Maybe my philosophy isn’t so unsophisticated after all

All kinds of ticked-off Christians have been giving me flak for raising the Euthyphro argument in my USA Today piece criticizing the religiously-based assertion that morality comes from God.  (Just to refresh your memory, that’s the argument that what is morally good cannot be so just because it’s commanded by God, because God could command things—and has, if you read the Qur’an or Old Testament—that violate our notion of what’s moral.)

One of those critics was the oxymoronic “Thinking Christian,” whom I answered in a post this week.  That Unthinking Christian cited William Lane Craig as having provided a good answer to the Euthyphro problem. That answer invoked the Divine Command Theory, which is this: “whatever God orders is good and morally obligatory simply by virtue of the fact that He is God.”

That’s bogus, of course, and no answer at all, because God ordered really bad stuff in the Old Testament.  Nevertheless, the “Thinking Christian,” who seems obsessed with my website, sees Craig’s as a really good response, and claimed I was philosophically unsophisticated for not knowing it existed. (I did, of course, but find it too stupid to address.)

Ditto for Matt Flanagan, a Christian apologist from New Zealand who, on his website, used me as an example of “when scientists made bad ethicists.” His claim is that the argument I dispelled was that people cannot have moral feelings without God, but that what theologians really mean is that people cannot have moral obligations without God.

I did know about that one, too, but it’s a mug’s game to argue with Christian apologists on their websites.  Now a real philosopher has come along to save me the trouble by explaining in detail what I said in condensed form in my USA Today piece. At his website not just a philosopher, Jason Thibodeau shows pretty definitively that “the Euthyphro objection is robust.”

To set the record straight for all thinking Christians, I’ll just let Jason explain:

Coyne does not make the mistake that Flannagan accuses him of; he is not just saying that in order to judge God’s commands as moral or immoral we would have to have a moral sense that is independent of God. Rather, he is saying that we would need a standard of moral obligation that is independent of God. What Coyne has done is condense a bit of argumentative interaction between the purveyor of the Euthyphro objection and the defender of the divine command theory (DCT). One aspect of the Euthyphro objection is that, if the DCT is true, then morality is arbitrary. If the DCT is true, God can make any action (even something universally regarded as horrendous such as torturing small children) morally right just by commanding that we do it. But this conflicts strongly with our moral intuitions: it seems natural to believe that something as awful as torturing children could not possibly be morally right. But the DCT implies that this action, along with any act that causes unwarranted and horrendous suffering, could possibly be right (Note: the notion of possibility at use here is metaphysical possibility, not epistemic; more on this below.) One divine command theorist response to this is to say that a loving and moral God would never issue commands the require us to needlessly cause people to suffer (this is the response that Coyne mentions).

There are a few problems with this response. The most important (and the one that I think that Coyne had in mind) is that if we are to understand the reply to mean that a moral God would not issue immoral commands, then this in essence capitulates to the Euthyphro objection. That is to say, the response implies that there is a standard of morality that is independent of God against which he and his commands can be judged. But if morality is independent of God, then the DCT is false.

I won’t summarize the rest of Jason’s arguments lest I bore those who aren’t philosophically inclined, but let me add that he then takes up, and disposes of, the standard Christian riposte that “Well, God wouldn’t do that because he’s a moral being. And besides, he’s an all-loving being.”

My own response to this is to say, “How do you know that? You couldn’t prove it from anything in scripture!”  And of course the whole point is moot unless you can show that there’s a God to issue moral commands in the first place, which nobody has done. (UPDATE:  And of course most people who assert a good and loving god have a prior, non-goddy notion of what “good” and “loving” mean.)

But Jason has a more nuanced response, one that you may like to read.

128 Comments

  1. Posted October 24, 2011 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    Reading the article now. Small correction: the website is called “not not a philosopher”, not “not just a philosopher”.

    • Torbjorn Larsson, OM
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:05 am | Permalink

      Actually it is a blog, and the confusin is due to banner contamination:

      “not not a philosopher

      Just another philosopher blog”.

      Most blogs are just blogs.

      (Except when they are the roots of websites and, for unfathomable reasons, sometimes identified with the site instead. It’s like calling a truck “a road”.)

      • Tulse
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 8:44 am | Permalink

        Now don’t you start…

      • Posted October 24, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Or a book, a shelf.

        /@

      • Jim Jones
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        Or calling it the internet.

        “And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck.

        It’s a series of tubes.

        And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.”

        -Late Sen Ted Stevens.

  2. Matt G
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 4:59 am | Permalink

    Sophisticated theology simply means the same lame rationalizations expressed with bigger words in longer sentences.

    • Andrew B.
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

      And less coherently. And frequent use of words like “deep” and “deeply” and “deeperlyer.”

      • Rob
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

        You misspelled “derp”

      • Marella
        Posted October 26, 2011 at 12:48 am | Permalink

        Yep, the less coherently is the important bit. Any theologian you can understand just isn’t trying hard enough.

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      And atheist responses are simply assertions like yours with pejorative language. Funny that.

  3. steve oberski
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    “Sophisticated theology” just means that the purveyors of this product know that they are lying.

    Less sophisticated theologians may be given the benefit of doubt as to their motives.

    • Bryan
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      That’s a nice distinction. I like it.

    • Marella
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 12:49 am | Permalink

      *coughkarenarmstrongcough*

    • Jim Jones
      Posted October 26, 2011 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Old joke:

      Q: What’s the difference between a car salesman and a computer salesman?
      A: The car salesman knows when he is lying.

      Adapt as needed for ‘theologians’.

  4. Tom Dobrzeniecki
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    Were I to play devil’s advocate (or creationists advocate), I’d say that we may be too quick to dismiss the DCT argument. The wily Socrates trapped Euthyphro nicely by maneuvering him into the abstract morality position.

    The objections to DCT are that it “conflicts strongly with our moral intuitions: it seems natural to believe that something as awful as torturing children could not possibly be morally right”.

    For scientists to object on the grounds of “intuition” and “it seems natural” sounds pretty lame.

    If you are willing to concede the existence of an all powerful and all knowing God, I really don’t see the objection to, say, God commanding a killing. After all, in this viewpoint, God would be the Author of all life, and quite capable of restoring a life after taking it — the equivalent of one of us turning off a light switch. And if you concede that God is all-wise, you cannot object to God flicking off the switch by saying “it seems wrong to us with our limited intelligence”.

    If I were Christian, I’d stick with DCT, and defy anyone to complain on grounds other than (what amounts to) “I don’t like it”!

    • Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      Yes, I think a Christian could answer that God knows that torturing this child will prevent a greater amount of child torture in the future, and I think this would be a legitimate answer. Like killing Hitler might be moral for an all-knowing being. (Notice, of course, that God did not kill Hitler.)

      • Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:58 am | Permalink

        But with this argument, you can defend any action as moral – hence morality is arbitrary.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:03 am | Permalink

        And not for lack of opportunities, either. There were something like a dozen other failed attempts on Hitler in addition to von Stauffenberg’s courageous action. Even a run-of-the-mill god ought to have been able to engineer success into one of those. Failed gods and nonexistent gods are hard to distinguish.

        • Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:21 am | Permalink

          The Hitler case also shows a profound lack of imagination and ability on the part of whichever benevolent gods of whichever pantheon you care to invoke.

          Hitler was a somewhat-competent painter with ambitions of grandeur. Even a third-rate Greek Muse could have provided him with the inspiration he needed to have had a successful career as a painter, never have felt it necessary to abandon his passion and instead go into politics, and therefore make it such that today the name Hitler would be mentioned in the same breath as Munch, not Stalin.

          The common Christian retort to questions of why Jesus wouldn’t stop Hitler is that Jesus wanted Hitler’s willie kept free. You’ll note that, not only would helping him to create great art do nothing to cage his willie, it would have given his willie even more range to roam in.

