Greg Koukl: Relativism Discussion Starters

Greg Koukl: Relativism Discussion Starters

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Part 1: Insulin or Ice Cream?

What is moral relativism? It’s simply the idea there are no real moral facts in the world. Morality is a matter of preference or opinion. Moral views are “true for you” if you believe them. Your views are not universal or true for everyone.

Think about the difference between ice cream and medicine.  Is there a single flavor of ice cream everyone ought to affirm as the one best-tasting flavor? Do you spend time trying to convince others they are wrong if they prefer chocolate over vanilla? Of course not. Our choice of ice cream flavors is a matter of personal preference.  It’s subjective. My favorite flavor of ice cream is true for me but you might have a different favorite flavor. No problem.

But do we take this same approach when it comes to medical choices? If doctors were to discover you had Type 1 (or Insulin-dependent) diabetes would you ask for a treatment you like or prefer? Of course not. You want what works or what is objectively true. The cure is in no way dependent on your preference or belief. You might believe ice cream can control diabetes but if that’s the course of treatment you follow, you’ll soon be dead. In the case of Type 1 diabetes you need insulin, not ice cream.

So, moral relativism says that moral choices are much like our ice cream choices. Our moral views are personal and private, not objective. There are no moral rules or laws that are true for everyone whether he or she believes in them or not.

Part 2: C. S. Lewis on Absolute Morality

Is moral relativism a good idea? I don’t think so. Remember, the moral relativist’s claim is there are no objective moral truths, no real right and wrong for everyone. We’ll let the clear thinking of C. S. Lewis be our guide to show us two quick problems with moral relativism.

First, no one can live this way consistently. As Lewis states, “Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining ‘It’s not fair…’” If one takes morality to be a mere preference, then any moral choice is fine.  Just like we wouldn’t fault someone for preferring chocolate ice cream over vanilla, the consistent moral relativist shouldn’t fault the liar or thief. Dishonesty is merely their preference. Of course, this view of morality is unlivable nor would anyone want to live in that kind of world.

Second, if moral relativism is true then we are not justified in calling things wrong, evil, or unjust. As Lewis recounts, “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” In other words, if there are no objective moral truths (the straight line), there are no objective moral evils (the crooked line). However, isn’t it just obvious there are “crooked lines” in this world, things that are unjust? An adult sexually molesting a young child. A government committing genocide. Exploiting of the helpless. Racism. Slavery. Rape. If moral relativism is true, none of these things are ultimately wrong. But clearly, these are moral wrongs, whether or not anyone affirms them as such.

Part 3: Understanding Absolutism

If moral relativism is false, there’s only one option: moral absolutism. This is the idea that a moral rule is true whether or not anyone believes it. Remember the distinction we made between subjective and objective truths in lesson one? A moral absolute is an objective truth. It’s true for everyone.

Unfortunately, the word absolute comes with some baggage. When used, people often hear, “I’m absolutely right and I’m absolutely certain and you can’t question me.” Not really the impression we want to give, right?  Instead, avoid the baggage and talk in terms of moral reality or moral facts. There are real moral facts “out there” in the world and they are independent from my believing them. Let’s take a clear case example to illustrate: “Torturing babies for fun is morally wrong.” Hopefully, this moral fact is just obvious to you (if not, get help immediately . . . and stay away from my kids!). As a moral fact, it is true for everyone and it does not matter what you believe, what culture you grew up in, or what time period you’re living in.

Indeed, there’s a basic set of moral facts universally found in all cultures. It’s wrong to rape women. It’s wrong to kill innocent people for no reason. It’s wrong to lie, cheat, and steal. In addition, kindness, honesty, and justice are virtues that should be commended. These basic moral facts are self-evident to most people and that’s why they have been universally recognized across cultures.

Now let’s make something very clear. We are not saying that every moral issue is black and white. Not all moral questions have easy answers. Some are really difficult.  However, there’s a basic set of moral facts that are pretty clear and form a foundation of morality on which we can build.

Part 4: Responding to Relativists

Last week, we concluded there are real moral facts in the world and God is the objective standard for them.  Morality flows out of God’s nature. Of course, God’s a pretty rock solid standard. At the end of the day what we believe about morality does not change the facts of morality. They are grounded in God’s perfect moral character.  He’s the standard of right and wrong.  But that might sound pretty rigid to some. Certainly people will disagree. Can we hold to moral standards and at the same time let people ask honest questions or raise serious objections? I think so. First Peter 3:15 is instructive in this regard, telling us we should always be ready to answer anyone who asks the reason for our hope and to do so with gentleness and respect.  Notice three important aspects of this verse.  First, Peter said we should always be ready to give an answer, a reason for what we believe. Always. That requires diligent study and preparation on our part. Not only do we need to know what we believe but why we believe it. When our views are supported by good reasons and evidence, we don’t have to get defensive or irritated when others raise questions or objections.

