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The Third Option to the Euthyphro Dilemma

By Frederick Choo

In general, Divine Command Theory (DCT) says that “If God commands X, then X is a moral obligation for us.” I will limit my discussion of DCT to moral obligations and prohibitions, which are used synonymously with rightness and wrongness. These are deontic properties which is distinct from goodness, which is axiological. For example, something can be good to do, such as becoming a lifeguard to save lives, but we do not have a moral obligation to do so. So I will use DCT as a theory of rightness that presupposes a theory of the good.

The Euthyphro Dilemma (ED) is often raised against DCT. For example, in the case of rape Walter Sinnott-Armstrong asks, “Did God have any reason to command this? If not, his command was arbitrary, and then it can’t make anything morally wrong. On the other hand, if God did have a reason to command us not to rape, then that reason is what makes rape morally wrong. The command itself is superfluous. Either way, morality cannot depend on God’s commands.” In short, the ED says:

Either

(1) God has no reasons for His commands,

or

(2) God has reasons for His commands but these reasons are sufficient by themselves in explaining moral obligations.

Embracing (1) leads to objections such as God’s commands being arbitrary which makes morality arbitrary. Furthermore, this means that God’s commands could possibly be what we consider abhorrent, such as commanding that we ought to torture babies solely for fun resulting in a moral obligation to do so. Any objection to this that says God has reasons is a move away from (1).

Embracing (2), shows that actions are morally obligatory prior to and independent of God’s commands, making God at most an epistemic authority who is just conveying His perfect moral knowledge to us. However DCT proponents want God’s commands to explain moral obligations instead.

From the ED, I think a third option is clear, which DCT proponents can well affirm:

(3) God has reasons for His commands but these reasons are not sufficient by themselves in explaining moral obligations without God’s commands.

God just needs good reasons to make an act morally obligatory. An act itself does not have the property of being morally obligatory prior to God’s command, but can have other relevant properties, such as being morally good or even “non-moral considerations ultimately based in God’s nature.” God’s commanding however adds certain properties that make the act obligatory. To use an analogy, let us think of other obligations. Consider a legal obligation not to smoke in a certain area when implemented by law. For the obligation to arise, there must be good reasons behind why it is implemented by law. Yet those reasons by themselves are not sufficient to give us legal obligations unless it is actually implemented by law. Hence a legal obligation arises because it is implemented by the law and there are good reasons for it being implemented. Likewise, DCT proponents say that a moral obligation arises because it is commanded by God and God has good reasons to command it.

One objection to (3) is based on a principle that moral properties strongly supervene on non-moral properties necessarily. Matthew Jordan says, “The doctrine of global moral supervenience, the uncontroversial thesis that any two possible worlds that are identical in all non-moral respects must be identical in all moral respects, implies that moral truths – at least the most fundamental ones – are metaphysically necessary.” So moral obligations are in some way determined and fixed by their non-moral properties. How exactly does moral supervenience amount to an objection to (3) exactly?

In “An Essay on Divine Authority”, Mark C. Murphy argues that DCT “must be false, for it, in conjunction with a very weak and plausible claim about God’s freedom in commanding, entails that the moral does not supervene on the non-moral.” To show this, he argues that according to voluntaristic versions of DCT, where God is free to choose what to command, there can be two possible worlds exactly the same in their natural features, but God gives different commands and thus we have different moral obligations in two possible worlds that have the same natural features. This seems to violate the supervenience of the moral on the non-moral, since two worlds with the same natural features should have the same moral obligations.

How may a proponent of a voluntaristic version of DCT reply? C. Stephen Evans points out that for the theist, non-moral properties can include both natural and supernatural properties. Supernatural properties are “properties possessed because what has the properties has a certain kind of relation to God,” such as “being commanded by God”, “being preferred by God,” or “being pleasing to God” or “being conducive to a better relation to God.” If an act is commanded by God, then it will have the further properties mentioned, such as “being conducive to a better relation to God” which is a non-moral property. These non-moral properties may even be linked to natural properties such as “being conducive to the agent’s happiness.” If a relationship with God is conducive to our happiness, and such a relationship requires that we follow what He commands, then the property of “being commanded by God” would be one that could alter the moral status of an act, especially for those who think that the moral status of an act is linked to whether the act is conducive to an agent’s happiness. Hence on DCT, it is both natural and supernatural properties that make up non-moral properties which moral properties supervene on. If so, then there can be two worlds alike in all their natural properties but differ in their supernatural properties, and hence moral properties can be different as it supervenes on both. So moral supervenience along with God’s freedom does not amount to an objection against (3).

