Is God really the foundation for good, or does that still commit the Naturalistic fallacy?

I am a non-natural moral realist, I argue that if morality is subjective, then all is permitted, for you cannot condemn someone without assuming that the morality you hold to is universally binding. But I have a hard time believing that Divine Command Theory is anything more than ethical naturalism, since it identifies the commands of God with Morality, thus meaning that it essentially gets us nowhere, as the commands of God become just as hard to define as morality itself.

So whilst I think YHWH is concerned with our behaviour, (through worship of him), I find it hard to believe that he is the source of all good, though he may be a cosmic arbiter of justice.

I prefer to use moral intuitionism to discover moral facts. It seems virtually all societies consider murder, theft, lying and adultery to be immoral, surely not for no reason.


Thanks. Are you discussing the Euthyphro dilemma, or possibly Lewis’ Moral Law?

Morality seems to be experienced subjectively and yet have mostly recurring features and so by and large is constitutionally objective. Evolutionarily it might be advantageous for a species as gregarious as our own to contain a slim amoral minority within the gene pool, just in case the tractable many heads off a cliff together … something like the way individuals with recessive sickle cell anemia can bring a population of normals back from a malaria epidemic.

I have to admit that I myself am ambivalent about the place of morality in our adult lives. I mean, living respectfully in a community of our kind continues to be important but at some point that should become second nature. I hate to think that the reflex of wondering what one ought to do cannot eventually take a back seat to pursuing what fulfills our own intellectual and creative pursuits.

But you will agree that slavery, FGM and rape are wrong surely.

The ONLY thing that can make morality absolute is good reasons why something is right or wrong. Without that it is convention, completely relative to the decisions of a particular authority whether social, governmental, religious, or divine. The only place for purely authoritarian morality is when there is no capacity for reasoning such as when you are dealing with toddlers. But eventually you have to grow up and employ moral reasoning in the face of new situations, and I really really really hope that you have prepared your children to do that by the time they grow up.

But one of the difficulties is that the reasons generally only point to an absolute aspect to morality rather than absolute rules. And this brings in the necessity for the relativity of conventions which draw somewhat arbitrary lines to distinguish the bad things from that which is ok. Without such conventions there is too much of a continuum between good and evil, with gray areas where it can get very very hard to decide which is which. e.g. what exactly is slavery or rape, and when exactly is something murder, abuse, or theft, for that matter? Often the legal conventions are decided on the basis of pragmatic reasoning according to what is enforceable,… though religion and personal conviction can certainly set stricter standards for their members or ones own personal life.

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Absolutely in regard to the two you spelled out, but what does FGM stand for?

Female Genital Mutilation.

Ahh, seems horrible to me. I’ve been on forums in which an equivalency is made between this and circumcision. My understanding is that FGM is by far worse. But it probably should make us at least consider whether custom is sufficient justification for performing any ritualistic surgery which is not medically indicated.

I don’t think any consideration of the subjective nature of morality should stop us from speaking up against what we feel to be wrong. I don’t think those things are wrong just in case the perpetrators should share my sense of morality. A good indicator that our subjective moral feeling is correct is our ability to find correlates in the justice system against doing those things. Moral outrage is what it is and has resulted in our formalizing standards in the law.

Then you will agree with me that these actions should be condemned, and that assumes there is a universally binding morality.

I too condemn them. What matters isn’t whether they are universally binding. Obviously anyone engaged in those activities as a perpetrator doesn’t agree with us so there is no universality. But there is at least sufficient agreement to seek legal remedies.

Got to fly now to a vet appt.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.

God doesn’t do good things. What God does is good and right. When God says to kill everyone, God has every right, since God is righteous and just. We, however, are not. The bible says that the wages of sin is death, and we all deserve death, because we are sinners.
If a judge carries out a death sentence for a murderer. Is the judge somehow immoral?
If God did not punish sin, how then is God just or even moral? And how is a judge moral if he let’s the murderer go?

This is a good discussion. However, it’s also a source of humility. I’m reading “The Princess and Curdie,” by George Macdonald, with my children at night. His writing is full of pithy observations. Lest we think that our understanding is clearer about morality based on a modern civilization, read his description of a city Curdie travels to, and see if there are parallels to our current situation (the book was written in the 19th century):

"Commerce and self-interest, they said, had got the better of violence, and the troubles of the past were whelmed in the riches that flowed in at their open gates.

“Indeed, there was one sect of philosophers in it which taught that it would be better to forget all the past history of the city, were it not that its former imperfections taught its present inhabitants how superior they and their times were, and enabled them to glory over their ancestors. There were even certain quacks in the city who advertised pills for enabling people to think well of themselves, and some few bought them, but most laughed, and said, with evident truth, that they did not require them. Indeed, the general theme of discourse when they met was, how much wiser they were than their fathers.”

This is not to cast doubt on the need for antidepressants; but some of us could theoretically seek them out to add to a list of illegal drugs to drown our guilt and responsibility.

The more I read about things we look down on, such as slavery, FGM and suttee for example, the more I realize that we “are not as strong as we think we are” (to quote one of my favorite Rich Mullins songs). We all, from time immemorial, have tried drastic things (often causing suffering) to mitigate the real pain we experience from our environment and inevitable death. We often make mistakes. we are not intrinsically better than our fore fathers. In fact, with our current wealth in the West, we may be more sternly judged by God for having let our brothers and sisters of all faiths and backgrounds suffer in the East and South for want of material things.

