How is euthyphro's dilemma "a threat to theism"?

Hi there!

I’m a christian and for my next podcast episode I chose Euthyphro’s dilemma as
a topic. While researching it, I found that for some people it sounds like
an argument against the existence of God.
At least that’s the impression I get from the “Rationality Rules” YouTube
channel’s mention of it in his answer to Fr.Casey’s open letter. Also Wikipedia
(Euthyphro dilemma - Wikipedia) states:

Philosophers and theologians aiming to defend theism against the threat of the
dilemma have developed a variety of responses.

Which clearly implies that the dilemma is a “threat to theism” which requires
a response.

But not only do neither Socrates nor Platon (or Euthyphro) intend it to be,
from a philosophical point it simply is no argument against God. So for me
it is very unreasonable to describe it as such.
But before I will explain in my Podcast that the popular consensus of atheists
since the enlightenment till today is based on emotional bias and rage against
religion, which then is marketed as “reason”, I’d rather be proven wrong.
There might be an argument that I don’t see. It does not need to be an
argument that convinces me, but something which at least makes some sense.

Let’s take the first horn: God is below the moral law.
As a christian believing in the one God who is the cause of Everything, this
is nonsense. Because as long as something is “above” the thing that you think
is god, it obviously is not. Shift your viewpoint to the higher thing and
think of that as God.
→ Use induction until you found the highest source of morality.

But even if we take a god like Zeus, who was born of Jupiter, so he has come
into an already existing world: Now he fights his way up the latter and becomes
the highest god, the biggest man around. And then (theoretically) he decides
to redefine the moral law which has been in place as long as he did not yet exist.
So what?
If he has the power to do so, then he does it. In fact I can well imagine the
next Marvel movie to have a creature so powerful that it can change the fabric of
reality and change every bit of the universe, including the laws of morality.
I even guess that such a creature is already featured in some superhero story.

While I can think of several philosophical reasons why such a god can and does not
exist, I don’t see why this horn of the dilemma would help disproving him.

So this horn is not a “threat”. Neither to theism (because it fits even with Zeus)
nor with Christianity, which would simply induct away.

Now going to the second horn: God “arbitrarily” decides the law.
I have seen no definition of this addition (“arbitrary”) to the original dilemma,
but I interpret it so:
There can be no restrictions through “higher” laws on god’s will when defining
In other words, the morality that is thus defined by God cannot have any
connection to any other aspect of reality. God should be able to create a
universe in which cooperation is good and leads to flourishing, so that reason
can identify it as a Good, but then create in parallel to that a morality that
contradicts that, e.g. demanding to be selfish, even though cooperation is
If the choice for morality were restricted by reason, then it would not be truly

Now as a catholic following Aquinas (you can read that position well explained
in the wikipedia section “False dilemma in classical theistic perspective”) I
would say that it’s nonsense to think of morality as its own separate entity,
created by God in contradiction to the rest of His creation. This whole idea
is not only non-sensical, but it’s not part of the original dilemma.
The contradiction is purely invented thousands of years later.

But let’s press the point and say that god wills something unreasonable to be
moral. We’ll have to assume that he first created a universe but that was
indeed without any moral. Then afterwards he freely and arbitrarily added a
morality on top of it. (In fact the order of creation does not even matter)
So what?
I don’t believe it, but assuming that reason and morality are distinct and
created separately, I see no reason to then demand that they match.

To me the whole “threat to theism” boils down to a very very biased person
inventing some extra conditions and then complaining that they are not met.
(Like first assuming that morality must be reasonable and then interpret the
second horn so that morality must be free from reason)
But anybody can invent a million gods and then disprove them and it does not
put a dent into the reality of the one God that does exist.

I think Socrates was struggeling against the idea of antropomorphized forces
as “gods”. He saw that there must be a single more fundamental thing above
them all. The alternative must have felt nonsensical to the ancient people.
Jupiter, Zeus, Ares, Diana, Athena, Nereus all represented separate and partial
forces in the world and none, not even the highest could change the definition
of what is pious, i.e. the right relationship between humans and gods.
They would have to have a new god for that, but that god would automatically
be higher than all of the others, because he binds them all.
In other words Socrates intuited monotheism.

OK, after all this exposition I repeat my question:

How could a thought experiment by Socrates be reduced in popular atheist
discourse to a “threat” to theism, so that Wikipedia prominently asserts
that it is and YouTubers mention it to imply that it is.
I see no actual argument other than “I don’t like it”, and I don’t want
to start my podcast episode by stating that atheists don’t even know what
a rational argument is.

