Manspeak


Euthyphro’s Dilemma – A Defeater of Christian Ethics? by Justin Day
November 13, 2008, 7:00 am
Filed under: Philosophy, Thought Initiative

thoughtintiative

by Justin Day

In his dialogue with his friend Euthyphro, Socrates asks, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” In ethics this is known as Euthyphro’s Dilemma, one of the top critiques of Divine Command Theory. As it relates to Christians, the question is: Is something good commanded by God because it is good, or is something good because it is commanded by God?

At first this might not seem like that bad of a predicament, but once you think about it, it turns out to be a tough cookie. If the former is correct, then “good” is outside of God. If this is the case, then at best He is arbitrary to determining what is good. And at worst, “good” would be something above God, which He could not change. If this is the case then God is not truly sovereign, but subordinate to “good.”

However, if the latter is correct, then “good acts” have no intrinsic goodness to them and, theoretically, God could have made rape or lying good. Besides the repulsiveness of the idea of God making rape a “good act,” it also causes a problem with God Himself since He tells us that He is also subject to morality (in some sense). Hebrews 6:18 tells us that “it is impossible for God to lie.” If God is somehow bound to the same morality that He dictates, then the latter cannot, by logical necessity (unless we were to believe that the Bible is not inerrant or God does not exist), be true.

So what do you guys think?

1) Is my analysis of the two options incorrect? Have I missed something that solves the dilemma?

2) Is there possibly a third option which could solve this dilemma for Christians? Or are we stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one?

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13 Comments so far
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Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom, because God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” -1 Corinthians 1:24-25

I firmly believe that good things are only good because God calls them good. In His full splendor, God is the standard for what is good. No action has, in and of itself, true meaning because it is just an object. A tree is not significant because it is a tree. It is significant only because God made it.

For example, my cats love these little toy mice and they are objects of fun for them. To me, they mean nothing. All meaning is assigned, whether by man or by God. And because God made all creation, everything has meaning.

That makes it all seem arbitrary, like God could have gone the other way and said, “have as many gods as you want.” But it isn’t because of who God is and who we are. We don’t know an object’s created meaning so the meaning we give to something is arbitrary. When used for God’s glory, every object is used how God intended it.

Does that not mean that the whole purpose for the universe is arbitrary? No for two reasons:

1) God is constant in working all things to His glory. He stays with His purpose and does not change at all, much less make impulse decisions.
2) As far as we know, everything that exists cannot exist without God having made it for its purpose. A person having been made for wrath would cease to be the same person if he was made for mercy. You would not exist had not God made you the way you are for His purpose.

Comment by David Wells

You said:

“However, if the latter is correct, then “good acts” have no intrinsic goodness to them and, theoretically, God could have made rape or lying good. Besides the repulsiveness of the idea of God making rape a “good act,” it also causes a problem with God Himself since He tells us that He is also subject to morality (in some sense).”

The problem with this analysis is this:

1) The judgment still presupposes the FIRST option, rather than operating upon the premises of the second.

The statement “Besides the repulsiveness of the idea of God making rape a “good act,”” presupposes that rape is externally and absolutely bad apart from God. Thus it presupposes the first option rather than operating on the premises of the second.

2) The same criteria for the absolute goodness of something in the first option is at least fulfilled in the second.

You said: “If the former is correct, then “good” is outside of God. If this is the case, then at best He is arbitrary to determining what is good. And at worst, “good” would be something above God, which He could not change. ”

But what makes this ‘good’ transcendent? Presumably it is because it is true, timeless, and eternal, and that the proposition that ‘it is good’ holds at all times in all places (e.g. the truth value of ‘rape is bad’ transcends time and place).

Yet we see in the second option that the immutable, timeless, eternal, absolute character of God fulfills this transcendent requirement.

So the second option is at no disadvantage with respect to the first, and in fact presupposes that morality is predicated on the eternal character of God rather than upon an external pleroma of morality.

