Objective moral values and the Euthyphro dilemma

Here’s a post on this objection to objective morality from Reformed Seth.


What is another response from unbelievers? It’s called the Euthyphro Dilemma (named after a character in of Plato’s dialogues). The dilemma is: Is something good because God wills it? Or does God will something because it is good? This is a popular objection to the moral argument for God’s existence. If you say something is good because God wills it, then that good becomes arbitrary. God could have willed that cheating is good or that hatred is good, etc. That doesn’t work does it? If you say that God wills something because it is good, then that good becomes independent of God, which makes moral values and duties exist independently of God, which contradicts premise 1.

How does Craig answer the Euthyphro dilemma? He says that “we don’t need to refute either of the two horns of the dilemma because the dilemma is a false one: There’s a third alternative, namely, God wills something because He is good…I mean God’s own nature is the standard of goodness, and His commandments to us are expressions of His nature. In short, our moral duties are determined by the commands of a just and loving God.”

So according to Craig, moral values and duties don’t exist independently of God because God’s own character/nature defines what is good and those morals flow out of God’s nature. When the atheist asks, “If God were to command spouse abuse, would we be obligated to abuse our spouses?” he’s asking a question akin to “If there were married bachelors, who would the bachelor be married to?” There is no answer because the question is absurd.

Craig assures us that the Euthyphro dilemma presents us with a false choice, and we shouldn’t be tricked by it. “The morally good/bad is determined by God’s nature, and the morally right/wrong is determined by His will. God wills something because He is good, and something is right because God wills it.”

That response splits the horns of the dilemma.

Glenn Peoples has a paper and a podcast

I noticed that Glenn Peoples is good at responding to the Euthyphro dilemma. Glenn wrote an article (PDF here) that appeared in a Cambridge peer-reviewed journal. And he even did a podcast in case you don’t want to read stuffy articles.

Here’s the blurb about the paper:

Plato’s Euthyphro is widely thought to contain a knock down argument against theologically grounded ethics – widely thought, that is, outside of the field of philosophy of religion. The so-called Euthyphro dilemma is said to show that moral rightness cannot possibly consist in what God wills, but much of its success lies in the way the author was able to paint Euthyphro as the loser. Had Euthyphro been better informed and quicker on his feet, he would have won hands down – as he does in this revised version of the Euthyphro dialogue. A bit of philosophical fun – with a point. (Published inThink: Philosophy for Everyone 9:25 (2010).

Disclaimer: I believe in a soul, and Hell, and that the trinity is very important for being a Christian. Glenn thinks that humans don’t have non-material souls, that people who reject Christ are annihilated after death and are not punished eternally, and that belief in the Trinity is not required in order to be saved.

William Lane Craig debates are fun

If you want to see the Euthyphro dilemma debated in front of a university audience then you can listen to the Craig-Antony debate here. (MP3)

That debate is being turned into a book as well.

UPDATE: Seth linked to a William Lane Craig podcast on Euthyphro.

12 thoughts on “Objective moral values and the Euthyphro dilemma”

  1. Thanks for linking to my post on Craig’s moral argument for God’s existence. I plan to go through all of the premises.

    You mentioned the Craig-Antony debate and I have to say that is a terrific debate to recommend to people.

    This debate is a little off topic because it doesn’t deal with the euthyphro argument in great detail, but the Craig-Dacey debate is another debate I would recommend to people. Dacey is a good atheist debater and frankly, should be the top debater for atheists instead of Hitchens and Dawkins. Dacey didn’t convince me, I still think Craig “won,” but Dacey defended his position well, in my opinion anyway.


    1. I always recommend to people who are new to apologetics to watch the first Craig-Dacey debate and the Craig-Crossley debate to see that the best that atheism has to offer.

      I thought that Louise Antony’s personal story was interesting. You have the case of a completely uninformed Catholic girl who thinks that Christianity is basically being nice to people who goes to a good school and willing submits to a thorough indoctrination in secularism and socialism and all the other isms of the left. A complete apostasy based on the need to get good grades and peer approval. This is just my opinion from reading between the lines. She has obviously not studied anything on the other side that would carry her against the grain of being promoted, if you know what I mean. To be a Christian you need to be able to stand alone and to have courage. If having fun and being liked by “smart” people who engage in binge drinking and hook-up sex is your first priority, then you can’t really be a Christian. I think she substituted leftist politics as her new religion and everyone at the university liked her.


        1. His positions. I like philosophers who appeal to historical and scientific evidences for their premises more. This is just an opinion I have. I don’t think he likes intelligent design, and I don’t like that. I don’t think he approaches the issues empirically enough.


  2. Thanks for the link :)

    For what it’s worth, I believe now as I have always believed, in hell, in souls, and that the doctrine of the Trinity is an indispensable Christian doctrine.

    But still, thanks for the link!


  3. I’m not sure I agree that asking ‘If God were to command spouse abuse….?’ is equivalent to asking ‘If there were married bachelors…? Married bachelors are logically self-contradictory, but I’m not convinced that God commanding spouse abuse is, surely it’s logically possible for God to command spouse abuse and for that to have flowed out of his good nature?


  4. It’s self-contradictory for God to command spouse abuse because his nature would not allow that.

    The way I understand Bill’s argument, I could be wrong (Wintery can call me on it if I am), God’s nature is good so it’s not logically possible for God to allow spouse abuse and for that to flow out of his nature. Does that make sense?

    Perhaps my example with spouse abuse to married bachelors wasn’t the best, but it makes sense to me because it’s not in God’s nature to allow such immoral actions.


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