A few weeks ago in my Contemporary Christian Belief class, we got into a debate over whether morality is relative or not. It all started when the professor for the class started talking about The Argument of Morality as a proof for the existence of God. For those unfamiliar with the argument, it goes something like this:

1. Humans possess objective moral knowledge.
2. Probably, if God does not exist, humans would not possess objective moral knowledge.
3. Probably, God exists.

The problem came when the professor asked the class via a poll whether they believed humans possess objective moral knowledge or whether they believed moral knowledge is subjective, ie; all morality is relative. 54% of the class said that moral knowledge is subjective, while 46% said that moral knowledge is objective. (Bear in mind that this is at Taylor University, a Christian college.) Needless to say, my professor was shocked at this response; I was not because I already knew that moral relativity is a popular belief among my generation.

So, when the professor tried to explain Premise 1 of The Argument from Morality, it ignited a firestorm of debate over that premise. As you may have guessed by now, I was firmly on the side that morality is objective, and that we can know the truth.

Well, ever since that class, I couldn’t stop thinking about this topic, so I thought I’d write up a post about my thoughts. My friends who were in that class will recognize the points that I will make here, as I imperfectly made them in that class.

But first, let’s define our terms so that we’ll exactly know what we’re talking about. Moral Relativity is the belief that morality is unique to every person; there is no higher moral standard that we all universally agree upon. There is no universal truth, there is only what is true for each individual person.

I believe that those who advocate moral relativity haven’t seriously thought through the consequences of that belief. Perhaps, you, dear reader, are one of those people. If so, I want you to do this thought experiment:

I want you to think of the person you love most in this world. Once you’ve got this person in your head, I want you to imagine that someone has murdered this person in cold blood.

What would you feel?

How you would respond to that?

I imagine that your response would be to cry out for justice, and to get the police on him. However, imagine that this murderer walked up to you and said, “Hey, don’t be upset! My moral beliefs are different than yours. I believe that cold-blooded murder is perfectly moral, and what’s true for you isn’t true for me!”

Would you accept that as valid reasoning?

I imagine that you would not. You would call the police and/or grab a weapon and attack him.

However, if you truly believed that all morality is relative, and that there is no Higher Standard of Morality, you would, by necessity, have to let the murderer go free, because his moral beliefs are equal to yours and there is no universal truth. You therefore have no basis in condemning him for murdering the person you love most in this world.

And that’s the fundamental problem with saying that morality is relative: No one actually believes it. No one who goes through the thought experiment I just laid out is going to think, “Well, he thought cold-blooded murder was moral in his way of thinking, I’m just going to let him go.” When the rubber meets the road, everyone realizes that the truth is objective.

However, let’s apply the idea of Moral Relativity on a grander scale. What if, tomorrow, everyone in the world believed that all morality is relative? What would our world look like?

I submit to you that it would end civilization itself. Chaos and anarchy would spread all throughout the world, the likes of which would be unimaginable.

“What? Why would that happen, Scott?” you ask.

Well, let’s consider the law. The law is the foundation of civilization; without it, civilization cannot work. The law assumes that certain behaviors are bad, regardless of personal opinion; in other words, it assumes that there is a higher standard of morality that applies to all men, in all places, at all times.

What the law is designed to do is to punish those that break that higher standard of morality, and threaten with punishment those who may be thinking of breaking that higher standard of morality. To restrain or punish evil is one of the reasons men create government. That is why, in the previous thought experiment, the police will hunt down and capture (or possibly kill, in case of resistance) that murderer.

However, let’s now imagine that assumption that there is a higher standard of the law is now gone, and that every last person on Earth believes all morality is relative. What happens?

Well, the law has no basis for existing. It becomes meaningless; since all people can now create their own definitions of morality, and everyone agrees that all definitions of morality are valid, the law cannot condemn people for doing something wrong, because “wrong” does not exist.

For example, in the previous thought experiment, if everyone believed that morality is relative, and all points of view are valid, the police would not go after the murderer of your loved one. They would shrug their shoulders and say, “well, from his point of view, murdering that person is okay, and we’re going to tolerate that.” In fact, I would imagine that the police would not exist, at least in the way we think of them now.

You can imagine what sort of chaos would happen next. Crime would explode everywhere; no one would be safe, and everyone would be free to commit all sorts of evil.

Some of my classmates, when I raised this point, argued that crime happens anyway. However, they didn’t understand the gravity of what I was talking about. Yes, there are those who don’t care about the law and will do whatever they want. The problem is, there is no system in place to punish evil or threaten those who would commit it. Without the police or jails or courts, all criminals would go free, and all people everywhere would be free to act out the full extent of their evil desires. And there would be nothing anyone could do about it; you would have to defend yourself.

If everyone acted as if all morality is relative, no one would be debating whether morality is relative or not in the classroom; everyone would be at home clutching an AK-47 in their hands, hoping that the next band of marauders would leave them alone. It sounds like a cool idea for a novel, but you would not want to live in that world.

Moral relativity is a nice belief in a philosophy class, and it sounds loving and tolerant, but it cannot work in the real world.

You would be unable to condemn any evil in the world if you believed in moral relativity. This evil includes, but is not limited to, the Holocaust, slavery, sex trafficking, kidnapping, rape, torture, and so on. Sure, you might protest it, but you would have no basis for doing so besides your own opinion.

I’ll address one last objection before I end this post. Some would argue (and some in my Contemporary Christian Belief class argued this) that since people disagree on what moral knowledge is, that proves that there is no objective moral knowledge, and moral knowledge is subjective. For instance, some people believe that defending yourself with lethal force is always wrong, and some other people believe the opposite. Since people disagree on that issue, that means that there is no objective moral knowledge regarding that issue.

There are two problems with that argument. First, when people argue about moral issues (not just one one I described above) they are arguing under the assumption that one of the two positions is the truth, and are trying to convince the other side that their side is the truth. If morality was relative there would be no point in arguing it. Second, contradictory positions cannot be both held as true at the same time; either self defense with lethal force is moral, or it is not. You cannot logically hold both to be true at the same time.

The same goes for religion. Christianity and Islam cannot both be true, because Christianity and Islam teach completely different things about Jesus: they cannot be both true at the same time because it would be contradictory, and would not work logically.

Anyway, I’ll end this here, this post is long enough. To summarize, no one actually believes in relative morality, and if everyone did believe in it, the world would fall into ruin. Like it or not, morality is objective and will always be that way.

-Scott

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