Moral relativism is the view that moral values and moral duties do not exist in reality, but only exist as opinions in people’s minds. When you ask a moral relativist where the belief that stealing is wrong comes from, he may tell you that it is his opinion, or that it is the opinion of most people in his society. But he cannot tell you that stealing is wrong independent of what people think, because morality (on moral relativism) is just personal preference.
So what’s wrong with it?
I found this list of the seven flaws of moral relativism at the Salvo magazine web site.
Here’s the summary:
Moral relativists can’t accuse others of wrongdoing.
Relativists can’t complain about the problem of evil.
Relativists can’t place blame or accept praise.
Relativists can’t make charges of unfairness or injustice.
Relativists can’t improve their morality.
Relativists can’t hold meaningful moral discussions.
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 them first 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.
So, practically speaking, everyone has to decide whether right and wrong are real – objectively real. If they are objectively real, that means that there is a right way for human beings to behave, and a wrong way for human beings to behave. It means that things that are really objectively wrong like rape are wrong for all times and all places, regardless of what individuals and societies might think of it. In order to rationally ground that kind of morality, you have to have a foundation for it – a cosmic Designer who decides for all times and places what the conduct of his creatures ought to be. And then our moral duties are duties that are owed to this Designer. It is like playing football or playing a boardgame – the person who invents the game decides the rules. But if there is no designer of the game, then there are no rules.
Without a designer of the universe, the question of how we ought to act is decided by people in different times and different places. It’s arbitrary and variable, and therefore it doesn’t do the job of prescribing behavior authoritatively. It’s very important not to get involved in any serious endeavor with another person or persons if they don’t have a sense of right and wrong being absolute and fixed. A belief in objective moral values is a necessary pre-requisite for integrity.
Famous analytical philosopher John Searle has written a book “Mind, Language And Society: Philosophy In The Real World”, explaining what’s factually wrong with postmodernism. In the introduction, he explains what postmodernism is, and what motivates people to accept postmodernism.
[…][W]hen we act or think or talk in the following sorts of ways we take a lot for granted: when we hammer a nail, or order a takeout meal from a restaurant, or conduct a lab experiment, or wonder where to go on vacation, we take the following for granted: there exists a real world that is totally independent of human beings and of what they think or say about it, and statements about objects and states of affairs in that world are true or false depending on whether things in the world really are the way we say they are. So, for example, if in pondering my vacation plans I wonder whether Greece is hotter in the summer than Italy, I simply take it for granted that there exists a real world containing places like Greece and Italy and that they have various temperatures. Furthermore, if I read in a travel book that the average summer temperature in Greece is hotter than in Italy, I know that what the book says will be true if and only if it really is hotter on average in the summer in Greece than in Italy. This is because I take it for granted that such statements are true only if there is something independent of the statement in virtue of which, or because of which, it is true.
[…]These two Background presuppositions have long histories and various famous names. The first, that there is a real world existing independently of us, I like to call “external realism.” “Realism,” because it asserts the existence of the real world, and “external” to distinguish it from other sorts of realism-for example, realism about mathematical objects (mathematical realism) or realism about ethical facts (ethical realism). The second view, that a statement is true if things in the world are the way the statement says they are, and false otherwise, is called “the correspondence theory of truth.” This theory comes in a lot of different versions, but the basic idea is that statements are true if they correspond to, or describe, or fit, how things really are in the world, and false if they do not.
The “correspondence theory of truth” is the view of truth assumed in books of the Bible whose genre is such that that they were intended by the authors to be taken literally, (with allowances for symbolism, figures of speech, metaphors, hyperbole, etc.).
But what about the postmodernists, who seek to deny the objectivity of external reality?
Thinkers who wish to deny the correspondence theory of truth or the referential theory of thought and language typically find it embarrassing to have to concede external realism. Often they would rather not talk about it at all, or they have some more or less subtle reason for rejecting it. In fact, very few thinkers come right out and say that there is no such thing as a real world existing absolutely, objectively, and totally independently of us. Some do. Some come right out and say that the so-called real world is a “social construct.”
