Thought on Atheism’s Euthyphro Dilemma

Atheists often assert that any moral arguments that theists try to make for the existence of God, or for the claim that God is required for morality, are negated by the so-called Euthyphro Dilemma–a dilemma which is meant to show that the theist must, allegedly, either accept that morality is utterly relative to God’s arbitrary will or that morality is independent of God, both of which are unacceptable options–but whereas the theist can easily answer the Euthyphro challenge made against him by pointing out that God’s commands and desires stem from His unchanging loving nature and thus cannot be arbitrarily changed (and the theist has pointed this out for years!), what the atheist does not realize is that his position suffers from its own Euthyphro Dilemma, and it is even worse than the theistic one, for the Euthyphro Dilemma that the atheist suffers from is one which points out that, 1) given the extreme difficulty in seeing how any absolute moral rules and duties could exist on atheism, and 2) seeing how many atheists themselves admit and argue that no moral rules or duties exist on atheism, and 3) given how many atheists even admit that God would be the best explanation for the existence of absolute moral rules and duties, then it is the case that in order to be a rational atheist, one should be, at the very least, agnostic about the existence of absolute moral rules and duties, and yet, at the same time, it is absurd and irrational to be agnostic about the fact that, say, child sexual abuse is absolutely wrong and we have an absolute duty to stop it or that extreme self-mutilation is absolutely wrong and we have an absolute duty to stop it, and so we can see that the atheist is indeed stuck in a serious dilemma, for he arguably cannot rationally affirm the existence of absolute moral rules and duties on his worldview and yet he knows that it is irrational to deny the existence of absolute moral rules and duties in some cases; so the atheist is in a hard dilemma, and anyway that he turns, irrationality awaits him, and that is the reason why the atheist has his own Euthyphro Dilemma to deal with, and it is a dilemma which is not as easily answered for the atheist.


8 thoughts on “Thought on Atheism’s Euthyphro Dilemma

  1. Can you actually articulate a two-horn Euthyphro-style dilemma that applies to atheism?
    I don’t see that you’re third point is true. Do atheists really admit morals are best explained by a God?


  2. Appealing to a happy coincidence – that God’s nature is good – does not rescue God’s aseity from the independent moral fact.
    The issues surrounding moral realism, which you gesture at in the latter portion of the post, are everybody’s problem. They are more about how we understand moral evaluations, than they are about the source of moral evaluations. Do we understand them as we do facts, like gravity? Do we understand them as a sort of property which our motivation exemplifies in certain circumstances? Do we understand them as expressions of our learned or ingrained sentiments?
    All of these are problems for those who think moral evaluations are written into us, written into the entire universe, or written onto our motives and the circumstances of our motives’ evocation.


    • Hey Hessian (and Withteeth)
      You really need to define your terms. Can one moral idea be said to be better than another? Can equality be said to be better than oppression?
      If you define ‘objective morality’ as a system of morality that has an external set of criteria independent of humanity against which we can judge our ideas and actions, then I think it is very difficult to say you can have objective morality without some transcendent existential realism.
      However, if you think there are criteria against which morality can be measured, like equality and freedom, then I think one can meaningfully talk about moral progress.
      And I’m not sure it does undermine objective morality to be based on woolly criteria, to the point of being non-viable. Health is equally uncertain, but one is medically correct to say drinking milk is better than drinking battery acid (to steal an argument from Sam Harris).


      • I find the question runs into semantics, which may not be as constructive. You might have a more fruitful discussion with questions like ‘what is the nature of morality?’ and ‘how can we know morality?’


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s