Euthyphro Debate



(The FreeThinking Theist)


June 20, 2016

I have recently been involved in a very good debate stemming from the article I wrote last week entitled, Islamic Terror, Homosexuality, and the Consequences of Ideas. In summary, the article demonstrates what three different world views affirm regarding the terrorist attack at the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida:

1- Consistent Islam: this attack was GOOD as Muhammad’s final commands were to kill the infidels (Take five minutes to understand by clicking here).

2- Consistent Atheism: there was NOTHING objectively WRONG with these attacks. In fact, on naturalistic atheism it is unavoidable. Terrorists are therefore not responsible for their actions.

3- Consistent Christianity: this attack was objectively WRONG and EVIL! According to the law of Christ, all humans are commanded to love all humans (even the ones we disagree with). According to Jesus, we are to love everyone from our neighbors to our enemies. Thus, one who consistently follows the teachings of Jesus will demonstrate love to all people (even the ones he disagrees with)!

I went on to state that the best choice is to follow the teachings of Christ (“consistent Christianity”) as it is the only one supported by all of the evidence and the one commanding us to love!

I ended by stating that if you agree that these Islamic terror attacks against homosexuals at the gay nightclub were objectively wrong and evil, then, to be logically consistent, you must reject atheism, Islam, or any other view that disagrees with the teachings of Jesus Christ. If you think terror and persecution against the homosexual community is objectively wrong, then you ought to be a Christ follower!

I believe this particular article was the most viewed and shared article that I have ever written. It also led to some really good dialogue with Christians, Muslims, and atheists. In one particular discussion with an atheist, the Moral Argument for God’s existence was raised. I offered the following deductive argument:

1- Objective truth corresponds to reality.

2- If a maximally great being (God) exists, He exists necessarily and eternally. God is ultimate reality.

3- God created humanity on purpose and for the specific purpose to know, love, and enjoy him forever (Inventors invent things for specific purposes. Creators create for specific purposes).

4- Therefore, this purpose is objectively true apart from human subjective opinion.

* The argument at this points demonstrates a reality — or a fact of the matter — which is true apart from human opinion as to how humans ought to behave. We can add to it for further clarification in the following manner:

5- If God exists He is a maximally great being.

6- If God is maximally great then He is perfectly intelligent.

7- If God is perfectly intelligent then everything He does is for perfectly intelligent reasons (This is the epitome of a good leader).

8- Therefore, every command God gives is perfectly intelligent (perfectly good?).

9- Therefore if we are to correspond to reality we ought to obey His perfectly intelligent (good) commands (That would be the objectively smart thing to do).

10- God gives us the freedom to do otherwise and freely choose to be objectively stupid.

A great discussion followed. To avoid confusion, the words of the atheist are italicized. He begins with the following statement:

//I understand why you present your entire argument from scratch again, for clarity’s sake, but in my critique, I had already said that I believe your argument fails even if we grant the first six points, up to “6- If God is maximally great then He is perfectly intelligent.”//

Well, if you grant the first six points, then we have a much stronger foundation to work from. It might not be as strong as you would like, but we have something to work with, where atheism has absolutely nothing to offer! For the sake of clarity let’s look at the first four steps:

1- Objective truth corresponds to reality.
2- If a maximally great being (God) exists, He exists necessarily and eternally. God is ultimate reality.
3- God created humanity on purpose and for the specific purpose to know, love, and enjoy Him & all humans forever (Inventors invent things for specific purposes. Creators create for specific purposes).
4- Therefore, this purpose is objectively true apart from human subjective opinion (This provides a LAW above all human law).

So, at the very least, we have a standard above humanity to refer to when discussing how things ought to be. I believe something like this was stated at the Nuremberg trials as to why we can condemn the Nazis: “There is a Law above human law!” Without this, there would be no higher authority to appeal to regarding the condemnation of Nazis who simply possessed a differing subjective opinion from most others in the world.

Moreover, while considering Nazis (they are so easy to pick on), imagine what this world would have been like if they would have won WWII. Let’s suppose Hitler won the war and killed everyone who disagreed with him so the world was filled with only those who praised Hitler and believed his Holocaust was good. Now let’s suppose you find yourself existing in this possible world years later. It is much different than the world we know, as you are the only one is this possible world who has a different view of Hitler. Everyone worships and praises Hitler in this possible world except for YOU. Everyone is a loyal Nazi, except for YOU!

