September 14, 2006

Euthyphro's Dilemma and the Character of God

The dialog following my last post on the implied moral relativism of atheism eventually hit the topic of Euthyphro's Dilemma. This is commonly offered as a trump card by non-theists against the idea that God is a proper grounding for objective morality (i.e., Is the "good" just whatever God commands, or does God command things based on some preexisting standard of goodness).

I offered this article as a solution to this dilemma, which was summarily rejected by Dagoods. We then exchanged a round of dialog, to which I offer a more detailed response below.

Dagoods said: You are quite correct that the Euthyphro Dilemma does not eliminate the possibility of moral realism. However, it does bring into sharp focus the problems associated with it.

I don't see why. There could still be a God who merely decrees what is good and creates a universe accordingly (like Allah). Perhaps you would then take issue with the basis of that morality, but to what avail? It would still be real and binding upon you in spite of any of your philosophical reproaches.

Dagoods said: As we have no possible way to even verify why God does it, any claim as to that standard is pure speculation. We don’t know God, let alone a step further beyond God!

Well then, this debate must be unsolvable and at an end, unless, perhaps, we had some revelation from this God to constrain the discussion. But you deny that. Even so, you press on...

Dagoods said: If discussing the God of the Bible and his interactions with humanity, this possibility [of changing whims/morality] becomes probability. A creature that cannot change cannot have regrets. . . . If God’s [character] can change, it is no longer absolute. It becomes “good because God does it.” Scripture says God has regrets. Can a sentient being that is unchangeable have regrets?

If you want to exegete my Scriptures you will have to take it all into consideration — even that which speaks of God's immutable nature and demonstrates His regular use of anthropomorphic communication devices. Even so, this would not demonstrate that God has changed His moral character, only that He grieves at the results of what willful humans have managed to do. And what is it that they have managed to do? Violate His moral commands! (e.g., 1Sa 15:11)

Dagoods said: When I say “whim” with God, it is possible that God could make a moral mandate and it is the same for all time. It is still not absolute, because there is no reason God could not have chosen some other moral mandate, even the opposite. What God chose was based merely on his particular choice. He was not limited by any fashion.

This is a good point at which to address the root of the problem. The horn of the dilemma which would have goodness outside of and beyond God is certainly untenable. This may have been a solution for Plato, since he was seeking to defend "the gods," but it is not consistent with Judeo-Christian monotheism, or even our intuitive concept of what it means to be God. This means that morality is grounded in God, but there is still much opportunity for nuancing.

Perhaps the problem is that you would like to leave it at that. If it is from God in any way, you believe that the other horn of the dilemma is being maintained and any further defense is just so much double-talk. However, I believe the qualifications make a great deal of difference.

(First I must say that I hesitate to hang the veracity of theism on an answer to this question. It is one in which lurks some of the most difficult theological and philosophical questions, which are not apparent on the surface. I am not trained to speak in the kinds of categorical terms that would be required to unpack the hidden difficulties. I also believe that its complexity and the unknowns involved in speaking of something like a non-physical, atemporal, self-existent Being guarantees that important data fall through the cracks in the discussion. And deeply theoretical discussions of this kind can land us in seemingly sound states of reasoning while still being brilliantly mistaken. I'm thinking here of Zeno's Arrow, where it was suggested that motion was a fiction because an object must travel through an infinity of points in order to reach a given target. While the thought gives me pause, it has never stopped me from getting into my car in hopes of reaching my destination.

In any case, this topic is very interesting to me, and so I press on...)

If morality were merely based on God's "whim" or some arbitrary choice, then this would seem to qualify for the spirit of the second horn of this dilemma. That is to say, goodness would not be grounded, just invented; it could have been otherwise, and may be in the future. The solution that Greg is describing removes the "arbitrary" nature of the decrees of God and connects them to the character of God. God is creating and decreeing those things which are in harmony with His own nature. So, He would not, just as easily, have made some laws to be opposite of what they are.

I find this a very intuitive direction to take the solution. It is difficult to imagine God simply flipping coins when making moral imperatives. Surely He is doing things which are desirous and pleasing for Him to do — according to His own nature. I'm not sure that the Dilemma, as it is generally formulated, excludes such a solution. However, I think this "solution" may then press onward into other difficult ground, though I'm not sure where the scope of one dilemma ends and another picks up. When is Euthyphro's Dilemma resolved? Must we put all ontological conundrums under its umbrella?

Two areas of further concern I see arising are as follows: 1) Is God, then, bound by His nature (i.e., He's not "free" to do anything other than what His nature impels Him to do)? 2) How do we avoid tautologies and define attributes and essences in relation to God? It seems as though your issues (measured by volume of your text) fall more in the latter area, though I think once you concede the possibility of goodness being grounding in God's nature the former concern emerges as primary.

