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If God Commands Something Evil, Does That Make it Right?

Many Christians believe that we have a moral obligation to obey what God commands. Since God commands us not to murder or commit adultery (Exodus 20:13-14), we are obligated not to do those things. Since God commands us to love our neighbours as we love ourselves (Matt 22:39), we have a duty to do just that. In fact, many Christian theologians and philosophers take this notion a step further, arguing that our moral duties are actually rooted in God’s commands. On this view, if God commands something, then we have a moral duty to follow that command. On the other hand, if God didn’t command anything, then we wouldn’t have any moral obligations or duties. This view, called ‘divine command theory’ (or DCT for short), is appealing to Christian scholars and laypeople alike since it grounds moral duties and obligations in God. In addition, it squares well with what we read in scripture.

A moment’s reflection, however, reveals an obvious objection to this view. If God commanded someone to torture a child, would torturing the child be the right thing to do? If our moral duties are determined by what God commands us to do, then it follows that if God commanded us to do something wicked like torture a child, it would be our moral duty to torture that child. We might spell out the objection like this:

(1) Our moral duties are determined by what God commands us to do.

(2) God can command us to torture children.

(3) Therefore, if God commanded us to torture children, we would have a moral duty to torture children.

Plainly the idea of having a moral obligation to torture children conflicts with our moral intuitions. It seems absurd, or at least strange, that a command from God could transform a wicked and evil action into a morally obligatory one. One might conclude, then, that since grounding moral duties in God’s commands leads to such absurdities, they are likely not the foundation for our moral duties and obligations. As sceptics argue, there must be some other way to ground moral duties.     

However, philosopher Matthew Flannagan thinks that this conclusion is unwarranted[i]. According to Flannagan, the defender of divine command theory has reason to deny premise (2). This is because when Christians refer to ‘God’, they are referring to a being who is holy, just, righteous, loving, etc. As such, what premise (2) really states is that a holy, just, righteous, and loving being can command us to torture children. However, assuming that torturing children is essentially unholy, unjust, unrighteous, and unloving, it is not at all clear that God can issue such a command. If commanding unjust actions makes the commander unjust, then it follows that if God (a perfectly just and righteous being) issues such a command then he is both just and unjust, both righteous and unrighteous—which is a contradiction. Therefore, Flannagan argues, premise (2) is false.

In fact, as Flannagan points out, in order for the objection to succeed, one must implicitly assume that no just, righteous, loving person would command wicked and evil acts. He states “the very reason… sceptics cite this objection is they think… ‘no informed, morally sensible person would ever endorse this [kind of behaviour]’”[ii]. In other words, the notion of having a moral duty to torture children conflicts with our moral intuitions and simply isn’t the type of thing a reasonable, just, loving person could command. But, given that God is a reasonable, just, and loving person, he could not issue such a command. Therefore, premise (2) is false.

With this in mind, it seems that divine command theory is a tenable view for Christians to hold.  In answer to the question, then: God cannot command wicked acts, as the question assumes, and therefore no dilemma arises.


 

Endnotes:

[i] [BiolaUniversity]. (2013, Sep 14). Matthew Flannagan: Can God Command Evil? The Problem of Apparently Immoral Commands. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gjf4AfuilWk&t=253s

[ii] ibid

Morality needs God

Ron Smith vs Matthew Flannagan | “Morality Does Not Need God” | Waikato University

Hello readers, today we have uploaded the the debate with Dr Ron Smith and Dr Matthew Flannagan to YouTube, though some of you may have noticed it floating around Facebook. It was a well-attended debate, in total 200 people came along and participated.

This sort of event is what we like to see at Thinking Matters, people from both sides of the “God” debate coming together and engaging in a civil and intelligent conversation. You will be able to tell that Matthew and Ron disagreed with each other, yet they disagreed with “reverence and respect”, showing that disagreements over religion do not necessarily divide. In addition, the questions that were asked of the interlocutors, were penetrating but at the same time, cordial. No one got offended and everyone was calm.

In his opening remarks Dr Frank Scrimgeour, the moderator commented:

“It is an important occasion, and an important topic that befits a university, particularly a contemporary university that seeks to place more moral claims on its students, more than was the case when I was an undergraduate student … I trust that it will be a fun evening and I look forward to crowd response, but I request that it will be done with dignity and good nature. I am sure that enhances the quality of the conversation … I am not interested in moderating a debate where people cannot hear the participants. So I guess the more you disagree with someone, I challenge you to listen harder and be ready to ask the insightful question at the appropriate time … Think hard and enjoy yourselves.”

Ron echoed this sentiment saying:

“I was an easy target for the invitation to speak in this because I have become increasingly concerned, to be frank, about the extent to which the university has attached itself, and areas within it, to particular ideological views, and really shutdown discussion in a variety of areas … where discussion is inhibited. Now if there is anywhere in the community where discussion ought to proceed without persons needing to be protected against the possibility that arguments don’t sit well, it’s a university. The university has failed to live up to its obligation, so this is the test of the principle.”

Both of these men understand how important debates on the existence and nature of God are, and have identified that a university ought be a perfect place for such a discussion to go ahead. One of the key reasons why the debate was a true victory, was because it showed that people can disagree about the most important things in life and still part on good terms. Matthew defended the Christian conception of God and Morality in the true spirit of 1 Peter 3:15-16, where St Peter commands:

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

May this also be something we never forget.

Stand to Reason (logo)

Challenge Response: A Real God Would Have Protected the Original Gospel Manuscripts

Welcome back people of the internet.

