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Euthyphro Still Unanswered

When it comes to morality, Christians often think that they have the monopoly on the topic. Interestingly enough, one of the biggest problems with Christian morality was actually introduced long before Christianity by Socrates and still remains unanswered by Christians today.

In Plato’s dialog Euthyphro, Socrates has a conversation with a young lawyer named Euthyphro who is about to prosecute his own father. Socrates decides that he would like to learn more about morality, so he asks the young Euthyphro about the topic. The dialog is summed up by a simple question that Socrates asks Euthyphro. “Is something pious (or good) because the Gods say so or do the Gods say so because it is pious (or good)?”

The significance of this question is whether or not God is the creator of morality or merely an arbiter of morality. If God is the creator of morality, then if God were to change his mind, morality would change with his opinion. This would basically mean that morality is relative to God’s whim merely. So the reason why murder is morally wrong has nothing to do with creating a safe and functional society, not harming other people, or any other rational justification. The only reason why murder would be morally wrong would be because God says so. This also means that anything that God decides is immoral would be so. Morality becomes completely arbitrary. God could decide that the color red was immoral and it would be the case.

If God simply knows what is moral better than we do and so he tells us what is good because of his superior knowledge, then it could be argued that we don’t really need God. We can figure out what is moral without God’s guidance. Plus, Christians don’t like the idea that God must then be subject to the laws of morality just like we are.

So where does hat leave us? For atheists this isn’t a problem at all. God neither creates nor interprets morality. Morality is a human construct to insure individual freedom, happiness, and security. We have empathy which allows us to put ourselves in the place of others. This translates to compassion and kindness. It is this combination of social and biological conditions which give rise to morality.

For the Christian, Euthyphro remains unanswered. Either morality has no rhyme or reason, relativistic to God’s whims, subjective to his will purely, and is completely arbitrary or God is relegated to the status of a middleman and even God’s actions can be judged by the same moral standards as our own in which case, God (as described in the Bible) has a lot to answer for.

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