The Euthyphro Dilemma Revisted with its Simple Solution
Some time ago I ventured to tease those who raise the ‘Euthyphro Dilemma‘ against Christian theism by pointing out that those who raise the objection don’t really obtain much by it. Those who employ it against theism usually do so quite smugly, behaving as though the dilemma in itself proves that there is no God. I argued that if you dispense with God, and believe the dilemma proves there is no God, then it becomes: “Is what is morally good that which is decided by people because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is decided by people?”
If the Euthyphro Dilemma is unanswerable and means that there is no God, then when it lands on the shoulders of individuals humans, it must certainly mean that there are no humans. Oh, wait…
But at the time, I did not provide my answer. I only pointed out that the problem doesn’t go away when God is tossed out of the equation. If anything, in my estimation, the problem becomes more pressing, because it is some kind of hubris to seriously consider the possibility that we humans that are the final arbiters of right and wrong.
I read today highlighted this with irony and unintended humor:
Western atheism has evolved into a forward-looking movement that has the wind at its back, is behind the success of the best run societies yet seen in human history, and is challenging religion as the better basis of morality. [emphasis mine]
If you cannot throw your head back and laugh until your eyes pop out of your head, you are utterly ignorant about human history and need to go back to school- or try some independent learning, because your schooling let you down really badly- or you have absolutely no concept that your beliefs should somehow inform your real world actions. The idea that atheism can provide a ‘better basis of morality’ is laughable on its face, as anyone who has really grappled with the actual logical necessary implications of atheism (sometimes reluctantly) admits.
Atheist philosopher Joel Marks is a case in point, arguing, “The long and the short of it is that I became convinced that atheism implies amorality; and since I am an atheist, I must therefore embrace amorality.”
That little essay highlights the fact that Christian apologists aren’t interested in the question “Would you be moral if there wasn’t a God?” but profoundly interested in the question “So you say there are no morals, but you find that God and religion are immoral, and you say that atheism is ‘a better basis of morality,’ insisting that you are moral. Do you remember 15 words ago when you said that there are no morals? Hello, McFly? Anybody home?”
[Hence my own personal emphasis that atheism doesn’t necessarily lead to great evils, per se, but leads to pretty much whatever any given atheist wants; Christians, however, are bounded by what they can promote as ‘good.’]
So what then? Is something moral because God says it is good, akin to the ‘divine command theory‘? Or is it good already, and therefore God is compelled to adhere to that standard, thus implying that there exists something above and beyond even God? (On the view of Christian monotheism, the latter is a logical absurdity, like asking someone to produce a round square).
That’s the dilemma, but it is very easily resolved. Just as Aristotle argued that an actual infinite regress of cause and effect was just plumb impossible, necessitating the existence of a causeless cause, so too is a never-ending chain of moral ‘causation’ … necessitating the existence of a … You know what belongs here. 😉
In order for the term ‘moral’ to have any meaning at all- and even the amoral atheists behave as though it does- we must come to a point where we must allow that there is an entity which makes moral pronouncements because those pronouncements are good in themselves AND the grounding of the goodness of those pronouncements resides entirely within that entity. That entity, we call ‘God.’
In sum, what God says is good because God says it and what God says is good because goodness itself demands it. It is no different, really, than the reasoning that led to Aristotle’s rejection of the ‘infinite regression’ and the converse conclusion that there must be a ’causeless cause.’
Hence, to imagine that there is any meaning whatsoever in any moral assessment is to assume that there exists a God. If you have determined that you yourself are not that God, then you are compelled to search for other alternatives. This is the great problem that atheists such as Marks have to deal with: they are moral, yet their worldview logically entails amorality. (Not immorality, you buffoon. Amorality.) Something has got to give. May I propose that the self-evident fact that they are moral, in great contradiction to their worldview, means that their worldview is… wrong? Not very profound, I know, but not to be faulted simply because a fourth grader could comprehend it.
Determining that there is an entity that represents the ‘final regress’ in moral reality is not the end of the story. Just as Aristotle was able to deduce very little about the nature of the ’causeless cause’ than that, we do not learn a great deal about this omnimoral entity beyond that he must exist for our own moral statements to have more value than a pile of spit. Ultimately, we are confronted with the reality that if we are to know anything interesting at all about him this entity itself will have to reveal it.
Maybe the beginning of wisdom comes simply from concluding, “There is a God, and I’m not him.”