In this possible world, if God does not exist and there is no Law above human law, then you would have no grounds to say Hitler was wrong and the Nazis were evil.

So, even if you are not convinced as to *why* God is good or anything like that, at the very least, God provides something quite significant that atheism cannot: a Law above human law and a grounding for how things *ought* to be even if the vast majority (or the entire population) of created and contingent beings disagrees. The fact of the matter (reality) would remain, that a perfectly intelligent God created humanity to behave much differently than Nazis behaved.

I said, “maximally intelligent” is different than “rational.”

//OK Tim. So what IS the connection between ‘maximally intelligent’ and ‘He is moral’ and ‘we have obligations to him’? Again, I’m saying for the sake of argument I concede all the first six or so points…//

Okay, I think there are several approaches we could take here. Let me begin by asking you a question: Do citizens have an obligation to follow the laws of the land? Do public schools in America have an obligation to adhere to the Obama administration’s decree of allowing co-ed naked showering and teen males who “self-identify” as female to win all the gold medals in high school track? If guns become illegal and banned in America, do we have an obligation to turn our guns in? If we do have obligations to human government, then why not an obligation to the King of kings?

We try to elect leaders that we hope are highly intelligent (not just high I.Q. scores) and make the best possible decisions in as many situations as they might conceivably find themselves. We hope, for example, that if Hilary Clinton becomes president, she will make highly intelligent decisions in public policies, international affairs, etc. She would be in a position of authority and Americans have an obligation to the laws that come from her administration if we like it or not, and if we disagree with her or not.

The same is true with God. God does not only make what might be the best decision in regards to probability judgments as a human leader would; rather, God is perfectly intelligent and would always make THE BEST decision in any situation He is in. Moreover, since you grant the first six steps of my argument, if God created us on purpose and for the specific purpose of human flourishing, then this is a fact of the matter (Reality) if you like human flourishing or not. There would be no contingent human existence at all if it were not for the necessary existence of God. Humans rely on God for existence and God relies on no one. This is why I like to quote Dr. Craig: “We ought to depend on the ONE who depends on no one.”

Now, the cool thing about God (unlike human governments) is that God gives humans the libertarian free will to choose to disagree with Him – even for eternity if they’d like. I am a firm believer that everyone gets exactly what they want for all eternity. Everyone is invited to love and flourish for eternity, but if they would rather hate and suffer, God does not (and logically cannot) force someone to freely choose to love. So, even though there is a purpose to humanity apart from human opinion (as you grant for the sake of argument), God is a gentleman. To each their own.

In regards to step (8): Therefore, every command God gives is perfectly intelligent (and perfectly good).” You asked, //Can you explain what you mean by ‘good’ here? I mean explain exactly what it means in this context.//

That’s a “good” question. I believe intelligence is good and that it is better to be smart in all aspects of life than to be smart in some and stupid in others, or to be a complete idiot in all aspects of life. Now, perhaps that is simply my subjective opinion and you might subjectively think ignorance is better than intelligence. If that’s the case, then we can leave the word “good” off of that deductive conclusion and just argue: “Therefore, every command God gives is perfectly intelligent.”

If that’s the case, anyone who does not adhere to God’s objectively intelligent commands is objectively stupid (for lack of a better word).

Let’s move to the next deductive conclusion:

“9- Therefore if we are to correspond to reality we ought to obey His perfectly intelligent (good) commands (That would be the objectively smart thing to do).”

You asked, //By ‘correspond to reality’ do you mean facts of reality in ADDITION to ‘God created us for a purpose?’//

Well, let’s look at the steps of the argument you have granted for arguments sake:

1- Objective truth corresponds to reality.
2- If a maximally great being (God) exists, He exists necessarily and eternally. God is ultimate reality.
3- God created humanity on purpose and for the specific purpose to know, love, and enjoy him and other humans forever (Inventors invent things for specific purposes. Creators create for specific purposes).

