Tag Archives: Morality

What Are the Flaws of Moral Relativism? – Part 4

Post Author: Darrell

Re-post from Aug. 11, 2010

Beckwith and Koukl’s sixth fatal flaw reads as follows: Relativists can’t hold meaningful moral discussions.  To the relativist, morals are formulations that exist only in the minds of human beings, and as a result, objectively true moral standards do not exist.  Consequently, there is no way to compare and contrast different moral points of view as all views are considered equal and no true transcendent standard of morality exists. However, having a coherent meaningful conversation regarding morals necessitates the ability to compare and contrast different points of view.

Some moral relativists may respond by saying, “All views are not equal.  There is a view which is better than others – my view!”  However, one is left asking, “Why is your view better?”  To what standard does the relativist appeal in order to claim that their view is better?

In the first post in this series, DagoodS claimed that the “Veil of Ignorance” standard as formulated by John Rawls demonstrates that Hitler’s actions were wrong.  But the big question left unanswered is, “Why is the Veil of Ignorance standard better than Hitler’s standard of morality?”

In reality, the moral relativist has nothing to which they can appeal to show that another moral view is wrong.  Therefore, there is no way to have a meaningful moral discussion, because there is no way to compare and contrast views in order to show that one view is better than another. DagoodS may love the “Veil of Ignorance” standard, but if someone believes it to be utter hogwash and believes that murdering millions of people is perfectly moral, e.g., Hitler, the relativist is completely powerless to meaningfully and logically counter their claim.

Seventh Flaw: Relativists can’t promote the obligation of tolerance.  Moral Relativism is built upon the virtue of tolerance.  Relativists claim that we should all be willing to tolerate the moral views of others because morals are an individual and/or community driven issue and we have no right to push our views on others. What is morally wrong for one person may be morally good for another, and we should all be open minded and willing to tolerate those with whom we disagree.

However, the worldview of the Moral Relativist makes their cry for moral tolerance incoherent. In reality, to claim that tolerance is something to which we all should adhere is to claim that it is a moral standard to which all should be held. This then makes tolerance a universal moral standard and is self-defeating given the worldview of the moral relativist. In fact, for the moral relativist to say that all should be tolerant is actually intolerant of them!

In conclusion, as each of these seven fatal flaws demonstrate, the worldview of Moral Relativism has several practical and logical problems.  It creates a world where nothing is wrong and nothing is praiseworthy. If Relativism were true, there would be no such thing as justice or fairness, no such thing as moral improvement, and nobody could be expected to be tolerant. In short, Moral Relativism would create a world in which no one would truly want to live.

What Are the Flaws of Moral Relativism? – Part 3

Post Author:  Darrell

Re-post from Aug. 6, 2010

Beckwith and Koukl’s fourth fatal flaw is as follows: Relativists can’t make charges of unfairness or injustice. As a concept, unfairness hinges upon an external standard of right.  By definition, something is considered fair or unfair when it is in line or out of line with an external standard of right.

Unfortunately, to the moral relativist no such standard exists. Instead they believe that right is relative to the individual or society in question.  As such, they are truly unable to deem anything fair or unfair.  For example, as cited in the first post, the relativist may personally believe that it was unfair for Nazi Germany to slaughter millions of Jews. However, if Germany considered their actions to be right, and if right is relative to the individual or society in question, then by Germany’s standards of right and wrong they were being fair.  Consequently, the moral relativist is unable to declare Germany’s actions unfair.

The moral relativist is equally incapable of making the charge of injustice, for the concept of justice also hinges upon the existence of an external standard of right. Justice involves punishing those who are guilty of wrongdoing. However, in order for someone to be guilty of something, they necessarily have to have violated an external standard of right. Since the moral relativist believes that right and wrong are relative to the individual or society in which one lives, they are incapable of declaring anyone guilty of anything.  Perhaps the realtivist  doesn’t like the fact that someone stole their car or the fact that a society refuses to punish a parent who abuses his children, but they are incapable of judging these actions as unjust unless there is an external standard by which to judge these actions as guilty.