What is behind the denial of objective reality, and statements about external reality that are warranted by evidence?
It is not easy to get a fix on what drives contemporary antirealism, but if we had to pick out a thread that runs through the wide variety of arguments, it would be what is sometimes called “perspectivism.” Perspectivism is the idea that our knowledge of reality is never “unmediated,” that it is always mediated by a point of view, by a particular set of predilections, or, worse yet by sinister political motives, such as an allegiance to a political group or ideology. And because we can never have unmediated knowledge of the world, then perhaps there is no real world, or perhaps it is useless to even talk about it, or perhaps it is not even interesting.
Searle is going to refute anti-realism in the rest of the book, but here is his guess at what is motivating the anti-realists:
I have to confess, however, that I think there is a much deeper reason for the persistent appeal of all forms of antirealism, and this has become obvious in the twentieth century: it satisfies a basic urge to power. It just seems too disgusting, somehow, that we should have to be at the mercy of the “real world.” It seems too awful that our representations should have to be answerable to anything but us. This is why people who hold contemporary versions of antirealism and reject the correspondence theory of truth typically sneer at the opposing view.
[…]I don’t think it is the argument that is actually driving the impulse to deny realism. I think that as a matter of contemporary cultural and intellectual history, the attacks on realism are not driven by arguments, because the arguments are more or less obviously feeble, for reasons I will explain in detail in a moment. Rather, as I suggested earlier, the motivation for denying realism is a kind of will to power, and it manifests itself in a number of ways. In universities, most notably in various humanities disciplines, it is assumed that, if there is no real world, then science is on the same footing as the humanities. They both deal with social constructs, not with independent realities. From this assumption, forms of postmodernism, deconstruction, and so on, are easily developed, having been completely turned loose from the tiresome moorings and constraints of having to confront the real world. If the real world is just an invention-a social construct designed to oppress the marginalized elements of society-then let’s get rid of the real world and construct the world we want. That, I think, is the real driving psychological force behind antirealism at the end of the twentieth century.
Now, I’ll go one step further than Searle.
People, from the Fall, have had the desire to step into the place of God. It’s true that we creatures exist in a universe created and designed by God. But, there is a way to work around the fact that God made the universe and the laws that the universe runs on, including logic, mathematics and natural laws. And that way is to deny logic, mathematics and natural laws. Postmodernists simply deny that there is any way to construct rational arguments and support the premises with evidence from the real world. That way, they imagine, they are free to escape a God-designed world, including a God-designed specification for how they ought to live. The postmoderns deny the reliable methods of knowing about the God-created reality because logic and evidence can be used to point to God’s existence, God’s character, and God’s actions in history.
And that’s why there is this effort to make reality “optional” and perspectival. Everyone can be their own God, and escape any accountability to the real God – the God who is easily discovered through the use of logic and evidence. I believe that this is also behind the rise of atheists, who feign allegiance to logic and science, but then express “skepticism” about the origin of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, objective morality, the minimal facts concerning the historical Jesus, and other undeniables.
The author, Tad Hopp is graduating a PCUSA seminary – an extremely liberal, left-wing denomination.
I graduated college in 2007.
[…] I majored in English, not exactly what most people consider a ‘marketable’ or ‘practical’ degree…
[…]I went to a somewhat expensive private school…
[…]I did what many students in their last year of high school do: I went to the school where I felt I was being called…
[…]I do not regret my four years at my undergraduate institution one bit.
[….]When I graduated college, I owed nearly $50,000 in student loan debt and was unemployed for almost six months before I finally found a low-paying office job.
[…]“Can’t find a job? Well, you should have majored in something more ‘practical’, like economics or business or medicine.” Yeah, that would be great…if those were the subjects where my skills and passions lie. They’re not.
[…]I felt called to go to seminary.
[…]I will graduate seminary with close to six figures worth of student loan debt.
