Monday, April 18, 2011

Is God a Moral Monster? Abraham Sacrificing Isaac

Recently, I have been working my way through Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?” It looks to be a promising book, and so far he has tackled some thorny issues very well. What I like about a book like this, is it is not afraid to take a close and honest look at some of the more contentious and difficult issues of the Christian Scriptures. Let’s face it – in the climate of the New Atheists the OT has become a popular target and it is incumbent on Christians to at least deal with the challenges. Not every charge leveled against the OT by the New Atheists is worth time and effort, but some are and Copan has taken up the task.

The first topic that really piqued my interest was the matter of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac. In all honesty, that is a difficult passage to deal with. God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son of promise, and Abraham essentially says, “OK.”

One of Copan’s first moves is to examine the text of Genesis 22 itself. Though this seems like an obvious thing to do, it is actually rarely done by stone-throwers. Through the text he arrives at four reasons why the event is not the child-abusing horror it is often made out to be. The one reason he lists that I found particularly convincing is that the whole event is described as a “test.” As such, the point of the story is not to actually take the life of Isaac, but to test Abraham’s trust in God. It appears God’s plan includes not actually taking Isaac’s life, and as such, the story does not include that particular indictment of God.

But Abraham seemed ready and willing to go through with it. Doesn’t that in and of itself make the story unpalatable? At this point, Copan cites the ethicist John Hare and a thought experiment. Abridging the thought experiment, imagine a world with different rules for life and death – like a world in which you were assured of being raised stronger and healthier if you were killed at the age of 18. The wise choice would be to have killing parties at 18, and the less wise choice would be to continue to live less strong and less healthy.

As odd as that may sound, it speaks to the plausibility structure of Abraham at the time of God’s command and what that structure actually made of his rational choice. The story itself tells us that Abraham believed God was able to raise the dead, that Isaac was a specific child given to him by God (the “child of promise”), and that Abraham fully expected the both of them to return home. Because Abraham believed in a God who would keep his promise made to him through Isaac and that he was able to raise the dead, his choice to sacrifice his son was not irrational, but an act of trust in God.

And as it turns out, Abraham trusted God, God had no intention of letting Isaac die at his father’s hand, and God did fulfill his promise through Isaac.

Seen through the lens of naturalism, the story of Abraham and Isaac seems worse than incomprehensible. Seen through the lens of the text itself and the existence of God, we can come to terms with what happened and why.


Ritchie said...

What, in your opinion was the point of this test? We test things to see what will happen - we test people to see what they will do. But God is often claimed to be all-knowing, and an all-knowing being would know ahead of time what his test subjects would do without actually having to test them.

And as for sending his son to a nicer world, well, that just teaches us not to value human life. If death is a transition to a much nicer world, then why did the angel stop Abraham from killing him? Wouldn't it have been a nicer ending if Abraham HAD killed Isaac?

The message of the story seems loud and clear: God values blind obedience, even to the point of killing your own cherished son over respect for human life. You are not to hesitate from killing even beloved family members if that is what God demands. How short a step it is from there to flying planes into skyscrapers.

Dan said...

On what basis, Ritchie, do claim that it is bad to fly airplanes into the side of buildings? It would seem to me that such is simply the ongoing process of evolution. Perhaps you can clear this up for me.

Ritchie said...

??? I've no idea what you think terrorist attacks have to do with evolution. They simply are the deeds of people who sincerely believe they are enacting the will of God, which trumps any value human life carries - an ethic explicitly demonstrated by the Abraham-Isaac story and accepted, without exception to my knowledge, by all the Judeo-Christian monotheistic religions.

And as for why they are bad, then I suppose it depends on whether you value human life at all. If you do, then surely the indiscriminate murder of innocents is bad.

Dan said...

You insinuated that the slippery slope of believing the Bible could eventually lead one to fly airplanes into the sides of buildings. But wasn't it simply evolved masses of flesh that flew those airplanes into the side of those buildings? Now I would presume that the electrons flowing through the evolved gray matter in the heads of the products of evolution that carried out this terrorist act caused them to believe it was a good and right thing to do. My question to you is: how, or on what basis can you claim that the result of the electrons shooting around in your skull that causes you to think that flying airplanes into the sides of buildings is a bad thing, is more moral?

Ritchie said...

I'm not trying to be dense here, but I'm still not really sure what you're getting at. Yes, human beings are subject to the process of evolution. Just as we are subject to the processes of growth and aging or the laws of gravity. Why you are singling out evolution is a total mystery to me, unless it is just because you happen to disagree with it...?

