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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Truth, Morality, Logic, and the Lack Thereof

Dec 26, 2012

The importance of truth and morality cannot be overestimated. This is especially true in a culture which has rejected both. The black and whites of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, have been replaced with 99 shades of grey. It is getting more and more difficult to even consider the reality of absolute truth and universal, objective morality.

The West has so steeped itself in epistemological and moral relativism that most folks today greatly bristle with anger if you dare to proclaim truth, or point out that some things are always morally binding. The idea that there is such a thing as objective truth which applies to all people in all places at all times is rejected out of hand by many.

And to proclaim the idea that there are certain things which are always wrong and can never be accepted will result in a tirade of accusations that you are being intolerant, bigoted, narrow-minded and judgmental. Such is the upside down culture we now live in.

When the ideas of truth and morality are rejected then of course anything goes. Our own personal preferences rule the day, and no one can say anyone is wrong or anything is false. It leaves us in a world of complete mental and moral anarchy.

As Cal Thomas put it recently, “There is no longer any cultural corrective because we have abandoned the concept of objective truth. Nothing is right or wrong, because that suggests a standard by which right and wrong might be defined. Personal choice is the new ‘standard,’ which is no standard at all. One might as well develop individual weights and measures.”

Quite right, and that is effectively what people are doing in today’s relativistic age: they are creating their own standards and their own measurements. Their own finite and fallen life becomes the rule of thumb. Their personal preferences become the standard for deciding if something is right or true.

But of course all that leaves us with is billions of differing and conflicting reference points. It is as if every person on the planet declared himself or herself to be due north, no matter where they are on the planet. So our compasses will then be pointing everywhere, which is the same as having them point nowhere.

If right and wrong, truth and falsehood, are only matters of personal taste and preference, like one’s favourite type of ice cream, then we are left adrift in a sea of personal preferences with no objective and transcendent arbiter. Any and every taste and like becomes its own justifying standard.

You like chocolate ice cream? Fine, I like vanilla. You like ascribing personhood and the right to life to the unborn? Fine, I don’t. You think Hitler and the Holocaust was a no-no? Fine, I can’t be so sure. You think racism or pollution or rape are always wrong? Fine, but I can’t say for sure, and I certainly can’t push my personal views on other people.

Well, judge, you tell me I ran through a red light? Fine. But I say it was green, or purple, or pink. It is all relative after all, and who are you judge to impose your narrow-minded and intolerant morality on me anyhow? I will decide what is true and false, right and wrong, thanks.

That is exactly the mental and moral mess we now find ourselves in. And lest it seem that I am exaggerating here, or making these things up, let me offer you a real-life scenario of this very thing. It comes from a recent exchange I had with a female on the issue of abortion.

I present here the actual debate which recently took place on another site. The only thing I alter is her name. So let me present ‘K’ to you, and our little back-and-forth on this topic:

K “What an interesting debate we have going on here. Let me predicate my comment by saying that I’m not sure what my opinion on Pro-choice or Pro-life is because I really do like to sit in the grey areas of life; very few things are black or white to me.”

B “K, killing a baby is a ‘grey area’ for you. Wow! Of course many said the same thing about owning slaves, or gassing Jews. When a society loses its moral compass, then of course everything becomes 99 shades of grey, with no black and white. What a horrific and barbaric place to be in.”

K “Thank you for paraphrasing what I said to reinforce your stance on the issue. I am not for the merciless killing of babies, but nor am I here to tell people what to do. That is why I live in the grey area. Just because my moral compass has a different north to yours and chooses not to accept others please don’t assume I like the idea of anyone being killed mercilessly.”

B “I of course merely extended the logic of your own reasoning. So let me do it again. Simply take your very words and apply them to similar situations: ‘I am not for the merciless selling of slaves, but nor am I here to tell people what to do.’ ‘I am not for the merciless killing of Jews, but nor am I here to tell people what to do.’ Exact same thing K. Either these things are wrong or they are not. And if they are wrong, then of course you should tell people what to do. Otherwise you are simply being morally callous and indifferent. Sadly you have simply steeped yourself in a culture of moral relativism which says there are no moral absolutes and there is never a place to say a person might be wrong. Just as you are doing to me right now! You believe it is morally wrong for me to share my moral point of view, all the while telling us it is wrong to make moral evaluations. Sorry, but you need to carefully listen to what you are in fact saying here.”

K “From your perspective Bill. And from my perspective it’s not the same thing. What’s wrong with accepting every situation on its own merits. Moral relativity is not always wrong – I don’t believe that there is always a definitive wrong or a definitive right – but sometimes there are for me. To say that I support slavery and genocide is to simplify my world view. Not once have I said that expressing your view was the wrong thing to do. I just said I have a different one. Read into my words what you will and choose to differ or agree.”

