In Sam Harris on Divine Commands Part I I criticised Harris’ characterisation of divine command meta-ethics. I refuted Harris’ contention a divine command theory is pscyopathic in Is a Divine Command Theory Pscyopathic? Sam Harris on Divine Commands: Part II. In this last post in this series, I will address Harris’s contention that a divine command theory reflects a “psychotic moral attitude”. Harris says a divine command theory is “psychotic because this is completely delusional. There’s no reason to believe that we live in a universe ruled by an invisible monster called Yahweh.”
Harris’s argument in this regard seems to involve four premises.  A person can accept a divine command theory only if her or she believes in the existence of an invisible monster called Yahweh (which Harris earlier identifed as an “iron age God of war”);  there is no evidence for an invisible monster called Yahweh;  to believe something without evidence is delusional;  to be delusional is to be psyhcotic.
Turning to , a divine command theorist holds that the most plausible account of the nature of moral obligations is that moral obligations are constituted by, or are identical with, God’s commands. God is understood by the theorist to be a being worthy of worship, a necessarily existent, essentially loving and just, omniscient, omnipotent, personal being who created, sustains and providentially guides the universe. Holding this position does not commit one to believing in an invisible monster or a stone-age God of war for two reasons.
First, a divine command theory is compatible with being an athiest. Plantinga has noted that a person could argue that moral obligations are best accounted for in terms of God’s commands and then conclude from this that if God does not exist then moral obligations do not exist either. In this sense a divine command theory could be a premise in an atheistic argument for nihilism. Interestingly, when I was a grad student in the 90’s I attended a conference where one of the presenters offered an argument for nihilism very much along these lines.
Second, most divine command theorists accept the existence of moral obligations. Most would accept, for example, that moral claims such as that it is wrong to torture children purely for entertainment are true, and that, the action of torturing children in this way actually has the property of being wrong, further, that it does so independently of whether we or our society believe that it does.
A divine command theorist does not have to identify this God with Yahweh. Obviously, divine command theorists who are Jews or Christians will do this, but that’s in virtue of their Judaism or Christianity, it is not in virtue of their belief in divine command meta-ethics. Strictly speaking a divine command theorist could reject the identification and still maintain that moral obligations are best identified with the commands of God.
Third, even if one does identify God with Yawheh, it is evident that such an identification would rule out construing God as “an invisible monster” who is, according to Harris, ” a stone-age God of war”. If Yahweh is identified as a loving and just, invisible person, then he is neither an invisible monster or a stone-age God of war. Of course, a person who held this view might grant that at one piont in history, perhaps in the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, various people groups believed that Yahweh was a God of war, but by identifying God as Yahweh, such a person is explictly rejecting this conception. The fact that people once concieved of something a certain way tells us nothing about whether that thing is, in fact, that way. Harris may as well castigate contemporary atomic theory by pointing out that ancient greek atomists held scientifically indefensible understandings of an atom.
So Harris’ , the contention that a person can accept a divine command theory only if they believe in the existence of an invisible monster is false.
Turning then to , the contention that there is no evidence for the existence of an invisible monster called Yahweh. Harris’s argument is circular. Suppose, for the sake of argument, [Read more →]
Tags: Debates · Divine Command Theory · God and Morality · Is the Foundation of Morality Natural or Supernatural? · Religion and Violence · Sam Harris · William Lane Craig