So we may conclude:

1) The basis of the transcendence of morality is the eternal immutable character of God.
2) That which God deems good is in accord with His own character. Thus it isn’t arbitrary, since the character of God is the only transcendent standard by which anything might be deemed good or bad in the first place. If one claims that this is ‘arbitrary’ then the first option is just as arbitrary, and the term arbitrary has no worthwhile meaning, since there is no way that anything could NOT be arbitrary.

Comment by Mike J

Mikek J, thanks for the comment. I think you might have missed the crucial problem with the 2nd option. There are two problems with things being good because God commanded them, one not so bad and one pretty bad:

1)“Good” and “Evil” as we now use them are pointless. If it’s the case that good acts are only good because God has commanded them, then “Good” and “Evil” are completely pointless and should really just mean “Something God Commanded us to do” and “Something God commanded us not to do.”

Now I admit that this wouldn’t really be a deal breaker for Christian ethics, but I think situations like this have some merit since the way in which we argue about these things are referring to experiences. And if it be the case that option 2 of Euthyphro’s dilemma were correct, then the way that we have been using objective good and evil since the dawn of human history has been incorrect. [This isn’t too detrimental, but a worry nonetheless.]

2)God cannot lie. As I quoted earlier, in my original post, Paul tells us that it’s impossible for God to lie. If it were the case that “good acts” were only things dictated by God, then it wouldn’t be impossible for God to lie.

If God were truly omnipotent, then it would be entirely possible for Him to lie if there was not inherent unrighteousness in lying; it would be the same as any other act. But we know that God, in His righteousness cannot lie.

It seems to me that it must, by logical necessity, mean that there is something inherently unrighteous within lying. The only other option would be that God is not omnipotent. And we know that not to be the case.

Any thoughts?

Comment by Justin Day

David, you said:
“I firmly believe that good things are only good because God calls them good. In His full splendor, God is the standard for what is good. No action has, in and of itself, true meaning because it is just an object. A tree is not significant because it is a tree. It is significant only because God made it.”

Do you still think that statement holds considering my 2nd comment on the above post?

Comment by Justin Day

I think that the second option has no problems at all. Considering your example of lying, you stated: “If God were truly omnipotent, then it would be entirely possible for Him to lie if there was not inherent unrighteousness in lying; it would be the same as any other act. But we know that God, in His righteousness cannot lie.

First, let me ask a question: Do you know if God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do? How? If you are honest, you will say no due to the justification of such claims are chalked up to experience and circularity. In such a basic belief, you simply have to trust God with the information that he has given to you, which includes his faithfulness. This is the Christian walk, that of faith.

Considering that the Bible states that God is omnipotent in no uncertain terms, then he can lie, but in the divine mystery of God’s wise normalized goodness (aka His righteousness) being a part of his perfect character it does not follow that he does so. In this way, God freely chooses not to lie because in lying he does not glorify Himself which is what he is about. So, God has the capability to do so, but freely does not due to an economic inconsistency with His prerogatives. In the second option, goodness is such: that which God arbitrarily actualizes to glorify God and to enjoy God forever.

Knowing that arbitrary means “subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one’s discretion” and that the negative sense in satirical in nature, I think that this is a good that God would arbitrarily define ‘good’ in such a way. In the end, I think that the actual answer involves both points whereas God loves goodness because it is good and it is good because it is loved by God. This is true because God is good and God is the object of his affections (aka God is love).

Btw: Dave McCarthy rules.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

I don’t think that its a valid question. Its like asking is orange a color or a fruit. You could incorrectly argue both to the exclusion of the other. I think it is a false dilemma.

God commands good and He also commands it because it is good. Its like breathing air at least for God.

Second, I don’t think He commands things in the normal understanding of what command means. Just like free will can have multiple meanings. Command which is an exertion of that will likewise has multiple views. I think the question portrays an incorrect view of the will. I think choice and freedom in God’s commands always arise from fulfilling His desires within His character, not within hypotheticals. Just as our free will lies within that as well. This doesn’t exclude hypotheticals; its just I don’t believe any hypothetical for God exist here because God is perfect in every way.

