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Moral Relativism (Pro) vs. Divine Command Theory (Con)

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/20/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,214 times Debate No: 67352
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This is a topic I would enjoy debating. My previous two debates over this topic ended in forfeiture by my opponent, so I ask that my opponent not forfeit in this debate. For this reason I have set it so that the contender must have a minimum of five completed debates to accept.


Moral Relativism - "[that] the truth or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to some group of persons" [1]

Divine Command Theory - "human beings require a special divine assistance in their ordinary cognitive activities [of discerning moral behavior]" [2]



First round is for acceptance.


I accept the debate! Looks like a good topic :)

I will be arguing that divine command theory is a more veridical account of morality than moral relativism (which I take to mean, considering Pro's definitions, cultural relativism).

Please state your opening argument(s).
Debate Round No. 1


Morality - "a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons" [1]

God - "a maximally great [entity] that would be omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and all good" [2]

Contention One: Hume's Is/Ought Gap

David Hume was an 18th century British enlightenment philosopher who is credited for many important ideas in philosophy, including his Is/Ought Gap. Hume writes the following:

“Reason is the discovery of truth or falshood. Truth or falshood consists in an agreement or disagreement either to the real relations of ideas, or to the real existence and matter of fact. Whatever, therefore, is not susceptible of this agreement or disagreement, is incapable of being true or false, and can never be an object of our reason. Now ‘tis evident our passions, volitions, and actions, are not susceptible of any such agreement or disagreement; being original facts and realities, compleat in themselves, and implying no reference to other passions, volitions, and actions. ‘Tis impossible, therefore, they can be pronounc’d either true or false, and be either contrary or conformable to reason.”

What Hume is saying here is that statements about observable follow an "is" form. Data is described using "is", observations are described using "is" logical axioms, etc. But when we make statements about our perceptions of morality, we follow a different form. We instead say "ought", we say that a person ought or ought not do something in a certain situation. However, we cannot observe "ought" statements. When we look at a rock to observe its color, for example, we do not say "The rock ought to be grey", we instead say "The rock is grey". This is an important distinction, because it means that rationally, as we base the vast majority of our knowledge upon observation, we cannot deduce moral axioms from observation, as non-moral facts cannot reduce to moral ones. Therefore, a fundamental gap in our knowledge exists between what we know about our world and what we believe to be moral.

This gap creates a great inability to make statements about what is moral and what is not moral, as our ability to do this is dependent on a supposed understanding of what it means for something to be moral. Where we believe to derive our definition of morality from is in fact not based at all on observation or deduction.

Contention Two: Origins of Morality

The ideas of right and wrong seem almost embedded into our heads, as if we can simply call upon them using our inuition to solve all of the problems that we need to regarding morality. But fundamentally, these chemical impulses in our brains have been coded into us by natural selection. Many of the actions that we consider to be immoral we only consider immoral because they are toxic to our own chances of survival. For example, if a species evolved that released dopamine every time they killed one of their own members, they would be rewarded for destroying their own species, and that species would quickly die out. But in surviving species, one common trend is a bad feeling about killing on of your own, leading a species that is more protective of its own survival. Thus, species that feel bad about killing their own kind survive more than species that feel good about it. Other examples appear in nature as well. One would be volunteering. As humans, we understand that volunteering is morally good. But why would we think this? How does evolution lead to pleasure in volunteering? Len Fisher describes an important situation like this:

"Migrating wildebeest have a problem. When the herd comes to a river crossing with the crocodiles waiting in anticipation, the animals that go into the water first don't have a great future. Those that come behind have a much better chance of making a safe crossing while the crocs are chewing on their bolder companions. But if none of them volunteers to go into the water first, the whole herd will be cut off from the pastures on the other side, and they will all starve. As with many human situations in which volunteers are required, the answer lies in a heavy hint. The animals that get eaten don't want to go in first. They stand on the bank looking at each other in nervous anticipation until pressure from those behind pushes them in. That's the hint." [3]

The basic idea here is that alleged principles of some higher and objective morality are really only hardwired into our brains because of biological necessity and nothing more. We only feel bad about murdering, stealing, not volunteering, and feel good about charity, helpfulness, etc. because these things are helpful to the survival of humanity and so by the principles of natural selection, we have been engineered into feeling this way about these principles.

Contention Three: The Euthryphro Dilemma

Divine Command Theory is based on a number of flawed principles about our understanding of morality. The first I will address is the Euthyphro Dilemma, which is a question about God's relation with morality, namely which is higher. Is an action morally acceptable because God says it is? Or does God say an action is morally acceptable because it satisfies some higher criteria for morality? If the former is true, then morality as a concept is meaningless for God, which undermines the premise of Divine Command Theory. If the latter is true, then it is not God that supplies goodness, but that higher and separate criteria. This also undermines the premise of Dvine Command Theory. Bertrand Russel writes:

"If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not good independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God." [4]

No matter which side you pick on the Euthyphyo dilemma, you destroy God's capability to be the master of morality, and in the process destroy Divine Command Theory.

Contention Four: God's Existence

Clearly if God did not exist in the first place, Divine Command Theory would be false be default. I will use the following short arguments against the existence of God. My opponent may address them to the magnitude they wish.

Paradox of the Stone:
If God were truly omnipotent, then God could do anything. If God could do anything, then God could create a stone that God was unable to lift. If God can create the stone he cannot lift it and isn't omnipotent. If God can't create the stone he also isn't omnipotent. As God is defined by omnipotence, God cannot exist.

Prediction Paradox:
If God were truly omniscient, then God would know what He would do in the future. If God were truly omnipotent, he could defy that knowledge and do something else. If God can't do something else, He isn't omnipotent. If He can do something else, He isn't omniscient. Therefore God cannot exist.

Over to you.




