What if God Commanded Rape? A Look at Divine Command Theory

by Max Andrews

If the Divine Command Theory (DCT) proponent is to defend his position he must demonstrate the necessary falsehood of the counterfactual:  If God did command rape then there would be a moral obligation to rape.  There will be an assumption of ethical realism since ethical anti-realism is argued for and against in completely different arguments.  The ethical realist objector [to DCT] claims that it is possible for God to command rape in some possible world, or in an impossible world close to the actual world, making it obligatory for all moral agents, whereas rape is still morally bad in that same world, thus, making DCT arbitrary and is defeated.

The nonstandard semantics objection to the arbitrariness of DCT suggests that there is an impossible world, however close to the actual world, in which God commands rape or the torture of innocent children.  Approaching the objection from an explanandum-driven consideration, would a contingent command be an adequate objection?  Consider the following contingencies of a command:

(CONTCOM)             ∀ϕ[(◊~Cgϕ) ∙ (◊Cgϕ)]

(CONTCOMʹ)            ∀ϕ[(◊~Cg~ϕ) ∙ (◊Cg~ϕ)]


The objector assumes that ϕ can be any command and could thus look like:

(CONTCOM″)            ∀ϕ[(◊~Cgϕ ∙ ◊~Cg~ϕ) ∙ (◊Cgϕ ∙ ◊Cg~ϕ)]

(CONTCOM‴)            ∀ρ[(◊~Cgρ ∙ ◊~Cg~ρ) ∙ (◊Cgρ ∙ ◊Cg~ρ)]


Conceding the use of impossible world semantics, the command ρ is counteressential to God.  God cannot arbitrarily concoct the commands if it is counteressentially false.  Thus, CONTCOM is contingently true depending on whether or not ϕ can be predicated to God as being essentially true.[1]  The first conjunct merely suggests the silence of God whereas the second conjunct is contingent on its essential relationship to God.  ϕ could mean any action of love, which would be a true contingent command of CONTCOM whereas it would be false CONTCOMʹ because to not-love is counteressential to God.  The same is conversely true with rape (ρ). CONTCOMʹ is a true command if ~ρ is essentially true to God; thus, a prohibition.

Referring back to Efird’s model of the commands:

(RIGHT)                        ∀ϕ☐(Rϕ ≣ Cgϕ)

(WRONG)                     ∀ϕ☐(Wϕ ≣ Cg~ϕ)

As long as ϕ is essential to God’s goodness then RIGHT is a command that makes ϕ necessarily obligatory.  If ϕ is counteressential to God’s goodness (i.e. rape, ρ), then ϕ is necessarily prohibited and equivalent to WRONG. The contingency of DCT is only applicable to whether or not God chooses to reveal such commands or remains silent.  The objection also tries to divide the ontological and epistemic relationship to moral goodness.  These essential truths are necessary truths, which retain ontological foundation within God.

Another way of handling the objection would be explanans-driven considerations.  This will assume that morality and God are both necessary under the Anselmian concept of God.  The question then is, must morality ontologically depend of God?  If this were the case it would seem like it would not.  These two necessary truths can obtain independent of each other in as long as they are both necessary.  The same would be true if God were contingent since morality is still necessary; thus, relinquishing a foundation for morality because of its independent necessary existence.  For the proposition, “If God doesn’t exists, then moral facts obtain” (~Eg ⊃ Om) the consequent is necessarily true, by supposition, which, according to the standard semantic of counterfactuals, has the same effect as a necessarily false antecedent, namely, that the conditional is trivially true.[2]  However, consider the proposition “If an Anselmian God does not exist, then moral facts obtain” (~Ea ⊃ Om).  If the use of standard semantics apply, and the consequent is necessarily true, then to render ~Ea as true would be highly problematic.  The Anselmian notion of God bases all reality in his existence.  To affirm ~Ea, or simply put, to affirm the nonexistence of all reality, and to consequently affirm that moral facts obtain would be metaphysically incoherent or even a contradiction.  Metaphysically, and logically, the only things that cannot obtain are contradictions.  Thus, ~Ea ⊃ Om is nontrivially false.  For the atheist to suggest

(EQUIV)            ~◊G ∙ (G ⊃ R)[3]

as a retort to dismiss the claim again would be equivocation and misunderstanding the metaphysical and ontological connection between an Anselmian God and necessary truths (like that of moral truths).  In this instance, the God in the first conjunct is the Anselmian God whereas the god in the second conjunct is a less-than-Anselmian God.  When the equivocation is explicated it would render

(EQUIVEX)            ~◊G ∙ (g ⊃ R)[4]

The second conjunct may certainly be conceded whereas G ⊃ R cannot obtain, it would be a nonsensical world.

[1] At this point, given the formulation for the contingency of a command, CONTCOM and CONTCOMʹ could appear to be indistinguishable.  Let’s use ϕ to represent love and ρ to represent rape.  To translate CONTOM using love, it would read:  For all actions of love, it is possible for God not to command love and it is possible for God to command love.  The first conjunct is certainly possible render the existence of God and God remains silent and issues no such commands.  CONTCOMʹ, still using love, would read:  For all actions of love, it is possible for God not to command not-love and it is possible for God to command not-love.  The model of contingency that the objector would purport would be CONTCOM″ since it renders a conjunct of the negations between CONTCOM and CONTCOMʹ.  CONTCOM″ thus purports that whatever ϕ may represent, it is inessential to God, hence the arbitrariness.  CONTCOM‴ is an example of what this would look like if rape were command.  There would both be possible and impossible worlds in which the contingency of the command, arbitrarily contrived, is commanded.

[2] See David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God.

[3] Let ‘G’ represent “God commands rape,” and ‘R’ represent “Rape is morally acceptable.” As given in Baggett and Walls, Good God.

[4] Let ‘g’ represent “less-than-Anselmian God.” Ibid.


3 Responses to “What if God Commanded Rape? A Look at Divine Command Theory”

  1. It’s said that the appeal to the existence of evil is incoherent with an all-loving and all-powerful God and thus nullifies His existence.It’s hard to see how that follows if God has a particular end to achieve through evil and not in spite of it (i,e, he permits it and directs it to exist in a certain and and way fitting to his overall purpose).

    Although this is a wild abstract idea I have had (and of course I don’t actually believe this–I am a Christian): What if the God of the universe was actually a Dark God? What if there is a possible world in which there exists a God who takes pleasure and joy in suffering, pain and agony, etc? What if he loves those minions of His who do evil and commits deeds of darkness? What if this God’s moral standard was that evil was obligatory and good was condemnable, and hence there exists His creation in darkness, slavery, doom and terribly strict tyranny?

    Is this idea of a God coherent, and if it is, could it be used to nullify the Atheist’s argument against the incompatibility with theism and evil? Again, I dont believe such a God exists, but I ask this as a theory.


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