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
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.
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)
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”.