It's intellectually fashionable to declare there are no absolutes. And many who wish to deny absolute standards of morality also use as their main argument the question, "who decides what the moral standards are?" This article addresses these issues.


The Absolutes

I propose the following as absolutes, which even relativists must agree are absolutes.

  1. The natural laws — Time, space, energy, matter, and the laws of nature.
  2. Historical facts — It's not always easy to determine what they are, particularly if they occurred a long time ago. But some we can know, for example, that on September 11, 2001 the Twin Towers in New York collapsed.
  3. Innate human attributes such as:
    • Reason
    • Love
    • Sense of justice (how dare they do that to me!)
  4. The desirability of an orderly society — Implications:
    • The need for laws
    • Necessity for norms. Sociology teaches us that based on absolute human nature, we will create norms.
    • Crime is bad and criminals should be punished (or rehabilitated). Crime is publicly declared as deviant. When crime becomes the norm, society collapses.
    • The dignity of humans.
    • Murder unchecked will lead to the collapse of society, therefore "Thou shall not kill" is an absolute.
  5. Human psychology is "designed" with built-in absolutes. Examples:
    • Child abuse causes psychological mental disorders that result in discomfort and maladapted thoughts and behavior.
    • Personality traits such as introvert and extrovert are part of our innate psychological makeup
    • Not raising children in a loving environment results in psychological disturbance. This is true even in babies from birth.
    • Tendency to become addicted to a destructive habit (alcoholism is a good example)
  6. Human Traits. Some are highly desirable, others undesirable. The good traits lead to improved peace of mind, peace among each other, cooperation, and enhanced quality of life. The bad traits destroy relationships and unity.
    • Examples of good traits: love, compassion, mercy
    • Examples of bad traits: hatred, selfishness, jealousy, greed

Problems with Relativism

A problem with relativism is that it asserts each person has the right to choose values to adopt. This is true to a degree (provided the absolutes are not violated). But followed to its logical conclusion it leads to the annihilation of human society and the human species. Examples:


A Real World Example

Person A believes the earth is flat.

Person B believes it is round.

A relativist might be tempted to say the earth is flat for person A, because that's what's true for him or her.

This is incorrect because the absolute truth (that the world is round) always takes precedence over a relative truth.

Thus we see that what relativists call relative truth is not truth at all, but merely belief.

Person A believes that the earth is flat (thinking this belief to be true) and commits his will to the proposition.

When we say "it's true for me," what we are really saying is "I believe it and live as if it's true." We should also be willing to say, "if I discover that my belief contradicts absolute truth, then I will change my belief to conform."


Religion

Most religious systems contain some elements of truth.

But there are universal absolute truths. For example:

  1. There either:

    (a) is a God, or

    (b) isn't a God.

    If (b) is true, then atheists are correct.

  2. If there is a God, his nature is either:

    (a) Personal God (ala Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), or

    (b) All is God (Pantheism, Monism), or

    (c) Can't be known by humans (Agnostic, Deism), or

    (d) Other

  3. Moral absolutes (Thou shall not). I have demonstrated in a previous section that these exist and I have listed some of them. Such things as murder, adultery, sex outside marriage, abortion,lying, etc.

Each person chooses an opinion on these issues and believes it as true. In each of these issues there is an absolute truth, but how can we know and how can we agree?

So we must allow different beliefs. But we must adhere to the absolute truths I listed in a previous section or suffer the consequences (violence in society, human suffering caused by man's inhumanity to man, psychological disorders, etc.).


The Psychology of a Relativist

Why would someone want to be a relativist in the face of such overwhelming evidence? Some possibilities:

  1. Perhaps they have rejected dogmatic religious beliefs. But relativism is not the only necessary response in such cases.
  2. Perhaps they want to justify their practice of vice. An example of this is people who want to engage in promiscuous sexual practices. But consider the hurt and mistrust when these relationships are terminated and the decrease of human dignity as these people learn that others value them merely as objects to satisfy their pleasure. The moral absolute which is free from these problems is to have one sexual partner for life in the context of marriage (even some homosexuals want to be allowed to marry).
  3. Perhaps they want freedom from God and His absolute moral laws. But as I have shown, there are moral absolutes whether or not we even consider God — moral absolutes are a reality.
  4. Perhaps it has never occurred to them there are opposing views. Perhaps they are just going along with what the culture at large teaches.

Similar articles:  Vices — a Biblical Perspective  | Ethics