I will add comments for each point of critizism on the second horn from the
wikipedia page and show that they mostly boil down to “I don’t like it”.

  • […] “if theological voluntarism is true, then God’s commands/intentions
    must be arbitrary; [but] it cannot be that morality could wholly depend on
    something arbitrary… [for] when we say that some moral state of affairs
    obtains, we take it that there is a reason for that moral state of affairs
    obtaining rather than another.”

As said in the main comment, this is just this:
I assume that morality and reason must match (no proof given).
I interpret that voluntarism means that morality is freely chosen apart
from reason. Therefore contradiction.

I answer that if morality and reason must match, i.e. they depend on each
other, or one is the consequence of the other, then God as the author of both
is only bound by Himself.
If on the other hand morality and reason are two distinct things, they need not
match, and there is no contradiction.

  • And as Michael J. Murray and Michael Rea put it, this would also “cas[t]
    doubt on the notion that morality is genuinely objective.”

Another undefined term and the argument is pretty vague.
If God would will morality, then it would not be objective? And objective
is defined as not willed by any will? I cannot make sense of this.
Sure, if you start with believing that there is a morality outside of God
or that Objectivity means to be outside of God, i.e. you already don’t
even talk about God as the creator of all things, including objectivity and
morality, then you can easily deduce that whatever He decides might not
match with the pre-existing thing outside of him. But that is circular
reasoning. There simply is no argument here, only “casting of doubt”.

If I were to defend Zeus, I would “cast doubt on the notion” that morality
needs to be “genuinely objective”.

  • An additional problem is that it is difficult to explain how true moral
    actions can exist if one acts only out of fear of God or in an attempt to be
    rewarded by him.

Now the concept of “acting only out of fear” has really nothing to do with
that dilemma at all.
There are many theories of why there is morality, but all agree that humans
must comply. Why they do it is a completely different question.
I do not see how suddenly talking about hypothetical persons that comply with
morality out of fear of punishment provides any insight in whether morality is
above or below God.

  • No reasons for God:

And the whole dilemma never claimed to be a reason for God.
This seems the perfect setup for a strawman argument.

  • This arbitrariness would also jeopardize God’s status as
    a wise and rational being, one who always acts on good reasons.

This again is just appealing that morality and reason should fit, but assumes
(without proof) that reason is not created by God. Also, again, it gives no
reason why they must be linked. Luckily even though the quote in the article
stops short, Leibniz, a christian theologian (who lived in my hometown) does
expand a bit on it:

He does follow the traditional christian understanding, i.e. does not see the
dilemma as “a threat”, and so I find it very puzzling why somebody chose to
put his quote behind the bold claim that there is “no reason for God”.

However his argument works only for christians, not for atheists.
He quotes scripture when he says that after creation God looked at the world
and found it good. But if goodness or morality would not be bound
to something (like reason, wisdom, the “logos”), it would be meaningless
to use this anthropological expression.
But this argument appeals to scripture, so I still have not seen any
non-bible argument that morality and reason must be bound together.

  • Anything goes: This arbitrariness would also mean that anything could become
    good, and anything could become bad, merely upon God’s command. Thus if God
    commanded us “to gratuitously inflict pain on each other” or to engage in
    “cruelty for its own sake” or to hold an “annual sacrifice of randomly
    selected ten-year-olds in a particularly gruesome ritual that involves
    excruciating and prolonged suffering for its victims”, then we would be
    morally obligated to do so. As 17th-century philosopher Ralph Cudworth put
    it: “nothing can be imagined so grossly wicked, or so foully unjust or
    dishonest, but if it were supposed to be commanded by this omnipotent Deity,
    must needs upon that hypothesis forthwith become holy, just, and righteous.”

Now this whole text, laden with emotional bias, is the biggest circular argument
of the article.

No actual reason given, only examples based on the morality that God gives us
at this moment. But if morality were decided by God’s arbitrary will (meaning
divorced from reason), then it would be so. In that case as soon as
sacrificing randomly selected 10-year-olds would be decided to be moral, it
would be. The author of this text would know that that is moral, maybe feel it
in his concience. He would feel just as emotionally enraged about anybody
claiming that the 10-year-old should be spared, because in fact that would be

In fact the morality of killing unborn babies has changed so extremely that
while 100 years ago it was regarded as an atrocity, there are plenty of people
today that hold the opposite to be immoral and will become violent about it.

So apart from being a very emotional argument, what is the truth value of it?
I would hate to say that Atheists are unable to reason about morality, because
they can conceive only the one they currently have. Also it seems that they
are easily distracted by fruitless emotional rage.