So, reality is the mind of God! This is not an outlandish claim in the slightest as the string theorist, Michio Kaku, just made this following claim recently as well, and we have several more arguments reaching this deductive conclusion too — God (as an all-knowing mind) exists necessarily as ultimate reality.

Since the mind of God is omniscient and knows the truth-value to every proposition, He does not learn or come to rational decisions the way humans do. God just knows. So, God’s perfect knowledge is an aspect of ultimate and necessary reality. When humans are rational, we approximate to the perfect standard of knowledge possessed by God.

//Here’s the situation – a maximally intelligent being created me for a purpose. I accept that that purpose is the reason he created me. I accept that it is definitely in my INTEREST to conform to that purpose . . . I still don’t see how that makes God’s commands ‘morally good’.//

Again, if it is “good” to do intelligent things that lead to maximal flourishing for all people, then “goodness” is grounded in perfect intelligence. As I stated elsewhere, I don’t need to die on that hill, and I can simply argue that some thoughts and actions are objectively stupid in light of the objective purpose humans were created for – to eternally flourish. However, even if “good” is just a human word we use to describe perfect intelligence, love, service, and flourishing, and “bad” is word we use to describe ignorance, hate, and suffering, the argument is still made.

Moreover, the Euthyphro proponent still needs to demonstrate exactly how God cannot be the ontological grounding of “the good.” As I said before, if the proponent of the Euthyphro dilemma offers one possible horn (option) as a supernatural, immaterial, abstract object of “the good,” then they need to specifically explain exactly why a supernatural, immaterial, concrete object – GOD – cannot be the grounding of “the good.” It seems rather ad hoc to affirm one kind of immaterial/supernatural thing is okay, but not another immaterial/supernatural “Thing.”

//I still don’t see how you are getting ‘obligations’ to this God. You’ve shown self-interest might guide a ‘smart’ human to follow those commands.//

It’s not just “self-interest” but the interests of all humanity! A perfectly intelligent God would know that if He created humanity on purpose and for the specific purpose to eternally flourish, then God would know what commands to give humans so that we could fulfill this objective purpose that corresponds to reality apart from human subjective opinion.

//I could even say that those commands strike me as ones I can get behind! But perhaps those are commands I would get behind even if they didn’t come from a ‘maximally intelligent’ being!//

Like I just noted, these commands would reflect ultimate and necessary reality (which is the mind of God), so they would be true even if you could not subjectively “get behind them.” If these commands did not come from necessary and ultimate reality (God), then it does not ultimately matter if one gets behind them or not. Moreover, if atheism is true, then we are all accidental “dust in the wind” and we all share the same fate along with the entire universe itself. If atheism is true, nothing really matters, including what human commands or human laws one agrees with or “gets behind” or not.

//You’re saying they are ‘objectively moral’ commands, rather than commands that might match my own goals and values, and I don’t think you can justify that leap.//

If God is the ground of moral goodness, then it’s not a leap. This is the view Christians hold and it splits the horns of the Euthyphro dilemma. This is the point behind, Timothy Fox’s article, “Euthyphro is Dead.” Thus, there is no leap. Moreover, if you don’t like discussing “goodness,” then we can simply discuss these things in terms of intelligence and ignorance too. If you think it is “good” to be objectively intelligent and bad to be objectively ignorant, then we can use those terms in that regard.

//I pointed you towards Jay Lowder’s response to W L Craig. I felt he responded particularly well to Craig’s defence of where obligations towards God would come from. I’d love to hear how Craig or you responded to Lowder’s point there. Obviously it was Craig’s argument, not yours, but there you go. Anyway, what you seemed to take from Lowder’s argument was a concession about OMV being grounded in the immaterial world.//

Yes, that really stuck out to me. I thought it was odd given that “Naturalism” was a part of the title and yet he appealed to a possible option to choose from was anti-naturalism. That is to say, JJL appealed to supernatural abstract objects in an attempt to avoid the supernatural God. As I noted earlier, this is ad hoc to say the least.