Fifth Flaw:  Relativists are incapable of improving their morality. Improvement involves getting better at something when compared to an external objective standard. However, to the moral relativist no such standard of morality exists. Therefore, there is no standard of moratlity to which ones moral conduct can be compared. This renders the concept of moral improvement incoherent to the worldview of moral relativism.

Stick around!  The next post will address the final two flaws.

What Are the Flaws of Moral Relativism? – Part 2

Post Author:  Darrell

Re-post from Aug. 4, 2010

According to Beckwith and Koukl, the second fatal flaw of Moral Relativism is as follows: Relativists are incapable of complaining about the problem of evil.   The problem of evil is commonly used by atheists to argue against the existence of God. The argument is often structured as follows:

1)      An all powerful God would be capable of stopping evil.

2)      An all good God would want to stop evil.

3)      However, evil still exists.

4)      Therefore, an all powerful and all good God does not exist.

The problem for the relativist is that this entire argument rests upon the third premise: the fact that true evil exists. The worldview of the moral relativist makes the existence of true evil impossible.  The existence of true objective evil is wholly contingent upon the existence of true objective morality.  If morality is dependent upon what an individual and/or community believes, then that which is evil is also wholly dependent upon what an individual and/or community believes.  In other words, there is no true objective evil for God to stop, for evil only exists in the minds of the individuals or community!

Flaw Number Three: Relativists cannot place blame or accept praise.  To the moral relativist, there are no external standards by which actions can be measured. However, both blame and praise necessarily require an external standard.  Praising or blaming someone for something implies that their actions are either right or wrong as compared to an objective external standard of right or wrong. For example, placing blame upon an individual for stealing your car implies that stealing is an objectively immoral action. However, if the morality of theft is dependent upon what an individual believes to be appropriate, then we have no external standard by which to judge the thief’s actions. Perhaps they believe stealing is acceptable, and as such, we are in no position to place blame upon them for doing something that is morally appropriate to them. The same thing can be said for praising someone. Giving someone praise for something implies that they did well when compared to an objective external standard of right or good. The moral relativist is unable to do this because to them no such standard exists.

Stay tuned! Flaws four and five will be coming in the next post.

What Are the Flaws of Moral Relativism? – Part 1

Post Author:  Darrell

Re-post from Aug 2, 2010

Moral Relativists hold to the position that morals, i.e., that which is right versus that which is wrong, are not absolute or objective in nature.  Instead, they are dependent upon what an individual believes and/or a community deems appropriate. As a result, an action can be morally wrong for person “x” and morally right for person “y” at one and the same time and in the same sense simply due to the fact that they hold different beliefs or their community deems different things to be appropriate.  To the relativist, moral principles are not transcendent in nature, and as a result, they do not apply universally to all people at all times.

In Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air , Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl cite seven fatal flaws of Moral Relativism.  In the next few posts, I will list and explain these flaws in an effort to demonstrate the challenges inherent in the philosophy of Moral Relativism.

Flaw Number One: Moral Relativists are logically incapable of accusing others of doing wrong. Many moral relativists take the position that morals are a matter of personal definition, i.e., something is only wrong if it is deemed to be so by that particular individual.  This places relativists in quite an untenable position, for then an individual who believes murder to be morally acceptable would be morally appropriate in murdering.  The moral relativist may personally believe that murder is wrong, but this is of no effect when defining what is morally wrong for the murderer.  The murderer’s actions are only wrong if the murderer himself believes them to be wrong.

Some moral relativists believe that morals are not defined by an individual, but are instead defined by one’s community.  However, this position is equally untenable, for if morals are defined by ones community, Hitler and Germany were acting in a morally appropriate manner when they slaughtered millions of Jews.  After all, their community deemed these actions morally acceptable.  In fact, one might even say that the Allied forces were morally wrong in forcing Germany to stop, for they were forcing their community’s moral beliefs upon Germany.

Obviously, next to no one is willing to say that murder is acceptable or that the holocaust was morally appropriate, yet both of these positions are a logical consequence of moral relativism.  Consequently, moral relativists are in the position of affirming the moral acceptability of these horrific actions or are forced to maintain the belief that at least some actions (murder and genocide) are morally wrong despite what an individual or community believes.