          And, for what it’s worth, I’ve yet to encounter a Christian who failed to run away when I’ve made this observation.

          Cheers,

          b&

      • Posted October 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        The problem with arguing that god can do things for a moral reason greater than we can conceive is that the gods of the bible lay out there reasons. Furthermore they never claim to be all knowing or all powerful.

    • Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:56 am | Permalink

      Then how do you suppose we model our own moral behavior after a god like this?

    • Tulse
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      After all, in this viewpoint, God would be the Author of all life, and quite capable of restoring a life after taking it — the equivalent of one of us turning off a light switch.

      Why should a creator of something have complete control of it? Did you feel morally obligated to grow up and become a doctor because your mother wanted you to?

      There is an additional premise needed to push through your point, which is that such a god would be morally permitted to act as it wants with its creation — but that just circles back to the same problem.

      And if you concede that God is all-wise, you cannot object to God flicking off the switch by saying “it seems wrong to us with our limited intelligence”.

      Why does “all-wise” mean “all-moral”? Again, there is a premise missing, and it is precisely that premise that is at issue.

    • Posted October 24, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      I think invoking our moral intuitions makes the point.

      Sure, it seems weak, rhetorically. But the question I’d ask next is “why would, or how could, we have intuitions that child-torturing is wrong when the alleged morality-maker says it’s right?

      We don’t necessarily have to provide an alternate source for objective morality to have a strong argument. It seems to me that highlighting the discrepancy between our intuitive sense of morality and the “morality” on display in scripture is sufficient to demonstrate that god cannot be morality’s source.

    • 386sx
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

      For scientists to object on the grounds of “intuition” and “it seems natural” sounds pretty lame.

      Therefore Jesus. Thank you for brilliantly summarizing religion in a nutshell. Something sounds lame… therefore Jesus.

    • Richard Wein
      Posted October 25, 2011 at 9:11 am | Permalink

      The objections to DCT are that it “conflicts strongly with our moral intuitions: it seems natural to believe that something as awful as torturing children could not possibly be morally right”.

      For scientists to object on the grounds of “intuition” and “it seems natural” sounds pretty lame.

      Well, it might make sense to use such an argument against those who share these intuitions. Clearly many DCT proponents do share them, which is why they resort to the “God wouldn’t command that” response. On the other hand, William Lane Craig seems to believe that absolutely anything could be morally right, if God commands it, so this argument would be fruitless against him.

      As a moral error theorist I think our moral intuitions are wrong. But I could still appeal to the DCT proponent’s intuitions: “this argument shows that DCT is inconsistent with your own moral beliefs”. This might be persuasive to some.

      I think the better approach is to put the onus on the DCT proponent to explain how God commanding something could make it morally right. If he comes up with any explanation at all it is likely to be mumbo jumbo.

      If I were Christian, I’d stick with DCT, and defy anyone to complain on grounds other than (what amounts to) “I don’t like it”!

      DCT isn’t their only option. I expect many theists take the more intuitive view that God is merely commanding us to act in accordance with moral obligations that exist independently of his commands. They don’t have to claim that God is necessary for there to be moral obligations, though that claim seems common among the more vocal apologists.

      I think there are good grounds for accepting moral error theory (or broader moral anti-realism) and therefore good grounds for rejecting DCT. But even many atheists find these arguments unconvincing, so I wouldn’t even begin to use them on theists!

  5. Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    To these religious people it seems that the Enlightenment never happened. Of possible interest to others, I am reading “In Defence of the Enlightenment” by Tzvetan Todorov. I have not finished it but it seems ‘enlightening’ & there is a video of him doing a lecture on this theme on You Tube.

    • Posted October 24, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

      Really interesting video, thanks for the pointer; I’m gonna go look for the book.

      “The Enlightenment was an era of debate, rather than consensus, of balance between diverting ideas…”

      In my reading, growing tolerance and freedom of conscience, aka accommodation.

      And see from about 20 minutes in on how he sees the Enlightenment project playing out in the modern world.

  6. Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:53 am | Permalink

    Matt G., why that’s sounds like me! Advanced theologians rank with Sylvia Brown[e], James van Praagh and John Edward,only more ornate language!They are purveyors of solecistic, sophisticated sophistry- ignorant,complicated swill- of wily, woeful woo!
    And Aquinas fails here by begging the question that His nature is good! And that riposte also rests in the same dilemma anyway!
    Per Lamberth’s reduced animism argument theism is mere animism behind one God instead of the many spirits of regular animism or the many gods of polytheism so that it is as superstitious! The Azande know about germ theory but find the germ spirit behind the theory! Thus, to invoke Him as the Primary Cause[ Aquinas] or the Ultimate Explanation [Leibniz] means to disregard the real primary causes and sufficient reasons.
    Thus, arises Lamberth’s Malebranche Reductio that Nicholas Malebranche himself unwittingly make the reduction to absurdity- reductio ad absurdum- of Him as that cause or explanation where he maintains that when we act, ti’s He who is the actual performer!
    Theists just cannot overcome Flew’s the presumption of naturalism that not only are natural causes and explanations efficient and necessary but also primary and sufficient: they are that necessary being and primary cause! That neither begs the question nor sandbags theists but instead is the demand for evidence like that Einstein provided to overcome Newton!
    Theists ever put old garbage into new cans that we eviscerate! As one philosopher notes, that amuses us to do so, and I add, exercises the mind! After eons they produce no good arguments and here as Victor Stenger notes where mountains of evidence should appear and in line with Charles Moore’s auto -epistemic rule, absence of evidence is indeed absence of evidence!
    We strong/positive atheists can most certainly then claim that no God can exist!
    We gnu atheists have the duty to expose the intellectual and emotional and sometimes monetary scam know as the supernatural, with which its twin superstition, the paranormal we, with Paul Kurtz ,can call”‘The Transcendental Temptation,” a must read book1
    Skeptic Griggsy; Carneades

  7. Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Tom and Lou, no! Those remarks ranks with advanced theologian Alvin Plantinga’s unknown defense argument- that argument from ignorance! That also blasphemes reason and -morality! Might does not = right!

  8. Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    The assertion that things are good simply because they emanate from God is logically untenable. Here’s what I mean . . .

    If God has a reason for what he does, then the source of God’s morals or actions come from outside Himself.

    If God has no reason for what he does, then his actions are entirely arbitrary and capricious. “Thou shalt not murder” might just as easily be “Thou shalt not cover your bodies” if the source is arbitrary.

    To me, this has always meant that morality, to be valid, must have its reasons and if it has its reasons, it is independent of God.

    • Tom Dobrzeniecki
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:15 am | Permalink

      But, what is wrong with an arbitrary morality, other than it conflicts with your pre-conception of what morality should be?

      If we DEFINE morality as “whatever God says”, your only objection is “that’s not how I would define morality”. But so what?
      Who are you? (No offense meant :-) — I only mean that you are small and imperfect in comparison to a posited omnipotent God.)

      • Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:27 am | Permalink

        But, what is wrong with an arbitrary morality, other than it conflicts with your pre-conception of what morality should be?

        Because if DCT leads to an arbitrary morality, it would contradict the theists who wants to use DCT to support the idea that God is necessary for an objective morality.

        • Richard Wein
          Posted October 25, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

          Would it? Why can an “arbitrary” morality (in the sense used here) not be an “objective” morality (in the sense used when we talk about “objective morality”).

          If God existed and issued commands, then there would be objective facts as to what God has commanded. According to DCT those objective facts about what God has commanded give rise to objective moral facts.

          You may argue (and I would agree) that these facts fail to be objective moral facts. But it doesn’t follow directly from the premise of “arbitrariness”. And the problem seems to me to have more to do with their failure to be moral facts than their failure to be objective facts.

      • Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

        If I ask you why you believe in God, would you say ‘because I feel like it’? And if you did, would you really blame others for scoffing at your answer?

