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The Philosopher David Baggett, known for his acute philosophical observations, together with Jerry Walls, who is widely known for his work on the doctrine of hell, have come together to produce a crucial book on morality, theism, and naturalism, published by Oxford University Press. Good God, The Theistic Foundations of Morality is as apt as it is concise, and strikingly accessible for anyone interested on the topic — I provide links at the end to this book. In what follows, I will state and unpack the Euthphyro Dilemma, then I summarize Baggett and Walls’ seven essential distinctions they use to answer the Dilemma.

The Euthphyro Dilemma: “Is something moral because God commands it or does God command something because it is moral.” There are many issues involved in the Dilemma, but let’s just note one as an example. If, on the one hand, what God commands is moral, then conscience seems superfluous; if, on the other hand, God commands something because it is moral, then we can rely on our conscience and dispense with the divine Lawgiver. Baggett and Walls explain many difficulties that the Dilemma produces, yet they find a way to answer it by their seven distinctions:

1) Too often persons think merely in terms of definitions. They rush to give a definition of goodness. Those who believe in God will often hold that “God is the good.” Although this isn’t bad, it also isn’t the only way to approach the idea of goodness. Instead, we can analyze goodness, that is, look at the inner logic of goodness we see all about us so as to understand what goodness must be “made up of.” This is what Baggett and Walls call the distinction between definition and analysis, encouraging their readers to consider  what goodness is from the analysis perspective.

2) Morality must be broken up into a number of parts to understand its full dimensionality. There are certain moral activities that we are required to do or not to do: in short, we are obligated. Baggett and Walls refer to these as matters of rightness and wrongness. There are other moral activities that may be good, going above and beyond, or more than one’s duty. These are “good” although they are not obligatory; similarly, failing to do some action may have a certain degree of evil even though it is permissible. Baggett and Walls distinguish those actions that are right/wrong from the good/evil in this way.

3) Knowing enough about morality to perform moral actions is not giving an account of where the moral framework came from. To know and practice morality is one thing, and giving an account of its existence quite another. Baggett and Walls call this the distinction between epistemology (knowing) and ontology (existence).

4) Holding God to be good must be if we are going to use morality to argue for God. There are certain things God has commanded, and perhaps today ordains, that are difficult to reconcile with the claim that God is good. To say that this reconciliation is difficult, however, is not to say that it is impossible. Baggett and Walls distinguish between the difficult and impossible in this way.

5) This distinction is perhaps the most difficult to explain in an accessible way: univocation versus equivocation. To speak of God’s goodness is difficult because God’s goodness is obviously “higher than” humanity’s goodness. We cannot say that God’s goodness is merely equivalent or equal to human goodness: this would be univocation and is essentially idolatry, making the Creator exactly like the creatures. The other error would be to say that God’s goodness is in no way the same to humanity’s goodness: this is equivocation and would make God’s goodness totally arbitrary or unknown since we would have no way to understand it since we can only come to understand what goodness is through our experience in this creation as creatures. This leaves room for a theory of goodness based on analogy; John Duns Scotus is perhaps the most refined development in explaining how God’s goodness (Scotus says “perfections”) is analogous to creation’s goodness. Simply, God’s goodness shares a common meaning with creation’s goodness, and also infinitely exceeds it. On the one hand, God’s goodness is plainly the same as creation, but, on the other hand, God’s goodness is not limited or restricted to the mere goodness of creation.

6) Baggett and Walls explain that there is an important distinction between saying that goodness depends on God’s nature and that God controls goodness. The former should be opted for according to them. Goodness is neither “above God” nor is arbitrary. God doesn’t control moral goodness by His commands because His commands are the necessary expressions of God’s inherently good nature. Therefore, we can say that God doesn’t control morality while morality is still dependent on God: moreover, morality does not become some standard autonomous from God or “above” God. God’s nature is the moral standard, and His commands are dependent representations of that nature.

7) Lastly, because we can conceive some set of awful circumstances — like God commanding us to bat babies off a building — doesn’t mean that such a circumstance is possible. If it is defensible that God is good, then conceiving God to command such a heinous thing is clearly impossible given God’s perfectly good nature. God’s attribute of goodness precludes the possibility of such a command.

Through these seven distinctions, Baggett and Walls demonstrate a way out of the Dilemma. Distinction six may the most important for answering the direct “dilemma” the Dilemma is designed to produce. Baggett and Walls designed their book to provide a foundation for Christian theistic morality, and thereby another argument for God. It would no doubt make a valuable addition to any library.

Dr. Scalise

For Baggett and Walls’ book, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004WN4WK0

You can also find more resources by Dr. Baggett at moralapologetics.com