Sunday, March 08, 2009

With God, anything is permissible

I'm busy working through Philosophers Without Gods, a collection of essays by academic philosophers who happen to be atheists, who reflect on their lives and struggles as non-believers. I found the following point in one of the essays quite interesting, written by Edwin Curley, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Michigan. It revolves around the age old question of whether something is right because God commands it, or because it is right for its own sake. He critiques divine command theory on page 88:

If there is a God who is liable to command anything, and if our highest loyalty must be to this God, there is no act - save disobedience to God - that we can safely say is out of bounds, no act of a kind that simply must not be done, not even genocide, to use a crime I think most of us would shrink from committing, even if we believed God had commanded it. If this God exists and we must obey him unconditionally, then anything whatever might turn out to be permissible. This view is destructive of morality.


Nikeyo said...

I always found that thread of critique to be poor. It ignores the fact that if God exists, s/he/it would define morality. Being that the God created and formed the rules of the universe, it would make sense for the God to also govern the rules of the immaterial which God conceivably also made.

What one needs to examine instead is contradictions in the God nature, in the God's words. That makes a more conducive argument than trying to say God's commands can contradict the very morality the God created.

Instead, for example, examine if God says "I am good and do only good all the time throughout time." and "this is not good." and God either does it or commands it. That is an argument.

Although such an argument would be an argument against a specific religion's God. It is no argument concerning a god who exists.

Anonymous said...

I picked up that book at the library yesterday. Picked it up and put it back again, a bit too hefty for me right now, and too much else to read.

I have thought about it this way; what would I do if I heard a message like that from God, to kill my firstborn son or commit genocide? What would it take for me to act on it? It is fine academically to say that if God is God and that's what he commands, that's fine. But in real life, what does that look like? A person has to have prior morals to measure what they think to be God's voice, right? It just gets back to who do you think God is.

Conservative christians will tell you that, yes, God is a God who commands genocide, because he is holy, and yes, you have to accept that. I say that is meaningless, just a way to justify attributing modern-day absolute authority to the ancient texts.

Anonymous said...

There's an interesting post with a similar angle here about what the "bible says" and morality, with a nice tie in to the U.S. president.

The Spear said...

I think you should open a blog at They will stone you mate. :)