[3]Fisher, Len. "The Seven Deadly Dilemmas." Rock, Paper, Scissors, Game Theory in Everyday Life. New York: Basic, 2008. 77-78. Print.

[4]Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1957), 12.


I will make two arguments, the first will explain why the divine command theory (henceforth referred to as DCT) is a valid ethical theory and the second will refute relativism.
I will then respond to Pro's contentions.

Divine Command Theory

The basic argument to support the DCT is as follows:

Premise 1: God exists
Premise 2: Morality exists
Premise 3: God created everything that currently exists
Conclusion: God created morality

Taking this conclusion that God created morality, then He has ultimate moral authority. It is then not unreasonable to conclude that morality comes from God and to do good is to adhere to His commands.

Now to verify the premises:

God exists because every thing and every event in the universe has contingent existence, meaning that it depends on something else for its existence. If everything in the universe is contingent then the universe is contingent, because the universe is by definition simply every physical thing as a whole, and lots of contingent things do not make a non-contingent thing simply by being compiled together. As the universe is contingent it depends on something else for its existence, this thing must be outside the universe and non-contingent (in order to avoid infinite recurrence). This is God.

Morality exists because both intuition and reason agree that there is a certain way we ought to live.
If morality did not exist then both relativism and DCT would be refuted, thus ending the debate in a tie. Pro must therefore agree that morality exists in order to have any chance at winning the debate.

God created everything that exists due to the logic employed when verifying the first premise.

Now I have affirmed the veracity of all three premises, the conclusion deductively follows.
If God created morality then DCT is by far a more veridical account of morality than relativism, for God has a much greater understanding of morality than society does.

Refutation of Relativism

Relativism is the belief that:

X is good = X is socially acceptable
(where X is a particular action)

Yet this (which I will refer to as the relativistic equation) contravenes Hume's Law. It takes a descriptive statement (that X is socially acceptable) and makes it into a prescriptive statement (that we ought to do X). This leap is logically unjustified. (1)

It is also refuted of the open-question argument (2), the relativistic equation logically entails that 'whatever is socially acceptable is necessarily good' is true. Yet it is not vacuous to assert its falsity. Indeed, it is almost certainly false. For example, slavery was socially acceptable in the 18th century but this did not make slavery good. It also makes the statement 'what is socially acceptable is good' tautological if the relativistic equation is correct.

Another counter-intuitive implication of relativism would be that it is impossible to disagree with social standards. Bizarrely, if relativism was correct then Nelson Mandela would have acted immorally by standing against the social norm of apartheid.

Therefore, relativism is an innately flawed ethical theory, and even if DCT is refuted this does not make relativism any better, which is Pro's BoP.

Responses to Pro's Contentions

Pro's use of the is/ought gap does not necessarily refute DCT because DCT is based on hypothetical imperatives. What this means is that DCT does not simply say:

'We ought to do X because God wishes X'

The qualified version of DCT recognises that all men rationally desire heaven, or eudaimonia. Therefore our morality is formed by the following:

'If we desire heaven, then we ought to do X if God wishes X'

This is a hypothetical imperative; it provides a reason WHY we ought to do as God wishes. This avoids Hume's Law as it does not assert an unqualified 'ought'.

Pro's second contention is that morality is evolutionary based (supporting the worldview of evolutionary ethics).
However, in the context of this debate I am unsure why Pro is advocating evolutionary ethics because the debate is about moral relativism and DCT, bringing another ethical theory is outside the scope of this debate.
Anyhow, I will refute evolutionary ethics in order to prevent it being misconstrued as a contention to DCT.

Firstly, it commits the naturalistic fallacy as it defines what is good by what is evolutionary beneficial. Just because some of our ethical maxims coincide with that which is evolutionary beneficial, does not mean that they are one and the same.

Secondly, not all of our morality can be accounted for by evolutionary benefit. For example, many believe that homosexual marriage and relations ought not to be banned, despite the allowance of it not actually having any evolutionary benefit.

Now I will respond to the Euthyphro dilemma.

The dilemma is based on the misconception that all moral truths are identically sourced. Instead, there are two types of moral truths:

Necessary moral truths: These moral truths are always good/bad regardless of any moral authority or the structure of the universe. For example, unnecessary cruelty is necessarily bad. God could not command it to be otherwise in the same way that he could not create a square circle. Some moral goods are necessarily good in a similar way that circles are necessarily circular. Therefore God is not limited by some external 'good' as some things are good/bad in their own essence. There is no higher or separate criteria.

Contingent moral truths: The moral status of these truths are contingent on the structure of the universe. And so God defines contingent moral truths inasmuch as he defines the structure of the universe. For example, throwing someone on a fire is morally bad because the universe was created in such a way that humans are flammable. We can conceive of a universe where fire does not harm humans. Therefore the immorality of the act of throwing someone on a fire is a contingent moral truth.

To conclude, both prongs of the euthyphro dilemma are avoided by differentiating between kinds of moral truths. God defines contingent moral truths by the way He designs the universe, not simply on a whim.
God is subject to moral truths that are necessary, but this does not infringe on His authority in the same way that His inability to create a square circle does not.

Finally, I will respond to your attempts to disprove God's existence.

The paradox of the stone is based on a misunderstanding of God's omnipotence. God's omnipotence is that he can do anything that His nature allows. His nature does not allow Him to create a stone that he cannot lift because 'a stone that God cannot lift' is as nonsensical as saying 'a square circle'.

Furthermore, the concept of an unliftable stone is nonsensical. Lifting is another way of saying 'moving up', so the paradox becomes 'can God create a stone that he cannot move up?'. The only way a stone could not be moved up if there was no space in which to be moved up into, but that would imply that the stone is large enough to encompass all of space. Yet if this stone exists it would encompass the earth as well. Empirically, such a stone cannot exist because the earth is not all stone.
To summarise, a stone that cannot be lifted cannot exist, so the paradox is sophistry.

