MandM has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
http://www.mandm.org.nz/
and update your bookmarks.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Tooley, Plantinga and the Deontological Argument from Evil Part II

In my last post, Tooley, Plantinga and the Deontological Argument from Evil Part I, I sketched Tooley's distinction between a deontological and an axiological argument from evil and argued that Tooley rejects the axiological version because it rests on controversial ethical claims that are likely to be rejected by many theists. I outlined Tooley's deontological version and explored the moral assumptions it is based on and Plantinga's criticism of these.

"God can do wrong only if he commands himself to do something and then proceeds to disobey his own command."In this post, I will argue that Plantinga's criticisms can be reformulated by appealing to a divine command theory of ethics and when they are, it can be shown that Tooley's argument relies on controversial moral assumptions that many theists do, in fact, reject. Finally I will look at two objections to this line of argument; the claim that, even on a divine command theory, God has obligations and Tooley's critique of the divine command theory. I will argue both objections fail.

To save you having to click back repeatedly to the previous post, I will first re-cite step one of Tooley’s argument,

(12) The property of choosing not to prevent an event that will cause the death of more than 50,000 ordinary people is a wrongmaking property of actions, and very serious one.
(13) The Lisbon earthquake killed approximately 60,000 ordinary people.

Therefore, from (12) and (13):
(14) Any action of choosing not to prevent the Lisbon earthquake has a very serious wrongmaking property.

Tooley then adds as an additional premise,

(15) No rightmaking properties that we know of are such that we are justified in believing both that an action of choosing not to prevent the Lisbon earthquake would have had those rightmaking properties, and that those properties are sufficiently serious to counterbalance the relevant wrongmaking property.[1]

III. Modifying Plantinga's Response : The Divine Command Theory
In a more recent paper, Naturalism, Theism, Obligation and Supervenience, Plantinga makes a comment that suggests he could formulate his objection so that “permitted by God” was taken in the second sense mentioned above. Plantinga writes,

Theists typically think ethical properties are intimately related to what God approves or values or commands. Thus they will often think of moral obligation as a matter of what God commands. What is obligatory are those actions God commands or wills; what is wrong are those actions God prohibits; what is permissible are those actions God does not prohibit.[2]

Plantinga here refers to what has been called the divine command theory of ethics[3]; the position that, “an action or kind of action is right or wrong if and only if and because it is commanded or forbidden by God.”[4] According to a divine command theory of ethics, being permitted by God is a right-making property; actions are right, if and only if, and because, they are permitted by God. I am inclined to think that any theist who accepts a divine command theory of ethics will deny (15) whether or not they “offer a theodicy.” They will also have reasons for denying (12).

This is because, if the divine command theory of ethics is true then (12) is false. Tooley affirms that, “the property of choosing not to prevent an event that will cause the death of more than 50,000 ordinary people is a wrongmaking property of actions, and very serious one.” According to a divine command theory of ethics this is false; there is only one ultimate wrong-making property, that of being contrary to God’s commands. Given that the property of “choosing not to prevent an event that will cause the death of more than 50,000” is not the same property as “being permitted by God,” it follows that the former property is not a right-making property of actions and, as such, (12) is false.

Even if one puts this point to one side, if a divine command theory of ethics is true, there is a further problem with (12); it is ambiguous compare:

[12 a] The property of choosing not to prevent an event that will cause the deaths of more than 50,000 ordinary people is a serious wrongmaking property of actions performed by human beings (or rational creatures relevantly like human beings).

and

[12b] The property of choosing not to prevent an event that will cause the deaths of more than 50,000 ordinary people is a serious wrongmaking property of actions performed by (including God).

For Tooley's argument to be successful he must mean for (12) to be taken as [12b]. Tooley is arguing for the conclusion that if God exists then he has performed actions that it would be wrong for God to perform; which, given that God is good, is an impossible state of affairs.

