The Euthyphro Dilemma as it Applies to the Doctrine of Atonement

by yadda yadda 2 9 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • yadda yadda 2
    yadda yadda 2

    Interesting article here that kind of shows how absurd the idea is that Jesus' ransom sacrifice could atone for all the evil in the world. Also makes a point showing the absurdity of the trinity doctrine.

  • cofty

    The Euthyphro Dilemma is interesting. In a nutshell, does god favour things that are intrinsically good or are things good because god favours them?

    If the former, then good is something outside of god to which he is subject; if the latter then anything can be declared good by divine fiat.

  • yadda yadda 2
    yadda yadda 2

    Yes, and what's particularly problematic and disturbing about the Dilemma is that if Divine Command Theory is correct, then it means that if God commands or sanctions murder, genocide, ethnic cleansing, killing of Egyptian first-born children, droughts and famines, etc, which in fact is what we read about in the Old Testament, then these otherwise morally repulsive actions cannot be morally objectionable because God commanded them. It would also mean that 'might is right' in any issue of universal sovereignty, as ultimately whatever God causes is deemed 'good' merely by his causing it.

    On the other hand, the Christian on the horn of the Dilemma that rejects Divine Command Theory is then forced into conceding that the Bible cannot be inspired of God, since God would never perform or mandate intrinsically morally repulsive things. It also means that God is not omnipotent, since there is something else outside of God that God is bound to follow, some higher source of moral law. Leading to that conclusion then leads to doubts about the existence of an omnipotent Biblical God.

  • cofty

    Yadda - I remember having a debate with somebody on the now defunct JWS forum. He is a young ex-JW, now a Reformed christian who works as Navy chaplain.

    I was describing the horrors of infanticide in the OT which he had no problem with - I'm sure he did really but he was in full-on holy mode in the debate. I posted an image of the aftermath of the massacre at the Palestinian refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila. It was a woman gazing in stunned disbelief at the corpses of her children. I asked him what the moral diffrence was between this war crime and those carried out by Joshua. I thought it would be a knock-out argument.

    His answer chills me yet. He said, "God commanded one and not the other."

    Divine Command Theory makes believers into moral monsters, but as the alternative leaves god subject to a standard not of his own making.

  • yadda yadda 2
    yadda yadda 2

    That's a very powerful example cofty (ps, err please don't post those horrifically sad images up again on this forum if you don't mind).

    The scholar Raymond Bradley in his article "A Moral Argument for Atheism" noted how a Presbyterian Minister once asked his whole congregation the same thing basically, and was so disturbed at their answers that he resigned from the ministry. The conclusion of his article about this is copied below:

    H: A corollary of my argument: the falsity of the theistic theory of ethics.

    Before finishing, however, I want to draw attention to a corollary of my argument. Consider, once more, the inconsistent tetrad by which the whole edifice of theism is brought to ruin. But this time replace statements (1), (2), (3), and (4) of the original inconsistent tetrad with their respective corollaries:

    (1)* Any act that God commands us to perform is morally permissible.
    (2)* The Bible reveals to us many of the acts that God commands us to perform.
    (3)* It is morally impermissible for anyone to commit acts that violate principle P1.
    (4)* The Bible tells us that God commands us to perform acts that violate moral principle P1.

    Then a parallel logical quandary arises for the theist's belief that God, as revealed in the Bible, is the source of objective morality or, at the very least, is a reliable guide to what we should and should not do.

    Rather than run the argument through again, I will present this additional indictment of theistic belief by first quoting the Bible and then addressing a series of questions to those who, like philosopher Alvin Plantinga, claim that "what [the Lord] proposes for our belief is what we ought to believe." For it should be evident that, if Plantinga and other biblical theists are right, then since the beliefs that the Lord proposes include ones about what we ought to do, if the Lord proposes that we should do so and so, then so and so is what we ought to do.

    Consider First Samuel 15:3 in which the Lord commands his people:

    Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him: but put to death both man and woman, child and infant . ..

    Now ask yourself three questions:

    (i) Was "put to death both man and woman, child and infant" the very word of the Lord whom you worship?
    (ii) Is it conceivable that your Lord could again issue the same command in our time?
    (iii) If you did believe you were so commanded by your Lord, could you and would you obey?

