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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Divine Command Theory

The Divine Command Theory was pointed out by one of the commenters. The entire post is worth reading and I hope you have time to visit. In it, the Euthryphro Dilemma is considered, among other things. Here is a posited question:

“Are morally good acts willed by God because they are morally good, or are they morally good because they are willed by God?”

There follows discussion concerning several historical answers to that question. I will quote The Daily Duck here to ask the question another way:

Taking x to be any act agreed to be morally wrong (eg. child murder), then

(Horn 1) does God say that x is wrong because it is wrong; or
(Horn 2) is x wrong only because God says it is?


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Welcome back. I hope you took the time to read the post. Even if you have not, I will continue.

I suggest that there is a basic flaw inherent in the question. The flaw is this: How is what is "morally wrong" determined? Who decides what is wrong or right?

If you say that God decides what is wrong or right, then only He has the right to declare what is right and what is wrong. Therefore if God is the final authority you would have to say say that "x is wrong because God says it is and since He is the one who determines right and wrong, it is also wrong because it is wrong." Therefore the question is not a matter of one or the other, it is actually both.

There is a good chance that you do not like that idea. Okay, so if God does not determine right or wrong, who does? Is it my decision? Is it yours? Give yourself a chance to consider.....

You may say that right and wrong just "is", not as a determination by God and not by man but as an absolute that is out there. Oh? Who said? Who has determined this?

You may say that the mature, responsible man must decide what is right and what is wrong. But will all men come to the same conclusion? Of course not.

I await the commments. However, from my point of view it is pretty simple. God created all things including the concept of right and wrong. He created right and anything that is not right is wrong. Wrong is available because although God himself did not create it, He allowed for it by giving choice to sentinent beings so that they might choose right or wrong in any given situation. He also gave them the option of avoiding that choice by remaining innocent.

Innocent? Yes, in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were unaware of the difference between good and evil. They were therefore innnocents. But they chose to acquire the knowledge of good and evil. Unfortunately once they had that choice that also meant that they would at least sometimes choose the evil.

Over the centuries the philosophy of man has blurred the distinction between good and evil in many instances and among men there is disagreement in many areas. There is not a concensus concerning good and evil. So if you decide that man must choose, that he is the one who is to follow his own moral code you will get different codes for different men. This is quite obvious. For a Humanist, therefore, when it comes to right and wrong there is not one absolute, there are no absolutes.

If you believe that God has set forth a moral code that is absolute then you have a standard to which you may adhere. This is the position of the Christian. It then falls to the Christian to understand God's code and follow it.

We know that Christians are not perfectly wonderful at following God's moral code. But they have a standard, an absolute, a goal to which they seek to attain. It is the same from generation to generation.

Humanists have no absolutes when it comes to right and wrong, for they have no final authority. It is then called into question how Humanists are ever certain that what they are doing is right or wrong, for in the end they are only doing what is right or wrong as determined by their own reasoning and conscience.

28 comments:

creeper said...

Who decides what is right and wrong? Man does, not on an individual basis, but by consensus as to what is the best way to live together as a community. It's down to man's collected collective wisdom. The ten commandments, among other things in the Bible, are merely a reflection of that consensus, a codification; they don't stand outside it, and they don't contradict it.

As someone pointed out in the comments (I forget if it was here or on The Daily Duck), we all agree on the big wrongs, such as murder, rape, theft. I suppose you might call them the "absolutes". Beyond that, there is plenty of disagreement on what is right and wrong. Among practicing Christians, a kind of equivalent to this is how to understand God's code and follow it, which often has to depart from absolute certainty and requires human interpretation.

Anonymous said...

". . . which often has to depart from absolute certainty and requires human interpretation."

Exactly. What Radar says: "for in the end they are only doing what is right or wrong as determined by their own reasoning and conscience." is ultimately true for every independent and fully functioning human being. Everybody bases that reasoning and conscience on something or other (really somethings) - it's not like humanists have no moral guidance whatsoever, and are just floating in a sea of completely abstract rationality . . .

" Therefore if God is the final authority you would have to say say that "x is wrong because God says it is and since He is the one who determines right and wrong, it is also wrong because it is wrong . . . God created all things including the concept of right and wrong. He created right and anything that is not right is wrong. "

But then why couldn't God have created and defined 'right' to include, say, baby-eating, or causing pain to others for fun and profit? Sure, you'd say, he didn't - but why not?

"Humanists have no absolutes when it comes to right and wrong"

That's not true, though.

