Congratulations to Year 9 pupil Aria who has been a highly commended for her submission to the national ISRSA Theology, Philosophy and Religion Essay Competition.

Read her submission below.

“The essays submitted this year for the Theology, Philosophy and Religions essay prize were of an extremely high standard. All those selected by their schools had clearly worked very hard researching, thinking about and constructing their essays. The judges very much enjoyed reading all essays and the task of selecting the very best for prizes was inevitably difficult. Prizes were awarded to those whose essays were especially well composed and who showed particularly good personal engagement with the essay topic.” Independent Schools Religious Studies Association

Congratulations to all the winners!


Submission by Aria, Year 9

Is that which is right because God commands it? or does God command that which is right?

The question: ‘Is that which is right because God commands it? or does God command that which is right?’ is a rewording of Euthyphro’s dilemma, first questioned by Socrates and taught by Plato. It suggests that there are no moral standards other than God’s views, and without God there would be no right or wrong. Socrates aims to discuss whether God dictates our society’s morals, or there is an inherent moral structure of the universe that God follows. Ever since Plato’s original discussion, this question has raised problems and contradictions for theists, and continues to pose philosophical and theological questions today. In this essay I will be exploring these questions, and the arguments for and against the theory of moral absolutism.

The first question this theory poses is that God may not be morally right in everything he commands us to do, but we have a moral obligation to fulfill his wishes, thus rendering our foundational morals as arbitrary. Suddenly, if God commands that inflicting suffering on others is right, we as humans have to do it because he commands it. As God’s morals fluctuate, ours should too, and things that were wrong become right because God says. For example, take the story of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. God commanded that Abraham should do a morally wrong thing and inflict suffering on his son, and Abraham follows his command. This was considered right by God, but not by the inherent morals of the world. Although God retracted his actions and did not make Abraham kill Isaac, this poses the question that because God told Abraham to kill Isaac, it is now considered the right thing to do. If this were to be true, our moral standards that we have in place are arbitrary, as they could change depending on what God says. There is an argument that is in favour of moral absolutism and opposes the former question. It argues that God only commands righteousness , as he is omnibenevolent, so all of his morals are right and good. He would not command morally wrong things unless under exceptional circumstances, and the story of Abraham and Isaac is considered an exceptional circumstance. Whatever God commands is morally justified, as he is an all good being. If we accept that God does not create our society’s morals, we are undermining his power and his core nature as the creator of all good. The unsettling question that has been unearthed still remains though: ‘How could a righteous God ever morally justify sacrificing and killing somebody’s son?’ This favours the fact that God’s morals can change to fit the circumstance. Our morals do not necessarily change to fit with God’s but his changes but we would be defying him not to change ours too, which would also be considered a sin in the name of God.

Another argument opposing the theory of moral absolutism is that different people have different perspectives about God and his commands. Some people commit morally wrong sins in the name of God, and their justification being that God told them to do it. This gives way to the question of judgement asking: ‘Who should you believe about God’s commands and what God has told them?’ These sins may be wrong to our society’s morals, but in their view it is right because they claim God told them to do it. This difference of perspective is what constructs religious differences, and if we accept all God’s supposed commands as verbatim, there would be many contractions. Moral absolutism is the theory that drives these contradictions of God’s nature, and can create harm and intolerance in the world due to this. Moreover, as nobody has ever met God, all his supposed commands have been filtered through a person or a group of people. We do not know if what they have written down is truly what God seemingly said to them, or just what they wanted to preach to people. This can lead to these people manipulating God’s assumed commands. The heart of organised religion is the power of a group of people who have a similar core belief, but what if these beliefs ‘in the name of God’ have been manipulated by a person who wants this omnipotence.

In conclusion, there are many arguments for and against moral absolutism and once we start to delve into Euthyphro’s dilemma, many contradictions and questions arise about the nature of God. God is omnibenevolent, but what if his benevolence extends only his morals, and not the inherent morals of the universe? This leads back to the point that our morals would be deemed arbitrary if we accepted that which is right is because God commands it. For these reasons, I believe that there are moral structures that exist independent of God, and he based his commands off of these structures.