Gordon Clark, Ockham and the Divine Command Theory...

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cupotea

Puritan Board Junior
Lately, I've been considering the Divine Command Theory, and though I initially rejected it on the basis that God determines right/wrong because His nature dictates so, I am beginning to question whether or not one ought to view God not only as the law-giver but as the one who envisions and creates the very network of morality. I suppose the thing that really brought this thinking to my mind was an argument I read by Gordon H. Clark where he argues for hard determinism and human responsibility. In it, he offers an argument that I think would be well represented by this syllogism:

1. God never does anything that is unjust.
2. God holds men responsible.
3. Therefore, God justly holds men responsible.

The argument really hinges on the question of the Divine Command Theory. If everything that God does is just, then it is silly to ask whether His holding men responsible is just, because of course it is! He did it, didn't He? :chained:

Clark also offers this quote from Calvin to show that HE was a Divine Command Theorist, as well. Unfortunately, no citation is given, except to say that it is from the Institutes:

"In the first place they inquire, by what right the Lord is angry with His creatures who had not provoked Him by any previous offence; for that to devote to destruction whom He pleases is more like the caprice of a tyrant than the lawful sentence of a judge; that men have reason, therefore, to expostulate with God, if they are predestinated to eternal death without any demerit of their own, merely by His sovereign will. If such thoughts ever enter the minds of pious men, they will be sufficiently enabled to break their violence by this one consideration, how exceedingly presumptuous it is only to inquire into the causes of the Divine will; which is in fact, and is justly entitled to be, the cause of every thing that exists. For if it has any cause, then there must be something antecedent, on which it depends; which it is impious to suppose. For the will of God is the highest rule of justice; so that what He wills must be considered just, for this very reason, because He wills it. When it is inquired, therefore, why the Lord did so, the answer must be, because He would. But if you go further, and ask why He so determined, you are in search of something greater and higher than the will of God, which can never be found."

Anyway, I am curious about the thoughts of everyone else here regarding the divine command theory and (secondarily) Clark's argument for hard-determinism and responsibility...

Where does Ockham come into this? I don't know, I just thought I'd throw out his name, since he is supposedly the inventor of the Divine Command Theory...
 

BobVigneault

Bawberator
I like Clark's thinking here but I don't have time now to comment. Just wanted to say the Calvin quote is from Book 3, Chapter 23.

God Bless!
 

openairboy

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by JesusFan
Lately, I've been considering the Divine Command Theory, and though I initially rejected it on the basis that God determines right/wrong because His nature dictates so, I am beginning to question whether or not one ought to view God not only as the law-giver but as the one who envisions and creates the very network of morality. I suppose the thing that really brought this thinking to my mind was an argument I read by Gordon H. Clark where he argues for hard determinism and human responsibility. In it, he offers an argument that I think would be well represented by this syllogism:

1. God never does anything that is unjust.
2. God holds men responsible.
3. Therefore, God justly holds men responsible.

The argument really hinges on the question of the Divine Command Theory. If everything that God does is just, then it is silly to ask whether His holding men responsible is just, because of course it is! He did it, didn't He? :chained:

Clark also offers this quote from Calvin to show that HE was a Divine Command Theorist, as well. Unfortunately, no citation is given, except to say that it is from the Institutes:

"In the first place they inquire, by what right the Lord is angry with His creatures who had not provoked Him by any previous offence; for that to devote to destruction whom He pleases is more like the caprice of a tyrant than the lawful sentence of a judge; that men have reason, therefore, to expostulate with God, if they are predestinated to eternal death without any demerit of their own, merely by His sovereign will. If such thoughts ever enter the minds of pious men, they will be sufficiently enabled to break their violence by this one consideration, how exceedingly presumptuous it is only to inquire into the causes of the Divine will; which is in fact, and is justly entitled to be, the cause of every thing that exists. For if it has any cause, then there must be something antecedent, on which it depends; which it is impious to suppose. For the will of God is the highest rule of justice; so that what He wills must be considered just, for this very reason, because He wills it. When it is inquired, therefore, why the Lord did so, the answer must be, because He would. But if you go further, and ask why He so determined, you are in search of something greater and higher than the will of God, which can never be found."

Anyway, I am curious about the thoughts of everyone else here regarding the divine command theory and (secondarily) Clark's argument for hard-determinism and responsibility...

