This book does two things very well. The first is refute divine command morality (DCM). The other is challenge attempts to ‘rescue’ God’s goodness in biblical texts that ascribe God with commanding the slaughter of innocent people by claiming either God didn’t make these commands or that He didn’t mean them literally.
Regarding the first thing the book does very well, according to Sagi and Statman DCM’s fatal flaw is arbitrariness. If the immorality of torturing someone for fun has nothing to do with the physical pain it causes or the debasement of the victim, but everything to do with God happening to decide that it’s wrong, then morality is arbitrary. The authors point out that appealing to God’s love as a means of rescuing DCM doesn’t work; if love is what matters, why do we need God to determine torture for fun is wrong for it to be wrong? If love is what matters, why not appeal directly to love? DCM that ties the morality of divine commands to God’s love essentially makes God an unnecessary middleman on questions of morality.
Regarding the second thing the book does very well, the authors point out that if God neither said nor intended that the Israelites should slaughter the Amalekites then that would leave us having to answer some difficult questions: “why should God refrain from expressing His true intention openly and explicitly, and create such a wide gap between His true intention and His linguistics statements?” (p 129). “if God did not intend what human beings understood, why did He not intervene to reveal His true purpose?” (p 130). The authors seem to conclude that if the scriptures are inspired, then we must assume that the few seemingly immoral commands of God are nevertheless morally justified, although the authors don’t know why (p 137). They believe this assumption is justified based on God’s overwhelming track record in scripture of issuing good commands.
I’m knocking a star off because of the moral realist presuppositions. Sagi and Statman are moral realists. On p 36 they write there is no possible world where torturing people for fun is not immoral. They recapitulate on p 55 and add murder as an inconceivably not immoral action. Okay, but how do they know this? Sagi and Statman do not provide a robust metaethical realist theory of their own. Perhaps their metaethical theory suffers an arbitrariness problem just like DCM does.