Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Euthyphro dilemma

John W. Loftus said:

“When it comes to the Euthyphro Dilemma, I've already answered both your objections and Frame's objections here, even though what I wrote was before I looked at anything you wrote. What do you say in response to what I wrote? Come on. Give it a try. Your whole apologetical strategy is at stake.”

Several false opening moves:

i) TAG is not my “whole apologetic strategy.”

ii) Even if it were, TAG is primarily concerned with epistemology, not ethics. What precondition must obtain for knowledge to obtain? That’s the core argument.

Even if a Van Tilian had no answer to the Euthyphro dilemma, that would hardly scuttle the appeal to TAG.

It’s possible to mount a transcendental argument for ethics. But TAG is not dependent on that extension.

“I'll read your response and see where it goes from there, okay? But your attempts are already doomed to failure.”

Sounds like something the Borg would say: “Resistance is futile!”

Unfortunately for Loftus, the prospect of being assimilated to Seven-of-Nine in a cat-suit has compensatory benefits for which John Loftus is a sorry substitute.

So if Loftus wants to tempt me over to the dark side, Mephistopheles will need to sweeten the deal.

“Would you be willing to give up presuppositional apologetics if I can show you wrong here?”

Since I’ve never been a chemically pure Van Tilian, I don’t know which component of my apologetic apparatus he thinks is vulnerable.

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2006/02/transcendental-theism.html

“And if it's a stalemate between us, you still lose, because you can only be sure of your faith to the same degree as you can defend your position on the Euthyphro.”

This goes awry on several grounds:

i) Even if I had no answer to the Euthyphro dilemma, I can have many reasons for believing in God irrespective of the Euthyphro dilemma.

The better part of wisdom lies in learning to distinguish between the answers we can live without and the answers we cannot live without.

ii) You act as if I enjoy direct control over my level of certitude. As if I had a knob or dial that I could manipulate to raise or lower my level of certitude at will.

But my faith is not adjustable. It simply is. It doesn’t come to me in degrees. I can know more quantify my faith in God than I can quantify my belief in the external world, or other minds.

iii) In doing apologetics we try to analyze the rational grounds for our faith. To tease tacit knowledge out into the open.

And this can be done up to a point. But I agree with Cardinal Newman about the illative sense. We know more than we can ever say or ever prove.

Apologetics can only scratch the surface. There’s a whole dimension of religious experience that remains in reserve because it’s essentially private rather than public. Something accessible to an insider rather than an outsider.

As to what he wrote, most of it consists in a false dilemma which I already exposed in my critique of Russell. So I’ll confine myself to a mopping up operation:

“It does no good to step back behind the commands of God to God’s purported nature at all. For we’d still want to know whether or not God’s nature is good. God cannot be known to be good here either, without a standard of goodness that shows he is good. For unless there is standard that shows God is good beyond the mere fact that God declares that his nature is good, we still don’t know whether God is good.”

i) Notice how Loftus is shifting ground. This is not the Euthyphro dilemma. The Euthyphro dilemma is concerned with the ontological question of what makes something right or wrong, not the epistemic question of how we can know something is right or wrong.

ii) Loftus is diverting attention away from the order of being to the order of knowing. That’s a bait-and-switch tactic.

And it doesn’t even work at that level. Suppose we judge the goodness of God by our moral intuitions. Okay, but what’s the source and standard of our moral intuitions? All Loftus has done is to push the original question back a step.

“Furthermore, we usually call someone good when they make good choices. So an additional question here is whether or not God has ever made any good choices. To choose means there were alternatives to choose from. Did God at any point in the past ever choose his supposedly good nature?”

A moral agent doesn’t choose his moral character for the obvious reason that he chooses according to his moral character. His character is a precondition of choice, not a consequence of choice. Otherwise, he would be amoral.

“Besides, there are several ethical systems of thought that do not require a prior belief in God, like Social Contract Theories, Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics, Kantianism, and John Rawls’ theory of justice.”

That’s beside the point. The question at issue is not whether there are secular alternatives on the market, but whether these are successful alternatives to Christian ethics.

“Even Christian philosopher Thomas V. Morris admits that…”

We need to distinguish between opinion and argument. Even if Loftus could quote a Christian whose opinion agrees with his, that’s not the same thing an argument. The question at issue is what supporting argument underwrites the opinion.