In any case, it is not clear to me why equating "goodness" with God's "character" is problematic. That truth may not give you a categorical listing of all that qualifies as good and bad, but I take it as a reasonable starting point for the concept of morality. It is sourced in the very nature of the Being who grounds every other thing that we might ponder, e.g., knowledge, consciousness, logic, being, will, etc. Such things I suspect you will not deny, but will you deny that a thing such as "consciousness" can be sourced in the self-conscious nature of the one who creates conscious creatures? Does Euthyphro's Dilemma extend to challenge this essential aspects of God as well? Do you also reject the possibility of a self-conscious deity? Perhaps you simply have problems with the idea that God could BE anything at all!

I said: In fact, it is not at all clear to me why anyone would suggest that God would create and decree things that were not according to His own character in the first place.

Dagoods said: Not clear to me, either. I would agree that they are one and the same. But that means that God is bound to do it by God. Which places us squarely on the horn that “it is good because God does it.”

So you agree that His decrees could be rooted in His own character, but you simply want to distill it to what "God does." If God's character is equivalent to His actions, then it is true that goodness is "what God does," but it is conversely true that goodness = God's character. In looking for a grounding for morality we have found the ground: it is an essential thing, not simply an arbitrary decree.

Perhaps you are then concerned with the question, "How do we know that God's character is actually good?" But this presupposes a standard for judging that must transcend an eternal, immutable author of all things that exist; it presupposes that the other horn of the dilemma is what must be true in any metaphysical system.

You may like to think of this solution as making morality arbitrary in some way, but I think it is a meaningless complaint. For instance, you may think it arbitrary because God's character could have been something else, but what else is there for it to have been? That is the nature of God: He defines and produces all things which exist. There is no external set of attributes from which He was randomly assembled, no other way He could have been.

Now you may complain that this is no definition of morality — goodness just happens to be whatever God is — but it's not clear what this complaint buys you. It is still the case that morality has been sourced; it is still the case that morality exists as something outside of the creation; and it is still the case that being moral is incumbent upon the creation. How is it that you will judge the goodness of the good? You have nothing with which to judge that has not been given to you by the creator of the intuitions by which you would seek to judge. You might just as well ask if logic is logical.

Dagoods said: By placing a smaller circle of “God’s character” within a “God” circle, we need to determine what is in that larger circle, but not in the smaller circle. (Why I like the Venn Diagram.) All you have done is provide even smaller circles within the “God’s Character” such as “knowledge, essence, being and power” and said, “See—these are not ‘the same’ as God’s character.” True, but that is not what we are looking for. . . . Using Venn diagrams, we can see how your example of yourself is incomplete. We draw a circle of “Paul.” We would draw a LARGER circle of “Father” around you. You are either a father (have child(ren)) or do not. There is nothing in you that is “not father” whereas other parts are. You may assume different roles, but even when talking with a customer on the phone, you still fit the descriptive term “father.”

It occurs to me that the solution lies between these two points. I am not at all inclined to advance the idea that God is simply a collection of properties, i.e., that you can make smaller circles within His being and say that He "has" these things. While it might make sense to say that I "have" goodness, it is only "some" goodness. It does not pervade my being and others have a measure of it as well.

On the other hand, the things that God "has" are pervasive and He has them in complete measure. For example, His knowledge is complete and it informs everything He does. So, if you were to draw circles labeled "knowledge," "power," and "goodness," these things might, perhaps, be a smaller circle within me, but they would not exist as a subset of God; they would more accurately fill God. And looking from the other angle, if you made a circle called "good" only God could go in it. But since He and only He is in it, then God and goodness are synonymous — just as if I were Adam, then the words "Adam," "man," and "husband" would all be redundant (for a time at least).

So, each circle that you choose to ascribe to God would find no boundary within His being. He both has those things completely and is those things simultaneously; even while you may say that they are not the same thing as each other. While His justice may be informed by His knowledge and express itself through His power, they are not identical things. For this reason you could say that God is justice, but it would be incomplete to say that justice is God. And all of the plurality of things which God is describe His nature — His moral character being but one of those things.

But even my circle analogy is not an accurate depiction, because it rests upon the idea that such attributes are things external to God which we might ascribe to Him when, in fact, God defines and grounds what these things are. So, when we talk about something like knowledge or power, we are really discussing those things which are parallels to what God manifests. Any circles we make in hopes of assigning them to another being are ultimately meaningless unless they are reflective of some divine "attribute."

For example, there is no knowledge beyond the mind of God, and humans can only hope to have some of that knowledge. Any belief that you have that does not line up with God's knowledge would be a fiction and would not hold true in any possible universe. And attempting to act according to that fictional belief would ultimately cause negative consequences in a world that proceeds from the author of truth and knowledge. Is that fair? Is that arbitrary? There is no external measure by which we might judge this fair, no other way that God's knowledge could have been, and no other possible realities in which one-ended sticks could exist.

Dagoods said: Are you saying that moral intuitions could be wrong? (Just like I say.) And that we must gauge those moral intuitions “correctness” by obtaining more knowledge? (Just like I say.) And upon learning more knowledge, use that knowledge to “trump” what our moral intuitions initially determine? (Just like I say.)