The prediction paradox does not infringe on God's omnipotence because he imposes his own limits by virtue of his omniscience, as opposed to an external limiting factor. You are also making the mistake of comprehending God's existence in a temporal sense, as if God is a being inside space-time. Instead, God is a transcendent being; that which is outside time and space. If He is outside time then the concept of prediction is invalid, so the paradox fails.

Debate Round No. 2


I will begin by rebutting my opponent's arguments, then defend and build upon my own.

I begin by attacking my opponent's basic argument for DCT.

Rebuttal of Premise One:

I would like to note that although my fourth contention already addresses this, I will be defending that later on, so I shall only attack my opponent's argument for this premise at the moment. The first premise is that everything and every event in the universe is contingent, or dependent upon something else for its existence. The term dependent is vague, so the definition I will use for A being dependent on B is that "If B did not exist, it would entail that A did not exist." One might draw the conclusion that ultimately everything in the universe is dependent on the Big Bang. However, my opponent then commits a Parts-Whole fallacy, drawing the conclusion that because the parts of an entity have certain properties, that the whole must as well. For example, the Bank of New Zealand. All of it's call centers were built in the last 100 years, all of its employess are less than 100 years old, it's main building is composed of parts put together in the last 100 years, etc. But we cannot then conclude that the Bank of New Zealand is less than 100 years old, because it was actually founded in 1862.

Likewise, the next premise states that the universe, being contingent, must necessarily rely on something else as its cause, something outside of the universe. My opponent then makes an unfounded leap that this entity must be God. However, my opponent did not justify their leap from "outside the universe and non-contingent" to "an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent entity". Indeed, many other causes are much more justifiable, including an infinite chain of eternally oscillating universes that loops back into itself [1], which conveniently solves the problem of infinite recursion as well.

Rebuttal of Premise Two:

The problem with my opponent's justification for the existence of morality here is that it is unfounded. Intuition is hardly accepted as a source for reliable information about reality, for example. Additionally, my opponent states that reason leads to the acceptance of morality but does not justify this. They then demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding about what Moral Relativism states. MR does not state that any standard for morality exists. I have provided definitions with credible sources for morality and for MR. One can see from these two definitions that if a truly objective standard existed for morality, then it couldn't be relative to groups of people.

The statements "Morality exists" and "MR is true" are irreconcilable.


My opponent provides a definition of MR that is fundamentally wrong. I have previously shown that MR entails morality not existing, therefore by definition MR does not stipulate that moral goodness follows from being socially acceptable. MR truly only states that morality is relative to groups of persons, and therefore does not follow an objective standard.

Thus, it can be shown that MR does not in fact violate Hume's Is/Ought Gap, because MR is the position that one cannot make perscriptive statements. This is the reason that I employ the gap in my first contention.

My opponent's following arguments in their refutation of MR only apply if one accepts their flawed definition. MR does not stipulate that socially accepted ideas are good. MR stipulates that there is no such thing as goodness.

Defense of First Contention:

My opponent claims that Hume's Is/Ought Gap does not apply to DCT because God uses heaven to entice men into behaving by moral tenets. However, the problem with this is that enticement is not morality. This also applies again to Hume's gap because the statement "If you behave this way, you will get into heaven" does not translate into "You ought to behave this way." That only works if you redefine morality to mean "The set of actions God wishes you to do." However, this is not the definition of morality.

Additionally, this does not explain why atheists, or even members of religious faiths that do not believe in heaven, such as Judaism, would ever behave in ways that appear to be considered moral. If heaven does not exist in their worldview, what is enticing them to be moral?

Defense of Second Contention:

My opponent's main argument against my second contention involves once again misinterpreting MR. I do not claim here that morality is based on evolution. I claim that our perceptions of morality are derived from evolution. Evolutionary ethics, which claims that morality is evolution-based, is merely a subset of objective morality, which as I stated before is not what I am arguing for. Rather, I am attempting to head off arguments about intuition by demonstrating that our feelings about morality are derived from our natural origins and nothing more.

And although at first glance homosexual marriage may seem to not be beneficial to the survival of the species, this marriage actually allows couples to raise adopted children more easily, allowing those children to have a greater chance of surviving and passing on their genes. But even though there may be some examples that do not derive from evolution, that doesn't mean our moral perceptions don't originate there. Evolution can't produce perfect results.

Defense of Third Contention:

The problem with the idea of "necessary moral truths" is that it leads to the formation of tautologies, which serves not to prove the existence of moral standards but simply identify logical loops. A truth is necessarily moral why? Because it meets the criteria for being a necessarily moral truth. What is the criteria? Avoiding being unnecessarily cruel
. What does "unnecessary cruelty" mean? The opposite of necessary morality. Therefore, a truth is necessarily moral because it is necessarily moral. It is a tautology. It does not actually make a division between any two types of actions.

As for "contingent moral truths", these are in reality the only true tenets of morality that aren't tautological.

In addition, how does the differentiation of these two pass the Euthyphro dilemma? Are necessary moral truths necessary because God says so, or are they necessary because they conform to a standard outside of God? Either way, the dilemma still stands.

Defense of Fourth Contention:

The problem with defining omnipotence as the ability of an entity to what is in that entity's nature is that by that definition, literally everything is omnipotent. For example, I can do anything that it is in my nature as a mortal human to do. Does that make me omnipotent? Of course not. What omnipotence does is establishes the realm of actions it is possible for God to undertake. The paradox of the stone proves that this realm of capability is not logically coherent. Changing this realm to "whatever it is in his nature to do" is saying "God can do whatever God can do". It is tautological.

