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An essay donated by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys
About the "Euthyphro Dilemma,"
and why it matters, Part 1:
One of the teachings of Eastern religions/philosophies and some New Age religions/philosophies is that all things are interconnected or intertwined, though those interconnections aren’t always
obvious. This is true with the "Euthyphro Dilemma."
It was mentioned on an online chat recently. I hadn’t heard about it so I looked it up on Wikipedia. They offer a good overview of the topic. 1
The dilemma first appears in Plato’s dialogue "Euthyphro." 2
Bust of Plato 3
The "cliff notes" version of the dilemma is this:
Is something, good, just, moral, ethical, right because God wills it to be so, or does God will these things because they are good, just, moral, ethical, and right?
This question is a dilemma because it also questions the concept of God’s omnipotence. Omnipotence means to posess unlimited power.
- IF God is omnipotent, if he has unlimited power, then he should be able to declare that something we humans see as bad is actually good.
- IF he has unlimited power he should be able to do something we humans see as being immoral. This includes declaring that genocide is good. There are passages in the Bible that call for genocide. One example is the killing of every man, woman and child and all their livestock in a town the Israelites wish to conquer. This passage has been used by Atheists attempting to prove that God is immoral -- not a good God.
- IF God can’t do something bad or immoral, if he is constrained for some reason, (perhaps by his own good nature, or by something inherent in something else), then he isn’t omnipotent. This raises problems with some of the arguments made to prove God’s existence. Many of these arguments insist that God, to be God, must be good and all powerful. You can check out the series of essays I wrote about Edward Feser’s book 4 "Five Proofs of the Existence of God:" the Aristotalian, Neo-Platonic, Augustinian, Thomistic and Rationalist Cases.
The Euthyphro Dilemma throws into doubt the very existence of God:
- IF there is a standard of good, moral set by someone or inherent in something other than God, can God really be called omnipotent?
- IF God isn’t omnipotent than how do we know what is good or bad, just or unjust, moral or immoral or amoral, ethical or unethical, right or wrong?
- IF God isn’t omnipotent than how do we know what has value and what doesn’t?
- How do we know what to do or not to do?
- How do
we know what is love and what is simply raging hormones?
- How can we condemn anyone’s actions or behavior IF there isn’t an Omnipotent God telling us those acts or behaviors are wrong?
- IF God doesn’t determine what is good, just, moral, ethical, right etc., then how can the
Christian honestly declare that Atheists have no values -- that they can’t be good, just, moral, ethical, right etc. people?
- How can there be anything wrong with a person having a homosexual orientation or transgender identity? The admonitions cited against it become nothing more than statements of men’s fears and prejudices.
- IF God isn’t omnipotent how can he protect us? How can he control storms, or pestilence, keep us from stepping in front of the runaway truck? How can he punish our (and His) enemies? How can he save us from anything? Including save us from death?
- IF there is no need for God to tell us these things, IF God isn’t omnipotent than why do people
even need God?
These are the complicated, interconnections that the Euthyphro dilemma raises.
So where do our ideas of what is good, just, moral, ethical, right come from? I wrote an essay about this back in 2009 “Misperceptions about Atheists”. Other essays I have written since have also touched on this issue of values, morals etc. The topic is intertwined with just about everything!
This essay is continued in Part 2
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Euthyphro dilemma." Wikipedia, as on 2018-JUN-13, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
- Plato, "Euthyphro," Wikipedia, as on 2018-JUN-16, at: https://en.wikipedia.org/
- Image by Marie-Lan Nguyen and one more author, in 2008. Downloaded from Wikipedia. (mage is In the Public Domain)
- Edward Feser, "Five Proofs of the Existence of God," Ignatius Press (2017). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com
online book store Available in the U.S.: in Kindle format for $11.78, and in Paperback for $14.22.
How you may have arrived here:
Original posting: 2018-JUN-17
Latest update: 2018-JUL-20
Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys