A Christian Answer to Euthyphro's Dilemma
by Pastor Bob Enyart, KGOV.com
In a dialogue of Socrates with Euthyphro, a state's attorney heading to court in Athens to prosecute his own father, the Greek philosopher Plato reports an apparent dilemma for those who believe in God. Atheists argue that Euthyphro's Dilemma
(see full text here on TOL) shows that moral absolutes cannot logically flow from a divine being. As presented to the Christian:
1) Is something (like humility) good because God recognizes
it as good? Or,
2) Is something good because God commands
that it is good (as Socrates put it, because God loves
Socrates’ dialogue with Euthyphro used these questions as the backdrop to show the logical contradictions in the Greek pantheon of gods. Even though Christian theology differs from Greek mythology, the atheist can still start his inquiry with these identical questions posed to the believer. Whether this argument still succeeds depends upon the force of this dilemma against the claims of Christianity. So, is something like kindness or honesty inherently good, and simply recognized by the Trinity as such, or does God make something, like kindness, good by deciding that it will be a good thing (that is, by approving, loving or commanding it)?
If God does not make something good by commanding it, but rather recognizes
that which is good, what standard of righteousness does He use to make this judgment? If the standard is external to Himself, then it appears that contrary to Christian teaching, an authority superior to God would exist. If He Himself is the standard
of righteousness, if by His will He decides
whether some trait will be good, as though He could have decided otherwise, that appears arbitrary; and if His nature itself is claimed to define goodness itself, then how could God Himself even know whether He were good? Christians believe that God commands worship for a reason similar to why He commands a son to honor his father, because it is good for the son. But some non-Christians acknowledging no fear of the Creator assert that if a powerful being like the biblical God actually exists, perhaps he does not even realize it but He commands worship because He is selfish. Is there a valid response to this? Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ is God the Son, and thus Christians should recognize that the Euthyphro Dilemma presents a valid question to be addressed, because the Gospel of John quotes Jesus Himself raising this concern. "If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true [credible]." The New Testament presents a divine assertion, that God the Son urges others to obtain corroborating evidence to His claims. Thus by the recorded judgment of Jesus Christ Himself, if Euthyphro's dilemma is ultimately unanswerable then Christianity is falsified. Conversely, if Christianity is true then Euthyphro's Dilemma is answerable.
The skeptic, then, presents the Christian with two options: if God decides
what kinds of traits will be considered “good,” then goodness itself appears arbitrary; otherwise, if goodness is not arbitrary but objective, then it appears that the “true” standard of righteousness would supersede God’s own authority.
Divine Command View
Regarding Euthyphro's second horn (option), the Divine Command View of morality, if God's command
makes something righteous, then as atheists and even some Christian theologians point out, God could have commanded either adultery or faithfulness, and forbade murdering or honoring parents. Atheist Bertrand Russell said, "If the only basis for morality is God's decrees, it follows that they might just as well have been the opposite of what they are…" (1962, p. 48
). Half a millennium earlier an influential Christian theologian John Duns Scotus (1266 – 1308) affirmatively taught that God does make something, like honesty or humility, good by deciding that it will be good. If it were true that God invents the distinction between good and evil, then by this atheist's objection, and this Christian's reasoning, God's commands are arbitrary at the deepest level and the "shall nots" of the Ten Commandments could have been the "shalls." Real world effects of this arbitrariness include those who may claim a special dispensation from God to justify simony, the selling of indulgences, and other bad behavior by the Church. Scripture describes "the Lord God [as] abounding in goodness and truth," with "Righteousness and justice [as] the foundation of Your throne." Arbitrariness is not affirmed but rather, "God shows personal favoritism to no man," as also God the Son does "not show personal favoritism, but teach[es] the way of God in truth," and He said, "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free," and teaches of "the Spirit of truth," and "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (Ex. 34:6; Ps. 89:14; Gal. 2:6; Lk. 20:21; Jn. 8:32; 14:6).
Atheists use Euthyphro's Dilemma hoping to show that both options are invalid. So while they will approve of this section's conclusion, that Euthyphro's second option is invalid, they will reject much of the reasoning herein; but this material is not included primarily for them but to convince theists, on our own terms, that the atheist is correct in that the Command View
of morality is absurd and untenable. So atheist readers, please bear with some of the argument herein. Your job will be to test the final conclusion of this Christian answer to Socrates and Plato, to admit whether or not you can identify any fatal logical flaw.
