Divine Command Theory Explained

A popular argument for God’s existence is the moral argument. Here Christians have the advantage of grounding objective moral values, such as “good,” in God himself. God is the good; He is the greatest conceivable being. As such, He is all-loving, fair, and just. That is to say, that these moral values really do exist because they exist in God himself.

Now if you’re talking to an unbeliever who agrees that moral values do exist, the question you want to ask them is how are they grounded, and how do we know to follow them? Moreover, what about moral vices? If moral values exist, then so do moral vices, such as greed, envy, and injustice; how do we know not to align our lives with these entities instead?

Now if you’re dealing with an unbeliever who doesn’t hold to objective moral values, then this argument isn’t going to get very far. But most people, when pressed, will agree that some things really are wrong. For example, most people will agree that child molestation is wrong and therefore should not be tolerated.

If the unbeliever believes that some things really are objectively wrong, then we’re off to a great start.

Unbelievers might push back and appeal to the old Euthyphro Dilemma, but it’s important to remind them that there really isn’t a dilemma here.

The modern form of the dilemma will be presented as a false dichotomy, either this or that. Here’s how it usually goes: Does God will something because it is good, or is it good because He wills it? A good response is, “Neither . . . God wills it because He is good.”

Why does this response work? Well, if it’s good because He wills it, then God is arbitrarily choosing what is good. According to that logic, God could have chose that murder was good, but that’s obviously not the case.

On the other hand, if God wills something because it is good, that makes God appeal to a standard of good outside Himself, which is obviously not the case either.

Consider the following analogy in regards to music recording. The standard of high-fidelity is a live performance. Depending on how the recording measures up to the live performance will depend on whether it’s high-fidelity or not. Likewise, God is the standard of morality. Depending on how we measure up to that standard will depend on whether we are moral or not. Just like there is no standard outside the live performance upon which we measure high-fidelity, there is no standard outside of God upon which we measure morality.

So if God wills something because He is good, God doesn’t arbitrarily choose what is good, nor does He appeal to a standard of good outside Himself. Rather, He is the good, and His will necessarily reflects that good.

There is one more thing to consider if morality is objective, and that is how we come to know that which is moral? This is where Divine Command Theory makes since of objective morality. God as the greatest good, or greatest conceivable being, is the standard of all that is objectively good: love, fairness, justice, etc., are objectively good because these are God’s attributes. Whereas hate, inequality, and injustice are objectively bad. The objectively good values are grounded in God Himself and are reflected by His commands to us. When we deviate from His commands, we are acting immoral; we are sinning. When we act in accordance to His commands, we are being moral. And because the good itself commands us to do certain things, we are obligated to do those things if we care to be moral.