A Defense of Divine Command Theory

by Max Andrews

If divine command theory (DCT) is to prove true, the God manifesting the commands must be an Anselmian God.  In Louise Antony’s example, “If DCT is correct, then the following counterfactual is true:  If God had commanded us to torture innocent children (τ), then it would have been morally right to do so.”[1]  Antony is assuming the counterfactual, in the subjunctive mood, is a feasible circumstance for God to find himself in.  Thus, Cgτ ⊃ Mτ[2], the antecedent is necessarily false.  If something were necessarily false it would be nonsensical to derive any meaningful counterfactuals since it is counteressential to an Anselmian God.

Concerning the notion of permission in DCT, recall (PERMITTED 1, ☐(~Eg ⊃ ∀ϕ~Wϕ)), would suggest moral nihilism, since Karamazov’s Thesis is a notion of permission by denying any deontic ethics be founded in anything or anyone.  PERMITTED 2, [(∃ϕ☐Cgϕ ∙ ∃ϕ☐Cg~ϕ)] ∙ [(∃ϕ☐~Cgϕ ∙ ∃ϕ☐~Cg~ϕ)], would hold true in the Anselmian model as well because in the absence of any command there are no obligations to fulfill (both to carry out and by prohibition).  No moral agent can be obligated to do anything in the absence of a command since there is no moral duty to adhere to since the command is what predicates moral obligations.[3]

A statement like “God is good” may be taken as a synthetic statement expressing a proposition that is metaphysically necessary both in the sense that the proposition is true in all possible worlds and in the sense that goodness is an essential property of God.[4]  To separate the essential properties of God from the necessary truths derived from these essential properties would render an incoherent proposition.


[1] Louise Antony, “Atheism as Perfect Piety,” Goodness Without God, 71.

[2] M = Morally obligated to.  Assuming an Anselmian God in the proposition.

 [3] I want to explicate what I mean by this point.  There are possible worlds in which God is silent and does not give a command.  For example, in a world that has only one person, that person cannot be given a command to abstain from rape since rape must involve at least one other person.  Every command is predicated to the moral attributes of God (by biblical witness to be holy).  So God’s silence concerning some commands are categorically specific and in this world containing this one person, had such circumstances taken place that would warrant the command to be given (and introduction of a second person), the command would be given (though the concept of rape is morally reprehensible in all possible worlds).

[4] William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity, 2003), 531.

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