On Wednesday, we heard this challenge from our comrades at STR:

Christians claim that God directly inspired the authors of the gospel books, even to the point of dictating each word, so as to make the text inerrant. But if God was so concerned about getting the historical record of Jesus’s ministry correct, why would he have allowed those original, and supposedly inerrant manuscripts to be lost for the generations of Christians to come? Why would he not have protected these documents to ensure there would be no ambiguity as to the ultimate truths he was trying to convey. The loss of the original manuscripts is entirely consistent with a human-inspired product, not one overseen by an unlimited deity.

The interesting thing about this challenge, is that it has assumptions about what God would do in a given situation, when those assumptions may be better explained as what the challenger would do in that situation. Additionally, the objection assumes a theory of inspiration which is held by hardly anyone today. Many objections to the truth of Christian Theism begin in this way, failing even before they are finished.

Let’s take a look at how Alan responds to this question.

How do you think Alan did in responding to the challenge? Are there any other things he could have said?

If you liked this video, have a look at www.str.org, and also STR’s YouTube channel.

Contingency argument

Leibniz’ Contingency Argument

Reasonable Faith have an excellent video regarding the Contingency Argument. This explains why God is necessary for the universe to exist without presupposing a beginning to the universe.

We live in an amazing universe.

Have you ever wondered why it exists?

Why does anything at all exists?

Gottfried Leibniz wrote, “The first question which should rightly be asked is: Why is there something rather than nothing?”

He came to the conclusion that the explanation is found in God.

Enjoy!

Video: Panel Discussion on Ethics and God

Earlier this year, we were involved in hosting a panel discussion on the relationship between religion and morality. The video is now up on YouTube:

[pk_image image=”http://thinkingmatters.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/cover.jpg” w=”600″ image_style=”16/9″ icon=”play” action=”lightbox” link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRQeHJqvouM” lightbox_gallery_id=”6551″]

Moderated by Dr Matthew Flannagan, the panel included Prof John Hare from Yale Divinity School, Prof Mark Murphy from Georgetown University, and Dr Glenn Pettigrove from the University of Auckland. Each speaker addressed a different area of discussion, with John Hare addressing three moral arguments for God’s existence, Mark Murphy examining God and the nature of moral authority, and Glenn Pettigrove considering forgiveness with and without God.

Special thanks to Stuart for editing the video and both the Flannagans and the Auckland University Philosophy Department for their work in organizing the event.

What Does it Mean for God to Be Perfect?

Robert Lawrence Kuhn talks to Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland about the nature of God’s perfection and how concepts such as moral courage, joy, personal growth and enrichment, etc, might apply to a perfect being. The PBS documentary series Closer to Truth is one of the best resources available for interviews with top scholars on God, the universe, religion, and the mind. You can view the rest of Moreland’s videos on the website here.

[pk_youtube_player width=”560″ height=”315″ align=”center” autoplay=”false” cover=”” video_id=”ULM40ny15QM”]

R.C. Sproul on the Holiness of God

R. C. Sproul’s 1985 book The Holiness of God is considered a modern classic on the topic of God’s character. Even today, Sproul’s thoughts on holiness contain important insights into a subject that can often seem distant and hard to comprehend. While no attribute of God can be neglected without cost, the Biblical portrait of God and redemptive history are seriously distorted when we deny or underestimate God’s holiness. As Sproul himself has highlighted:

[pk_box width=600]”Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love; or mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath; or justice, justice, justice. It does say that he is holy, holy, holy that the whole earth is full of His glory.”[/pk_box]

Ligonier Ministries have now made several of Sproul’s lecture series freely available, including his series on God’s holiness. I’d encourage you to watch it; the subject is not merely one for scholars or theologians but a matter of great importance to every person.

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An Inconsequential God

[pk_box width=”600″ align=”center”]”The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, His grace is too ordinary, His judgment is too benign, His gospel is too easy, and His Christ is too common.”[/pk_box]

–David Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (page 30).

Does God hate the sin but love the sinner?

In the comment thread of ‘What happens to those who haven’t heard the gospel?’, I told a commenter, Elizabeth, that God does not love sinners in hell. Stuart disagreed, saying:

I disagree with Bnonn on the idea that God does not love those he has to punish. The wrath and hatred of God is reserved only for sin, and humans are caught up and are complicit in it, for which they suffer the consequence on the merit of their own choices. Therfore, God may still love the people in hell.

This is a pretty important topic, because it has huge consequences for what we tell unbelievers in apologetics and evangelism—so I want to bring it out of the comments and respond in a new post.

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Audio and Video from the Craig v Krauss Debate

If you missed the debate yesterday between William Lane Craig and Lawrence Krauss on the topic “Is there Evidence for God?”, the media from the event is now available.

Timothy and Michael live-blogged the event, and their post presents a good overview of what happened. For deeper commentary, Randy at Possible Worlds has posted an excellent discussion, highlighting some of the key issues that came up. David at the SAA blog also weighs in with his analysis. And Wintery Knight has also posted his own sardonic take on the respective cases put forward by Craig and Krauss.

UPDATE: The votes from the audience have been announced: 286 for Craig, 130 for Krauss, and 100 called it a draw.

 

Defending the God of the Old Testament

Matt has posted his review of Paul Copan’s new book Is God a Moral Monster?:

“Overall, Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? is a must read for anyone interested in Old Testament ethics. It brings together important material that is otherwise scattered and demonstrates how this material responds to a line of moral criticism that has, by and large, been neglected by Christian philosophers until now.  Read more