[Originally published as A Christian Answer to Euthyphro’s Dilemma]
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 shows that moral absolutes cannot logically flow from a divine being. As presented to the Christian:
- Is something (like humility) good because God recognizes it as good? Or,
- Is something good because God commands that it is good (as Socrates put it: because God loves it)?
In Genesis 1, seven times, Moses wrote, “God saw” that it was “good.” Might those passages support the Command View or the Recognition View?
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]. John 5:31
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.
[Editor’s note: The body of Pastor Enyart’s argument is continued on this Theology Online page. I’ve chosen to skip to the conclusion.]
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.
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 threefold 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.