 

Bibliography
Evans, C. Stephen. God and Moral Obligation. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Jordan, Matthew Carey. ““Theism, Naturalism, and Meta-Ethics”.” Philosophy Compass 8, 2013, 373-380.

Miller, Christian B. “Euthyphro Dilemma.” In Blackwell International Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Hugh LaFollette. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013

Murphy, Mark C. An Essay on Divine Authority. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002.

Sinnott-Armstrong, Walter, “Why Traditional Theism Cannot Provide an Adequate Foundation for Morality”, in Is Goodness without God Good Enough: A Debate on Faith, Secularism and Ethics, edited by Robert K Garcia and Nathan L King, 101-115. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008.

Smith, Michael. The Moral Problem. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.
Image: “Socrates” by Oscar Anton. CC License. 

The Appropriate Authority of Morality

By Frederick Choo 

The moral argument tries to argue from morality to God. In this short article, I will work on what the source of moral obligations should be based on some features of obligations and of moral obligations.

To start off, we must distinguish between moral obligations and moral values. Moral obligations are deontological, having to do with whether something is required to do (or not to do). The terms typically used are “right” and “wrong”. This is distinct from values which are axiological, having to do with the moral worth of a person, action, or some state of affairs. The terms typically used are “good” and “bad”. Something may be good such as donating one’s kidneys or being a lifeguard to save lives, however one is not morally obligated to do so. Moral obligations have a reason-giving force for all to act, regardless of one’s goals or desires or interests, and even always trump non-moral reasons. It is an imperative with great force and not just a suggestion or preference. In other words, it is an unconditional “ought”.

What then would be an appropriate authority and source of moral obligations? First, we know that obligations come from another person or a group of persons. Some examples are familial obligations, legal obligations, obligations to one’s country, obligations to one’s company, etc. In the case of moral obligations, its source also has to come from another mind(s). It is difficult to see how we are required to do something if no other mind requires it of us.

Second, obligations only arise if the source stands as an authority over those who are being obligated. It would be pointless for some random person to demand to bring you to the police station for questioning unless that person is a police officer who has jurisdiction. In the army, a soldier of a lower rank and without being given authority cannot issue commands to one who is of higher rank. In the case of morality, since moral obligations apply to all human beings across all places and times, the source must transcend human persons and societies and stand as an authority over all human persons.

Third, when different obligations conflict, one obligation trumps the other based on which social relationship is greater or which authority is greater. In the case of moral obligations, since it trumps all other obligations, either the source has a social relationship with humans which is more important than any other social relation, or the source must possess more authority than any other human.
Fourth, obligations arise not by might, or by dealing out rewards and punishments. For example, a thief does not exercise authority over me by robbing me at gunpoint. Neither do evil dictators have the appropriate authority. If the law stated that no one could go to the toilet for a hundred days for no good reasons or that we should torture children for fun, then it does not generate an appropriate legal obligation to follow. For obligations to arise, they must be grounded based upon good reasons. So for moral obligations to always be appropriate to follow, the source must be reasonable and perfectly good.

Fifth, the source of obligations must be in a good epistemic position to know relevant considerations. If one is perfectly good and yet cannot know the relevant considerations in a situation and evaluate it properly, then there is no obligation generated. For morality, the source must be able to see all relevant considerations, including really difficult things like predicting the consequences of an action. Hence the source must be wise and intelligent.

Sixth, for obligations to be followed, they must be made known by the source in some way. Since moral obligations are to be followed, the source must either be able to communicate to us or give us faculties that can come to know these moral obligations.
Lastly many agree that at least some moral obligations exists necessarily in all possible worlds. For example, it is not possible that the world turned out such that it is right to torture babies for fun. Since there are some necessary moral obligations such as not to murder, the explanation for moral obligations must also be necessary. In the care of moral obligations, the source necessarily requires some actions to be done (or not to be done). If so, it follows that the source must also exist necessarily in order to do so. Note that this does not undermine the source’s freedom if nothing external to Him determines that He requires so.

To sum up, an appropriate source of morality must be from a person or persons, must be an authority above all human persons, either have a social relationship with humans which is greater than any other social relation or possess more authority than any other human, be reasonable and perfectly good, be wise and intelligent, be able to communicate to us or give us faculties that can come to know these moral obligations, and exists necessarily. Hence for theists, one can argue from moral obligations to such a source of morality which they may call God.