That’s why this is taken rather as an argument for God’s existence. The
argument from morality. If God would not have given us morality, you would
feel rather indifferent about the fate of randomly chosen 10-year-olds, as in
fact the very atheist china does. I applaud all moral atheists that do act
against injustice towards actual, real 10-year-olds, but that morality comes
through God. Without that, the opposite could be just fine.

While I personally don’t find the argument from morality appealing,
I believe all those atheists that feel really strongly about sacrificing
randomly selected 10-year-olds should look at C.S.Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”.
There are beautiful audiobook videos on the channel “C.S.Lewis Doodle” about it.
Lewis himself was one of these deeply moral atheists.


Welcome :smirk:

My, my, my…you’re fast and already 6 lengthily posts in - haven’t stopped. I hope in person you catch your breath to allow someone else to talk.

Frankly I got about a few sentences in. YOU are new. NO one here is obligated to read your posts or respond.

Perhaps posting ONE pressing issue and allowing a debate to ensue instead of blabbering on may prove more useful for your “podcast” :roll_eyes:


Offhand, I don’t see it (I mean the details of such an argument are not obvious to me). I suppose you might be able to use it to create something that contradicts something else (not presented). :man_shrugging:t6:

I can’t fathom a way it helps either, without some other piece.

Welcome to Atheist Republic Fabian.

You need to rehabilitate this assumption. I was a heavily invested theist, I wanted to discover and have a much closer repationship with my creator. The end result was that after over forty decades of searching and inquiry, I had to accept that I was an atheist. It was definitely not based on emotional bias and rage.

Not a good start coming out of the gate, you need to back up and get things straight.

I hope that I can continue a dialogue, but not with someone so biased.

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In fact, I can only think of one atheist I’ve known in real life that was like that; he realized he’d be tricked his entire life and he was pissed! But in his defense, he was practically a cultist before; he grew out of the hate and rage in a couple years.

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Yes that leaped out at me as well, I actually laughed, negative stereotyping right out of the gate is not a good sign. However I firstly state that I don’t need any arguments against any claim in order to disbelieve it, this includes obviously all god claims. The fact that no one can demonstrate any objective evidence is sufficient for me to disbelieve any claim. I treat all claims the same, and without bias.

The argument which I will admit I was ignorant of until now, I don’t find very compelling. Then again since the concept of a deity is often unfalsifiable, I think creating generic arguments against any unfalsifiable concept is irrational.

I would like to engage Fabian, but if he goes down the path of presupposing most atheists have rage and anger against religion, I must sit on the sidelines.

There are other honest theists I can have polite conversations with.

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Ah, so much presupposition and duplicitous stereotyping in this individual’s output …

This doesn’t even rise to the level of competence required to be regarded as wrong. It’s not merely an unsupported assertion, but a risible one at that.

Let’s establish some facts here.

Fact no 1. In the 5,000 years or so that various species of mythology fanboyism have existed, none of the fanboys in question have ever provided any real evidence for their various species of cartoon magic man. If any of them had ever succeeded in this endeavour, there would no longer be any argument about this. But they haven’t, and the reason they haven’t is because they have mistakenly thought, throughout that 5,000 year period, that “my mythology says so, therefore it’s true” constituted “evidence”, which it doesn’t. On the contrary, what those various mythologies have presented, are unsupported assertions about the cartoon magic men in question. Which can be safely discarded in any properly constituted arena of discourse, precisely because they are unsupported assertions.

Fact no. 2. Throughout that 5,000 years, continuing into the present, mythology fanboys have been unable to agree among themselves, which of the various mythologies humans have invented is purportedly the “right” mythology, and as a corollary, which of the merely asserted cartoon magic men mentioned therein is the “right” cartoon magic man. Worse still, adherents of a particular mythology cannot agree among themselves what that mythology is purportedly telling us. Yet on this basis, the same mythology fanboys that cannot achieve a consensus among themselves, and who display anti-consilience on a cosmic scale, hubristically presume that their particular choice of mythology, and their particualar interpretation thereof, purportedly dictates how reality operates, regardless of how much reality disagrees with this hubristic presumption.

Fact no 3. We also have to factor into the picture, that several million peer reviewed scientific papers, document in exquisite detail, the evidence that testable natural processes are sufficient to explain vast classes of entities and interactions, including classes thereof that the authors of mythologies were incapable of even fantasising about. Moreover, those papers document how said classes of entities and interactions have been made the remit of usefully predictive quantitative frameworks of knowledge, of a sort that the authors of mythologies would have regarded as magic. As a corollary, the findings documented in those several million peer reviewed scientific papers, have rendered cartoon magic men from mythologies superfluous to requirements and irrelevant.

