Are claims about religion and morality objective or subjective?

Here’s an article from J. Warner Wallace, the host of the Please Convince Me podcast. He starts the article by explaining the difference between objective truth claims and subjective truth claims.

He writes:

As an example, we offer the proposition, “Jim’s car is a Hyundai”. Is this an objective claim or a subjective claim? It is clearly objective. My car is either a Hyundai or it is not, and my personal opinion will not change this fact. The truth is rooted in the nature of the object, the Hyundai automobile, and it is not dependent upon my subjective opinion. Now let’s examine another claim: “Hyundai’s are the coolest (hippest) cars”. This second claim is highly personal depending on what each of us considers “hip” or “cool”. Our opinion about this is rooted in each of us as subjects who hold varying opinions about “hipness” or “coolness”. See the difference? “1+1=2” is an objective truth statement; “Math is fun” is a subjective claim.

Then he asks the question: are claims about God’s existence and character objective truth claims or subjective truth claims? What about moral claims? You might be surprised what answers you get from Christians who have attended church all their lives.

He writes:

But it seems to get trickier for people when they begin to move away from physical realities or math facts. Consider the following claim: “God exists”. Surprisingly, many Christian groups I work with struggle to define this statement as objective. But the existence of God is either a true reality or it is not, and our personal opinion is not going to change this reality. It is something we can either acknowledge or reject, but doing so does not change the reality of God’s existence. Does that make sense? Spiritual truth claims about the existence of God are objective, they are rooted in the object under consideration: God. He either exists or He does not; my opinion won’t change that fact.

At some point toward the end of our “Truth Test,” Brett and I will begin to post moral claims such as, “Premarital sex is morally wrong.” Now things usually get interesting as the Christians in our groups struggle to decide if there are such things as objective moral claims. Some are very uncomfortable identifying this statement as an objective truth claim. It’s one thing to say that we, as Christians, might believe this statement to be true, but some Christians hesitate to say this is a truth claim that transcends those who don’t accept our Christian values. The culture has effectively eroded our confidence in objective moral truth claims. The new cultural definition of “tolerance” obliges us to embrace all truth claims as equally valid or true. This is an important re-definition, because classic “tolerance” acknowledges disagreement and allows each person to hold an opposing view without having to embrace the other view as equally true. Classic tolerance requires us to endure and respect the people who hold opposing views, even as we resist these views themselves.

If you’d like to listen to Jim talk about this essay, I noticed that it was the topic of his opening monologue in his most recent Please Convince Me podcast. I think this post is interesting, because we just had a commenter who didn’t think that statements about God and morality were objective, but that these statements were true for the person making them. That would mean that if a person said “I believe that the Earth is flat”, then that statement would be true for that person. Or, if a person said “It’s wrong to murder people just for the fun of it”, then that statement would be true for them. I think it’s pretty clear that as Christians, we defend statements about God and statements about morality as objective statements. These statements are not just true for us, they are true, period.

4 thoughts on “Are claims about religion and morality objective or subjective?”

  1. >These statements are not just true for us, they are true, period.

    Hold on. You were fine until this point. Whether God exists is an objective issue, but it doesn’t follow that ‘God exists’ is true. Consider this:

    Flying spotted pigs either exist or they don’t.

    This is an objective issue, but it remains undecided.

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  2. Cool post. I too know Christians who think the existence of God is subjective and can’t be known objectively (re: Kierkegaard). They think it’s an existential issue. This also runs into the fact value split. Classically, there wasn’t a split between facts and values, instead truth was to be discovered in facts and values. When the enlightenment, arguably Nietzsche, burst onto the scene they caused a split and Christian thinkers frighteningly went with it saying “Ok, scientists can handle the actual facts about the world and we’ll stick to religion handling the good things in life that aren’t facts like love, tolerance, and things we ourselves place value in.” The religious community followed Nietzsche and taught that values are created by us and not discovered, which means values (morality, beauty, and religion) are subjective and not objective. (What’s interesting about all of this is that Nietzsche was really into the arts and not a champion of reason)

    I can believe that Christians hold to this because it’s safe for them socially to avoid confrontation not only privately, but also in the public eye, which is why you read things like this from bishops and pastors in the mainstream magazines. I hear “street” Christians say things like, “Oh, ya just gotta follow your heart sweetie” and “whatever is best for you,” and these are their MORAL comments to people

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    1. Both the objective and subjective are important in the Christian faith. On the one hand, it holds to the teachings of the Bible as objective truth that are meant to be accepted and practiced. At the same hand, there is, too, an experiential aspect, about a personal faith in Jesus Christ and being transformed inside by the Holy Spirit.

      But I would agree with you guys that many Christians have been too subjective and not objective enough. Of course, Christians and atheists have different standards and foundations as objective truth. But the hyper-subjectivity of the modern church is a dangerous construct that seems to water down the truth.

      “I hear “street” Christians say things like, “Oh, ya just gotta follow your heart sweetie” and “whatever is best for you,” and these are their MORAL comments to people.”

      I am sorry that you heard that from so-called Christians. Let me assure you as a Bible-believing Christian that it definitely is not like the way those people described. While the Bible is not merely supposed to be a list of do’s and don’ts, it does not say we should just do whatever we want, either, or what you may think “is best for you”. Only faith in Jesus Christ leads to salvation and eternal life in the Christian faith, but that is actually all more the reason Christians are called to be holy, or set apart for God, and should still practice a strong sense of morality.

      In fact, the Bible even warns that the heart can be deceitful, and that relying merely on feelings can really make one’s understanding rather cloudy:

      “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV).

      In Christianity, the words from the Bible and one’s personal spiritual experiences are not to be considered in conflict with each other. Personal experiences are to help enhance our relationship to Christ, strengthen us in the Spirit, and apply the Scriptures to our daily lives, while the Bible itself defines what the points of objective truth and understanding are.

      “What’s interesting about all of this is that Nietzsche was really into the arts and not a champion of reason.”

      Then all more the reason I do not think he was a very reasonable philosopher (even though reason is not my governing basis of truth).

      But it also is very noteworthy that you have been able to find a common philosophy embraced by both the atheist Nietzsche and by some Christians today. That is not a very good sign, and all more the reason shows that Christians today need to improve their objectivity.

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  3. Latest comment that fits well with this piece. One of my pals on FB posted this. I seen this apathy that fits well with the Christian who snuggles up to subjectivism.

    “My most recent faith struggle is not one of intellect. I don’t really do that anymore. Sooner or later you just figure out there are some guys who don’t believe in God and they can prove He doesn’t exist, and some other guys who do believe in God and they can prove He does exist, and the argument stopped being about God a long time ago and now it’s about who is smarter, and honestly I don’t care.”

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