The Puzzle of God and Goodness

When I was young, it was a mark of honor to eat so much at Thanksgiving that your belly would stretch tight and you would have to lie on the floor and wait for the pressure to subside. I don’t know why but we would call this satisfying.Should this happen to you, rather than stare mindlessly at the ceiling, you might consider this 2,000-year-old puzzle posed by Socrates.

It has to do with the question of which came first, God or goodness and Socrates takes this up in his conversation with Euthyphro whom he meets in a marketplace. The gist of their chat is Euthyphro thinks God — actually gods because polytheism was still in vogue — likes it when we do good things. Socrates asks him if good acts are good because God likes them or because they are good in their own right.

Where did all this goodness come from?
Courtesy of ‘clarity’ via Flickr Creative Commons

Put another way, would God be just as happy if we committed murder or said hurtful things to others? No, says Euthyphro. God would not like that. God only likes good things.

So, says Socrates, God is not amoral but follows a code of morality. Righto, says Euthyphro.

So where did God get that code, asks Socrates. It must have preceded God which means God didn’t create everything.

Huh, says Euthyphro; he is stumped.

Either God created the universe and along with it, morality, in which case God could have as easily decided that things we take as evil are actually OK. Or God didn’t have the choice, in which case, morality came first and God plays second fiddle to something else.

There’s a Christian response to this which I don’t necessarily buy but is well worth a read.

Happy Thanksgiving and make sure you do the right thing and don’t overdo it.



One thought on “The Puzzle of God and Goodness

  1. when we hear of a horrible crime committed by someone and afterwards they interview the mother and she indicates that he is a wonderful and loving boy its because the mother can only see innocence, and this is how the divine see us. much the same way when we look at puppies or babies, all we see is innocence. I once heard it said that, “there is no cosmic ledger”.

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