Continuing with Morris:

“It has…been argued in various ways over the past century that the evolutionary process somehow provides a framework of moral reference. Basic human instincts could be cited as loci for the moral constraints needed in society. The physical, survival, functional needs of men in society or community could act as moral matrices for the guiding of moral motions…there are many possible bases or explanations for moral motions in an impersonal universe. They could easily have arisen from evolutionary or community survival needs, for example, and consequently, when identified as a human ‘aspiration,’ the practice of making moral distinctions could be said to be ‘fulfilled’ when it is successfully functional within those contexts.”

i) Notice that Morris is summarizing one version of secular ethics. That doesn’t mean he agrees with evolutionary ethics.

ii) The argument begs the question. If and only if the survival of the human species is good can you then mount a utilitarian argument for the common good.

But why would a secularist say the survival of our species is good? Appealing to instinct will hardly suffice, for that either begs the question or pushes the question back a step. Is this a good instinct or a bad instinct?

“Even if Christians did have objective moral standards, they cannot be objectively certain that they know them, or that they know how they apply to specific real life cases!”

i) Assuming that this is true, so what? This isn’t generated by the Euthyphro dilemma? This isn’t generating the Euthyphro dilemma.

ii) Why should this be a necessary condition of moral valuation? To quote something that Dr. Anderson said in another context: “Loftus seems to be assuming that S's knowing p entails that p is indubitable for S or incorrigible for S. But why think that? Why should Calvinists (or anyone else) be committed to such an implausible Cartesianism?

iii) Within Calvinism, God’s preceptive will doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Rather, his preceptive will works in conjunction with his general and special providence.

“Since Dr. Craig earlier mentioned Hitler, Auschwitz, and Dachau in his apologetics book, consider this response: Germany was a Christian nation—the heart of the Lutheran Protestant Reformation! How could a Christian people allow these evil deeds to happen and even be his willing executioners?”

Several things go wrong here:

i) This is irrelevant to the Euthyphro dilemma.

ii) It is also unresponsive to Craig’s reasoning: “If life ends at the grave, then it makes no difference whether one has lived as a Stalin or as a saint.…”

How does the failure of the church in Germany undermine the logic of Craig’s observation?

iii) Loftus fails to distinguish between Christian theology and Christian ethics. It’s perfectly consistent with Christian theology for Christians to be morally inconsistent. Christians are sinners. Christian theology consistently predicts that Christians will be inconsistent with their code of conduct.

iv) Luther was a notorious anti-Semite. That’s obviously unscriptural given the Jewish character of the Bible.

v) The Christian character of Germany was first eroded by the Enlightenment, and further eroded by Darwinism, higher criticism, and the like.

vi) In a country where you had mass infant baptism, whether Lutheran or Catholic, the room for nominal religious affiliation is enormous.

vii) Christians have prior social obligations and concentric social obligations. We should care for our neighbor, but a Christian father also has an obligation to care for his family, and, given a choice, his familial obligations take precedence over neighbor-love.

Finally, a couple of the Christian commenters over at DC scored direct hits:

At 12:53 AM, January 31, 2006, Genius said...

I think your approach the divine command theory involves a flawed approach to the world.

Lets say water is wet. Is it wet because it is water or is it water because it is wet? This is a nonsense question - furthermore it is a nonsense thought experiment to consider non-wet water (ok there might be wet stuff that is not water but that just points out the lack of perfection of the example).

From this perspective in a sense it is nonsense to propose, "if god was not benevolent would you support him" question has a practical implication because you believe it is fundamentally untrue.

I.e. the higher standard and God's standard are fundamentally the same neither is "created" by the other any more than water is created by wetness.

Or more clearly it is a bit like saying if 1+1=2 does the 2 create 1+1 or does 1+1 create 2?

At 9:57 AM, February 03, 2006, Jeremy Pierce said...

This last point is worth paying attention to. The problems raised in Euthyphro-like questions can be raised about any meta-ethical view. If morality is based, for instance, on whatever rational people would agree to follow if they were concerned only about self-interest (which many contemporary social contract theorists of morality believe), then we have to ask a Euthyphro-like question. Is it good merely because rationally self-interested people would prefer it, or would they prefer it because it's good? The same line of questioning could very easily be raised about any meta-ethical grounding for ethics.

23 comments:

  1. I'd add that Loftus chose to dismiss Jim's comments without benefit of argument.

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  2. What precondition must obtain for knowledge to obtain? That’s the core argument.

    That's a question, not an argument. Keep trying.

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  3. In the first place, Steve, I was challenging Paul Manata on this. So the fact that it doesn't exactly apply to you is fine with me. Things that apply to do, apply to you. Things that apply to someone else, apply to them.

