Erik Wielenberg on the Epistemological Objection to a Divine Command Theory

A few years ago my article “The Epistemological Objection to Divine Command Ethics” was published. In it, I address a particular objection to a divine command theory of ethics. That objection is as follows: If the property of being morally required is the same as the property of being commanded by God, then people who do not believe in God cannot know that they have moral obligations, since they do not know that they have been commanded by God. But it’s part of the nature of moral obligations that people understand why they have them. So let’s reject a divine command theory of ethics. An epistemological argument is one that is concerned with what a person knows (or whether or not they can know something) and how they know it. In the process of making the argument I name a few philosophers who have made variants of this argument, but I focus mostly on Wes Morriston’s argument due to its detail and care.1

I don’t think this argument is compelling and in the article I explain why. Rather than rehearse the arguments here, I invite the reader to read the article.

One of my favourite atheist writers on meta-ethics and all-round nice guy, Erik Wielenberg alleges that I miss the point of Morriston’s argument (so much for being a nice guy, jerk). He says that I miss the point of Morriston’s argument, “mistakenly construing Morriston’s argument as an epistemological objection to divine command theory.”2 Really, says Wielenberg, Morriston does not offer an epistemological objection, but a metaphysical objection according to which reasonable non-believers would not even have moral obligations if a divine command theory were correct. Continue reading “Erik Wielenberg on the Epistemological Objection to a Divine Command Theory”

  1. Wes Morriston, “The Moral Obligations of Reasonable Non-believers: A special problem for divine command metaethics,” International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 65 (2009), 1-10. []
  2. Wielenberg, Robust Ethics: The Metaphysics and Epistemology of Godless Normative Realism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 79. []

Why a Christian should accept a Divine Command Theory, part 1

If you’re a Christian, you should hold a divine command theory of ethics, and I’m going to tell you why.

As I’ve indicated before, I hold a Divine Command Theory of ethics. That’s the view (or family of views) in which what is right or wrong is what God commands (or forbids). I hold it tentatively in that I don’t think I have anything personally invested in holding this view. I don’t have to hold this view and I really would give it up if I thought the objections to it were any good. As best I can tell, they are not. I’m going to commit the philosophical sin of peering into other people’s motives, but I think that most non-religious criticisms of divine command ethics are really motivated by the critics’ rejection of religious beliefs, and since a divine command theory involves religious beliefs, it must be false (in the critic’s view). Continue reading “Why a Christian should accept a Divine Command Theory, part 1”

Pat answers: No, do not steal his wallet

So I have this problem with Christian pat answers.

I recently watched a clip of footage from a conference where a panel of experts (or so I assume) was addressing pastoral, moral and theological questions. This question was basically: My brother isn’t a Christian. He doesn’t believe that there’s any such thing as sin, so we don’t need to be saved from it. What should I say to him?

Listen to the answer for yourself: Continue reading “Pat answers: No, do not steal his wallet”

Divine commands, double standards and the objection from abhorrent commands

Occasionally, when somebody first hears about divine command ethics (the view that what is right or wrong is what God commands or forbids), the response is one of incredulity: “What? You believe THAT?! So if God commanded you to kill that person over there, you would do it? Really?” And right there, whether the critic realises it or not, there is almost certainly a double standard at work. Read on to see why.

Continue reading “Divine commands, double standards and the objection from abhorrent commands”

Episode 048: The moral argument for God

In this episode I continue to re-trace my steps through my mini speaking tour earlier this year. This talk was the second in a series of introductory talks on apologetics. In it, I introduce and explain the moral argument for the existence of God.




Episode 046: The Non-moral Goodness of God

What do we mean when we say that God is good? If I’m right, we shouldn’t mean that God is morally good.

In Episode 46 of the podcast, I explain why it’s best not to think of God as morally good, and why it’s also best to maintain a clear distinction between moral and non-moral goodness, and in doing so deflate some objections to divine command ethics.



Episode 045: What if God Were Really Bad?

Here it is, the last podcast episode for 2011. This time I’m looking at “the “evil god challenge” as posed by Stephen Law in a fairly recent article by that name. Isn’t the evidence for a good God really no better or worse than the evidence that an evil god? In short, no. Here I explain why I think (as I suspect many may think) that the evil god challenges has major philosophical shortcomings, in spite of being an argument worthy of our attention.


Episode 041: The Epistemological Objection to Divine Command Ethics

In Episode 41, I address a common objection to divine command ethics: Does the fact that non-believers can still know moral truths and live moral lives somehow show that morality is not in any way grounded in God’s will or commands? Here I survey some crude versions of this argument and then offer some comments on a more recent presentation of the objection by Wes Morriston.



Episode 040: God and the Social Nature of Morality

We’ve reached a milestone – 40 Episodes!

Episode 40 is an explanation of Robert Adams’ argument that the social nature of moral obligation supports the claim that morality is ultimately grounded in God.



Episode 039: Divine Command Ethics

NOTE: In this episode I call it episode 40. It’s not. It’s episode 39.

The podcast is back. Actually, episode 39 was going to be on another topic, but then someone suggested this one to me, so as I already had a document called “episode 039” I called this “document 040.” And then when I started recording it I thought – “Hey, this is the 40th episode. Cool!” and I made a big deal of it in the recording. And then after I uploaded it I realised that since I skipped over the episode 39 that I’m writing, this isn’t really 40 at all, it’s episode 39! So that was an epic fail.

So no sooner do I release another podcast episode, I am making excuses for it! This episode is based on a lecture on divine command ethics that I gave a few years ago at the University of Otago. Enjoy!