I don't think a straight yes or no answer can be given without qualification.

First, I will point out that it seems with humans that any right intuition, instinct, or commonsense notion may be violated at will. Even if our conscience were inerrant it would still be possible to "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" and to allow it to atrophy from disuse. Hunger is a proper instinct, but the anorexic feels it and handles it much differently from you and me.

Second, intuitions are complicated things which are not simply designed to work reflexively. Here I am undecided how best to characterize them. It could be that they are rudimentary building blocks that must be assembled to fit the circumstances, or it's possible that they are broader in scope and invested with nuance. So in my original example, regarding imprisoning someone, it will be the case that we need full knowledge of the situation to first apply our moral intuitions. We then might be doing one of two things: 1) We are pitting our intuition that humans ought not be subjugated and mistreated against our intuition that crime demands justice 2) We are simply employing an inherent qualifier that it is "innocent" people who deserve to be treated in certain ways.

In any case, it is reason that applies the facts to the intuitive principles. Knowledge is merely fuel for the moral engine. When you say that you believe that knowledge may "trump" or "correct" our moral intuitions I have to wonder what you think it is that knowledge is doing for you. Knowledge is neutral; you have to apply the knowledge in some way. Exactly what ethical principles are you using in order to apply your knowledge which are not informed by your moral sensibilities? When you see a man in a cage, and then come to know that he is a serial killer, what is the dispassionate methodology you use to silence your intuition that humans ought not be caged like animals? In reality, your moral intuitions pervade your reasoning from start to finish.

It strikes me that the entire history of ethical philosophy has been an exercise in mapping our moral intuitions to a systematic definition, and its failure has been largely due to the tendency toward skewing the results to grant latitude for individual passions.

Might one come to a morally wrong conclusion? There is no denying that, since people do come down on different sides of certain issues. Some situations are morally complex, knowledge is an undervalued commodity, and the will to defer to our intuitions is thin. However, this does nothing to abnegate the fact that those intuitions exist or that their Author will hold one accountable to yield to them as best as we are able.

Dagoods said: If moral intuition is not enough, and we need knowledge too, and God has not provided that knowledge (according to your concept) then we cannot determine what is good! This is my point on genocide. What knowledge has God provided that means your moral intuition has gone from “uninformed” to “informed” other than your presumption that God must have a moral reason for committing genocide?

You have no new information. Any other theistic belief that claims promulgation of its people through the use of genocide is “moral” you would deplore. But because it is your God, it becomes “good” because you suppose your God is good.

(Addition: 9/20/06 - Note that I use "Amorite," rightly or wrongly, as a general ethnic term to represent the people occupying the lands of Israel.)

I'll have to take exception with your premises. First, God has indeed provided us with knowledge to reinforce and supplement our intuitions. That is a major claim of the Christian: God has intervened in the creation to reveal Himself. But I think you specifically mean that He has not bothered to reveal His motives for the displacement of the Amorites. Again I must disagree. Scripture speaks in several places of the various reasons for the Amorites to be "driven out" (which it mentions more often than the extreme measures that you note). Several times it offers a litany of offenses — incest, adultery, child sacrifice, idolatry, homosexuality, bestiality — and even indicates that God withheld judgment until their iniquity had reached its full measure (Gen 15:16). The taking of the Promised Land was coincident with the judgment of God. It differed from the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah in that it was executed by the agency of humans and not all suffered the penalty of death.

Another thing with which I must take issue is your characterization of this judgment as "genocide." Genocide looks more like the Nazi treatment of the Jews, where they are all ferreted out and executed merely upon racial grounds. For a parallel from God we would expect to find verses saying broad things like, "I despise the Amorites. Find them wherever they hide and destroy them. Let not one Amorite remain alive upon the face of the whole earth." Instead, we see variety in the treatment of the inhabitants of a fixed area of real estate according to their individual circumstances (some destroyed, some subjugated, some driven out, some left alone, sometimes spoils allowed, sometimes not, etc.) and no blanket license for hostilities. We can't derive a general moral or theological principle that transcends the context of these people, this place, this time, and this covenanted nation of Israel. So it would be unjustified to say that God "promulgates His people through the use of genocide," as though Jews or Christians should feel warranted to show aggression toward any heathen group they meet.

In reality, it was the practices of these people, not their race, nationality, or even their culture per-se that was at issue here. We know this to be true because God tells the incoming Israelites that if they take up the practices of those who they are driving out, then they will be dealt with likewise. And this is exactly their ultimate fate (Lev 18:24-30, 2Ki 17:7-23). There is no moral inequity here; though justice may sometimes be averted by way of mercy, which none are owed.

So, we at least know the broad rationale for the treatment of the Amorites, and there is further data to explain some of the specific treatment of the various subgroups. However, I must admit that at least I do not have an explanation for all the details. But must I know every justification to have assurance that there is some justification, especially if I have other grounds for arriving at such assurances? And if I am reconciled to the idea that God has a rightful claim to someone's life, even if not guilty, then His sometimes lethal treatment of a particularly barbaric people would find certain grounds for justification.