        Your belief is not right simply because you feel like it. Any assertion without reason is worthless.

        And that’s why the Divine Command Theory is pure, illogical, bunk. Morality must have its reasons or else it’s arbitrary. And if it has its reasons it CAN’T emanate from God.

        I believe that’s pretty impeccable logic.

      • Vaal
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        Tom,

        — “But, what is wrong with an arbitrary morality, other than it conflicts with your pre-conception of what morality should be?”

        Because we are looking for REASONS for actions and someone else’s arbitrariness does not give us reasons for our actions.

        The command comes: You ought to do X.
        Question: Really? Why? What are the reasons for doing X? Answer: actually, there are none (arbitrary). In other words: there is no reason to do X. So arbitrary morality is a non-starter.
        (Without a reason for doing X, that God commanded X would only be an observation that God commanded X, not a reason for doing X).

        Someone may want to say “sure there is still a reason to do X. God will punish you if you don’t do X, so you have a personal motivation to do X, hence reasons to do X.” But then this is to abandon the very argument for morality as being arbitrary, and puts in it’s place a specific pragmatic justification, which simply brings it’s own problems…

        — “If we DEFINE morality as “whatever God says”, your only objection is

        If we DEFINE morality as “whatever Robert De Niro says,” your only objection is “that’s not how I would define morality”. But so what? Who are you?”

        The Euthyphro looks at the consequences of Divine Command Theory and asks if we (or the theist) really is OK with those consequences. (And if it makes sense of morality).

        We look at the consequences of ANY move made in response to the Euthyphro Dilemma. The definitional move you just made above has the consequences of arbitrariness. If you simply start by defining morality as whatever God says, then we are still left asking “Well…why would we go defining morality that way in the first place?”

        Without a good answer to this question then
        you are left with arbitrariness and special pleading…hence you have not offered any reason why should not define the commands of any other individual as “what we ought to do.”

        So remember, we are asking for reasons…and insofar as you wouldn’t supply reasons-for-X, then you offer no reason to accept your statements.

        (I know you are playing devil’s advocate…)

        Cheers,

        Vaal.

        • Tom Dobrzeniecki
          Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

          Vaal –

          Well, that’s a pretty good argument, and you’re right: I’m only playing devil’s advocate here and I wouldn’t subscribe to that type of morality.

          The only come-back I could think of is that while “someone else’s arbitrariness does not give us reasons for our actions” may be true, we might want to make an exception in the case of an all-wise and all-knowing being making the arbitrary decisions. (I personally wouldn’t!)

          • Vaal
            Posted October 24, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

            “The only come-back I could think of is that while “someone else’s arbitrariness does not give us reasons for our actions” may be true, we might want to make an exception in the case of an all-wise and all-knowing being making the arbitrary decisions. (I personally wouldn’t!)”

            Doesn’t work.

            For one thing, “wisdom” denotes rationality, sagacity, discernment, drawing reasoned connections between things. Whereas the version DCT you pretended to accept (arbitrary) concerns a God who does not have reasons for His commands. It is incoherent to describe unreasoned statements as “wise” hence, no, we wouldn’t actually have a reason to follow God’s commands.

            Rather, IF God were Wise he WOULD have Good Reasons for his commands. Can’t have arbitrariness and wisdom.

            Vaal.

    • jbthibodeau
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      This is exactly right. The arbitrariness objection is ultimately about whether there are reasons for God’s commands. Matthew Flannagan (and others) want to argue that God really can’t command things like toruring children because He is all-loving (essentially so). Thus there is no possible world in which God commands that we torture children.

      But whether that is true or not, God must still have His reasons. Suppose His reason for not commanding torture is that it wouldn’t be very nice. Well, whether God exists or not, it is still not very nice to torture; and so if that is the reason God won’t command it, then presumably it would still be wrong even if GOd does not exist.

      So my suspicion is that the claim that God can’t command that we torture children is a red herring that is not relevant to the arbitrariness objection.

      • Tulse
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        Matthew Flannagan (and others) want to argue that God really can’t command things like toruring children because He is all-loving (essentially so).

        And of course this is just the same problem in different terms — is there an external criterion for “loving” separate from a god, or does the god just arbitrarily define what it means to be “loving”. (And, more to the point, what is the difference in this context between being “loving” and being “good”?)

      • Rob
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        “Matthew Flannagan (and others) want to argue that God really can’t command things like toruring children because He is all-loving (essentially so). Thus there is no possible world in which God commands that we torture children.”

        Abraham called. He wants a different God.

      • Richard Wein
        Posted October 25, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

        But whether that is true or not, God must still have His reasons.

        Must he? I interpret the DCT proponent as saying, in effect: God don’t need no steenkin’ reasons. God has no moral obligations.

        Suppose His reason for not commanding torture is that it wouldn’t be very nice. Well, whether God exists or not, it is still not very nice to torture; and so if that is the reason God won’t command it, then presumably it would still be wrong even if GOd does not exist.

        I think there’s some confusion here over different sorts of reasons. If God is the source of objective morality then he can’t have any objective moral reasons for his commands. But he can have reasons of his own. Perhaps his reason for not commanding torture is that he doesn’t like it. Perhaps his reason is that it’s not nice to torture, and God values niceness. God doesn’t have to appeal to any external (objective) values in order to have his own reasons.

        Taking “nice” as an example confuses the issue. It’s not clear if niceness is supposed to be a moral property. If we substitute “morally right” for “nice” then my second “perhaps” is not applicable.

      • Posted November 1, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        Jason I actually addressed that objection some time ago http://www.mandm.org.nz/2009/07/walter-sinnott-armstrong-on-god-morality-and-arbitrariness.html

        Your argument assumes that if God has a reason for prohibiting X and Gods prohibition consitutes wrongness then that reason by itself would constiute wrongness. Thats false.

        I have a reason for pouring water into a glass, I am thirsty, my pouring water into a glass constitutes my pouring H20 in the glass. Does it follow that water is constituted by my being thirsty?

        • jbthibodeau
          Posted November 2, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

          Matthew,
          You say, “Your argument assumes that if God has a reason for prohibiting X and Gods prohibition consitutes wrongness then that reason by itself would constiute wrongness. Thats false.”

          My argument does not assume this at all. It is not that the reason constitutes wrongness. Rather, the idea is that if God has a reason to command that we not torture, then presumably this very reason could serve as the basis of a judgment that it is wrong to torture. Of course, what makes torture wrong is logically distinct from the reason for the judgment that torture is wrong.

          My argument assumes that if God has a reason to command that we not torture then that reason must refer to certain morally relevant features of torture. Since those morally relevant features serve as the basis for God’s command, they can also serve as the reason for our judgment that torture is wrong.

          If God’s reason for commanding torture do not refer to any morally relevant features of torture, then his command is morally arbitrary.

          Now, since, according to the DCT, God’s commands are prior to moral properties, his reasons for commanding torture cannot make reference to morally relevant features of torture. Thus his commands are arbitrary.

          Obviously I am ignoring the distinction between deontic and axiological properties (we’re working through those issues at my blog currently).

          • jbthibodeau
            Posted November 2, 2011 at 8:45 am | Permalink

            Having looked over the comments to your post, I think that Richard makes a good point that, if we are talking about normative reasons, then the normative reason for God’s commanding that we not torture does constitute torture’s wrongness.

            Like you, however, I was thinking in terms of motivational reasons and epistemic reasons (that ground judgments). My point is that God’s motivational reason for commanding that we not torture must, if it is to be non-arbitrary, refer to moral features of torture. I think you concede this in your post when you say, “If God has motivational reasons, such as concern for the welfare of others for issuing the commands he does, then God’s commands are not arbitrary.”

            If we assume that welfare is a moral property, then you are correct, God’s commands would not be arbitrary. But if you think that welfare is morally neutral prior to God’s commands, then I don’t see how you escape the charge of moral arbitrariness.