Moral inconsistency is an absolute determinant for wrong. Truth is non-contradictory and therefore cannot include falsehood. Something cannot be true and false at the same time and in the same way. To the atheist who asserts that absolute truth does not exist, we ask, "Is that absolutely true?" Morality is likewise non-contradictory, and some particular action cannot be both moral and immoral in the same way. Simultaneously embracing opposing sides of a moral issue means to be immoral. Thus as truth cannot include falsehood, morality cannot include immorality. Any view that permits truth or morality to be founded upon arbitrariness fails. While resisting the idea of indeterminacy in the universe and quantum mechanics, Albert Einstein said
, "I, at any rate, am convinced that He does not throw dice." Theists often exaggerate Einstein's religious beliefs, whereas he himself claimed to believe in Spinoza's god, which is a naturalistic reverence for the physical universe. However Einstein's comment revealed his belief that the laws of physics could not be different than they are, and so his line, paraphrased as, "God does not play dice with the universe" is quoted by
the Intelligent Design movement bringing attention to the uncanny, practical, and explicable physical properties of the universe. Laws describe the functioning of reality, whether logical, spiritual or physical, thus the laws of physics, like the laws of logic and spirit, could not be different than they are. Law is not invented, but discovered. God could have created a different kind of physical universe, but this
universe required these
laws. God created non-moral creatures, like worms, but there is no wiggle room regarding the application of morality to moral creatures. Theists who claim that God could have decreed the laws to be otherwise, whether physical or spiritual, cloud man's understanding of reality, and undermine his acceptance of divine authority. Theists who promote such ambiguity bear some guilt for prompting the atheist to characterize Christian teaching as: "good and evil exist only at the whim [arbitrary command] of the deity, thus anything goes as long as the deity wills it, and Christians will defend any wickedness they perceive as committed in the name of God, making their morality fundamentally meaningless."
The atheist has a point. God is truth, and thus His nature cannot be sufficiently pliable that He could remain good and embrace the contradictions of theft and private property, perjury and truth, adultery and faithfulness. God could not do evil and remain holy. If Jesus Christ gave into temptation by submitting to evil and worshipping Satan, then He would not have remained holy, but rather, the Rebellion would have entered the Godhead, and God would have come undone. It is false that God cannot do anything contrary to the description of His nature. It is true that God cannot do anything contrary to the description of His nature and remain righteous. A believer who promotes the Command View of morality puts an unnecessary stumbling block before the atheist, who then reacts to that misrepresentation of God.
The atheist concludes that Christian morality is infinitely pliable because anything even theoretically done by God (like if Jesus bowed to Satan) would be defended as righteous. But unless Christ's life on earth was a mere show, His fulfilling the law, refusing temptation, and suffering for us are praiseworthy, not because He had no choice, but because He did. The description of God's nature is a definition of righteousness
. If God did anything contrary to that description, such an act would be deemed correctly as unrighteous. God is good, not because He cannot do evil, but because He will not do evil. God is free, and love must be freely given; thus the Son loves the Father willingly, not because He has no choice. Christians undermine God's moral authority when they argue that anything God conceivably could do would therefore be moral, just because He did it. Instead, they should explain that they trust that God will remain steadfastly good because of the fierce determination of His will (counsel, Hebrews 6:17-18) to the truth. "A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness will utter lies [inconsistencies]" (Proverbs 14:5). Christians trust that God is faithful and will only act consistent with the description of His nature. If He willed to embrace evil, as described currently by His nature, then He would no longer be the righteous God. Thus moral inconsistency is an absolute determinant for wrong, both in man and for our Creator. Therefore a Christian addressing Euthyphro's Dilemma should reject that God decides what righteousness will be, and therefore should reject the Divine Command View of morality.