Comment by Dave McCarthy

Kelfer, you state that you think it is possible for God to lie, but Hebrews 6:18, at least in the English translations, tells us that it’s impossible for God to lie. Now it might be the case that the Greek text would give us a different insight on this issue, but the closest translation we have available [NASB] uses the word impossible.

Given Hebrews 6, how do you hold your position?

Comment by Justin Day

Dave, I agree with you on this one. I think the dilemma is a false one because it tries to force you into one of the two options, both being failures. Aquinas answered [solved?] this dilemma with his view on ethics. He thought that the “good” was simply a reflection of God’s character.

Since it’s centered on His character, God is not arbitrary for morality, but is entirely necessary for it. Also, since it’s centered on His character, “good acts” do have some sort of value to them, in so much that they are reflections of God’s character.

This seems to make sense to me given Hebrews 6. God is omnipotent, but only in what is consistent with His character. He can’t produce a logical contradiction (married bachelor, squared circle, etc) and He cannot sin; He cannot act contrary to His character.

Comment by Justin Day

Kelf, John Murray says: “It belongs to our faith in God to avow that He cannot lie and that He cannot deny Himself. Such divine “cannots” are His glory and for us to refrain from reckoning with such ‘impossibilities’ would be to deny God’s glory and perfection.”

As far as good being something “outside” of God, I think we can think about it in the same way we think about “Wisdom” personified in Pvbs. 8:22-31. It says “The Lord possessed me (a footnote says “Fathered or Created”) at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.”
God didn’t discover wisdom somewhere else and abide by it. Neither did he come up with a set of guidelines and decide to submit himself to them. He simply acted, and we call his actions “Wisdom.” God brought wisdom out of himself. He gave birth to it.
In the same way, God isn’t subject to a form of goodness apart from his own wishes or desires. He brings goodness out from his own character, and we look at his character in scripture and say “It is good.”

Comment by Marko

“Kelfer, you state that you think it is possible for God to lie, but Hebrews 6:18, at least in the English translations, tells us that it’s impossible for God to lie. Now it might be the case that the Greek text would give us a different insight on this issue, but the closest translation we have available [NASB] uses the word impossible.

Given Hebrews 6, how do you hold your position?”

For the sake of not taking over this post with a massive comment, I invite you to play on my playground at The Blog of Steele . I’ll post an answer to your question today and you can comment on it there.

Comment by jkelfer626

Sorry, blogspot is not cooperating right now:

http://theblogofsteele.blogspot.com

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

Post is up, I would love to have you input on my reasoning.

Comment by Jonathan Kelfer

I keep trying to convince myself that I won’t comment on here any more because I usually get carried away!

I like what Justin said.

Here’s my 25 cents. God is who He is and it is impossible for He or this world to be any different than it actually is. “The good” is good because it is a reflection of the very nature of God in some way. We recognize it as “the good” because every human is made in God’s image and has an in-created sense of His existence and nature.

Where we as humans, constantly interpreting and seeking to understand the world around us, get mixed us is this: All of us have that God given concept of “the good”, but that concept gets jacked up by our sinful hearts and desires. In this jacked up state:

1) We reject God’s interpretation of the world, in whole or in part.
2) We become bigger in our own eyes, and entertain the notion that our intellects and imaginations are the greatest things around.
3) We view God as less than deity, and more like another human
4) In that, we believe that he functions the same way we function and is hemmed in by the same limitation we are. That is, His virtues and acts are constrained by the circumstances that He finds Himself in. (As if God has ever been in a situation that caught Him off guard!) Said in another way: His virtues and acts are contingent.
5) Once we get to this point, it seems logical that God could have determined what we now call “the bad” to be “the good” had the circumstances been different or had God to do it over again.

The problem should be clear. Phrases like “had the circumstances been different” or “had God to do it over again” assume that God isn’t all-knowing, sovereign, and unchanging, as His word reveals.

Was that confusing or unhelpful? Sometimes I can’t type what I’m thinking because I have CCS (Crappy Communication Syndrome).

Comment by Kevin Shipp




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