Fact no 4. Among the findings documented in the aforementioned peer reviewed scientific papers, those of us who bothered to read the relevant papers, learned that scientists have alighted upon a particularly interesting discovery - namely, that both the capacity for ethical thought, and the motivation to act thereupon, have an evolutionary and biological basis, and the postulates underpinning these findings have been subjected to, and passed, critical empirical tests. Those findings cover such topics as the evolution of brain development genes expressed in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and the observed instances of ethical decision making in non-human species. As a corollary, we have a proper, consistent explanation for the emergence of ethical thinking, without the need for a cartoon magic man.

Fact no. 5. None of the mythologies invented by pre-scientific humans, have come even remotely close to presenting postulates about the natural world, that are in any shape or form in accord with well-documented scientific findings. Mythological assertions on this topic clash violently with scientific discoveries, right across physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and geology. Which on its own should invite deep suspicion about the likely provenance of the mythological assertions in question.

Fact no. 6. Recognition of the above basic facts isn’t “emotional bias” or “rage”, but I and others here are tiresomely familiar with mythology fanboy misrepresentations of our actual thought on the matter. Said misrepresentations being concocted not in the interests of discoursive rigour, but in the interests of achieving hegemony for their mythologies, regardless of how much manifest dupliity is involved in the peddling of said misrepresentations. Indeed, the number of mythology fanboys who manifestly don’t know what atheism actually is, but who continue to peddle their caricatures thereof, on its own leads to much well-deserved suspicion about both the requisite world views and the basic integrity of the pedlars thereof.

Our latest mythology fanboy would do well to acquaint himself with relevant facts, before embarrassing himself before a public audience, by posting well-documented and repeatedly destroyed canards. Along with learning how the rules of porper discourse operate in proper, rigorous environments.


Valid point, but this person is playing to an echo chamber, making noises to those who are ready to nod their heads in agreement.

This person takes arguments outside to a place like this, and it all falls part like a piece of toilet paper in the rain.

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Yes, I see how I have shot myself into the foot.
I spent two days formulating and reformulating the argumentation and that lead only to a very long text that nobody wants to read
But to make matters worse, I am unknown on this forum and so some of my words will be taken as very inappropriate. I apologize for that. I will answer on that charge to another reply.

However, debates usually start with a detailled exposition of one’s position, is that not so?
So even though I regret that it’s a strain to read a question that is two pages long, I had to take these days to make sure that I don’t make a fool of myself logic-wise.

@Fabian is my position as an atheist based on emotional bias and rage against religion?

Yes, David, I realized myself how inappropriate that is, considering that you don’t know me.

Let me assure you that I think that there are a lot of mysteries and paradoxes or even reasonable arguments against the existence of God. In fact I agree that if you restrict yourself to reason alone, atheism is a quite understandable position. Even though I disagree on a pretty fundamental level, I find myself siding with honest atheists on several occasions.

Ironically that is why I was so inappropriately provocative in these two blocks where I “threaten” with dismissive words about atheists. It is precisely because I do expect better arguments. So it frustrates me a lot, when I see how natural and unchallenged some really wonky arguments are floated in popular discourse. Wikipedia, especially the german version, is pretty bad in all topics religion with a strong unreasonable bias.
The english wikipedia is much more balanced.

So please excuse me for voicing my frustration with certain atheists that parrot this particular argument which I find utterly unreasonable. It might be a bit comparable with atheist’s words about creationists; those are usually not nice in any way - and yet the speaker will not feel hatred and rage against all theists.

It is precisely that I do not want to believe that the atheist argumentation (in this particular case) is so bad. That’s why I came here to hear it rehabilitated.

Thank you.

I am not interested in any arguments against the existence of any god. I am seeking any argument or reasonable evidence or proof FOR a god.

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Thank you for your long reply.
I only browsed it, because it does not seem to address the topic at hand.
Please see my last reply on what I meant with “emotional bias” and “rage”; you will see that it is quite different from what you have interpreted.

I apologize again for storming in like a raging bull, not realizing that my general (positive) attitude towards atheists is unknown. I was far too focussed on keeping the logic straight, because I did not want to be called out for an obvious logical flaw.
Please notice that it’s not easy for everybody to enter a “hostile” environment without feeling a bit nervous and thus acting like a fool.

EDIT: Hey, you referred to me in the third person. Maybe I should do that as well.
From now on this mythology fanboy will refer to himself in the third person whenever he converses with his new friend Calilasseia.