I’m a bit of a fan of the moral argument for the existence of God. I think that theism provides a foundation for moral truth. There are a few ways that Christians have made this argument, but the model that I have settled on is a divine command theory of ethics, where moral right and wrong is determined by the commands or will of God.
Raymond Bradley isn’t a fan of the moral argument. Not at all. I know, infidels.org hasn’t exactly built up a reputation for stellar or fair minded scholarship in the philosophy of religion, but bear with me. Not only does Bradley not buy the moral argument, he also thinks that Christian theism, if true, would fail to provide a basis for moral truth. He goes even further: Christians find themselves in an unavoidable contradiction. Observe:
[T]heists are confronted with a logical quandary which strikes at the very heart of their belief that the God of Scripture is holy. They cannot, without contradiction, believe all four of the statements:
(1) Any act that God commits, causes, commands, or condones is morally permissible.
(2) The Bible reveals to us many of the acts that God commits, causes, commands, and condones.
(3) It is morally impermissible for anyone to commit, cause, command, or condone, acts that violate our moral principles.
(4) The Bible tells us that God does in fact commit, cause, command, or condone, acts that violate our moral principles.
The trouble is that these statements form an inconsistent tetrad such that from any three one can validly infer the falsity of the remaining one. Thus, one can coherently assert (1), (2), and (3) only at the cost of giving up (4); assert (2), (3), and (4) only at the cost of giving up (1); and so on.
The problem for a theist is to decide which of these four statements to give up in order to preserve the minimal requirement of truth and rationality, viz., logical consistency. After all, if someone has contradictory beliefs then their beliefs can’t all be true. And rational discussion with persons who contradict themselves is impossible; if contradictions are allowed then anything goes.
Let’s have a look for this contradiction. I am not aware of any Christian, let alone Christian ethicist, who endorses claim 1. I certainly do not. The view I hold is that an act is right if God commands or wills it, and an act is wrong if God forbids or wills against it. God, according to the Bible, does many things that it would be wrong for me to do, but which he does not command or will that I do: Bringing civilizations to an end, ending human lives all the time, and so forth. So premise 1 simply misrepresents Christian ethical theories. Let’s grant premise 2.
What about premise 3? Is it morally impermissible for anyone to commit, cause, command, or condone, acts that violate our moral principles? My own view as a Christian ethicist is that “our” moral beliefs make absolutely no difference at all in whether or not an act is morally right or wrong. On the contrary, it is God’s will that makes such a difference and not mine. Indeed, even if premise 1 were correct, premise 3 would clearly be false (it would be false precisely because premise 1 was correct). So premise 3 simply begs the question against Christian views of morality by assuming that they are false. We arrive then at premise 4, which is actually a statement of the writer’s point of view on morality. Perhaps God’s commands in Scripture do violate the moral beliefs that a person has. This not morally significant if it is God’s will that determine what is moral or immoral. Premise 4, in that case, would be doing nothing more than telling us that some of us are morally mistaken, for we think that in some cases it is right to disobey God’s will. What Christian will embrace this claim?
Where, then, is this supposed contradiction that Christians must accept? The premises that are doing all the work, namely 1 – but most importantly premise 3, are simply not held by Christians and amount to begging the question by assuming that in spite of what Christians say, God’s will is not normative for morality, and that is that.
Ah, the crippling power of logic. I can see Christians running for the hills now.
- Divine Commands and Reasons
- Brief thoughts about God’s freedom to command
- Reasonable Faith LA
- Divine Command Ethics: When will sceptics update their arguments?
- Episode 041: The Epistemological Objection to Divine Command Ethics