There is much "knowledge," which you would deny, to be applied to this situation that can inform our moral intuitions about what humans alone (all things being equal) should or should not do to each other as a regular course of action. Especially the idea that if there is a God, and He has eternal purposes in mind for His creatures, then the game as we see it may have higher stakes not to the liking of one who denies eternity and measures his life in the personal glories and idle pleasures of four score and ten years.

In the end, I think your objection actually works against you. That is because if you take the Bible to be an actual record of the God who grounds morality, then you must accept its premises and the knowledge it provides to augment your moral intuitions. But if, as you do, you reject any grounding for an objective morality, then your distaste for "genocide" cannot be a true moral intuition. It would be as much of a fiction as the God you reject; it would be a belief originating from personal preference and cultural convention, which might have been as different as the ethics of Nazi Germany.

It is only because your moral intuitions stand reasonably unmolested by something like a satanic Nazi ideology that you find this to be such a visceral grievance against the Biblical deity. I have no intention of humoring any claim that this is merely an academic exercise of finding internal inconsistencies in the Christian worldview. But if you wish to judge, you must first have not only a fixed moral standard by which to judge, but a fixed rational standard as well. Otherwise, you are saying nothing more than, "I do not like your Christianity." It is the dilemma of atheism.

"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist--in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless--I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality--namely my idea of justice--was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning." ~ C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

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At 9/15/2006 7:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you care to evaluate what I wrote on the Euthyphro?

At 9/16/2006 5:38 AM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

I haven't thought of a suitable last word from my side on the ethical question, but having read this post and the Loftus version I would have to say that my original objection from the previous thread stands. That is, locating the grounding for 'good' in God's character rather than his will is analagous to the 'self subsumption' move in the defense of the Cosmological Argument. It attemts to get off the horn of the dilemma by making his will follow his character and thus appear non arbitrary. When we ask 'why is it not equally arbitrary that God had that particular character, the response is that we could not possibly have anything to compare his character to because it is the character of the ultimate eternal being. Can you see the similarity? When we ask 'what caused God?' it is replied that only things that come into existence need a cause but god is eternal. The problem in both cases seems to me that God is specifically designed as a theoretical and arbitrary stopping point of explanatory chains. So the arbitrariness has not really been dissolved, it has merely been wrapped up in a tight narrative construct.

At 9/17/2006 3:44 PM, Blogger DagoodS said...

Thank you Paul for your concentrated response as well as the time and effort put into it. It may seem that, at times, I am dismissive or abrupt in my reply to you, but I want you to know that is more a matter of style and certainly not a lack of appreciation as to what you have framed together here.

Secondly, to make my reply a bit more legible, I will break my comments down into separate areas. The first response will be to Euthyphro’s Dilemma.

Euthyphro’s question has to do with the establishment of morality in a theistic world. A non-theistic or natural world may have problems and concerns of its own as to the establishment of morality, but Euthyphro is not designed and would be useless within that world. It is a question of what type of God would possibly exist with a theistic worldview in which the God is involved in morality.

The Dilemma presents two (2) possibilities and inquires which is feasible:

1) Is Morality something other than God, yet in some way even God is bound by it in doing what is moral vs. immoral? Or
2) Is God the determinate of all things moral, in that whatever God chooses to be moral becomes moral and what God chooses to be immoral is immoral?

Clearly a theistic presentation could be made, in that one holds to a God that arbitrarily determines what is moral or not. Euthyphro is not designed, nor is it intended to be a proof against theism. More of a question of how one determines what is moral or not, and whether even God is bound by the same rules, if you will.

Most Christianity adds a twist presenting a view that all actions God has performed are moral and he is incapable of performing an immoral act. I say “most” because it is possible there is a Christian view that says God can and has performed an immoral act. But that is not what we are dealing with here, so I will ignore that.

Not surprisingly, with this Christina concept of God, the first possibility (or as commonly referred to “horn”) of the Dilemma is immediately cast aside. I see you do as well. The idea that any other force binds God makes him less of a God. It gives the implication that God cannot be God, if there is something else that God must follow. I avoid the terms such as “external” or “greater” than God. Euthyphro does not necessarily mandate that God is bound by something “external” or “greater” but rather something else.

Yet before we dismiss this idea and move elsewhere—is it so odd that God is bound by some concepts? Is God logical? Can God be both God and not-God? Christians abhor (and I do not blame them) the inane question, “Can God make a rock he cannot lift?” Primarily because it violates simple logic. In talking about God, it is presumed that we must limit ourselves to logical constructs. Otherwise all communication breaks down.

In one post you could say “God is ___” and in the next post say “God is not ___” and when questioned, claim that since God is not bound by logic, anything you say about him could be both “A” and “not-a” at the same time. Most people would stop commenting in short order with a blogger that removes all logic from the idea of God.