Your question, if I may rephrase, sounds like 'under a materialistic worldview, how do we know what is good and moral?' That is, needless to say, an enormous question. One that has kept philosophers occupied for centuries. I am not about to pretend I have the answer, but I can tell you this much - appealing to a deity as a moral arbiter is not a sufficient answer.

Consider Plato's famous rebuttal to the idea that a deity is necessary for morality: "Are things wrong because God says they are, or does God say they are wrong because they are?" That is, does God saying a thing is wrong make it so, or is God merely pointing out to us what is right and wrong anyway?

It seems to me that you can give neither answer. In the second case, God is merely acting as an instructor. Actions are objectively right or wrong whatever anyone, including God, happens to say about them, and He is merely pointing out that which is true. God is, at least in theory, dispensable. Without Him, what is right would still be right and what is wrong would still be wrong.

But the first case is no better for you either. In this case, morality is not objective - that is, actions do not carry an independant property of being right or wrong. Instead their moral value depends on what God says about them. In this case, morality is arbitrary and subjective. Morality itself is just another word for 'God's preferences'. 'Right' is just another word for 'the things God likes' and 'wrong' is 'the things God dislikes'. God could, in theory, say murder is right and thus it would be so.

Notice how this position makes a nonsense of the idea that 'God is good'. If 'good' is merely dependant on what God approves of, then to say 'God is good' is to say that 'God approves of Himself'. Or that 'God likes the things He likes'. Rather meaningless.

I do not pretend I have all the answers to morality. But I can see that the idea that 'morality comes from God' is fatally flawed. Especially when you appeal to a concept of God drawn up by a culture who lived thousands of years ago in a far off place, and whose concept of morality was noticably different to your own. The Bible contains many points of dubious morality. Slavery, for example. It is explicitly condoned and never condemned in the Bible. Yet if God's command is moral law, then why do we vilify slavery? Surely we should be striving to implement slavery, as described in the Bible?

We, as rational human beings, should be adult and mature enough to reason out for ourselves what is moral. We should be able to decide what is good through a process of rational enquiry and an empathy for others. Why would this not be enough?

Dan said...

I'll start with this:

appealing to a deity as a moral arbiter is not a sufficient answer

My question is: who says? You? Who are you but a bag of biochemicals evolved from dirt? You throw out these facts as if they were objectively true with absolutely nothing to base them on save opinion. For someone else the appeal to a deity is entirely sufficient, are they wrong to make this appeal?

Ritchie said...

"My question is: who says? You?"

No, not just me. Moral philosophers stretching back to Plato.

"Who are you but a bag of biochemicals evolved from dirt?"

Just because we human beings have evolved does not undermine our capacity to rationalise, to think, to feel, to empathise, to reason, to moralise (if that's a word). I don't understand why you apparently think it should.

"You throw out these facts as if they were objectively true with absolutely nothing to base them on save opinion."

It is not merely opinion that the notion that 'God is necessary for morality' is flawed. I believe I have demonstrated that it is flawed, illogical, inconsistant. You may think I have failed to achieve this, but in which case the onus is on you to point out the error of my logic, not just claim that my argument is 'mere opinion' - an argument which, if true, must apply to yourself as well.

"For someone else the appeal to a deity is entirely sufficient, are they wrong to make this appeal?"

There is nothing inherantly wrong in appealing to any specific argument. But yes, a person would be mistaken if they supposed appealing to a deity as a moral arbiter was logically sound. It is not. And if such an argument is sufficient for them, I can only imagine it is because they fail to recognise how flawed it is.

Brian B said...

Ritchie - here's a quick thought regarding your claim that appealing to God to ground objective morality is "not a sufficient answer."

You pose the famous dilemma (from Plato's Euthyprho) that if things are wrong because God says they are, then morality is "arbitrary and subjective;" but if God says things are wrong because they are, then God is "dispensable," since morality would be independent of God.

But one can evade both horns. I can deny that morality is "arbitrary and subjective" by noting that God's "preferences" are rooted in - and therefore constrained by - God's essential nature. So it's not just false that "God could, in theory, say murder is right," but in fact impossible, since to say that murder is right would be contrary to his nature. And since God's nature, by definition, could not have been otherwise, God's preferences - and hence his commands - are non-arbitrary and objective.