Where does Ockham come into this? I don't know, I just thought I'd throw out his name, since he is supposedly the inventor of the Divine Command Theory...

I think Clark's argument simply begs the question. How do we know God is just? Or, as the Scriptures teach, how do we know that God is love?

I would agree that things are right or wrong contingent upon God's character, i.e. God is life, therefore it is wrong to kill, etc.
 

JWJ

Puritan Board Freshman
One Must Properly Distinguish the Matter

If I am reading you right, you take the approach that Clark does by saying God is above his law and that justice or morality is something God merely thinks. In other words, you would answer the modified Plato question: "œIs God just because he commands justice or is justice what God commands?" in the latter. In one sense, this is true. However, one must be very careful to distinguish the matter (something Clark failed to do) otherwise justice will be divorced from God´s nature.

The end result would imply that God could command something contrary to his nature. Or more to the point, that it would be possible that God could have equally commanded or sanctioned adultery and idolatry. This of course is nonsense! Though I do not have the time to comment further, let me refer you to the works of Turretin (Volume One) where he properly distinguishes the matter.

Jim
 

cupotea

Puritan Board Junior
Originally posted by JWJ
However, one must be very careful to distinguish the matter (something Clark failed to do) otherwise justice will be divorced from God´s nature. The end result would imply that God could command something contrary to his nature. Or more to the point, that it would be possible that God could have equally commanded or sanctioned adultery and idolatry. This of course is nonsense!

Would you argue that in His dealings with creation, that God's command to human beings "Do not murder" also applies to God? I realize that this question could result in quite a bit of discussion, but the conclusion I would hope to show is that the commands that God gives to men do not have the same binding upon God. While murdering for men is wrong, it is not wrong for God to do. Some may say that God is only allowed to murder a man out of justice, but then I would ask, "Would it have been morally wrong for God to have killed Adam and Eve before they fell?" If you suggest that it would have been wrong, then you place God in a situation where He is bound by the actions and dealings of men, rather than being the free God that He is.

Of course, dealing in hypotheticals is dangerous, but what I am suggesting is that God does possess a nature, but it is in His nature to be entirely free to construct the moral framework for His creation. Since it is His and not a Higher Power above Himself which designs the rules, it seems that God would transcend His own rules and laws in an absolutely free sense.

You say that given this reasoning, God could have commanded abortion and that in this possible world, abortion would have been right. If what I am suggesting is true, then it is a fact that God may have, in His freedom, declared abortion to be virtuous or perhaps even commanded. You state that this would be absurd, but how so? What you really mean is, "Given the current state of affairs in this actual world, THAT possible state of affairs in THAT possible world would be absurd." Hopefully, the absurdity of your own reasoning is apparent. You are considering another possible world with the actual world as your launch-pad (or presupposition). This reasoning is faulty.

In truth, we cannot conceive of a possible world where abortion is good, because the world we live in is a world in which it is a horrendous evil. But what if the law on our hearts and in God's Word commanded - say - the killing of the firstborn son. Would it not be more wicked to ignore the commands of the Sovereign God?

Your emotional response will immediately say, "That would STILL be evil!" Such a response only strengthens my argument that in this world, given God's commands, abortion is an evil, of which God's Word testifies and the law on our hearts also intrinsically knows.

Would this be contrary to God's nature? Well, on a horizontal level, does God have babies that He could perform abortions on? No! He does have the right to take the life of a child if He so desires, but to suggest that God ever has a horizontal experience like we do is an absurdity, as anything other than Himself is a creation over which He has absolute rights.

Would this be contrary to god's nature? No, because God does not enjoy horizontal experience as we do, but only vertical experience on a Creator/Creation level.
 

JWJ

Puritan Board Freshman
Adam,

I think you have misunderstood my comments. I am very familiar with the works of Clark and his arguments on this subject. However, Clark is too one sided and fails to mention some important key distinctions. These distinctions can be found in Turretins Works, Volume One pp 232-234


Of course, in a sense, God´s law (i.e., ten commands) is for man and not for God"”e.g., God cannot obey or disobey his parents for he has none. However this is not the crux of the issue. The crux of the issue is "is justice or morality the result of the will of God or something antecedent to his will?"

Clark and you seem to think that it is only the former. The reality is that it is both and one must be careful to distinguish in the proper context. For example, if it was only the former, God could have created a world in where it is good to hate God. This of course is nonsense and irrational to the very nature of God.