    The Euthyphro dilemma also applies to the notion of truth and knowledge. Does God know something because it's true, or is it true because God knows it? If God knows something because it's true, then there is a standard of truth that God appeals to for judging what is true...a standard for us to appeal to in order to determine whether what God claims is true, is true. If however, something is true because God knows it, then something is true merely because God said it is true...no other reason except that God said it was true to believe it is true. There would be no independent way to determine if something is true.

    All of the problems of the Euthyphro moral dilemma apply here. And that's what a presuppositionalist must solve if he or she wants to continue being a presuppositionalist.

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  4. God knows truths of reason to be true because he knows truths of reason to be true of himself. He's the source of abstract universals.

    God knows truths of fact to be true because he makes them true via the instantiation of his decree in creation and providence.

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  5. As I already mentioned to Loftus before (http://calvindude.com/dude/blog/2006/05/definitions/), Loftus has a problem understanding definitional standards (which is probably why he continues to call me stupid).

    As I wrote to him two months ago (and Loftus claims I only have one argument!):
    ---
    Let’s look at it this way. John says there must be a standard of goodness that shows God is good. Let us call that standard X.

    How do we know that X is good?

    It doesn’t matter what standard you pick, at some point you get to the level of definition. Something is good because it is what defines good.

    God is good because God defines good. He does not have to conform to some higher standard–He is the higher standard.

    John wrote: “Furthermore, we usually call someone good when they make good choices.”

    But this presupposes that we already know what is good. How can we know if someone makes “good choices” unless we know what is good? The reason that we can say that people who make good decisions are good (assuming that’s accurate) is because there is a standard by which we can compare those people.

    Again, God is the standard. He is the definition of what is good.
    ---

    Loftus wants to pretend that there are definitional standards beyond the definitional standard. Thus, God cannot define good--something else must define it and then God must adhere to that standard. But then, of course, we're stuck in infinite regress--what is the reason that standard is "good"?

    He's having the same problem here while changing the issue to "truth." Likewise, he forgets that this dilemma cuts both ways. What is the basis for his belief in truth or goodness?

    As I concluded back then:
    ---
    Perhaps John doesn’t like the term “good” to be defined as God’s nature. Fine, he can establish his own definition and then prove why God must obey that definition. He has yet to do this.
    ---

    He still has yet to do so.

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  6. Steve, really? God knows truths of reason to be true because he knows truths of reason to be true of himself. He's the source of abstract universals.

    Does this solve it? Then let me rephrase. Does God create Logic or must he adhere to the rules of Logic? If you say that Logic is just part of his nature, i.e., that he's the standard of Logic, then apart from God's nature, how do we really know God is logical? All we can say is that God is. We would have no clue whatsoever whether the rules of logic are arbitray if God by fiat out of his own nature declares certain rules as logical. All we would know is that God follows these rules...that's all. Would would have no way of checking whether the rules are true and logical in and of themselves. All we can say is that God follows these logical rules.

    But, point in fact, your Calvinistic God does in fact adhere to a different logic and morality than he expects us to follow. If you are expected not to use someone for your own personal selfishness, then why can God do so? If you are expected to help someone when you have the power to do so, then why isn't your God expected to do so? And if you say he has his reasons, then what are they? As far as I know no Christian yet has suggested a good reason why your God didn't stop an underwater earthquake that sent a tsunami in December of 2005 which killed off 1/4 of a million Indonesian people.

    There's so much more, but I'll save it.

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  7. Loftus wrote:
    ---
    Does God create Logic or must he adhere to the rules of Logic? If you say that Logic is just part of his nature, i.e., that he's the standard of Logic, then apart from God's nature, how do we really know God is logical? All we can say is that God is.
    ---

    What is the definition of Red, Loftus? Let us call it "a wavelength of light 700 nanometers in width and at 428,570 GHz frequency." This is now the DEFINITION of Red.

    How do we know that Red is Red then?

    Even asking the question is absurd.

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  8. John W. Loftus said...

    “Does this solve it? Then let me rephrase. Does God create Logic or must he adhere to the rules of Logic? If you say that Logic is just part of his nature, i.e., that he's the standard of Logic, then apart from God's nature, how do we really know God is logical? All we can say is that God is. We would have no clue whatsoever whether the rules of logic are arbitray if God by fiat out of his own nature declares certain rules as logical. All we would know is that God follows these rules...that's all. Would would have no way of checking whether the rules are true and logical in and of themselves. All we can say is that God follows these logical rules.”

    You’re flirting with a vicious infinite regress.

    The laws of logic are constituted by the infinite, timeless mind of God.

    Apart from God we don’t know that anything is logical or ethical. That’s the point.

    “But, point in fact, your Calvinistic God does in fact adhere to a different logic and morality than he expects us to follow. If you are expected not to use someone for your own personal selfishness, then why can God do so?”