Again, to say "It is possible that God commands murder" is to say something necessarily false, in the same way as to say "It is possible that God has very little power." Both involve an implicit contradiction. Put differently, the conditional

If God had commanded murder, it would have been morally obligatory

is not (just) a counterfactual, but a counterpossible.

(Technical side note: depending on your view of the semantics of counterpossibles, there may be a way to affirm both that, had God commanded murder, it would have been obligatory, and yet that this does not support the conclusion that God's actual commands are "arbitrary.")

But notice that by appealing to God's essential nature we evade the other horn as well. For morality is not something outside of, or independent of, God that God simply "points out" to us. Rather, morality depends upon - indeed, is partly constitutive of - God himself, his nature. So, it is false that "God is, at least in theory, dispensable." On this view, it is necessarily false that "Without Him, what is right would still be right and what is wrong would still be wrong," for there is no standard (say, up in Platonic heaven) apart from God that would remain even if God, somehow, didn't exist. Hence, the "morality is independent" horn fails as well.

You're certainly right that these matters are difficult (there's a reason they continue to be discussed after so many centuries!), so, obviously, what I've briefly sketched above won't do as a final word on this issue. But it's at least one way that one might begin to reply to the Euthyphro dilemma - at least to show that it's not the knock-out punch one might at first suspect.

Ritchie said...

Brian B - Forgive me if I misunderstand you here, but it seems to me that you haven't solved the problem outlined by Plato at all - you have merely reworded it.

"I can deny that morality is "arbitrary and subjective" by noting that God's "preferences" are rooted in - and therefore constrained by - God's essential nature."

Is God's 'essential nature' moral? What does it mean to even call God's 'essential nature' moral? Is God's 'essential nature' moral because it measures up to an external standard of morality, or is morality itself derived from God's 'essential nature'? This is essentially the same puzzle - one that you have merely relocated.

But again, my biggest gripe with the Divine Command theory is that it actively allows evil acts to be committed. Throughout history groups who claimed to believe in God have committed all forms of atrocity and evil imaginable, all defended by the platitude of 'It is God's will - thus it is justified.' What acts are off limits to those who believe God is truly on their side? Surely none at all?

Not even taking their own children to be used for a human sacrifice...

Brian B said...

Thanks for the reply, Ritchie. A couple of my own:

You ask, about the claim that God's essential nature is moral, "Is God's essential nature moral because it measures up to an external standard of morality...?"

According to the view I sketched previously, the answer is 'no.' The other option you ask about, then, is whether (instead) "morality itself [is] derived from God's essential nature."

Here the view I sketched would answer 'yes.' But what's the problem with this answer? With the original Euthyphro dilemma, answering 'yes' to the question "Is X right/wrong because God prefers it so?" raises the worry that, for all X, God could have preferred X - since, according to the answer to the first horn, there is no external standard of morality to constrain God's preferences regarding X. But if, for all X, God could have preferred X (according to this second horn), then God could have preferred, say, murder or rape, which are obviously immoral. So, we simply "got lucky" that God does not prefer those things - and in that sense, it's being wrong to murder or rape is simply "arbitrary and subjective."

But that argument fails with the view I sketched. It gets cut off because (on this view) it's false - and necessarily so - that "For all X, God could have preferred X." God is constrained in which things He could have preferred, so that it would have been impossible for God to prefer murder or rape, say. We didn't "get lucky," nor are his preferences arbitrary in the sense that they could have been arranged in just any old way.

Now, the objection at this point is supposed to be this: "the only way that God's preferences could be constrained in such a way as to avoid charges of arbitrariness is to appeal to some external standard about which God does not have a choice; for if God simply chooses the standards without external constraint, then it is arbitrary, and God could have chosen any old moral commands He wished."

But that objection has no force against the view I sketched, because one can affirm both (1) that God's preferences are constrained, so that they are not simply "matters of choice," and yet also (2) that these constraints are not external to God. Rather, the constraints come from - are constituted by - God's own nature. These are internal constraints, and hence we avoid both objections: morality is derived from God's essential nature, rather than from anything outside of God. But God's essential nature, being essential, could not have been otherwise, and thus constrains the range of options for what God could prefer.

