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.