Does God command us to obey him? – Divine Command Theory and Circularity

Some object to the Moral Argument for God’s existence by criticizing Divine Command Theory (DCT).  They argue that DCT doesn’t ground objective moral values and duties because it relies on a moral axiom: that we ought to obey God.


First, we can recognize that this criticism applies to moral duties, but not to values.  Moral values are still grounded in God.  The issue is whether we have to accept our obligation to obey God as a brute fact.  In short, “Does God command us to obey his commands?  If not, why should we obey?  If so, why are we obligated to obey this first command?”


We are helped here by a reflection on what it means to create something.  We have the powerful intuition that creators have ownership and authority over their creation.  This intuition gives rise to copyright law.  It isn’t copyright law that establishes a creator’s prerogatives over his creation; it recognizes what is already there.  It seems inherent in the concept of the creator-creation relationship that the creator has authority over its creation.


I was impressed with this concept when I took my job at a tech company.  If my employer is paying me for my labor, they should own the product of my work.  Nonetheless, our intuition that an owner owns his creation is so strong that my employer had me sign an agreement that they would own whatever I produce.  Such things would not happen if we didn’t have this common intuition about the creator-creation relationship.


The Divine Command Theorist can, therefore, properly ground both moral values and duties.  Moral values are grounded in God’s perfect moral character, and moral duties are grounded in God’s historic act of creation.  When God created us, he became our creator.  This creator-creation relationship entails our obligation to obey God.


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