The Bogey Man Called “Euthyphro’s Dilemma”

God is Triune, He is Not a Monad

An old, hackneyed, and rather obnoxious philosophical problem facing “theism” in general is Euthyphro’s Dilemma. This philosophical dilemma derives its name from a Platonic dialogue which bears the same name as its title. Socrates, in Plato’s dialogue, asks Euthyphro: “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” Within the context of theism in general, the question takes the following form: “Is what is commanded by God morally good because it is essentially morally good? Or is it morally good because God has commanded it?” The question, then, is asking about the nature of the moral demands placed upon mankind by a nameless generic Deity.

And that is where the problem lies: There is no generic conception of God, strictly speaking. Rather, there are different religions in the world, some of which claim to worship the God of the Bible (but may or may not in fact do so) and some of which are Unitarian in their monotheistic beliefs,[1] and others of which are very straightforward about their polytheism or pagan conceptions of who God or the gods is/are. An argument that does not define its terms is flawed from the outset, since it may or may not be dealing with its supposed subject at all. Such is the case with Euthyphro’s “dilemma,” which, when applied in the context of Christian theology completely falls apart, finding nothing against which to argue. It is, in other words, completely inapplicable to the Christian understanding of God as a necessarily Triune Being – One in Essence and Three in Subsistence – since the “dilemma” presupposes Unitarian monotheism and not Trinitarian monotheism.

That the “dilemma” presupposes Unitarian monotheism is evident from the horns of the dilemma itself which state that either (a.)morally good actions are only arbitrarily good because God has commanded them, or (b.)God Himself is subject to a moral law that exists outside of Him and, therefore, commands those things which are essentially good apart from His commanding them. Implicit to these two options is the conception of a God who is a single monad who must either (a.)only have relation to a law that looms over Him and dictates His every move, or (b.)only have relation to a law that He arbitrarily imposes upon humans. In other words, Euthyphro’s Dilemma is assuming that because morality is by definition relational, God is either related to the law as an inferior subject (who is, really, no different from mankind) or related to men as an arbitrary lawgiver. If God only has relation to that which is outside of Himself, then He is essentially alone, a Unitary singlet or monad.[2]

Euthyphro’s Dilemma is, therefore, a false dilemma, since it completely fails to take into consideration the fact that Christianity teaches that God is not a monad; He is a Trinity of Persons. As Father and Son and Holy Spirit, the One God of the Bible is not subject to Euthyphro’s dilemma, for within the One Essence of God the Three Persons of the Trinity relate to One Another necessarily and, hence, create the very basis of morality, their interrelations serving as the basis for all subsequent creature-Creator and creature-creature relations. The Three Persons of the Godhead relate to One Another eternally. This eliminates Euthyphro’s dilemma, as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit relate to One Another freely, not out of compulsion by an external Law they serve under, nor out of subservience to the arbitrary demands of One or Another, but out of perfect, infinite, and equal love for One Another. Euthyphro’s dilemma also does not take into consideration that (a.)God is love and that (b.)the essence of the Law is love. It is because God is essentially love and that He is Triune, that His commands are a reflection of His very character. God, therefore, does not command and forbid arbitrarily, nor does He command and forbid on the basis of a law to which He is externally related. Therefore, Euthyphro’s Dilemma falls apart.

All divinely given Law is, according to Scripture, embodied in love for God and one’s neighbor.[3] And within the Godhead itself we see this Law exemplified eternally. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and these Two love the Spirit, who loves them equally. Each Person of the Godhead is both God and Neighbor. As these interrelations are Divine, however, they differ from the manner in which mankind is to love God and neighbor. God cannot go against His very own nature which is embodied in the moral law, and which He has written upon the hearts of all bearers of His image; therefore, there is absolutely no possibility of God (a.)commanding what is essentially good apart from Him (i.e. in relation to Him as a superior code of conduct) or (b.)that God is commanding something arbitrarily. God is good; therefore, there is no higher Good under the authority of which He stands. God perfectly loves Himself; therefore, He has made man in His own image to reflect this love for God and neighbor; therefore, no command given by Him is ever given arbitrarily.

