Encouraging People to See Relativism’s Fatal Flaw
Imagine that you woke up today and saw this news flash: “All bills in American currency declared equal.” No longer is the $100 bill more valuable than the $1 bill. Under the new system the only thing that matters is who has the most bills of any kind. Thus, a person holding a hundred $1 bills now has the same purchasing power as a person holding a hundred $100 bills. The only question would be, “How many bills do you have?” Of course this would never fly. People would revolt and demand that the value of their bills be recognized.
View summaries of all the articles in this series here.
Last week we examined several serious cracks in relativism as a philosophy. This week I want to highlight what we might consider its fatal flaw. Yes, it has many—but this one is a doozy. As we move toward identifying this defect, we’ll briefly review material we’ve covered already and provide a context for making our main point. Remember what relativism is—a philosophy that states that all perspectives have equal value, that no one idea is less or more justifiable than any other. Thus, relativism says absolute truth does not exist.
Relativism is a philosophy that states that all perspectives have equal value, that no one idea is less or more justifiable than any other. Thus, relativism says absolute truth does not exist.
What ought we to say about relativism?
First, absolutes clearly exist in the scientific world. This point isn’t hard to make and we could cite countless examples to prove it. Previously, we examined the saga of Apollo 13. Here’s one more. Refresh your memory about the disease known as “infantile paralysis,” or polio, and the medical professionals in the 50s and early 60s who conquered the disease. In particular, become better acquainted with medical pioneer Dr. Jonas Salk on this page.
Why were Dr. Salk and his team successful? They respected reality and adjusted their work to absolute truth, to the unyielding realities that were in effect. While it’s true Dr. Salk is widely known to have said, “Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality,” we must never forget that he also said, “Nothing happens quite by chance. It’s a question of accretion of information and experience.”
Nothing happens quite by chance. It’s a question of accretion of information and experience.
—Dr. Jonas Salk—
Second, absolutes exist in everyday life, and relativists appear to have no problem conforming to them. Yes, even “a relativist has to admit that some truths and falsehoods exist. He knows he’s wearing a blue shirt and not a red one. She lives in Texas, not in Vermont. Go through a traffic intersection when you approach a green light, not a red one.” Let’s add this item to the mix as well: Allison is married to Rick.
Deny or even ignore realities like these, and you’ll get into trouble—maybe not right away, depending on which truths you challenge. Keep it up, though, you’ll be “up a creek without a paddle.”
Third, the notion that all ideas—even moral ones—have equal value is inconsistent and illogical. It is self-refuting. We said this early on in part 2 when we spoke of the law of non-contradiction. We emphasize this point once more here.
William M. Briggs notes, “In 1994, professor Mark Glazer said, “Cultural relativism in anthropology is a key methodological concept which is universally accepted within the discipline” (go here for the quote). Briggs encourages his readers to notice the flaw in Glazer’s claim, then he points it out in glaring terms.
If it is true that “Cultural relativism is the view that all beliefs are equally valid” etc., and that that proposition is “universally accepted”, then we are confronted with something that is true wherever you are. If “relativism” is true, then it is false because anthropologists everywhere believe it, and if they everywhere believe it, it is a universal truth, something that is true without regard to culture.
It gets even more asinine. If “Cultural relativism is the view that all beliefs are equally valid” etc., then how valid is the view that “Cultural relativism is false”? I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks.
It’s even worse than this. Relativists use relativism to reject philosophies and ideas with which they disagree as well as to validate those with which they agree. They do these things in logically incorrect ways, but they do them nonetheless. Moreover, all the while, they essentially contradict what they say they believe by the way they live their lives. As we saw in our observations last week, apologist Greg Koukl paints this picture in vivid terms.
It is not my intention to offend—only to shed light on the truth.
Perhaps I should emphasize at this point that my purpose here is not to offend, but to help people who have been blinded by a lie discover the truth. This isn’t possible to do without taking the risk of stepping on some toes. I’ll take that risk.
Fourth, believing every idea has equal value has disastrous consequences. Hillsdale College president and professor Dr. Larry Arnn makes this point vividly in a true account he relates in a free online course on C. S. Lewis offered by the college. Dr. Arnn is discussing a Lewis’s book The Abolition of Man.
Go here to see photos depicting a partial legacy of Adolf Hitler. Be aware that the pictures are graphic. Viewer discretion is advised.
Adolf Hitler is but one example of many we could cite to demonstrate not only the poison consequences of relativism, but also the testimony of the truth that an immutable set of standards of right and wrong exists and is applicable for all.
I would like to ask my relativist friends this question: Are you really willing to live by a philosophy that exonerates Adolph Hitler? If this question bothers you, even a little bit, it shows that you really do believe in absolute truth. If it doesn’t bother you, you have a deeper problem than that of being misled by the popular idea of relativism.
Are you really willing to live by a philosophy that exonerates Adolph Hitler? If this question bothers you, even a little bit, it shows that you really do believe in absolute truth. If it doesn’t bother you, you have a deeper problem than that of being misled by the popular idea of relativism.
Relativism’s Fatal Flaw
All four these items are serious enough, but now we come to relativism’s fatal flaw, and it is two-pronged. The fifth and sixth points flow from number four. While relativists claim moral absolutes don’t exist, sound reasoning demonstrates undeniably that—fifth—they actually do. Scientific and practical absolutes simply mirror their moral counterparts. Finally—sixth—they point to God’s existence.
I have another question for my friends who claim to be relativists. Do you agree that it is wrong to kill people just for the fun of it? If you do, you really don’t believe in relativism! Relativism says that no moral absolutes exist, so if just one does, this philosophy is just as false as it would be if a set of absolute truths were real. The whole system falls like a house of cards. Here’s another important point. If one absolute principle exists, it’s quite likely others do as well, just as J. Warner Wallace indicated.
Do you agree that it is wrong to kill people just for the fun of it? If you do, you really don’t believe in relativism! Relativism says that no moral absolutes exist, so if just one does, this philosophy is just as false as it would be if a set of absolute truths were real. The whole system falls like a house of cards. Here’s another important point. If one absolute principle exists, it’s quite likely others do as well.
Sixth, even just one absolute principle points to the existence of God. Absolute truth has a Source to whom all things are not equal. Relativism is false on its face!
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. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
In claiming that moral absolutes do not exist, relativism sets itself up as the ultimate absolute, moral and otherwise. It turns out, then, that to be a relativist is to be an absolutist after all—and to be both an inconsistent and self-refuting one at that!
Moreover, when any relativist appeals to or seeks to uphold any virtue—including the favorite tenets of tolerance and justice—she betrays herself, he unmasks his warped, convoluted, and false perspective.
When any relativist appeals to or seeks to uphold any virtue—including the favorite tenets of tolerance and justice—she betrays herself, he unmasks his warped, convoluted, and false perspective.
Not only do moral absolutes exist, but they have an ultimate source. They have to! A world without meaning really has to be a world without any purpose or meaning—including any kind of awareness of or aspiration to meaning or virtue.
Chew on this for a while, and be sure to return next week. We haven’t discovered nearly all the gems in this mine yet!
Part 10 is available here.
Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.