Divine command theory and natural law






            Majority of people deeply relate religion and morality. Historically, religious worldviews possess a moral outlook which is a part of the overall vision of purpose and place of human beings. Religious people connect religion with morality. For instance, one might argue that revelation is required in moral knowledge. The central thought in divine command theory is that what is wrong or right, bad or good, is dependent on God’s command. Divine command theory branches from moral theory.

According to the theory, something is not right because we think it is or because it appears expedient but rather, because it is commanded by God. This implies that irrespective of what we think, there is a clear distinction between the wrong and right. It is founded on the will and nature of God. How right an action is depends on God’s command. The theory is founded on two essentials, which act as the set of elementary principles.

The first essential is the theory of right conduct. It argues that actions are obligatory if and only if commanded by God, actions are forbidden if and only if commanded against by God, and actions become optional if God neither advocates nor forbids them (Berg, 1993). The badness or goodness of states of affairs, experiences, things and persons is also based on God’s will that makes some things bad and others good. The major argument of the theory is that all things are not good or bad intrinsically.

The theory of Nonmoral value argues that something is good only when if God commands it to be preserved, it is bad if only when God commands us to refrain from it and value-neutral only when God does not command us to refrain from or preserve it. In order to comprehend the divine command theory, it is worth noting that an action is wrong or right, bad or good based on God’s command. Actions such as torture, rape and killing, are wrong since God commands us against them (Adams, 1973).

The Euthyphro Dilemma

Nontheist and theist thinkers argue that divine command theory need to be rejected due to the dilemma that its name is gotten from a title in Plato’s dialogues, Euthyphro. In the dialogue, Euthyphro claims to have knowledge of what piety is. Consequently, Socrates questions him. Euthyphro consequently gives illustrations of what he thinks are pious actions. Socrates pressures Euthyphro to mention the characteristic of piety and not examples of pious actions. Euthyphro’s reply is that piety is what is loved by all Gods and impiety is what is hated. Then Socrates asks whether gods admire piety since it is pious or does the thing become pious because they love it. Socrates is enquiring the relation between love for gods and piety. The same question can be asked in regard to the relation between God’s commands and morality.

In case a theist argues morally praiseworthy deeds are morally good since God’s will them, then he is experiencing abhorrent commands, emptiness and arbitrariness problems. The arbitrariness problem is where DCT bases morality on sheer God’s whims. In case DCT is correct, then there is a connection between morality and God’s commands. According to Adams (1973), God advocates whatever is appealing to him; thereby different people have different commands. Such arbitrary commands cannot form the foundation of morality.

Disagreeing with the divine command theory should not imply that religion and God’s commands never contribute to morality. Assuming there is a God as argued by theists offers a revelation to moral guidance. Moreover, one can rely on revelation to know what is wrong or right, bad or good.

The Natural Law

Natural law is founded on natural inclination and reason. Natural inclination makes people see things as good, as an end. Lack of natural inclination implies that desirable things may not be identified. Consequently, if they are not desirable, they add no value to us. Reason enables us to comprehend how things we possess a natural inclination to need to be pursued. People do not pursue all the things they desire, but the extremely fundamental ones are satisfied.

Each natural inclination leads to a natural law precept. First, natural inclination is meant for the good; shun evil, do good. Second, a natural inclination for life preservation; means that focus on preserving life fit with natural law. For instance, live healthily and do not kill. The third natural inclination is the preservation of species for future generations.Issues that concern education and sexuality fit with the natural law. For instance, shun adultery. Fourth, the natural inclination to discover the truth, for instance do not lie and shun ignorance. Last, the inclination to reside in society, and avoid offending others, stealing, and advocating for justice (Helm, 1981).

Pope Paul VI issued a Human Life letter in 1968 which reemphasized the constant teaching of the church; it is intrinsically wrong to prevent procreation through the use of contraception. Contraception includes the pill, coitus interruptus, spermicides, condoms and sterilization. Today, only the Catholic Church stands by the historic Christian contraception position. There are several reasons why the Catholic Church is against contraception.

Contraception is an intentional violation of God’s design in the human race (natural law). Procreation is the natural law aim for sex. Quinn (1978) argues that the pleasure provided by sexual intercourse is an added blessing and is intended to present the possibility of a new life and increase the bond of respect, love, and intimacy between husbands and wives.  However, sexual pleasure in marriage that excluded the key sex aim intentionally is unlawful. The sex act is a gift from God that along with its intimacy and pleasure should not be abused by intentionally preventing the natural end. The pope claims that couples who use contraception have a higher likelihood of divorcing. The scripture, magisterium, tradition, experience and natural law all testify contraception’s moral evil.

According to Rachels, natural law theory has two grave objections. The first objection is common among libertarian circles and argues that natural rights are useless. A natural law that is against theft and murder does not protect people from thieves and murderers. Natural rights to life do not prevent assassin’s bullets and mugger’s knife blade. Furthermore, a property natural right is useless compared to sturdy locks and high walls. The second objection is that there exist nothing as the natural law and that it is a manipulation tool. Both Wilson and Rollins want to treat natural rights as descriptive facts. It is however, worth realizing that natural rights are normative facts. Natural rights concerns with how people are supposed to act and treat each other.




Adams, R. M. (1973).A modified Divine Command Theory of Ethical Wrongness. London:            Doubleday.

Berg, J. (1993).How can Morality depend on Religion? London:Blackwell.

Helm, P. (1981).Divine Commands and Morality. New York: Oxford University Press.

Quinn, P. (1978). Divine Commands and Moral Requirements.New York: Oxford University         Press.


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