Now, this doesn't answer all the questions one might have at this point. For we might still want to know - and this might lie behind your response - what makes it the case that God's nature is such as to be incompatible with preferring murder and rape, rather than being otherwise. This is a fair question, whose answer would require talking about perfections, perhaps, or more generally, giving a conceptual analysis of the concept "God." But whatever we say about that, that's a different issue than the "either arbitrary or dispensable" objection. And keep in mind that all explanatory chains must come to an end at some point; anyone who takes the view that morality can be objective will eventually have to appeal to a "starting point" for explanation. So it'll be useful to keep in mind that some objections one might have against the view I've sketched will be objections against every (objective) moral view, and hence not be something that counts uniquely against a theistic answer.

Brian B said...

Finally, on your "biggest gripe" with Divine Command Theory: you say that it "actively allows evil acts to be committed." This is ambiguous. It could mean:

(a) The theory itself contains, as part of its content, or strict implications of its content, the claim that evil acts are permissible


(b) The theory lends itself to being easily abused

I think it's obvious that (a) is false. No part of Divine Command Theory explicitly (or implicitly) endorses evil acts. In my view, (b) is at least not wildly implausible, but not exactly obvious either - at least the charge is no worse for DCT than for any other major moral theory. For consider the following DCT-inspired argument, where X is something evil:

P1) If it is God's will for me to do X, then it is justified for me to do X
P2) It is God's will for me to do X
C) Therefore, I am justified in doing X

I take it that P1 is a straight-forward implication of DCT. But P2 is not. So those who wish to "use" DCT to justify atrocities will do so by convincing themselves of the truth of P2, which is not part of the theory.

We could do the same thing with any moral theory:

P1*) If X maximizes utility, then it is justified for me to do X
P2*) X maximizes utility
C) Therefore, I am justified in doing X

P1* is a straight-forward implication of (a simplistic) utilitarianism. But P2* is not. So those who wish to "use" utilitarianism to justify atrocities will do so by convincing themselves of the truth of P2*, which is not part of the theory.

Now, perhaps your "gripe" amounts to this: as an empirical fact, for a large range of evil acts X, people find it easier to convince themselves of P2 than of P2* (or analogous premises for other moral theories). But I'm not sure how moved one should be by this problem (if such a problem could be demonstrated). It reminds me of the argument I often hear from Christians, that the theory of evolution (or at least "Darwinism") somehow "actively allows evil acts to be committed," because, to borrow your words, "throughout history groups who claimed to believe in Darwinism have committed all forms of atrocity and evil imaginable, all defended by the platitude of 'It is conducive to the survival and flourishing of the human species - thus it is justified.'" They could go on: what acts are off limits to those who believe that only the fittest survive - surely none at all?

How moved do you think one should be by this problem (if such a problem could be demonstrated) that attends belief in Darwinism? I don't find myself particularly moved by it - certainly not if it is intended to be an objection against the truth of Darwinism. And I would say similar things in defense of DCT against your gripe that I would say in defense of Darwinism against gripes about its proneness to being used in the service of atrocity.

Ritchie said...

Brian - I am not sure if it is me who is confused here, or you.

You seem to believe that appealing to God's essential nature, gets morality of the hook of being called arbitrary. But it does not. Morality is still arbitrary if they are dependant on God's preferences, whether or not God is able to choose otherwise.

If no deed has any objective moral weight, then why is God unable to condone, say, murder? You glancingly touch on this point. God's preference for charity (that is to say, his condoning it rather than condemning it as He might of, say, murder) is like having a preference for tea instead of coffee, or the colour green instead of red. Before God decides, there would be no relevant moral difference between charity and murder, thus any preference between them is arbitrary. To say otherwise is just circular logic - morality stems from God's preferences, and God prefers good things to bad things.

Moreover, allow me to dreg up an objection I used earlier - under DCT, the phrase 'God is good' is a meaningless tautology. If 'good' is defined by what God sanctions or approves of, then 'God is good' simply means 'God approves of Himself'. If we lived in a world where God condemned charity and condoned murder, the phrase 'God is good' would carry exactly the same meaning - and would be just as true. If anything it steers rather close to the primitive maxim that 'might makes right'.

And much as I don't want to get off-track, I have two other points I would like to raise here:

1) If God is constrained by anything at all, even his own 'essential nature', then He is not omnipotent - a trait which is often claimed of Him.

2) How are we to know the will/preferences of God? Do we all just know the preferences of God in our hearts? Many holy texts are CLAIMED to be His holy word, but since they all turn out to be likely merely products of their age and culture - the work, in short, of men, not God - how are we to choose any of them? Has God made His desires known to us? If so, where and how do we recognise it as such; if not, how are we to behave morally if we do not know which actions have been arbitrarily selected to be labelled so?

