|Maryann, Matt, Tom and Jerry (missing: Jason)|
I’m writing this blog post to get in on the most recent Euthyphro Dilemma dilemma between atheist biologist Jerry Coyne and my fellow Christian Apologetics bloggers Matt Flannagan of MandM and Tom Gilson of Thinking Christian [timely and relevant digression: Coyne’s fellow atheist biologist Richard Dawkins continues to break an eighth commandment (quoted in The God Delusion) by refusing to test his 747 Gambit in debate with William Lane Craig…I’m still feeling some disappointment].
First, some back-story to get you caught-up…btw, (6) and (5) are out of order because Thibodeau posted before Coyne’s most recent reply:
*Jerry Coyne posted an (1) opinion titled “As atheists know, you can be good without God” on the USAToday Forum in July/August.
*Tom Gilson (2) replied to it on his blog Thinking Christian, August 4.
*Matt Flannagan (3) also replied on MandM, October 10 (excellent!).
*Coyne (4) replied to Gilson (Thinking Christian) on Coyne’s blog, October 20.
*Coyne’s (6) most recent reply (Oct 24) mentions both Flannagan (MandM) and Gilson (Thinking Christian) in order to share (5) Jason Thibodeau’s “The Euthyphro Dilemma is Robust” (Oct 21) (a reply to Flannagan on Thibodeau’s blog).
1. Ontology vs. Epistemology.
First it is important to distinguish between two problems going on here. It is one thing to ask “To what in reality does this theory correspond?” (ontology) and another thing to ask “What justifies believing this theory?” (epistemology).
The Euthyphro Dilemma (below) deals with ontology (how/whether ‘the good’ in general ‘corresponds’ to reality), whereas the Moral Monster Objection deals with epistemology (how we ‘justify’ believing a particular theory in Ethics).
So, it is possible to show the Euthyphro Dilemma to be a false one—to deal with an ontological question—without ever answering any questions dealing with epistemological objections like Moral Monster (or while answering them falsely).
Likewise, it is possible to agree with Jerry Coyne, as Christians do, that we can do/be good without believing in God (Paul reflects the same epistemology in Romans 2:14-15). However, we are not always good and we do not always do good, so we are not the sort of being to which moral truth corresponds; we are not the sort of being described by moral truth. When we do/are as we ought to do/be—regardless whether or not we believe God exists—our goodness, if true goodness, corresponds to a good being that is ‘always’ good (God), or it corresponds to nothing (is not real, has no ontology). That is just another way of discussing William Lane Craig’s argument in Question 44, referred to by Gilson. Dr. Craig, although he does subscribe to a version of Divine Command Theory not represented by Coyne, does NOT invoke the Divine Command Theory in Question 44, as Coyne falsely claims, Coyne saying it is “too stupid to address”. Clearly he did not even read Question 44.
2. The Euthyphro Dilemma and Arbitrariness
Simply put, the Euthyphro Dilemma (from Socrates’ dialogue with Euthyphro) asks whether the good is dependent on God’s commands (a made up, and so fictional, arbitrary good), or whether it is independent of God’s commands, because God’s commands depend on the good (so, no need for a God to ground it—it is higher than God’s commands—and so to what in reality does it correspond?). This was resolved a long time ago by Aquinas, who explained that God commands in accordance with his good nature—he is that good being to which his commands correspond. Critics then ask “But what dictates God’s nature?”—If not God, then God is not omnipotent. If God, then the good is arbitrary. The answer is that 1) God exists necessarily, as do all his attributes, so his nature, including goodness, is not dictated (he is the Uncaused Cause and his essence and existence are identical), though he is capable of choice, of creation and so forth, and, 2) Aquinas explains that “‘To be able to sin is to be able to fall short in action, which is repugnant to the omnipotence of God. Therefore it is that God cannot sin, because of His omnipotence.’” (quoted by Steve Lovell). Sin is only chosen out of weakness, and being omnipotent, being good, though he has the choice, God will never choose sin, and so in that sense is unable to sin. On a related note, when Thibodeau writes that “it is possible for an all-loving God to command that we torture kids and thus, on the DCT, it is possible that torturing kids is right,” he is confused. That it is possible (in one sense) for God to sin does not mean it is possible that sin is right. And to enjoy watching innocent babies suffer (Thibodeau again) is sin (see my epistemology on the Golden Rule below).