B “Your tone is helpful K for which we are grateful, but sadly your reasoning here is not. You simply cannot take the following two statements as true, and then expect to be taken seriously:
-there are no ultimate moral rights and wrong or truth and falsehoods
-I think what you are saying is untrue and immoral
That is effectively your position. Of course you think my views are wrong, otherwise you would not be having these discussions. You belive that your point of view on this is right, whereas mine is wrong. Thus you are making a clear moral value judgment, even though you claim we have no right to make such moral judgments! Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. You need to examine carefully the logic of your own position here. After all, we are talking about life and death issues. Those are not grey areas. Your unwillingness to accept moral absolutes means you can never condemn anything, even the Holocaust. And it also means you cannot disagree with me, since you have no external standard to appeal to here, merely your own personal opinion.”

That was the last post to this person, as she did not offer any further replies. Whether she was finally slapped in the face by the reality of her own logic, or lack thereof, or whether she simply tired of debating since she really had no leg to stand on, is not clear.

But her arguments are a perfect illustration of the very thing I have been talking about here. She was caught out big time by the logical absurdity of her own position. She was of course not able to sustain her case, and the further she argued, the more she shot herself in the foot. The more she tried to argue for her relativism, the more logically ensnared she became.

The simple point is that she actually thought I was incorrect in what I said, and thought she was correct. But of course under her own premises she is not entitled to think that way. She cannot on the one hand argue that there are no binding rights and wrongs, and then with the other hand seek to firmly claim that she in fact is right and that others are wrong.

But many such folks cannot even see the utter illogic and emptiness of their own position. They have, as Francis Schaeffer used to say, both of their feet planted firmly in midair. And the really scary thing is, they actually delight in and insist upon their intellectually obtuse and morally vacuous positions.

They actually relish their incoherence and inconsistencies. But for all their protests, they can never fully escape reality. They will always live in a moral universe, one which is framed in absolute truths. Such a person can try to deny the law of gravity or that Tokyo is north of Sydney, but all their blustering and posturing will not change one iota of reality.

But the most tragic part of all this is the fact that in such a world of relativism, we can only expect more, and not less, horrific things like the Holocaust. After all, who are we to say it is really wrong? Welcome to the Brave New World where truth is falsehood and good is evil.

What was it that the prophet Isaiah uttered some 2500 years ago? “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Is. 5:20).

[1706 words]

9 Responses to Truth, Morality, Logic, and the Lack Thereof

  • Hi Bill.
    Today’s relativism seems to produce a blindness that is hard for those like myself, who are older and raised on respecting moral absolutes, to understand. I have just read a great little memoir called ‘Deranged Marriage’, written by an Indian woman who grew up in Britain and struggled fiercely against her parents’ determination to arrange her marriage and life. When multiculturalism become all the rage, she was bewildered when many of her British friends would tell her how much they loved Indian culture, asking for recipes and admiring saris, but ignoring the fact that there were forced marriages and honour killings going on right there in Britain.
    Debbie Ryan

  • .. and the less mature the person with the relativistic views, the more vile the ad hominem attacks.
    Maureen Tully

  • Your internet debate is typical of the thought process of the so called elite of society.
    Ian Nairn

  • It is now over a century since Friedrich Nietzsche dared us to go beyond good and evil. He even wrote a book called Beyond Good and Evil. Yet, for all the moral relativism of 21st-century Western thinking, words like “good”, “evil” and “true” and “false” are still used in everyday language! Sadly, unbelief has so blinded the minds of many intelligent people that their catch-cry on truth has become: “Just what the truth is, I can’t say anymore.”!
    John Wigg

  • I’ve often encountered similar in arguing for an actual 6-day creation. Quite often, instead of arguing from Scripture or even from science why I’m wrong, I’m told that the existence of Christians who hold different views (progressive creation, theistic evolution, etc.) shows that I’m not entitled to claim that my view is correct, and even that I’m arrogant to do so.

    Attempts to point out that they are being inconsistent (or hypocritical) in implicitly claiming that their view (that I’m not entitled to claim that my view is correct) is correct whilst not allowing me to claim my view is correct usually go over their heads.

    Philip Rayment

  • Is there anyone else out there who is scandalised at the fact that there are over 30,000 Christian sects in the world today?
    Moral relativism writ large!
    Dunstan Hartley

  • Thanks Dunstan

    Yes, but Christianity allows for diversity as well as unity. No one Christian or church or denomination will have all the truth and all the answers. And God is so big and grand that all the different Christians, churches and denominations together will not even begin to exhaust all that he is. So this is not really a case of moral relativism, but of God’s grace to us to allow real diversity within unity. But I try to deal with that more fully here:

    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/03/16/on-truth-and-unity-part-one/

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • In a society/worldview of moral relativism I’m sometimes left wondering how we can justify our moral outrage about e.g. Jimmy Savile’s story or clerical child abuse or other social ‘evils’.

    Terry Darmody

  • Dunstan’s “over 30,000 Christian sects” is quite misleading. The figure comes from the World Christian Encyclopedia which counted different Christian denominations, i.e. distinct organisations, including breaking them up by country. So, for example, the Catholic Church in Australia was counted separately to the Catholic Church in New Zealand. And the Baptist Union of Victoria would have been counted separately to the Association of Baptist Churches in NSW and ACT, but this does not imply a theological difference.

    So the figure of 30,000 does not indicate 30,000 different sets of beliefs, as one might assume from Dunstan’s comment.

    Philip Rayment

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