Moral Relativism and Absurdity

I have a real problem with the whole “what’s true for you isn’t true for me” gang.  It’s not that I want to impose my ways on anyone, I don’t want to make everyone see things my way, I just want everyone to think logically for a moment.  I want everyone who goes for the whole moral relativism deal to stop for a moment, be intellectual honest with yourselves, and say “Really, I know it makes no sense, I just claim moral relativism because it give me license to do what I want with my life.”

Consider for a moment this succinct little statement: There are no absolute truths.  Now, let’s think that through.  If that statement is true, then there are no absolute truths…EXCEPT THAT THERE ARE NO TRUTHS.  Therefore, there is an absolute truth, which makes that statement false. Therefore, logically, there at least exist absolute truths.  They may be few and far between, but there are absolute truths.

The way people argue for the lack of absolute truths is usually by qualitatively changing the issues.  The qualifications end up becoming feelings, so that rather than talking about what is true, we instead discuss our perceptions.  For example, I could see the sky and think it is blue.  My dad is colorblind, so he may not see the same thing.  If we determine truth solely off of the two of us, we may never reach consensus.  Regardless, however, of our perception, there is an absolute truth behind what color the sky is.  One could use a spectroscope to determine a value that corresponds to a color, and we therefore have an absolute truth regarding the color of the sky, regardless of what me or my colorblind dad say.

Arguing that truth is relative and that truth is what we feel it is is like saying I am sick because I feel like a have a cold.  No, you are sick because of the presence of bacteria or viruses.  Otherwise, you are speaking of perceptions, which are different from truth.

I have a great idea.  I think maybe everyone who feels that they can define their own truth should take  a step back and think for a moment about why they believe such a flawed system.  I think it has more to do with the fact that we are a godless culture that seeks nothing more than independence from our Creator, and moral relativism is just the escape hatch to do so.  Through the wonder of perception, we can then remove truth from the equation, dash accountability to the ground, and live as senseless, primal beasts who just happen to occupy the top of the food chain.  This, then, is the true aim of moral relativism- give me the maximum freedom I can have coupled with the minimum responsibility toward myself and others.


4 thoughts on “Moral Relativism and Absurdity

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  1. I believe in Universal Morals too, but Universal Morals are better supported by an Atheistic position than Theistic one.

    You say you believe in absolute morals as proscribed by God. But which God? Which of the holy books is right? Which of the many sub-sections of religion with their different moral absolutes is the correct moral absolute. Choosing between all these unfalsifiable claims is so relativistic.

    Isn’t it much better to realise that morality comes from an evolutionary source, hence tying them to the very natural laws of the universe. This means we don’t have to rely on a two thousand year old proscription to solve today’s problems. We can start rationally, scientifically discovering what moral course of action in any given situation is.

    It’s sometimes a hard task in our complex world to find out what is right and wrong. Why muddle it unnecessarily with dated modes of thought?

  2. Rene,

    Thanks for writing. It makes things more enjoyable when people chime in their 2 cents. I appreciate where you are coming from on this. I agree that, taken at face value, all the different religions all seem to have a grasp on some truth, or at least make truth claims. Therefore, to decide betwixt them all seems like a herculean task.

    The problem with relativism is this: if no religion makes a testable truth claim, then yes, relativism works. However, all religions make truth claims, therefore, they should all be testable. The problem with many of the variant “holy books” is that many of them are not rooted in a historically verifiable setting. Try to verify the Vedas. Try to find information to support the Book of Mormon. The Bible offers itself as testable archaeologically and geographically in the annals of history. Therefore, while there are some claims the Bible can’t verify for us (Yes, Bart Ehrman is right in saying there is technically no evidence for a miracle in history, though I would disagree on the grounds of extrapolated evidence), the Bible can be tested within the context of history and geography to verify its words. At least if we can verify SOME things about the Bible, then it has offered some historicity to us.

    Another observation that led me to the Christian view is this: No historian or scholar that is credible says that there was no Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, the very fact that men like the Jesus Seminar need to find the “historical Jesus” verifies that there had to be a Jesus to find. No one at this point makes the assumption that he wasn’t crucified and died. At this point, I am left with the evidence of the aftermath, and by that I mean the fact that his followers were willing to die for their beliefs in regard to him, that they managed to spread throughout the known world, and this was with the fact that, were he still dead, the Pharisees could easily have gone to the tomb and exhumed his body, or if he was buried in a common grave, could have pointed everyone to the grave he was in, thus ending the controversy. Because of this, I am led to believe that the religion that espouses truth is in fact Christianity.

