Divine Command Theory Essay

Divine Command Theory Essay

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  • Created on: 28-04-12 20:56
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"Examine the key features of the divine command theory and identify its weaknesses." (21)
The view that moral rules are true by virtue of being commanded by God is called the divine
command theory. It is a deontological theory and claims that sentences such as "charity is good"
mean the same thing as sentences such as "God commands charity". If you believe that moral actions
are good or bad because they are commanded or forbidden, certain things must follow. First, if they
had not been commanded or forbidden by God then they wouldn't have been good or bad.
Secondly, if God has said the opposite to what he did in fact say, then the things that would have
been good are now bad and vice versa. If God said "Hate your neighbour", then that indeed would
be the Christian and Jewish code of behaviour. This makes the moral codes appear somewhat
arbitrary and brings up Plato's question of "Is x good because God loves it or does God love x
because x is good?"
Plato was an absolutist and may have believed in a set of absolute moral rules which are true in
themselves, and not by virtue of being commanded. If we believe that God and morals are separate
from one another we have to ask the question what we make of God. This is due to the fact that God
would defer to a higher set of absolutes which would take away from the classical theistic view that
he is omnipotent. Therefore it would mean that there is no religious reason to be good and that god
is not worth of worship. A biblical example of the divine command theory is where God commands
Abraham to sacrifice his son as a test of his faith. Here we have a conflict between the religious and
the ethical. Abraham does not kill Isaac, but if he did his community would have judged him to be a
murderer. The reason for this is that Abraham's community does not know whether the command to
kill Isaac was a legitimate divine command, or some delusion of Abraham's. So, this community must
depend upon the ethical prohibition against murder when evaluating Abraham's actions.
A problem with the divine command theory is that it is contingent upon the existence of one true
religion. The moral codes of Islam, for example, may conflict with those of Christianity. Given that
religion is by nature based on faith and not observable facts, there is no simple resolution to two
religions having differing moral codes as they are both commanded by what each religion thinks is
the true God. The theory also implies that humans are morally blind and have no direct knowledge of
good and evil, so have to rely solely upon God's knowledge and guidance on such matters.
There is also the epistemological question of how one comes to know the will of God. Most religions
point to their scriptures for answers, however, few if any religions claim to have texts detailing their
deity's will concerning every possible situation. These gaps often concern situations that the writers
of ancient religious scriptures couldn't have foreseen, such as those involving advanced technologies,
especially biological and medical ones. Due to these problems, critics claim that one can never be
sure if a person, including oneself, who claims to know God's will actually does know, or is lying,
mistaken, or even mad.
"Comment on the view that the strengths of the divine command theory outweigh the
weaknesses." (9)
However, the divine command theory also has its strengths writers like William of Ockham argue that
if God had commanded murder, then murder would indeed have been morally obligatory. Indeed,
Ockham goes so far as to say that God could change the moral order at any time. Thus Ockham
embraces divine command theory wholeheartedly; his view has been characterized as being that
"God's command is good" is analytically true as god is omniscient and onmibenevolent and therefore

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Ockham can be thought of as saying: "God could
have commanded us to commit murder, and then it would have been obligatory -- but he didn't, so it
isn't." The divine command theory also gives us the answer to where morals come from. If we believe
that morals don't come from God then we would not have an answer to where they did come from.…read more


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