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Answering a moral relativist

Published: 8 July 2017 (GMT+10)

Self-confessed apostate, Jordan A. from the U.S., wrote in to criticize CMI’s claim that God is necessary for morality.

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Christians (and Creationists more than any) have a very long way to go in fixing your world view. If you weren't already absolutely convinced that your arguments are correct you might be able to see the circular nature of your arguments and the unbelievably far reaching assumptions undergirding them. Morality is not necessarily a product of the existence of god. There are communal instincts in most animals, mammals especially (which we are), which can be considered the lowest hanging fruit as to the origin of morality (evolutionarily speaking). If creationists weren't so ready to ignore easily verifiable facts in exchange for the bible (which by the way is subjective and culturally situated) their worldview would be immediately destroyed. Morality itself is subjective and culturally/historically situated and can be seen changing dramatically over time and in between generations. I was once a Christian myself and all it took was a few history classes and some idea of what other religious systems look like to understand that none of them are right. If any religion was truly RIGHT there would only be one religion. If Christianity was truly RIGHT then there would only be one Christianity, instead of thousands all insisting that their version is the correct interpretation. The key word here being INTERPRETATION. Humanity, this world, and this universe are far more complex and varied than your narrow vision would have you think. Christianity is first and foremost a culture, a power/political structure to gain control over people, and a business. I sincerely hope that some of you may open your eyes and come out from the rock that has been blocking your view. I used to say that people who don't believe in god just don't understand or aren't open minded. only the opposite is tru

CMI’s Keaton Halley responds:

Hi Jordan,

Thanks for submitting a comment in response to: Can atheism possibly explain morality and reason?

Your submission makes so many assertions that I thought it would be useful to respond and publish as a separate article. Please see my comments interspersed.

Christians (and Creationists more than any) have a very long way to go in fixing your world view. If you weren't already absolutely convinced that your arguments are correct you might be able to see the circular nature of your arguments and the unbelievably far reaching assumptions undergirding them.

You didn’t tell us what these mistaken assumptions are, and you didn’t provide any evidence for these claims, so why should we accept them? See our answer to the circular reasoning charge.

Morality is not necessarily a product of the existence of god.

Then why didn’t you refute my arguments and explain how morality can be grounded without God? Instead, you deny that morality is objectively real when you call it “subjective and culturally/historically situated" below. So, it seems that you actually agree with me that, apart from God, morality reduces to mere preferences, even though you cloud the issue by equivocating on the term ‘morality’.

There are communal instincts in most animals, mammals especially (which we are), which can be considered the lowest hanging fruit as to the origin of morality (evolutionarily speaking).

What you mean is that instincts help to explain our behaving as if there were such a thing as morality—they would not produce actual morality (which doesn't exist on your view). Indeed, as my article pointed out, without objective morality we have no obligation to obey any of these instincts. And, we have competing instincts, like the impulse to be selfish and steal, but also the impulse to avoid society’s disapproval. So the standard by which we call one instinct ‘good’ and another ‘bad’ cannot come from the instincts themselves.

If creationists weren't so ready to ignore easily verifiable facts

Verifiable facts like the compelling evidence for a global Flood? Like the obvious presence of ingenious design in living things? Like soft tissue in dinosaur bones that defies evolutionary timescales? Like the human population growth rates that support the biblical timescale?

No, I suppose you meant verifiable facts that support evolution, like the alleged uselessness of the appendix, gill slits in human embryos, and a genome composed of 95% junk DNA, right? Oh, wait, those aren’t facts at all, just discredited evolutionary propaganda.

in exchange for the bible (which by the way is subjective and culturally situated) their worldview would be immediately destroyed.

Nobody denies that the books of the Bible were written in particular historical and cultural contexts, and a proper reading of Scripture takes this into account. But when you say the Bible is “subjective”, do you mean it’s true for some but not for others? Because that is plainly wrong. The Bible makes many historical claims which are objectively either true or false. Either Jesus fed 5,000 or he didn’t. Either Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt or he didn’t. It’s nonsense to say that the Exodus is true for me, but not for you.

Morality itself is subjective and culturally/historically situated and can be seen changing dramatically over time and in between generations.

Just because cultures change in their beliefs about morality over time does not prove that there are no moral facts. Rather, those cultures can be evaluated by an objective standard.

Societies in different times and places have varying views about physical facts as well (like whether the earth is the center of the solar system), but does this prove there is no objective truth of the matter?