    God doesn’t use people for his “own personal selfishness.” God doesn’t need people.

    He uses some sinners to reveal his wisdom, mercy, and justice for the benefit of the elect.

    “If you are expected to help someone when you have the power to do so, then why isn't your God expected to do so?”

    I wouldn’t help a suicide-bomber change a flat tire on his way to the stadium. But that’s just my warped, Calvinistic morality, for ya!

    “And if you say he has his reasons, then what are they? As far as I know no Christian yet has suggested a good reason why your God didn't stop an underwater earthquake that sent a tsunami in December of 2005 which killed off 1/4 of a million Indonesian people.”

    I blogged on that at the time. We don’t need a separate and specific theodicean explanation for every natural or moral evil. All we need is a general theodicy.

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  9. Or, perhaps to make my previous illustration even clearer, let us say that we have a light nmaed "Bob" with a wavelength of 700 nanometers and a frequency of 428,570 GHz.

    How do we know that Bob is Red?

    Once Loftus can grasp the idea of definitions and the law of identity, he will hopefully realize how absurd the Euthyphro dilemma actually is.

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  10. Steve, one more thing, I sent Jim looking for answers, and he found some. That was good for him. He should thank me. Before someone engages me on an issue I raise he should at least have a minimum understanding of the issue at hand. I don't have a lot of patience with ignorance.

    According to G.K Chesterson, "It isn't that they cannot see the solution. It is that they can't see the problem." Some people need to read more on an issue so that they can see the problem for themselves. Too many people have ready made solutions for problems that they haven't looked at in any depth at all, like Calvindude, who would do well to follow Jim's example in the post below this one.

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  11. Since God can appeal to no higher authority than Himself, as the Bible says in Hebrews, "For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying 'I WILL SURELY BLESS YOU AND I WILL SURELY MULTIPLY YOU'...(Heb. 6:13-20), one can conclude that something is true because God said it. Since He is the source of all that's good (James 1:17), the God who cannot lie because He is the God of truth (Heb.6:18), and the God of infinite holiness, I can safely accept what He says. But hey, I'm just a simple country boy...

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  12. Gee, what a surprise. I get insulted by Loftus again! His brilliance is blinding.

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  13. Steve said....The laws of logic are constituted by the infinite, timeless mind of God.

    And how did God come by these laws of Logic? Did God learn them from trial and error? Naw. Not your God. He has always had them, right. He never thought them up. They have always existed as part of his nature...right?

    Here's an aside or two. Tell me this, is your God a free agent? If yes, then did he freely choose these laws, or did he discover them? If not then how is your God free?

    And, does your God think? Thinking requires weighing alternatives, does it not? How would you describe the mind of your God?

    Now back on point. If the modus ponens has always existed as part of God's nature (whatever that might mean), then aside from the fact that it existed as part of God's nature we still don't know if it it a valid formal deductive argument, for there is nothing whereby we can judge the argument with except that God declares it valid. Unless Logic, like morality, stands as a separate principle from God all we can say is that God is.... We cannot call him good, since there is no standard above God to compare him to that declares him to be good, and we cannot say God is reasonable in a like manner, since there is no logical standard above God to compare him to that standard that declares him to be reasopnable. All we can say is that God is. Or that God says this...or that God says follow this form of reasoning I've commanded you to follow. We'd have no independent way of knowing whether or not God is good and reasonable.

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  14. Loftus,

    You're still doing a great job of arguing against an absolute as if it is a contingent. You're still ignoring the fact that definitions are definitional. (What an amazing concept.)

    God doesn't speak for us the laws of logic, but the laws of logic are derrived from His nature. Example: The fact that God exists establishes the Law of Identity, for He exists as He is. And how is He? He is His nature.

    So the very begining seed of Logic is found in the very being of God.

    Where do you come up with Logic, Loftus? You say you teach at college, surely you'll be able to answer this.

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  15. John Loftus said:
    Steve, one more thing, I sent Jim looking for answers, and he found some. That was good for him. He should thank me. Before someone engages me on an issue I raise he should at least have a minimum understanding of the issue at hand. I don't have a lot of patience with ignorance.

    John. I found some answers but those answers include a few things you didn't appreciate. Quickly:

    1) I was not mistaken in my understanding to begin with. (I noted others made the same points - I admit we could all be confused).

    2)My MAIN point was simply that YOUR essay didn't address the particular nuance denoted as DNT (Divine Nature Theory). Just because I found an article that did a good job (though as of yet, to me, inconclusive) shouldn't relieve you.

