One issue commonly raised in discussions of the moral argument is what is known in philosophy as Euthyphro's Dilemma (see comments on Part 1).
The name (and the argument) originated, as so many do, with Plato. In his Euthyphro dialogue, the characters Socrates and Euthyphro have the following exchange:
Euthyphro: Yes, I should say that what all the gods love is pious and holy, and the opposite which they all hate, impious.
Socrates: Ought we to enquire into the truth of this, Euthyphro, or simply to accept the mere statement on our own authority and that of others? What do you say?
Euthyphro: We should enquire; and I believe that the statement will stand the test of enquiry.
Socrates: We shall know better, my good friend, in a little while. The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods.
This problem has been leveled against proponents of theistic moral theories ever since.
"Are actions moral because God commands them," they ask, "or does God command them because they are moral?"
This is a dilemma because if the theist takes the first option (known roughly as 'Divine Command Theory'), then it seems like what we consider 'moral' is rather arbitrary. God could have, on this view, just as easily chosen to make lying good and truth-telling bad. And then that would be the moral standard. But surely that can't be right.
But if we take the second option, then it seems like what is 'good' and 'moral' is somehow external to God, so that to say that God is good is simply to say that He conforms to some higher standard of goodness, not much different from the way humanity does.
The problem here is obvious. Neither option accords well with traditional Christian belief. If we go with the first horn, morality is arbitrary; if the second, it's supreme and God is subject.*
Either way, God is no longer the standard of moral perfection as Christians have taught. And yet, this is a dilemma, which means these are the only two options. Aren't they?
In short, no.
There is a third, and it is in fact the one that best fits what Christianity has traditionally believed. Morality is neither arbitrary nor external to God, but rather it is grounded in God's nature. That is, moral perfection is not something He chooses (arbitrarily or not); it is essential to His very being.
When God issues commands, they are necessarily in agreement with His nature and therefore good. And when we say that something is either morally praiseworthy or objectionable, what we mean (whether we realize it or not) is just that it either corresponds with God's nature or it doesn't, respectively.
So it turns out that for the Christian, Socrates' dilemma is a false one. It doesn't affect the traditional view of God or morality, and so the Christian need not be bothered by it.
Next time, teleology!
* Options in dilemmas are often called 'horns.'