The U.S. Constitution didn't, as far as anyone can tell, come from God, and in fact is not particularly reflective of Christianity. The U.S., in that sense, has no divine standard or final authority, only a product of human reason, emotions, compromise, exigent circumstances, etc. (including some bits that don't look very good at all nowadays), adopted by consensus and open to change. Does that mean the U.S. citizens among us have a government with no absolutes, no certainty as to right or wrong, based only on reasoning and conscience? And if so, well . . . so?

-Dan S.

chaos_engineer said...

Actually, humanism does have absolutes. To a humanist, "Good" means "That which benefits humanity as a whole."

Now, it's certainly possible for two humanists to disagree about whether a particular act is good or evil. But it's also possible for two Christians to disagree about moral questions.

To my eye, the big difference is that humanists believe that there can be honest differences of opinion. Maybe A supports the death penalty, and B opposes it, but they can have a civil debate and still remain friends.

It seems like that's harder for Christians. Suppose A supports the death penalty and proves that he's right by quoting the appropriate verses from Leviticus. And suppose B opposes the death penalty and quotes the appropriate bits from the New Testament.

It seems like they'd both believe that they're objectively right, and that the other side is blasphemously and willfully taking verses out of context. If they both believe that, can they still be friends?

(Do you see the problem? If we say there are honest differences of opinion, then we're saying that there are moral questions that can't be objectively resolved by human beings, so in practice morality is subjective/relative. Even if God knows the objective answer, A and B don't have access to it at the time the moral decision is made. The fact that an objective answer exists is just a useless bit of trivia to them.)

Anonymous said...

"Divine Command Theory"
Y'know, half the time I read that as Divine Command Line Theory . . . which I suppose would look something like this . . .

"Even if God knows the objective answer, A and B don't have access to it at the time"

I dunno - sometimes God seems awful chatty . . .
Robertson Says God Told Him About Storms
"Thu May 18, 12:01 AM ET
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - In another in a series of notable pronouncements, religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says God told him storms and possibly a tsunami will hit America's coastline this year."

It would be interesting to see inside Robertson's head right now. Is it just cynical manipulation, on a par with 'I'll predict an eclipse for the natives so they think I'm powerful"? Is it manipulation justified for a good cause (I'm basing this on scientific forecasts, but it will affirm people's faith in God)? (Or a mix of the above?) Did he hear the forecasts of same and inernalize it as God communicating with him? Did he hear said forecasts and also imagine God literally telling him stuff, voices in head style? Etc.

Although the Pacific Northwest tsunami prediction is a bit unusual . . .

-Dan S.

A Hermit said...

I think Radar's solution to the Euthyphro Dilemma ("Therefore if God is the final authority you would have to say say that "x is wrong because God says it is and since He is the one who determines right and wrong, it is also wrong because it is wrong." is refuted in the Daily Duck post:

"Third Way v2: Levels of morality. There are ‘levels of goodness’, so that what God tells us is moral is contingent upon his decision, but there might be another level of morality above that: a ‘morality of the Gods’, which God can choose to refer to. (This was Orrin Judd’s argument). This take might conceivably eliminate the arbitrariness problem and the emptiness problem. But it also seems to have the worst of both worlds: there exists morality beyond the control of God (impaling us on the first horn). And the morality we’re interested in – human morality – is once more at the whim of God, and we’re still exposed to the problem of abhorrent commands."

Seems about right to me; Radar's solution just runs into both horns of the dilemma simultaneously.

-------

I'm going to echo the previous comments on the question of "absolutes"; if the "absolute" part of Radar's argument is just, as he puts it "a standard...a goal to which they seek to attain." then humanists certainly have an absolute value; the well being of all people and the progressive attainment of human potential.

But the idea of "absolute values" usually gets bandied about in this kind of discussion as an example of the superiority of a theistic morality; the implication being that a morale code obtained by divine revalation is consistent, unchanging; that believers have real convictions while us hellbound heathens blow hither and thither and have no consistent moral compass.

To put it bluntly, this is BS. One only has to read the history of the Christian Church to see how it's morale stances have changed over the years, or the Bible itself to see God's own morality changing from the vengeful, wrathful, genocidal sky god of Moses to the new testament Prince of Peace (now praised by the war party...hmmmmm). Christ himself makes this clear when he says "You have heard it said; an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I come to show you a new way".

Humanist ethics on the other hand are based on set of principles every bit as consistent, if not more so, than religious doctrine.

BUt neither is truly "absolute, in my opinion; both attempt to apply certain principles to the infinite variety of real-world circumstances we human beings actually find ourselves. If there is an advantage to the humanist approach I think this is where it lies; the factors taken into consideration by the Humanist in making moral choices are real world factors, and real world consequences. Religious morality must also allow for the imagined demands of an inscrutable deity; it adds an extra layer of often confused and contradictory considerations.

