Greg Koukl and the seven fatal flaws of relativism

There are two kinds of relativism, moral and epistemic. The first kind of relativism says that there are no objective moral rules, but only what individuals or groups decide for themselves in certain times and places – like taste in foods or fashions. The second kind says that no propositional statements about reality are objectively true.

I found this list of the seven flaws of moral relativism at the Australian site Faith Interface.

Here’s the summary:

  1. Moral relativists can’t accuse others of wrongdoing.
  2. Relativists can’t complain about the problem of evil.
  3. Relativists can’t place blame or accept praise.
  4. Relativists can’t make charges of unfairness or injustice.
  5. Relativists can’t improve their morality.
  6. Relativists can’t hold meaningful moral discussions.
  7. Relativists can’t promote the obligation of tolerance.

Here’s my favorite flaw of relativism (#6):

Relativists can’t hold meaningful moral discussions. What’s there to talk about? If morals are entirely relative and all views are equal, then no way of thinking is better than another. No moral position can be judged as adequate or deficient, unreasonable, acceptable, or even barbaric. If ethical disputes make sense only when morals are objective, then relativism can only be consistently lived out in silence. For this reason, it is rare to meet a rational and consistent relativist, as most are quick to impose their own moral rules like “It’s wrong to push your own morality on others”. This puts relativists in an untenable position – if they speak up about moral issues, they surrender their relativism; if they do not speak up, they surrender their humanity. If the notion of moral discourse makes sense intuitively, then moral relativism is false.

I sometimes get a lot of flack from atheists who complain that I don’t let them make any moral statements without asking first them to ground morality on their worldview. And that’s because on atheism morality IS NOT rationally grounded, so they can’t answer. In an accidental universe, you can only describe people’s personal preferences or social customs, that vary by time and place. It’s all arbitrary – like having discussions about what food is best or what clothing is best. The answer is always going to be “it depends”. It depends on the person who is speaking because it’s a subjective claim, not an objective claim. There is no objective way we ought to behave.

The whole point of atheism is to pursue pleasure without the bonds of morality – there is no other reason to do anything on atheism except for the pleasure it gives you. You do fashionable things to feel good getting praise from your neighbors, and you do unfashionable things in private to make yourself feel good and you hope that no one who is powerful enough to hold you accountable ever finds out. There’s no way you were made to be.

11 thoughts on “Greg Koukl and the seven fatal flaws of relativism”

  1. Funny thing is when atheist bloggers accuse me of treating them unfairly. They don’t see the incongruity in it. Their world is one in which there is “no evidence” for cake (or, at least, Cake-Maker) but they want to eat it too.


    1. Exactly. Why complain about morality when it’s all illusions on their view, anyway?

      Boo hoo, I don’t like being suppressed, but I’ll fire you if you write anything on intelligent design.
      Boo hoo, it’s not fashionable to to judge, but I’ll judge you as a big meany.

      Gimme a break.


  2. Interestingly, I have been accused of being dishonest by an atheist for using “secular” arguments for the pro-life view on my blog.


    1. Ha! You’re appealing to his moral intuitions that taking an innocent life without justification is wrong. Now, on atheism, those intuitions are ephemeral – the by-products of social and biological evolution. But that account of human origins is FALSE, so actually, even the atheist’s intuitions DO correspond to objective moral values, in some cases where his moral faculties are still working. However, his worldview cannot rationally ground moral value, moral standards, moral obligations, moral accountability, moral significance, free will, etc.

      So, you can still appeal to their moral intuitions to persuade them. But be alert to where they try to impose their view on you. It’s fine to argue for a moral point of view to persuade someone – IF MORALITY IS OBJECTIVE. But on their view it isn’t, so they can’t.


  3. Right. But he said since I don’t believe that atheists have grounding for their ethical views, I don’t believe what I am arguing (ie without referring to “religious grounding”), and so I needed a “disclaimer” saying my view is really only for Christians who can ground human value. I of course made these points that you mention about moral intuition, but it seemed he was more interested in in repeatedly using the term “dishonest” and felt I had nothing to say to the atheist. At that point, the conversation had run its course-I actually wasn’t even done with my blog series yet-and I didn’t feel obligated to go any further and waste my time on the back and forth in comments.


    1. That sort of response is typical for those whose views are not based upon facts, nor will they ever be.

      When they run their face into the wall of truth, because they’ve got eyes closed while they run and scream about how brilliant they are, then they have to start calling names.

      It’s all they have left.


    2. That sounds like a pretty frustrating conversation. :-P

      You weren’t saying that he doesn’t have any moral standards at all. You were arguing for the pro-life position from the point of shared moral standards regarding the value of human life. Where those shared moral standards come from is another debate. Besides, if he’s going to exclude all moral standards in conversation with you, on what basis does he call you “dishonest”? It’s a self-refuting statement.


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