Saturday, November 21, 2009

Your Opinion

If absolute morality exists then Atheism, since it denies an Absolute Ground for absolute morality, is therefore false.

1.) Do you agree?

2.) Why?

3.) Are you a Theist, Atheist, Agnostic, etc.?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Euthyphro Dilemma

Last year I started a conversation on an Amazon blog under the topic “Religion” called God and Morality. At the end of a brief introduction I asked, "is the nature of morality purely subjective, or is it objective in some sense?" It was my intention to give my answer along with a demonstration in a follow-up post. One particular atheist, however, who had dealt with plenty of people like me, ehem, insisted that we must ask the same question of God, supposing He exists, and kept referring to the "Euthyphro dilemma" (Is something good because God says it is, or does he say it is because it is good; or, God must either create or obey the good); I therefore took the opportunity of this debate to demonstrate my point.

I said, first of all, that we have to be clear about the nature of the God we're supposing to exist. On the one hand, if we're to conceive "God" as like the things of our experience -- finite, mutable, corporeal, and imperfect -- then clearly "God adds nothing to" morality. On the other hand, if we're to conceive "God" as theists and deists have traditionally conceived of Him, as unlike the things of our experience -- not finite, not sensible, not mutable, and not imperfect -- with the positive exception that He's like the things of our experience in so far that He has existence, and is the source and goal of all other, limited existences; that I was then in a better position to answer his point.

Surprisingly, he agreed on supposing the second view of God's nature, said he assumed it all along, but that it made no difference. Now, I say "surprisingly" because it makes all the difference in the world, and anyone familiar with the central observation of Lewis' Argument from Desire ("the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given--nay, cannot even be imagined as given--in our present mode of spatiotemporal experience") is in perfect position to understand why.

If God contains all perfections, as my atheist friend and I agreed in our hypothetical, then that certainly includes eternal joy. Therefore, if participating in God's eternal joy IS the reward, the means to which includes morality, then we can say, with C.S. Lewis, "that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law. The good is uncreated; it could never have been otherwise; it has in it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side of existence. God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God."

The fellow I was debating continued to insist that even if God gave us eternal joy this wouldn't tell us why we ought to seek it, why it wouldn't be mere preference to call it good. Our arguments, therefore, would conversely rise and fall depending on what he termed the "optional character" of goodness; that is, depending on whether oughts can only be hypothetical, or whether some can be, in fact, categorical. I had only, then, to reiterate a point from Aristotle: it is happiness alone which no one chooses for the sake of anything other than itself. There is no "optional character" to the fact that we seek happiness as THE end in itself. This fact is a fact of our will, of our own first person experience. It is, however, general -- as are all first principles.

My friend then said this had no more significance than one's preference for one alcoholic drink over another, to which I responded there's a difference in kind. One is (a) a perceived means, desired for the sake of something else; one is (b) the end, desired only for the sake of itself. Yet, I said, there's a further distinction in (a): some means flow from the essence of the end and are necessary, and some are merely accidental -- that is, some are needs, some are wants (preferences).
When it comes to choosing necessary means to that end we can therefore say, in some cases, that, as properties of happiness, we ought to choose them; to say otherwise is literally irrational.

For the Good is that which gives us the one thing we seek for itself and nothing else, which is happiness, and the necessary means to that end are therefore good. To go on and ask why we call that Good which gives us happiness, would be to ask why we desire happiness as the end in itself; that is akin to asking why something exists instead of nothing, or why the principle of non-contradiction is a principle, in other words, it’s irrelevant because it’s an undeniable, brute fact. By a brute fact of our first person experience, then, we can literally say -- So much for the Euthyphro dilemma!

If you take the fact that we ought to seek what is really good for us (what is part of happiness), and at the same time keep before your mind that God’s existence is understood from the standpoint of the via negative (which my friend agreed to “for sake of discussion”), then we’ve merely added one more negative, "that God neither obeys nor creates the moral law,” and the argument boils down to saying “we can’t understand God’s nature”, of which no one professes to have a *positive* understanding anyway – yet, nor do we of our own existence!