So then if Euthyphro's second option is invalid, and if Socrates did not leave out other plausible solutions, then for Christianity to be true the first horn must be correct. Yet if God does not command that something is good but rather recognizes
it as such, what is the standard that He uses in this judgment? If God is not Himself
the standard of goodness, but as an Arbiter applies some superior definition of righteousness, then God could not be the ultimate authority as inherently claimed. That is, if God's character is righteous because it adheres to some independent standard of goodness, then humanity could judge evil by that standard, independent of whether God exists or not, demonstrating practically that ethics are not founded upon God. This is another atheist argument with which the Christian can agree: If the standard for righteousness emanates from outside of God, He would not be the ultimate authority, and thus the God we believe in would not exist. Christians reject, however, that an external authority exists above God, as incompatible with the biblical record. The laws of the physical sciences do not employ the moral concepts of right
; the laws of logic are not physical (no mass, polarity, etc.); and man has no ability to attach matter to photons and transport things at the speed of light yet we do transmit data on light sending terabits containing entire encyclopedias worth of information across the ocean in a second, thus while matter can be arranged to represent data, data itself is not material. In 1936 Einstein famously wrote
, "the most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible," and in 1944, remarking about Russell
, he described
the ability to get from matter to ideas as a "gulf–logically unbridgeable," which some scientists and linguists refer to as Einstein's Gulf, and in 1950, Einstein wrote
that "science can only ascertain what is
, but not what should be
," necessarily excluding from its domain "value judgments of all kinds." Christians take such observations about ideas, ethics, and the laws of science and logic as consistent with their belief that any moral authority
could not be physical but would be non-physical (i.e., spiritual and personal). Thus Christianity rejects an external authority above God as it quotes from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, "For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth… who formed it to be inhabited: 'I am the LORD, and there is no other.'"
Pursuing Euthyphro's first option further, that God recognizes
good, while rejecting a standard superior to God, is it possible to answer the objection affirmed by Jesus Christ Himself, that, "If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true [credible]" (John 5:31)? The Greek word for true used here, ἀληθὴς (alēthēs), means not only true, but also dependable. Christ later claims that His testimony is in fact true. So with this admission, evidently, Jesus does not mean that His testimony is untrue
. Rather, and this surprises the Christian reader of the Gospels and affirms Socrates' insight, Christ states that His own claim is not sufficiently credible to persuade the thinking man apart from other testimony. If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not credible. Why? Because people lie. And they contradict themselves. A respect for the truth will challenge extraordinary claims for corroboration. Socrates barely touched upon the two questions he raised with Euthyphro. Instead the philosopher satisfied himself by demonstrating that this man, who claimed "exact knowledge" of religion and piety, was thoroughly confused about such matters. Euthyphro, who was a symbol of the masses devoted to Zeus, et al., could hardly understand, let alone address, the dilemma. Socrates destroyed Euthyphro's claim that the pantheon of Greek gods defined absolute morality by observing that, "the gods were admitted to have enmities and hatreds and differences," opposing and contradicting one another, thus refuting any claim that those "quarreling" gods could present a cohesive moral absolute. Christianity agrees with Socrates' logical refutation of Greek paganism. For Scripture does not assert that all religion is true, but the contrary, that Jesus is "the truth" and claimed, "No one comes to the Father except through Me." By the testimony of our Lord and the corroborating evidence that He claimed, we Christians thus reject Allah. Socrates' insight helps in that rejection, because if Islam's deity is himself the standard of goodness, how could he know that he is correct? If the jihadist claim that he exists were true, perhaps he commands his "martyrs" to intentionally target their fellow citizens and even other Muslims, not because he is righteous, but because he is evil. Unlike the Gospel writer, Mohammad did not report a similar courageous sentiment that, "If Allah testifies concerning himself, his testimony is not credible." For a theme of the Christian scriptures is that, "two or three witnesses establish a matter" and a unitarian deity like Allah inherently lacks the ability to offer, and even to consider for himself, the requisite eternal corroborating testimony, such as the three Persons of the Trinity can provide.
So, can the plurality of the Trinity withstand the accusation, effective against a unitarian deity, that if God presents Himself as the standard of righteousness, He would have no perspective from which to know whether His own claim were justified? The unitarian deity who is consistently
cruel and unjust could command willing servants to commit murder and rape as in harmony with his character. But give a unitarian deity his due. If such a one existed, he could in fact evaluate his own consistency on matters that he identified as moral. Inconsistency in non-moral matters can be positively creative, such as putting one Moon around the Earth, none around Venus, and two around Mars. Inconsistency on moral matters, however, indicates immorality. Thus even a theoretical unitarian deity could know that he were inconsistent morally, and then condemn himself. However, could he know that he were righteous? If he claims that all his inconsistency occurs only in amoral circumstances, that characterization may be right or wrong, and without eternally corroborating testimony, the unitarian deity cannot make his case. If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not credible. So, if Allah existed and had been eternally consistent on everything, he could not satisfactorily prove to himself that he was not consistently evil.
