On The Euthyphro Dilemma

[Allahummabārik. May Allah bless my writing endeavours, as well as you, the reader. Ameen]

The Euthyphro Dilemma: an age-old philosophical conundrum that questions if whether what is considered to be morally good is so because (1) God has made it so (i.e. who or what is pious is pious as a result of God loving them or it), or (2) whether ‘good’ is objectively good, and God loves these things as a result of their already being [somehow, ‘innately’] good. Essentially, the Dilemma asks, which came first – God or ‘good’? And how do we know? 

In general, a theist – like yours truly – would argue that God is the origin, the decider, of morality; what is ‘good’ and desirable as actions, and what is ‘bad’ and undesirable exist objectively, and outside of the collective human imagination, for they have been decreed by the ultimate moral legislator: God. By contrast, an atheist – and, in particular, one who might adhere to the view that religion and the notion of ‘objective morality’ are merely byproducts of social evolution – would subscribe to view (2). They would perhaps argue that God – whom, to them, is a mythical being – was invented by humankind and attached to our (collective human) notion of morality, partly as a means of validating our synthetic moral frameworks. There is, to the atheists in question, no objective (i.e. ‘God-given’) morality. There are only chemical reactions that occur in the brain and which give rise to such things as empathy, which thus spur the execution of ‘morally good’ actions. The sources of morality, according to this view, are merely the products of the complex, lengthy, and unguided [happy-accident] human evolutionary process, and subsequently of the ‘civilised’ human being’s imagination. According to this perspective, by asserting that, say, giving money to charity is ‘good’, we are simply submitting to our uniquely human-but-still-animalistic instincts, and construct from all this a false dichotomy between what we perceive to be our base instincts (like the drives to eat and to copulate, which might, in immoderation, give rise to various ‘immoralities’ such as gluttony, adultery, and more), and what we deem to be our nobler ones (such as telling the truth instead of lying, helping others, and staying committed to our spouses). To the adherents of view (2), the extent to which ‘objective’ morality can be seen as objective relies on the extent to which it is inter-subjectively held. Essentially, reality, including that pertaining to what is to be considered ‘good’ and what is not, is dependent on what the most popular view is. This is, undoubtedly, a view on morality that supposes that we can democratise it.

Indeed, it should be noted that, in a debate with Muslim philosopher Hamza Tzortzis, one [celebrity] atheist Professor Laurence Krauss said that he was unsure as to whether incestuous relationships between siblings are definitely morally wrong. For him (and for most of his fellow evolutionist atheists) there are only human impulses that are borne from the evolutionary process to motivate our actions, and the impulses we find that we have, to do morally good things and label them as being good are really no different to any of our other evolutionary-byproduct-impulses. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are not objectively distinguishable in such a manner; it is only because of mass cultural delusions that we have come to label them thusly… For evolutionist atheists, our ‘base’ instincts are really all there is, and there is nothing to genuinely separate the human impulse to save a baby from a burning building from the impulse to kill someone we feel has wronged us.

And, Krauss’ comrade, one Richard Dawkins, habitually assesses God through a lens of human morality, calling Him (the Abrahamic conceptualisation of God) a “jealous God”, along with other defamatory descriptions. From my theistic viewpoint, I would argue that it is futile to attempt to morally evaluate the Creator – the Originator – of morality. This, I feel, is comparable to assessing an artist’s artwork – say, the artwork of Vincent Van Gogh – by a set of criteria of what ‘Van Gogh-esque’ art should look like, which is based on the work of one of Van Gogh’s students. One cannot assess the originator of a thing by such secondary sources. And, if we are to deconstruct Dawkins’ propositions even from a non-theistic or atheistic point of view, well, he frequently attacks religious principles and religion-fuelled immoralities from a secular-humanistic view. But the notions that secular humanism is based on undeniably stem from a moral framework introduced through the Abrahamic tradition. In essence, Dawkins is taken to attacking Christianity using…Christian concepts. He does not believe in objective morality, and yet morally dissects religion. But what is morality, to him and his ilk? As aforesaid, morality is simply what the human mind – these overdeveloped monkey brains of ours – sees as being ‘good’. ‘Me want to do that. It makes me feel good!’ So, what is there, according to him, for us to delineate between the ‘good’ feeling one might get from, say, hitting someone who has deeply offended us, from the ‘good’ feeling of coming to forgive them? According to atheists who believe that morality and religion are just figments of the collective socially-evolved human imagination, our instincts are just instincts, and, despite these individuals’ ironic deployment of such an idea, there is no higher noble plane that we can term ‘morality’.