The Bigger Problem Facing Euthyphro’s Dilemma

The failures of Euthyphro’s Dilemma to in any way create a real problem for Christianity, seeing as it argues against a monadic deity who has only two possible relations in (a.)his inferior relation of subjection to a law higher than himself or (b.)his superior relation to men as their arbitrary law-giver, is compounded by the fact that dilemma rests upon the presupposition that God’s commands are wholly external to the nature of man, i.e. the dilemma assumes the moral autonomy of man by assuming that God’s commands to be imposed from without, failing to recognize that the Law, according to God’s Truth, is written upon the hearts of all men.[4] Therefore, God’s commands are, again, never arbitrary. Rather, man as the bearer of the image of God already has knowledge of what is good, just, and holy; God’s commands are not deviations from this – for God cannot deny Himself – and are, in a sense, implicit to the Law that is written upon the hearts of all men.

To be a bit more to the point about things: Euthyprho’s Dilemma assumes that God imposes Laws upon morally neutral beings that do not bear His image. So again, the “dilemma” is not one that applies in any way to the Christian faith. Christianity asserts that God is love, eternally related to Himself in the three Persons who constitute the One True God (Father and Son and Holy Spirit), and that He has made man in His image – i.e. as a being who is to exist in relationship with others like himself, loving them as he loves himself, which is an analogy of the perfect love among the three Persons of the Godhead who love both God and Neighbor (i.e. the Father loves the Son and the Spirit, the Son loves the Spirit and the Father, and the Spirit loves the Father and the Son) essentially and eternally.

To conclude, then, there is no dilemma for the Christian faith contained in Euthyphro’s Dilemma. The gods of other Unitarian monotheistic faiths may have a real problem facing him, but the Triune God of Scripture is untouched by the arrogantly ignorant shouts of the atheist who thinks that he has an objection to the Christian faith.

-h. 


[1] E.g. Judaism and Islam

[2] I’m using the language of Presbyterian theologian William G.T. Shedd whose Dogmatic Theology (Volume I) tackles the logical and theological contradictions problems of Unitarian monotheism and pantheism.

About Hiram Diaz

Hiram Diaz has written 18 post in this blog.

Hiram Diaz is a New York native currently residing in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and children. His interests are philosophy and presuppositional & exegetical apologetics. He maintains Involuted Speculations, a blog about pretty much anything that pops into his head and can't find its way out until it's written down.

6 Responses to The Bogey Man Called “Euthyphro’s Dilemma”

  1. Chris says:

    I challenge the validity of this blog post on the grounds that the two main arguments contained within are, in this order:
    A) Ad Hoc reasoning
    B) A failure of what everyone, including pre-suppositionalist apologists, should consider “absolute logic”
    Argument 1 – “Euthyphro’s Dilemma is, therefore, a false dilemma, since it completely fails to take into consideration the fact that Christianity teaches that God is not a monad; He is a Trinity of Persons.”
    Response 1 – The author goes on to explain through the use of obfuscating theological semantics how this accepted “fact” defeats Euthyphro’s dilemma. This is an example of ad-hoc reasoning. This means that there is no actual evidence to support the position that god is three persons in one, it is premise that is created “on the spot” to avoid having the argument fall apart. Premises must be based on actual facts that can be agreed upon by everyone. The idea of the trinity is not agreed upon by everyone, and not even a majority of people; therefore its use in an argument cannot be reasonably supported. This argument may well reinforce what theists believe, but it will never convince a non-theist of anything.
    Response 2 – The very idea of the trinity breaks with what everyone should consider basic logic. Apologists use the example of a “square circle” as being an example of how logic is universal and absolute, yet when applied to god itself, logic can be stretched or molded into something completely different. God can create a “square circle”, or be three persons in one, or create evil yet not actually be evil – all examples of how logic is thrown to the wind when being applied to god itself. In pre-suppositionalist apologetics, Logic and Morality are held up as coming from god itself; an “absolute source” as it were. Yet, it is quite frustrating for the atheist to hear the theist make this claim, but then have them follow it up with something like “except god does not follow the same rules of logic that we do”, or, as I have heard from my Catholic friends “god uses a kind of ‘supra-logic’”. Either god is an ultimate source of unchanging universal logic and morality and they must equally be applied to god as anywhere else – in which point it would be considered arbitrary and subjective, or theists must admit that god does not constitute an “ultimate source”. You simply cannot have your cake and eat it too.
    Argument 2 – “…failing to recognize that the Law, according to God’s Truth, is written upon the hearts of all men.”
    Response – The author again uses obfuscating theological semantics to argue that god’s commands are not arbitrary simply because his nature is written into the hearts of all men. Put another way, god doesn’t make commands to “neutral” beings, so he can’t make any arbitrary commands. An interesting bit of reasoning there…its seems to make sense at the surface, albeit being completely ad-hoc again, but where it really falls apart is when you think for two seconds about how theism teaches that god creates humans in the first place. If you “imprint” these absolutes into people when you create them so that they just “know” about them without having to be told about them, that is still an arbitrary action on the part of god. Simply creating with arbitrary knowledge rather than creating and then teaching arbitrary knowledge is arbitrary and subjective on the part of god either way.

