Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dr. Nadler Against Theistic Ethics

Dr. Steven Nadler lectures on Spinoza and take some pot shots at a theistic view of morality. Please notice that he alludes to the Euthyphro's definitive refutation of this idea, but he does not even bother to give the argument. Then, near the end of the section, he simply affirms without argument that God's commands would be morally irrelevant.

Given the secularity of the university, professors can often get away with this kind of behavior. I'm sure Nadler could give more of an argument, but he sees no need to do so. We are to take it on his authority that no theistic morality is sound. Further, he thinks that by articulating Spinoza's view of God (as nature), he has rejected "moral fundamentalism." No, he has articulated a view incompatible with God being the basis of morality. He has not shown that a theistic account of ethics is false or irrational.

There are many significant responses to the Euthyphro objection; moreover, Spinoza's view of God is insupportable given the successes of the ontological, cosmological, design, and moral arguments--not to mention others. I make this case in my forthcoming book, Christian Apologetics. But one need not wait, since William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland have given power theistic arguments in their works. For now, here is my response to the Euthyphro problem from the book.

The Euthyphro Problem

First, many argue that making God the source of objective value solves nothing because it creates a dilemma fatal to theism. First raised by Plato in The Euthyphro, this argument claims that (1) If something is good because God wills it good, God could will anything (even murder) and it would be, ipso facto, good. But this is absurd. (2) If God’s will is not the source of the good, goodness lies outside of God’s being and this robs him of his moral supremacy (an essential attribute of deity).

This dilemma is in fact a chimera, since the theist can escape between the horns uninjured. The Euthyphro argument trades on a straw man (or straw god) that creates a false dilemma. Biblical theism—Islam is another matter that we will address later[1]—claims God as the source of all goodness on the basis of both God’s character and God’s will. God’s moral will is based on God’s changeless nature. The triune God, who has existed from eternity in a relationship of threefold love between the Father, the Son and the Spirit, cannot, for example, morally mandate rape. God’s disposition forbids it. God’s integrity abhors it. Objective moral values, according to the Bible, are not created in the sense that the contingent universe was created out of nothing (Genesis 1:1 John 1:1). Objective moral values have their source in the eternal character, nature and substance of a loving, just, and self-sufficient God. Just as God does not create himself, so he does not create moral values, which are eternally constituent of his being. For that reason, when God creates humans in his own image and likeness, they need to know objective moral value and they must treat each other accordingly.

To hark back to Arthur Leff, to say that God’s moral utterances are “performative” does not mean that God brings something into being at a particular time that did not exist previously—as when a minister declares a couple now married as “husband and wife.” Rather, God’s character is eternally, changelessly good, so when God performs a moral utterance—as in the Ten Commandments or through the life and teachings of Jesus—he is speaking according to the eternal nature of his being. Herein is the warrant to declare the divine utterance unchallengeable and final. God’s commands are not arbitrary, either in their relation to the divine character or in their relation to the divine creation, since the creation bears the mark of the Creator. Therefore, it is impossible for God to sanction adultery, steeling, murder, false witness, and so on.[2]

[1] See chapter 26.

[2] For a very illuminating treatment of this issue, see James Hanink and Gary R. Marr, “What Euthyphro Couldn’t Have Said,” Faith and Philosophy, vol. 4, no. 3. (July 1987): 241-261. This also addresses the objection that God demanded murder when he commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice to God. See also William Alston, “What Euthryphro Should Have Said,” William Lane Craig, ed., Philosophy of Religion: A Reader and Guide (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002), pp. 283-298.

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