One may be left wondering, “But why is God’s nature good? Which theory in Ethics best describes God’s nature—egoism, utilitarianism, the categorical imperative, what? And if we can explain that using good reasons, don’t we have an account of the good that is independent of God?” First, whatever theory we come up with (epistemology), we must always ask “Is this true? Does this describe something in reality?” (ontology). Second, I think one reason the Arbitrariness objection persists is that no one (to my knowledge—correct me if I am wrong) ever attempts to actually answer “Which theory in Ethics best describes God’s nature?” (understandably to avoid losing ground when debating ontology by slipping into epistemology). However, to that end: This is my epistemology (the first half is on the Golden Rule, the second half refers to ontology). This is my ontology (though Aquinas said it first, I only make reference to Hume, and I part ways with Dr. Craig on the is-ought distinction) (here is a brief discussion with Matt Flannagan on my position). This longer post sums it up and refers back to other posts. The first objection I hear is that the Golden Rule is found in every major religion and culture and so is not dependent on God. Again—we agree we can be good without believing in God. But if there is no God, no theory in Ethics can be true or correspond to anything in reality, not even the Golden Rule. If you say it is true and corresponds when we do fulfill the Golden Rule, then you are saying it is only ever momentarily true—so what makes it the way we all ought to be, all of the time? There must be a being ‘to’ which it is true all of the time in order for it to be true ‘for’ everyone.
If the Judeo-Christian concept of God is a Moral Monster and no good God exists, there is not a single theory in Ethics that corresponds to an always-good being in reality (there is no true theory). If you think there is still the possibility of a good God existing that is not the Judeo-Christian God, just ask yourself: What is the evidence? Christians have evidence of God fulfilling the Golden Rule in taking on flesh and switching perspectives with us on the cross. Crazy, sure—but no other religion has such a demonstration. The New Atheists who claim there can be a “real” good without a correspondent good being—their epistemology hovers over an abysmal ontology. Coyne and Thibodeau understandably leave out the nihilist alternative of the atheist existentialists (Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, Heidegger, et cetera) that without a God to which a ‘real’ good may correspond, there is no good beyond what we choose/create/will (there is no moral truth). They leave it out for the same reason they reject their (straw man) understanding and representation of Divine Command Theory. Atheists and essentialist Christians all agree that if you (even God) have to make it up (command/dictate it into being), it isn’t ‘true’. So either the atheist existentialists are right that there is no God, and so there is no good, or essentialist Christians are right that God commands in accordance with his good nature.
So, the ontological questions in the Euthyphro Dilemma are resolved. The epistemological questions are a completely separate issue. I referred above to my epistemology (the Golden Rule) and I will defer to others who have addressed the Moral Monster objection elsewhere with different outcomes (William Lane Craig, Matt Flannagan, Paul Copan, et cetera). I have only briefly (in my opinion) researched it. I will only say here that to resort to the Moral Monster objection to avoid admitting your moral theory has no ontology is intellectually dishonest.
Lastly, a note on the ‘evolution’ spin. I believe we evolved (note that I am about to read Jay Richards’ “God and Evolution” given to me by Wintery Knight), and that we evolved a moral sense just as we evolved the ability to reason in general. If there is moral truth, it did not evolve into being—we merely evolved the ability, or hunger, to apprehend it (even if we still do not recognize the being that ultimately satisfies that hunger). Any theory in Ethics that grounds its ontology in evolution is a sandcastle for the tides. Matt Flannagan addressed that issue quite well in his article above (3).
This post also appeared on Examiner.com.