PHIL 2030: Introduction to Ethics
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Wednesday September 17, 2014



[4.] Morality and Religion.


At the beginning of EMP ch.4, Rachels describes two very different ways of viewing the world:


The Nonreligious Perspective. An example of this view is the view described by British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), in his 1903 essay “A Free Man’s Worship”:


That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.  (EMP 50)[1]


This is very different than


The Religious Perspective. This is the view of the world held by most Americans today:


[T]he world was created by a loving, all-powerful God to provide a home for us. We, in turn, were created in his image, to be his children. Thus, the world is not devoid of meaning and purpose. It is, instead, the arena in which God’s plans and purposes are realized. (EMP 51)


An example of someone who carried this view into his work as a judge is former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore (described by Rachels at EMP 47-48). Moore stated that “[w]ithout God there can be no ethics.”[2] During the ceremony in which his 5,600 lb. monument of the Ten Commandments was installed in the Alabama state judicial building, Moore stated that “to restore [the] moral foundation of law, ‘we must first recognize the source from which all morality springs ... [by] recogniz[ing] the sovereignty of God.’” [3]


The popularity of these views varies from place to place. Rachels cites Gallop and Pew Research Center polls from 2010 according to which:

·         80% of Americans believe in God;

·         a further 12% believe in “a higher power”;

·         41% of Americans believe that Jesus will return to earth by 2050.


A more recent survey conducted by Gallup in 2012 found that:

·         46% of Americans believe in creationism (the view that “God created human beings in their present form at some point within the past 10,000 years”);

·         an additional 32% believe in evolution guided by God;

·         only 15% believe in atheistic evolution.[4]


In this portion of the class, we will examine a theory of morality that seems to go naturally with the religious perspective: Divine Command Theory.



[4.1.] Divine Command Theory.


Many people of adopt the Religious Perspective think that there must be a close connection between ethics and religion. They believe that religion is the “foundation” of ethics, that ethics is necessarily based on or grounded in religion. From this point of view, there is no morality without religion.


Lurking behind this general belief about morality and religion is an assumed answer to the question of what makes an action morally right or morally wrong.:


Divine Command Theory (DCT) (df.): The view that (1) right actions are right because God has commanded them (or: because God approves of them) and (2) wrong actions are wrong because God has forbidden them (or: because God disapproves of them).[5]


DCT implies that there are objective moral truths. Unlike MCR, which is a form of moral skepticism, DCT holds that statements like “Killing an innocent person is wrong” really are true apart from people’s beliefs about morality. Suppose that DCT is true and that God has forbidden killing innocent people. If God has forbidden this, then it is objectively true that he has forbidden it, and thus (if DCT is true) it is objectively true that killing an innocent person is wrong.


So DCT is a form of moral realism: the view that there is such a thing as objective moral truth.



Stopping point for Wednesday September 17. For next time (Monday September 22), no new reading… we will continue discussing Divine Command Theory. If we have a pop quiz, it will cover only today’s lecture notes.




[1] Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship” is online here:


[2] Quoted in K. Wingfield, “Alabama chief justice removed from office,” Associated Press, 2003-11-13.


[3] Glassroth  v. Moore, M.D. Ala. 2002, URL = < >, retrieved September 16, 2014


[4] Eric Marrapodi, “Bill Nye Slams Creationism,” CNN, August 27, 2012, URL = < >, retrieved September 16, 2014.


[5] There are different varieties of Divine Command Theory; we will be considering a relatively simply and straightforward variety. Sometimes these theories are referred to, not as “Divine Command Theory,” but as theological voluntarism. For an in-depth examination of these views, see Mark Murphy, “Theological Voluntarism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = < >, retrieved September 16, 2014.

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