Let’s take stock of what he’s said so far:
he studied English, a language that he already spoke, which has one of the lowest employment rates
he was warned by people who knew something about earning and saving money not to study English
he went to a school he couldn’t afford to go to, and he graduated with $50,000 in debt
he went to seminary, another subject that doesn’t pay, and added another $50,000 or so of debt
he says that he doesn’t have to study subjects that lead to a career because he isn’t “passionate” about them
he “followed his heart” by going to the school that he had mystical, emotional, intuitions about = “calling”
My advice to Tad at this point would be for him to take the Bible seriously when it says this:
2 Thessalonians 3:10:
10 For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.
And 1 Timothy 5:8:
8 But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
The Bible is giving us the goal of working. So what should we do to be able to reach that goal? Why should anyone hire us? What is working really about? It’s those kinds of questions that should guide what we study in school, and what jobs we pursue.
We know what careers have the highest starting salaries and mid-career salaries:
Why do some people get paid more than others? The answer is supply and demand. Prices are a way of determining what is most valued by your fellow man. Business owners pay more to people who offer their customers more value. If you really want to serve your neighbor, you have to learn something they really want, but can’t easily obtain. And then you will be paid more. You can’t do what makes you happy. You have to do what makes customers happy. That’s how the free market works – you make money when you provide something of value to others. You make money when you serve others. This is something that is very hard for self-centered, feelings-driven young progressives to grasp. But it’s something older Americans all know.
Is the PCUSA doing anything to address this crisis?
[…]What has our government done to address this issue?
[…]I, like so many in my generation, voted for Obama…
[…]It seems to me that we’ve bought into the lie that student loan debt is brought on by the individual person…
[…]You know what I think might stimulate the economy? Automatically cancelling every single outstanding student loan!
He insists that the results of his own choices aren’t his fault. But didn’t he make the choices about what to study? Didn’t he make the choice to follow his heart? Didn’t he disregard the advice of people who urged him to be practical? Who is to blame, if not he, himself?
Tad needs to push away all his friends who told him to “follow his heart” and stick close by his friends who told him to focus on providing value to others. Don’t look for advice from dreamers, look for advice from doers. Dreamers talk. But doers have demonstrated the ability to create plans that work to achieve results.
By the way, some of you might be wondering how serious this person was about his Christianity. Well, in another post, he comes out as gay. So clearly the Bible is being interpreted in a way where feelings are overturning the plain meanings of words. People who read the Bible closely never come away with the message that they should follow their hearts.
This post presents evidence against Mormonism/LDS in three main areas. The first is in the area of science. The second is in the area of philosophy. And the third is in the area of history.
The scientific evidence
First, let’s take a look at what the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, believes about the origin of the universe:
“The elements are eternal. That which had a beggining will surely have an end; take a ring, it is without beggining or end – cut it for a beggining place and at the same time you have an ending place.” (“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 205)
“Now, the word create came from the word baurau which does not mean to create out of nothing; it means to organize; the same as a man would organize materials and build a ship. Hence, we infer that God had materials to organize the world out of chaos – chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all the glory. Element had an existance from the time he had. The pure principles of element are principles which can never be destroyed; they may be organized and re-organized, but not destroyed. They had no beggining, and can have no end.”
(“Scriptural Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith”, p. 395)
A Mormon scholar named Blake Ostler summarizes the Mormon view in a Mormon theological journal:
“In contrast to the self-sufficient and solitary absolute who creates ex nihilo (out of nothing), the Mormon God did not bring into being the ultimate constituents of the cosmos — neither its fundamental matter nor the space/time matrix which defines it. Hence, unlike the Necessary Being of classical theology who alone could not not exist and on which all else is contingent for existence, the personal God of Mormonism confronts uncreated realities which exist of metaphysical necessity. Such realities include inherently self-directing selves (intelligences), primordial elements (mass/energy), the natural laws which structure reality, and moral principles grounded in the intrinsic value of selves and the requirements for growth and happiness.” (Blake Ostler, “The Mormon Concept of God,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 17 (Summer 1984):65-93)
So, Mormons believe in an eternally existing universe, such that matter was never created out of nothing, and will never be destroyed. But this is at odds with modern cosmology.