In this Onscript podcast, Caryn Reeder describes the setting in which stoning and slavery arose (the latter was a good way of saving some people; and stoning a glutton may have prevented the death of the group I have even read stories of those who commit FGM and other things who really think they are helping their loved ones.


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Utilitarianism is a hard moral theory to defend, although I´m not quite sure if a naturalist can go to another theory. Of course, utilitarianism comes in different forms, but generally there has to be an ultimately subjective foundation. It´s the problem Peter Singer himself recognized, because there is no real reason to care about anything, at least the reasons for caring are never so overwhelming that critics will be persuaded.

But what are the alternatives? I myself have been interested in the natural law theory developed by Alasdair MacIntyre and Elizabeth Anscombe for quite some time now and MacIntyre´s book “After virtue” is a cornerstone in the philosophy of morality.
In regards to the Eutyphro Dilemma, which @Randy mentioned, the proponent of the natural law rejects Divine Command Theory wholeheartedly, since it assumes that God can act against his own nature. “Goodness” isn´t defined by the command, but by the nature of one thing. So a human is “good” when he has all abilities. He commits a moral evil, when he purposefully harms another human being and thus, e.g. in a physical attack, prohibits the other person from having an ability, e.g. throwing being prohibited because of the broken arm. So when God, whose whole nature is being itself, commands an action it would be impossible for him to act against his own nature, since that would be a contradiction. As such, Divine Command Theory is to be rejected. (Note: I always thought that this idea is mainly motivated to keep something of a inerrancy to the whole bible, and I´m really glad, that the archeological timeline of the Canaanites doesn´t add up)
However it gets problematic if the committed Naturalist expresses interest, since the Aristotelian basis of this natural law is intrinsically based on teleology and human form. I have doubts that one can avoid the theistic conclusions coming from the metaphysical analysis, once these aspects are accepted. I suppose for the time being one could follow Thomas Nagel in his idea of naturalized teleology, but it is a dance on razor´s edge.

Interesting: William Lane Craig is known for his defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument. However he once said, that the argument that convinces most students attending his speeches, is the moral argument, that Naturalism automatically entails moral subjectivism. Of course, it is an argument mainly appealing to intuition. But nontheless, even if we don´t mention the arguments for moral realism and only engage with utilitarian literature, people have a hard time conceptualizing that murder, rape or child molesting, aren´t really “bad”


There is a mistake on my part, in particular I was to narrow in regard as to what Natural Law Theory allows and forgot one important thing: Capital punishment.

This now intrigues me and I will go ask around a bit, but if NLT permits Capital Punishment, it could be that there is a way to combine it with DCT, if the command is regarded as capital punishment.

However I´ve also got the feeling that this is one of the famous examples of “philosophical problems” which are artificial and not of value for reality.


I don’t think I’ve ever heard this point described quite so clearly, or so succinctly. Very nice.

If a divine command theory posits that God’s commands are arbitrary, then I would agree. Biblical / Christian philosophy, as I understand it, though, does not embrace such a thing… it believes rather that there are many things God could not command, because to do so would be immoral, or out of character for God, being as he is the source of goodness, the very standard from which morality is derived.

As well you should… but this leads to the next question…

From whence does your (or my, or any society’s) moral intuition come? Is it not because you were created by a good creator, with the law of God written in your heart, that you were made in the image of one who by nature and definition is true goodness and morality?

It does go back to the old dilemma… does he command something because it is good, or is something good because he commands? Neither is satisfactory.

But because he recognizes a “higher” morality to which he himself is subject? This is incompatible with Christian theism. God is the ultimate and highest being, subject to nothing but himself, or he is nothing. But he is certainly subject to himself, being, and defining, what is good, moral, and just.

If you think about it, morality is inherently personal. Morality ultimately is concerned only with relationships between beings. Sentient beings. No one is concerned whether I am behaving morally towards a carrot. (Even moral concern over our planet / environment is due to the effect on posterity, not because we would be concerned about the temperature or condition of one particular large molten rock with a hardened shell orbiting a star, if it weren’t for the sentient life on said rock.)

So where would your universal morality exist, and/or be derived from, if not ultimately from or within a person?

Alternately, if morality only began to exist once we humans developed it from our strictly naturalistic origins, then it is by very definition arbitrary, and by very definition non-universal.

I think it very problematic when our “condemnation” of atrocities becomes so relatively nebulous.

“Sure, I condemn the holocaust. But Hitler and company were simply following their own morality. I think he was wrong, but he would disagree, and ultimately, neither of us is right or wrong, as there aren’t any universal standards to judge between his view of morality and mine. Was Hitler ‘right’? Or is my condemnation of him ‘right’? Neither. Who’s to say?”

This is the greatest failure of historians and the reason that these atrocities reoccur. If we were to apply a basic set of human rights across history, we would be able to identify the cultures that grossly violated human rights and we would stop trying to emulate them. For example, many countries revere the Roman culture, yet Rome was the greatest violator of basic human rights and freedoms in history.

Sounds like you long for black and white what we find are many shades of grey. Our wishing things were simpler won’t make them so nor does it justify our assuming they actually are so.

This entirely misses my stance. The vast majority of us are morally normal and happen to share the same standards. Whether you think they are God given or naturally evolved, we mostly share the same moral outlook.

We say he was monstrously wrong to do such things but may well disagree about the nature of morality. I think we in the states are gaining new insight into how such a moral monster can acquire the political power required to do such monstrous things. Sometimes it only takes someone who appeals to our vanities and stokes our resentments with his words while provoking us to seek our revenge. We are safer to resist assuming we ourselves are righteous and therefore all our actions will be pious and just.

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Very well put.