Truth is defined as “That which corresponds to reality”, which influences people’s actions depending on what corresponds to reality. In post modernity, we are taught that metaphysical truths are relative to the eye of the perceiver. Metaphysical truths would be truths as objective moral principles or religious beliefs. It’s noted that Allan Bloom knows one thing for certain: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: “almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative (19).” Certainly, no one actually believes that two plus two does not equal four or that the label on a bottle of rat poison is wrong. Again, it’s metaphysical truths that are believed to be truly relative because it can’t be verified by the senses or something else.
Beckwith and Koukl wrote Relativism, in order to deal with the death of truth and the consequences that follow from it. They remark on page 20, that Finding God at Harvard reports “students feel safer as doubters than as believers, and as perpetual seekers rather than eventual finders.” Students are approaching college to learn about a particular major, yet they have this mindset in their learning. Truly, they do not doubt the subjects that they are learning, otherwise they are wasting college money.
Beckwith and Koukl’s main points in this book are to show the consequence of denying objective truth, the results of relativism in society, and the fact objective truth/morality. “The death or truth in our society has created a moral decay in which “ever debate ends with the barroom question ‘says who (20)?” Max Weber showed that the Protestant beliefs influenced economic structure of society based on truths that they saw as objectively true, which is glue that held their society. I agree with the authors, that objective truth and moral obligations are the glue of society that holds together.
Relativism in Morality:
“The death of morality also produces an “anything goes” mentality (22).” Page 23 gives an example of a security camera that recorded two young boys that beat a toddler to death. If moral truths are subjective, then there is nothing morally wrong with what happened to the poor, defenseless toddler. “Tastes are personal. They’re private. They’re individual. If you didn’t like butter pecan and favored chocolate instead. It would be strange to say that you were wrong (27).” Society is left with arguing over morality like people arguing over ice cream flavors, which is the point made by the book.
“Classically, moral systems have had at least three characteristics (29). These three characteristics are that “morality has been viewed as a supremely authoritative guide to action, trumping consideration of personal preference, morality includes a prescriptive code of conduct, and morality is universal”. The authors of Unleashing Opportunity give solutions to sex trafficking, loan abuse, and other social issues in American in a Judeo-Christian worldview. They operate under the assumption of an objective truth of Christianity that everyone is created in the image of God, structure is laid down by God, and the God gives us wisdom. They assume that morality comes from God (supreme authority), that there are things that are objectively wrong (prescriptive code of conduct), and that it pertains all humans (universal morality).
Objective morality can only operate under a worldview that is seen as true and is true. If metaphysical truths like Christianity are seen as relative, then objective morality becomes subjective. They show the consequences of this idea through the book and how it effects society.
Effects on Society:
Du Bois and Coates’ experience of racism in the culture and society they grew up were wrong, but on moral relativism, society determined these as moral truths. Issues like abortion or racism are subjective based on mob rule or societal rules. Anthropologists record that apparently “each society has different ethical standards when it comes to morals” (36). They call this descriptive relativism that each society has different morality and that it evolves over time. Are Anthropologists right that ethical standards develop depending on their society? This would be false since sociology is descriptive not prescriptive.
Another view is normative ethical relativism, that says “all people ought to act in keeping with their own society’s code (37). Of course, this is self-refuting since this standard implies objective morality (that people should follow society’s standards). A final view they present is individual ethical relativism that says “individual preferences offer the only guidelines to behavior” (38). This also becomes self-refuting since it gives an objective standard that people should do what they want. These three views are scary since child-sacrifice, genocide, and many other moral atrocities are seen as objectively true by the individual or the societies that enforced these principles.
Objective Truth and Morality:
When People end up saying there is no truth, they do not mean this. A simple question can be asked: “Is it true that there is no truth? Like mentioned before, nobody believes that the label on a bottle of rat poison is wrong. The point is that there is objective truth, what that consists of is up for debate. Relativism’s focus is on beliefs like in the supernatural and morality are relative to each person. Morality is not subjective for many reasons that the author’s give in the book. They point out that when we put someone behind bars, that we are doing so in the belief that we are following objective morality (54). Objective morality is proven through intuition, which is derived from immediate knowledge, not inferred (57). Memory is an intuitional truth that is not inferred from something else. Everyone knows immediately that torturing babies for fun is wrong, even those who perform abortions.
Those who push moral relativism are not consistent based on seven reasons that are given as fatal flaws to moral relativism. “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, and relativists can’t promote the obligation of tolerance (61-69).” Moral relativism can’t live up to its standard because tolerance is an objective virtue in this system. Relativists can’t live consistently because of the immediate knowledge they have that evil is wrong and people are blameworthy of their actions.
Wrap Up and Thoughts:
I agree with almost all the points of this book because there truly are things that are objectively wrong and right. Intuition affirms moral facts are real and are affirmed by the Bible as well (Roman 2:1-16). I’ve learned the seven ways in which moral relativists refute themselves in how they want to live their lives that things are truly wrong.
Knowing that objective morality exists gives me an obligation to my fellow neighbor. We have to follow an objective obligation to help the communities we live in and those that are in them. If we take this objective obligation away, then community development falls into the abyss of moral relativism and its consequences that follow. Objective morality is the glue to society that allows it to function properly as Durkheim would suggest.
One very important issue debated in western society is whether life begins at conception and that mothers do have human life in them. Roe vs Wade decided that it is okay to take the life of fetus before birth and some are trying to push this up six months after birth. Most people with a working brain agree that it is wrong to harm innocent human life, that is why the pro-choice movement argues that fetuses are not human. This is an issue that can only be resolved in a framework of an objective morality that society is losing. This is a very personal issue that I find to be a core point to why moral relativism exists and is defended. Overall, Beckwith and Koukl are correct in affirming that objective morality exists, which obligates us to follow this objective truth for society’s sake.
Koukl, Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory. Relativism. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998. Book.
Relativism Book: https://www.amazon.com/Relativism-Feet-Firmly-Planted-Mid-Air/dp/0801058066