Ritchie said...

As for your second post, you are right, I did indeed mean definition b) rather than a). I also take your point that many moral theories are abusable.

But my problem is how verifiable the second proposition is. I say that in a good moral theory, P2* is readily verifiable. P2, by contrast, is practically impossible to verify or falsify. though many throughout history have believed their actions were justified because of it.

You are right, incidentally, to criticise those who decry 'Darwinism' as 'allowing evil acts', since no-one I know of is putting it forward as a model of morality, and if they did then I'm sure I would take against it. I think such remarks are born of a fundamental misunderstanding between a scientific theory and a model of morality.

Ritchie said...

I wrote those two posts in rather a hurry. I hope they make sense.

In any case, I believe an example may help to illustrate my point:

Imagine I have just created a world and populated it with subjects over which I have the last (indeed, only) word on everything. Like good little devotees they wish to know my every whim - particularly on what colours are good and which are bad.

I've chosen colours as an example since there is obviously no external standard by which to judge them. There is no objective reason why any particular colour is better than any other. I hope you agree here or the metaphor unravels somewhat.

Now, I happen to like green and dislike blue. That is my opinion and my preference. In the world that I have created, green is therefore good, and blue is bad. This is arbitrary because it is simply based on my preferences. If it were the case that my preferences are bound by my own 'essential nature' and that I was, by nature of my, well, nature, unable to ever approve of blue or disapprove of green, my decision would still be arbitrary. 'Good' colours and 'bad' colours would still be subject to my personal preferences, even if those preferences are immovable or deeply rooted into my very being.

Brian B said...

I'm losing my grip on what you mean when you say that something is arbitrary. You say at one point that "Morality is still arbitrary if they are dependant on God's preferences, whether or not God is able to choose otherwise." But this is a strange notion of arbitrariness: if God's preferences are logically necessary, then there's certainly some obvious sense in which they are not at all arbitrary (given that being arbitrary and being necessary are typically opposed). There may be other reasons to object to the claim that morality depends on God's (necessary) preferences, but not, it seems to me, on the basis of arbitrariness.

So, let X = the collection of commands given by God. I would have thought:

X is arbitrary only if X might have been different (i.e. if X is not necessary; it might have had different members than it actually does).

Notice that even an advocate of divine command theory (DCT) will (typically) say that there are some things that God in fact commanded that he might have failed to command (since, after all, God commanded them freely). So, if they agree that God could have preferred other things, then perhaps some sort of arbitrariness creeps in after all.

However, the DCT-ist will not accept (typically) that God could have commanded anything whatsoever (e.g. the gratuitous torture of the innocent). God is constrained by his nature in his choices. Some things are impossible for God to command.

Hence, we need a distinction. Let us say that X is completely arbitrary if X could have been composed of any (combination of) commands. And, by contrast, let us say that X is merely partly arbitrary if (i) X could have been otherwise, but (ii) it's not the case that X is completely arbitrary (i.e. it's not the case that, for any possible combination of commands, X could have been composed of that combination). Put differently, X is partly arbitrary if X is neither logically necessary nor completely arbitrary.

What's wrong with the theist saying that God's commands are partly, but not completely, arbitrary? Put differently, why think that human moral obligations must be necessary truths? The fact that they aren't necessary certainly doesn't make them any less objective. They would still be equally binding on all human beings, regardless of what any human being believed or desired, for instance.

Brian B said...

A second, related way for the DCT-ist to proceed at this point is to appeal to the (fairly standard) distinction in ethics between "the good" and "the right." So far we (both) have been speaking of "morality." But that's ambiguous. Are we talking about rightness and wrongness (i.e. about obligation, permission, and prohibition)? Or about goodness and badness (i.e. about what has moral value - or value more generally)? A common move for the DCT-ist is to say that human moral obligations (and prohibitions, permissions, etc.) are rooted in God's commands or preferences, but to deny that (all) moral goodness is rooted in those commands or preferences. What makes something right (or wrong) for a human to do is that God has so commanded. But it's not the case that things have moral worth or value only insofar as they have been commanded by God.

This allows the DCT-ist to answer your objection about the inability to say that God is good. For we can say that God is good in virtue of having a certain kind of character (e.g. loving, merciful, just). There's no need to analyze "X is good" in terms of God's commands or approval.

