Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Euthyphro Question

The only thing worse than arguing with Socrates might just be having to pretend you ARE Socrates, then proceeding to argue with yourself. "First I was like, huh? Then I was like, wha--? and then...i just got bored." (-Bolt) 

I wrote this essay as an assignment for the online history class I take (or, was taking...and it was such a good class...*weep*) and thought I might as well share it. It's an interesting topic, and I hope I've done it justice. :) 


2. What is the famous Euthyphro question, and how has it been used against Christianity? Explain it and then give a Christian reply to the objection. Imagine how Socrates might object to your Christian response and then answer this second objection.

The Euthyphro Question

In Plato’s book of dialogues, The Last Days of Socrates, Socrates asks a mindboggling question to his friend, Euthyphro. “Is the holy approved by the gods because it’s holy, or is it holy because it’s approved?” (Euthyphro dialogue, 9e)

Though Socrates asked the original question in reference to the pantheon of Ancient Greece, modern circles resurrect this question as a legitimate claim against the God of Christianity. They await an answer, expecting the Christians to be able to give one.  Yet, the dilemma gives only two possible solutions. Is something good because God loves it, or does God love it because it is good?

Both statements have assumptions or connotations that naturally follow. Because of these I, as a Christian, in some ways object to the question being asked in the first place. At least, I believe it could be worded in a better way.

Take the first part of the question - is the holy approved by God because it is holy? In examining the question, we find the hidden implication. If God approves of something because it is holy, this basically says that God has no part in goodness and that something above Him determines it. This would mean that God does not reign sovereign, above all and in control of all. It could even be said that God isn’t necessary for us, because even He looks up to a higher standard. Why not just go straight to the top?

The second option also puts us in an impossible position. To say that something is holy because God approves of it opens up the idea that the goodness is said to be good, “just because” God loves it. The response to this tends to be, “Well, couldn’t God change his mind? If he starts loving murder, would it then become holy or good?” It implies that goodness is subjective or random.  

Even with looking at both sides of the question, there seems to be no solution. We must either admit that God is not truly God, or that he can be fickle in character. Coming from a Biblical view of God and my Savior, Jesus Christ, I know that neither of these options can be true. So, is there an answer?

In some books or movies, there inevitably comes a time where the characters are forced into a dilemma. Do they take the shortcut through the woods and possibly get attacked by bears, or take the long way around and risk being late to warn the king? At least one of the characters automatically responds, “Is there a Plan C?” Though one may not be obvious, the characters resolve to choose Plan C and work as hard as they can to find that path instead - which usually ends up including a little of the bears and being late. However, they make it in the end, much better off than if they had just chosen A or B.

I shall attempt the same here in looking for “Plan C”, the tertium quid, the combination of or deviation from the two things presented. No doubt Socrates will have some questions for me. But to him I say, wait your turn. I get to talk in circles for a while.

Going back to the original question, I would like to ask, “What is the point of their argument?” My more cynical side suggests that perhaps they wish not to find out what is truly good, but to present the Christians with an “unanswerable” question. Yet, I wonder what Socrates was really thinking when he proposed the question to Euthyphro. Instead of “Is the holy approved by the gods because it’s holy, or is it holy because it’s approved?” I would like to simplify it and ask, out of Socratic curiosity, “What is good, and why is it good?”

I object to the original wording for it seems to suggest the God and goodness are two separate entities, and that there must be a reason or way for these to reconcile in such a state. As a Christian, I believe that goodness cannot be separate from God. He doesn’t choose which things are good - Heknows because He is good. Not just as a character trait (1 Chronicles 16:34), or because of what He does for us (John 3:16), but as the source of all goodness. Colossians 1:17 says, “And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” Holiness can’t be defined or separated as something that is holy on its own, or that must be decided to be holy.

So, if Socrates was to ask me “Is something good because God loves it, or does God love it because it is good?” I would answer, “Neither option really fits, considering the implications. 1 Peter 4:6b says, ‘...they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.’  Man’s judgment and God’s judgment are two different things. We humans approve things by our opinions of good, but He knows what is good.  He doesn’t have to pick out the good versus the bad because anything good is already a part of Him (Psalm 18:30, Romans 12:2). Anything not in line with God’s character or will is sinful, and anything we think is good can only be truly good if it matches up with His nature.”
Socrates then sits back in his chair, nodding and stroking his beard. “Very well, then, MacKenzie,” he says. “In that case, if your God is goodness, then is He good because he chooses to be, or because he has no choice? If he has no choice, is there truly such a thing as goodness at all? And if he does choose it, could that mean that perhaps there really is an alternative source of goodness apart from God?”

After asking him to repeat the question about three more times, I give my answer.

“Socrates, you believe that the Form of the Good exceeds all things, even your gods, whereas I believe that God stands above all. Suggesting that God must choose to be good brings the argument back around to the original question of whether or not a form of good exists outside of God. ‘He is before all things,’ in Colossians 1:17 tells us that He existed even before our human concept of measurable good came about. Good is simply how God is defined, both in nature and how he shows Himself to us (1 John 3:16). When we do something “good”, according to His standards, we are being like Him.

“I would also like to bring up the entire passage in Colossians 1, surrounding the seventeenth verse:

“16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; (Col 1:16-19 KJV)

“The “powers” referred to in verse 16 comes from the Greek word exousia, which, according to Strong’s Greek Lexicon, primarily means “power of a choice, liberty of doing as one pleases”. God created this. This doesn't mean He never had a choice or that He’s not sovereign - He just neverneeded to choose. It wasn’t an issue, and it never will be. Yet, when He created us, He needed to lay down rules and gave us, as humans and His creation, the will to choose whether or not to obey Him and live up to His good.

“With our limited human understanding we can only understand questions about God and His nature to a certain degree. We still see as though through a glass, darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12), and we must study, learn, and pray if we are to ever gain a taste of God’s wisdom and goodness here on earth. Psalm 143:10 says, “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. (KJV)

“Socrates, apart from God, there can be no other explanation of what goodness is.”

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