Does the Euthyphro Dilemma Disprove God? (Part 3)

This is the latest in a series of posts about a moral question called the Euthyphro Dilemma, which is sometimes given as a challenge to God. See the first two parts for an explanation of the problem and the first two responses.


Third, as Aquinas pointed out in his fourth way, we cannot discern between good and better unless we have standard that is external to the objects being measured. I can only tell if one thing is whiter than another by having a measure of ultimate white to compare them to, for I would never know if one was closer to the ultimate unless I had some standard to measure all the objects by. If all I had were beings on earth to determine goodness, I would not be able to look at all of them and find moral flaws, for I measure them with a moral standard more perfect than all the beings . . . every human on earth has moral flaws. Therefore goodness cannot be determined by looking at flawed things on earth, which is the only option left to the materialist who tries to use Euthyphro to deny the existence of God.

Fourth, a critic might also reply: Goodness is when something benefits the individual person. Nutrition is good because it benefits someone, and sickness is evil because it hurts them. If God is the source of goodness, the Christian has to show how good things, such as nutrition, would not be good if God did not exist, or at least how God must exist for things like nutrition to exist. If things that positively benefit people can exist without God existing, then God is not necessary for good to exist. 

This is incorrect for several reasons. This criticism defines good as something that benefits people. Why is this so? What is inherently good about benefiting people? Some environmentalist might claim, as some undoubtedly have, that humans are a detriment to the earth and it would be ‘good’ if we all expired. Some atheists, like Richard Dawkins, tell us that the universe, at bottom, has no evil, no good, just blind pitiless indifference. So it is not universally accepted that good is something that benefits humans.

Further, this fourth criticism assumes that benefiting someone is good, it does not prove this is so. Defining what is good is one of the basic questions, and this fourth objection assumes good from the beginning. Next, if we look at an act and say that act benefited someone, therefore it it is good, we have measured the act against a moral standard that is independent of us, the individual, and the act.  There must therefore be a moral code independent of the world.

Also, this objection presents a false challenge. The challenge is not whether nutrition can exist without God, but whether nutrition itself is good, and where the concept of good came from in the first place. The king of the skeptics, David Hume, stated that people always seem to sneak in the concept that something ought to be, and do so without proving it.


The next post will have more explanations of why the Euthyphro Dilemma is a false dilemma as it relates to God.

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Does the Euthyphro Dilemma Disprove God? (Part 2)

This post is part of a series dealing with a moral question called the Euthyphro Dilemma. The questions were set up in Part 1. This continues the response.


Second, the critic might say something like “Good” is a property that we can apply independently of God. If I can conceive of the property of good, and apply it to things independently of God, then God is not necessary for the concept of good, and the euthyphro dilemma stands. 

This second criticism is not valid. One key flaw is that it deals with conceiving of a property and mentally applying it. By its own admission it deals with the concept of good. It assumes that if we can conceive of a concept and predicate it mentally, existence must follow. This is a false conclusion. In reality, good has actual existence; things are good, or things are not good, in a very real sense. If concepts were true merely because I were able to conceive of them, the ontological argument for the existence of God would be proved valid, which most skeptics would deny. (for more on the ontological argument, see here.) In reality, my thinking that a thing has goodness does not make it so.

Next, this criticism is only half true, but nevertheless pointless. While it is true that we can distinguish good as a concept, but mere distinguishing a concept does not demonstrate ontological or moral grounding. I can think of the idea of applying good to an object, but this does not prove that actual goodness is independent of God. As an example, merely because I can think of grayness independent of any actual gray object does not mean gray can actually exist without there being a gray object somewhere in existence. Likewise, I can pretend to think of good and apply it to created things in my mind, but I have not explained where good and evil arise from in a non-transcendent, material world. Goodness is not merely a conceptual property like a platonic ideal of good, but rather an actual thing that an object has. I can say “Bob did a good thing by helping someone in trouble. therefore Bob is a good man.” This is not evidence that goodness can be applied independent of God, for what makes helping someone a good thing to do? I knew helping someone is a good thing before I ever applied it to Bob. Goodness therefore is not something I can invent in my mind, or a property that exists apart from a being that it is found in. Goodness needs an ontological grounding in a being. The question is not whether I can conceive of the idea of applying goodness to objects, but where I got the idea of goodness in the first place and how it is grounded.

Therefore simply because I can say “This meal is good” or “This person is good” does not mean I have grounded good in something other than God, for meals and persons are not inherently good, but obtained goodness because they can be compared to some standard of goodness that I already know exists. We are then back to determining the source of good.

It does no good for the critic to merely repeat, “I can apply good as a property independent of God,” for this statement speaks of goodness as a concept that needs no ontological basis, which it does. The Christian answer to Euthyphro deals with ontology, and this second criticism is in a different category, how to apply properties. This second criticism is one of the flaws of analytic philosophy, while the Christian answer comes from a realist philosophy.

