Moral Deism is Not an Antidote to Nihilism

How are divine commands are given and received?

I have long set aside confronting this apparently fundamental question for any divine command moral theory. I had no idea of how to start answering. I dreaded the prospect of inventing a scenario in which “God the angels and saints” somehow told people what to do. It would appear as silly superstition.

Do I need to give any account of the origin, development and functioning of morality as divine executive action? I interpret morality as divine commands. In philosophy, interpretation can be used as a “reduction operator.” How so? The interpretation for the facts is provided after the facts are obtained. The interpretation of the facts is to be given regardless of what the facts are. Hence, the questions of what the facts are reduce to questions not using the concepts of the interpretation. For instance, many of us interpret the universe as created and sustained by God – the Transcendent. But we rely on natural science using no theistic concepts to describe and explain God’s universe. God, so to speak, is acknowledged after the facts. So, the question “How are divine commands given and received?” reduces to “How are moral commands given and received?” This last question is a question for scientific but also ordinary human knowledge “How is morality discovered and transmitted throughout humankind?”

This question is to be answered as much as possible by natural sciences and then the answer receives a supernatural interpretation. Nothing is changed about the content of morality. Psychology and sociology are needed to tell us how morality is attained in individuals and transmitted in communities. I add “ordinary human knowledge” because natural science is not capable of describing and explaining all morality. To talk of morality, we need some basic “supernatural concepts.” These are not necessarily theistic concepts but they are concepts of the supernatural, as I have characterized supernatural.” There are basic notions of morality: Obligation, good and free will. Normative agent causation – free will—is part of ordinary understanding of morality; it is not explicable by natural sciences.

My regarding moral talk as using supernatural concepts is not bizarre. With increasing secularization fusing moral talk with theistic notions may decrease. But currently it is common to talk as if God, if such there be, would not be pleased with great cruelty. Indeed, people who profess atheism because of the evil in the world, think of God and morality as closely connected. It is certainly not bizarre to point out that ordinary talk is filled with supernatural concepts; vague as they may be. Presidents end speeches with “God bless America.”

What is the result of using interpretation of morality as divine commands as a reduction operator accomplished? It has led to moral deism.

Unfortunately, moral deism undercuts the rationale for understanding morality as based on divine commands. Man is still the measure of all things. Whatever man measures is interpreted as what God commands. God is not cited in moral reasoning. When moral deism is connected with deism about nature, as is logical, then there is an effort to explain the main psychological fact supporting authoritative morality as a purely natural fact. This psychological fact is the sense of transparency. All our actions are known to whatever it is behind morality. Explaining away transparency explains away a moral authority. Setting aside a moral authority sets aside the main reason for developing a divine command interpretation of morality. See Transparency for a discussion of the notion of whatever we do being exposed to the moral authority.

I am moving very quickly here. I’ll have to remedy this later. Moral deism is not an adequate antidote to nihilism. It evaporates into secularism with consequentialism as the only plausible types of moral theory.

To propose a significant divine command morality, I need to add some factual claims that will entail in conjunction with my theory of authoritarian morality some moral claims that some others will reject. To harken back to positivism of the twentieth century, I need to have falsification conditions for my divine command theory for it to be meaningful. This will mean that I have to profess as true some facts with moral implications. I will not write of God the angels and saints speaking to us. I will be writing under the influence of a religion, my Catholicism, as a basis for understanding human nature. I will not cite Catholic teaching. But I am sure they influence me. I will use this understanding of human nature, a Catholic anthropology, as a foundation for morality. Moral arguments will ultimately refer to facts about human nature. But this will be a human nature understood as given by God with moral implications.

God gave us his moral commands in the way he created our minds and bodies. Since, in humans mind and body are inseparable, we can say God gave us moral commands in how He built our bodies.

Since sexual morality is on use of our bodies, it might be well to investigate sexual morality to see if we can uncover how God gave us built sexual morality into our bodies.