A Hermit

IAMB said...

Although the Pacific Northwest tsunami prediction is a bit unusual . . .

Not at all, actually. Many of the costal towns in Oregon have "Tsunami Escape Route" signs all over near the beaches. There's a pretty big fault running under that section of the country, and it's due to snap again within our lifetime.

Actually, this Robertson thing is pretty funny, considering that there was a big article about just such an occurrence in Time (I think) last year not long after the disaster in the Indian Ocean... one of those "Could it Happen Here?" articles.

The nice thing about most of the Pacific Northwest is the rather sharply rising elevation right off of the beach. Doesn't give big waves too much opportunity to go very far inland... though I suspect things around D River would get a bit messy. The reason the 2004 tsunami was so deadly is that many of the areas hit don't exactly have a lot of higher ground, unlike here.

highboy said...

"Man does, not on an individual basis, but by consensus as to what is the best way to live together as a community. It's down to man's collected collective wisdom."

Who decides what is considered wisdom?

"But then why couldn't God have created and defined 'right' to include, say, baby-eating, or causing pain to others for fun and profit?"

He could have, but didn't. Why? Because HE figured the best way for humans to live together. The credit goes to Him, not man.

IAMB said...

This thread is beginning eerily to resemble an "evolution (or atheism) can't explain altruism" argument.

Fortunately, there's an answer for that.

*I know I don't normally link to stuff in comments, but this has to do with two of my favorite things in science: evolution and bacteria... plus the site sends me link-love, so it's only polite to reciprocate every once in a while.

creeper said...

"Who decides what is considered wisdom?"

Humanity, collectively, on the basis of experience gathered over time.

Incidentally: who decides Jesus is a gun-toting bodybuilder? Objectively, I mean.

"The credit goes to Him, not man."

By all means credit Him if it pleases you. We're not out for credit, and it's not an adversary situation. You say God said it so it must be true, some of us here say we humans figured it out over time, via experience and imagination passed down through the ages, and eventually codified it in religion.

Neither can win this argument by proving the other side wrong, and I'm not particularly concerned about it since it's a bit tomayto tomahto.

But here's what puzzles me: I don't get how any Christians can disagree about any moral question if it's all so fantastically absolutely decided.

How can this so-called "absolute morality" be that ambiguous? Seems a little, I dunno, relative to me.

Anonymous said...

From the pages of Free Inquiry magazine: The Myth of Secular Moral Chaos by Sam Harris.
One cannot criticize religious dogmatism for long without encountering the following claim, advanced as though it were a self-evident fact of nature: there is no secular basis for morality. Raping and killing children can only really be wrong, the thinking goes, if there is a God who says it is. Otherwise, right and wrong would be mere matters of social construction, and any society would be at liberty to decide that raping and killing children is actually a wholesome form of family fun. In the absence of God, John Wayne Gacy could be a better person than Albert Schweitzer, if only more people agreed with him.


It is simply amazing how widespread this fear of secular moral chaos is, given how many misconceptions about morality and human nature are required to set it whirling in a person’s brain. There is undoubtedly much to be said against the spurious linkage between faith and morality, but the following three points should suffice.


You'll have to click the link to find out what they are . . .

He brings up an interesting and reasonable-sounding factoid that ties into the 'Christianity waning?' thread:

"According to the United Nations’ Human Development Report (2005), the most atheistic societies—countries like Norway, Iceland, Australia, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom—are actually the healthiest, as indicated by measures of life expectancy, adult literacy, per-capita income, educational attainment, gender equality, homicide rate, and infant mortality. Conversely, the fifty nations now ranked lowest by the UN in terms of human development are unwaveringly religious. "

He doesn't claim to be able to untangle correlation/causation here, but of all things the Bible (and history) suggests a very plausible answer. When a people become great and prosperous, when they can take pride in grand achievements, they seem to tend towards being insufficiently strict re: religion. One rarely reads about folks living fairly luxuriously in the cultured cities of rich empires gettin' all hardcore, religion-wise . . . . it's always the scrawny scruffy folks out in the desert (literal or cultural) who come roaring in, wrecking vengence on the soft, decadent unbelievers and instituting appropriately arid and deeply regressive regimes.

Regardless of objective truth, it seems fairly obvious that certain varieties of religion will prosper in settings where people have little control over their lives and little hope for anything in this world. When we can actually take pride in human achievements and freedoms (and yes, this can go overboard), it would seem that at least a certain kind of God is just less appealing. (Other kinds of God may fill in).

You want a massive old-school religious rebirth? Toss out antibiotics, public health measures, and contraception, get rid of libraries and overall literacy, and make sure the economy's in the tank for a good long while.