The point being is that, by necessity of his very nature God could never have created a world in where idolatry is moral. To claim otherwise would be teaching the possiblity that God can deny himself.

Jim
 

cupotea

Puritan Board Junior
I don't really have time to reply any further today, but I will only say that I am merely "toying" with this idea. I may seem committed to it, but only for the sake of argument to see whether or not it holds up...
 

JWJ

Puritan Board Freshman
The argument does hold up as long as you are careful to distinguish how the will of God is the primary rule of justice.

Jim
 

johnny_redeemed

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by JesusFan

1. God never does anything that is unjust.
2. God holds men responsible.
3. Therefore, God justly holds men responsible.

Could you please give support for this 1 primes.
 

johnny_redeemed

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by JesusFan
Would you argue that in His dealings with creation, that God's command to human beings "Do not murder" also applies to God?
No, God is creator He can do what he wants with His creation. Just like you can do whatever you want with your creation.


Originally posted by JesusFan
I realize that this question could result in quite a bit of discussion, but the conclusion I would hope to show is that the commands that God gives to men do not have the same binding upon God.
I agree. If God tells us not to kill another human, He can kill another human. In fact, everyone that dies, God kills.


Originally posted by JesusFan
While murdering for men is wrong, it is not wrong for God to do. Some may say that God is only allowed to murder a man out of justice, but then I would ask, "Would it have been morally wrong for God to have killed Adam and Eve before they fell?" If you suggest that it would have been wrong, then you place God in a situation where He is bound by the actions and dealings of men, rather than being the free God that He is.
God can do what He wants to His creation, so, yes he could have kill Adam before the fall.


Originally posted by JesusFan
Of course, dealing in hypotheticals is dangerous,
Very dangerous, so why do it?


Originally posted by JesusFan
but what I am suggesting is that God does possess a nature, but it is in His nature to be entirely free to construct the moral framework for His creation. Since it is His and not a Higher Power above Himself which designs the rules, it seems that God would transcend His own rules and laws in an absolutely free sense.
Sure.


Originally posted by JesusFan
You say that given this reasoning, God could have commanded abortion and that in this possible world, abortion would have been right. If what I am suggesting is true, then it is a fact that God may have, in His freedom, declared abortion to be virtuous or perhaps even commanded. You state that this would be absurd, but how so? What you really mean is, "Given the current state of affairs in this actual world, THAT possible state of affairs in THAT possible world would be absurd." Hopefully, the absurdity of your own reasoning is apparent. You are considering another possible world with the actual world as your launch-pad (or presupposition). This reasoning is faulty.
I have agreed with EVERYTHING said thus far, but how does this show that the Divine Command Theory is true?


Originally posted by JesusFan
In truth, we cannot conceive of a possible world where abortion is good, because the world we live in is a world in which it is a horrendous evil. But what if the law on our hearts and in God's Word commanded - say - the killing of the firstborn son. Would it not be more wicked to ignore the commands of the Sovereign God?
You have failed to show that God can will something contrary to His nature. Just to assert that He can does not mean that He can. Please show that can will something contrary to His nature.


Originally posted by JesusFan
Your emotional response will immediately say, "That would STILL be evil!" Such a response only strengthens my argument that in this world, given God's commands, abortion is an evil, of which God's Word testifies and the law on our hearts also intrinsically knows.

Would this be contrary to God's nature? Well, on a horizontal level, does God have babies that He could perform abortions on? No! He does have the right to take the life of a child if He so desires, but to suggest that God ever has a horizontal experience like we do is an absurdity, as anything other than Himself is a creation over which He has absolute rights.
This last paragraph seems to destroy the Divine Command Theory. Let me explain. Since God has no horizontal relationships, His laws for us are DISANALOGOUS to the moral law God gave us. If you want to show Divine Command Theory to be true you have show that God can act apart from His nature (or desirers). Remember JesusFan you pointed this verse out to me. Psalms 115:3, "œBut our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases." This contradicts the Divine Command Theories presuppositions that God can act apart from His nature.


