Thursday 7/11

Divine Command Theory I

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Synopsis

Today we took the first of our examinations. I can never tell by expression alone whether exams have gone well or poorly. It did seem to me that most of you took about as much time on it as I expected, but I'll endeavor to have them graded and back to you in short order. If you didn't do well on the first exam, remember that it counts the least of all the examinations--a mere 50/1000 points. In theory, you could not show up for the first exam at all and still get an 'A' in the course! (1000 - 50 = 950 points, still an 'A') Fortunately, everyone did show up, so that's not a theory we'll need to test.

We took the exam after break, beginning class today by formulating Divine Command Theory. We then proceeded to ask the questions demanded of us by the Standard of Clarity: Can we even apply the theory to determine its implications, and has it any unintelligible concepts.

As we discovered, it may be that the term 'God' is problematic. Consider the following argument:

The Problem of Evil
  1 If God exists, then God is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnibenevolent (perfectly good).  
  2 If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then evil cannot exist.  
  3 Evil exists.  
4 Either God is not all-powerful, God is not all-knowing, or God is not perfectly good. 2&3
5 God does not exist. 1&4
 

The idea is fairly intuitive. If you saw a small child about to wander into traffic, you would, doubtless, run and stop the child. Of course, you may not be able to, because you may not be able to run fast enough. But you are a good person, so you'll do your best to avert disaster.

What would we say of someone who stood by and watched as the child wanders into traffic to be struck and killed?

Because it's so hard to believe that somebody would just stand by and let it happen, we might first wonder whether the person was able to save the child. Perhaps this person, though standing, requires a cane to get around and knows that he can't get to the child in time to save it. Then we might be less inclined to hold him blameworthy for not saving the child. After all, we cannot be expected to do what is not in our power.

Yet suppose we find out this person was perfectly able to save the child. Then we might wonder, did he know that the child was about to wander into traffic? His attention might have been elsewhere. One cannot intervene in a situation if one doesn't even know the situation exists.

Suppose now that we discover the person did, in fact, know what was happening. He knew what was happening, he could have acted to prevent it, yet he did nothing. Our conclusion must be that he is morally, and perhaps legally, blameworthy for failing to save the child. At the very least, we would say that he is not a good person, because a good person who knew what was about to happen and could intervene would certainly have done so.

God, so the atheist argues, is in much the same position as this person we have been imagining. If God exists, then God can do anything, knows everything, and is perfectly good. It couldn't then be the case that children die in the thousands from starvation, abuse, and natural catastrophe every day, but it is. If God exists, then God watches, refusing to lift a finger.

So either God does not exist at all, or God is either not perfectly good, not all-powerful, or not all-knowing.

Put this way, it seems like a fairly powerful argument. As we found, however, there are many responses to the Problem of Evil. There is no hope that we can solve the problem in this class, so we set it aside next time to consider further and, it turns out, altogether decisive arguments against DCT.