This is the last 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 three parts for an explanation of the problem and the first four responses.
Fifth, the skeptic’s use of the Euthyphro Dilemma does not explain how the concept of good can exist in a materialist world. If God does not exist, then only natural forces exist, and ‘good’ can only be the result of natural forces. But natural forces such as electromagnetism or gravity are morally neutral, and have no concept of good or evil. In a materialist world, natural forces have no choice but to exist and cannot be different than they are. Moral commands tell us that an immoral person ought to act differently, but a materialist world can only produce things that must act the way they do. Therefore natural forces in a materialist world cannot be held morally accountable for anything. Whence cometh good and evil? Forces without the ability to act differently cannot be held responsible for acting as they do.
If, as the critic claims, Euthyphro somehow eliminates God from existing, then all we have left are natural forces that must exist and good is eliminated. For all of atheist author Richard Dawkins’ logical flaws, he understands this point, for he has stated “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.” But if good is eliminated, the main prerequisites of Euthyphro are eliminated with it. In a naturalist universe, the effects of nutrition would be the same, but the effects would not be morally good, for good would not exist.
My sixth objection to Euthyphro is given by Edward Feser. The first horn of the dilemma deals with divine command theory, saying that if things are good because God commanded it, then the command could be arbitrary.
It is a mistake to think that just because we have a command from God, it is somehow arbitrary or inconsistent. If we hold, along with Aquinas, that will follows the intellect, then God will always act in accordance with reason. Further, as Feser explains, the Euthyphro dilemma does not prove that God’s moral rationale is in any way independent of Him. The Euthyphro Dilemma, to be valid in proving anything about God, would have to show that God’s reasons for giving morally good commands are somehow based on something other than His own wisdom. No one really believes that God would command “Thou shalt steal” and make it so. Skeptics do not deal with this, but merely keep repeating the same old dilemma, as if it proved or disproved something about God. It does not. (for the rest of Feser’s ideas, see here).
God does command good. He does so because He is wise and the things He does reflect wisdom, and because His nature is good.
God is simple, i.e., not made of parts. What God has, He is. God does not have goodness, He is goodness. God does not have good properties, rather He is goodness itself. Therefore what God wills or commands is good, and must be so. He does not get this goodness from some other source, nor is it arbitrary as if He could will otherwise. When the skeptic presents Euthyphro, he must ignore the unity that is in God and present the dilemma as if 1) God could be arbitrary, and 2) goodness is separate from God’s essence. Neither are true, so Euthyphro is invalid.
Sixth, Euthyphro, and the criticisms of the Christian explanation, confuse the definition of goodness. In reality, things have natures, and good means that a thing fulfills its nature. Things are not good because we attribute to them a concept of goodness, but because they fulfill what their natures were designed for. As Edward Feser explains:
The actual situation, then, is this. What is good or bad for us is determined by the ends set for us by our nature, and given the essentialist metaphysics Aquinas is committed to, that means that there are certain things that are good or bad for us absolutely, which even God could not change (since God’s power does not extend to doing what is self-contradictory).
Therefore good is ultimately determined by whether we fulfill the potential set by our nature, not by comparing our actions to some external standard. Euthyphro seems to have no concept of this idea of good.
In summary, the following hold true:
- Even if valid, which Euthyphro is not, the dilemma does not disprove God nor eliminate God’s moral standard.
- The dilemma assumes that goodness is a property that can be applied to something, which is false. Things are not good merely because I can conceive of goodness in my mind, but rather good because their nature is good.
- We naturally measure things in the world by an external standard of goodness which is separate from the things in the world. This is a premise in the moral argument for the existence of God.
- The critic often assumes good, such as “good is something that benefits people,” when in fact the very question of what makes good is the point of all moral systems.
- A materialist world has no sound explanation for the origin of the ideas of good and evil. The naturalist can tell us what is, but not what ought to be.
- Euthyphro, and the analytic philosophy that supports it, has no answer for the metaphysical explanation of good being something that fulfills its nature.
The Bible tells us that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . .” (James 1:17). It tells us God will “equip you in every good thing” (Hebrews 13:21) and help us to “abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). God’s commands are good because God is good. We would all do good to learn of God’s ways and submit to Him.