The assumptions of the divine command theory are based on the idea that God commands what is morally appropriate, and things and actions can be viewed as moral or ethically obligatory due to God’s directions (Driver 24). As a result, this theory is often discussed as rather controversial because its premises provoke debates regarding the morality of God’s commands; therefore, its main aspects and related criticisms need to be discussed in detail. Even though the divine command theory can be disproved by the Euthyphro dilemma, a weak variant of this theory can be viewed as appropriate to provide the basis for ethics.
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The main elements of the theory depend on the version of this code. According to a strong version, ethical norms are directly prescribed concerning God’s commands, and God can command anything. Thus, all things and actions should be viewed as moral or immoral depending on God’s directions. In this case, God’s power is more important than God’s goodness. According to a weak version, God commands not everything that He can command because He is limited by His goodness (Driver 24).
In this case, God’s goodness limits His power because God loves people, and His commands are related to the principles of morality. As a result, the presence of two versions allows for applying the Euthyphro dilemma to understand a strong version of the theory and its potential weaknesses or controversies.
Thus, it is also important to focus on criticisms of the divine command theory. Firstly, since some of God’s commands are inconsistent because they are associated with God’s power, they cannot be viewed as the only source of morality. Secondly, the emphasis on God’s power in a strong version rather than on God’s goodness allows for accentuating the obligatory character of commands and performing acts that can be viewed as morally inappropriate in some cases.
Thirdly, a strong version of the theory represents it as the framework for obligation rather than morality. Also, being viewed as the remedy for people’s arrogance, the theory makes them focus on such controversial God’s commands as it is in the case of Abraham’s offering of Isaac (“Genesis 22”). As a result, the analysis of this situation creates problems for those Christians who refer to a weak version of the theory.
The discussed criticisms are associated with the attempts of applying the divine command theory to a range of issues and situations. The problem is that each of God’s commands can be discussed as entirely moral only in a specific context. For instance, in situations when religious fanatics commit crimes against humanity, they support their actions concerning God’s will and message. Furthermore, the reference to God’s message can be observed in a variety of cases that cannot be viewed as morally right or wrong, but there are still questions about the reasonability of God’s command (Walsh). Thus, the application of the divine command theory is problematic in cases when people justify their ethically questionable actions while referring to God’s will.
Although the divine command theory is actively discussed in society, there is no single view regarding its appropriateness and effectiveness. If a weak version of the theory is applied to different situations, a strong version cannot be successfully applied to all possible cases. As a consequence, the divine command theory provokes debates on the nature of morality and the role of God’s commands.
Driver, Julia. Ethics: The Fundamentals. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
“Genesis 22: The Offering of Isaac.” Bible Gateway. Web.
Walsh, Stephen. “What Happens When Candidates Called by God Drop Out?” Religion Blogs CNN. 2012. Web.