Divine Command Theory and Moral Arguments for the Existence of God

In general, moral arguments for God presuppose divine command theory (DCT).

What I’ve noticed, however, is that philosophers tend to make a few mistakes when it comes to the relationship between DCT and moral arguments for God (MAFG).

Common Mistakes

One mistake is to assume that if DCT is false, then all MAFG fail. However, this is not obviously true. It’s true that a lot of moral arguments would go down the drain, but there are some moral arguments that would seem to still remain. For example, it seems that arguments from moral knowledge/awareness for God’s existence would still remain. That doesn’t mean that said arguments are good arguments, rather, it just means that certain objections (like the Euthyphro objection) don’t apply.

Another mistake is to assume that it’s obvious that the Euthyphro objection (EO) to DCT is a bad objection. It’s not obvious (to me). It’s arguable that the typical theist response (see below) just reframes the problem.

The third mistake is to assume that if one has dealt with the EO, then DCT is saved. This doesn’t follow. In fact, there are other objections to DCT. In fact, I don’t even think an objection that was made by J.L. Mackie (in the 1980’s) has ever been satisfactorily answered. Mackie’s objection is something like, “Why ought we follow God’s commands? What obligates us to follow what God says?”

The Euthyphro Dance [1]

Theists typically says God is The Good; God’s nature is good. Even if we accept that God is all-good by definition, it doesn’t follow that this means God grounds morality by definition (that would beg the question). It’s hard to see how that would work because if moral realism is true, moral truths, at bottom, are necessary truths. Given that they are necessary, it’s far from clear why we would even need God to account for moral facts. Not to mention, there are atheistic accounts of moral facts.

If God is The Good, then one is saying that if God exists, then God is The Good. The problem here is that (most) moral arguments are now rendered completely circular, because the moral argument is trying to show the God exists!

In response, theists like William Lane Craig typically say that God is a necessary being. Thus, God exists in all possible worlds. But even if God exists in all possible worlds, this doesn’t explain why God is needed. Even if God could ground morality, it doesn’t mean that God is required. Not to mention, there are logically possible worlds where God doesn’t exist, because God does not exist by definition; the view that God exists by definition is implausible, and that would render the moral argument irrelevant.
In addition, some theists (like Richard Swinburne) conceive of God as a contingent entity.

Speaking of Craig, it appears that one doesn’t even need to use the EO (or object to DCT) in response to Craig’s argument. That’s because Craig’s moral argument is extremely counter-intuitive. Craig himself admits that his argument entails that moral facts can’t possibly exist without God existing. One problem is that this doesn’t seem logically impossible. It doesn’t seem impossible that murder would still be wrong if God doesn’t exist. Secondly, as mentioned before, there are non-theistic accounts of morality. Are these accounts somehow (all) logically incoherent? Of course not! Thus, a more modest moral argument would say that God is the best explanation of moral facts [2].

[1] Coined by “Counter-Apologist”
[2]This post isn’t dedicated to the subject of whether or not moral facts exist (i.e. moral realism). I myself am skeptical about whether there really are moral facts. I don’t claim that there aren’t moral facts, instead, I am on the fence. Even if one thinks that some moral propositions are “true”, that doesn’t mean one is committed to moral truths actually existing “out there” in the universe.


9 thoughts on “Divine Command Theory and Moral Arguments for the Existence of God

  1. The problem with most of these arguments is they are philosophical arguments which cannot prove anything, so … With regard to “Why ought we follow God’s commands?” a question was asked on Quora of atheists that if a god were proven to exist, would you worship it? Most, including me. said no. Worship is inappropriate to any relationship, especially one that is asymmetrical such as between a mortal and an immortal.

  2. Pingback: Divine Command Theory and Moral Arguments for the Existence of God — Philosophy of Religion blog | James' Ramblings

  3. And there is another argument: All those Saints, special holy persons coming in different tiems and even different religions – teaching us humanity and the Oneness of God, speaking themselves of extraordinary experiences that they had a direct contact with God, be it Jesus Christ, Rumi, Guru Nanak, Sant Kirpal Singh, Kabir, Baba Sawan Singh, Shamez e Tabrez and many more – they all have solved the riddle of death and explained us the purpose of life – they all were living examples were humble, taught us to be honest and sincere etc. – if this is reacted by the philosophers – they indirectly claim that they those holy persons were all liers – however, they were so highly advanced, overcome heat and anger, greed and lust, attachment and ego – that those philosophers surely have not reached yet such conditions: they are good in theory and speculations, hypothesis – but they have neglected the practical aspect of life: spirituality – Man know thyself which all competent Masters speak of. This cannot be have from books, this is not book-knowledge – but it is a practical way to get to know oneself: wo we are, what we are, from were we came and where to we have to go…

    Thank you very much for sharing, dear friend.

  4. Philosophy is not my forte, I’m a Biology major. But I do have a question about Craig’s arguments because that is the camp I came out of on my way to Atheism. Isn’t he more or less arguing his point only because he is trying to defend his belief system, instead of the way perhaps a philosopher would properly go about things and examine the facts before making it part of a belief. His beliefs seem not so much based on thoughtful consideration of actual facts as they are on the dogma he received from childhood and beyond.

    Like I said, I know little of Philosophy, science makes more sense to me. 🙂 Thanks for your time.

  5. Loy

    You may want to consult a better theologian than Craig.

    God’s “necessity” does not mean he is entailed or “required” by something else; rather it means that God is Being as such. God does not “exist in all possible worlds”, or in this world, or any world. God exists, and creates worlds.

    To be is the first and supreme good. God is good because he is, and is because he is good.

  6. I do not follow the divine command theory. I am not sure most theists follow this. I think most theists tend to see that God and Morality are closely linked and see morality is problematic without God but maybe can’t articulate the problems.

    I did a blog on why I think WLC misses the impact of the Euthyphro dilemma.


    I think the arguments set out by Sharon Street, Richard Joyce and other philosophers are better arguments as to why Naturalism and moral realism are incompatible.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s