My opponent then claims that a stone could only not be moved up if there were no space to move it up into. This is not true. If one is unable to supply the necessary force to list the stone, then one would be unable to lift it. The paradox of the stone merely asks if God can create a stone with such a mass that he would be unable to supply the necessary force to lift the stone. If he can supply the force, then he cannot create the rock. If he cannot supply the force, then he cannot lift the rock. Either way, he is no longer omnipotent.

Over to you.

[1] Pre-big-bang in string cosmology, Astroparticle Physics, Volume 1, Issue 3, Pages 317-339, M. Gasperini, G. Veneziano


The parts-whole fallacy largely only applies to quantitative properties such as size, age or currency. This is why your example of the fallacy seems absurd, because you are using the quantitative property of age. Contingency, on the other hand, is not quantitative and so the fallacy cannot be seen to be a clear refutation of the concept of a contingent universe.

Something can either be necessary or contingent, Pro asserts the former. But when we assert the necessary existence of a finite thing it would be absurd and contradictory to suggest that it could not have existed. Yet it is not absurd or contradictory to assert that the universe could not have existed so this implies that the universe does not have necessary existence. As necessity and contingency are dichotomous, the universe is therefore contingent.

I take issue with Pro's point that my leap from 'outside the universe and non-contingent' to the God of classical theism. I will justify my 'leap'.

God's properties are omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence. Admittedly this argument cannot prove the latter but all I need to do is assert that an omnipotent and omniscient being exists before I can go on to assert His benevolence (although this is a largely existential conclusion).

The fact that God is outside the universe results in His omnipotence because a lack of omnipotence suggests a limiting factor. For example my power to jump up a tree is limited by the force of gravity. If this limiting factor (among a few others) was not present I would be able to jump up a tree. As God is transcendental (outside space-time) there can be no limiting factor to His power aside from logical contradictions; therefore he is omnipotent.

I also struggle to see how Pro thinks that an infinite chain of oscillating universes is more justifiable than God, besides, the contingency argument can be extended to ask why the chain of universes has necessary existence. That too could have its contingent existence asserted.

In his next rebuttal, Pro misunderstands what MR is. Agreed, it does not state that an objective standard of morality exists, but it still holds that subjective morality exists. MR asserts that a moral truth is true or false relative to the society (1), it does not deny that there are no such thing as a moral truth exists, only that its exists objectively.
Pro is confusing moral relativism with moral nihilism (2), which is the theory that does refute the existence of both objective and subjective moral truths.
Nonetheless, this does not escape the conclusion that premise 2 is false, for if morality is subjective then God cannot be said to have defined it. However, so long as we prove that God exists (which I argue in premise 1) then an objective morality can be said to exist. For if God cares how we ought to live (which I believe He would) then He would set objective moral rules for us to live by. Indeed, the only respected refutation of objective morality is that God does not exist, but if He does exist as a creator of the universe (as I have argued) then it is intuitive that He would create an objective morality.

'The statements "Morality exists" and "MR is true" are irreconcilable.'

This statement by Pro is therefore false, as he confuses moral relativism with moral nihilism. MR does not deny that morality exists, it only denies that it is objective.

Pro points out that the enticement to adhere to God's commands does not translate to morality. I agree, the concept of enticement answers the question of WHY we ought to act according to God's will, I do not maintain that the enticement of eschatological reward grants God's commands moral weight (for His commands have moral weight due to how He created the universe), but if God commands X then it is not unreasonable to say that we ought to do X.

To support this, I would argue that the Is/ought gap as a principle is self-refuting. Hume claims that non-emotivist morality cannot exist because the is/ought gap shows prescriptive statements to be rationally unjustified, but by saying this Hume subtlety states that we ought to epistemically value rational justification. According to his own theory, such a prescriptive statement is unjustified.
Therefore the is/ought gap collapses when subject to its own logic. Admittedly, I did employ Hume's Law to refute MR in round 2 but that was not the only way that I refuted MR; the other refutations stand.

In response to your point about atheist motivation to act morally, perhaps it is empathy, self-preservation or duty. I cannot answer for them as I do not deny that an afterlife exists. Note that I do not say that heaven is the only enticement to be moral, but it is one such enticement.

Pro claims that our perceptions of morality are derived from evolution, and is keen to highlight that he does not advocate evolutionary ethics. However, this only provides a possible source of our sense of morality, Pro does not present any evidence to prove that our sense of morality DOES come from evolution. I would argue that the evidence of moral values that contradict evolution inductively disprove that evolution is the source of moral perceptions.
I agree that, if God did not exist, it is possible that our moral perceptions come from evolution, but there is no actual evidence to say that it actually does.
As of yet, Pro is engaging in idle speculation about the source of our moral perceptions; it is merely a hypothesis and so does not help him meet his BoP.

I will now defend the concept of necessary moral truths.
Pro commits the naturalistic fallacy by attempting to define what is good in terms other than itself. In reality, 'good' is a semantic prime (3) meaning that it is concept that cannot be defined in other terms. Semantic primes cannot form tautologies due to their indefinable essence.
I argue that necessary moral truths are necessary due to their own essence; not some external deliberator. For example, needless cruelty is bad in a similar sense that a triangle has three sides. There is no tautology in saying that a triangle has three sides because having three sides is part of the essence of a triangle. Hence a necessarily good act is good because its goodness is part of its own essence.

'Are necessary moral truths necessary because God says so, or are they necessary because they conform to a standard outside of God?'

They are necessary irrespective of God's commands; He could not change their moral essence in the same way that He could not make a circle square. They are also not necessary because they conform to an external standard because their necessity comes from their essence, which is by definition not some external standard.
The two prongs of the dilemma are avoided.