In the next post we will look at a few more flaws inherent in Moral Relativism.  Stick around.

Are All Religions the Same?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I have previously written a post on why all religions cannot be true, but I wanted to revisit this topic and add another perspective.

Religions are commonly composed of three parts: code, cult, and creed.

Code is the moral code that a religion teaches.  For Christianity, it would include “love your neighbor” and “do not murder” and other such moral commands.

Cult includes the rituals, ceremonies, and observances of a religion.  Singing hymns, baptizing, celebrating the Lord’s Supper – these would all be examples of the cult of Christianity.

Creed involves the doctrines or teachings of a religion.  Christians believe that Jesus is God, that he died for our sins, that God is a Trinity.  These are all examples of the creed of Christianity.

Now, when a person says that all religions are the same, they are almost always talking about code.  It is true that the basic moral commands of most religions are the same, or at least very similar.  Everyone agrees that love of our fellow man is good, that we shouldn’t kill the innocent, that we should help each other.  There is little disagreement on the basic moral commands, although there may be disagreement on how those moral principles are practically applied in each society.

But code is only one part of what constitutes a religion.  The cult and creed of different religions may radically differ.  We cannot sweep these differences under the rug, as they are crucial to the understanding of any religion.

As a Christian, would you be willing to stop baptizing so that other religions that don’t baptize could have more in common with you?  What about the Lord’s Supper?  Is this just an empty ritual with no meaning that we might give up for the sake of religious unity?

How about our beliefs about God?  Does it matter that Jesus is the Son of God?  Does it matter that God even exists?  What about the afterlife?  Christianity teaches that we will all be given resurrected bodies.  Should we set aside this belief for the sake of religious unity?

Most of the readers of this blog would never agree to these kinds of concessions.  But why?  If religion is really just about moral codes, then we should be able to cast aside creed and cult and not lose very much.  Obviously that is not the case.  Creed and cult are fundamental to Christianity and to most other religions, and that is why we cannot say that all religions are the same.

Why Ought I Act Morally? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the previous post, I explained atheist Dan Barker’s argument in a debate he had with Christian Matt Slick.  If you don’t remember what I said, please go back and quickly remind yourself, as this post won’t make sense otherwise.  Below I pick up where I left off.

What I don’t understand is how Barker jumped from telling us that morality consists of natural inclinations produced by a blind, purposeless, process of evolution (that is solely interested in how we reproduce) to a moral duty of doing less harm.  Barker has committed the classic faux pas of moving from an is to an ought.  He tells us what morality is – a natural inclination toward behaviors that promote human survival – and from there tells us that we ought to do whatever causes less harm.  But where does this duty come from?

If I am a person who is naturally inclined to lie about what atheists say in debates, why should I attempt to fight this inclination?  After all, maybe evolution needs some liars in the gene pool.  I am just playing my role in the survival of the species.  If Barker were to say to me, “Lying about what atheists say causes harm, so you shouldn’t do it,” I would say, “What duty do I have to follow Barker’s personal opinion about morality?”  What authority does he have to legislate my behavior?  If he answers that he is summarizing what Nature already is telling me, then I would want to know what duty I have to follow the commands of a mindless, purposeless, blind process?

Please notice that I have not even questioned Barker’s maxim of do less harm.  I am just assuming for this argument that he has correctly summarized our natural inclinations.  His maxim actually represents a utilitarian calculus which presents several major problems that philosophers have called attention to, but his idea of doing less harm can’t even get off the ground until he has provided a rational reason to accept it.  Many atheists seem to completely miss this point.  Atheists are able to rattle off dozens of moral theories which claim to summarize our natural moral inclinations.  But the question is why should anyone follow their theories?  What rational reason is there to let their moral theories dictate moral commands to anyone?

