Another argument against divine command theory
September 1, 2011 — 9:02

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Religion and Life Virtue  Tags: ,   Comments: 11

A standard line of objection against divine command theories is centered on the counterfactual:

  1. Even if God commanded it, torturing the innocent would be wrong.

But here it is extremely plausible that the antecedent is necessarily false–that God cannot command torture of the innocent. There is still a line of argument against divine command theories that continues past this roadblock, but I think it fizzles out.

But if we replace “God commanded it” with “God didn’t forbid it”, we actually get a much stronger argument. Actually, let’s avoid counterfactuals, since we don’t understand them well enough. We can give this argument:

  1. (Premise) Necessarily, torturing the innocent is wrong.
  2. (Premise) Possibly, God does not forbid torturing the innocent.
  3. (Premise) If divine command theory is true, then it is the case that: necessarily, something is wrong if and only if it is forbidden by God.
  4. Therefore, divine command theory is not true.

The argument is valid. Premise (2) is pretty plausible. It is justified by the same kinds of intuitions as (1) was. Premise (4) is uncontroversial, though it highlights the fact that the argument is specifically being aimed at divine command theories. Pure divine will theories are unaffected by the argument.

Interestingly, I think that if the argument works, it continues to work even if one replaces “God” with “a loving God”, as in Robert M. Adams divine command theory.

The big question now is with regard to (3). A quick move to defend (3) is this. Possibly, God creates a world with no agents other than himself. In such a world, God wouldn’t have any reason to issue any commands. So, possibly, there is a world with no agents other than God where no such commands have been issued. (Maybe you might object that God can issue a command to himself. But why would he need to? After all, the same loving character that might lead him to issue such a command would lead him to refrain from torturing the innocent.)

Now, this particular argument might make one worry that the assent to (2) was too quick. Perhaps instead the divine command theorist should have said:

  1. Necessarily, for every created agent x, it is wrong for x to torture the innocent.

However, I don’t think the quantification in (2) should be restricted to created agents.

But suppose we do grant such a restriction. I think my argument can be rescued. Add:

  1. (Premise) Possibly, there is a created agent x who is not forbidden to torture the innocent.
  2. (Premise) If divine command theory is true, necessarily: for every created agent x and action-type A, A is wrong for x if and only if A is forbidden to x.
  3. So divine command theory is false. (By 6-8)


A simplified free will defense
April 21, 2011 — 9:14

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 42
  1. (Premise) If it is not possible that a creature does evil, then it is not possible that a creature is significantly free.
  2. (Premise) It is possible that God creates a significantly free creature.
  3. Therefore, it is possible that a creature does evil.
  4. (Premise) Necessarily, if a creature exists, God exists.
  5. Therefore, it is possible that God exists and a creature does evil.
We can also modify the argument as follows: We might say that if God’s goodness makes it impossible for him to create a creature that does evil, then God’s goodness makes it impossible for him to create a creature that is significantly free, and the conclusion is absurd.

Wittgensteinian views of religious language
December 7, 2010 — 11:12

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Christian Theology Religion and Life Religious Belief  Tags: , ,   Comments: 36

Wittgensteinians lay stress on the idea that

  1. One cannot understand central worldview concepts without living as part of a community that operates with these concepts.

The non-Christian cannot understand the Christian concept of the Trinity; the Christian and the atheist cannot understand the Jewish concept of God’s absolute unity as understood by Maimonedes; the theist cannot understand the concept of a completely natural world; and the non-Fascist cannot understand the concept of the Volk. It is only by being a part of a community in which these concepts are alive that one gains an understanding of them.

Often, a corollary is drawn from this, that while internal critique or justification of a worldview tradition such as Christianity, naturalism or Nazism is possible, no external critique or justification is possible. In fact, there is an argument for this corollary.

  1. (Premise) One’s evidence set cannot involve any propositions that involve concepts one does not understand.
  2. (Premise) Necessarily, if a proposition p uses a concept C, and a body of propositions P is evidence for or against p for an agent x, then some member of P involves C.
  3. If x is not a member of the community operating with a central worldview concept C, then x does not have any evidence for or against any proposition involving C. (1-3)
  4. (Premise) External critique or justification of a worldview of a community is possible only if someone who is not a member of the community can have evidence for or against a proposition involving a central worldview concept of that community.
  5. Therefore, external critique or justification of a worldview of a community is not possible. (4 and 5)

This is a particularly unfortunate result in the case of something like Nazism, and may suggest an unacceptable relativism.

The argument is valid but unsound, and I think unsalvageable. I think that (5) is false, and on some plausible interpretations of (1), (2) and (3) are false as well.