The standard Big Bang model thus describes a universe which is not eternal in the past, but which came into being a finite time ago. Moreover,–and this deserves underscoring–the origin it posits is an absolute origin ex nihilo. For not only all matter and energy, but space and time themselves come into being at the initial cosmological singularity. As Barrow and Tipler emphasize, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo.”
[…]On such a model the universe originates ex nihilo in the sense that at the initial singularity it is true that There is no earlier space-time point or it is false that Something existed prior to the singularity.
Christian cosmology requires such a creation out of nothing, but this is clearly incompatible with what Mormons believe about the universe. The claims about the universe made by the two religions are in disagreement, and we can test empirically to see who is right, using science.
Always Have a Reason contrasts two concepts of God in Mormonism: Monarchotheism and Polytheism. It turns out that although Mormonism is actually a polytheistic religion, like Hinduism. In Mormonism, humans can become God and then be God of their own planet. So there are many Gods in Mormonism, not just one.
[T]he notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).
[…]The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities…
The idea of counting up to an actual infinite number of things by addition (it doesn’t matter what kind of thing it is) is problematic. See here.
Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity.
[…]Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe.
Now let’s see the historical evidence against Mormonism.
The historical evidence
J. Warner Wallace explains how the “Book of Abraham”, a part of the Mormon Scriptures, faces historical difficulties.
The Book of Abraham papyri are not as old as claimed:
Mormon prophets and teachers have always maintained that the papyri that was purchased by Joseph Smith was the actual papyri that was created and written by Abraham. In fact, early believers were told that the papyri were the writings of Abraham.
[…]There is little doubt that the earliest of leaders and witnesses believed and maintained that these papyri were, in fact the very scrolls upon which Abraham and Joseph wrote. These papyri were considered to be the original scrolls until they were later recovered in 1966. After discovering the original papyri, scientists, linguists, archeologists and investigators (both Mormon and non-Mormon) examined them and came to agree that the papyri are far too young to have been written by Abraham. They are approximately 1500 to 2000 years too late, dating from anywhere between 500 B.C. (John A. Wilson, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Summer 1968, p. 70.) and 60 A.D. If they papyri had never been discovered, this truth would never have come to light. Today, however, we know the truth, and the truth contradicts the statements of the earliest Mormon leaders and witnesses.
The Book of Abraham papyri do not claim what Joseph Smith said:
In addition to this, the existing papyri simply don’t say anything that would place them in the era related to 2000BC in ancient Egypt. The content of the papyri would at least help verify the dating of the document, even if the content had been transcribed or copied from an earlier document. But the papyri simply tell us about an ancient burial ritual and prayers that are consistent with Egyptian culture in 500BC. Nothing in the papyri hints specifically or exclusively to a time in history in which Abraham would have lived.
So there is a clear difference hear between the Bible and Mormonism, when it comes to historical verification.
I was just thinking to myself this week about why I keep running into people who identify as Christians who are open and unrepentant about habitual sin. Now, I’m not perfect, but you don’t see me out there in public saying that the Bible is wrong. I would not claim that some behavior that was condemned by all previous generations of Christians is suddenly ok.
So, I thought and thought and thought about it, and here is what I came up with. Somehow, people have come to a view of Christianity that tells them that Christianity is not something that is true about the universe out there. Instead, Christianity is “true” in the sense that it “works for them”.
So they aren’t saying that God actually exists or that Jesus actually rose from the dead, because they don’t know if those things are objectively true. They’re just saying that they like some Christian words and behaviors because those things make them feel good. Christianity is not something they could defend as objectively true to any non-Christian using reason and evidence. They like how the idea of a loving God makes them feel. Or maybe they like invoking the idea of “do not judge” when someone questions their destructive choices or immorality. But they don’t actually submit to these ideas as “true” in the same way that they take the instructions on a medicine bottle as true.