    In the spirit of the Greeks, now that my intellectual exercise is complete for the day I will turn my attention to my physical exercises and go do some olympic clean and press…

  2. Hiram Diaz says:

    Chris, thanks for trying to produce a cogent rebuttal.
    But here’s where you’ve gone terribly wrong.
    1. Calling my argument against Euthyphro’s Dilemma’s applicability to the God of Christianity an ad hoc argument says nothing about my argument. In fact, it shows that you are begging the question and, therefore, arguing fallaciously.
    To state that my argument is ad hoc argument already assumes that Euthyphro’s Dilemma is applicable to the Christian God. This is the point under consideration in the article. You didn’t provide a logically sound argument against mine; rather, you’ve argued fallaciously by begging the question.
    2. If you want to use words like “obfuscating,” use them properly. What you meant to say is this:
    “The author goes on to explain through the use of obfuscatory theological language….[etc]”
    This, btw, is also an example of begging the question. In the first example of begging the question, you assumed that Euthyphro’s Dilemma is applicable to the Christian God. In this example, you have assumed that theological language is obfuscatory.
    You still haven’t rebutted anything. You’re only reasserting your beliefs. Preach on.
    3. My article aimed at correcting atheists when they tried to use Euthyphro’s Dilemma; I wasn’t looking to argue the doctrine of the Trinity. If you’d like to argue that point, then let’s have at it. However, the article wasn’t geared toward that end, so your comments on the doctrine not being universally accepted are pretty much useless.
    4. The assertion that “premises must be based upon actual fact” presupposes that the doctrine of the Trinity is not an actual fact.
    4a. Your assertions further presupposes that the God of Scripture is not an actual fact.
    4b. You are still arguing fallaciously.
    5. Your assertion that these “actual facts” need to universally conceded to is ridiculous! If that were the case, no one could ever form a syllogism! Does everyone agree that “premises must be based on actual facts that everyone can agree upon” a premise that is based on actual fact and universally agreed upon? No, it isn’t. Your argument is self-referentially absurd.
    You’ve hanged yourself here, Chris.
    6. You may not like the doctrine of the Trinity; you may think that it is illogical; but the point of the article is not to defend the doctrine of the Trinity, it’s to show that Euthyphro’s Dilemma does not apply to the Trinitarian God of Scripture. So your whole section on the Trinity is also useless.
    7. Finally, Chris you’ve entirely missed the point about God’s Law being written on the hearts of men. I suggest you reread it, as you’ve constructed a strawman argument in your last “rebuttal.”
    Please comment back when you have a substantial criticism to make.
    -h.

  3. Chris says:

    Hi again Hiram,

    I see that despite having ample time to reply to my second rebuttal to your post, you have not yet posted anything in reply. Not only that, but you have not even “moderated” my reply and allowed it to be viewed by the general public. Perhaps you need more time to create another ad hoc refutation to my incising logic? That certainly doesn’t mean you cannot post my reply so that others can judge for themselves whether or not my reply sounds reasonable.

    Perhaps you are embarrassed about being called out on the petulant tone you presented in your reply, or the blatant ad hominem attack you thrust at the “preachy” atheist? Tsk Tsk…

    In all honesty, I really didnt mean to be offensive in my reply, but you clearly took it as such judging from the completely over the top response you treated me with. Perhaps you were really just deeply troubled by the cognitive dissonance building in your mind as you read my refutation of your argument.

    I invite you to publish my reply even though I doubt you will. Better to leave your post as the “last word” so as not to further trouble any innocent theist who happens to stop by…

    All the best,

    Chris

  4. Hiram Diaz says:

    Chris,

    You merely repeated yourself. So I found it pointless to respond. If you can’t see that you are completely missing the point of the article and, what is more, arguing fallaciously, there isn’t much I can do to help you to out. Since I’m pressed for time now, I’ll just give you the run-down on why I didn’t publish your “rebuttal” in several points.

    1. My argument presented in this article is not a refutation of Euthyphro’s Dilemma, it is a refutation of the idea that Euthyphro’s Dilemma applies to the God of the Bible.