However, what is an “uncontroversial moral claim” that “does not seem very problematic” is [12a]. If a divine command theory of ethics is true then [12b] is false. This is because one implication of a divine command theory of ethics is that God does not have obligations and hence, strictly speaking, nothing he does can be right or wrong.[5] Craig notes “nor, plausibly, is God bound by moral duties since he does not issue commands to himself.”[6] Similarly Alston, in an article defending the claim that God has no obligations, states “we can hardly suppose that God is obliged to love his creatures because he commands himself to do so.”[7]

Craig and Alston's arguments seem sound. If the divine command theory of ethics is true then a person p is required to do an action a, if and only if, God commands p to do a. It follows then, that God is required to do a, if and only if, God issues commands to himself. Moreover, if divine command theory of ethics is true then a person engages in wrongdoing, if and only if, they disobey a command that God issues to them. Hence, if divine command theory of ethics is true then God can do wrong only if he commands himself to do something and then proceeds to disobey his own command.

Neither of these conditions seems very likely. It seems unlikely that God issues commands to himself. Why would he need to? If he wanted to do something wouldn't he just do it? Moreover, it seems absurd to suggest that even if God issues commands to himself that he would then disobey them. That would suggest that God displays some form of weakness of the will and it is not clear that weakness of the will is compatible with a supremely excellent being such as God.[8]

The divine command theorist will take a similar stance towards (15). If a divine command theory of ethics is true then the property of “being permitted by God” is a right-making property. If God permits an action, in the sense of refraining from prohibiting it, then that makes the action morally permissible. Consider then, “[God's] action of choosing not to prevent the Lisbon earthquake.” For the reasons spelt out above, God did not forbid himself from doing this; hence, this action has a right-making property that a theist, who embraces divine command theory of ethics, knows about.

Similarly, this right-making property outweighs any wrong-making property that the action has. As I mentioned previously, according to a divine command theory of ethics, there is only one ultimate wrong-making property, the property of being contrary to God’s commands. Given that God did not command himself to stop the Lisbon earth quake, the action of allowing the Lisbon earthquake to occur does not have any wrong-making properties and so there can be none that outweigh it.

Consequently, if a divine command theory of ethics is true then both (12) and (15) are false. It is not just theists who offer a theodicy then who would reject (15).

The Significance of this Conclusion
I think this conclusion is significant for two reasons. First, a significant number of contemporary theists embrace and defend the divine command theory of ethics. Those who have defended it include, Robert Adams,[9] John Hare,[10] William Alston,[11] William Lane Craig,[12] Stephen C Evans,[13] Philip Quinn,[14] Edward Wierenga,[15] Janine Marie Idziak,[16] William Wanwright,[17] William Mann,[18] Thomas Carson[19] and more recently Alvin Plantinga.[20] These people are not obscure, marginal representatives of theism; these names include some of the leading defenders of theism in the literature today. Tooley's argument then contains a premise that would be, and in fact is, rejected by many leading theists.

Second, this fact introduces a significant incoherence into Tooley's discussion of the argument from evil. In “Does God Exist?” Tooley rejects an axiological argument from evil on the grounds that it rests on a moral claim that was “within ethical theory deeply controversial, and likely to be rejected by many theists and others.” Tooley's own argument, however, presupposes the denial of a divine command theory of ethics. This is a controversial moral claim and one that is rejected by many theists. His own deontological argument then seems to be no better than the axiological version he rejects.

Finally, it seems in light of these conclusions that Tooley's deontological argument from evil is incomplete. It is not enough for Tooley to simply ask “what rightmaking properties can one point to that one has good reason to believe would be present in the case of an action allowing the Lisbon earthquake and that would be sufficiently serious to counterbalance the property of allowing more than 50,000 to be killed?”[21] The theist can point to such a property. Tooley needs to supplement his argument with a refutation of the divine command theory; specifically, he needs to argue that even if theism is true then this theory is implausible and problematic. Until the divine command theory can be shown to be a rationally untenable option for theists, theists can avoid Tooley's deontological argument from evil.

IV Objections
In this last section I want to anticipate and criticise two lines of argument that Tooley or a defender of Tooley, might make against the above line of critique.