            Once again, we are led back to a discussion of the status of axiological properties within divine command theories.

      • Posted November 1, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        Well, whether God exists or not, it is still not very nice to torture; and so if that is the reason God won’t command it, then presumably it would still be wrong even if GOd does not exist.

        That does not follow, a loving and just being does not command X because X is incompatible with being just and loving, from this we can conclude that prior to Gods commands it has the property of “being something a just and loving being would not command” it does not follow however that its wrong, prior to Gods commands.

        An analogy, lets say a wise and just legislator passes at law against X.

        Prior to the law we know that X is such that a wise and just person would not permit it, does it follow its therefore illegal prior to the law being passed, and that if its not the law is arbitrary?

    • Dan L.
      Posted October 25, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Nice argument. I’d guess that someone like WLC would go off on a long waffle about the metaphysics of God and God’s attributes in response (“God IS the meaning” or whatever), but I can’t see what a sensible, sane person could say in response.

  9. Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Simply put, apologetics isn’t an exercise in logic or philosophy; it’s an exercise in rhetoric and sophistry.

    The purpose isn’t to persuade or convince through force of reason. Rather, it’s to provide a complicated mass of bafflegab that ends with, “Therefore, God exists!” that the conmen can point the flock to in order to assuage their fears.

    See? Look here, at this weighty tome by Mr. Theo Logician. Never mind that you can’t quite make sense of it — it’s enough to know that he’s very smart, much smarter than you, and he’s worked all this out for you so you don’t have to worry your po’ widdle head about it any more. Now do remember to be generous as we pass the plate, won’t you?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Diane G.
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Simply put, apologetics isn’t an exercise in logic or philosophy; it’s an exercise in rhetoric and sophistry.

      Another one for the Ben’s quotes file.

      • Posted October 24, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

        What, you’ve got a file on me?

        In that case, let me be the first to assure you that I am not now and never have been a member of the Communist Party…unlike certain others I could name….

        b&

        • Diane G.
          Posted October 28, 2011 at 2:23 am | Permalink

          Have you no sense of decency, sir?

          • Posted October 28, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

            No, I don’t think so. Why? Should I?

            b&

            • Diane G.
              Posted October 29, 2011 at 1:28 am | Permalink

              Y’know, a lot of Repubican base-pandering sounds like nothing so much as McCarthyism…

              (“…the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence,” per our good friend Wikipedia.)

              Sorry–I’m the queen of free association…

              • Jim Jones
                Posted October 29, 2011 at 8:22 am | Permalink

                “A front organization for a group of fellow travelers, often using fear for political purposes and run by a small elite group whose interests are not those of ordinary Americans”.

                Sounds like the Republican party as much as like Stalin’s communists.

                In truth neither wants the state to wither away. It’s too convenient for their purposes.

              • Posted October 29, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

                Shirley, you can’t just now be starting to figure that out….

                Here, have some of my Freedom Fries. You should have some veggies with them — the ketchup’s at the end of the table.

                b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted October 30, 2011 at 2:37 am | Permalink

                @ Ben,

                No, you’re right, I’ve been cynical about such appeals for decades. Unfortunately, that applies to about as many Dems as Repubs…

              • Posted October 31, 2011 at 5:55 am | Permalink

                The Democratic Party sure does stink to high Heaven…but the Republicans make the Democrats look like amateurs..

                We’re a country with a hard, far-right ultraconservative party and a batshit crazy beyond-right megaultraconservative party.

                I mean, not only would Nixon be far too liberal for today’s Democratic party, but Obama is waaaaay to the right of Reagan.

                I try to not think about it much.

                b&

              • Diane G.
                Posted November 1, 2011 at 2:44 am | Permalink

                We’re a country with a hard, far-right ultraconservative party and a batshit crazy beyond-right megaultraconservative party.

                QFT. And money-speech is at the root of it all. (Thank you, SCOTUS.) IMO the only possible way out of the swamp would require the energies of the Occupy Wall Street crowds and fellow travelers to demand the changing of the voting system. 1) Demand some sort of distributed voting process. This is the only conceivable way that some non-established-party candidate will ever stand a chance. 2) Abolish the electoral college; quit privileging small rural states, and quit making a travesty out of the popular vote.

  10. Occam
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    A frightening prospect arises from Jason Thibodeau’s piece.

    Thibodeau argues:
    I am saying that, if the DCT is true, then it follows that it is metaphysically possible that torturing babies is the right thing to do…
    We cannot imagine that torturing babies could be right….Since it implies that it is possible for torturing babies to be obligatory, the DCT conflicts strongly with our moral intuitions.”

    Enter the Leo Rosten Conjecture (LRC):
    Any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad.

    True, Rosten said any man,
    but we know that
    a) man was created in god’s image and
    b) Rosten said it about W.C. Fields. Now, we all know that W.C. Fields was Bacchus reincarnate, so the applicability of Rosten’s conjecture to divinity is doubly evident.

    As a consequence of DCT and LRC, it follows that the Massacre of the Innocents was god’s will, and all our moral intuitions are refuted.

    On the up side, I’m now looking forward to a dog-kicking contest among god-fearing Republican presidential candidates. Jason Thibodeau has just shown it to be god’s will.

    • Tom Dobrzeniecki
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:34 am | Permalink

      Occam refers to the “torturing babies” argument.

      But, don’t you see that you are alternately applying two different definitions of “moral”: the first “whatever God says”, and the second “what we “know” / “intuit” to be right”.

      You can stick with one or the other, but you can’t alternate! If you define morality as “whatever God says”, and God says torturing babies is o.k. — then ipso facto it is o.k.
      You only get conflict by alternating your definitions.

      It might be useful here to think of Krishna’s arguments with Arjuna in the Bhagavad gita.
      If killing people is just an illusion, there is no problem about it.

      • Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

        But, don’t you see that you are alternately applying two different definitions of “moral”: the first “whatever God says”, and the second “what we “know” / “intuit” to be right”.

        Indeed, but that is also a big problem for the Christian who wants to show that human morality comes from god.

        Second, since Christians don’t have direct access to God’s opinions on all possible moral dilemmas, Christians will need to rely on their intuiting, knowledge and reasoning just as much as anyone else. The contradiction between the consequences of DCT and human moral senses is still a problem for Christians.

        • Occam
          Posted October 24, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

          Deen, you caught my meaning.

          Plus, I ought to have lifted the irony flag a bit higher. Irony, since the entire exercise implies the hypothesis of god’s existence, a futile assumption to my mind. One god, that is, because we should read Plato carefully: in the Euthyphro dialogue, Socrates raises the question of moral disagreement among the gods. So what would the consequences of a plurality of gods be? What of an infinity of gods? This whole shtick plays out only if one assumes the Jewish-Christian monogod. There is no basis for that assumption, and there is no basis for preferring it to n > 1 gods.

          And could we please spell out DCT as Divine Command T h e s i s ?
          Theory status is not warranted.

  11. aryeh
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    I agree with Mr. Dobrzeniecki. DCT makes some sense if one is delusional enough to think a god exists and morality is simply what is commanded. As we know, one could could use the same DCT arguments in defense of a belief in a hamster with seven legs, wings, and a strange tendency to give commandments. To ask if god, or hamster, could have created morality is just “hitting philosophical bedrock with the hammer of a stupid question.”

  12. Greg Esres
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    “That’s bogus, of course, and no answer at all, because God ordered really bad stuff in the Old Testament.”

    That is a circular argument, assuming your own definition of moral to prove itself.

    The DCT, as repulsive as it is, isn’t assailable by evidence and seems to be an internally consistent point of view. For anyone who truly holds it, I haven’t seen any argument that can really undermine it.

    The better strategy, IMO, is to pit theology against itself. The DCT suggests that we can’t trust our moral intuitions, yet there are many passages that say that God has given us our moral intuitions. How can they both be true?

    • Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      Never underestimate the power of induced cognitive dissonance, or of guilt by association.

      Remind somebody that YHWH personally drowned all the kittens and butterflies; that he personally killed all the Egyptian boys; that he ordered Moses and his Merry Men to rape all the pre-pubescent Midianite girls after forcing them to watch the slaughter of their parents; and that Jesus will personally bring about hell on Earth so he might wake all the Anne Franks and have them subjected to tortures worse than the Nazis could possibly dream of.

      Either that person is sane and rational and will be greatly disturbed at the notion that a moral, loving, and powerful entity could possibly do such things, or that person is a psychopath and will demonstrate to the sane and rational the dangers of such a belief.

      There’s a time and a place for subtle logic, but this isn’t it. Euthyphro and Divine Command Theory get right to the heart of why religion is evil — simply, it’s such an effective tool for manipulating otherwise-rational people into committing the worst imaginable horrors. “This is what our gods want, and who are you to question them?” Whatever you do, don’t cede the high ground in such matters.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Posted October 28, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

        Also watch the heads explode when you remind people Plato himself was a theist – who admitted that his god was not the source of morality. (Presumably he would say the form of the good is, but that’s heretical to a Christian.)

    • Tom Dobrzeniecki
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      Greg —

      Can you give me chapter and verse on the Bible and “moral intuition”?

      I did a quick check and neither one of those words appear anywhere in the King James version.

      • Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

        Neither do the words “Divine Command Theory”.

      • Posted October 24, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

        “The word morality, if we met it in the Bible, would surprise us as much as the word telephone or motor car.” ~George Bernard Shaw

      • Greg Esres
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        “Can you give me chapter and verse on the Bible and “moral intuition”? ”

        The most important of these is the very beginning of the bible: The Tree of Knowledge was supposed to communicate knowledge of Good and Evil, and Adam ate of it.

        I also recall Paul advocating at least once that we have the ability to decide for ourselves what is right or wrong, but I don’t remember where.

        I suspect that many other verses could be called upon to support his idea, if one were so motivated, but it’s been a long time since I spent much time in the Bible.

      • raven
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        Moral intution.

        Remember the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.

        It taught the difference between right and wrong.

        Oddly enough, they didn’t know it was wrong to eat the fruit until…they ate the fruit. The OT god isn’t too bright.

    • aryeh
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      The Lord has given us intuitions that are not to be trusted, or intuitions and the occasional commandment that overides intuition. Yes, It’s insane- but still an answer.

    • Vaal
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      Greg,

      See my reply to Tom above.

      It’s not that one need reject DCT on the grounds that it conflicts with some other moral theory. Rather, DCT is to be rejected because, on analysis, it does not offer REASONS to accept it’s premises!

      If God commands X yet there are no reasons-for-doing-X, then we have no reasons to do X.
      So it is incoherent to say “You ought to do what you have no reason to do.”

      And if someone wants to say “But we DEFINE God’s commands as moral, and IF you make this step then it follows you ought to do X…”

      Then this simply moves the same issue another step: Insofar as no good reason is offered to define God’s commands (in particular) as moral, then we have no good reason to go along with defining God’s commands to be moral.

      So, as I say, so long as Divine Command Theory resorts to arbitrariness somewhere, it’s like a rotten core that undermines it’s ability to give reasons to accept it’s own premises.

      Vaal.

      • Tom Dobrzeniecki
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 7:07 am | Permalink

        Vaal’s post: “You ought to do what you have no reason to do.”

        Ah yes! The very DEFINITION of religion!

      • Greg Esres
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 8:08 am | Permalink

        “If God commands X yet there are no reasons-for-doing-X, then we have no reasons to do X.”

        That’s just an assertion, no more provable (or disprovable) than DCT.

        DCT adherents define their point of view to be correct, and you can’t prove a definition wrong. The best you can do is prove that adherents are inconsistent.

        • Vaal
          Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          Greg,

          — “That’s just an assertion, no more provable (or disprovable) than DCT. ”

          It’s a fact, appealing to the very nature of reason. Rather than simply characterise it as an “assertion,” How would you dispute it?

          DCT may wish to define God’s command as what we ought to do, but my point is against your accusation of circularity. One needn’t appeal to one’s own distinct moral system to reject DCT (although that is in of itself not illegitimate, if the reasons are sound for my moral systems those very reasons may provide justification for rejection of a competing moral system).

          Rather, Divine Command Theorists can define until they are blue in the face, but we can reject DCT on the basis that it simply provides NO REASON to accept it’s premises.

          — “DCT adherents define their point of view to be correct, and you can’t prove a definition wrong. The best you can do is prove that adherents are inconsistent.”

          Indeed, that is done as well. In appealing to the type of arbitrary DCT under discussion, the theist is inconsistent in his application of reason. In giving no good reason why we ought to define God’s commands in particular, vs anyone else’s, the Divine Command Theorist can not reasonably object to my defining morality as being what Robert De Niro commands (or anyone else). But of course, the Divine Command Theorist will reject the legitimacy of doing so…but with no good reason. Hence they are left with special pleading for their own approach – the very definition of “inconsistency.”

          Vaal.

    • Aqua Buddha
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Suppose God, on a whim, commands people to murder every other blue-eyed person you come across. DCT would say that God’s command is moral.

      Suppose three weeks later, God changes his stance and says murdering every other blue-eyed person is forbidden. DCT would say that the very same action that was moral three weeks ago, is now immoral and for no other reason than this authoritarian entity changed his mind.

      And that’s not even the biggest problem for DCT. It’s perverse to hold onto a philosophical position so flawed.

    • Barbara Knox
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      The DCT suggests that we can’t trust our moral intuitions, yet there are many passages that say that God has given us our moral intuitions. How can they both be true?

      Consider a Mars rover. Because there are many minutes of communication delay between Earth and Mars it is impossible to command the rover in real time. So instead of driving it in real time, the designers build into it various general rules for coping with the environment. For example, “When you come up to a small rock, go around it and then resume the speed and direction you were travelling.”

      So maybe hypothetical gods could give us various general rules about what to do in various circumstances (“moral intuitions”), but since these cannot cover all possible cases there needs to be some command input now and then (“DCT”). Thus, we can generally trust or moral intuitions, but they are not perfect and can be explicitly overridden.

      (As other comments point out, this doesn’t address the issues of accurately recognising such commands if/when they occur, dealing with conflicting commands, or knowing that there is any commander in the first place.)

      • Occam
        Posted October 25, 2011 at 12:18 am | Permalink

        What if your Mars rover — nice example by the way — turns out to be a Von Neumann self-replicating machine with the generational capability to mutate and adapt? In other words, an autonomous, evolutionary entity?

        I have been following this thread with interest, but with increasing disbelief at the time and effort spent on the hypothetical morals of hypothetical gods, on a website in principle dedicated to Evolution. The evolution of morality would again be a more vital subject to investigate than predictably futile debates with medieval theologians. The maximum number of angels on a pinhead has long been established.

        • Dan L.
          Posted October 25, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

          So is it an actual infinity or merely a very large number? I hadn’t heard that anyone settled this.

          This is actually a very important question in philosophy of mathematics. Obviously, the formulation leaves something to be desired, but the question of whether actual infinities exist has never been conclusively settled. We could also ask, as Zeno did, “when does Achilles catch the hare?” Same philosophical problem.

          Interestingly, WLC uses an assumed answer (that actual infinities do not exist) as part of some of his first-cause style arguments.

          • Occam
            Posted October 25, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

            In any senseless race between Achilles and the hare, the tortoise wins — by not starting at all. So here:

            A. total number of proven existing angels = zero;
            B. maximum number of proven existing angels = total number of proven existing angel = zero;
            From A and B follows
            C. maximum number of proven existing numbers at any location, including pinheads = zero.