Dan Barker is a self-appointed ambassador for the periodic chart of elements (Nature).  The elements have spoken and Dan is translating for us.  But it’s even more bizarre than that.  Not only do non-intelligent and non-personal atoms have no authority to legislate, but they legislate contradictory things.  After all, the same Nature that produced Mother Theresa produced Hitler.  They both followed their natural inclinations, so how can I ever say which one was right and which was wrong?  Nature may need both of them for the species to survive so that it would actually be immoral to stop Hitler from doing what he was naturally inclined to do.

Barker’s world ultimately has no legitimate source for moral authority.  He could never tell us who is giving moral commands that has the legitimate authority to do so.  Based on his moral philosophy, I do not know why I should rationally be moral.

Why Ought I Act Morally? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt

This week I’ve been listening to a debate between Matt Slick (Christian) and Dan Barker (atheist) on whether humans can be good without God.  Barker’s argument during the debate struck me as illogical, and here’s why.

Barker explained that moral values are merely natural inclinations that are built into human beings due to the long process of evolution.  These inclinations vary from person to person across a statistical distribution.  Some people feel a strong inclination to help the poor and some don’t.  Some people are strongly opposed to rape and some are not.

For every natural, moral inclination there is a statistical bell curve across humanity.  Evolution has bequeathed moral inclinations to humans, but to varying degrees.  At one point, Barker even said that it may be evolutionarily necessary for this bell curve to exist.  To give an example, it may be that if everyone was strongly opposed to murdering the innocent, this may not best advance the survival of the human race.  We can’t have everyone acting like Mother Theresa or else our species might die out.  The converse is also true: a world full of Hitler’s would also kill off the human race.

I agree with Barker that some people have stronger moral inclinations than others and that some of this variation may be genetic.  What I don’t understand is the next move he made in the debate.

He then offered his definition of behaving morally: do less harm.  For Barker, this phrase neatly encapsulates the diverse natural instincts that evolution has given us.  In essence, Barker is saying, “Nature has caused us to have these inclinations and if I had to come up with a phrase to describe what these inclinations are telling us to do, it is ‘do less harm.'”  Barker is acting as Nature’s ambassador and explaining to us in a command what she actually wants from us.  From then on, Barker repeatedly stated that humans ought to do less harm, with the situation determining how that plays out.

In the next post, I will explain why Dan Barker’s approach does not work.  See you then.

Why Are We So Confused about Morality?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

My good friend, Wes, sent me a video link (see below) because he knew it would drive me crazy!  (maybe he’s not my friend, after all)  The video features a guy named Lamar talking about illegal activities that people give a pass to.  The speaker mentions several activities that he thinks are wrong, and he even explains why they are wrong, but then he inexplicably trots out the tired postmodern cliche of, “These things are wrong for me, but maybe not for you” and one of my other personal favorites, “I don’t judge other people.”  He says that his position is one of neutrality.

Here we have a textbook example of moral relativism.  There are no absolute moral duties, because, according to Lamar, we were all raised with different moral compasses and we must remain neutral and not judge each other’s moral compasses.  You have your compass and I have mine.   This all sounds so fair and tolerant and high-minded, doesn’t it?

The problem is that Lamar doesn’t believe a word of what he is saying.  He really does believe that stealing is wrong.  The moment you stole something from him, I guarantee he would judge you, and harshly!  And what about moral laws against things like murder and rape?  Would Lamar hesitate to call those things wrong for everyone?  Would he say that he remains neutral about murder and rape?  I think not.

What irritates me so much about this kind of thing is that folks like Lamar are trying to portray themselves as heroes of tolerance and non-judgmentalism when they really are not (almost nobody really is).   I’m guessing  that if we could just ask Lamar’s family and friends whether he never judges anybody else’s morality, we would find out he’s just like the rest of us – judging every day.

And don’t we want there to be some judging?  Do we really want people to remain neutral about stealing?  How would you like it if your neighbor saw someone breaking into your house and taking your new LCD TV, but instead of calling the police, he just thought to himself, “I’m going to remain neutral.  Maybe the thief just has a different moral compass than me.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that my neighbors aren’t neutral.  In fact, I think most of them own guns…

What Is the Christian Worldview? Part 2

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In part 1 I introduced eight questions that every worldview should answer.  These eight questions are as follows:

  1. What is ultimate reality?
  2. Where did the world around us come from and what is its nature?
  3. What are human beings and where did they come from?
  4. Why do humans suffer?
  5. Is there a way for humans to be saved from suffering?
  6. How do I know right from wrong?
  7. What is the meaning or purpose of my life?
  8. What happens to me when I die?