Enter the Godhead. Literally. If Christian theology had invented the plurality of God in order to refute Socrates, the temptation would be strong to dismiss the claim as a convenient secondary assumption. Big Bang proponents realized they have a starlight and time problem more severe than biblical creationists in that the entire cosmic microwave background radiation (MBR) of the universe is at a virtual equilibrium of 2.7 degrees Kelvin and by orders of magnitude even a twenty billion year old universe would not have enough time for the temperature to even out; so a secondary assumption was invented to put the explosion of the universe into instantaneous hyper-speed and to then almost instantly pull it out of hyper-speed, without any describable mechanisms of acceleration and deceleration, leaving the virtually magical inflationary period
gradually losing support among astrophysicists. Unlike the inflationary period, designed to rescue the Big Bang, the plurality of Persons in the one Christian God is not a secondary assumption or an afterthought. The evidence for this divine plurality not only permeates the New, but also appears through the Old Testament. "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness" appears in the first chapter of Genesis, and the very first verse of the Hebrew Scriptures uses a plural subject with a singular verb. In the beginning God (Elohim
) created the heavens and the earth. The im
suffix on Elohim indicates plural, as with cherub and cherubim, and seraph and seraphim. El
are both singular words for God (although Elah could be dual in number), as compared to Elohim which Scripture uses thousands of times, tenfold more often than singular references. Billions of copies of Scripture have been published in hundreds of languages and it is hard to maintain that the first sentence of the original contains an unintentional grammatical error. The plural subject with a singular verb, "the Gods He created," is intentional usage by the author of the books of Moses who used Elohim 32 times in the first chapter of Genesis alone. Skeptics have argued that the musings of Jewish prophets were just the idiosyncratic beliefs of a minor tribe among thousands of such tribes; but four thousand years later the billions of monotheists among the world's major religions trace their belief back to a single human being, back to the God of Abraham. The Hebrew Shema
, from Deuteronomy, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!" also uses the plural Elohim and the Hebrew word translated 'one' is not the expected term yachid
, or even bad
, terms meaning a singularity, but the word is echad
, one in plurality. The Hebrew Scriptures never once use the primary term for a singularity, yachid
, to refer to God. This is the central passage to all theology based upon the God of Abraham, and it uses echad
, which is used at times to mean simply "one," but also commonly refers to a one in plurality, as used by God before the Tower of Babel, "the people are one," and by Joseph "the dreams of Pharaoh are one," and by Moses, "the people answered with one voice," and back again to the beginning of Genesis at the institution of marriage, "and they shall become one flesh."
A triune theme flows throughout our perception of the universe. Space exists in three dimensions, height, width, and length, as does time in past, present and future. We experience matter in three states, solid, liquid, and gas, and the electro-magnetic force operates in positive, negative, and neutral. The three primary colors in pigment are red, blue, and yellow; in light waves the three primary colors are red, green, and blue which combine to create the full rainbow of virtually infinite hues. Mathematical values are negative, zero, and positive, and the triangle is the strongest shape in construction, sturdier even than the arch, with collapse typically requiring failure of all three sides
simultaneously. Nobel prizewinning physicist, Richard Feynman categorizes everything in the physical universe as operating in three different phenomena: electromagnetism, gravitational, and nuclear phenomena. In his classic QED (quantum electrodynamics), Feynman wrote:
Most of the phenomena you are familiar with involve the interaction of light and electrons—all of chemistry and biology, for example. The only phenomena that are not covered by this theory are phenomena of gravitation and nuclear phenomena; everything else is contained in this theory. Is there a limited number of bits and pieces that can be compounded to form all the phenomena that involve light and electrons? Is there a limited number of "letters" in this language of quantum electrodynamics that can be combined to form "words" and "phrases" that describe nearly every phenomenon of Nature? The answer is yes; the number is three.
The Bible teaches of Elohim
, that He created our world, and said, "Let Us make man in Our image," and so He imprinted both with His triune nature, and made man as body, soul, and spirit, in the likeness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Esther could have fasted for two days or four to save God's people. Jonah could have remained in that fish for one day or a week, but three days and three nights prefigured God's plan for Christ's time in the grave. And Jesus arose on the third day, according to the Scriptures. Atheists reject all this of course. But by their own claim, they have the burden to show how Euthyphro's dilemma might disprove Christian theology. As Einstein explained relativity, astronauts in two approaching ships may have difficulty determining which is nearing the other, but as a second and third frame of reference is added, more of reality becomes apparent. The Sun does not orbit the Earth, and neither does the Earth orbit the moon, and multiple reference frames from two or three witnesses can establish the matter. Einstein's idea of various frames of reference is an insight into the nature of physical reality, and Socrates was groping toward the same truth in the realm of ideas, and this fundamental issue arises also while discussing the plurality of persons in the Trinity.