    Jim

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  16. By the way, Loftus, in case you're wondering, having the laws of logic bound in the nature of God is the reason why we have objective, universal logic.

    The Law of Identity is implied by the fact that God exists. He even uses it as His Name (although this is not all that is meant when He says, "I am what I am"). Thus, for as long as God has existed (eternity), Logic is valid. The scope of God (omnipresence) determines the scope of Logic. The immutability of God determines that He will never cease to be, nor will his nature ever change. Thus, the Laws of Logic are also immutable when they are grounded in His nature.

    This is why I maintain that Logic is an attribute of God (other Christian theists may disagree with me, of course), much like His wisdom is.

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  17. steve said:



    John W. Loftus said:

    “Here's an aside or two. Tell me this, is your God a free agent? If yes, then did he freely choose these laws, or did he discover them? If not then how is your God free?”

    i) As someone with several seminary degrees, you ought to be conversant with the distinction between God’s necessary knowledge and God’s free knowledge.

    ii) God has no accidental attributes.

    iii) Omnipotence is not a self-referential attribute. It has reference to God’s creative power.

    “And, does your God think? Thinking requires weighing alternatives, does it not? How would you describe the mind of your God?”

    You’re confusing reason with one finite, creaturely mode of knowledge—involving a temporal process. That’s not the essence of reason. Rather, that’s a property-instance of rationality, of which divine reason is the timeless exemplar.

    You really need to brush up on your philosophical theology.

    “Now back on point. If the modus ponens has always existed as part of God's nature (whatever that might mean), then aside from the fact that it existed as part of God's nature we still don't know if it it a valid formal deductive argument, for there is nothing whereby we can judge the argument with except that God declares it valid. Unless Logic, like morality, stands as a separate principle from God all we can say is that God is.... We cannot call him good, since there is no standard above God to compare him to that declares him to be good, and we cannot say God is reasonable in a like manner, since there is no logical standard above God to compare him to that standard that declares him to be reasopnable. All we can say is that God is. Or that God says this...or that God says follow this form of reasoning I've commanded you to follow. We'd have no independent way of knowing whether or not God is good and reasonable.”

    You continue to flirt with a vicious infinite regress. Take a cue from Calvindude.

    You might as well say we have no independent way of knowing if logic is logical.

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  18. As an aside - does it occur to anyone following the back and forth here that these dilemmas seem very analagous to the "Third Man" self-critique of Plato's forms?

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  19. John,

    I find your dismissal of the DNT as a solution to Euthyphro for those that maintain the (modified) Divine Command Theory interesting in light of the following statement:

    ... part of God's nature (whatever that might mean)

    Now, it's not my place to say whether or not those you were conversing with actually do know what it means, but if YOU don't (as would seem to be indicated by your quote) don't you think you should ask for clarification rather than dismiss the position without argument? It seems to me that nowhere in your writings have you specifically dealt with how DNT fails to defeat Euthyphro as is claimed. I am not all knowing so it is very possible that I missed it - hence my request that you direct me to the pertinent post.

    While there is no reference to Euthyphro, your old rabbi, Dr. Craig did a job outlining a basis for ethics and provides a detailed account of DNT:

    http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/meta-eth.html

    Also. Alston's work (which I've found referenced and answered in many places and have only been able to glean from these it's content) "Divine Nature and Human Language" (apparently) contains another statement of DNT with some subtle differences.

    Now. These clearly show how DNT defeats Euthyphro (whether or not one references the original dialog or one follows the reasoning here: http://philosophyofreligion.info/euthyphrodilemma.html ) yet you have not provided a counter argument.

    Jim

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  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  21. Hi John,

    As you know the Bible says that God cannot lie, so I was just reiterating what it reveals about God. God is the God of truth, that is, He is the source of it. If this is not so, then there is no truth. And if there is no truth, why debate these matters any longer? What are we trying to get at anyway? But I digress...

    God doesn't weigh the alternatives and then choose what He decides is the "good" or "right" option of those available. He is good within Himself. He did not just come by the laws of logic, they exist because He is a God of order. You are correct in saying that we have no independent way of knowing whether or not God is good and reasonable. We either accept or reject that He is. God defines what is good and true. Do you want to set yourself up over God to determine by your moral judgment if He is good? God is the judge of all the earth. You think too highly of man, and put God beneath his feet. Is not such a proposition an illustration of the fallen state we're in (apart from grace)?

    Not to go back to talking snakes, but does this not sound like the temptation of Adam and Eve in the garden, "For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Gen. 3:5 (that is, making your own moral judgements as to what is good and evil apart from God)?

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  22. Hello. I just thought you might like to read this article:
    "A Christian Answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma" (link).

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