            The thing is, never accept unwarranted assumptions and flawed premises of theologians with regard to hypothetical entities.

            • Dan L.
              Posted October 26, 2011 at 7:42 am | Permalink

              Yeah, I don’t believe in angels either. I was pointing out that the argument about “angels dancing on the heads of pins” is an argument about the nature of infinity, not about the existence of angels. It’s completely possible to take an argument as hypothetical: “assuming angels are noncorporeal but nonetheless real, how many can dance on the head of a pin?” Since they (hypothetically) take up no space one might answer “infinity” which is the crux of why people once argued about this: many philosophers have maintained that actual infinities are impossible, meaning that only an arbitrarily large number of angels can dance on the head of a pin, not infinity.

              So yes, I kind of agree with your argument about flawed premises (though not entirely since theoretical scientists also deal with hypothetical entities which are occasionally unwarranted). But that has nothing to do with the angels on pinheads problem which is really a metaphysical argument about the nature of infinity, not a theological argument about the existence of angels.

              • Occam
                Posted October 26, 2011 at 8:31 am | Permalink

                I had rather hoped some reader would recognise my off-handed quip as the mathematically non-challenging, lower-bounds-approach (N=0) complement to the rather more refined, and very funny, quantum gravity treatment of the upper bounds, by Anders Sandberg:

                http://improbable.com/airchives/paperair/volume7/v7i3/angels-7-3.htm

              • Dan L.
                Posted October 26, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

                Excellent. Sorry for being so humorless.

          • Barbara Knox
            Posted October 26, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

            So is it the number of angels that can dance on a pin] an actual infinity or merely a very large number? I hadn’t heard that anyone settled this.

            This problem arose for the medieval Scholastics because the bible gives both the dimensions of the heavenly Jerusalem, which thus determine its volume, and the minimum number of angles (something like ten thousand of ten thousands, IIRC).

            The Scolastics then calculated that the amount of space available per angel was very little. So either angels were very tiny (with the ability to expand to the size of humans when necessary), or they somehow overlapped.

            This had nothing to do with infinities, and everything to do with GIGO.

  13. Posted October 24, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    I’d say that so much of this distinction is merely theoretical. *If* there is a god, *then* you could consider its commands as morality, but you haven’t shown in any way that a god exists. Or, even more importantly, given that a god exists, how do you *know* what its divine commands are?

    If you take the Bible as your scripture, for example, Yahweh/God changes its mind regularly to the point of divine schizophrenia. Do you take the Old Testament morality or the New Testament morality? The New Testament morality is more recent, but Yahweh/God can changes its mind on a whim. How would WLC *know* what God wills *right now* and not simply in the past?

    IMO the implications of Divine Command are even more ludicrously useless than the theory itself.

  14. Posted October 24, 2011 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Whether or not it is theoretically possible to establish evidence for or prove the existence of anything supernatural: we know it ain’t happened yet. So nobody knows anything about the supernatural. Any claims of such knowledge is pure bunk.

    Ascribing morality to God is making a claim to knowledge one can’t possibly possess. It’s essentially dishonest.

    I can respect somebody who says he believes in God because he wants to. At least, that’s an honest answer. But when one ascribes external reasons for belief in God, one has no logical leg to stand on. At best, belief in God is an exercise in wishful thinking. Most likely, it’s simply brainwashing being regurgitated.

  15. Maverick
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    According to DCT, can god say “Do an immoral act”? If he can’t, then he is not omnipotent. If he can, then there must exist a system of morals distinct from the commands of Teh Sky Ghost.

  16. Myron
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that theism and divine-command ethics are true. How do we know what God wants us to do or not to do? The theists will say: “By reading the Bible/Koran/Talmud/holy scripture X.”
    But how do we know that what is written in those texts expresses God’s true will?
    Are they even ethically coherent with regard to what we ought to do and ought not to do?

    • Occam
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      “But how do we know that what is written in those texts expresses God’s true will?”
      Touché! Or, as the acronym for “Bible Is Not God’s Own” goes:
      BINGO

      “Are they even ethically coherent with regard to what we ought to do and ought not to do?”
      There is a very good reason why this particular analytical exercise was emphatically not left to the reader. Too embarrassing; if a pun be allowed: too revealing.

      • Jim Jones
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        “Then I began to see that not just the scribal text but the original text itself was a very human book. This stood very much at odds with how I had regarded the text in my late teens as a newly minted “born-again” Christian, convinced that the Bible was the inerrant Word of God and that the biblical words themselves had come to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As I realized already in graduate school, even if God had inspired the original words, we don’t have the original words. So the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words God reputedly inspired had been changed and, in some cases, lost. Moreover, I came to think that my earlier views of inspiration were not only irrelevant, they were probably wrong. For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people would have his actual words; but if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn’t preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn’t gone to the trouble of inspiring them.”

        — “Misquoting Jesus” – Bart Ehrman

        • raven
          Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

          It gets worse.

          Jesus who is god left us zero written instructions. A task any competent 3rd grader could have done.

          These all powerful beings should be able to leave us with understandable, concise rules and regulations written in modern languages. They never bother.

          Assuming he even existed, there has been scholarly speculation that he may have been illiterate. People from his station in life usually were.

          • Jim Jones
            Posted October 24, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

            A review of all of Philo’s descriptions of Jesus and his life lead to the conclusion that he wan’t so much illiterate as invisible – just like Harry Potter.

  17. Jim Jones
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    If god commanded me to create fetuses in test tubes, raise them in rented wombs until almost 9 months old, abort them and then use the aborted baby brains in jars as a sophisticated neural network for problem solving would that be moral? And how could anyone prove god didn’t order it done?

  18. daveau
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Dibs on “Divine Command Theory” as a band name.

  19. Grendels Dad
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I would think that for a command to carry an obligation it would have to be clear and intelligible. Can I really be faulted for failing to carry out a command that was mumbled to a few people, or to one, then passed orally for generations before a written tradition even began?

    Even a good faith (heh) effort would be doomed to failure. Monty Python’s Life of Brian comes to mind. DCT leads to people killing each other over whether to follow the gourd or the shoe.

    No wonder people need to redefine the concept of morality to make this sophistimacated deepity carry any weight.

  20. Posted October 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Have you read ANYTHING about what the Scholastics and what they understood “good” to mean? Your update is seriously ironic.

    “(UPDATE: And of course most people who assert a good and loving god have a prior, non-goddy notion of what “good” and “loving” mean.)”

    Do you know what “good” means?Do yourself a favour and actually read at least Feser’s “Aquinas” and then take it from there. As is, you are speaking from ignorance.

    • Michael Fugate
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

      Why can’t you just tell us what “good” means – or don’t you know?

    • Posted October 25, 2011 at 5:05 am | Permalink

      Why don’t you read Feser’s “Aquinas” yourself? Then you might be able to summarize the relevant arguments, and thus actually contribute something to this debate.

    • Dan L.
      Posted October 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

      Do you know what “most” means? Very simple concept: “more than half.”

      Most believers in a good and loving God DO have a prior, non-goddy notion of what “good” and “loving” mean. If you doubt this I would encourage you to walk to the nearest chapel service that is not affiliated with a university theology program and ask random attendees what they think “good” means. Let me know if more than half cite Aquinas.

  21. Matt G
    Posted October 24, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Even if god is the source of morality, how do we know that the ancient Jews are the correct purveyors of that morality? Please refrain from employing tautologies and circular reasoning when addressing this question.

  22. Posted October 24, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    ”One divine command theorist response to this is to say that a loving and moral God would never issue commands the require us to needlessly cause people to suffer (this is the response that Coyne mentions).
    There are a few problems with this response. The most important (and the one that I think that Coyne had in mind) is that if we are to understand the reply to mean that a moral God would not issue immoral commands, then this in essence capitulates to the Euthyphro objection. That is to say, the response implies that there is a standard of morality that is independent of God against which he and his commands can be judged. But if morality is independent of God, then the DCT is false.”

