Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Divine Command

I have now featured in the Philosopher's Carnival twice (here and here), and hope to continue submitting posts to it despite confining my knowledge of and real interest in philosophy to a few areas (ethics, law, politics, religion). I would greatly recommend having a look - although I tend to confine my interest to the ethics section, the submissions are generally quite thought provoking.

A good example is this post from Daylight Atheism. It says what I have always felt about morality based on divine command - that it is often dangerous, easily manipulated and irrational. It may be more difficult to base morality on rationality, but it is a far safer and more successful to do so. The following paragraph is crucial:

By accustoming people to unquestioning obedience, religion cripples their skills of moral reasoning, often resulting in a sort of induced "ethical dyslexia" where they are unable to recognize evil for what it is, even when it is staring them in the face. Just consider how many Christian apologists continue to defend the atrocities recorded and praised in their own Bibles.

This is very true. I have heard Christians defend the actions of Abraham, ordered by God to kill his own son, with horror. I think ethical dyslexia is a brilliant term for this kind of mindset.

However, I do have one big quibble with the post. It seems to implicitly suggest that all or most theists follow the divine command theory of ethics, while atheists do not. I think this is unfair. Many, many believers follow rationality and merely supplement it with religious ethics, or build rational systems out of religious ethics. Many will have trouble with the story of Abraham. On the other side, many atheists are seduced by theories like societal ethics, whereby what is right and wrong is determined by what is generally thought to be, a sort of command. If Daylight Atheist had made this clearer, I would happily agree with pretty much everything he says here.

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