//What I took from Lowder’s attack on the argument from morality is that the there’s problem with all three steps of the argument. 1) The first is that theists have yet to demonstrate that OMV exists. I’ve yet to see anyone explain how we can test for it, or demonstrate it…//

I don’t think we can “test” to see if objective moral values exist or not. With that said, however, there are many things we cannot test, scientifically discover, or even deductively argue for. For example, we cannot prove the existence of the material world or the reality of the past. These are called “properly basic beliefs” that one is justified in holding even we cannot *prove* them. Why doesn’t science work or empirical validation work to prove the external and physical world exists? Because we must rely on our physical senses to make such claims. So, we are justified in holding properly basic beliefs like these unless a defeater comes along – it must be a very powerful defeater!

Interesting side note: many physicists today are beginning to doubt (or even reject) the existence of space! Well, if there is no space, then there is no mass, and if there is no mass, then so much for gravity! If there is no matter then there are no brains (but minds would still exist). So much for physicalism/naturalism! I wrote a recent article on the topic if you are interested:

Substance Dualism, Interaction, & Idealism

Anyway, I have a very hard time believing these scientists because the existence of my body is so properly basic that it is hard to think they are right. But if these theoretical physicists are right, then one has a defeater against what was once a properly basic belief in space, matter, and the physical world. These physicists argue that the fundamental building blocks of what we experience as physical is not physical at all, but rather, simply ones and zeroes – information. They argue what we experience as physical is not physical at all, but something similar to what Neo experienced in the Matrix. Their arguments are getting harder to ignore. Although they have gotten my attention, I am not convinced yet, but I am willing to say they are *possibly* correct. My properly basic belief has, at the very least, been shaken by a possible defeater.

Now, all of that to say this: every single human experiences morality through out every day on a day-to-day basis. We all make claims of good, bad, right, wrong, fair, and evil. When we cheat or steal, we experience guilt (at least most of us do). When we love and serve our neighbors (even our enemies), we feel that we have done something objectively good. Now, this does not prove that loving our fellow humans is objectively good, but it does count as a properly basic belief because of experience. The properly basic belief of objectively moral values and duties is even stronger than the belief of the physical world! Why? Because even if we do exist in a virtual Matrix like Neo, we still feel an obligation to love our fellow humans (even if their bodies do not really exist).

So, objective moral values and duties are a properly basic belief that one would have to have powerful evidence for to reject. What kind of proof would be needed? Proof that God does not exist! As you know, many arguments have been made that either deductively, inductively, or abductively demonstrate the existence of God. You might not find them compelling; however, at the very least, they demonstrate that belief in God is quite rational.

Moreover, since it is impossible, by definition of the terms involved, to scientifically disprove the existence of God, some have tried to argue against the existence of God via logic. The main one is the problem of evil, but this will actually support the second premise of the moral argument because if evil exists, then some things are objectively wrong. Thus, God exists. I wrote on this topic more in depth here:

Lex Luthor’s Lousy Logic

So, since the existence of God provides a Law above human law that we were created on purpose and for the specific purpose to accomplish, and the fact of the matter is that humans were created for the purpose of flourishing through love and service, then it seems as if obligations do exist, how could they be grounded in anything stronger? Moreover, since there is no scientific or logical defeater against the existence of God (like there is the physical universe) and many rational arguments apart from the Moral Argument supporting the existence of God, we have good reason and rational justification for holding our properly basic belief, that some things are *really* good, bad, right, wrong, fair, and evil.

*By “really” I mean “corresponds to reality.”

That’s why I concluded my article stating that “If you think terror and persecution against the homosexual community is objectively [really] wrong, then you ought to be a Christ follower!”

// 2) Now, we can move on from that and say that EVEN IF we concede objective morality – PURELY for the sake of argument – the theist then needs to get around Euthyrphro. Now you offer a splitting of the horns, saying there is a third option. You do this without acknowledging that the proposed third horn has been addressed many times by counter-apologists. I’m not saying this makes you wrong and them right, I just mean that you really need to address their objections to that third option.//

You are correct in that I do not think the Euthyphro dilemma (ED) is good for several reasons and I believe it is a false dilemma. The first reason is that it does not appeal to the law of the excluded middle. So, there could be many other options available here – perhaps others that we simply have not thought of yet or that we will never think of. It is not like, “Either God exists, or atheism is true,” or “Either Jesus rose from the dead, or he did not.”