Future posts in this series will deal with several more related ideas of goodness, including whether we can ground goodness in the material world.

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Does the Euthyphro Dilemma Disprove God? (Part 1)

Plato posed a moral question that is today known as the Euthyphro Dilemma. Skeptics have used this moral dilemma to try to draw conclusions about God. The general idea is that since this dilemma presents a moral problem for God, then we can ignore God and all He stands for.

My response is lengthy enough that I will put it in several posts, of which this is the first.

Edward Feser gives a good summary of the Euthyphro Dilemma:

God commands us to do what is good. But is something good simply because God commands it, or does He command it because it is already good? If we take the first option, then it seems we are committed to the possibility that God could make it good for us to torture babies just for fun, simply by commanding it. If we take the second option, then it seems we are committed to saying that there is a standard of goodness independent of God, to which He refers us when He commands. Neither option seems a good one from the point of view of theism. The first makes morality arbitrary, and the claim that God is good completely trivial. The second conflicts with the core theistic claims that God is the ultimate cause of all things, and in particular the source of all goodness.

If we take the first option (that things are right because God commands them), then further questions can be posed:

  • If morality comes from God’s command, then it seems God could have commanded anything, and morality seems arbitrary.
  • Nothing would be absolutely good or evil, for they are only good or evil because God willed them to be.
  • We seem to have no way to measure whether God’s commands are objectively goood, for the commands are only good because God says they are.

The other horn of the dilemma is that God commands it because it is right. This option seems to present the following problems:

  • The moral code is larger than God, and God is subject to this larger code, making God less than all-good and all-powerful.
  • God’s commands would seem somehow empty, since they are not God’s, but from somewhere else.

So the skeptics who use Euthyphro try to conclude that objective moral values exist independent of God. The implication is that God does not exist, or at the very least we can ignore God and His commands.

Thoughts On Euthyphro

I will show that the Euthyphro Dilemma poses no problems for the thoughtful Christian.

First, even if Euthyphro were valid, it would not disprove the existence of God. At worst, it would result in a God that we might not like, but it does not disprove His existence. Even when God is accurately described in the Bible, all humans at some point do not like God or His ways, which results in sin and rebellion towards God. So nothing is proved by the mere fact that God is presented in a way that we do not like. As R. C. Sproul has said, if we were to invent a God, we would not invent one that is holy, for we do not like to face holiness. Invented gods are gods that we like, not ones that make us uncomfortable.

So even if Euthyphro were true, it at the very most might pose some problems for classical Christian theology, but would not eliminate God, nor would it eliminate the moral commands God makes as invalid. It would seem that many skeptics are trying to say ‘Euthryphro presents a problem for how God could command morality, therefore God does not exist and the commands He gives are invalid. I am not held to them.’ Well, no, whether or not Euthyphro is true has nothing to do with whether I am living an immoral life, whether I am separated from God, and whether I am in need of a savior to reconcile me to God. I might not like what I am being commanded by God, and I might even disagree with why God commands what He does, but this is nothing new. Human nature naturally rebels against what God tells us, which has nothing to do with whether or not God is justified in what He tells us.  For this proof, merely read Romans, chapters 1 to 3, especially the last half of chapter 3, which tell us that “none are righteous, no not one.” 1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us that “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.” So there is no surprise that we do not agree with what God tells us, but the fact that we disagree with God is not proof that there is anything wrong with what God tells me.

This is the first of several posts exploring aspects of the Euthyphro Dilemma.

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The Bible Holds True Against Attacks From Critics

The synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – tell the story of Jesus. These books present themselves as eyewitness accounts of historical fact. Critics of the gospels attack the gospels by telling us they are untrustworthy. Common criticisms include:

1. The gospel stories were passed down orally for a long time and therefore are untrustworthy.
2. The gospels copied from each other or from another single source.
3. The writers have accounts so different as to make the whole affair riddled with mistakes.

For several reasons, I find these criticisms weak at best. First, I do not see how 2 and 3 could both be true. If the accounts copied from each other so much that we can obviously tell that the copying happened, then it is difficult to see how there are so many differences that the accounts are sloppy. It would seem the claims for both of these contradict each other.

Second, it is difficult to see how 1 and 2 could both be true. If the account was passed on orally for long enough to make the account riddled with error, it would take more than one generation, indeed at least two to four generations. The claims of oral corruption are mere surface-level persuasion techniques by the critics with no credible argument behind it. I pose as an example my father, who this year turns 90. He spent his career in parts warehouses, manually stocking shelves and filling orders for parts. To this day he can repeat the inventory numbers for the parts he sold over 50 years ago, and do so with full accuracy. He has taken me to the spot where he grew up and described his farmhouse in detail, giving vivid descriptions of how he and his brothers played as children. These events happened 80 years ago, yet his memory is intact. We all can describe events that happened to us years ago. Indeed, for significant, life-changing events, we often cannot get the details out of our minds. How much more would we recall if we had seen and heard Jesus, the living God in human flesh.

