Theists argue that God is the best explanation for objective moral truths.  Atheists typically appeal to the Euthyphro Dilemma (ED) to show that God cannot be the foundation for morality.  The ED asks whether something is good only because God wills it as such, or if God wills something because it is good.  If something is good only because God considers it good, then goodness seems arbitrary and relative to God’s desires.  If He had so chosen, murder could have been right and truth-telling could have been wrong. On the other hand, if God wills the good because it is inherently good, then goodness would be a standard that exists outside of God.  He is subject to the moral law just as we are.

So either goodness is arbitrary or it is independent of God.  Either God arbitrarily declares what is good or He recognizes what is good based on some standard outside of Himself.  If the good is an arbitrary expression of God’s will, then the good is subjective rather than objective.  While God may serve as the foundation for His subjective morality, He cannot serve as the foundation for objective moral truths.  On the other hand, if God wills something because He recognizes it is objectively good, then something other than God is the standard of objective moral truths.  He may inform us of those moral truths, but they do not depend on God for their existence.

Theists agree that both horns of this dilemma would undermine God as the foundation for objective moral truths, but argue that Euthyphro’s Dilemma is a false dilemma because there is a third option: The good is neither willed by God nor recognized by God, but simply is the very nature of God.  Just because morality is independent of God’s will does not mean it’s independent of God.  Morality is rooted in the very character of God.  His character just is The Good.  As Katherin Rogers writes, “God neither obeys the moral order, nor does He invent it.  He is Goodness Itself….”[1] The character of God constitute the objective basis for morality.  God’s commands, which flow from his nature, constitute our moral duties.

What I would like to focus my attention on, however, is not the theist’s solution to the ED, but why the second horn of the ED cannot be true given a theistic worldview.  In theism, God is the metaphysical ultimate.  His aseity means He alone exists necessarily.  Everything else that exists does so contingently (as a creation of God) because He wills for it to exist.  So if there was some moral standard that God Himself was beholden to, God would had to have created that moral standard.  But a God who was not intrinsically good would not want to create the good or be willing to subject Himself to the good He created.  He would only want to create the good and subject Himself to the good if He desired to do so, but He would only desire to do so if He was already good.  If God has to be good in order to create the good, then goodness would have existed prior to goodness, which is nonsense.  So God did not and cannot create the good.  He just is The Good.

In summary, if goodness existed outside of God it would have to be created by God, but only a good God would want to create goodness.  If He was already good, however, then there was no goodness to create.  Goodness is not something that could be created by God.  God’s very nature just is The Good.

 

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[1]Quoted in John Milliken, “Euthyphro, the Good, and the Right,” in Philosophia Christi, Vol 11, Number 1, 2009, p. 147.  No reference cited.

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