The second reason, as I have pointed out above, is that if the proponent of the Euthyphro Dilemma (ED) affirms that “the good” could be a supernatural abstract object (which is one of the horns of the ED), then they need to specifically explain exactly why a supernatural mind cannot be “the good”(which is what many Christians affirm) without getting ad hoc or committing the taxi cab fallacy. As I said, above, I believe the good is probably grounded in God, but I am willing to simply discuss things in terms of objective intelligence and objective stupidity too.

You noted the objection to God being the good: //The objection is that ‘God himself is the standard of good’ isn’t really a third option, and merely pushes the dilemma back a stop. We can then ask: “Is something good (e.g. forgiveness) because it is part of god’s nature or is it part of god’s nature because it is good?”//

Well, can we not then do the same thing with the supernatural abstract object that the ED proponent offers as an option? Is something good because it is part of the nature of the supernatural abstract object, or is part of the nature of this supernatural abstract object because it is good? The question is raised: Why, as soon as a supernatural thing is God, can it not be the ground of goodness? A non-ad hoc answer is required.

Be that as it may, if we appealed to the version of intelligence vs ignorance, and said things that were “good” approximated to the objective plan that humanity was created on purpose and for the specific purpose to accomplish, then love and service are “good” apart from human opinion. Moreover, shooting gay and lesbians in Orlando is objectively “bad” apart from human opinion. Why? Because it goes against God’s design plan that is true apart from human opinion.

I have demonstrated a purpose for humanity that is the *fact of the matter* (reality) and true (corresponding to reality) apart from what humans might think to the contrary (objective truth in that regard).

Moreover, and back to Euthyphro, I think to claim, “God has this nature,” is confused. A nature of something is the essences of the thing in question. The essence of God is that He is all-powerful and can do all things logically possible. He is also all-knowing and knows the truth value to any and all propositions. “Power” could also be an abstract object (if abstracta exists is another question), so does it make sense to offer a ED style argument like this: “Is something powerful because it is part of God’s nature or is it part of God’s nature because it is powerful?” Or, “Is something intelligent because it is part of God’s nature or is it part of God’s nature because it is intelligent?” Why is it just with goodness?

//The false dichotomy can be better stated as the following true dichotomy: when we define ‘good,’ do we start from god (or his nature, etc.), or do we start from something else. If we choose the former, good is arbitrary, as good then stems from whatever god happens to be (there is no guarantee that justice, honor etc. being good). If we choose the latter, then goodness is independent of god. The choice, as always, is between arbitrary or external good.//

Why, if God is the ground of good, is that arbitrary? Is it arbitrary that God is omniscient or omnipotent? For the sake of argument, so what if it is “arbitrary?” If God just happens to be the ontological ground of goodness, and thus, “the Good” really exists necessarily as ultimate reality, why should we not approximate to that standard of goodness – especially if that same standard of goodness created us for that very purpose which would be a fact of the matter apart from what humans think to the contrary? Moreover, even if one thinks the goodness of God is arbitrary, His commands to humans are not arbitrary nor are they based upon anything independent of God. Rather, God himself is the paradigm of goodness. Ultimate Reality (God) has given us commands that are based on Ultimate Reality (as opposed to the Greek gods Euthyphro referred to).

Now, if one agrees that it is *really* (approximating to ultimate reality) wrong to murder homosexuals, then they *OUGHT* to correspond to ultimate reality. This leads to flourishing for all. If one disagrees with Ultimate Reality (like Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Hitler, ISIS, etc.) then they are free to disagree for eternity if they’d like. Along the way, however, they will cause mass suffering (at least for a time). Bottom line: we are discussing Ultimate Reality – the way things are – and the way things are is the way things are even if all humans disagree. When people are ignorant of reality, it is only a matter of time before there are painful collisions with reality. We saw this in Orlando this last weekend.

