The Euthyphro Dilemma: Does Man Prefer it Because it is Good or is it Good Because Man Prefers it?
|January 22, 2009||Posted by Anthony under abortion, atheism, Blog, General, morality, theism|
Astute, yet snarky readers, will fix on this title and surmise from the start that I’ve got it all wrong. I’ve done it backwards. The Euthyphro Dilemma has nothing to do with Man and everything to do with God or the gods. “He’s got it wrong!” Nonsense. I am a professional apologist. I always know what I’m doing. 🙂
But seriously, it is not uncommon to hear the Euthyphro dilemma issue forth from atheists and skeptics. There is always a smug satisfaction latent in their tone of typing as the invoke it, confident they’ve laid an unanswerable doozy in your lap.
For the purposes of this post, I am going to concede that it is indeed an unanswerable doozy. What that proves exactly, I don’t know. The problem is that if it is in fact an unanswerable doozy, and especially if you then conclude that it shows theism to be untenable and incoherent, the problem doesn’t go away. What has happened in that case is that the argument is taken from the now proved non-existent deity of your choice and plopped down into the laps of individual humans.
The attempt is frequently made to try to fight off the charge that moral relativism is open season by invoking concepts like the ‘collective’ and ‘social contracts.’ This accomplishes nothing. In the end, as you sit there reading this entry, whether or not you will behave in this way or that depends on your own conceptions of what are good, decent, and right. The idea of a ‘social contract’ is just another one of your conceptions. So, are the things you choose good, decent, and right because you choose them or do you choose them because they are good, decent and right?
The Euthyphro Dilemma returns with a vengeance. Now, instead of the problem being distilled into a single entity, putatively non-contingent, transcendent, immanent, eternal, etc, it is diffused out over the billions of little gods wandering around in their little neck of the wasteland. Here the secular humanist’s attitude becomes twisted and warped. They are the first to make the argument that humans believe that God cares about them out of sheer arrogance, as if God would care about our petty affairs, yet here is an arrogance that far exceeds that, by far. For if there is no God then there is only we ‘gods’ and the Euthyphro Dilemma proves that we don’t exist. I guess.
I am not so arrogant to believe that the sum of all moral truth is determined and dictated by my existential experience of reality. I cannot bring myself to believe that things are ‘good, decent, and right’ by virtue of my declaration. I certainly don’t trust the ‘collective,’ that wise assemblage of yahoos over the ages who burned, mutilated, and slaughtered millions in gulags, concentration camps, holocausts and genocides- and heck, just to make it fair and prove I’m objective, I’ll even throw in the louts who killed the piddly in comparison 350,000 or so in the Inquisition. Some ‘collective.’ Some ‘social contract.’ Call me cynical, but that just doesn’t seem like the right approach to me.
So I am back to wondering if I myself determine what is good, decent and right or rather do I try to reflect a priorly existing ‘good, decent, and right’?
My money is on the latter and I reject the smoke and mirror arguments that try to talk out of both sides of one’s mouth, saying from one side that morality is relative and from the other that this doesn’t mean one can do anything they like. If I am not the one who determines morality and I am quite confident that you don’t, either, I am free to entertain other candidates.
As near as I can tell, the best alternative is God, and in particular God as Christians understand Him. You might find that the Euthyphro Dilemma makes that unlikely, but it strikes me that a resolution is more likely to be forthcoming with God as the ultimate ‘buck stops here’ rather than ourselves. And if you disagree, well hey, I’ve got a doozy to lay in your lap…