Interestingly, Christianity does recognize a creature that was both God and not-God at the same time. Human and not-human. 100% human and 100% God, and therefore 200% of a creature. A logical impossibility. This is shrugged away as “we cannot understand” and remains unaddressed or undefined to this day. It is simply presumed without explanation.

Once Christianity accepts this non-logical concept within its God, why stop there? It would seem that the easiest explanation to the Dilemma is to say that God is bound by something else, AND whatever God does is moral, and accept the illogical claim as yet another in the illogical claims of Christianity. Yet that is not what Christianity chooses to do…so we continue.

Now that the first horn is quieted, never to rear up again (or will it?) we will therefore turn to the next horn—“God has arbitrarily determined morality.”

Christians shun this concept for two (2) reasons:

First, because it makes morals relative, not absolute. Although God may not change morals, it is discomforting to realize that he could change. Christians recognize the lack of verification in their God. What if God determined one day that lying was immoral, but the next determined it was moral? That would mean, when God was providing revelation, we are in no position to know whether God was lying or not at that time. Even if God was attempting to be moral. Or if God said “I will not lie” if he can arbitrarily change morals, it may be moral to say that one day and moral to lie the next day!

I should further note that if God can change morals, simply because we are bound by his determination absolutely, does not make morals absolute. They are absolutely bound in a relative creature. For a similar analogy—imagine I claim I will state a string of random numbers to plug into an equation. Whatever pops in my mind at a certain moment, I will spew out and we plug in. Another person decides they will only plug in every fourth number that I state. It is absolutely determined that it will ALWAYS be every fourth number. Not the third, not the second, not the fifth—the fourth every time. And the person faithfully maintains this absolute system. It is still random numbers! We have just removed the randomness by one degree.

In the same way, the absolute “must follow God’s commands” becomes relative if God’s commands are relative.

The second reason Christians shun the second horn of Euthyphro is that they hope that everything their God does is moral. I say “hope” because the reality of the matter is—they cannot verify it. They can claim God says it. They can believe it. But if whatever God does is moral, they should realize that what God did many years ago, may not be considered moral by current God-standards. Christians would like a governor on their God, so that it can be asserted, “Everything He does is moral.” This is dangerously close, thought, to the first horn of the Dilemma. Worse, there are actions, such as genocide, that certainly smell terrible from a moral standpoint, and therefore the Christian would like to assert that such actions must be moral, as God is bound to be moral. (See how that flirts with the first horn? I told you it would not go down so easily!) I will deal with genocide in a later comment.

What is the Christian to do? The first horn (something binding a God) is unacceptable. The second horn (whatever God does determines morality) is dangerous. Simple, and appropriate. Create a third solution.

The article you relied defines this third solution as God is bound to do what His unchanging Character prescribes, and His Character is moral. This intends to avoid the first horn, by not making something other than God binding, but something within God, and intends to avoid the second horn by limiting God to only doing that which is moral, and making him unable to do that which is immoral.

This is merely bait-and-switch. And not even that interesting. You see, the key to this third possibility is to demonstrate that “God’s character” is something different than “God.” If it is the exact same, we are left standing squarely on the second horn—morality is whatever God determines it is.

This is the key. It is why I ask, again, and AGAIN and AGAIN for someone that holds to this third possibility to please, PLEASE, PLEASE define “God’s character” in such a way that we can determine how it is different than “God.” While you copied and quoted much of what I said in my previous comment, I cannot help but note that you left out this key question that I asked in that comment.

And I will continue to ask it. I read your blog entry. I re-read it. I read it again. I am looking for an explanation as to how “God’s Character” is different than “God.” You make the claim that that things such as “knowledge,” “power” and “goodness” are the same as God. Right. Exactly. It is my point, indeed, that “God’s Character” and “God” are the same. Which still leaves us on the second horn.

Worse, you claim that “goodness” and “God” are synonymous. The article you relied upon attempted to avoid this, as it becomes a tautology. Are you disagreeing with the article?

I could create any number of Terms—“God’s nature,” “God’s Character,” “God’s Essence,” “God’s being,” or “God’s persona” But how are any of these different than God?

This appears to be a resolution that is preaching to the choir. First we present both horns and get the Christian uncomfortable. Then we present this concept, “God’s Character” and introduce it as the third horn. The Christian relaxes, presuming in the flurry of words that somehow the other two horns are avoided by this solution. Yet no one seems to want to ask the simplest question of all—What is the difference between “God” and “God’s Character”? They do not want to ask. They desire a solution, and by introducing a new set of words, will hang on to this solution to the dire end. Yet it is no solution at all. Merely a new set of words that state the same thing.

Might as well say, “God is not bound by God, but rather he is bound by his ‘necessary essence of being.’” See how beautiful that is? And how wonderful it sounds? And how philosophical pleasing it is to know that God is not bound by whatever he wants (how crass!) but rather by some elusive opaque concept that sounds good when framed in English words, but upon inspection, melts away into nothingness.