Originally posted by JesusFan
Would this be contrary to god's nature? No, because God does not enjoy horizontal experience as we do, but only vertical experience on a Creator/Creation level.
You say that God cannot act contrary to His nature??? How is this consistent with the Divine Command Theory? Please explain.
 

openairboy

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by JesusFan
Would you argue that in His dealings with creation, that God's command to human beings "Do not murder" also applies to God? I realize that this question could result in quite a bit of discussion, but the conclusion I would hope to show is that the commands that God gives to men do not have the same binding upon God. While murdering for men is wrong, it is not wrong for God to do. Some may say that God is only allowed to murder a man out of justice, but then I would ask, "Would it have been morally wrong for God to have killed Adam and Eve before they fell?" If you suggest that it would have been wrong, then you place God in a situation where He is bound by the actions and dealings of men, rather than being the free God that He is.

No, God is bound by Himself, so the nature of His love, justice, etc., would forbid him from killing them. God couldn't lie to Adam and Eve either. This is the difference between the God of the Bible and the God of the philosophers. The god of the philosophers is abstract, so some axiom is chosen as a first principle and we seek to construct god from those principles. This leads to a god of our own imagination and not the one revealed in Scriptures.

Of course, dealing in hypotheticals is dangerous, but what I am suggesting is that God does possess a nature, but it is in His nature to be entirely free to construct the moral framework for His creation. Since it is His and not a Higher Power above Himself which designs the rules, it seems that God would transcend His own rules and laws in an absolutely free sense.

God's aseity is a bad beginning point. Can He lie? Can he be unloving?

You say that given this reasoning, God could have commanded abortion and that in this possible world, abortion would have been right. If what I am suggesting is true, then it is a fact that God may have, in His freedom, declared abortion to be virtuous or perhaps even commanded. You state that this would be absurd, but how so? What you really mean is, "Given the current state of affairs in this actual world, THAT possible state of affairs in THAT possible world would be absurd." Hopefully, the absurdity of your own reasoning is apparent. You are considering another possible world with the actual world as your launch-pad (or presupposition). This reasoning is faulty.

I guess it is the difference between dealing with what has been revealed, which is for us, and vain speculation. I think we are better off dealing with what we know.

In truth, we cannot conceive of a possible world where abortion is good, because the world we live in is a world in which it is a horrendous evil. But what if the law on our hearts and in God's Word commanded - say - the killing of the firstborn son. Would it not be more wicked to ignore the commands of the Sovereign God?

Sure, I can think of a possible world, our current one. Personally, I think the best thing for the wicked to do is to cut off their seed via abortion. In fact, I believe in retro-active abortions, so I don't even have to transcend my world to do this.

I'll stick with what is revealed.

openairboy







[Edited on 27-10-2004 by openairboy]
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The point made--that God's commands = morality and virtue for the creature, by definition--is valid, but to distinguish between God's commands for us and his own immutable charater is, I think, a rather radical statement. To my read, if one assumes Clark carried this thought to this conclusion (and I do not wish to slander him), it would have him holding to a Creator/creature distinction that rendered God totally unintelligible (an true irony!).

I agree with Keith that God's aseity is not the place to begin. Because God is not revealed (in the Word) as a bare "existence," to which is then developed various layers or levels of essense (like an onion). Rather he is revealed as a Person, who has character and qualities.

The notion of "murder" is inextricably bound together with the concept of "justice." Justice is not abstract (in the final analysis); it is personal. It is defined by what God is, wills, and does, which three are in a perfection of infinite harmony that we can scarcely begin to appreciate. Calvin, in that quote offered by Clark, offers nothing I can see there which would separate God's will into a higher "category" than his actions or his essense, in simply refering to his will and nothing else. Yes, God may kill or do anything he pleases (hath not the potter power...?)--insofar as he does not violate his word, compromise his character, or deny himself. It is absurd to say that God could "murder," because how we define murder is conditioned on how God defines justice, and thereby himself, for us in the Bible.

By extension it is also absurd and profoundly speculative to posit that God "could have" created a world where murder was a virtue. On the one hand, this supposition is utterly unprovable by definition. Asserting that God is capable of doing something he has not done simply because he is omnipotent and free (for these are not his only qualities!), if such a statement is not self-consciously and deliberately qualified, assumes a position of omniscience, which is inherently blasphemous. Especially if the action posited is diametrically opposed to that which he has done, and declared to be virtuous. I explain further:

Clearly all the varying cosmos God "could have made" cannot all be conceived as equally beneficient or condusive to revealing his glory and perfections. God being who he is pictured for us in Scripture, we are led (I think) to the conclusion that the display he chose was the best possible display of himself, for himself (and not for the creature!). So, this creation has the derivative GLORY of being the most excellent and virtuous display of God himself in his own imagination; which means we who love the Lord derive maximum personal benefit from his choice as well.