Tooley's Critique of Divine Command Theory
In III I suggested that Tooley's argument was incomplete until he provides the theist with some reason why a divine command theory of ethics cannot be accepted then the theist can reject two crucial premises of his argument. (A defender of Tooley could object here that he has argued for this conclusion. In a debate with William Lane Craig at the University of Colorado Tooley addressed the divine command theory and offered a Euthyphro style argument against it. I agree that a complete defence of my position requires a response to this argument, regular readers, however, will note that I have addressed this argument previously in Tooley, The Euthyphro Objection and Divine Commands.)

Divine Commands and Divine Obligations
My argument in III depended on the claim, made by Craig and Alston, that if a divine command theory is true then God does not have duties. Linda Zagzebski has called this claim into question. In “More Suggestions for Divine Command Theorists,” Zagzebski proposes an account of divine obligations which is compatible with a divine command theory. Zagzebski starts by offering an account of the meaning of obligation, “What we mean by ‘obligation,’ is essentially this: there is no other option compatible with moral goodness.”[22] From this definition she argues that “the metaphysical source of divine obligation” and “the metaphysical source of human obligation are distinct.”[23]

The metaphysical source of the property of an act of a human being which makes it the case that there is no alternative act compatible with goodness is that it is commanded by God. The metaphysical source of the property of an act of God that makes it the case that there is no alternative act compatible with goodness is that that any alternative is incompatible with Gods nature.[24]

Hence, she concludes that it is “metaphysically necessary that an act X is an obligation for a human if and only if X is commanded by God” and “it is metaphysically necessary that an act X is an obligation for God if and only if X is compatible with Gods nature.”[25]

While I am not convinced by Zagzebski's account of divine obligations, even if one grants them for the sake of argument it is clear that it cannot be used to defend Tooley's deontological argument from evil. Consider,

(15) No rightmaking properties that we know of are such that we are justified in believing both that an action of choosing not to prevent the Lisbon earthquake would have had those rightmaking properties, and that those properties are sufficiently serious to counterbalance the relevant wrongmaking property.[26]

If Zagzebski's account of divine obligation is correct then (15) is false. Plantinga's original unreformulated response is rehabilitated. As Plantinga pointed out “God exists and is a perfectly good being. If this is true, then any action that God has in fact performed has the property of being performed by a perfectly good being.”[27] Moreover, “theists believe that God performed the action of permitting the Lisbon earthquake. They therefore believe that the action of performing the Lisbon earthquake has the property of being performed by God, who is a perfectly good person.”[28] But if the Lisbon earthquake was performed by a perfectly good person, performing it must be compatible with the divine nature and hence it has the very right-making property that Zagzebski identifies in her account of divine obligation.

The same is true for (12). Tooley contends,

(12) The property of choosing not to prevent an event that will cause the death of more than 50,000 ordinary people is a wrongmaking property of actions, and very serious one.

On Zagzebski's account (12) is false. There are only two right-making properties that exist. The property of being compatible with God's nature, which is what makes God's actions right, and the property of being permitted by God, which is what makes human actions right. Now the property of “choosing not to prevent an event that will cause the deaths of more than 50,000 people” is neither of these properties and hence, is not a right-making property.