    That is not to say that certain truths are not found in all religions. For example, the Buddhist/Hindu idea of karma is very much like our law of reaping and sowing (Galatians 6, if I am not mistaken). The only problem is that the final truth, the main truth, is that Jesus died for our sins and there is forgiveness before God because of that.

    As for morality, I don’t think it can come from evolutionary methodology. Darwin was convinced that eventually the dominant species would win out. Therefore, it seems to me that the whole of evolution is based on the idea that there is inequality. Therefore, it would be contrary to the best purposes of evolution to have a system of morality. The fact of the matter is, I am better off from an organism standpoint if I can beat out my competition, not be merciful to them. There is plenty of evidence out there that Darwin was very racist, and his ideas eventually led Adolf Hitler into the Holocaust of the Jews. Another thing to consider about morality and atheism is this: Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong were all three atheists. Their governmental regimes killed 100 million combined. It was Stalin who said “1 death is a tragedy, 1 million is a statistic.” I think when you consider that atheist governemtal regimes (and by that I mean a government that enforces atheism) typically is far harsher for its citizens than a government that is tolerant of religious belief. Therefore, I would be hardpressed to say that morality can be legislated by evolutionary, atheistic methods.

    Rene, I sincerely appreciate your comments. All to often I am met by angry atheists who, rather than seek a dialogue, instead attack ad hominem and just beat Christians into submission not with fact but with verbal bludgeoning. It shocks me that those who are supposed to be enlightened, and therefore tolerant (at least in their own minds, anyway), are usually the most insulting and mean spirited. Thank you for being open minded and posing the questions that you have. You seem to genuinely seek after truth. I pray that you find it.

  3. Thanks for your reply Mr Sullivan.

    I keep an open mind to the possibility that God might exist, but overwhelming evidence suggests that the probability is vanishingly small. Until I’m provided with falsifiable testable predictions and peer-reviewed evidence, I may just continue on with my current assumption, which I feel is the only honest assumption I can make.

    My main objective here is to defend Atheism as something that does not automatically lead to moral relativism. The definition of Atheism is just the lack of belief in a Theistic God. The word Atheism does not suggest any specific moral code. You can be a bad atheist or a good atheist. You can be a bad guy with a moustache or a good guy with a moustache. I passionately feel that lack of belief in a Theistic God will not be of any danger to the individual’s moral codes. It may in fact lead to him being morally superior to the Theist as belief in god often comes with static, absolutist immoral proscriptions. It also opens up avenues for rational Universalist frameworks like Utilitarianism where reason can be used to navigate the complex waters of modern ethical behaviour.

    Darwin’s personal moral character is not relevant to whether or not his science is correct. Evolution is no longer just Darwin’s alone. Countless scientists have tested, verified, modified and built upon his theory in the 300 hundred years since then, especially in the last 50 years with the discovery and analysis of DNA and genetic biology. Atheists don’t consider Darwin to be a prophet or moral guide. Most of us just think he’s one of the heroes of science (along with Newton and Einstein) who’ve contributed most to scientific progress.

    Was he actually a racist? By today’s standards everyone was racist in his era, including Lincoln. Darwin was more liberal than most of his contemporaries. He strongly opposed slavery when most of his compatriots didn’t. Some biographers have even gone so far as to suggest his motivations for seeing through the development of this theory was to silence the pseudo-scientific rationale that was bandied around in favour of Caucasian supremacy and the racial subjugation of ‘lesser races’.

    Was Hitler Atheist? There is evidence to suggest he was not. In the Mein Kampf Hitler writes “I be the leader of the nation so that he could lead back his homeland into the Reich.” sank down on my knees and thanked Heaven out of the fullness of my heart for the favour of having been permitted to live in such a time.” There he was referring to his reaction when the First World War was announced. He also wrote “I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew. I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” He repeated this statement to the Reichstag in a speech in 1938. Rudolf Hess, his close friend, calls Hitler a “good Catholic”. After his annexation of Austria in November 1938 he says “I believe it was God’s will to send a boy from here into the Reich, to let him grow up and to raise him to be a the leader of the nation so that he could lead back his homeland to the Reich.”