And so concluding, the thought of "murderous virtue" is in conflict with what we do know about God from the world he has actually made and the revelation he has actually given concerning himself.

Adam, I hope your ruminations lead you back toward a "natural" view, rather than a purely "prescriptive" view, of God-defined morality and virtue.
 

cupotea

Puritan Board Junior
I must freely confess that I am at a profound disadvantage, not because I am necessarily ready to concede the weaknesses of the arguments I am suggesting, but because I have toyed with this idea for but only a week (if even that), and have thus had little time to think through this concept to the degree that I know the rest of you (Johnny_Redeemed and Bruce, especially) have.

The questions you have raised seem to be real problems for the ideas I am suggesting, but I am not fully persuaded that such problems do not have solutions. It is also important for me to emphasize that I have never read any books or arguments from any divine command theorists, and thus do not at all have the "ammunition" - if I may use that loaded word - which you guys do. That is not to say that you guys are taking arguments from other Christians and using them, but you at least have the background of study on this subject that I am lacking. I wonder if there is anyone on this website who holds to the DCT that might be able to better answer them, because not only am I probably doing a poor job of representing the DCT (i.e. my faux paus regarding God's nature and will which Johnny Redeemed was so apt to point out), but I also am defending it from a very bare understanding of the concepts involved.

Am I chickening out? Maybe. It's stupid to go into a gun-fight with a slingshot when your opponent has a rocket launcher.

I think it would at least be charitable regarding your second reply, Johnny, to remember that I was not in my second post attempting to give the end-all prove-all argument for DCT. Also, from your response, it seems that you are confusing DCT with a logically contradictory God (a God who can both exist and not exist is not something I would attempt to posit, nor would any DCTheorist).

Perhaps you also have had the DCT poorly represented to you (perhaps by someone like ME! :p ). Reading the writings :book2: of someone who espouses the DCT may be one way to get a two-sided idea of the theory, because I know that there is a dramatic quantity of variations on the DCT, in including Robert Adams, who espouses the DCT in light of a loving God. I don't exactly know how that works, but it is a testament to the wide variety of theories on this. I largely confess my ignorance on this subject. Would you say you are not ignorant of it at any point?
 

johnny_redeemed

Puritan Board Freshman
Originally posted by JesusFan
I think it would at least be charitable regarding your second reply, Johnny, to remember that I was not in my second post attempting to give the end-all prove-all argument for DCT.


Please forgive me. :pray2:

I was not trying to be uncharitable, but if I was I am sorry.

I was really hoping for a responce to my first post.
 

cupotea

Puritan Board Junior
Originally posted by johnny_redeemed
Originally posted by JesusFan

1. God never does anything that is unjust.
2. God holds men responsible.
3. Therefore, God justly holds men responsible.

Could you please give support for this 1 primes.

Here you are. You at least deserve some justification for the first premise.

Deu 32:4 [He is] the Rock, his work [is] perfect: for all his ways [are] judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right [is] he.

Nehemiah 9:33 However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly.

Job 4:17 Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?

Pro 11:1 A false balance [is] abomination to the LORD: but a just weight [is] his delight.

Isa 45:21 Tell ye, and bring [them] near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? [who] hath told it from that time? [have] not I the LORD? and [there is] no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; [there is] none beside me.

Zep 3:5 The just LORD [is] in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity: every morning doth he bring his judgment to light, he faileth not; but the unjust knoweth no shame.

Zec 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he [is] just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.

Jhn 5:30 I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.

Act 3:14 But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you;

Act 7:52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:

Act 22:14 And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.

Rom 3:26 To declare, [I say], at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Rom 7:12 Wherefore the law [is] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

Col 4:1 Masters, give unto [your] servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us [our] sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Rev 15:3 They sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying: "Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints!


Here you are: 16 declarations - either direct or indirect - by God of the fact that He is always just. Though I would love to get more in-depth, I will once again state that you should be talking with someone who has a more comprehensive understanding of DCT. I am a self-declared rookie, and showing me up in a debate would probably be like beating a straw-man: not much of a fight.
 
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