Now, on Christian theism, we were created for the purpose of flourishing and this is true apart from human opinion. On atheism, we are nothing but accidental “dust in the wind” and it doesn’t *really* matter if we flourish for a short time and die, or suffer for a short time and die. Eventually, if atheism is true, we all share the same meaningless fate and the universe will be destroyed to boot. It will be as if we never existed in the first place. All is meaningless on atheism and therefore, there is no real difference between Hitler or Mother Theresa; between the Islamic terrorist in Orlando, or you and I.

Bottom line: on Christian theism, when a Muslim starts shooting gay people, or a communist like Stalin starts mass murdering millions, we can say: “Hey that is *wrong* as that is not what we were designed or created for! Humanity was created to love, serve, and flourish together.”

Now, an atheist might respond, “So what, I don’t care about that, I am going to do life my own way, even if it is the objective truth that we were not created to act in this manner. I choose to suffer and to make people suffer!” As I said above, if Christian theism is true, then there is a fact of the matter regarding ultimate reality if it is “good” or not. Why? Because objective truth corresponds to reality and if a maximally great being (God) exists, He exists necessarily and eternally, and therefore, God is ultimate reality. Moreover, if God created humanity on purpose and for the specific purpose to know, love, and enjoy him forever and to love and serve all humans to flourish for eternity, then this purpose is objectively true and a fact of the matter apart from human subjective opinion.

Christian theism offers this much (quite a lot, actually). Atheism offers nothing!

//Finally, even if we dismiss Euthyphro – again, PURELY for the save of argument – we’re left with the claim that objective morality can ONLY be explained by God. Lowder argues here that this isn’t the only explanation. The argument from morality relies on it being the only explanation.//

Maybe I missed something, but I sure did not see JJL explain how objective moral values and *&* duties could both be explained. I thought he appealed to supernatural abstracta to appeal to values, but I did not see how he grounded any objective *facts of the matter* as to how humans *ought* to behave apart from human opinion.

Moreover, regarding the appeal to supernatural abstract objects, there are at least THREE reasons to doubt this works. At the very least, we can run an argument based on probability appealing to three independent points as to why this is not the inference to the best explanation.

One last thought regarding Euthyphro that just occurred to me: For the sake of argument and only for the sake of argument, let’s suppose God is not the grounds of “the good,” but that “the good” is actually just one of the infinite abstract objects that just exists. There would also be the abstract objects of “the bad,” “hate,” “rapacity,” and “malice.” Again, this is one of the ED options to choose from. So, if the perfectly intelligent creator and designer of the universe (GOD) created humans to function according to certain abstract objects and not others, then it would be the fact of the matter (objective truth), that we were created to approximate to certain abstract objects and not others. The ED proponent might say, “well, we don’t need God anymore then, we can just look to these abstract objects on their own, that God created humanity to approximate to anyway.”

The fact of the matter (reality) still remains: God exists and created humanity on purpose and for the specific purpose to approximate to certain abstract objects and not others. Moreover, a bigger problem arises! By definition, supernatural/immaterial abstracta (if they exist) do not stand in causal relation in the physical universe. Thus, apart from a supernatural mind who is omniscient and knows all of the abstract objects — and created humanity to approximate to each of them — and gives us “commands” so that we can know what abstract objects to approximate to — then humans are lost. We might happen to get some things right, but then Hitler, Stalin, and ISIS think they are right too? How could we stand in any sort of epistemic position to gain access to the supernatural abstract world apart from supernatural revelation?

Abstracta is causally effete and thus, cannot provide revelation; however, the supernatural God could reveal these things to humanity. God has revealed this to the world through Jesus Christ and His resurrection.  Thus, we would still need to look to God to know what abstract objects we were created to align with. We would still need His revelation. The teachings of Jesus Christ let us know that Hitler, Stalin, Ted Bundy, and ISIS have all missed the boat (objectively speaking). Hitler, Stalin, Bundy, and ISIS approximated to the wrong set of abstract objects!

In summary, at minimum Christian theism offers a Law above human law to refer to when humans disagree. Moreover, Christian theism grounds a fact of the matter that would demonstrate ISIS is objectively wrong in their violent methods leading to suffering, even if they kill or convert every single human who thinks Islam is false. If Christian theism is true, then ISIS does not correspond to ultimate reality — even if every human subjectively thought they did.

Atheism offers nothing!

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim Stratton


About the Author



(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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