When the electricity fails, the moon looks awfully bright.

"Because HE figured the best way for humans to live together. The credit goes to Him, not man."

But what makes it the best way for humans to live together?

Oh, and good to hear ya, highboy! Thought you'd vanished!

Iamb, nice link! There's a very distantly related finding in the study suggesting a link between the highly social behavior of the colonial tuco-tuco and the massive population bottleneck the species seems to have passed through about 3,000 years ago . . . and it's very suggestive that our own species seems to gone through a pretty severe bottleneck roughly 100,000 years ago.

Good general bit on evolution and altruism.
And - "


Anyway, I suspect morality is intrinsically part of the human condition, based in our ability to realize that others have thinking, feeling selves - that is, of (a form of) empathy. Once you have that, you always risk starting down the road towards an ever-widening circle of inclusiveness. Of course, there are rather strong countercurrents that also seem to be fairly intrinsic to our species and beyond . . . (and something else is involved, since sociopaths can use empathy in an expertly manipulative manner, and lying is similarly based. What, I dunno.)

-Dan S.

Jeffahn said...

My "final authority" is my cat (sadly no longer with us). He taught me much:

*Lick yourself allover at least twice a day.

*Hunger is the only reason to wake up.

*Food will come to those make the most noise.

*Use couch/tree trunk (whichever is most convinient at the time) to sharpen claws/fingernails.

*Attack objects which exhibit erratic motion (especialy horizontal motion).

*Lock yourself in the garage after every weekly shop.

*Demand to sit on the laps of new people who don't like you.

I could write a book...and...maybe, just maybe...nah -nobody would believe it, but then again...

highboy said...

"Who decides what is considered wisdom?"

"Humanity, collectively, on the basis of experience gathered over time."

Humanity, collectively, used accumulated knowledge and wisdom passed down through the ages to decide what would be considered accumulated knowledge or erudition or enlightenment? Makes little sense.

"But here's what puzzles me: I don't get how any Christians can disagree about any moral question if it's all so fantastically absolutely decided."

The absolute morality of Christianity is that defined in the Bible. Many Christians have differing opinions as to how that is interpreted, but all agree that the answer is absolute.

creeper said...

"Humanity, collectively, used accumulated knowledge and wisdom passed down through the ages to decide what would be considered accumulated knowledge or erudition or enlightenment? Makes little sense."

When you self-servingly re-word it that way, it makes little sense indeed.

"The absolute morality of Christianity is that defined in the Bible. Many Christians have differing opinions as to how that is interpreted, but all agree that the answer is absolute."

So the answer is absolute, but not clear. Great. Then who gets to decide how the Bible is interpreted correctly?

That's still pretty relative.

highboy said...

"When you self-servingly re-word it that way, it makes little sense indeed."

That is not self-servingly rewording, that is what you are saying.

creeper said...

"That is not self-servingly rewording, that is what you are saying."

Just the opposite, as a simple look higher up in the comment thread will demonstrate.

highboy said...

"Just the opposite, as a simple look higher up in the comment thread will demonstrate."

Actually, I see you asserting higher in the thread that morality is decided based on man's collective wisdom. I ask how man decides what is considered wisdom, and you basically reply that man's wisdom is decided based on man's collective wisdom.

creeper said...

"I ask how man decides what is considered wisdom, and you basically reply that man's wisdom is decided based on man's collective wisdom."

And what did I actually reply?

"on the basis of experience gathered over time"

Don't you have anything better to do than to misquote other people just a few comments down from where it can be clearly seen what they wrote in the first place?

If you had an argument you wanted to make, then make it.

highboy said...

"on the basis of experience gathered over time"

So man decided what wisdom is (accumulated knowledge over time)through experience? Try again Creeper, you're still not making sense. If man decides morality by experience (wisdom) how can he decide what is wisdom (experience) by wisdom?

"If you had an argument you wanted to make, then make it."

I did. My argument is that your argument makes no sense. You claim that man decides morality based on wisdom, or accumulated experience. Than you claim that man decides what is wisdom by ACCUMULATED EXPERIENCE. You have quite a problem there and I think you know that.

creeper said...

The only problem here is that you're under the impression that wisdom and experience are synonymous and interchangeable. They're not; they're two different things.

Heck, if I thought that, I wouldn't be able to make heads or tails of anyone else's arguments either.

"If man decides morality by experience (wisdom) how can he decide what is wisdom (experience) by wisdom?"

Whew!

It's a bit like that time when you thought 'Establishment' was a verb in the Constitution, no?

highboy said...