It also allows the DCT-ist to avail herself of the distinction btw. completely and partly arbitary commands. She can say that God's commands are only partly arbitrary: God could not have commanded anything that wasn't good, but at least some of God's commands could have been otherwise. Again, where's the problem in saying such a thing?

(Notice that, on this picture, it is false to say that there is an "independent standard" for what makes things right or wrong. This is for at least one of two reasons. First, it is open to the theist to argue that goodness (as opposed to rightness) also metaphysically depends on God in some way - though not, of course, on God's commands/preferences. And second, facts about God's nature do not entail God's commands - they "underdetermine" them. They may constrain His commands, but they do not thereby make God's commands superfluous or explanatorily irrelevant to rightness and wrongness.)

Brian B said...

As for your two other points:

1) Omnipotence: this is indeed a slippery concept. But I know of no (sophisticated) theist who affirms that "God is omnipotent" entails that "God can do anything." Nor do I know of any who affirm that "God is omnipotent" entails that "God can do anything that is logically possible." So the mere fact that God could not have commanded e.g. gratuitous torture of the innocent doesn't on its own show there to be a problem with omnipotence as that concept has been traditionally understood.

But certainly the theist has her work cut out for her to show how omnipotence is compatible with the claim that God cannot command certain things. If you'd like to take a look at a good representative attempt at a sophisticated understanding of omnipotence (in order to see what an objection along your lines needs to do to be persuasive), see the paper "Maximal Power" by Thomas Flint and Alfred Freddoso (available online). If you're interested, I could point you to quite a few others.

2) How can we know God's commands/preferences? The answer to this question is indeed independent of what the theist says about the nature of moral obligation. And there are quite a few options that the theist can take here, compatible with DCT. One could, for instance, maintain that these moral requirements are revealed (in any number of ways) to our reason (without it being revealed to reason that these requirements are in fact the commands of God). Perhaps we "intuit" moral truths through some combination of faculties that the human species has evolved (as some non-theistic philosophers have held) - that's perfectly compatible, in principle, with DCT. Pretty much any of the standard options regarding moral epistemology generally, are available, with minor tweaking, to the advocate of DCT.

Note that some of these options will provide an answer to another problem you raise, about how "readily verifiable" it is that a given moral claim has been commanded by God. If we can come to know moral truths through reason, or moral intuition, or "conscience," etc., then that provides a (defeasible, fallible) method of verifying whether God has commanded something. John Stuart Mill even goes so far as to say that if, as seems plausible (in his view), God commands only those things that, if done, would maximize utility, then we can employ the (fallible) methods of discerning maximal utility as a way of coming to know about God's commands. So I don't think there is any deep difficulty here for the moral epistemology of a DCT that is not also a deep difficulty for any other normative theory.

Brian B said...

As for the color example: I don't think the analogy works, or at least I don't yet see how it could work. When you say that the "devotees" wish to know "what colours are good and which are bad," am I supposed to understand 'good' and 'bad' in a moral sense, or in some other sense? On the view sketched above, God's preferences do not determine the moral goodness or badness of things, but only whether they are obligatory or prohibited, etc. So right away the analogy fails.

But perhaps we can repair it a bit. Consider some set N of acts, each of which is morally good. God selects one member of N, to the exclusion of the rest, to be obligatory. Isn't that choice arbitrary in the way that the selection of one color as "better" than the others is arbitrary?

There are several sorts of reply that a DCT-ist could give. First, emphasize that the former choice is only partly arbitrary; what's the problem with our obligations being merely partly arbitrary? Second, perhaps God's choice amongst goods is guided partly by non-moral factors (that nonetheless have a bearing on other moral features). Third, one could in principle say that God's nature determines God's choice amongst N, so that it is not even partly arbitrary (since it is logically necessary). Many theists will resist this move (for they think it would restrict God's freedom too much), but making it would certainly get rid of the charge of arbitrariness.

I suspect you'll say "no it wouldn't remove the charge of arbitrariness - for, even if his preferences are necessary, it is the fact that they derive from preferences that makes them arbitrary." I've already said, in the previous comment, why I think this is mistaken (to wit, since arbitrariness is incompatible with necessity). But apart from that, if that charge of arbitrariness is cogent, then it seems to be equally cogent against every substantive moral view, for every view will eventually have some "starting point," some fundamental, irreducible claim about the nature of morality. Perhaps you're willing to say that about every substantive moral view; but then your beef is not with DCT as such.

(Lastly - sorry for the long delay in replying. I should now have more time to keep up!)