I ask again—How is “God’s Character” different than God? It is why I specifically ask it to be phrased in the form of a Venn diagram. The reason this is avoided time (and time and time) again, is that such a diagram demonstrates that “God” and “God’s character” are one and the same.

Until I have that answer, I see no way of further assessing this alleged third response to the Euthyphro Dilemma.

Further, upon what information can we determine that God’s Character (assuming it is different than God) is unchangeable?

At 9/17/2006 3:45 PM, Blogger DagoodS said...

Moral Intuition

The article recognizes that if all things come from God and God is solely moral, in order to avoid the “God is God” tautology of determining morality, we would need some outside barometer by which to determine what is “moral.” Otherwise we remain helpless on the horn of whatever God does is “moral” and we have no way in which to determine whether that action is moral, immoral or non-moral, other than smacking the constant label of “moral” on it. Because God did it.

The problem becomes immediately obvious, and, in fact, this third solution actually adds to the problem! Since God would be the creator of everything human—including moral intuition—God could create within the human the same moral intuition as God’s standard of morality, regardless of which horn it came from.

If God is bound by some other concept to being moral, does that other concept further bound God to creating humans with the same moral intuition? Again, our lack of verification leaves us on the horn of “We don’t know.” If, however, morality is determined by whatever God does, clearly he COULD impose a moral intuition that is directly in line with what God thinks.

Imagine, for example, that God in his ability to determine what is moral, thinks that men should have short hair, and women should have long hair. It is not grasping to see that he could create the same intuition within humans, which we now, naturally assume for our own. We have made a circular argument for determining morality.

We know it is wrong for a man to have long hair because our intuition says so. We see that God also says this, so it confirms that God is moral. But God is the one that instilled the intuition in the first place! (Before one thinks my example is far-fetched, they might want to explain 1 Cor. 11:14)

Further we have the classic example of God imposing a different moral intuition on Pharaoh by hardening his heart. Clearly God DOES get involved in creating moral intuition.

So our moral intuition, created by the same God that is establishing morality, is useless to determine what is “moral” or not. God can make it whatever he wishes under any horn.

The greater problem proposed by this third horn is that we would now have a God that is solely morally, bound to be solely moral, and unchanging in his morality. He would lack the requisite knowledge to create something he knows nothing about—namely a creature that is NOT solely morally, is NOT solely bound to be moral and IS changing in its morality. God couldn’t envision it to create it.

Even “all-knowing” has its logical limitations. Just like “all-powerful” does not mean that God can make a rock he can’t life, “all-knowing” does not mean God can envision a world of things He cannot think of.

Could God know how to create a world that was not created by God? Of course not! That is silly. Or a world in which his justice does not apply? Or a world in which he does not Love? As you aptly pointed out, paul, within this third solution each of those items fill God. There is no other room for God to imagine they don’t exist.

In the same way God cannot create something he has no knowledge of. In order for God to understand and create “choice” of morality, he would need to know what “choice” is. If he has no choice, and is bound by His character, he does not know what that is. If he is unchanging, he has never changed—he does not know what “change” is!

This makes a conundrum of Godlike proportions!

I was stunned the article dared to use Abraham as an example of moral intuition determining morality. Part of the reason I was so critical of it; it doesn’t think through its own implications.

Our moral intuitions would say that child sacrifice, for the whim of dictator, is not moral. Child sacrifice for any reason is not moral. If I told you that God said to me I needed to sacrifice my children in a bloody, fiery mess—would your intuition accept that? Of course not!

Yet that is exactly what God requested Abraham to do with Isaac—go against his every moral intuition. Abraham displayed his readiness to obey God, against his moral intuition, and it turns out that was the “moral” choice!

You, paul, were the one that used the term “uninformed moral intuition” and upon gaining “understanding” the morality of the situation changed. Whether you want to call it knowledge or informed moral intuition or whatever term you desire. It is upon learning new information an “uninformed” moral intuition becomes “informed.”

Here we have a blatant example of “moral intuition” NOT being a correct gauge or morality. It must bend to “God’s command.” If we cannot use it here—where else can we not use it?

Going back to long hair/short hair. My moral intuition says nothing about hair length. Does God’s command of 1 Cor. 11:14 trump it? My moral intuition says nothing about women praying uncovered. Does God’s command of 1 Cor 11:5 trump it? My moral intuition says nothing about women wearing gold. Does God’s command of 1 Tim. 2:9 trump it?

If the Christian believes moral intuition is the way to determine Goodness, how do they explain Abraham? If the Christian believes God can “trump” moral intuition, then it is useless to use it as a moral determinate.

But for the sake of argument, let’s ignore all that. Let us assume that moral intuition is effective for determining morals. We remain with an even larger issue, if you can believe it!

If we want to use moral intuition as the way to gauge morals, we need to take the total package. Can we use it, and then pick and choose what parts we like about moral intuition and discard others?