Instead, we are humbly confident in the truth. Second, Peter indicated that giving an answer and a reason is always done in the context of a particular kind of life. What kind? A life where Christ is set apart as Lord. It’s not merely a matter of offering reasons but doing so in the midst of a life where Jesus’ trans-formative work is increasing.

Third, we see the result of good reasons offered from a transformed life: gentleness and respect. If your encounters with those who disagree are not characterized by these two things, it’s time to step back and see what’s gone wrong. Are you diligent in the study of God’s truth? Are you giving Jesus increasing control of your heart? First Peter 3:15 paints a beautiful picture of what our encounters with the world should look like.

CARM: Moral Relativism vs. Christianity

CARM: Moral Relativism vs. Christianity

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What is Moral Relativism?

by Robin Schumacher

from Christian Apologetics Research Ministry

Moral relativism is a philosophy that asserts there is no global, absolute moral law that applies to all people, for all time, and in all places. Instead of an objective moral law, it espouses a qualified view where morals are concerned, especially in the areas of individual moral practice where personal and situational encounters supposedly dictate the correct moral position.

Summing up the relative moral philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “You have your way, I have my way. As for the right way, it does not exist.”

In modern times, the espousal of moral relativism has been closely linked to the theory of evolution. The argument is, in the same way that humanity has evolved from lesser to greater biological organisms, the same process is in play in the area of morals and ethics. Therefore, all that can be ascertained at present (and forever) is that there is no absolute or fixed certainty in the area of morality.

Following this argument to its logical conclusion causes consternation among many, even those who espouse moral relativism. Paul Kurtz, in the book The Humanist Alternative, sums up the end result this way: “If man is a product of evolution, one species among others, in a universe without purpose, then man’s option is to live for himself”.

A grand example of this philosophy in action can be seen in the 2007-2008 meltdown that occurred in the American financial and banking industry. Those who taught relative morality in their philosophy and business ethics college courses proceeded to live out those teachings on Wall Street and in other corporate avenues, taking risks, not representing the truth properly, seeking monetary gain, etc, with the outcome being devastating for those who were on the receiving end of their relative (and financial) morality.

Oddly enough, many who believed in relative morality at that time were outraged and absolutely sure that those who engaged in deceptive business practices ought to be punished for their unethical moral behavior. This type of reaction speaks loudly to an important truth: moral relativists have a rather dim view of moral relativism when it negatively effects them.

Let the moral relativist be lied to, be the victim of false advertising, or of a crime and he instantly becomes a moral absolutist. A person’s reaction to what he considers unfair ethical treatment always betrays his true feelings on the matter of relative vs. objective moral laws….when things go wrong for him.

The problem for the moral relativist (who is most times a secular humanist that rejects God) is they have no good answer to the two-part question: Is there anything wrong with an action and, if so, why? Appealing to the relative whims of society or personal preferences doesn’t provide satisfying answers. A better response to the question necessitates that an individual have: (1) an unchanging standard he can turn to, and (2) an absolute authority by which proper moral obligation and be defended. Without these, morals/ethics simply becomes emotionally based preferences. Rape, for example, can never be deemed wrong; the strongest statement that can be made about rape is “I don’t like it.”

Three options for moral basis

The only options available to the secular humanist where a standard and authority are concerned are: (1) the natural universe; (2) culture; (3) the individual.

The natural universe doesn’t work since no one has even closely explained how matter, atoms, chemicals, and electricity produce proper moral truths from which moral behavior is rightly derived. Culture doesn’t help as there are many cultures throughout the world, all with differing moral standards and practices; there is no way to ascertain which culture is ‘correct’ — if at all. Culture merely displays what “is” with respect to morality, and even the famous skeptic and antagonist of religion David Hume stated that humanity cannot derive an “ought” from an “is” where morals are concerned. Lastly, if each individual is used as a standard/authority for morals, the problem becomes one of imposing personal preferences on others and asking whose moral opinion is right?

Seeing this dilemma, some moral relativists try to say that science can be used to dictate ethics, but even secular scientists admit that science is a descriptive discipline (explanation) and not a prescriptive one (obligation). In addition, its empirical methods are impotent to answer such moral questions such as if the Nazi’s were evil or not, or is murder really morally wrong, or why is rape morally reprehensible? Einstein sums up the correct position in this matter when he said, “You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn round and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.”