Pro misunderstands my rebuttal of his initial contention, as I do not attempt to define omnipotence in a broad sense, I only define what is theologically meant by God's omnipotence. Therefore you cannot apply the definition to humanity to suggest that humans are omnipotent because that would not then be God's omnipotence.
All I am saying is that God is omnipotent insofar as His actions are not contradictory to His nature. This means that His omnipotence is not limited by His inability to create or do contradictory things.
It is not tautological because I do not assert that "God can do whatever God can do"; I assert that "God can do whatever is not contradictory to His nature'.

A stone that God could not supply the force to lift is impossible. God could provide an infinite force due to His omnipotence, but according to Newton's 2nd Law, a rock that God could not lift would have to have infinite mass. The universe has finite mass so such a rock would be impossible. This does not limit His omnipotence.

Debate Round No. 3


I would like to thank my opponent for their clearly well thought out arguments.

The Parts-Whole Fallacy

My opponent states that the parts-whole fallacy does not apply to qualitative properties, merely quantitative ones. However, this is not true. I will illustrate this with two examples:

I am not able to drive the chassis of a car to work. I am not able to drive the steering wheel of a car to work. I am not able to drive the seat of a car to work. I am not able to drive the gas pedal of a car to work, etc. Being able to drive something to work is not a quantitative property, so therefore I should not be able to drive a car to work.

Carl likes pickles. Carl likes tea. Liking tea is not a quantitative property. Therefore, Carl likes pickles in his tea.

Contingency of the Universe

My opponent claims that the universe is contingent because it cannot be necessary, and therefore must be contingent, as contingency is the only other option. However, this ignores serendipity. If an event happens purely by chance and not due to necessity or dependence on another event, then it is due to chance. For example, physics embraces the possiblity of alternate realities as mathematically consistent. [1] This means that whichever reality we are in may be a chance event. Which identifies a third possibility aside from contingency and necessity.

However, even if I concede that the universe is contingent, this does not entail the existence of God. My opponent discusses the meaning of the omnipotence of God but fails to demonstrate how non-contingency and transcendency entail omnipotence. Further, they fail to demonstrate how omnipotence entails God. God is defined by other properties as well, and even if I concede the rest of my opponent's argument they still fail to demonstrate why this entity couldn't simply be an omnipotent entity that is not omniscient or omnibenevolent.

Additionally, the mere existence of logically consistent alternate explanations proves that God is not proven. The chain of universes is not itself an object to have consistency, but rather that each individual object in the chain is contingent on another until it loops back onto itself. My opponent calls this absurd but does not explain why it is absurd. As I mentioned before, it is a logically consistent model.

Moral Relativism vs. Moral Nihilism

My opponent points out that MR does not directly stipulate that morality does not exist, as this is a belief of MN. However, I would argue that MN is merely a subset of MR. This is because the definition of morality as I provided points not a set of rules relative to different societies but to all societies, an objective standard that would always be put forward by rational thinkers. In what sense is this not an objective standard of morality? Given this, we can conclude that "subjective morality" is an incoherent concept. Therefore, MR entails MN. Even if there were subsets of MR that did not stipulate MN, that does not mean that I cannot argue for MN. Being a subset of MR, MN would necessarily prove MR if it was proven. Thus I am capable of arguing for MN to support MR.

God and Objective Morality

My opponent rests their case for objective moral standards on the existence of God, which I have already cast into doubt. However, even if we accept the existence of God, how does objective morality follow? My opponent says that "f God cares how we ought to live (which I believe He would) then He would set objective moral rules for us to live by." However, this contradicts another statement later in my opponent's arguments: "necessary moral truths are necessary due to their own essence; not some external deliberator." This is an internal contradiction.

Hume's Is/Ought Gap

My opponent claims that the gap is self-refuting because it implies moral obligation, a type of knowledge which it rejects. However, my opponent does not justify this, except by claiming that Hume claims we ought to value rational justification. The problem with this is that it merely tends toward Hume's goal of explaining the tru state of reality. If his goal is arbitrary because there is no moral reason to do so, then so be it. Hume may do this because it makes him happy, which, as I have explained before, derives from our evolution and is merely a property of being human.

Evolutionary Origins of Morality

My opponent's main argument against my contention that morality is derived from evolution is that it is merely a hypothesis. My opponent says that moral values that contradict evolution are evidence that evolution is not the origins of morality, but my opponent does not provide any such evidence. Additionally, the evolutionary origins of morality are far more than "idle speculation". Not only did I provide several examples of how evolutionary pressures lead to the development of moral faculties, but the field of evolutionary game theory is strong in mathematics and has conducted several experiments and simulations validating that natural selection and time tend to favor species that develop a sense of morality. Len Fisher writes:

"In this case the Tit for Tat strategy seemed to work quite well to initiate and maintain cooperation, but its main value has been to help us think about the problem from a new perspective. It has especially been taken up by evolutionary biologists, who have always been puzzled as to how cooperation could have evolved in the face of 'survival of the fittest'. The have discovered an answer in Tit for Tat, which does not have to mean retaliation and counterretaliation, with the strongest eventually coming out on top. It can also mean 'you scratch mu back and I'll scratch yours', with evolution favoring those who are most adept at promoting and maintaining cooperation. The ability to cooperate with other members of a group, it seems, has often been a key to survival. In the case of the human race, anthropologists now believe that it has been a major factor, with small cooperative social groups better able to adapt and survive than isolated individuals or groups rent by social schism." [2]

As can be seen here, evolutionary origins for morality are far from a mere hypothesis and have been supported time and time again by biologists, game theorists, and social scientists alike.

Necessary Moral Truths

My opponent claims that because morality cannot be defined in terms of anything else, that it must therefore be incapable of forming tautologies. This is false. What this actually entails is that morality can only form tautologies because it can only be defined by itself. That is the very definition of a tautology. In addition, my opponent first claims that morality cannot be defined by anything else. They then say that unnecessary cruelty is immoral in the same way that a triangle has three sides. The problem here is that triangles do not always have three sides because of some fundamental property of nature, but simply because they are defined that way. Therefore, if my opponent means that unnecessary cruelty is immoral in the same way that triangles have three sides, then they are defining morality in terms of something else, which contradicts their earlier statement.

