Answering Euthyphro’s Dilemma

This post first appeared on Kineti and is authored by Judah Gabriel Himango, one of Tabernacle of David’s teachers.

Plato arguing with himself

Is something good because God wills it? Or does God will something because it is good

If the former, “good” is arbitrary; God could have willed that hatred is good, and we would have been morally obligated to hate each other.

If the latter, morality is independent of God. Murder would be wrong not because God said it, but because it’s intrinsically wrong. God would be constrained by morality, precluding His omnipotence.

This is Euthyphro’s Dilemma, a 2400 year old argument that undermines objective morality, the idea that there is absolute right and wrong. This ultimately undermines God: if moral values and moral duties are not grounded in God, then ultimately all morality is subjective. Murder, rape, torture and other obvious forms of immorality are not truly immoral. Indeed, Charles Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man,

“If … men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it is a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering.”

What’s our answer to Euthyphro’s Dilemma? In his book, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, William Lane Craig writes,

Craig argues that the dilemma isn’t a true dilemma. Rather, there’s a third option: something is good because God is good. If God is good, his commands are downstream of His goodness. 

He notes that a common atheist objection is, “If God were to command child abuse, would we be obligated to abuse our children?”

Craig answers that the objection is nonsensical in the vein of “Could God create a rock so heavy that even He can’t lift it?”, or “If there were a square circle, would its area be the square of one of its sides?”

There’s no answer because the objection is logically impossible.

Bonus content: Jewish Theological Seminary graduate and musical composer Hannah Hoffman created this jazzy take on Euthyphro’s Dilemma:

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