So… where do these concepts of morality come from – these concepts that humans around the world are born with the idea of and cling to, as evidenced by the fortification of such ideas into most legal systems throughout history and across the world today? How does one ‘evolve’ and pass on ideas about what is to be considered good and bad? In addition to this claim, evolutionary psychologists maintain that the reason as to why people are naturally inclined to believe in God is, essentially, due to the biological passing-down of fictitious beliefs. But how on earth does one pass down a belief? And in what might they be encoded? And how do the encoding materials know what to pass down? Is this all an unguided process – another deeply complex ‘happy accident’?

Enter the Islamic concept of the ‘Fitrah’. The closest English translation to this – a unique and encompassing Arabic term – is ‘the human intuition and inclination that instinctively acknowledges a Creator as well as ideas pertaining to morality’. The Fitrah is like a puzzle-piece-shaped gap in our psyches that awaits its corresponding puzzle piece: pure (monotheistic) religion. Now, religion refers to the worship of God, but, according to the Islamic view, the Fitrah-nurturing truth of the Oneness of God and His religion became diluted and divided into multiple gods – such as the ‘sun god’, the ‘love god’, and many more – as well as multiple religions, over time. The alternative view to this, of course, is the secular anthropological view: that we began with humans who, during the evolutionary process, came up with the grand idea to begin worshipping things like the sun. In line with this narrative, the ‘evolved’ (‘fabricated’) idea of there being a Creator was passed down inter-generationally until our brains somehow evolved to naturally accommodate such a belief [secular scientists often term this the ‘God spot’, though Muslims maintain that this is apt evidence for the presence of the Fitrah], and to pass it down genetically. Then, the concept of dualism was developed – a fabricated dichotomy between ‘goodness’ and ‘evil’, and hence the ‘inventions’ of God and Satan. However, the secular-anthropological argument is flawed in one crucial way: it supposes that our innate faculties for moral reasoning (which even secular psychologists cannot – and do not – deny the existence of) emerged and were collectively consolidated as a result of this gradual social evolutionary process… but from where did this initial dichotomy of good versus evil that dualism was allegedly centred on, come from? An innate inclination to recognise what is good and evil? If this is the case, then, according to the secular evolutionist view, we are just going around in circles now.

Incidentally, the logical foundations upon which atheism is built are also rather… circular. Laurence Krauss, for instance, points to the existence of circles to demonstrate the idea of infinity, to prove that it is possible for a material thing (such as the universe) to exist eternally, infinitely. But the circle he points to in the aforementioned debate was drawn – as drawn circles tend to be. They have a starting point in time; they do not ‘just exist’. The nib of the pencil touches the paper, which causes it to leave a mark; the mark is continued until a full circle is formed. But from whence did human morality originate? Did it start with a self-causing BANG which led to matter gathering the way it did, leading to life – a happy accident – and then eventually to humans who (via the happy-accident invention of language and reasoning faculties) can ask if actions are ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Or was – is – there, perhaps, an Unmoved Mover, a Creator of humans and of a moral framework that we should abide by – a Creator that actually created the atoms and cells that, according to Krauss, Dawkins, and other atheists – haphazardly arranged themselves until, somehow, they could ask existential questions of themselves?

  • If you would like to contact me regarding this post – to express your agreement, disagreement, or some constructive criticism, perhaps – please feel free to email me: sadia.6@outlook.com


Sadia Ahmed, 2020


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