Additionally, my opponent has not avoided the prongs of the dilemma, but simply dove into one of them. As Russel said:

"you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God."

My opponent has conceded this, which undermines the fundamental premise of DCT, which is that morality comes from God only and nothing else.

I have more to say but I have closed in on the character limit. Arguments on omnipotence will be posted next round.



[2]Fisher, Len. "The Seven Deadly Dilemmas." Rock, Paper, Scissors, Game Theory in Everyday Life. New York: Basic, 2008. 165. Print.


This is a great debate, it's rare to get such complex and sophisticated discussion :)

Parts-Whole Fallacy

In hindsight, I admit that the distinction between qualitative and quantitative does not avoid the fallacy, but it is still not the case that the contingency of the universe commits the fallacy.
The reason I say this is that, whilst some properties may not be transferable from part to whole (as in your example of the car), not all properties fail the transfer. For example, if a house is entirely made out of yellow bricks then the house will be yellow.
Inferring the contingency of the universe is more similar to inferring the colour of the house from its component bricks than the false-inference that one will not be able to drive a car because its components are not drivable.
This is because contingency is a property that is essentially unchanged by multiplication; adding five contingent objects together will not change the contingency of the whole by a single bit, just like stacking five yellow bricks does not make the stack any other colour. However, adding five components of a car together does increase its drivability slightly, it does not suddenly become drivable when the last bolt is hammered in.


Pro makes a valid point that the universe could be a serendipity, however, this circumstance is so unlikely considering the hugely precise fine-tuning of the universe that it can realistically rejected as infinitesimally improbable. The maximum deviation of cosmological constants a life-supporting universe could have is 1 in 10120 (1).
Then my opponent claims that I do not demonstrate how God's omnipotence is entailed from transcendency. However, I do exactly that in line 13 of round 3.
To reiterate, a lack of omnipotence can only be caused by a physical limitation. A transcendent being is not subject to physical limitation so a transcendent being must be omnipotent.
Perhaps I was at fault for not explaining why his omniscience is necessary in round 3, admittedly the character limit was restricting. Either way, I will explain now.
If God created the universe, then he will know everything there is to know about his creation. To illustrate, a painter knows everything about his painting by virtue of the fact that he painted it.
In regards to omnibenevolence, my argument does not prove that God is omnibenevolent but it infers it. For why else would God create a universe so fine-tuned to human life if he did not love us?
But then again, if we prove that an omnipotent, omniscient being exists then it is rational to ascribe the title 'God' to such a being, even if we cannot prove its omnibenevolence.

The explanation of the theory of infinitely-oscillating universes could potentially be correct, and I therefore accept that the possibility (however small) means that God is not deductively proven. However, my argument only inductively proves God, which is to say that it presents God as the most feasible explanation for the existence of the universe.
The postulation of 'plurality beyond necessity' contravenes Occam's Razor (2), as an infinite chain of universes is a much more complex explanation than the existence of God (which is actually quite a simple concept [3]).

MR vs MN

My opponent states that his definition of morality is a set of rules relative to all societies and is 'an objective standard'. However, his definition of morality is out of context as we are considering morality in a descriptive, not normative sense (as we are discussing what morality is). Therefore, the proper definition of morality is:

'Some codes of conduct put forward by a society, some other group such as a religion, or accepted by an individual for his/her own behaviour' (4)

This correct definition of morality does not render subjective morality incoherent, and so moral relativism can cogently argue for an existing subjective morality. Besides, my opponent commits the 'appeal to dictionary' fallacy by using a single (in this case uncontextual) definition of morality to base his whole argument that subjective morality is incoherent. Moral nihilism is a separate metaethical theory altogether and so Pro does not help his argument by advocating moral nihilism.

God's objective morality

Perhaps I should have stated it clearer, but I assert that necessary moral truths are objectively true due to their essence, and so God did not make them so. However, he did make contingent moral truths by virtue of the fact that he created the universe.
So when I say that God created an objective morality, I refer to contingent, not necessary moral truths.
These 'objective moral rules for us to live by' are founded upon God's omniscience of the structure of the universe; he knows how the universe functions so he therefore knows what is contingently wrong or right. A benevolent God would inform humanity of these contingent moral truths (and necessary moral truths, for that matter) and thus dictate objective morality.

Is/ought gap refuted

Pro opines that I do not justify why Hume's Law is self-refuting. However, I did justify my reasoning in round 3 so my opponent must have misunderstood. Let me reiterate:
The is/ought gap concludes that 'ought' statements should be rejected because they are rationally unjustifiable. But the reason why Hume thinks we should reject ought statements is based on the statement that we ought to value rational elucidation. But this is an ought statement in itself, and according to Hume is therefore meaningless. As the is/ought gap is based on an 'ought' statement, it is refuted by its own logic.


I maintain that evolutionary basis for morality is still a hypothesis, as there is no proof beyond correlative observations. Correlation does not mean causation.
However, I do not deny that evolution could have lead us to accumulate moral faculties, that is, our ability to rationally consider morality. However, there is no consequent conclusion that morality does not exist. I argue that morality is external to humanity, although evolution may well have played a key part in actually developing our cognitive ability to recognise and comprehend morality.

To conclude, to say that our moral faculties were developed evolutionarily is not to say that morality does not exist (as the moral nihilist maintains).

Necessary Moral Truths

My opponent states that necessary moral truths form tautologies because they are defined in terms of themselves. However, even if they form tautologies this does not remove the veracity of the statement. A tautology is that which is using unnecessary words to say the same thing; it is not necessarily a false statement. An example of a tautology would be 'In my opinion, I think he is wrong.' (5) This is not made false by its tautological nature. Therefore even if my opponent does prove that necessary moral truths are tautological does not mean that they they are false or non-existent.

