AdamHazzard’s Quick Parable Comparing Atheistic and Divine Command Theoretic Metaethics

I just read this in the combox on Randal Rauser’s blog.

An atheist and a divine-command theorist are approached by someone who says to them, “God is telling me to kill my child. Am I crazy?”

The atheist doesn’t hesitate. “Yes! You need to seek help immediately!”

While the divine-command theorist shuffles his feet and says, “Well, that depends. Is your name Abraham?”

Is this parable a fair representation of divine command theory?

ETA: I’ve posted this because I like the parable. It seems like a clever way to illustrate a key distinction between divine command theorists and atheists, but I’m interested in whether it’s a fair criticism. Randal Rauser argues it is not. He writes:

The scenario seems to think that divine commands come to people willy nilly out of the blue like “Go get me a beer from the fridge.”

I think divine commands, which are reflective of God’s perfect moral nature, come to us primarily through a form of general revelation which we grasp through moral perception (or moral intuition). Moral perception is not infallible, but that is a problem everybody must face. I read scripture through the lenses of this God-given moral perception and within scripture I read Jesus voice and life as the authoritative norming norm. His command for us to take up our cross daily in lives of self-abnegation and service are reflective of the divine nature.

Contrary to what Rauser asserts, however, this parable does not assume that “divine commands come to people willy nilly out of the blue.” The reference to Abraham should have been a clue. If we modify the parable to clarify that the divine command theorist is either a Jewish or Christian theist, then there is nothing “willy nilly” about the parable for the simple reason that the Old Testament teaches that God, in fact, commanded Abraham to kill Isaac.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.mandm.org.nz Matt

    Given divine command theorists like Quinn, Adams, and Evans, each have a chapter on how they would deal with the Abraham issue, I think it’s pretty obvious that this is not an accurate representation of there position, and anyone who had read there work would no that. So I am suprised Jeffery your even asking the question seeing you have at least read Adams book, for example.

    • http://secularoutpost.infidels.org/ Jeffery Jay Lowder

      The authors you mention are modified divine command
      theorists. I took the parable to be about (unmodified) divine command
      theorists (aka voluntarists).


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