I still don't hear an explanation Creeper. Do you have one? Lets try again: How does man determine, or how DID man determine, what is considered wisdom?

creeper said...

"I still don't hear an explanation"

I answered your question about halfway up the thread, at 5:04 p.m., and repeated it several times in comments just a few above this one.

I have no intention of continuing to run in circles or correcting your silly misquotes and misunderstandings of plain words on an ongoing basis. If you want to advance the argument in any direction, then do so.

highboy said...

Wisodm:
# he ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight.
# Common sense; good judgment: “It is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things” (Henry David Thoreau).
#

1. The sum of learning through the ages; knowledge: “In those homely sayings was couched the collective wisdom of generations” (Maya Angelou).
2. Wise teachings of the ancient sages.

"Who decides what is considered wisdom?"

Humanity, collectively, on the basis of experience gathered over time."

So for someone who doesn't run in circles, you'vre brought us around again. You're not making any sense. How does man decide what is wisdom based on accumulated experience when wisdom itself is based on accumulated experience? If this is the logic man uses to determine morality than its crucial to the discussion.

chaos_engineer said...

How does man decide what is wisdom based on accumulated experience when wisdom itself is based on accumulated experience?

That's a genuinely bizarre question. It's almost like you're assuming that wisdom is just some random abstract concept with no connection to the real world.

Most people would say that "wise" decisions are those which can be expected to produce positive outcomes in the real world, and "unwise" actions are those that can be expected to produce negative outcomes.

For example, "It is unwise to throw rocks at a hornet nest."

How do we learn this? Through experience. If we're lucky we'll learn it through someone else's experience. (The "collective wisdom".)

This is so basic that I'm having trouble seeing any other way of looking at it. Can you give us an example of wisdom that's not based on experience?

highboy said...

"Can you give us an example of wisdom that's not based on experience?"

Sure. Divine wisdom handed out in abundance by the Holy Spirit.

IAMB said...

Sure. Divine wisdom handed out in abundance by the Holy Spirit.

Such as???

Anonymous said...

One possible reason why we might almost always talk past each other on this issue:

"Four researchers who culled through 50 years of research literature about the psychology of conservatism report that at the core of political conservatism is the resistance to change and a tolerance for inequality, and that some of the common psychological factors linked to political conservatism include:
* Fear and aggression
* Dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity
* Uncertainty avoidance
* Need for cognitive closure
* Terror management"

How reliable the study is, I have no idea. And certainly conservatives aren't all exactly alike . . .

The researchers also stressed that they weren't saying conservatives were crazy or bad: ""In many cases, including mass politics, 'liberal' traits may be liabilities, and being intolerant of ambiguity, high on the need for closure, or low in cognitive complexity might be associated with such generally valued characteristics as personal commitment and unwavering loyalty," the researchers wrote."

They also sound like a set of traits that would be generally useful in a traditional, conservative world, where most problems will require quick, direct action, there's not a lot of excess resources and luxury to experiment, and the texture of life hasn't changed much for generations, so doing it the way it's always been done is much safer than fiddling around.

These days, liberals seem better suited for many of the problems and opportunities of modern society (especially the 'hot,' even more diverse and rapidly changing parts of it), but hey, it takes all kinds. Nobody really wants a car where they would have to pick between having a gas pedal or a brake . . .

Unfortunately, if accurate, it explains how, in some ways, conservatives have been very easy to manipulate by people who know what buttons to push. See, e.g., the last few years.

-Dan S.

creeper said...

Highboy,

This is really a lot simpler than you're pretending it is. You wrote:

"How does man decide what is wisdom based on accumulated experience when wisdom itself is based on accumulated experience?"

I don't know if this pretzel you've constructed is a tautology or simply nonsensical.


The question is: how does man decide what is wisdom?

The answer is: by accumulated experience.


What's so unclear about that? The modifiers you add that are supposed to lend this an air of circularity are unnecessary.

chaos engineer has also responded very well to this.

"Q" the Enchanter said...

I'll set aside the standard objections to DCT and try a slightly different approach.

So: Christians frequently state that God is good. As such, that God is good is a judgment Christian people make about him.

But on what do Christians base this judgment? By DCT, there are two possible answers: (1) because God made himself; or (2) because God is God.

If the former, the judgment rests on an a thesis that I'm pretty sure all mainstream Christian theologians regard as incoherent. (Christian theologians do not think God is "causa sui" in the sense of being self-made, but only in the sense of being uncaused by something else.)

If the latter, than saying "God is good" is equivalent to saying "God is God." But then saying "God is good" is vacuous.

Thus, the goodness that Christians find in God must find its praiseworthy character in something outside DCT.