Whilst I do concede that necessary moral truths are not ascribed their moral worth by God, DCT can still be maintained if I assert that the vast majority of moral truths (contingent ones) come from God. The theory remains intact even if not every single moral truth comes from God; so long as morality in general does so.

Debate Round No. 4


I agree with my opponent, this debate is a refreshing change of pace.

Parts-Whole Fallacy

While my opponent is correct that some properties do transfer from part to whole, having this property is something that must be demonstrated, and is not fiat. My opponent has not demonstrated why contingency makes this transferral.

Additionally, my opponent's example of color as a transferrable property is flawed. Adding white sodium powder to white-colored water does not produce a white fire. It produces a red fire.

The fallacy's undermining of the transition between contingency of parts of the universe and contingency of the universe still stands.


While it is true that the odds of serendipity producing a universe as we know it are remote, there is no reason to believe that alternate conditions would not produce alternate universes. While these universes would be different from our own, they would still be universes.

My opponent states that "a lack of omnipotence can only be caused by a physical limitation". This is incorrecct. It could also be caused by a nonphysical limitation, such as a logical one (see arguments on omnipotence). Therefore transcendency does not entail omnipotence. But even if it did, that would not entail omniscience either. This being would not necessarily know everything about his creation, as there are elements of chance in the universe. If I make a set of dice, that does not mean I know what every roll will be. But even if this being did know everything about the universe, that wouldn't entail omniscience either, because the universe wouldn't be the only thing to exist, demonstrated by the fact that this entity is transcendent. Therefore, there exists the possibility of things beyond the universe. Therefore, omniscience is not entailed.

My opponent then invokes Divine Simplicity. The problem with this is that complexity is a subjective concept. We cannot really define what "complexity" means except in intuitive terms.

MR vs MN

My opponent misinterprets my reiteration of my definition. I was merely summarizing the part I was trying to emphasize. The definition I actually gave was:

"a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons"

I then concluded that as any code put forward by all rational persons would have to objective, subjective morality was incoherent. If we accept my opponent's definition, then my opponent faces a problem, however. As any code of conduct put forward by any person fits their definition of morality, the various codes of conduct can have wildly different tenets. Therefore, if we accept my opponent's definition, MR is proven to be correct by definition alone. If, however, we accept my definition, then MN follows from MR, and my arguments in favor of MN allow me to win. I will allow my opponent to choose among the two definitions.

God's Objective Morality

My opponent themself admits that there are some moral truths that exist such that "God did not make them so". I have already pointed out that this does not avoid the prongs of the Euthyphro dilemma, but embraces one of them. Again, Russel points this out himself.

"you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God."

The problem with accepting this concept, however, is that the definition of DCT is that all morals are created by God, and therefore no moral truths can exist such that God did not make them so. Again, this undermines the basic premise of DCT.

Is/Ought Gap Upheld

I did not say that my opponent did not justify his refutation of Hume's Law, I merely pointed out that it was based on the unfounded assumption that Hume is advocating that we ought to value rationality. But Hume never states this. Hume may simply be acting arbitrarily, or he may find happiness in seeking knowledge that is correct and therefore desire to do this.

But to assume that he is making an ought statement himself when he never does such a thing is completely unfounded.

Hume's Is/Ought Gap remains standing.


I concede that this a moot point.

Necessary Moral Truths

When I point out that so-called "necessary moral truths" are tautological, it is not because I believe that being tautological means being false (because that is not true), but rather because tautological statements are not actually statements. When you say "If X, then X", this does not actually perscribe any special meaning to X, or mean that X has some magic property of morality. It just means that X is X. Likewise, defining immoral actions in terms of unnecessary cruelty is defining a thing in terms of itself. It does not make a statement. It does not have any special properties. It is a tautology.

Divine Command Theory does not stipulate that some moral truths do not come from God, it stipulates that ALL moral truths come from God. Therefore some not coming from God violates the premise of the concept.

Arguments on Omnipotence

The problem with defining things with two definitions for two different things is that it completely ignores the purpose of a definition. When we define a concept, all we are doing is linking a word with an idea. We are saying "When I say this word, I am referring to this idea." So two create two different definitions defeats the purpose entirely. We want ONE definition of omnipotence that applies to all instances.

When you define God's omnipotence as the ability to do whatever is in his nature, you are just making a tautology. God's nature mean whatever it is that God does. Therefore, when you define God's omnipotence as the ability to do whatever is in His nature, you are saying "God can do whatever God does." This is not an actual statement about God's abilities.

One other definition commonly used to subvert the Paradox of the Stone is that omnipotence means "the capability to do whatever is logically possible." The problem with this definition is that it doesn't actually avoid the paradox. A logically possible action is an action that can be undertaken without any internal contradictions. It is logically possible to create a rock from smaller rocks. It is logically possible to lift a rock. Therefore, these are things that God can do. So, can God create a rock that He cannot lift? The paradox is still there.

In Summation

MR is correct because:

1) It is correct by the definition of morality.
2) Hume's Is/Ought Gap proves we cannot have moral knowledge.

DCT is incorrect because:

1) It is incorrect by the definition of morality.
2) The Euthyphro Dilemma undermines at least one of its tenets.

With that, I will hand it over to my opponent to make the final argument.

This has been an enjoyable debate, and I hope to have more like it in the future.



Pro states that I have not demonstrated why contingency survives the fallacy, however, I state that discrete properties (such as colour) are not fallaciously transferred from part to whole whereas continuous properties are. By continuous I mean that addition of many objects with property X increases that property, and by discrete I mean that addition of the property does not change that property at all. As addition of contingent objects does not change their contingency as a whole, contingency is a discrete property and so is not guilty of the parts-whole fallacy.