    This does not follow, to claim that a loving and just being never commands certain types of things does not entail that there is a moral standard independent of that being requiring them to not command those things. Its possible for a person to be loving and just with being required to be loving and just. Suppose nihilism is true and there is no moral requirement to love my children, does it follow that I will cease to love them? Not at all, I can be loving without being under an obligation to be loving. So this objection fails.

    The post you cite actually goes on to make this point

    In any event, as Flannagan indicated, the debate does not end here because the divine command theorist may concede the point but still insist that all he needs is that God is all-loving, and he will get the same consequence (or at least one that is close enough); namely that God will not issue commands that require us to cause horrible pain and suffering (or do anything that we all agree would be horrendous). If developed in the appropriate direction, this reply can lead to a fully developed response to the arbitrariness objection.

    So the “real philosopher” you cite in fact suggests the response you mention can be addressed and also that I did address it in the article.

    He goes on to suggest that the idea of omnipotence creates a problem here, and we have discussed that issue further in the comments section on my article. There I show that on all three of the standard accounts of omnipotence used in the literature this objection fails.

    • Tulse
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

      Its possible for a person to be loving and just with being required to be loving and just.

      But how does one know what “love” and “justice” mean? These responses by Christians have exactly the same problem as the Euthyphro (and are essentially just a restatement). How do you know your god is “loving” and “just” — is there some external standard, or does your god merely define it arbitrarily? You can’t say that your god acts lovingly but is not constrained by an external standard of morality, because the question then becomes an external standard of “loving”. This is mere re-definition, and ultimately question-begging.

      • Bryan
        Posted October 24, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

        Yes – I’m still trying to figure out what Flannagan meant by phrasing that sentence in that way. Of course an omnipotent being could do be good without being *required* to be good – that’s not the point!

        • Posted October 31, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

          Yes – I’m still trying to figure out what Flannagan meant by phrasing that sentence in that way. Of course an omnipotent being could do be good without being *required* to be good – that’s not the point!

          Actually that is pretty clearly the point. Coyne’s quote from Jason, is that if God is good then there is a standard of moral obligation independent of God which he follows. That response assumes that God cannot be called good unless there is some standard of goodness he is required to follow.

          This does not follow, to claim that a loving and just being never commands certain types of things does not entail that there is a moral standard independent of that being requiring them to not command those things. Its possible for a person to be loving and just with being required to be loving and just.

          So Coyne’s objection simply fails.

          Interestingly, Jason whom Coyne is citing, and claims has “decisively shown” the Euthyphro to be sucessful. In fact in the next paragraph states that this rejoinder from Coyne does not work.

          In any event, as Flannagan indicated, the debate does not end here because the divine command theorist may concede the point but still insist that all he needs is that God is all-loving, and he will get the same consequence (or at least one that is close enough); namely that God will not issue commands that require us to cause horrible pain and suffering (or do anything that we all agree would be horrendous). If developed in the appropriate direction, this reply can lead to a fully developed response to the arbitrariness objection.

          So, Coyne’s argument apparently is twofold, first to insinuate without evidence that I am academically substandard and Jason is a “real” philosopher. Second, to quote an argument Jason cites, and actually rejects and contends I have I have answered it. Snip the context and insinuate that Jason is showing the argument refutes me.

          Apparently that passes for philosophical sophistication.

          • Tulse
            Posted October 31, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

            to claim that a loving and just being never commands certain types of things does not entail that there is a moral standard independent of that being requiring them to not command those things

            You’re just moving the problem around — so how do you know your god is loving and just? Is there an external standard for love and justice, or is anything that your god does automatically loving and just? Your position is simply circular — you can’t use other non-objectively-defined qualities to get around the lack of another non-objectively-defined quality. You’re saying that a loving and just being necessarily acts morally, and we know that it’s loving and just because it doesn’t act immorally. That’s just circular.

            • Posted November 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

              You’re just moving the problem around — so how do you know your god is loving and just? Is there an external standard for love and justice, or is anything that your god does automatically loving and just? r

              Actually all you do here is repeat the errors I refuted in my article. First, you ask “how do I know” and suggest this suggests one needs to have a standard by which one knows answers to what is loving and just independent of God. But I addressed this point in the article. There I noted that the claim that one can know something is loving and just “independent of God” is true, but its entirely compatible with a DCT. Because a DCT does not claim one cannot know something is just independent of God it says moral obligtions are indentical with Gods commands.

              To claim that two things are identical does not mean you cannot know one thing independently of the other. Water is H20 yet people could identify water accurately and know what it was centuries before they knoew this. Moreover, if even if the identity of two things did entail that one cannot know one independently of the other. This would not matter in this case because, a divine command theory states moral obligations are identical to Gods commands not that virtues like justice or love are identical to Gods commands.

              This mistakes have been pionted out in the literature ad nausem there really is no excuse other than refusal to read for skeptics to keep conflating these things.

              Your position is simply circular —You’re saying that a loving and just being necessarily acts morally, and we know that it’s loving and just because it doesn’t act immorally. That’s just circular

              Well if I had argued that way it would be circular, but I didn’t. What I argued was that a just and loving being who is fully informed does not command actions which are creul, malicous, unjust and so on, I assume we can recognise with some reliability what counts as just loving creul malicous and so on. But the fact one can recognise something independently of beliefs about God does not mean it exists independently of God.

              By the same reasoning you’d have to say that science is circular, cosmologists say that the universe originated with a big bang, how do they know this? Well they look at observable features of the universe and infer from this that they depend on the big bang, but by your logic this is circular they claim the universe depends on a big bang and yet their knowledge of the big bang comes from the universe.!!!

              Once you realise the distinction between claiming one can recognise something independently of belief in X and that thing existing indepedently of X this kind of objection collapses.

    • 386sx
      Posted October 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

      There I show that on all three of the standard accounts of omnipotence used in the literature this objection fails.

      Oh look! He has a logically coherent system for a hypothetical being! Gee that must be really hard to do!

      • Posted February 4, 2012 at 2:07 am | Permalink

        Actually this objection assumes that if something is hypothetic then its incoherent. That is confused, the concept of a unicorn is coherent, it does not contradict itself yet its not actual.

        Its quite sad that some of the commenters in here can’t draw basic logical distinctions known to first year philosophy students such as the distinction between being consistent and being actual. You really should actually try and understand a subject before you wade in confidently asserting nonsense.

        • Posted February 4, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink

          Clearly, you have no clue what “hypothetical” means.

          It is a hypothetical possibility that the Higgs exists with a mass of about 125 GeV / (c*c), that there is life on Mars, or even that Newt Gingrich will become the next President.

          There is no hypothetical possibility that there are married bachelors, that one can draw a square triangle in uniform Euclidean space, or that “the largest prime number” exists.

          Pay close attention here, because this is where all y’all theidiots have trouble: “omnipotence,” “omniscience,” and “omnibenevolence” are all equally incoherent terms, and fall squarely into the latter category. You can’t take even two steps without encountering a contradiction. An all-powerful, all-knowing being couldn’t possibly, for example, know what it’s like to be helpless in any given situation. And even most psychopaths wouldn’t stand idly by and watch innocents suffer if they had the power to do anything about it.

          Hell, even the very notion of miracles are self-defeating, for what is a miracle but an occurrence of the impossible? But if it happens, clearly it’s merely improbable or difficult, and that hardly qualifies as “miraculous” outside the vernacular.

          So, when a rationalist tells a theologian such as yourself that you’re an incompetent idiot who spews incoherent nonsense and bullshit, it’s because it’s the truth. You’re as pathetic as a ten-year-old infatuated with his imaginary superhero friends, and you think, “Magic ring of ultimate power!” is the get-out-of-jail-free card that means the superheroes really can do anything.

