Cracks in the Foundation of Relativism
If you say there is no such thing as morality in absolute terms, then child abuse is not evil, it just may not happen to be your thing.
—Rebecca Manley Pippert—
The eternal difference between right and wrong does not fluctuate, it is immutable.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.
One of my favorite images demonstrating the core problem in American culture today is the Castle Illustration from Answers in Genesis. We’ve highlighted this image previously and discussed some of its implications. We said,
Ken Ham, president, CEO, and founder of Answers in Genesis, has observed that Christians commit a strategic error in opposing evil by going after…“progressive” causes themselves rather than attacking the foundation upon which those causes rest.
Christians must learn to effectively attack the foundation of humanism, sometimes called secularism.
Note that Moral Relativism is a balloon in the above graphic. Relativism can accurately be considered a balloon or thought of as part of the foundation on which the castle rests. For our purposes here, we will consider it a part of the foundation. Moral Relativism is, and grows out of, autonomous human reasoning.
Christians need to offer well-reasoned arguments that shine the light on relativism’s inherent weaknesses. We endeavored to do this earlier in this series, but this issue is of such importance we need to revisit it. Moreover, this post covers new ground. While such presentations might be perceived as vindictive, they actually are helpful and beneficial. Truth is a friend to everyone who cooperates with it and makes the adjustments needed to live under its authority.
This is not to say that Christians never should frame arguments defending natural marriage, the preservation of innocent human life, or religious liberty, to name just three of the hot button issues raging in today’s culture. It is to say that when we consistently fail to point out the fallacies of “autonomous human reasoning,” including relativism, we aren’t really acting in love toward our secular neighbors and friends.
“But the church just needs to ‘stick to evangelism,’” someone will say. “Only the gospel can change people’s minds and hearts.” When seen against the backdrop of a clear understanding of what is really happening in our culture, these statements demonstrate that Christians need to think of evangelism in broader terms. Hitting the foundation of secularism is all about evangelism. If our friends on the other side of God’s truth believe they’re right and we’re wrong* about foundational beliefs, we won’t ever be able to convince them to join our side.
Christians need to think of evangelism in broader terms.
Greg Koukl, founder and president of the apologetics ministry Stand to Reason, knows how to shine the spotlight on secularism’s crumbling foundation. In an article titled “Seven Things You Can’t Do As a Relativist,” he emphasizes that to be consistent, relativists can make no value judgements whatsoever. This renders their philosophical foundation as unstable as an avalanche! The mantra, “Well, that may be true for you, but it isn’t true for me; everybody can make up his or her own truth” may sound benign or even magnanimous, but it actually throws all kinds of obstacles in the paths of those who claim to live by it.
The philosophical foundation of relativism is as unstable as an avalanche!
Here’s a summary of Greg Koukl’s list of seven restrictions relativists have imposed on themselves through their own beliefs. In this seven-item list, quotations come directly from Koukl.
Rules for Relativists
First, don’t ever point your finger at anyone else and accuse him or her of doing something wrong. Relativists can’t do this, because their foundational belief denies the very existence of wrong. If they accuse anyone of anything they believe shouldn’t happen—things like racism, sexism, or bigotry, let’s say—they’ve stumbled on their own worldview. Advocates of relativism can’t be consistent without dropping words like should and ought from their vocabularies.
Second, don’t protest evil or complain about its existence. Relativism won’t allow this because, again, as a foundational belief, it denies the very existence of evil and wrong. This presents a huge problem for atheists, because the existence of evil frequently is seen as evidence that God isn’t real. Were God God, the argument goes, He would be omnipotent, and He would eliminate evil. Obviously He hasn’t done this, so
- He must not be all-powerful and therefore not really God, or
- He must not be good, or
- He doesn’t exist at all.
Mark it down. Relativism itself robs its followers of the rhetorical thunder they think they have. All three of these points rest on the assumption that evil is real. If a relativist is true to what she claims to believe, she won’t call anything evil. She can’t even call the Holocaust evil, since doing so would to be to uphold a specific standard of morality.
Third, don’t ever commend anyone or anything with praise or condemn it with criticism. Why not? A relativist claims to live by a philosophy that renders every action and event neutral. Nothing can be blameworthy or praiseworthy—ever; all things are “lost in a twilight zone of moral nothingness.”
Fourth, you have to throw words like fair, unfair, just, and unjust out of your vocabulary. You have to throw out terms like guilt and innocence as well. These words represent ideas that, under relativism, simply don’t exist. Think about it. If nothing can be blameworthy (see the third item), then no one ever can be guilty of anything wrong, and no one can be held accountable for wrongdoing. A relativist never can pursue justice and fairness, because nothing ever can be fair and just, or unfair and unjust. This rule simply says proponents of relativism need to make their words and their arguments conform to the beliefs they claim to hold.
Fifth, acknowledge that your belief system makes moral improvement impossible. A relativist certainly can change his ethics, but he cannot improve his behavior or aspire to anything better in any way. His foundational belief “destroys the moral impulse that makes people rise above themselves because there is no ‘above’ to rise to.”
Sixth, don’t try to engage in debates or discussions that address morality or values. With respect, I am compelled to point out that you have nothing to say. Relativism says all ideas are equally valid, so none can be better or worse than any other. Any claim to the contrary refutes relativism altogether. Thus, when an individual claims to be a relativist, he forfeits his right to accuse anyone of shoving his or her morality down his throat.
Seventh, stop talking about tolerance, because your belief system negates it. Relativism says values don’t exist. If values don’t exist, then how can tolerance, which is upheld as a value to be practiced, be real? It can’t.
You might think the heading of this list, “Rules for Relativists,” is an oxymoron because relativists don’t believe in rules. It isn’t an oxymoron, and I’ll tell you why. Not believing in rules doesn’t render them nonexistent. These rules are applicable because of the nature of reality and the inconsistencies of relativism as a belief system.
Not believing in something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Greg Koukl has done all of us a favor—relativists included—by turning the spotlight on these cracks and exposing them.
As advocates of absolute truth, let’s follow his example and do the same. Here is a page carrying just the summary of Greg Koukl’s article.
Part 9 is available here.
*The very fact that our friends who espouse relativism would believe that they’re right and we’re wrong about foundational beliefs actually is a refutation of their belief system to begin with. Remember, they say all beliefs are equally valid. Yet they typically don’t see the inconsistency. This is why articles like this one and this series of articles are so important.
Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.
top image: an avalanche in the Himalayas near Mount Everest