    2. In order to say that my argument is an ad hoc argument, you need to first assume that Euthyphro’s Dilemma actually applies to the God of Scripture. This is exactly the point that I am refuting. Does Euthyphro’s Dilemma apply to Allah? Yes. Does it apply to other Unitarian monotheistic gods? Sure. Does it apply to the Triune God of Scripture? No.

    3. In saying that I was using obfuscatory theological language, you are assuming that my language is meant to divert attention from the fact that Euthyphro’s Dilemma applies to the God of Scripture and provides a real problem for Christians. This, again, is begging the question, seeing as my point in this article is that Euthyphro’s Dilemma does not apply to the God of Scripture.

    4. My response wasn’t over the top or petulant, Chris, it was direct and addressing your unnecessarily arrogant tone. Doing this is necessary when you have presented yourself as wielding “incising logic” – when you have argued nothing substantial but merely repeated your beliefs and begged the question at hand – and presented me as using “obfuscating theological semantics” – which is, again, another example of you begging the question.

    5. The word “incising” is not an adjective, it’s a verb. The correct word is “incisive.” Also, “obfuscating” is not an adjective, it’s a verb. The correct word is “obfuscatory.” You can identify my corrections of your misuse of language as pedantry, but I need to know what you’re saying before I can respond to it.
    The irony in this is that you claim that my language is obfuscatory.

    6. There is no cognitive dissonance here, Chris. I just find it to be a completely frustrating exercise to try to show someone their basic logical errors only to be ignored by them. Your response was insubstantial and repetitive. If you want to post a well-organized argument against my article – which is refuting the idea that Euthyphro’s Dilemma applies to the Triune God of Scripture – or a well-organized argument against the doctrine of the Trinity, then I’m all for it, but you haven’t shown any concern for engaging in any meaningful interaction.

    7. I never once presented an abusive ad hominem argument. An abusive ad hominem is properly defined as:

    “The fallacy of attacking the character or circumstances of an individual who is advancing a statement or an argument instead of trying to disprove the truth of the statement or the soundness of the argument. Often the argument is characterized simply as a personal attack.”
    (Online Source)

    I said you can preach on about what you believe, because that is what you’re doing. You told me about your belief that Euthyphro’s Dilemma applies to the God of Scripture, you also told me about how you believed I was obfuscatory theological language. You never proved either one of these points. Instead you argued fallaciously.

    8. Lastly, please note your inconsistency. On the one hand you stress the differences that exist within theism, informing me of the fact that “most” don’t even believe that God is Triune. Yet, on the other hand you tell me that my argument against the applicability of Euthyphro’s Dilemma to the God of Scripture is proof that the argument is a strong one that I can’t deal with.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too, Chris.

    Do the differences between Unitarian monotheists and Trinitarian monotheists only matter when you think they do?

    You seem to be confused here.

    Either the differences matter.
    Or the differences do not matter.

    You say that differences matter when you want to say that my argument is ad hoc. But then you assume that these differences don’t matter when you proceed to argue that Euthyphro’s Dilemma applies to the Triune God of Scripture.

    Clear these issues up, offer a well-organized and substantial rebuttal to my argument that Euthyphro’s Dilemma does not apply to the Trinity, and I’ll go on and publish it.

    Solus Christus.

  5. Michael says:

    I greatly appreciated this article. I find it extremely useful and I would like to request that you contribute it to my apologetics website which serves as a resource to the brethren. Let me know and may you coninue to bring honor to the Lord of glory.

  6. Caleb Neff says:

    At first I was curious about why being a Trinity defeats the argument, even if God is Love. Couldn’t a monadic God be love, and therefore defeat the argument?
    Then I remembered St. Augustine’s insight; `Love` is to will the Good upon the beloved. If God were a monad, who would God have to will the Good upon? Self-love implies that the lover and the beloved are the same, when the definition of love implies that this can’t be the case; `self-love` is an oxymoron.

    The only thing that seems flawed to me is the question of the Good. Is God good because He wills Himself upon others, as the greatest possible good? Defining God as the standard of Good raises another question: could God be a monad and still be the standard of goodness? Since a monadic God would be bound by its nature same as a triune God, it doesn’t seem to matter whether we bear this God’s image; the commands would only _seem_ arbitrary, but are really based on the Highest Standard.

    If the law is based on love, a monadic God is insufficient (unless it was necessary for this God to create the universe, to have somebody to love [which raises questions that are not related to this introspection]), even though morality is not truly arbitrary.

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