          Well, it’s pathetic. You damned well ought to be ashamed of yourself for believing in such nonsense, and triply so for trying to convince others to join you in your childish madness.

          Grow up, and then maybe you can sit at the adult table without embarrassing yourself.

          Cheers,

          b&

    • Dan L.
      Posted October 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      1. Omnipotence and omniscience are bigger problems for advocates of theism. If you follow the logical consequences of both you will find that God cannot have free will or desires which is, I think, a little problematic for any model in which God is considered in any way similar to a person.

      2. The objection to the DCT stands. You maintain that God will not order certain things (immoral things) and will order others (moral things). What differentiates the two classes?

      If the only thing differentiating the two classes of actions is that: “God wills this, God wills not that” then we’re back where we started: morality defined as the arbitrary preferences of God. (Again, omnipotent God can’t actually have preferences but let’s ignore that for now.) Alternatively, you can posit some deeper reasons for differentiating the classes, but then DCT fails: these deeper reasons are a non-God justification for morality.

      So to maintain DCT God’s preferences need to be arbitrary. You assert that these arbitrary preferences are necessarily good because, I guess, God is (by definition) necessarily good and loving. But how are we defining “good” and “loving”? You’re clearly (but implicitly) relying on your moral intuition as a human being to do so. But that doesn’t cut the mustard, it just recapitulates Euthyphro: are your intuitions of “good” and “loving” arbitrary or based on some objective, non-theistic justification for those beliefs?

      • Jim Jones
        Posted October 25, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        Like a circle in a spiral
        Like a wheel within a wheel
        Never ending or beginning,
        On an ever spinning wheel
        As the images unwind
        Like the circles that you find
        In the windmills of your mind.

        (Says it all, doesn’t it?)

        • Dan L.
          Posted October 26, 2011 at 7:33 am | Permalink

          Certainly does, is that original to you or from a poem or song of some sort?

          • Occam
            Posted October 26, 2011 at 8:05 am | Permalink

            :)

          • Jim Jones
            Posted October 26, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

            I must be older than I think!

            “The Windmills of Your Mind” (“Les moulins de mon cœur”) is a song performed by Noel Harrison, with music composed by Michel Legrand and English lyrics written by Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman, which was used as the theme for the 1968 film, The Thomas Crown Affair.

            • Occam
              Posted October 26, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

              And the French lyrics were called “Les moulins de mon coeur”, i.e. The Windmills Of My Heart

              (A Legrand classic hit in France to this day.)

              • Occam
                Posted October 26, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

                Sorry Jim, my addendum just overlapped with yours, and is superfluous. Can it be deleted?

              • Jim Jones
                Posted October 26, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

                We must both be very old. We remember when “The Thomas Crown Affair” DIDN’T star “James Bond”!

              • Posted October 26, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

                That’s right, it starred “Virgil Hilts”.

                /@

            • Dan L.
              Posted October 26, 2011 at 11:38 am | Permalink

              Remember guys, the most prominent NAs ain’t exactly youngsters either.

              Also, I am relatively young so you don’t have to feel old just because I wasn’t familiar with the music set to a movie created several years before I was born.

      • Posted October 27, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        Dan L
        Re 1. Each of the models I sketch formulates a solution to the apparent problem of omniscience and goodness you mention. To assert the the problem and then contend that because you have asserted it the solutions fail is not really a response.
        In fact one response I cite involves denying God has full omnipotence I argue that on this model its impossible for God, to command evil because omnipotence is limited by moral goodness. Another involves denying God has goodness essentially ( in all possible worlds) I point out that on that model its true that God can command evil, but its not true that a loving and just God can and seeing a DCT contends moral obligations are constiuted by the commands of a loving and just God this possibility does not lead to the entailment that evil can be good. Other responses (by Athiests like Wielenberg) argue that omnipotence is compatible with essential goodness, because although God cannot do evil in any possible world his inability to do so is not due to a lack of power, on this view it follows that God cannot command evil either.
        2. You state

        The objection to the DCT stands. You maintain that God will not order certain things (immoral things) and will order others (moral things). What differentiates the two classes?

        I answered that in the article Coyne refers to, a loving and just person will not command things that incompatible with being loving and just. This is simply a point of logic.

        If the only thing differentiating the two classes of actions is that: “God wills this, God wills not that” then we’re back where we started: morality defined as the arbitrary preferences of God. (Again, omnipotent God can’t actually have preferences but let’s ignore that for now.)

        But I never said the only thing differentiating the two class is that God wills this not that, so this horn is irrelevant.

        Alternatively, you can posit some deeper reasons for differentiating the classes, but then DCT fails: these deeper reasons are a non-God justification for morality.

        This does not follow, a divine command theory contends moral obligations are constituted or identical with Gods commands. Now suppose God has some reason reason R for commanding an action, or prohibiting an action. It does not follow from this that this reason constitutes or is identical with moral obligations. My tipping water into a class constitutes tipping H20 into a glass, it does not follow that if I have a reason for tipping water into a glass, such as that I thirsty and want a drink. That water is constituted by being thirsty and wanting a drink and not H20.
        Similarly, this respose assumes that if you have a reason to X then thats sufficent to explain the obligation to do X, but this is mistaken, obligations involve more than simply reasons for acting. Moral obligations constitute overiding reasons for acting and we are gulity and subject to various social pressures like being blamed and criticised and censured it we do not act on the reason in question, so the mere existence of a reason to X is not enough to make it obligatory to do X.

  23. Posted October 25, 2011 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    Sorry, but your philosophy really is unsophisticated after all. Jason doesn’t help your case, he makes it worse. It’s a mug’s game to argue about it here, of course.

    • Posted October 25, 2011 at 4:56 am | Permalink

      Thank you for that insightful analysis. Every one of your zero arguments hit the target.

      • Posted February 6, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Glenn was simply repeating what Coyne says in the above post in reverse. Glad to see you agree with him about the quality of argument.

  24. Posted October 25, 2011 at 4:53 am | Permalink

    The Euthyphro Dilemma is another reason why we should abandon the word “moral” to the religious, and use the word “ethical” instead. I agree that the words aren’t quite synonymous, but “ethical” is the best replacement.

    The meaning of “moral” is already starting to tarnish. When used by the religious, it often means hatred for gays, hatred for uppity women, prurient interest in other peoples’ love-lives, blind obedience to obnoxious dogma, ostentatious pretence of modesty, and the belief that the virtue of others depends on how much they agree with you. Using the word to defend the murder of children, because voices in your head tell you to, degrades it even further.

    Eventually, much like the word “pious”, the religious will drag the word “moral” into the swamp. Atheists should jump ship before this happens.

    When the religious accuse atheists of lacking morality, the response shouldn’t be the lame “but we are moral”. The response should be “And a good thing too. We don’t want gay people locked up. We’re disgusted by murder, regardless of who orders it. We value ethics over that stupid thing you call morality.”

    • Occam
      Posted October 25, 2011 at 5:36 am | Permalink

      Quite right.

      And since you are the first to mention the word ‘pious’ in this thread, let me weigh in.
      In Euthyphro, Plato has Socrates inquiring after the nature of ‘to hosion’, which very imperfectly translates as ‘pious’, if only because we really no longer can relate to the original meaning of the Latin pius and pietas. The Greek meaning and understanding of hosion are even farther beyond our ken.
      Equating ‘pious’ with ‘moral’, ‘morally good’ — standard fare when the Euthyphro Dilemma pops up — is at best misleading, if not downright perverse, even when an extension of meaning is explicitly accounted for.

      Euthyphro and piety, Classical or Socratic, have no business here. No reason to feed the theological beast any more erudite buzzwords.

  25. Posted October 29, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Put in my two cents here: http://ichthus77.blogspot.com/2011/10/answering-jerry-coyne-and-jason.html


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