Moral intuitions change. At one time, the idea of multiple wives was not morally wrong. Now, our moral intuitions cry against it. At one time the idea of slavery was accepted. Now our moral intuitions say it is immoral. Forcing captured females to become your wife? At one time acceptable, (Numbers. 31:14) now it is reprehensible even capture non-combatants, let alone keep them!

Imagine you and I getting on in age, and we hadn’t managed to convince two ladies to be our wives. Next Saturday I recommend you and I go out, kidnap two girls, and take them home to be our forced wives. What does your moral intuition say about the morality of this? Yet at one time, it was acceptable! (Judges 21:20-23)

If we want to use moral intuition as the basis for determining morality, one thing that becomes shiningly clear with the Christian concept—is that moral intuitions change. Equally, we must say that moral determinates change with them.

Otherwise, how can you pick moral intuitions as the way to determine morals at a specific point in time, but disentangle yourself from the history of moral intuitions changing?

We are left with a (gasp!) relative morality that changes over the course of history, circumstance and knowledge, if we use moral intuition as a way in which to determine what is “moral.”

At 9/17/2006 3:46 PM, Blogger DagoodS said...


Ah, the old canard that I must have a “fixed moral standard” and a “fixed rational standard” prior to reviewing any other moral system.

paul: I have no intention of humoring any claim that this is merely an academic exercise of finding internal inconsistencies in the Christian worldview.

I am sorry, paul, but the Euthyphro Dilemma is inapplicable in a naturalist system. It is silly to apply the Euthyphro in a worldview that does not contain a God. That is the whole point OF the exercise. If you wish to not discuss, you can recall in my comment on your last blog entry I requested that you not respond.

You want to discuss Euthyphro in my worldview? Fine—there is no god by which moral standards are imposed. Done. No horns to work with at all.

Within my moral system—genocide is immoral. Are you saying you refuse to accept that premise? Odd that Christianity is left in the position of attempting to justify genocide on some occasions, whereas I am in a position of stating it is always immoral. And now you claim, “Prove it.” I have to prove to you that genocide is immoral? We cannot even agree on this simple premise?

Whose moral intuition do we use to determine what is moral when reviewing a god concept? Mine that says genocide is immoral, or yours that says…what exactly?

If this article is attempting to claim that I must use moral intuition, why now am I told that my moral intuition must not be used?

At 9/17/2006 3:46 PM, Blogger DagoodS said...


I found it peculiar that you focused on Amorite genocide. And you made an oblique reference to the Amalekite genocide. Whereas I was referring to the Midianite genocide. Peculiar because when we discuss “God” and “genocide” the first question, apparently, we must ask is “which one?”

I understand that you “take exception” to the term “genocide.” “God’s judgment” sounds so much better, right? Killing off a race of people whatever the justification is still genocide. Isn’t it curious that we only have the Jewish perspective of what happened. All genocides attempt to justify themselves.

If you had read solely the German perspective of genocide, do you think it would sound nearly as bad as it was? Only because we HAVE the other perspective can we see the genocide for what it was.

In a broad sense, the explanation of the Holocaust is as follows: Anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe since the Thirteenth Century, as a result of Christian nations blaming the Jews for the execution of Jesus. In Germany, Hitler played off this Anti-Semitism by claiming there were superior races, and the Jewish race was a much lesser race. Coupled with the punishment of God for executing Jesus, and the superiority of the Aryan Race, the roots of the Holocaust were born.

Is that much different than the justification of the Hebrews in their history? First the justification, due to the immoral nature of the opposing race. Then the superiority of their claim to the land. It was given to them by God, after all. At its base, it appears to be very analogous to the Holocaust.

One on hand, the saving part of the discussion is that these genocides as recorded in the Bible never happened. There was no captivity in Egypt. No Ten Plagues. No Exodus. And no resulting genocides. The numbers are far too great as well. But this also makes this more reprehensible. It is not literal, but an analogy. Analogy for what?

Is God saying genocide can be justified in circumstances? If God appeared today and gave Christians the go-ahead to eliminate the heathens in God-given America, would you pick up your gun? What does that speak to your moral intuition?

In reviewing God’s actions of commanding genocide, we are particularly troubled with Euthyphro’s dilemma. This is a heightened area of interest, in which Christians find themselves attempting to explain away God’s actions with the weak response that God is bound to be moral, and therefore must have some moral reason for committing what appears to be an atrocity, yet must concede we do not know.

Let’s look at your reasons for God performing genocide. Oh my! A “litany of offenses” including “incest, adultery, child sacrifice, idolatry, homosexuality and bestiality.” The first amusing part is that the Hebrew Nation arose out of Canaan. We cannot tell the difference between the races according to archeology. In other words, by every independent verification we have—the Hebrews would be just as guilty as any Canaanite nation. We even have recorded incidents of incest, adultery, child sacrifice, and idolatry among the Hebrews in the Tanakh, true? I am unaware of any claims of homosexuality or bestiality, among the Canaanites, but I am aware of claims of homosexuality within the Jewish Nation. (Judges 19:22)

Amazing that when we review it, it seems both groups are of similar character. Yet it is acceptable to genocide one? Because the other is “God’s chosen people”?

