-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
In his Slate article, Bad Religion, Ross Douthat argues that even bad religions “have a metaphysically coherent picture of the universe to justify their claims.” Douthat’s argument evokes the Euthyphro Dilemma, inspired by one of Plato’s dialogues. The dialogue features Socrates and religious expert Euthyphro, and has been modernized as “Are morally good acts willed by God because they are morally good, or are they morally good because they are willed by God?”
For those who espouse the Divine Command Theory of morality, the Euthyphro Dilemma presents two horns upon which they may choose their impalement.
If the Divine Command Theory is true, then either (1) morally good acts are willed by God because they are morally good, or (2) morally good acts morally good because they are willed by God. These two options are intended to be mutually exclusive and logically exhaustive. If (1) is true, then morally good acts are morally good independent of God’s will, and God is unnecessary. If (2) is true, then morally good acts are subject to God’s arbitrary whim, and arbitrary morality is not objective.
Douthat tries to avoid the arbitrariness by evoking God’s nature:
Virtue is not something that’s commanded by God, the way a magistrate (or a whimsical alien overlord) might issue a legal code, but something that’s inherent to the Christian conception of the divine nature.
Similarly, renown Christian apologist William Lane Craig writes:
God’s moral nature is expressed in relation to us in the form of divine commands which constitute our moral duties or obligations. Far from being arbitrary, these commands flow necessarily from His moral nature.
But what does it mean to claim that a being has a nature? A nature is a set of properties that the being possesses. We can now form a new Euthyphro-like dilemma: “Is God good because he has these properties? Or are these properties good because God has them?” And we are right back where we started.
The apologist may then try to argue Divine Simplicity: that God is identical to its properties. But, as Alvin Plantinga notes, properties are abstract entities, causally inert, and hence, via this argument, God is abstract and causally inert.
Douthat is trying to plug the leaks in his metaphysical dike. But, the very act of plugging causes new leaks to appear. A perfect example of a non-coherent metaphysical worldview.