After acknowledging that His own testimony should be judged insufficiently credible, three chapters later Jesus Christ added, "yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me." Christ attributed the writing of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, to Moses as inspired by God. Thus the observation, "by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established" (Deut. 19:15) stands in Christian theology as more than just a fallible opinion. As Christ then added, "It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true [more credible than one]. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me." In making weighty determinations, as when a judge renders a verdict, Moses wrote, "one witness is not sufficient" (Num. 35:30) but corroboration by "the testimony of two or three witnesses" can be sufficient (Deut. 17:6). Solomon wrote that "the first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him" (Proverbs 18:17) and that one can be easily defeated but "two can withstand… and a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Eccl. 4:12). The New Testament too references this standard, not only by Christ, but also in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "the testimony of two or three witnesses" (Heb. 10:28; [2:3-4]), and by Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles: "two or three witnesses" (1 Timothy 5:19). So Christianity asserts that there is one God, with two possibilities, that He is true or false (as any of His creatures or their actions likewise may be good or evil), and thirdly, that the three-fold witnesses of the Persons of the Trinity convincingly testify that God is not evil, but good.
God the Son testifies of His Father, that as they fellowshipped through eternity past that the Father has never cheated the Son; He has never wronged Him. The Spirit testifies likewise of the Son, that the Son has never been selfish and has never threatened the Holy Spirit. And the Father testifies of the Spirit, of His eternal love and service, and thus "by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established." Socrates pointed to the quarreling of the gods which behavior was conceded even by mythology's adherents. And so by logical force (which is nonphysical but very real) the whole structure of the pantheon came crashing down under the weight of its internal inconsistency. Thus Euthyphro's claim that his gods and goddesses displayed knowledge of absolute morality was falsified by the contradictions within the mythical pantheon. Socrates should have seen these contradictions only as a logical proof specifically that Greek mythology did not qualify as the source of righteousness, but then he should have tested the logical properties of his argument on a Deity that was not self-contradictory. Atheists attempt to use Socrates' argument against the Christian God who has no such internal discord, and they cannot find any claimed record, nor any concession by believers, that any such contradiction exists within the Trinity. The Christian God does not fight within Himself about what is right and wrong; but if He ever did, then He would no longer remain the holy God. And there is nothing remotely circular about this. We look for inconsistencies in courtroom testimony because inconsistencies reveal lies and deceptions. Thus consistency is a necessary property of righteousness, and thus of being right. So the Bible claims that the steadfast love of the Lord never changes in that He is faithful, that is, He is consistent. The ancients would have passed down the early knowledge of the plurality within the Godhead ("Let Us make man in Our image"), and pagan exaggeration of that plurality, and projection of their own sin upon their deities, resulted in the pantheon. These are the errors that Socrates exploited. Whereas the non-corrupted view of the plurality within the Trinity answers the deeper philosophical objections presented by Euthyphro's Dilemma.
The Trinity is a mystery, yes; but so is light, gravity, time, space, movement, the universe, life, consciousness, a woman's heart, infinity, and nearly everything we set our eyes upon. How can three Persons exist in one God? There should be no surprise that God is in many ways inscrutable. But as triune, with three Persons in one God, He has an eternal track record of interaction between the Persons of the Godhead. These Persons provide multiple frames of reference, that is, different perspectives from which God can describe Himself. God describes Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and His interaction with them, and with all who reject or trust in the God of Abraham, is also part of His eternal record. If the Son willingly submits to the Father, because He implicitly trusts the Father by whom He has never been harmed, and the Spirit brings glory to the Son from whom He has never been threatened, and the Father loves the Son and the Spirit, never having been jeopardized by either, then "by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established." The Persons of the Trinity have no accusations against each other. Thus even though it is the only standard He has ever known, God the Father can determine that His own standard is righteous because He has never violated it, and because the independent persons of the Son and the Spirit testify that the Father has never violated their own self-interests. For as Jesus pointed out, you are not trustworthy, "if you have not been faithful in what is another man's..." (Luke 16:12).