Secondly, your reasons may be accurate as to one of God’s genocides. But not all of them. What of the Amalekites? God ordered Saul to kill all of them. Even the infants. 1 Sam. 15:3. Was it because of the immoral acts they were committing? No. Was it because of the land covenant? Nope. Was it acts of incest, adultery, child sacrifice, idolatry, homosexuality or bestiality? No, No and No.

It was because 400 years (or so) earlier their great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents did something. Wow. Sounds reason enough to kill every man, woman and child, doesn’t it? Paul, I could not think of a better explanation or example of genocide than to kill an entire race because of something their ancestors did. Starting to sound remarkably like the German explanation for killing the Jews.

Worse, Saul does NOT commit the genocide, and it is for THIS reason that God regrets making Saul king. This is what your God “grieves at the results of what willful humans have managed to do.” (your words.) Not committing genocide is a violation of God’s moral command!

There is a reason I use the Midianites when I refer to God committing genocide. Numbers 31. God orders all the Midianites killed. The men. The mothers. The women. The older brothers. The older sisters. The infant boys. The ONE group he retains are the Virgin Females. Which the Men of the Hebrew nation are to “keep for themselves.” Numbers 31:18

You want to justify God’s actions with claims of God’s judgment for immoral acts? What acts of bestiality has a 2 day old infant boy committed? What acts of child sacrifice? What acts of incest, adultery, homosexuality have they committed? None. Even if you fall on the allegation that they were like a cancer, and irrevocably evil you have to explain how the virgin females, amazingly, WERE able to convert. God could not convert a 2 day old boy, but can convert a 13 year old virgin female. God could not convert a 15 year old non-virgin female, but can convert a 16 year old virgin.

How can anyone justify God’s genocide of the Midianites, by the keeping of the virgin females for themselves? One would need to come up with a methodology by which the virgin females could be saved, but infant boys could not. And no such methodology exists.

So, tell me, paul, in this moral realist system—when is genocide moral? Be careful—if you say, “When God commands it” we have fallen squarely on the second horn of the Dilemma!

At 9/17/2006 3:47 PM, Blogger DagoodS said...

”Your” Scripture

You made two curious statements_

”If you want to exegete my Scriptures you will have to take it all into consideration…”

But I do. If you think I am missing some verse, or consideration, please feel free to point it out. Part of the reason I am careful to list the verses I use, is so the interested reader CAN go look it up and see if I am being accurate or not. Whether I am utilizing the text correctly.

The problem as you are well aware, is not (necessarily) what the scriptures say but what they mean. Some hold to a literal exegesis of Genesis 1; some an allegorical. Some hold to inerrancy; some allow for mistake. Some claim the Bible clearly teaches a Calvinistic perspective, or a Protestant perspective, or a Pre-Tribulation perspective; Some do not.

I am sure you are aware of “open theism.” That particular exegesis of scripture allows a changing God. Can I take that into consideration?

What you would like is for my to take your particular exegesis of scripture. I am happy to do so, if you can demonstrate a methodology as to the superiority of the correctness of your position. In the meantime, you are one of thousands of different voices clamoring over different meanings of the same words.

Your second statement: ”If you take the Bible to be an actual record of the God who grounds morality then you must accept its premises and knowledge it provides to augment your moral intuitions.”

Obviously I do not take the Bible to be an actual record of any God’s interaction with humans. More of a human’s recordings of what various humans think of God. Again, its “premises” and “knowledge it provides” seem to be open to a vast majority of differences. Hence the variety of Abrahmic concepts of God.

What I am doing is looking at a Christian response to the Euthyphro Dilemma, and seeing if it coordinates with the Bible, and with simple reasoning. Within that realm, I will look at the Bible. It indicates that God commits genocide. I plug that into the proposed solution and see if it fits. I am informed God does not change; I look at the Bible, and see if that fits. I see a God that grieves over a mistake. Not something possible for a God that has pre-determined the course of all things, and is never changing.


(Thought you would never see it! *grin*)

Until we can find the distinction between “God” and “God’s Character” the proposed solution to the Euthyphro Dilemma is merely an attempt to re-label God and claim it is not God.

Moral intuition is not helpful to the proposition, as moral intuitions change, and some acts the Christian claims are moral are against moral intuition. Genocide being one of many examples.

Paul, I have gone on long enough. I enjoyed your post immensely. You are under no obligation to respond, and, again, I would encourage you to spend time with the family instead. Of course if you enjoy this sort of thing…

As to your C.S. Lewis Quote—If I viewed the Universe as “unjust” and “cruel” I may be inclined to follow his reasoning. I do not.

At 9/17/2006 6:27 PM, Blogger Psiomniac said...

Good grief! That onslaught almost makes me want to defect to Paul's side!

At 3/14/2008 2:25 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Hello. I just thought you might like to read this article:
"A Christian Answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma" (link).


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