Image: CC License. “Authority” by M. Coghlan

Apocalyptic Love and Goodness

By Jeff Dickson

While much attention has been given to the conquest narratives in the Old Testament (which skeptics commandeer to disprove a loving and good God) and how Christians can responsibly advocate for divine love in lieu of these episodes, one potential issue has gone relatively underappreciated and therefore unanswered—How is God’s love witnessed in the eschaton in which His wrath is existentially poured out on the world? Would a loving God really destroy a world and the majority of its people, sending them to an eternal lake of fire, and only preserve those who follow Him? Or, as has been popularly promulgated, does love win in the end and everyone eventually receive a reward in glory?

The book of Revelation seems to argue that God’s love does win in the end—God’s special love for his people—and this, as will soon be argued, seems to be an argument in favor of divine goodness. However, to understand this appropriately, one must appreciate at least one important image that is employed throughout the Canon to illustrate the love and goodness of God—marriage.

Both God and the God-man have been portrayed as a husband for thousands of years. However, God is never portrayed in Scripture as being married to the world. Instead, he is said to have been and is depicted as married to Israel in the Old Testament (Isa. 54:4-8; 62:1-5; Jer. 3:14; 31:31-33; Hos. 14:-20) and to the church in parables (Matt. 22:1-14; 25:1-13), comparisons (Eph. 5:22-33), instructional material (2 Cor. 11:2), and prophecies (Matt. 26:26-30; Mk. 14:22-31; Lk. 22:14-23). The marriage image is even revisited at the very end of Revelation itself as it describes the much anticipated marriage supper of the Lamb.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, ‘Write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’” (Rev. 19:7-9)

These passages not only portray the love exchanged between God and humans, but something of its exclusivity. To be sure, theists believe that God loves the world (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8). However, these same theists also affirm that God’s love is not applied in the same way to everybody. Instead, as depicted above, God appears to especially love certain groups (see passages above). This special love, applied to Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament, is ultimately and in part a product of God choosing (volitionally) those who have pleased him (upon his evaluation) and will persevere in a relationship with him that will continue to the end.

In fact, “choice” is something engrained in the very semantics of “love” as it appears in the Scriptures. For instance,  אהב seems to involve choice in the context of Malachi 1:2-3 when it says, “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.” Not only that, but the New Testament suggests that in order to follow the Lord one must choose Him over one’s family and oneself—signifying superior love for the former, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Lk. 14:26). Most agree that “hate” in both these contexts is not equal to disdain as much as it is comparable to allegiance in relationship. In other words, Jacob was chosen and therefore involved in a special relationship with God and, in that relationship, and object of God’s special affection. Similarly, Luke 14:26 suggests that anyone hoping to be a disciple of Jesus chooses Him over and above all others, thereby entering into a relationship with him that does not compare to anyone else.

Nowhere is this most appropriately encapsulated than within the context and image of marriage. In a marriage, a groom has chosen a bride above all others to remain with him until death. He does so in the best of situations, not under compulsion, but because his wife is pleasing to him and within the context of their marriage, he knows that she will consistently bring delight and affection into their home. Most, even in today’s morally deprived world, agree that a man who loves his wife in special and exclusive ways can be called “good.” If he loved every woman in the same way, he would otherwise be labeled a reprobate and/or womanizer.

The same is true of God as witnessed in Revelation. God’s hatred and wrath poured out over a world that has rejected him (witnessed in John’s graphic apocalyptic and prophetic presentation) indicates not only his holiness and justice, but his incomparable love for His wife—the church. God’s love, and by proxy, his goodness, might be called into question if he showed the same love and granted the same rewards to everyone in the end—even those who never responded positively to his constant overtures.

Therefore, one might say that “love wins” in the end, but not in the way it is popularly promoted. God’s love for his bride wins in the end and this is an eschatologically significant consideration pertaining to His goodness. If love for all wins, God’s love would not be particularly special or meaningful—God would not be as good as the faithful husband he is presented as through the Scriptures in general and in the book of Revelation in particular.

Image: “Jesus” by x1klima. CC License. 