    If you answer "No" to question (i), you deny the authority of God's so-called word, the Bible. If you answer "No" to question (ii)--perhaps because you think your Lord might have mended his ways--you deny that God's commands have the kind of universal applicability which is a necessary condition of their being in accord with, let alone the source of, moral truths. If you answer "No" to question (iii), you must think that it is sometimes right, or even obligatory, to disobey God. You thereby admit that moral truths are independent of, and may even conflict with, God's dictates. You admit that ethics is, as most philosophers have long insisted, autonomous; and that we must, therefore, do our moral thinking for ourselves.

    But if you answer "Yes" to each question, then I submit that your belief in the God of biblical theism is not just mistaken but morally abhorrent. For, in the words of my friend, John Patrick, who resigned from the Presbyterian ministry in New Zealand after he discovered how many of his parishioners also answered "Yes" to all three questions: "a doctrine of the Scriptures as containing the Word of God, the supreme ruler of faith and duty, has the power to turn otherwise gentle, thoughtful, and basically loving people into a group prepared to sanction genocide in the name of the Lord they worship."[17]

  • cofty

    That is a very well reasoned argument. I will have a read at the full articles tomorrow when I am more alert.

  • Farkel

    I covered this dilemma about 12 years ago in the thread, "What's Right about Right?"


    Hang on, folks. We’re going for a ride!

    This post was inspired by several articles written over the years by JanH, but most recently by his post in here on the Divine Command Theory of Ethics and other dilemmas faced by believers of a “traditional”, i.e. omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent God: God is “all-caring”, “all-knowing”, “all-present” and “all-powerful.”

    There are many ways to express this theory including using the words “good” and “right.” For this purposes of this essay, those two words will be interchangeable. Since the Watchtower Printing and Religious Propaganda Corporation has expressed orally and in print their unconditional belief in the Divine Command Theory of Ethics, we will do well to analyze it.

    A simple way to state the Divine Command Theory of Ethics is:

    a) “An act is right if God commands it.”

    If a) is true then

    b) “All acts commanded by God are right.”

    must also be logically true, because if God commands an act, it must be right. If God would command an act that was not right, then a) would be false.

    But what is the definition of “right?” The Divine Command Theory postulates that “Whatever God says is right is right,” and by implication, “whatever God says is wrong is wrong.”

    Consider the two possibilities of “what is right”:

    a) An act is right if God approves it.
    b) An act is approved by God BECAUSE it is right.

    Do these two assertions look like the same thing to you? They are certainly NOT the same!

    If a) is true then God is arbitrary: anything he says is right, IS right. Period. If God says grinding up and eating infant human children is right, then it is right.

    If b) is true, then God is using some standard outside himself to measure what is right and what isn’t. The phrase “BECAUSE it is right” is a qualifier that points to some outside standard and is a lot different than saying “because God says so,” which implies no standard at all.

    This puts the true believers in this theory into a big mess, since they believe that God is the Creator of everything (except he cannot be the Creator of himself, but that’s another dilemma!), he is also the Creator of what’s right and what’s wrong. Therefore, they reject b) because b) is conditional upon the concept of “right” existing as a standard independent of God.

    They are forced to take a) which is that God’s decisions HAVE to be arbitrary.

    “But God would NEVER make an arbitrary decision. He would always make the RIGHT decision,” believers will say.

    “Well then, who determines that his decisions are right?”, critics ask.

    “HE does,” they say.

    “That’s circular reasoning. You are using the conclusion to prove the premise, which you use to prove the conclusion, which you use to prove the premise which you use to prove the… See what I mean?”

    “Are you trying to say that God would order humans to do something which wasn’t right?”

    “God COULD order that torturing someone to death for being caught with a Donald Duck comic book is a “right” punishment. He might never do it, but he could do it, couldn’t he?”

    Believers in this theory at this point are forced to admit that God CAN do anything he chooses including decreeing the torture example I just gave.

    “Yes, God could do that but he never would.”

    “Why would he never do that?”

    “Because it isn’t RIGHT!”

    “Oh, so then YOU either a) have a standard of your own that God must measure up to, or you believe that b) there is another standard that God must measure up to which is independent of his own standards.”

    Then comes the final gasping “argument” from the vanquished believer:

    “Well, I have faith that God would never do that.”

    “Okeedokie. Fine and dandy. So you admit that God’s decisions are purely arbitrary?”

    “No, I’ll never admit that.”

    “But there is no way by which to measure God’s decisions. They are independent of everything. Whatever he says is good is good and whatever he says is evil is evil. That is the definition of arbitrary. Does God hold himself up to the same standards he imposes upon humans?”

    “Of COURSE he does. He’s God!”

    “Did God say that humans should not kill?”


