Tag Archives: God and Morality

Why Russell was Wrong X: The All-Purpose Argument

10082300_All_purpose_Green_Though Russell does (unfairly) accuse Kant of bias, he also explains why he rejects Kant’s moral argument for God’s existence. Unfortunately, it turns out simply to be a repetition of the Euthyphro Dilemma addressed in Part IV of this series:

The point I am concerned with is that, if you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, then you are in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not bad independently of the mere fact that he made them.

So, again, the challenge is: “Is something good because God commands it (then the command is arbitrary), or does God command it because it is good (then God’s command isn’t the source of goodness)?”

I often wonder what the modern campaign against religion would do without the Euthyphro. It seems to be the stock response to any moral issue raised by the theist, and many seem at liberty to wildly misapply it.

In fact Russell does so here. But, rather than simply repeat the refutation I made earlier, I’d like to describe what is becoming my main issue: the fact that Russell offers no alternative vision of morality. If he did, it would been obvious that the Euthyphro can be used to “refute” any moral system, including his own.

There is no basis of morality, of which I cannot ask “Is a thing good because it fits that basis (then one’s choice of that basis is arbitrary), or is that basis good for some outside reason (then it is not the basis)?”. And this seems to be the fastest way to discredit the Euthyphro. If it applies equally well to every possible approach to ethics, it can’t possibly be a reason to choose secular ethics over theistic ones.

And this illustrates the problem with simply playing the critic – picking at others’ positions while offering no alternative for consideration. It quickly tempts one to grossly unrealistic demands.

The divine nature is actually the best answer (religious or secular) to the Euthyphro I’ve ever encountered. Because, within Christian tradition, the source of goodness something that is the greatest possible being by definition. Since, in Christianity, describing goodness turns out to be describing God, the dilemma simply doesn’t apply.

This is why this attack is much less effective against Christianity than it was in the polytheistic society in which Plato advanced it. This is why, in spite of what the New Atheists seem to think, the real issue raised by the Euthyphro is something much closer to an argument in favor of Christianity than one opposed to it.