Results from the 2016 MoralApologetics Writing Contest

Results from the 2016 MoralApologetics Writing Contest:

It was our great pleasure to read through all the entries to this year’s writing competition. Submissions ranged from a prose poem to a defense of Molinism, from critiques of naturalism to a critical scrutiny of apologetics by a skeptic. Seasoned writers mixed it up with bright newcomers, and our decision was not an easy one. We finally settled on a Grand Prize Winner, a Runner Up, and two Honorable Mentions:

Overall Winner: Jeff Dickson, “Apocalyptic Love and Goodness”

Runner Up: Frederick Choo, “The Third Option to the Euthyphro Dilemma”

Honorable Mentions: Anil Deo & Nolan Whitaker

Thanks to all who participated, and be sure to try again next time around!

2016 Moral Apologetics Writing Contest

Submission deadline has now passed. Winners will be announced March 15th.

 

Just when you thought you were safe, it’s time for the Second Annual Moral Apologetics Essay Competition!

1000 words maximum on any topic germane to moral arguments for God’s existence, suitable for publication at the site MoralApologetics.com. (Read the site’s mission statement for a good idea of what sort of mischief we make.)

One Grand Prize Winner will receive one million dollars! Just kidding. $200, a free copy of the forthcoming God and Cosmos: Moral Truth and Human Meaning, and an invitation to become a regular contributor at the site. One runner up will receive a copy of Good God, a copy of God and Cosmos, and an invitation to become a regular at the site as well.

Previous winners are ineligible (for at least this year). Quills at the ready….submissions due February 1, 2016. Submit articles to moralapologetics@gmail.com

2015 Winners:

Andrew Spencer, “Biblical Ethics and Moral Order in Creation”

Josh Herring, “The Faustian Bargain of Fifty Shades of Gray”

Josh Fountain, “Grounding Ethics in God: Why God’s nature determines morality”

 

Image: “I wish I could write a beautiful book …….” by TempusVolat. CC License. 

Winners of the 2015 MoralApologetics.com Writing Contest

We at MoralApologetics.com are pleased to announce the winners of the 2015 Writing Contest.

First, a hearty thanks to all who submitted a paper. We enjoyed reading them all, and it was regrettable there could be only one winner and runner-up in each category. If you entered this year and didn’t win, don’t be discouraged. This will be an annual event, so try again next year, most definitely!

And with that, here are the results:

 

BIBLE:

Winner: Andrew J. Spencer, “Biblical Ethics and the Moral Order in Creation”

Runner-up: Elizabeth Sunshine, “Job, Theodicy, and Ethics”

 

LITERATURE:

Winner: Josh Herring, “The Faustian Bargain of Fifty Shades of Grey

Runner-up: Rachel Boston, “Not Just for Pagans: God’s Redemptive Work through Story”

 

PHILOSOPHY:

Winner: Joshua Fountain, “Grounding Ethics in God: Why God’s Nature Determines Morality”

Runner-up: Dave Sidnam, “A Fundamental Issue with Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape

 

Some of these essays and others submitted to the writing contest will be appearing on the site, so be on the lookout for those.

Once again, thanks to all the participants. Exciting things are happening in Moral Apologetics!

Photo: “Trophies” by Brad.K, CC License. 

Moral Apologetics Writing Contest

MoralApologetics.com is excited to announce that its first annual Writing Contest is now underway. Selected entries will be featured on the website, and the writers of the winning entries will each receive one hundred dollars and an invitation to be a regular monthly contributor to the site. (It’s in principle possible but not rather likely that one person could win in more than one category.)

Entries are to be 1000 words (maximum) on a topic pertaining to moral resources for apologetics (please read the site’s Vision Statement for what sorts of topics this involves). Submissions will be judged on both their insight and literary merits. There are three categories: Bible, Philosophy, and Literature. Clearly specify which category your entry falls under; no entry can be entered into more than one category (though entries can include content that encompasses more than one category).

Along with each entry please include a short bio and picture, though entries will be judged anonymously by the editors at the site. Multiple entries by an individual are allowed, but no more than three total entries per person (in whatever categories you’d like). Each category will feature a winner and runner up (runner ups will receive a copy of Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality autographed by both authors).

The due date for submissions is March 1, 2015. E-mail your entry, depending on the category, to one of the following addresses:

Bible: jpruitt@liberty.edu
Philosophy: dbaggett@liberty.edu
Literature: mdavis@liberty.edu

Quills at the ready? Begin!

 

Photo: “I wish I could write a beautiful book …….” by TempusVolat