Russell gave a talk
that he titled, Why I Am Not a Christian
. Based on the following excerpt, he should have titled it, Why I Am Not a Muslim
, or Why I Don't Worship Zeus
. But as regards Christianity, it should now jump out at the reader that Russell forgot to test his use of Euthyphro's Dilemma against the Christian God:
If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are in this situation: Is that difference due to God's fiat [arbitrary decree] or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.
Socrates and Russell had a prejudice against God which blurred their insight such that they did not explore how far consistency and inconsistency could take them regarding a divine moral standard. And while Plato recorded this dialogue four centuries before Christ, Russell lived two millennia into the Christian era but he never dealt with the trinitarian answer to this dilemma even though Jesus Christ Himself broached the issue of corroborating evidence and divine authority. As a result many atheists today wrongly think that they are on well-tested ground when objecting to God's nature as the standard, and so they claim that the saying, "God is good" is an empty tautology meaning only "God is God." But to say that God is good, or God is love, meaning that His nature exudes commitment to others, or to say that Michael Jordan is the basketball standard, does not require us to reduce either to God is God or Michael is Michael, as though nothing real is being communicated. The Persons of the triune God know, and they have described, the divine nature. And so, right and wrong are not determined by God's arbitrary decrees, nor by some external authority, nor by an inconsistent nature, but these are defined by His eternal commitment to others. If God changed over time, that would not require a modification to His righteous character, which the Scriptures assert changes not. Through the Incarnation, the eternal God the Son became flesh. And in the Crucifixion, God the Father for the first and only time poured out His wrath upon the Son, who had, for the sake of man, "become sin" and "become a curse," not because of His own transgression of the law of righteousness but to pay for man's sin. Then in the Resurrection, God the Son is justified by the Holy Spirit (1 Tim. 3:16) and restored to fellowship with His Father. These fundamental changes in the Godhead do not rewrite the description of God's holy nature. And that nature describes a standard which God's actions could theoretically violate, but He remains holy because of the unchanging determination of His will. Thus, the system of morality based upon God is not logically unsound as claimed by atheists.
Socrates' questions do not encompass all aspects of religious belief, but addresses the logically foundational question of whether or not the standard of righteousness can proceed from God. Those who have applied this Christian answer to Euthyphro's Dilemma over the years have observed a tendency by atheists to obfuscate by introducing other issues. A Christian apologist should be willing to entertain the various challenges to his faith, but at the same time, he should recognize when a skeptic is trying to sidestep this answer by changing the topic. For example, Euthyphro's Dilemma asks whether and how a divine standard of righteousness could possibly exist. It does not address how God would then reveal that standard to mankind, nor the particulars of that standard. These are valid questions but they do not precede, but rather, they follow, any proposed answer to the dilemma. Thus if a Christian notices an atheist moving beyond Euthyphro's Dilemma in a supposed maneuver to disprove this answer, he should call him on it and request that he first stick to the scope of the challenge, until the atheist either:
● agrees that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity can answer the dilemma; or,
● demonstrates how it has not been answered; or,
● asks to change the topic; or,
● says, as Euthyphro himself ended his dialogue, "I am in a hurry, and must go now."
And so we have come full circle. If the atheist concedes, not converts, but merely concedes this answer, and wants to proceed to the question of how God might reveal His moral standard to men, the special revelation of the Christian Scriptures and the general revelation of man's conscience, do address such issues. Like God, humans are social beings, and like His, our morality magnifies itself in our actions toward others. Because of our society, even actions committed against ourselves hurt others. When a mom seeks to escape the pain of her husband's unfaithfulness by committing suicide, as thousands have done, and even when we threaten to harm ourselves in order to manipulate others, like Gandhi did, we often hurt those most who love us most. Thus because morality is social, a social God who interacts with multiple created persons has an additional context in which to objectively demonstrate His morality. When God created and began interacting with other beings He multiplied the corroborating testimony that existed within the Trinity. He must behave toward these creatures in their own best interest or else He violates His own standard
. For love is commitment to the good of someone. Undoubtedly, the teaching of hell jumps to mind as a check of that commitment, but God does not force anyone to love or want to fellowship with Him and with other believers, and if He allowed the Rebellion to enter heaven, it would turn heaven into hell. Vivid descriptions and warnings notwithstanding, hell is primarily the name of the place where those who hate God ultimately live as they wish, as though He did not exist. The purpose of this answer to Socrates, however, is not to analyze all of Christian theology, but to see if Christianity can successfully respond to the questions of Euthyphro's Dilemma. So, love is commitment to the good of someone, and once God creates moral beings, He must judge and restrain those who hurt others and refuse to repent, or else He violates His own standard of justice. And if God's intention was not for the welfare but for the harm of created eternal beings, then He would violate His own declared standard. Thus while moral inconsistency indicates wickedness, eternal consistency proves either continuous good or continuous evil; and multiple perspectives from independent persons provide information regarding whether God acts on behalf of, or against, their best interests. Of course, an atheist will accuse the Bible's God, as they say "if He existed," of endless evils. But atheists typically deny the existence of absolute morality, so since they reject absolute morality for a system of opposing preferences, for their argument against God to succeed, they would have to show from the Christian doctrine of God a violation of His own standard of righteousness, within for example, the biblical record.
