Divine Command Theory

For many who think that morality is a matter of religion, it is so because God's will determines morality. The resulting theory is called 'Divine Command Theory'.

Principles of DCT

A. An action X is morally obligatory iff God commands X.

B. An action X is morally impermissible iff God forbids X.

C. An action X is permissible otherwise.

Standard of Clarity

DCT appears to be stated precisely enough that we can figure out what the implications for action are provided, of course, that we know what God commands and forbids.

Are there any unintelligible concepts? Perhaps. Consider the following argument:

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

We could easily spend an entire semester chewing on the Problem of Evil. It is a deeply challenging argument. For now, let us say that DCT arguably passes the Standard of Clarity, out of respect for all the very smart people have worked long and hard to show that the Problem of Evil is an unsound argument. (For the record, I think the argument is sound. But DCT has other, far more disastrous problems, so I wont quibble.)

Standard of Coherence

Are there any contradictory principles or statements? Yes! The Euthyphro Argument is devastating for DCT insofar as it shows that DCT implies contradictions. See the handout The Euthyphro Argument for explanation of this astounding result.

A further problem involves the question of whether DCT is consistent with known facts. Clearly, if God is a fiction, the theory may be rejected for presupposing something false about the world. Thus,

God's Existence
  1 If DCT is true, God exists.  
  2 God does not exist.  
3 DCT is not true. 1&2
 

The problem with the argument from God's Existence is premise (2). It turns out that none of the arguments for the existence of God are sound. Yet none of the arguments against the existence of God are sound, either. So we have no way to either reject or justify premise (2). To the extent that God's existence is an open question, the argument from God's Existence is inconclusive.

There is, however, a far more serious problem for DCT than God's Existence. Reflect that there are many, many religions in the world. Each of these religions makes assertions about the world. For example, some religions claim that there are many Gods, while other religions claim that there is only one God. Indeed, it can be argued that there are more differences between religions than similarities, at least insofar as their presuppositions about the origin and composition of the World are concerned. Yet despite their vast differences, there are no standards for deciding between religions apart from mere cultural bias. Actually, the point is stronger than this. To the extent that religious facts are super or extra - natural facts, there can be no standards for deciding between religions. Thus we have the Multiplicity of Religious Facts Argument:

Multiplicity of Religious Facts
  1 Different religions presuppose different facts.  
  2 There is no standard for evaluating religions.  
  3 If (1) and (2), then religious facts are mutually conflicting.  
  4 If religious facts are mutually conflicting, then DCT is inconsistent with known facts.  
4 DCT is inconsistent with known facts. 1,2,3&4
 

That is, DCT is inconsistent with known facts in the sense that there is no one set of facts presupposed by DCT.

Since DCT is both internally and externally incoherent, the theory fails the Standard of Coherence.

The Standard of Reflective Equilibrium

Reflective Equilibrium arguments against DCT are easy to come by. Assume the Christian interpretation of DCT, and consider the following examples.

The Infidel Argument
  1 If DCT is true, then those who do not believe in the Christian God have no rights.  
  2 It is not the case that those who do not believe in Christian God have no rights.  
3 DCT is not true. 1&2
 
The Non-Believer Argument
  1 If DCT is true, then atheists and agnostics cannot be good people.  
  2 Atheists and agnostics can be good people.  
3 DCT is not true. 1&2
 
The Animal Rights Argument
  1 If DCT is true, then animals have no rights.  
  2 It is not the case that animals have no rights.  
3 DCT is not true. 1&2
 
The Womens' Rights Argument
  1 If DCT is true, then women have fewer rights than men.  
  2 It is not the case that women have fewer rights than men.  
3 DCT is not true. 1&2
 
The Homosexuality Argument
  1 If DCT is true, then homosexuality is morally wrong.  
  2 Homosexuality is not morally wrong.  
3 DCT is not true. 1&2
 
The Slavery Argument
  1 If DCT is true, then slavery is not morally wrong.  
  2 Slavery is morally wrong.  
3 DCT is not true. 1&2
 

Naturally, my intuitions could be mistaken. Perhaps it is the case that infidels have no rights, that non-believers cannot be good, that animals have no rights, that women have fewer rights than men, that homosexuality is morally wrong, that slavery is not morally wrong. I'm highly skeptical of the possibility, but I'm sure I could round up folks to argue for exactly those theses. (Turn the TV channel to any televangelist's show to see what I mean.) So we'll just say that DCT arguably fails the Standard of Reflective Equilibrium.

In conclusion, we reject DCT because it utterly and dramatically fails the Standard of Coherence.