'Adding white sodium powder to white-colored water does not produce a white fire. It produces a red fire.'

But in this case, all the constituent parts are changed by addition (by chemical reaction) so they are no longer the same parts as they were before they were added. In contrast, when one adds multiple yellow bricks together their colour is not changed because the constituent parts (the individual bricks) are not changed by the act of addition. Relating this to contingency, the individual contingent parts are not changed in essence by virtue of addition.


Whilst different conditions could produce alternate universes, the likelihood that the universe would support complex life is extremely tiny. As Professor Stephen Hawking put it:

"The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers... the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life." (1)

My opponent states that there could be a non-physical limitation such as a logical limitation, but I have already stated that omnipotence need not encompass logical limitations, so my point stands.

I maintain that transcendency entails omniscience despite the existence of chance, because the only limit to knowledge of chance happenings is that they have not yet come to pass in a temporal sense, yet by definition God is outside time and so would not be subject to this barrier of knowledge.
I agree that there is a possibility of other external beings outside the universe, but as they are lesser than God then God would have created them, so he would know everything about them in that way.

I disagree that complexity is a subjective concept, it is a relative concept relative to things of other complexity. We have a wide ranged of objects with varying complexity, so we can assert a level of complexity to something relative to the complexity of other things.

MR vs MN

My opponent postulates that morality is a code that would be put forward by all rational persons, and thus morality can only be objective since reason is objective. However, there are rational people who passionately disagree on innately moral issues such as the death penalty or euthanasia, this would suggest that morality CAN still be subjective as well as objective (although I argue that the latter is preferable).

Even if my opponent accepts his definition of morality, this definition is not the definition that is propagated by moral relativism. The moral relativist asserts that:

'Moral relativism is the view that ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based' (2)
'Moral nihilism is distinct from moral relativism' (3)

It is clear to see that moral relativism asserts the existence of subjective morality, so my opponent is shooting himself in the foot by stating that subjective morality is incoherent.

God's objective morality

Even if we accept that some moral truths are not created by God, and if this does indeed embrace one prong of the dilemma, it does not damage the innate connection between morality and religion. The only possible damage that this prong of the dilemma causes is that it insinuates some exterior moral authority, but if we assert that the moral worth of necessary moral truths is essential, then this consequence is avoided.

The existence of necessary moral truths may undermine strong DCT (that all moral truths are created by God), but I personally advocate weak DCT (4), which is the view that moral obligation is derived from God's commands, irrespective of whether the moral worth of moral truths is created by God. In this way, God's omniscient nature would put him in a place of moral authority by virtue of the fact that he knows what is necessarily right and wrong. Therefore DCT (albeit in its weak form) survives.

Hume's Law

If Hume does not assert that we ought to value rationality, then he is not saying that we should disregard prescriptive statements (which is what people interpret Hume's Law to be saying).

If this is the case, then Hume is not claiming that prescriptive statements are unfounded so we can continue to uphold moral realism.

If the is/ought gap is arbitrary then its ability to pragmatically disregard ethical theories is a matter of semantics. The simple truth is that people derive moral truths from descriptive facts and have no problem doing so; whether the manner of this derivation is from intuition or from some as-of-yet undiscovered logical process is irrelevant so long as we currently do so effectively.

Necessary Moral Truths

Even if saying the likes of 'unnecessary cruelty is immoral' is tautological, the whole point is that necessary moral truths are fundamentally and intuitionally known to all rational humans, the reason that blankly stating the morality of a necessary moral truth is tautological is because it does not need saying. Just like we do not need to say that a triangle has three sides because the concept of three sides comes with the concept of a triangle. In this way, the concept of immorality comes with the concept of unnecessary cruelty.

'Divine Command Theory does not stipulate that some moral truths do not come from God, it stipulates that ALL moral truths come from God.'

This is only the case for strong DCT, which I do not necessarily advocate. Personally I am an advocate of weak DCT.


'We want ONE definition of omnipotence that applies to all instances.'

Alright then, I define omnipotence as:

'The ability to do anything that is logically possible to do'

This does not infringe on the concept of a theistic God, and escapes the problems posed by omnipotence paradoxes.

My opponent goes on to say that my above definition of omnipotence does not actually subvert the paradox of the stone.
However, my opponent does not seem to understand that a stone that an omnipotent being could not lift would be logically impossible. As I stated in round 4, God could provide an infinite force in a particular direction (up, in this case), and so if this rock was to not accelerate up then the rock would have to have infinite mass. As the universe has finite mass, it is logically impossible to have a rock with infinite mass within the universe.


DCT is correct because

1) God exists
2) A creator God would create an objective, not relativist, morality.

MR is incorrect because

1) It is refuted by G E Moore's Open-question argument
2) It is counter-intuitive as an ethical theory

Ultimately, my opponent spends too much time concerned with attacking DCT, and has not actually made much of a valid case to assert the veracity of MR.

Well, this has been a very interesting debate of high quality discussion, I thank my opponent for creating the debate and positing a spirited attack against the Divine Command Theory.

Debate Round No. 5
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by Surrealism 3 years ago
Better? I never said anything about better. This debate is about which belief system is closest to the truth.
Posted by TheNamesFizzy 3 years ago
I really like this topic, but better in what way? Which one is better for progress? Which is more accepted?
Posted by Surrealism 3 years ago
Well, Divine Command Theory is really just a subset of objective morality. And of course saying that secular systems of objective morality exist is also true, Utilitarianism being a good example. Of course, if I just wanted to debate Divine Command Theory, I'd have made that the resolution and made myself Con. But I'm not trying affirm a secular standard of objective morality either. I prefer to argue in favor of Moral Relativism as well. Hence the resolution as it appears.
Posted by 1Credo 3 years ago
This debate seems to leave out the view of objective morality?
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