It seems like ever since Plato wrote the dialogue called “Euthyphro” around 400 B.C. the Euthyphro dilemma periodically resurfaces as an atheist argument against the idea that God grounds morality. The Euthyphro dilemma has recently resurfaced in the debate between William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg and in an article in Aeon by Troy Jollimore entitled “Godless yet good” which was mentioned in the New York Time’s “The Stone” series. The dilemma that Socrates posed to Euthyphro in the dialogue goes something like this: does God arbitrarily decide that a particular action is immoral or does God declare that a particular action is immoral because it is inherently so? If an action such as murder is arbitrarily chosen as wrong by God then why is it necessarily wrong? If murder is inherently wrong then there is no need for God to command that it is wrong. The problem is that this argument is a false dilemma. A third option is that objective morals and duties flow out of God’s perfectly good being. So, God is the metaphysical ground for the existence of objective morals and duties. The truth is that the Euthyphro dilemma has been a dead argument for some time now.
If God is not the metaphysical ground of objective morals and duties, as both Rosenberg and Jollimore believe, then it is hard to see how objective morals exist. Jollimore writes, “The idea that murdering innocent people is perfectly fine unless there is a God and he disapproves is not only deeply implausible, but positively immoral in its own right,” but why think that murder is necessarily wrong if that belief is not metaphysically grounded in anything? If we were virgin queen bees then it would be right to kill our rival virgin queen bees in order to become the bee hive’s queen. If we were baby birds then it would be right to push our sibling out of the nest and so kill them in order to gain the sustenance we need to survive. Why is that we’ll say that killing a rival human being is immoral? If you answer that we’ve evolved to be community oriented creatures that survive by working together and murder would disturb our social order then you’re admitting that objective morals don’t exist because had we evolved differently, such as in the case of the bee, then murdering rivals would be morally praise worthy.
Getting back to humans, some will argue that objective morals don’t need to be rooted in God’s being, we can use systems such as utilitarianism to figure out what is morally just. The problem with utilitarian systems is that it’s notoriously difficult to determine what is best the greatest number of people. Many people will say that it would have been virtuous to murder Hitler in order to avoid all the misery and death that WWII and the Holocaust caused. However, from the Nazis point of view, ridding the world of Jewish people by committing genocide was what was best for humanity. If there are no objective morals how do we determine which point of view is correct, or if both or neither is correct? And yet most people can agree that Hitler and the Nazis were evil, that killing innocent Jewish people is morally reprehensible. So what’s going on here?