Essays | Knowing about God via The Euthyphro Dilemma

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The first desirable step to knowing God is knowing about him. Knowing God is a personal affair but knowing about him, one could say is doingTheology (with the capital T). [1] An improper or flimsy knowledge about God might interfere with knowing God. That is, people of faith might drift away when the reasonableness of falling out of faith is invalid.

Comes in the Euthyphro dilemma, where an ancient text helps (or, if you like, forces) Christians to think deeply about the nature of God with respect to morality. In the book Euthyphro, Plato relayed the dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro. In that dialogue, Socrates put Euthyphro to test on his way to prosecute his father in the Athenian courts for killing a slave. Socrates on the other hand had many cases to answer for, including the charge of corrupting the youth of Athens. In Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro claimed that he knows what it meant to be pious, and Socrates felt this knowledge will come in handy when the time comes to defend himself in the Athenian court.

Classic Socrates would want to know what a thing is (not what it could be), as expected he soon showed Euthyphro that he had no idea of what he talks about. Here is an excerpt from the dialogue:


SOCRATES: …Tell me then what this form itself is, so that I may look upon it and, using it as a model, say that any action of yours or another’s that is of that kind is pious, and if it is not that it is not.

 EUTHYPHRO: Well then, what is dear to the gods is pious, what is not is impious

SOCRATES: We shall soon know better whether it is. Consider this: Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods. [2]

Needless to say, Euthyphro fumbled in this dialogue – hence the famous Euthyphro dilemma.

Contemporary non-theists had run with this dilemma by arguing against Christian theism with the following: Is the good good because God wills (commands) it, or does God wills the good because it is good. Let’s call the first part the first horn, and the second part the second horn.

The first horn: Is the good good because God wills (commands) it? If we grant this horn, then we can say something like the following: theft could be good if God wills it to be good. That is, there is nothing inherently wrong with stealing, it is only wrong when God does not command it. This horn obliterates the good – the good fails to exist. And this horn is implicitly accepted by some adulterated brand of Christianity who heed evil advices from ‘men of God‘ when these ‘men of God‘ argues that it is because God wills it.  Anxiety, poverty, and of course impoverished knowledge about God lead people to take such advice, the author is born and bred in Africa, Nigeria to be precise, and had seen many of these acts perpetrated.

On the other hand, if we grant the second horn, then, suddenly the Good stands in-situ, outside of God (i.e. moral Platonism), which becomes problematic for theist namely since the Good stands outside God, then God becomes superfluous (the reader should note that moral Platonism is also problematic for non-theists as I will show later).

As a Christian myself, I am pleased with the excellent works of the theologian-cum-philosopher, William Lane Craig [3] who had shown the contemporized Euthyphro dilemma to be a false dilemma because of a third option: The nature of God is the good.  A dilemma does not exist if we have an option C.

However, this appears to be unsatisfactory to some non-theist who claims that all that that does is to shift the dilemma one step forward namely, is the nature of God good because he wills it to be good or is the nature of God good because he recognizes the good.

What this objection fails to understand is the moral particularism of option C i.e. The Good is the characteristics of God – “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” [4], “Be holy, because I am holy” [5].  It is the nature of God that ultimately give rise to what is good. It is important not to confuse moral semantics (meaning) with moral ontology (source) while assessing this argument.

Finally, recall that those who accept the second horn embraces a non-theist moral Platonism i.e. The Good is in a platonic realm, on its own, doing its own thing. However, one is compelled to ask that given naturalism – bearing in mind the evolutionary argument against naturalism [see note in 6]) – and atheism how can one show that being good is good, that is, what makes good Good? Notice that this doesn’t argue moral epistemology (the knowledge of what is good), but moral ontology (what is the source of the Good).

What looks like a dilemma improves our knowledge of the nature of God. In the end, Christian theism invalidates the Euthyphro dilemma.

References and notes

[1] YouTube, Doctrine of God Part 1: An Introduction | William Lane Craig

[2] Plato complete works, Edited by John M. Cooper, Pg 6 and 9

[3] William Lane Craig, The Euthyphro Dilemma Once Again, Reasonable Faith, January 04, 2015

[4] 1 John 4:8

[5] 1 Peter 1:16

[6] “If evolution had granted us this sophisticated cognitive faculty, our brain, which naturalists believed to have evolved through a blind, random process that doesn’t care about truths; on what basis should we believe that the product of our reasoning is true, given that what is untrue could aid survivability. It should be noted that the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism (EAAN) as is it’s called is not an argument against biological evolution, many people make this mistake. It’s an argument against a simultaneous belief in both a pure naturalistic evolutionary theory and naturalism.” Quoted from my essay: Do You Believe in Anything Supernatural?; Alvin Plantinga, Disputatio philosophica : International journal on philosophy and religion, Vol. 1 No. 1, 1999 Pg 50-69


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