The “Secular” Sovereign Defense And The Modern Euthyphro Dilemma

28 Dec

“The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods” – Socrates

Back in my 20s I would get into debates with religious people on the internet a lot. Indeed, I started this blog in the tail end of my 20s because of a religious debate with a particular ex girlfriend. One of the debates that came up regularly in my 20s was god being the source of human morality. God is responsible for our feeling of something being moral or immoral. This assertion leads one to the Euthyphro dilemma quoted above. Either god declares something good because it’s good per se, or something is good only because god says so:

For those that aren’t familiar with it, the question is: does God will something because it is good, or is something good because God wills it? If the theist says that God wills something because it is good then the good is independent of God and, in fact then, moral values are not based in God. They are independent of him.

On the other hand, if you say something is good because God wills it then that would seem to make what is good and evil arbitrary. God could have willed that hatred is good; then we would be morally obligated to hate one another, which seems crazy.

Some moral values seem to be necessary, and therefore there would be no possible world in which hatred is good. So the claim is that this shows that morality cannot be based in God.

I think it is clearly a false dilemma because the alternatives are not of the form “A or not-A” which would be an inescapable dilemma. The alternatives are like “A or B.” In that case you can always add a third one, C, and escape the horns of the dilemma. I think in this case there is a third alternative which is to say that God wills something because he is good.

That is to say, God himself is the paradigm of goodness, and his will reflects his character. God is by nature loving, kind, fair, impartial, generous, and so forth. Therefore, he could not have willed that, for example, hatred be good. That would be to contradict his very own nature. So God’s commands to us are not arbitrary, but neither are they based upon something independent of God. Rather, God himself is the paradigm of goodness.

That quote is from the famous Christian apologist William Lane Craig.

This post, however, is not a reinterogation of this argument. This post is about its secular equivalent.

Now that I’m in my 40s, I see that a lot of young people (get off my lawn!) today, especially activists, approaching a modern Euthyphro dilemma. But instead of god being on the horns of the dilemma, it’s science.

What if science concludes that slavery is ultimately beneficial?

What if science concludes that women working at home on balance produces the most good in society?

What if science concludes that children having sex with adults is good for their maturation?

What if science says that women who have male mentors do better than women who have female mentors?

Science doesn’t/would never say that“, you say.

But look at what that thought is defending. That’s exactly the same apologetic rationale that the likes of WLC would posit. You are in effect saying “science itself is the paradigm of goodness”.

But why?

What’s preventing a scientific conclusion like that from happening? If you’re not trying to not get impaled on the horns of Euthyphro’s dilemma, what concern is it that science might lead to a repugnant conclusion?


There’s no logical reason that science would not point towards something that we find morality reprehensible. In fact, it has to. Imagine how astronomically improbable it is that your morals and your science line up. If they do line up perfectly, then you’re probably doing science wrong. Or, you’re religious.

Indeed, it’s a fact that not everyone’s morals line up. Yet somehow, the findings of science line up with everyone’s morals; any science that doesn’t line up with a person’s morals is fake science, pseudoscience, not scientific enough, etc. There’s quite obviously a disconnect. Do you really think that the science you accept just so happens to match your moral and ethical convictions without any subconscious rationalization? What a coincidence!

Here’s a challenge: Try to overcome your biases. Stop contextualizing and find some scientific results that contradict your moral positions. Your moral repudiation of this science is evidence that the science is more likely to be correct than not.


Ok. So you’ve found some science that is morally unconscionable. Should this science be kept hidden? Why not? We all know suppressing morally compromised science is only done by the good guys throughout history. Because [your] morality is the one constant through all recorded history. So you’re in good company!

1 Comment

Posted by on December 28, 2020 in euthyphro dilemma, morality, religion


One response to “The “Secular” Sovereign Defense And The Modern Euthyphro Dilemma

  1. Brent Meeker

    December 28, 2020 at 6:28 pm

    Science just connects one proposition to another, as in, “What if science concludes that women working at home on balance produces the most good in society?” That’s ethically neutral. It’s then up to you to decide whether the personal benefit to women of working outside the home outweighs the loss to society. And second, what is actually proposed? it would be one thing to encourage women to stay in the home by tax breaks or other incentive and quite another to forbid them to appear in public. It is simplistic to consult one’s gut reaction to a “finding” of science with no consideration of what utility you’re reacting to, what the alternatives are, and whether it’s ethics (social values) or morals (your persona values) that are at stake.


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