Also, have you really thought through all the consequences of your view that there are no objective moral facts? If morality is subjective, then:

1. There are no immoral societies or behaviors. If each society or individual determines their own standard, then the Nazis were correct to argue in the Nuremberg trials that they did nothing truly wrong. So-called ‘justice’ here was merely the victors exerting power over the vanquished. Likewise, moral relativism means I could torture children just for kicks if I decided it was right for me and didn’t care about how society might react.

2. Moral judgments are reduced to personal preferences. If morality is subjective, every time we judge another person’s actions as immoral, we are doing nothing more than emoting—saying “I don’t like that.” But then my preference is not binding on anyone with a different preference. Telling someone else that they are wrong to murder, rape, steal from, abuse, or ridicule another person would be equivalent to telling them they are evil for preferring chocolate ice cream when I prefer vanilla.

3. Moral reformers are not heroic. Without a standard external to human beings, those who challenge the culture’s moral views cannot be doing something noble. On relativism, it doesn’t make sense to praise William Wilberforce for his opposition to the British slave trade or Dr Martin Luther King Jr. for championing the civil rights of African Americans, because even though they were doing right in their own eyes, from the vantage point of their contemporaries they were evil—and there is no truth of the matter, just different preferences.

4. Moral progress is impossible. Moral relativism makes moral improvement impossible, because improvement presupposes an objective standard. If society just makes it up as it goes, then we can’t better ourselves. On relativism, overcoming racism isn't ‘good’—it is an arbitrary and amoral change.

So, do you really live consistently with your professed belief in relativism? I hope not, because it’s scary to think how someone might behave when they are accountable to no law but their own.

I was once a Christian myself and all it took was a few history classes and some idea of what other religious systems look like to understand that none of them are right.

Is that all it took? That suggests to me that you didn’t have very deep roots in Christianity to begin with.

But how much have you wrestled with the massive problems that confront your moral relativism? It seems to me that the views you hold now deserve a little more critical scrutiny.

If any religion was truly RIGHT there would only be one religion. If Christianity was truly RIGHT then there would only be one Christianity, instead of thousands all insisting that their version is the correct interpretation.

Why think this? This would only be true if people never believe religious falsehoods, but obviously many do.

Again, there’s a parallel with beliefs about the physical realm. Sadly, in our ministry we have had to deal with people who claim the shape of the earth is flat, not spherical. Does it follow from the mere presence of disagreement that we’re both wrong?

The key word here being INTERPRETATION.

Are you suggesting that interpretation is subjective as well, so that any understanding of the text is just as good as another? In other words, if somebody reads Genesis 1 as a step-by-step guide to quilt-making, is this interpretation just as legitimate as the reading that maintains Genesis 1 is about God’s six-day creation of the world?

That would be silly. There are objective, proper ways to determine the meaning of texts, so we don’t have to flip a coin to figure out which interpretations are right and which are wrong.

Humanity, this world, and this universe are far more complex and varied than your narrow vision would have you think.

How is our view any more narrow than yours? You’re claiming to have the truth and you’re scolding us for being wrong. Are you not equally narrow when you say that all religions are false?

Christianity is first and foremost a culture, a power/political structure to gain control over people, and a business.

Actually, it’s quite remarkable that, when the Gospel is embraced by societies around the world, it brings freedom and prosperity without eradicating the noble aspects of the cultures it touches. See What good is Christianity? and Atheists credit the Gospel.

If Christianity is all about power and control, though, then why are Christians so afflicted by persecution worldwide? According to the International Society for Human Rights, 80% of religious freedom violations today are committed against professing Christians. Also, why do Christians so often sacrifice their time and money for the sake of others? See Helping the needy—with Creation? We’re not perfect, but it’s a complete mischaracterization to say that genuine followers of Jesus care primarily about gaining control over other people. We are about loving God and loving others, because God first exhibited love toward us through the cross (1 John 4:10–11, 19).

I sincerely hope that some of you may open your eyes and come out from the rock that has been blocking your view. I used to say that people who don't believe in god just don't understand or aren't open minded. only the opposite is tru

Well, you’ve tossed out some pretty harsh denunciations of Christianity, but I hope you are still open minded enough to check out some of the evidence that supports it, and to further investigate the evidence that contradicts your current views. You could start with some of the links above or browse our website by topic.

I’m glad you’ve taken the time to interact with us, Jordan. But I fear that you have rejected Christianity for less-than-intellectually-credible reasons. For your sake, I sincerely hope you come to know and embrace the truth that sets you free (John 8:31–32).

Best wishes,

Keaton Halley
Speaker / Information Officer for CMI–US

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