In the end, the moral relativist has no satisfying answer in his/her attempt to respond to the question of if there is anything wrong with anything, and why, outside of his opinion. There is no standard to turn to and no authority to recognize and respect.

The Christian Worldview

In contrast to the moral relativist whose worldview is secular humanism, the Christian worldview provides a solid standard and authority that can be confidently referenced and followed. The Creator God, who has revealed Himself in His Word is both the standard and authority for morals. From God’s nature comes pure good that serves as the straight line by which all crooked lines can be corrected.

God’s image has been impressed upon humanity (cf. Gen. 1:26-27) so that human beings instinctively know God’s moral law and what is right and wrong (cf. Rom. 2:14-15). People don’t have to believe in God to know His moral law, but in denying Him, they lose the ability to ground an objective moral law in something that transcends the physical universe. Without that transcendent God, as Dostoevsky famously observed, everything is permissible.

The tragic truth for the moral relativist is this: when you hold God’s funeral and bury His moral law along with Him, something will take His place. That something will be an individual or group of individuals who take power and, in authoritarian fashion, impose their own moral framework on everyone else. The world has already seen such things in the regimes of Stalin and Pol Pot.

The far better course of action is to thankfully acknowledge God as the true source of good and His objective moral law, which God established only for the well being of His creation.

Got Questions?— What is moral relativism?

Got Questions?— What is moral relativism?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What is moral relativism?

Moral relativism is more easily understood in comparison to moral absolutism. Absolutism claims that morality relies on universal principles (natural law, conscience). Christian absolutists believe that God is the ultimate source of our common morality, and that it is, therefore, as unchanging as He is. Moral relativism asserts that morality is not based on any absolute standard. Rather, ethical “truths” depend on variables such as the situation, culture, one’s feelings, etc.

Several things can be said of the arguments for moral relativism which demonstrate their dubious nature. First, while many of the arguments used in the attempt to support relativism might sound good at first, there is a logical contradiction inherent in all of them because they all propose the “right” moral scheme—the one we all ought to follow. But this itself is absolutism. Second, even so-called relativists reject relativism in most cases. They would not say that a murderer or rapist is free from guilt so long as he did not violate his own standards.

Relativists may argue that different values among different cultures show that morals are relative to different people. But this argument confuses the actions of individuals (what they do) with absolute standards (whether they should do it). If culture determines right and wrong, how could we have judged the Nazis? After all, they were only following their culture’s morality. Only if murder is universally wrong were the Nazis wrong. The fact that they had “their morality” does not change that. Further, although many people have different practices of morality, they still share a common morality. For instance, abortionists and anti-abortionists agree that murder is wrong, but they disagree on whether abortion is murder. So, even here, absolute universal morality is shown to be true.

Some claim that changing situations make for changing morality—in different situations different acts are called for that might not be right in other situations. But there are three things by which we must judge an act: the situation, the act, and the intention. For example, we can convict someone of attempted murder (intent) even if they fail (act). So situations are part of the moral decision, for they set the context for choosing the specific moral act (the application of universal principles).

The main argument relativists appeal to is that of tolerance. They claim that telling someone their morality is wrong is intolerant, and relativism tolerates all views. But this is misleading. First of all, evil should never be tolerated. Should we tolerate a rapist’s view that women are objects of gratification to be abused? Second, it is self-defeating because relativists do not tolerate intolerance or absolutism. Third, relativism cannot explain why anyone should be tolerant in the first place. The very fact that we should tolerate people (even when we disagree) is based on the absolute moral rule that we should always treat people fairly—but that is absolutism again! In fact, without universal moral principles there can be no goodness.

The fact is that all people are born with a conscience, and we all instinctively know when we have been wronged or when we have wronged others. We act as though we expect others to recognize this as well. Even as children we knew the difference between “fair” and “unfair.” It takes bad philosophy to convince us that we are wrong and that moral relativism is true.

CARM: Refuting Relativism

CARM: Refuting Relativism

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Refuting relativism

from Christian Apologetics Research Minisistry — Relativism is the philosophical position that all points of view are equally valid and that all truth is relative to the individual. But, if we look further, we see that this proposition is not logical.
In fact, it is self-refuting.

1. All truth is relative.

A. If all truth is relative, then the statement “All truth is relative” would be absolutely true. If it is absolutely true, then not all things are relative and the statement that “All truth is relative” is false.

2. There are no absolute truths.

A. The statement “There are no absolute truths” is an absolute statement which is supposed to be true. Therefore, it is an absolute truth and “There are no absolute truths” is false.
B. If there are no absolute truths, then you cannot believe anything absolutely at all, including that there are no absolute truths. Therefore, nothing could be really true for you – including relativism.

