therefore I do it”. Being intellectually honest, any person who does not believe in a God or accept a religious tradition would do well to rid themselves of moral systems except for prudential purposes – it is simply a remnant of evolutionary “herd morality”, a biological construct. If it is not useful, cast it away.

Thus, it is clear that any moral system could be considered arbitrary at its base. Certainly, divine command theory is just as arbitrary as any other moral theory, but God’s very existence creates a moral standard tailored to a specific reality. God’s existence ensures that morality has some ontological foundation; otherwise, they are merely meaningless human words that have no actual content.

In that case, the usage of the words is contrary to their meaning. In accepting the arbitrary nature of morality, the acceptance of divine command theory would be a natural conclusion assuming that God exists – otherwise, humanity is left in the dark to determine its own moral code, an unenviable proposition at best considering the tools at the philosopher’s disposal and the limits of human knowledge. If one wishes to keep the current moral systems that they hold dear, divine command theory happens to be the only consistent system to accept as a framework for something like deontology or utilitarianism to work.

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7 William Lane Craig, “The Indispensability of Theological Meta-ethical Foundations for Morality,” Afterall.net, http://www.afterall.net/papers/16.

8 Ibid.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.