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.