    It’s true that he could have been lying about his faith to gain votes and support from the largely Christian public and military. Some of his speeches after 1940 suggest that this might be so. Though he still believed in providence and God he started railing against Christianity. He was obviously not above lying to his people. After all, he is Hitler.

    But that leads to the crucial point; the people who carried out his orders, those who actually killed the Jews and allowed the holocaust to happen, the soldiers and generals and citizens of Germany were all pre-dominantly Christian. If Hitler lied about his faith then he was only doing so to encourage and motivate the faithful. Can you imagine an atheist wanting to discriminate against a race of people? The motivation posited for the extermination of the Jews comes from a long European Christian tradition or blaming the Jews for their saviour’s death. Hitler utilised this to terrible effect.

    Stalin definitely was Atheist, but he didn’t do his evil in the name of Atheism. He never mentioned Atheism as a motivation for killing people; he did not spur up the Atheistic mob anger to do his killings. He did it for the dogma of Communism and his personal thirst for power. Atheism doesn’t tell you to suppress others and their thoughts. Communism does.

    Atheist individuals can be evil, just like religious individuals; but it takes religion and political dogma to make good individuals do evil things.

    Hitler’s so called ‘Social Darwinism” was pseudoscientific prattle, nothing to do with the scientific theory of evolution. Very much like the pseudoscientific nonsense espoused by Hindus and New Agers to justify their unjustifiable beliefs.

    In evolution it is the gene that seeks to survive by replicating and being selfish. The organism itself cannot be considered the basic unit of biological evolution simply because it cannot replicate exactly. To illustrate, my dog will eventually die and cannot clone itself or give birth to an exact copy. So there is no point for the dog itself to be selfish if it weren’t for competition that is occurring at the genetic level. The genes of the dog on the hand will replicate and live on in progeny. The genes of the dog compete in a pool of similarly self-replicating genes. From the perspective of the gene, the organism is merely its expression, a mode of supporting its survival and multiplication.

    Now of course an organism that is powerful physically and obtains resources at the expense of others will increase the chances of its genes replicating. But this is only the most primitive of tactics.

    Most animals live in social structures that help them survive much better than they would in solitary. This requires co-operation and altruism. Being altruistic to your children is the most obvious example, but it extends further. Bees, ants, meerkats, woodpeckers, mole rats look after their younger siblings. This kind of altruism favours genetic kin.

    The other kind of altruism is reciprocal. Flowers provide bees with nectar in exchange for pollinating. Hyenas hunt in packs and share their kill. Honeyguides search for bee hives and then lead ratels to the hive. Ratels break the hive and share the spoils. Honeyguides do not have the strength to break the hive and ratels (a type of badger) do not have wings to search for them. But together they accomplish their goal.

    Humans are at a completely different league when it comes to social structure and we have developed instinctual morality and reason that makes it almost incomparable to what is going on in the rest of nature.

    The altruism towards kin is of course very evident. For many years we were loyal to our own tribes and even hostile to external tribes as we competed for resources. As our social structures grew larger we started depending on other tribes and then other civilisations of tribes.

    We develop punishments to punish those who don’t reciprocate; we seek out dependably altruistic mates, and friends. We try to be as altruistic as possible and cultivate a reputation for dependability.

    Most of this happens on a subconscious level, we just feel fulfilled when we are useful to others and have friends who you can depend on. We crave social affirmation. It is our evolutionary instincts that are telling us social behaviour is desirable, just like it tells the ratel to follow the enticing flight of the honeyguide.

    So genes are always selfish but the organism, the human, can be genuinely altruistic. He wants his society to survive, he wants his family and friends to do well, and over the course of human civilisation his feelings of goodwill extends over greater circles of association.

    Yes selfish instincts, group loyalty and such that are given to us through evolution, but that is most certainly not nearly the whole picture.

    Understanding that the wellbeing of individual and the wellbeing of society are driven by evolutionary forces will allow us to use reason to decide on which of our instincts to follow in complex situations. Selection pressures only result in rules of thumb, biological evolution is far outpaced by social evolution. It takes reason to apply our broad evolutionary instincts to specific moral problems.

  4. We get our morals from the same place we get our gods. We get them from our minds. They’re made up to satisfy an agenda we’ve decided upon for whatever reason.

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