In the 400’s BC the philosopher Socrates turned to one of his students named Euthyphro and asked, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”
The dilemma presented by this question is thus: if God does something because it is moral, then morality is an abstract principle that is higher than God. If, on the other hand, it is moral because God does it, then morality is an arbitrary action of God that could change with his whims. The first answer destroys God as an absolute, the second destroys morality as an absolute.
This dilemma is still leveled against God by modern day philosophers, and could apply to any of the abstract absolutes that philosophy deals with. For instance, in the February 22nd broadcast of the Atheist Podcast Reasonable Doubts, the skeptics from the show used this same dilemma with the concept of logic, posing the question: is something logical because God does it, or does God do it because it is logical?
One could ask the same question of justice, love, or any number of other attributes that are used to describe God’s character.
If these same questions were asked of any other person, the dilemma would not exist. If you were to ask, for instance, “Does the Judge hand down a decision because it is just, or is the decision just because the Judge hands it down?” The answer, presumably, would be the first. This does not pose a dilemma because Justice is an abstract concept that has existed long before the Judge was born, and will continue to exist long after she dies. The Judge is a transient being that is subject to justice.
But God is supposed to be the ultimate. If an abstract concept can be proven to be more ultimate than the person of God, then God is not the ultimate. Morality, or Logic, or Justice is the ultimate. And, as the author Douglas Adams put it, God “promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.”
This columnist recently had the opportunity to serve on the Jury at a murder trial. When the defense was making their case, they paraded family, friends, and psychologists of the suspect through the witness stand. These witnesses spent their time talking about how the suspect was a good and loving father, a gentle man, and a kind and caring friend. What was the purpose of such testimony? It was to establish the character of the suspect. The idea being that a person acts according to their characteristics. If the Jury is convinced that the suspect is not, by nature, a murderer, they are unlikely to convict that person of committing a murder.
These abstract attributes: justice, love, morality, and logic; are all parts of God’s nature. God acts lovingly, logically, morally, and justly because it is His nature to do so. Does that make these aspects greater than God?
Is the number 2 greater than the concept of math? Math cannot function without a concept of the number 2, but this does not make the abstract concept of “2” greater than the abstract concept of Math.
Can logic function without the Law of Non-contradiction? The Law of Non-contradiction is an immaterial concept that is absolutely integral to Logic, however Logic is an immaterial concept that could not function without the Law of Non-contradiction.
Vast, immaterial concepts, such as Logic, Math, and God, are indisputably composed of lesser immaterial aspects such as the number 2, the law of non-contradiction, and the principle of love. But it is absurd to say that these parts are greater than the whole. It is likewise absurd to say that the whole would function the same without one of its parts.
While concepts such as Logic and Love proceed from the nature of God, they are neither greater than God, nor are they arbitrary whims of God.