[1] Michael Tooley “Does God Exist?” in The Knowledge of God eds Michael Tooley and Alvin Plantinga (Malden, M A: Blackwell Publishers, 2008) 119; I am following Tooley's enumeration.
[2] Alvin Plantinga “Naturalism, Theism, Obligation and Supervenience” 31 available at http://www.ammonius.org/grant_topics.php#0708 accessed 4 April 2009.
[3] The position is perhaps more correctly known as ethical voluntarism as some proponents of it emphasise the divine will as opposed to divine commands. However, because of the widespread use of the term 'divine command theory' in the literature I will stick with the term.
[4] W K Frankena Ethics 2nd ed (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973) 28.
[5] It should also be noted that the claim that God does not have obligations has been defended on grounds other than a divine command theory. See, for example, William Alston, “Some Suggestions for Divine Command Theorists” in Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy ed. Michael Beaty (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990). Hence, even if one dismisses a divine command theory of ethics it still follows that [12a] is not the obviously uncontroversial statement Tooley thinks it is.
[6] William Lane Craig Philosphical Foundations of a Christian World View (Downers Grover Il: Intervarsity Press, 2003) 529.
[7] William Alston “Response to Zagzebski” Perspectives on the Philosophy of William P. Alston eds Heather D Battaly, Michael P Lynch, William P Alston, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005) 204.
[8] It is worth noting the definition of God that Tooley works with in formulating his argument. For the purposes of his argument, Tooley is defining God as “an appropriate object of worship” as well as an appropriate object of other human concerns such as the desire that good will triumph over evil, and that justice will be done” etc.
[9] Robert Adams “Divine Command Meta-Ethics Modified Again” Journal of Religious Ethics 7:1 (1979); Finite and Infinite Goods (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).
[10] John Hare God's Call: Moral Realism, God's Commands and Human Autonomy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001); God and Morality: A Philosophical History (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007).
[11] William Alston “Some Suggestions for Divine Command Theorists” in Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy ed Michael Beaty (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990).
[12] William Lane Craig “This most Gruesome of Guests” in Is Goodness Without God Good Enough? A Debate on Faith, Secularism and Ethics eds Robert K Garcia and Nathan L King (Lanthan: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers Inc, 2009) 172; also Philosphical Foundations of a Christian World View (Downers Grover Il: Intervarsity Press, 2003) 529-532.
[13] C Stephen Evans Kierkegaard’s Ethic of Love: Divine Commands and Moral Obligations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
[14] Philip L Quinn Divine Commands and Moral Requirements (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978); “An Argument for Divine Command Theory” in Christian Theism and the Problems of Philosophy ed Michael Beaty (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990) 289-302; “The Recent Revival of Divine Command Ethics” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (Fall 1990) 345-365; “The Primacy of God's Will in Christian Ethics” Philosophical Perspectives 6 (1992) 493-513; “Divine Command Theory” in Blackwell Guide to Ethical Theory ed Hugh Lafollette (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 2000) 53-73; “Theological Voluntarism” The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) 63-90.
[15] Edward Weirenga The Nature of God: An Inquiry into the Divine Attributes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989) 215-27. See also, “Utilitarianism and the Divine Command Theory” American Philosophical Quarterly 21 (1984) 311-318; and “A Defensible Divine Command Theory” Nous 17 (1983) 387-408.
[16] Janine Marie Idziak “Divine Commands Are the Foundation of Morality” Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion (Malden, MA:Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2004) 290-298.
[17] William Wrainwright Religion and Morality (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd, 2005).
[18] William Mann “Theism and the Foundations of Ethics” in The Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Religion ed William Mann (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).
[19] Thomas Carson Value and the Good Life (Notre Dame IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2000).
[20] Alvin Plantinga “Naturalism, Theism, Obligation and Supervenience”available at
http://www.ammonius.org/grant_topics.php#0708 accessed 4 April 2009.
[21] Michael Tooley “Does God Exist?” in The Knowledge of God eds Michael Tooley and Alvin Plantinga (Malden, M A: Blackwell Publishers, 2008), 122
[22] Linda Zagzebski “More Suggestions for Divine Command Theories” in Perspectives on the Philosophy of William P. Alston eds Heather D Battaly, Michael P Lynch, William P Alston, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005) 189.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Tooley “Does God Exist?” 119.
[27] Alvin Plantinga "Reply to Tooley's Opening Statement" in The Knowledge of God eds Michael Tooley and Alvin Plantinga (Malden, M A: Blackwell Publishers, 2008), 170
[28] Ibid.

RELATED POSTS:
Tooley, Plantinga and the Deontological Argument from Evil Part I

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

  © Blogger template 'Grease' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008 Design by Madeleine Flannagan 2008

Back to TOP