3. What is true for you is not true for me.

A. If what is true for me is that relativism is false, then is it true that relativism is false?

i. If you say no, then what is true for me is not true and relativism is false.
ii. If you say yes, then relativism is false.

B. If you say that it is true only for me that relativism is false, then

i. I am believing something other than relativism; namely, that relativism is false. If that is true, then how can relativism be true? am I believing a premise that is true or false or neither?

a. If it is true for me that relativism is false, then relativism (within me) holds the position that relativism is false. This is self-contradictory.
b. If it is false for me that relativism is false, then relativism isn’t true because what is true for me is not said to be true for me.
c. If you say it is neither true or false, then relativism isn’t true since it states that all views are equally valid; and by not being at least true, relativism is shown to be wrong.

C. If I believe that relativism is false, and if it is true only for me that it is false, then you must admit that it is absolutely true that I am believing that relativism false.

i. If you admit that it is absolutely true that I am believing relativism is false, then relativism is defeated since you admit there is something absolutely true.

D. If I am believing in something other than relativism that is true, then there is something other than relativism that is true – even if it is only for me.

i. If there is something other than relativism that is true, then relativism is false.

4. No one can know anything for sure.

A. If that is true, then we can know that we cannot know anything for sure, which is self-defeating.

5. That is your reality, not mine.

A. Is my reality really real?
B. If my reality is different than yours, how can my reality contradict your reality? If yours and mine are equally real, how can two opposite realities that exclude each other really exist at the same time?

6. We all perceive what we want.

A. How do you know that statement is true?
B. If we all perceive what we want, then what are you wanting to perceive?

i. If you say you want to perceive truth, how do you know if you are not deceived?
ii. Simply desiring truth is no proof you have it.

7. You may not use logic to refute relativism.

A. Why not?
B. Can you give me a logical reason why logic cannot be used?
C. If you use relativism to refute logic, then on what basis is relativism (that nothing is absolutely true) able to refute logic which is based upon truth.
D. If you use relativism to refute logic, then relativism has lost its relative status since it is used to absolutely refute the truth of something else.

8. We are only perceiving different aspects of the same reality.

A. If our perceptions are contradictory, can either perception be trusted?
B. Is truth self-contradictory?

i. If it were, then it wouldn’t be true because it would be self-refuting. If something is self-refuting, then it isn’t true.

C. If it is true that we are perceiving different aspects of the same reality, then am I believing something that is false since I believe that your reality is not true? How then could they be the same reality?
D. If you are saying that it is merely my perception that is not true, then relativism is refuted.

i. If I am believing something that is false, then relativism is not true since it holds that all views are equally valid.

E. If my reality is that your reality is false, then both cannot be true. If both are not true, then one of us (or both) is in error.

i. If one or both of us is in error, then relativism is not true.

9. Relativism itself is excluded from the critique that it is absolute and self-refuting.

A. On what basis do you simply exclude relativism from the critique of logic?

i. Is this an arbitrary act? If so, does it justify your position?
ii. If it is not arbitrary, what criteria did you use to exclude it?

B. To exclude itself from the start is an admission of the logical problems inherent in its system of thought.

Why is apologetics so important? Radio Broadcast KCBQ 1170 AM

Why is apologetics so important? Radio Broadcast KCBQ 1170 AM

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

I recently had the opportunity to be on the Bob Siegel radio program, KCBQ 1170 am, with Ross Chenault and Mike Friedenburg. We discussed why it’s so important that the church embrace the teaching of apologetics. You can listen here or on Bob Siegel’s pod cast.

Matt Slick from explains apologetics this way:

The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word “apologia,” pronounced “ap-ol-og-ee’-ah.” It means, “a verbal defense.” It is used eight times in the New Testament: Acts 22:1; 25:16; 1 Cor. 9:3; 2 Cor. 10:5-6; Phil. 1:7; 2 Tim. 4:16, and 1 Pet. 3:15. But it is the last verse that is most commonly associated with Christian apologetics.

“….but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15, NASB).

“Apologetics is the work of convincing people to change their views.”

Therefore, Christian apologetics is that branch of Christianity that deals with answering any and all critics who oppose or question the revelation of God in Christ and the Bible. It can include studying such subjects as biblical manuscript transmission, philosophy, biology, mathematics, evolution, and logic. But it can also consist of simply giving an answer to a question about Jesus or a Bible passage. The latter case is by far the most common and you don’t have to read a ton of books to do that.