PHIL 1050 Chapter Notes - Chapter 4: American Civil Liberties Union, Divine Command Theory, Burj Khalifa

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Published on 14 Apr 2013
University of Guelph
PHIL 1050
of 4
Chapter 4:
Does morality depend on religion?
4.1. the presumed connection between morality and religion:
- 1995 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued judge Roy Moore of
Gadsden, Alabama for displaying the 10 commandments in his courtroom
- Violates separation of church and state
- 2000 Moore became chief justice of the Alabama supreme court, promised
“restore the moral foundation of the law”
- 2001 he had a granite monument to the 10 commandments installed in the
Alabama state judicial building.
- Sued again, 77% of Americans though he should be allowed to display it.
- United states: 80% believe in God, 12% believe in a higher power
- Main religion in USA is Christianity, 41% believe Jesus will return to earth by
- In popular thinking morality and religion are inseparable: people commonly
believe that morality can be understood only in the context or religion.
- Thus clergies are assumed to be authorities on morality
- Bertrand Russell: Essay “A Free Man’s Worship” expressed a scientific view
of the world
- 4.2. The divine Command Theory:
- The divine command theory:
- God decides what is right and wrong. Actions that God commands are
morally required; actions that God forbids are morally wrong, and all other
actions are permissible or merely morally neutral.
- Attractive features:
- Solves problem of the objectivity of ethics
- Ethics not merely a matter of personal feeling or social custom
- Whether something is right or wrong is perfectly objective: it is right if God
commands it and wrong if God forbids it.
- DCT explains why anyone should bother with morality
- If immortality is the violation of God’s commandments, there is an easy
answer: on the day of final reckoning, you will be held accountable.
- Problems:
- Atheists would not accept it
- Main problem identified by Plato
- Plato’s Book: Euthyphro, discussion with Socrates; whether right can be
defined as what the gods command.
- Socrates = skeptical and asks, is conduct right because the God’s command it,
or do the God’s command it because it is right? (1 of most famous questions
in philosophy)
- Antony Flew (1923-2010) suggested: “one good test of a person’s aptitude
for philosophy is to discover whether he can grasp [the] force and point of
this question”
- Socrates question is about whether God makes the moral truths true or
whether he merely recognizes that they’re true.
- Ex. Burj Khalifa building in the United Arab Emirates is the tallest building in
the world, you recognize that, but you did not make it true, it was made true
by the designers and builders.
- Is God’s relation to ethics like the relation to the building or like the relation
of the builders?
- According to the Divine Command Theory, nothing is good or bad, except
when God’s thinking makes it so.
- This idea encounters several difficulties:
- 1) This conception of morality is mysterious: to see the problem consider child
abuse: God could make child abuse right, not by changing the slap into a
friends pinch on the cheeks, but by commanding that the slap is right.
- How could merely saying or commanding, that a slap is right make it right? if
true, this conception of morality would be a mystery.
- 2) This conception of morality makes God’s commands arbitrary: God could
command anything whatsoever; instead of truthfulness being right he could
command lying to be right.
- 3) This conception of morality provides the wrong reasons for moral principles:
There are many things wrong with child abuse, but this theory does not
recognize any of them as important, all it cares about is whether child abuse
runs counter to God’s commands.
- To avoid troublesome consequences: Instead we may say that God commands
us to do certain things because they are right.
- Therefore we don’t have to worry about how God makes it wrong to lie,
because he doesn’t. God’s commands are a result of his wisdom in knowing
what is best.
- 4.3. The theory of natural law:
- This theory has 3 main parts:
- 1) Theory of natural law rests on a particular view of the world: this view the
world has a rotational order, with values and purposes built into its very
- Derived from the Greeks; believed that everything in nature has a purpose
- Aristotle: “in order to understand anything 4 questions must be asked: what
is it? What is it made of? How did it come to be? And what is it for?”
- Aristotle: “If then we are right in believing that nature makes nothing
without some end in view, nothing to no purpose, it must be that nature has
made all things specifically for the sake of man”
- Christian thinkers: only one thing was missing to last theory God: rain falls
for plants because that is what God intended etc.
- 2) The laws of nature describe not only how things are but also how things
ought to be
- The world is in harmony when things serve their purpose
- Eyes that cannot see are defective etc.
- Moral rules are now viewed as deriving from the laws of nature
- Some ways of behaving = natural, others = unnatural = morally wrong
- Ex. Beneficence: we are morally required to care about our neighbors. Why?
- According to Natural law, it is natural for us because we are by nature social
and need the company of others.
- Someone who doesn’t care, is seen as deranged = anti social etc.
- Natural Law generally rejected for 3 reasons:
- First: idea what’s natural is good, sometimes what is natural is bad, ex.
Disease occurs naturally but disease is bad.
- Second: Natural law confuses “is” and “ought”, what is the case and what
ought to be the cases are different things. Ex. We can say that people are
naturally disposed to be beneficent, but it does not follow that they out to be.
- Third: Widely rejected because its view of the world conflicts with modern
science, what happens just happens, due to the laws of cause and effect.
- If the rain benefits the plants, this is because the plants have evolved by the
laws of natural selection in a rainy climate. Rain doesn’t happen to feed the
- 3) Addresses the question of moral knowledge, How can we determine what
is right and wrong.
- DCT we must consult God’s commandments to find out what is right and
- Natural Law: the natural laws that specify what we should do are laws of
reason, which we are able to grasp because God has given us the power to
understand them.
- Therefore theory of natural law endorses the idea that the right thing to do is
whatever action has the best reasons backing it up.
- Saint Thomas Aquinas: wrote in Summa Theologica: “To disparage the dictate
of reason is equivalent to condemning the command of God”
- This means that the religious believer has no special access to moral truth.
The believer and the nonbeliever are in the same position.
- God has given everyone the ability to listen to reason and follow its
- Religious belief does not affect the calculation of what is best, and the results
of moral inquiry are religiously neutral.
- 4.4. Religion and particular moral issues:
- One of the most frequently cited passages used to prove that scriptures are
against abortion is found in the first chapter of Jeremiah.
- Jeremiah quotes God as saying “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you”

Document Summary

4. 1. the presumed connection between morality and religion: 1995 american civil liberties union (aclu) sued judge roy moore of. Gadsden, alabama for displaying the 10 commandments in his courtroom. 2000 moore became chief justice of the alabama supreme court, promised. 2001 he had a granite monument to the 10 commandments installed in the. Sued again, 77% of americans though he should be allowed to display it. United states: 80% believe in god, 12% believe in a higher power. Main religion in usa is christianity, 41% believe jesus will return to earth by. In popular thinking morality and religion are inseparable: people commonly believe that morality can be understood only in the context or religion. Thus clergies are assumed to be authorities on morality. Bertrand russell: essay a free man"s worship expressed a scientific view of the world. God decides what is right and wrong.