Euthyphro - how to argue how someone can be moral without God watching

I wanted to share the following information with people, since most people are not familiar with Greek philosophy.  I had an American Atheists shirt on, while wandering in a shopping mall.  A Jewish man approached me and claimed that there was absolutely no reason to be moral if there is no God.  Having grown up atheist, I knew he was dead wrong, but I hadn't thought enough about how to answer him sufficiently to evince why he was wrong.  I am typing this to let other atheists be prepared if a similar situation happens to them.

After the incident at the mall, I later majored in philosophy and read Euthyphro by Plato.  The work explains very well why one does not need a God watching in order to keep one from committing criminal acts.  The work explores whether rules are moral because God says they are or whether God says rules are moral because they already are.

Now, I would go back to this Jewish man and ask "If God tells you it is okay to torture and kill an innocent person, is it really okay?"  Clearly the answer is that it is not.  Even if the person arguing against you does think that such behavior would be immoral if God commands it, you can make him or her look quite bad defending his or her position by creatively using vivid descriptions of despicable behavior.  Also, one can bring up how he or she would distinguish God's word from Satan's if he or she still disagrees.  However, if the person still claims that God can make it okay for one to commit, say, genocide by claiming it is okay, it must have to be the case that God says things are moral or immoral because they already are.  Thus, if God is merely saying behaviors are moral or immoral because they already are, it is easy to see that atheists have reason to behave morally without needing a psychic in the sky who knows through ESP whether one has been good or bad and who can deliver a painful chastisement to him or her in recompense for immoral behavior.  This is exactly what one wishes to show, and it is how I would now approach the same Jewish man if I ever see him again, assuming I were able to recognize him.

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A loose paraphrase of the argument that I remember:

Imagine a world where God's commands were clear[er] opposites of the moral rules we know -- where the Ten Commandments included "Thou shalt murder", "Thou shalt steal", "Thou shalt bear false witness", and so forth. Those who knifed random people in the street would be praised for their virtue and piety.

People would pretty quickly conclude, "I don't care what God / the Bible / the church says, I don't care if I'm going to hell, I'm not killing my daughter / son / sister / brother / wife / husband / mother / father / friend." And hopefully people would extend that empathy and sense of morality to other fellow human beings as well. We'd quickly (re)discover an actual morality based on minimizing harm, being fair, and treating each other with the consideration we'd want for ourselves.

just reverse that shit. 

can you be moral with religion?

no you cant...not if you are pious and obedient...the shit is medieval and is it responsible to be a believer and surrender your brain to the vagaries of human political institutions? If you  believe you have faith. If you have faith you dont ask questions. Dictatorships do not permit questioning. You just open wide and accept the "teachings". So you are as a believer depending upon the good judgment and good values of the persons who write your religion. Does it strike you as odd that if you obeyed many of the commands in the bible you would either be in an insane asylum or prison or executed?

It is worse than simply irresponsible using religion to decide issues of is immoral.  Why not let a psychopath or madman decide shit for you? Morality requires the exercise of our good judgment. Many issues are nuanced. Others religion is on wrong side. Capitulating to power is a fool's errand. 

Jeez! I like these responses! Well asked, Glen!

I hope everyone reads Steve Wells, Drunk with Blood - God's Killings in the Bible

How many has God killed? Complete list and estimated total (Includi...

Empathy tells us what is acceptable behaviour and what isn't, that is the basis of morality. Every group animal knows it - read Frans de Waal's writings on chimpanzees and our other family. Many neuroscientists and biologists have written about morality and group dynamics. Without morality there would never have been functioning groups, only snarling individuals.

Plinius, right on! I like your style!

According to some people you could not even think without god. If this is true then we all know who god is and where he resides. God is you inside that organ that does your thinking. This is why you and your god like the same things. It's also why you would belong to anther religion if you were born in certain other parts of the world. People just like you taught you all about your god.

Pogo say, "we have seen god and he is us."

Michael, well said! 

This question arises so frequently because theists must never admit there is a difference between 'obedience' and 'morality'. And this is crucial. Plato (... Bentham, JS Mill etc) could see this. The religious are ordered on threat of eternal punishment to deny this distinction. After all, if people think for themselves, the religion would rapidly evaporate. Quoting from 'Age of Wisdumb':

"...consider the following dilemma presented by Lawrence Krauss, which he attributes to his friend and fellow egghead Steven Pinker:

"What if God decreed that rape and murder were morally acceptable? Would that make them so?

While some might answer yes, I think most believers would say no, God would not make such a decree. But why not? Presumably because God would have some reason for not making such a decree. Again, this is because reason suggests that rape and murder are not morally acceptable. But if God would have to appeal to reason, then why not eliminate the middleman entirely?" <end of Krauss bit>

... Appealing directly to reason; to consequential analysis, must surely be the only source of true morality. As I read Krauss’ hypothetical, I saw quite a different result; the Abrahamic God most certainly would make such decrees. He has done many times. Decrees to visit the sins of the father upon the son. Decrees to brainwash children. Decrees to stone adulterers and apostates. <end of 'Age of Wisdumb' bit>

So whenever this question / accusation arises, I challenge them to differentiate 'obedience' from 'morality'; demand they explain and contrast them. Then ask which their religion demands...

Thank you. P.,  for this link. I was not familiar with this piece of writing. 

Euthyphro by Plato "explains very well why one does not need a God watching in order to keep one from committing criminal acts.  The work explores whether rules are moral because God says they are or whether God says rules are moral because they already are."

You are welcome. In fact Euthyphro is a very short work, maybe only 38 pages or so. I would recommend it.

My question is simple: how moral is a god who says, "Thou shalt not kill," then turns around and demands the deaths of more human beings than I would care to count, amounting to genocide, and for no other reason than that they are supposedly evil or whatever.  There's no attempt to negotiate or consider a diplomatic solution, just kill 'em all. 

It's crap like this which is the reason why Richard Dawkins labeled Yahweh: "The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction."


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