Friday, August 8, 2008
The Euthyphro Problem
Socrates asked “Is what is good good because God wills it or does He will it because it is good?”
If the answer is the former then God can make anything good by His decree at will. He could have easily have reversed the 10 Commandments. For instance, commanding us to murder instead of not to murder.
If the answer to this question is the latter then God is held to some standard outside of Himself that makes Him will good versus evil. This would suggest a moral standard outside of God, which determines objective morality. This would also mean God is not perfect in and of Himself.
The answer is neither. God Himself by His nature is the standard and He is always Himself. All that He does is according to His nature.
To quote Paul Copan, “Indeed, the final resolution to the Euthyphro dilemma is that God’s good character/nature sufficiently grounds objective morality. So we don’t need to look elsewhere for such a standard. We have been made in the divine image, without which we would neither (a) be moral beings nor (b) have the capacity to recognize objective moral values. The ultimate solution to the Euthyphro dilemma shifts the grounding of morality from the commands of God to something more basic—that is, the nature or character of God. Thus, we human beings (who have been made to resemble God in certain ways) have the capacity to recognize them, and thus his commands—far from being arbitrary—are in accordance with that nature.”
Now one can push the age old question further and ask “Is God good because it is God’s character, or it is God’s character because it is good.”
However, to quote Paul Copan again, “if a good God does not exist, why think that morally responsible, intrinsically valuable, rights-bearing beings would exist at all? Without God, moral properties would never be instantiated or realized.”
He continues, “God, who is essentially perfect, does not have obligations to some external moral standard; God simply acts, and what he naturally does is good . . . God’s action and will operate according to the divine nature. So God’s goodness should not be viewed as His fulfilling moral obligations but as expressing the way he is.”
Moreover, the dilemma goes both ways as the atheists must consider, “Are moral values good simply because they are good, or is there some independent standard of good to which they conform?”
One either has to maintain a standard of objective goodness or digress to no goodness at all. Richard Dawkins writes in River Out of Eden, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”
If there is no objective good and evil we have “nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” Yet we live in a world where everyone has a concept of good and evil. Are these merely terms made up by man with no inherent meaning? Is morality a myth and our ethics merely derived from what is best for survival or fitness to this nature we live in? We really aren’t left with satisfying answers to the need to be good.
I read a book review of a biography of Albert Einstein where it quoted Einstein as saying that he did not believe in objective morality, but had to live as if it existed to get along in the world. Why must we conform to a standard of goodness even if we disbelief in the very nature of good and evil? Why do we struggle between good and evil in our souls if it’s simply an idea produced by man? If man produced it, why is it so difficult for man to dispense with it? Why do we keep asking why? Maybe it’s because there is something real behind it all and our hearts yearn to be freed from this struggle because we were meant for something more. We try and find it through philanthropic acts of kindness, community service, religious activity, worship of man, worship of gods, worship of spirituality, etc. What is man searching for? Why the search if there is nothing to find at the end of the journey?
Could it be there is a real good God behind it all and our search is prompted by His image impressed upon us and our indispensable need to be rejoined to our Creator? Could it be that we have been fighting against our only hope and we need to stop fighting and surrender to the only one who can save us?
He is the author of this grand story and until we find our place in Him we will feel things just aren’t right with our place in this world for we were destined for more and we do know it. We even know by our own desire that He exists. For every desire has a purposed fulfillment. I think all our questions exist because there is an Answer for He is the Truth for which we are searching.
Paul Copan quotes taken from the book To Everyone An Answer