Third, in support of the second, the manuscripts we now have do not allow oral tradition to have time enough to corrupt the account. Up to now the John Ryland fragment is held as the oldest (see here) dating to about 125 to 140 AD. Now, it appears that scholars have found copies of the gospels that date even earlier, one copy dating to about 90 AD, well into the first century (see here). First century dating put the existing written accounts into the lifetime of the authors and eyewitnesses. The number of Bible manuscripts, along with the early dating, do not allow for oral tradition to corrupt, nor do they allow enough time for oral tradition to finally allow a written copy, which was then used as a single source for the other gospels.

Fourth, given the early dating of the existing manuscripts and the accuracy of firsthand oral testimony in a single generation, 1 and 3 above cannot both be held as true, at least not credibly. This is further supported by the number of original language Bible manuscripts. Greek manuscripts now number over 5,800.

Therefore, the attacks listed above are failures at attacking the Bible. Once again, the Christian scriptures withstand the attacks of the skeptics and critics, as they always have. A wise person will read them for what they are: eyewitness testimony of those who saw Jesus.

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Does the Existence of Evil Prove or Disprove God?

Many have used the existence of evil in the world to try to argue that an all-powerful, all-good God does not exist. The line of reasoning usually goes something like this:

1. If there is an all-powerful and all-good God then no evil exists.
2. Evil exists.
3. Therefore an all-powerful and wholly good God does not exist.

Sometimes another conclusion is added:

4. If a God does exist that allows evil, he would not be worthy of worship.

Few people will actually deny premise 2. Although such atheists as Richard Dawkins tell us that the universe has no evil nor good, they turn right around and call religion evil. The focus is instead on premise one, arguing that an all-powerful and all-good God would not allow evil such as we witness regularly in the world. The practical, everyday conclusion by many is:

1a. Since evil exists, God must not exist.

The driver behind such arguments is premise 1. I maintain, however, that this argument is primarily an emotional one and not a logical one. Most of those who believe it do so either because they have personal pain due to some evil act or because they are looking for an excuse to avoid answering to a holy God about their moral life. I maintain that 3, 4, and 1a are not held due to logical conclusions drawn from 1 and 2, for if people were looking at it with pure unemotional logic, the argument fails.

All that is necessary to show the logical failure is to demonstrate that premise 1 is false. By itself, 1 is an argument with a conclusion which holds that a good God would never allow any evil for any reason at any time. Further, the evil we are speaking about is what we, in our opinion, consider evil.

To defeat this argument from evil, we merely have to show the possibility that God might allow evil or can allow evil and still be all-powerful and all-good. Demonstrating this is straightforward.

First, the argument speaks nothing of the moral need for a greater good. It is better that bravery and courage exist than if they do not, but bravery and courage cannot exist except in situations that require them. Ditto for all other attributes requiring self-sacrifice. If there were no painful circumstances, away go heroism, nerve, tenacity, all Herculean achievements and fortitude, they all are eliminated when we bring in an idyllic world where there are no circumstances that require such things. It is difficult to even imagine what such a world would look like. It would be some sort of saccharine-sweet place where no one ever is allowed to smash their thumb with a hammer or get angry at the bratty neighbor kid.

Thus not only is it better that God allow situations requiring bravery and courage, but God is morally obligated to do so, for if He did not, he would be guilty of not being all-good. If God were to somehow create such a world that had no daunting circumstances, He would not be creating a good world, for any good world would have the best things, such as heroes and founders of orphanages.

Second, it might be the case that an all-wise God sees a greater purpose for allowing individuals to experience evil. When a mother takes away the baby’s candy and insists it eat vegetables, the child thinks it to be the end of the world, and no amount of reasoning will convince the child otherwise. Surely we see the benefits of the mother doing such things, and would not call her good if she did not cause the pain in the child. So what good could come of evil? If we avoid the emotional appeals and only look at it logically, we must at least admit this possibility, for surely we do not claim that we are all-wise.

Third, to determine that evil exists in premise 2 requires the existence of a standard of good and evil that we can measure all events in the world. Therefore this standard must be outside of the events in the world, and is a major premise in the moral argument for the existence of God, which goes like this:

A)  A universal moral law exists.
B)  Universal moral laws require a universal moral lawgiver.
C) A universal moral lawgiver exists. This we commonly call God.

Therefore if premise 2 is valid, then the major premise for moral argument for God, A), is true.

Merely saying something like “I see no purpose for this evil” or “How could a good God have a purpose that evil?” or appealing to other emotional arguments do not refute this line of reasoning, for we are neither all-good, all-wise, nor all-knowing, and those things we do know can find a purpose for some evil, therefore the original syllogism is false. I therefore submit that most critics who bring up the problem of evil as a case against God do so on emotional grounds, not logical ones.

For a more detailed explanation of why the current world is the best one God could have created, see here. 

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What is the Origin of Our Sense of Moral Lapse?

In the book True Reason (Gilson and Weitnauer, eds.) Samuel Youngs asks “We are brutally aware of how often we come up short (what could be the evolutionary purpose for a sense of abiding discontentment with the world on moral grounds?). (p.176). The author is questioning what would enhance survival of our specie by us developing a psychological sense of moral guilt. If evolution is true, then all traits, even psychological ones, must enhance survival over those who do not have such thoughts. Note that the question is not one of why humans feel they need to be moral, but why all humans would have a sense of the existence of moral lack, somewhere in the world, as all of us seem to have at some point.

Indeed, the only explanation open to the atheist evolutionist is that moral failure is a type of false psychological trait that was somehow transferred from survival. For evolution to generate the psychological trait, we must not merely feel that moral lack inhibits reproduction, but the psychological trait must actually do so, or be a false transfer from something that actually does so.  Evolution is shown to be seriously inadequate if it is shown to be an unreasonable source of such traits. In reality, our sense of moral failure surely has little to do with whether we live long enough to reproduce, leaving the human sense of moral failure as a false psychological trait.

The Bible has the account of Adam and Eve and their moral failure, an account Christians describe as the fall. This is the source of moral failure. Yet we are told by atheist evolutionists that the account of the fall is an invention of human literature. It would seem that if the evolutionists are correct, humans generated a false psychological trait, then invented the story of Adam to explain it.  I wonder how far the chain of false creations can go.

Deep down, we all know that it is much more reasonable that moral lapses are quite real and there is a moral law that is external to the human condition that we compare ourselves to. Moral laws require a moral law giver, which we call God.

Of course, the dogmatic evolutionist will not be affected by this line of reasoning, since evolution is non-falsifiable. In an evolutionary viewpoint, any actually existing state of affairs is due to evolution. If people are altruistic and self-sacrificial, it is for survival of the tribe. If people are selfish and murderous, it is for survival of the individual. Evolutionists adapt the theory to fit the data, not the other way around.

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Is there a Foundation for Moral Law?

In the book True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism, editors Gilson and Weitenaurr have put together a good collection of articles by competent Christian thinkers who all respond to the logical flaws of the new atheists. In the chapter titled A Sun to See By: Christianity, Meaning, and Morality, author Samuel J. Youngs gives a clear explanation of the problems that are generated when a person denies the existence of God. Problems are generated with morality, but as Youngs shows, the issues begin with more fundamental problems with deriving any meaning at all. Meaninglesseness is not an isolated position from merely a few atheists, but is an established belief in their system. A few atheist’s positions include:

  • Current atheist rock star Richard Dawkins has told us that “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”
  • Atheist Friedrich Nietzche wrote “Whither are we moving? . . . Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?”
  • Agnostic Bertrand Russell, after pointing out that the universe will result in a vast inevitable death, concluded that our lives can be built “only on the firm foundation of unyeilding despair.”

Youngs points out that the atheist belief has consequences. If the universe is ultimately meaningless, it impacts our daily lives. He quotes Aldous Huxley, who summarized it well: “The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is . . . concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends shoud not seize political power and govern the way that they find most advantageous to themselves.”

Note that these statements and conclusions are those of the atheists themselves, and do not come from Christians. We are not putting words in their mouths, but merely quoting their conclusions.

But the problem gets worse. If there is no meaning in the universe, then science, restricted to natural causes, can only describe how the world works, but cannot provide a basis for why we ought to act a certain way. In a world removed from ultimate meaning, we can say that a particular action results in pain in another person, but cannot tell us whether this is good or bad.

In the end, the atheist / naturalist worldview denies ultimate meaning in the universe, and in doing so, removes all basis for objective morality and ethics. Atheist writer Sam Harris seems to recognize this, for in his book The Moral Landscape he makes the logical leap from a purely meaningless world to assuming a priori that hurting another human has a wrong meaning attached to it. Harris admits up front that he makes no attempt to prove this.

In the end, the atheist / naturalist position is inconsistent. On one hand it holds to a purposeless, random universe, but then admits that some things are morally meaningful. This inconsistency is because there is a moral law written on the hearts of all people. As Youngs quotes C. S. Lewis:

The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other. But the standard that measures two things is something different from either. You are, in fact, comparing them both to some Real Morality . . .

Thus the Bible is once again proven correct when it tells us in Romans 1 that all men know right from wrong, and there is an objective moral law in the universe that is written on all hearts. Theologians and philosophers call this natural law, and the best explanation is that all moral laws require a moral law giver. This we call God.



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