Here’s a post by Aaron Brake at Stand to Reason, that explains three different views of truth. He calls the view that I talked about the “pragmatic view of truth”. He says that the pragmatic view is that things are true if they “work” for the individual. So, in the case of my Christians-who-deny-Jesus-as-Lord, these people pick and choose things that work for them out of Christianity, e.g. – the love of God, the “do not judge” fragment, the women taken in adultery, etc. But they leave out the moral obligations that Christians have believed for thousands of years, e.g. – no sex before marriage, marriage is between a man and woman for life, divorce is pretty much always unjustified, and adultery is never OK under any circumstances.
Here is the view of truth that he thinks is best:
Finally, there is the correspondence theory of truth: truth is when an idea, belief, or statement matches (or corresponds with) the way the world actually is (reality).
This may rightly be labeled the “common sense” view of truth. While not taught explicitly in Scripture, it is assumed throughout both the Old and New Testaments. The correspondence theory of truth states that an idea, belief, or statement is true if it matches, or corresponds with, reality. In this sense, reality is the truth-maker, and the idea, belief, or statement is the truth-bearer. When the truth-bearer (an idea) matches the truth-maker (reality), they are said to stand in an “appropriate correspondence relationship,” and truth obtains.
Consider the following statements:
Donald Trump is the current President of the United States.
The city of Los Angeles is located in California.
Elective abortion kills an innocent human being.
Are these statements true? They are if, in fact, they match reality. Statement number 1 is true if, in reality, Donald Trump is the current President of the United States. Statement 2 is true if, in fact, the city of Los Angeles is located in California. And statement 3 is true if elective abortion really does kill an innocent human being. Easy enough, right? Aristotle put it this way:
To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true; so that he who says anything that it is, or that it is not, will say either what is true or what is false.
A Case for Correspondence
Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland notes two main arguments which have been advanced in favor of the correspondence theory of truth: the descriptive and the dialectical.
The descriptive argument simply presents specific cases that help illustrate the concept of truth. For example, in Moreland’s bookstore case, an individual named Joe has the thought “Richard Swinburne’s book The Evolution of the Soul is in the bookstore.” When Joe enters the bookstore and sees the book, he actually experiences truth, a correspondence relation between his thought and reality. Again, this is the “common sense” definition of truth since it is the view we all presuppose in our daily actions and speech; i.e., everyone assumes the correspondence theory of truth when reading a medicine label or dialing a phone number.
That theory of truth is the normal theory of truth, and it’s the one used in the Bible, e.g. – Elijah on Mount Carmel, Jesus calling his resurrection the Sign of Jonah. If the Bible teaches something, then that teaching is true, because it conforms to the way the world really is. Objective reality makes the Bible’s statements true or false. It’s true whether people like it or not.
Here’s what I suspect is true of all the liberal Christians that I’ve met. None of them will have looked into things like the existence of God or the resurrection to see if they are objectively true. They’ll not even be interested in lifting a finger to study in order to find out whether those things are true. If they evangelize, they’ll tell stories about their own life experiences and feelings, and try to “sell” Christianity based on felt needs being met. They’ll not waste a second on studying the laws of logic, or science or history in order to demonstrate Christian claims as true – especially the ones that don’t “ring true” to them.
It makes me think of that post that I wrote about John Searle and his suspicion about why people become postmodern relativists. He thinks it’s so that they can deny reality if reality constrains their will to pursue happiness. I’ve actually seen this when people break all the rules in their selfish pursuit of happiness, and then when it all explodes in their face, they claim that life is unpredictable, and it wasn’t their fault. The rejection of the correspondence theory of truth is – I think – rooted in this desire to dismiss anything that could act as a brake on their hedonism. They don’t care that you can produce studies after studies showing that fatherlessness is bad for children. If God didn’t give them a husband, then they are perfectly justified in having children through a sperm donor, and raising the fatherless child with welfare money. The simplest way out of your Bible verses and fatherlessness studies is for them to say that doing wrong “works for them” and so it’s “true for them”.