    “Did God kill the entire planet save for 8 souls once? Did God order the same chosen people he gave the commandment not to kill and then turn around HIMSELF and personally kill tens of thousands of their enemies, and further order these same people to kill tens of thousands more?”

    “Well, they were wicked.”

    “The commandment did not say, “Thou shalt not kill unless they are wicked, did it?”

    “When God ordered Abraham to slaughter and sacrifice his son, was that ordered because it was “right? And after Abraham went ahead and tried to do it and God stopped him, was the original order still “right” and was the order to DISOBEY the original order also ‘right’? Obeying order = “right.” Disobeying same order = “right.” Do you see the problem here?”

    “As you can see, it is clear that at least as far as the Bible goes, “right” is whatever God says it is, and whatever God says is “right” is right. It’s purely arbitrary, as I’ve just proved. Since God has already shown he can be purely arbitrary, it’s not impossible to believe that he couldn’t also be so in the future.”

    So if God’s decisions are purely arbitrary, [a) an act is right if God approves it] then there can be no moral standard apart from him.
    But yet, even the Bible itself disproves this and shows that there IS a moral standard apart from god [b) an act is approved by God BECAUSE it is right.] It’s found in Genesis 18:23,25. “It is unthinkable of you that you are acting in this manner to put to death the righteous man with the wicked one so that it has to occur with the righteous man as it does with the wicked! It is unthinkable of you. Is the Judge of all the earth not going to do what is RIGHT?”

    Indeed. Abraham is pleading with God to do what is RIGHT! This clearly shows that Abraham is using a standard APART from what God had decided was right.

    So the Divine Command Theory of Ethics falls on all counts:

    1) God is arbitrary and capricious with many disastrous results befalling humans as a result, or
    2) God must uses standard of right and wrong outside himself in order to make his decisions.

    If 1) is true, the God of the Bible is a jerk.

    If 2) is true, God is not all-powerful (omnipotent) and at best is merely a head cheerleader in the human arena. Whenever he steps in as head cheerleader lots of people always gets killed, however.

    He’s also not omniscient, because if he were, he would have known in advance that Abraham would have killed his son on command and he would never had to issue and then retract the command in the first place.

    He’s also not omnipresent. He didn’t even know where Adam was in the Garden of Eden, or how many righteous people there were in Sodom.

    This is among the many LOGICAL reasons why I do not believe in the Bible as being divinely inspired or the God of the Bible.

    Now, on the other hand, if “right” and “wrong” were moral decisions based upon each circumstance and appropriateness for each circumstance, we have a brand new ball game without any silly “Divine Command of Ethics Theory.” Killing may be wrong, but is war always wrong under all circumstances? Is euthanasia inherently wrong under all circumstances?

    Since God has been away on vacation for eons, these dilemmas can only be solved by puny humans such as ourselves. Considering our limitations, I think we’ve done pretty well under the circumstances. There is far more good than evil without Jehovah ordering everyone around all the time. It wasn’t that way in the Bible. You could get killed from God for flossing your teeth improperly back them.

    If God exists, he has put us here on our own, and we’d better get used to it. Society never made any advancement waiting for God to fix what’s wrong and when God did fix what was wrong, he always went a tad overboard with his slaughter.


  • Xanthippe

    Interesting, if I remember correctly Euthyphro is taking his father to court for leaving one of his workers to die. Socrates demands that Euthyphro explain to him what it means to be a good person (what piety means). Is Plato using this dialogue to show that a god, like a parent, is not necessarily right? I think this is where Socrates says if you beat a horse does it serve you better or worse, and the reply is that beating animals does not improve them.

    Certainly Socrates felt we should question the morality of the gods and even their existence although the tone of the dialectic is who do you think you are taking your father to court? Is Socrates using this as an allegory of his own court case? The Athenians are accusing him of asserting the gods don't exist. Is he saying that he is being summoned to court for daring to question father figures (gods) and yet this is obviously acceptable under Athenian law? What he is questioning here is the morality of the gods to do as they please with us, surely?

    Funny that at the last, as reported in the Apology, he asks Crito to sacrifice a cock to Asclepius. Hedging his bets.

  • cofty

    Good one Farkel.

    I wonder if it would be worth starting a new thread with a direct challenge to believers to consider the dilemma?

  • GromitSK

    There seem to me a number of assumptions that need to be made to justify violence in a religious context, amongst which:

    a) that there is a personal 'god';

    b) even if a) is true, that the recipient has received a valid message from same.

    Once a person commits to belief, it often seems to me the search for truth has ended and the battle to defend one's beliefs has begun.

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