Before concluding, consider a final thought on the secondary matters often brought up by atheists, who do reason correctly given their presupposition
that God does not exist, when they declare, as so many like Russell do, that absolute right and wrong do not exist. For there is no other conceivable authority apart from an eternal, living, personal, relational, good, and loving God that could establish absolute right and wrong. Scripture teaches that men have "the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness" (Rom 2:15). Observation also leads Christians to assert that each man and woman, for example, reading this, can attest to the inner voice of conscience that grows quieter or louder based on our reaction to it. And also, consider consciousness, which like ideas and the laws of logic, is not physical. And by our non-material consciousness, we process this law of God, which presents not physical but non-material judgments, and is written not merely on tablets of stone, but in our minds. So ask your conscience to consider this bleak proposition: if Russell and atheists are correct, and God does not exist, then therefore absolute right and wrong does not exist, boiling all moral disagreements (loving versus molesting children) down to mere opposing preferences. So in that bleak and purposeless understanding, it would not be absolutely wrong to violently rape a woman for entertainment, or to lynch a black man, or to torture a child. For these would simply be more or less popular preferences of some and not of others. If such deeds are not absolutely wrong, then there is no God. If such actions are truly wrong, then a personal, loving, and just God does exist and you should ask Him for forgiveness for the hurt that you have inflicted upon yourself and others.
Is something good because God commands it so
(i.e., because He decides
that a certain trait, like honesty, will be good rather than bad)? No. Scripture reinforces the judgment of the conscience that God put within man, both of which indicate that morality, like truth, is non-contradictory and could not survive even the potential of embracing immorality.
Is something good because God recognizes it as good?
Yes. Then to clarify:
● Is the standard He judges by anterior or superior to Himself? No.
● Is He Himself the standard that He judges by? Yes. Righteousness is the description of God's own nature.
● If the standard is Himself, how could God know it is valid? By the eternal concurring witnesses of the Trinity.
● How does God reveal His standard to men? This and so many other questions go beyond Euthyphro's Dilemma. But see Battle Royale VII, Does God Exist?, Bob Enyart vs. Zakath
for more information, available for free online at TheologyOnline.com's Coliseum
or in print at KGOV.com
Thus the Christian answers the skeptic with a logically consistent explanation of how morality can flow from God Himself without requiring that God arbitrarily decide what kinds of traits will be considered “good,” by showing how the triune God can objectively know righteousness.
Euthyphro's Dilemma is not the Christian's dilemma. Socrates' questions do not undermine the integrity of Christianity but rather provide the opportunity to show the strength of the triune God, for a three-fold cord is not easily broken and by the testimony of the Trinity's three witnesses the matter can be established. An atheist reading A Christian Answer to Euthyphro's Dilemma
does not have to convert to agree that the dilemma has been answered, yet he cannot honestly use this dilemma again against Christianity unless he demonstrated a fatal flaw in this answer. So the triune Christian God, the mystery of the Trinity, Three Persons in One God, is the one God whose testimony we can trust because He recognizes something as good when it is consistent with His own nature. And He can affirmatively know that His divine nature is and always has been good by the three eternal concurring witnesses within the Godhead. Jesus continued (John 5:31-32, 36-37) in that Gospel passage: "If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true [credible]. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true [and] the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me."
by Pastor Bob Enyart
Denver Bible Church & KGOV.com
Also by Bob Enyart:
God and the Death Penalty: New Testament Support for Capital Punishment
A Defense of Judging: Judge Rightly is Not Some Guy’s Name
A Winning Pro-life Strategy: Focus on the Strategy II
An Overview of the Bible: The Plot