Christianity offers profound and, what’s even more important, true answers to these questions.  The first four answers were provided in part 1, so now we will look at the answers to the final four questions.

Question 5: Is there a way for humans to be saved from suffering?

Christians believe that the only way humans can be ultimately saved from suffering is to be reconciled with God.  This reconciliation was made possible by the death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  Once a person trusts Christ for their salvation, suffering in this life becomes bearable and pregnant with meaning, for the Son of God is with us in our suffering and promises to bring good out of it.

Question 6: How do I know right from wrong?

Christians believe that there exists an objective moral law that is based on the nature of God.  God reveals his perfect moral nature both through moral commands which he has communicated in the Bible, and through a common moral conscience which God has given all humans.

Question 7: What is the meaning or purpose of my life?

Christians believe that the purpose of life is to do the will of God and to enjoy God forever.  One of the beauties of Christianity is that God has given us great leeway to pursue myriad interests and passions in this life, as long as we always keep Him front and center in our lives.

Question 8: What happens to me when I die?

Christians believe that there is an afterlife for every human.  The afterlife can be spent either in the presence of God forever or separated from God forever.  God respects human freedom such that He does not force anyone to spend an eternity with Him.  Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection provides the only means for any human to spend eternity with God.  Those who reject Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity will forever be separated from God.  Those who trust in Jesus’ sacrifice will spend a blissful eternity with the ultimate source of all that is good and the only being who can fulfill all human desires, God.

The Christian answers to these eight questions are unique among all the world’s religions and philosophies.  It is important to note that we don’t hold the Christian worldview because it works, or because it feels good, or because it’s emotionally satisfying, but because we think it is true.  We think that the Christian worldview most accurately describes reality the way it really is.

Are Humans Born with a Common Moral Nature?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The Bible teaches that we are (see Rom. 2).  Virtually every adult human being seems to have the same basic sense of right and wrong.  We all agree that cowardice is wrong, that love is good, that killing the innocent is wrong.  You will be hard pressed to find a culture that disagrees with these moral values.

Many psychologists, however, have claimed that human babies are born as moral blank slates and that their culture gives them all of their moral direction.  Since cultures vary in significant ways, they argue, so do moral values vary greatly from culture to culture.  Recent research is challenging the standard view of psychology, however.

According to the Daily Mail, recent research done on 6-month olds seems to show that they already have a rudimentary sense of right and wrong.

At the age of six months babies can barely sit up – let along take their first tottering steps, crawl or talk.  But, according to psychologists, they have already developed a sense of moral code – and can tell the difference between good and evil.  An astonishing series of experiments is challenging the views of many psychologists and social scientists that human beings are born as ‘blank slates’ – and that our morality is shaped by our parents and experiences.  Instead, they suggest that the difference between good and bad may be hardwired into the brain at birth.

The article describes a few of the experiments that were run to help the researchers determine that morality may be hardwired into the brain.

As with all new research, caution is warranted.  Whether babies are born with moral values will continue to be hotly debated, but the creative work done by this research team will spur on more work.

Why is this topic important?  As Christians, we believe that God is a moral being, and that he implanted his moral nature within humankind.  This moral nature was corrupted at the Fall, but it still resides within us in a perverted state.

The existence of the same basic moral values within all humans points toward the objective reality of moral laws.  Moral laws point back to a Moral Law-giver, and we believe the Moral Law-giver is God.

If it were true that human beings differed in their basic moral values, that some cultures celebrated rape, that other cultures rewarded cowardice, that still others frowned upon love, we would be hard-pressed to demonstrate a common moral law exists.  In that scenario, it would seem that morality is subjective and random, which would seem to count against the existence of a Moral Law-giver.

What do you think?  Does mankind seem to share basic moral values or do you think basic moral values differ radically from person to person and culture to culture?