A Christian Answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma

The ethical dilemma set out in Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro is either that God loves something because it is good (thereby implying that the Good is something independent of God, to which God is Himself held accountable – an unacceptable option for a Christian theist) or a thing is good because God loves it (thereby implying that the Good is an arbitrary decision made by God – also an unacceptable option for a Christian theist).

I wonder if the Christian theist doesn’t have a third option to the dilemma. If the Euthyphro argument entails that the Good is a Form independent of the gods, how does this impact the Christian idea of God? Well, for one thing, Socrates is concerned about the immorality of the Greek gods, and contrary to some Modern propaganda, Jehovah is not Zeus. Jehovah is God and there are no other Gods. Jehovah has no one to quarrel with about the just and the unjust, so Socrates’ point to Euthyphro in 7d-8b that quarrelsome gods amounts to the same thing being called just and unjust at the same time doesn’t apply to Jehovah. And, as Socrates points out at 11a, the idea that a thing is holy because the gods love it confuses an attribute (being loved) with the essence (being Lovely). Socrates pushes Euthyphro’s argument to a mere tautology (piety is dear to the gods because it is dear to the gods) that demonstrates ethical arbitrariness.

The Christian theist, however, doesn’t have to embrace either horn of the dilemma. We can take the first option (that God loves something because it is Good) and, like Augustine, put the Forms in God’s mind rather than having them stand as independent entities. (And at any rate, again, the Euthyphro argument is talking about finite gods, not an Infinite God.) The Good really is transcendent and logically and practically unassailable, but it is simply a part of God’s inherent character. God’s ethical standards and the morality of His actions are not arbitrary at all, but governed by His own perfect character, which is equally and identically transcendent with the Good.

All the objections raised from evil in the world don’t count against the transcendent Goodness of God’s character precisely because they are arguments made by finite beings who cannot see the end from the beginning, finite beings trying to comprehend the infinity of the universe with wisdom that is (almost pathetically-comically) trapped inside skulls the size of a cantaloupe. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”, indeed.

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