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In its simplest term, the divine command theory holds that given that god exists, an act is good only because God commands it. In other words, anything that is not approved of by God cannot be considered to be good. A major problem associated with this view is raised in Euthyphro. The Euthyphro argues that the gods command things because they are good rather than that they are good because they command it. Seen from another angle, the goodness of things precedes God’s command. However, considering the polytheistic nature of the society that Socrates and Euthyphro lived in, the conception that what is good is only good because gods command it may be challenged by holing that the gods may have differences in opinion especially with regard to issues of morality. As such, what may be dear to one god may not necessarily be dear to another. As such, one action may be both pious and impious.
The divine command theorists hold that the source of all moral value is the will of God (Hall et al). Whatever is willed by God is morally good or obligatory and whatever he forbids is morally evil. With this regard, murder, theft and adultery are morally wrong because, and only because they are forbidden by God. On the other hand, justice and mercy are morally good only because they are approved by God. The majority of divine command theorists hold that there is no intrinsic Good. Whatever is done and willed by God is good and whatever opposes the will of God is bad. As such, the good has its foundation and existence solely in God’s will. Indeed, it can be conceived that God can alter his mind and command murder. This is especially seen in the scriptures when he commanded Abraham to kill his son. He can also forbid acts of clemency. Simply by an act of will, God can change virtue into vice and vice into virtue.
The divine command theory is first broached as a philosophical theory in Euthyphro. Euthyphro and Socrates are attempting to define holiness with Euthyphro proposing a definition that holiness is whatever is loved by the gods. According to Socrates, this definition is ambiguous in the sense that it does not offer any clear comprehension of whether something is holy simply because it is loved by the gods or whether its loved by the gods because it is already holy. By making a generalization from the case of holiness, it can be said that either something is morally good or right because God commands it to be so or that God commands it because it is morally good or right to begin with (Pojman, 2002). In other words, either moral value depends on the will of god or the will of god depends on moral value. In Euthyphro, the two options are dramatically presented. That is, either the source of value depends on the divine will or elsewhere. Both Socrates and Euthyphro agree that it lies elsewhere and therefore reject the divine command theory. They however do not explain where it rests.
Plato’s view is right considering his god-independent Form of the Good. However, the argument in Euthyphro can be hardly applied to the Christian God. Plato’s argument, as taken by Leibniz and other philosophers may be seen in the following context; that “honoring one’s parents is good because God has commanded it” implies the counterfactual that if God commanded other things, those other things would be good. God, by the theory, could have commanded those other things considering how powerful He is. According to the divine command theory, therefore, if God had commanded that one should dishonor his parents, then dishonoring parents would be obligatory instead of forbidden (Wilkens, 1995). This is however absurd. The divine command theory is thus committed to counterfactuals about what would have been good that are patently false. The implication is that, even though God commanded the good, this is only so because it is good and not that it is good because He commanded it.
The dilemma in the question of whether what is holy is holy because the gods approve of it, or approve of it because it is holy can only be clearer if the polytheistic assumptions are eliminated and the term “holy” is replaced with “right”. If the question is restructured, it will appear as follows: does God command us to do what is right because it is right or something is right because God commands it? The question presents two possibilities. First, God”s commands can be conceived of to be right-indicating or pointing towards rightness. Second, it can be conceived of to be right-making or creating rightness. This question is whether God is viewed as a Supreme Court justice or a legislator. The justice comprehends the statutes and can therefore suggebst what should be done for one to stay within the boundaries of the law. However, the law itself is independent of the justice. The legislator on the other hand does not just interpret but also creates law. Until the lawmaker legislates, the law is not in existence.
The question thus is; which gives a better conception of God? Voluntarists see God as a legislator since they emphasize on His freedom, will and sovereignty. As such, God is not bounded to the dictates of some standard that He did not create. Instead, right is right because God legislates it. The declaration of God that particular actions are good is right making. This view of God as a legislator evades restricting His freedom and power. However, this may create another problem. If God is so radically free and powerful, could he create a world in which torture is good? If His saying so makes it right and there are no limitations on God, could he decide that rape is virtuous? Affirming this option is frightening since there is a natural inclination to believe that a command that we ought to rape would be morally repugnant, even if it emanated from God (Ross & Stratton-Lake 2002). However, there is need to notice its implication. It assumes a standard of goodness that is independent of God. Otherwise we would not have at our disposal anything by which to measure the commands of God.
With this regard, a conclusion can be derived that the gods approve of holy (right or goodness) because it is holy(right or good). Holiness is an objective feature of the world and as such, the moral order is just as a fundamental nature of the universe as the spatial or numeric structure of the universe. Our moral attitudes do not make actions good or right. Rather, they are responses to rightness or goodness. What makes our belief that something is good is the property or objective characteristic of being good that it possess. If one define holiness as meaning what is approved by the gods, one is putting forward a naturalistic definition. If one however defines it as such that it ought to be desired, one is putting forward a non-naturalistic definition. However, both the definitions show that what is good is intrinsic as opposed to what the divine command theorists attempt to postulate. Holiness, goodness or rightness refer to a property or a quality of something and thus, this quality or property cannot be decided by the goods but rather exist independently of the will of the gods. However, there comes a challenge when they refer to a relational property rather than the intrinsic property of the things of which it is predicated. This is the major challenge not only to the divine command theorists but also to Euthyphro.