Thinking Rationally – The Euthyphro Dilemma

During any discussion that I have with people about God and religion, the one point that every believer makes is about morality. The claim is that religion and fear of God make people do good things. This of course implies that without the idea of someone omniscient looking over us, we would collapse into anarchy and as long as religion stops up from being morally bankrupt, religion is good.

The fact that you do good things out of fear of eternal damnation (or reincarnation, depending on what version of the story you prefer) rather than because they are based on sound logic tells us a lot about religion. The same believers say that because the masses, especially in a country like India, cannot think critically and make decisions for themselves and so they need religion to give them direction to do the right things. This points to the very heart of the problem. The religious would rather have us believing something without any rational thought process than encourage independent inquiry.

Seneca The Younger said, “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful”. One only has to look at the tremendous devastation brought on the world by people around the world who have followed orders based on religious teachings.

This brings us back to the question of morality. In Plato’s dialog “Euthyphro”, Socrates, who is awaiting trial, asks Euthyphro, a self-proclaimed religious expert, “Is the pious loved by the Gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the Gods?” Put simply, is the morally good commanded by God because it is good or is it good because it is commanded by God?

As a believer, if this does not get you thinking, I put to you a simpler question – Do you think crimes like rape and murder are commendable? If you are a sane individual, you would disagree. Rape, murder or any other act that infringes on another individual’s right to live the same way as you want to live i.e. without fear, are wrong. So would you suddenly find them acceptable if a so called holy book says it is? Again, if you are a rational individual, you wouldn’t. Yet, there are a number of passages in the Bible and Quran, which are followed by billions of people, which actively condone rape, murder and many other methods of torture.

Is there any doubt that we receive our morals not from any holy book, but from rationality, independent thinking and perhaps some aspect of evolution that causes us to realize that cooperation is the best way to ensure survival and propagation of our species?



Filed under Atheism

5 responses to “Thinking Rationally – The Euthyphro Dilemma

  1. I don’t remember if I shared this with you, but it pretty much sums up what I want to say –

    Just an observation – you are usually a champion of freedom – of speech and behaviour. Hence, your attempt here to, as I see it, knock some sense into believers is kind of a poor attempt to get people to see what you see and believe what you believe in. People will continue to have a choice and people will continue to exercise it. Just saying.

    • My attempt here is to point out that we do not derive morality from religion or God. It is inherent to anyone who believes is rationality and basic human rights.

  2. Shoan Shinde

    “Is the pious loved by the Gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the Gods”.. there is a world of knowledge in these words! very well chosen!

  3. Morality doesn’t rely upon supernatural intervention because it is rooted in human nature itself. As social beings, we need to get along with one another in order to survive and prosper. It is rooted in the human capacity for empathy. Ethics is built on this natural instinct and is the coordination of those interests.

    • Which is exactly the point I am trying to make. Yet time and again, I encounter people who insist that their morality comes from religion.

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