Sermonette 8-18-01, Ann Arbor, MI, UCG, by Eric Snow


One time the MSU student newspaper, which is published five business days a week for much of the school year, editorialized conventional liberal wisdom on moral absolutes.  They were attacking teaching formally ethics in schools:  “What is ethical for one, could be unethical for another.”


So then, are the journalism students at MSU right?

Do moral absolutes exist?  Can we prove by human reason alone that moral absolutes exist?  Or is it that “all is relative”?  May one culture say a certain moral act is moral when another says it’s immoral, and both be right?  For example, there was a tribe in New Guinea that said cannibalism was a way to respect the dead (i.e., by eating their recently dead relatives).  Moses said that eating unclean food, which certainly includes human beings themselves, was wrong.  Is it purely subjective to say one way is right and the other wrong?  Are moral choices like making a choice of a favorite ice cream flavor?


S.P.S.  Today, I will show today that there are ways to prove that certain  moral absolutes exist without using the Bible, God, or religious authority of any kind.


There are certain basic moral beliefs or practices that can be found in all or almost all cultures at some level, regardless of the more superficial variations people can point out.  Furthermore, when pressured, almost all people advocating moral relativism can be made to deny it since they uphold moral absolutes of their own.  What philosophers call natural law theory has good justification.  Natural law concerns moral beliefs that can be proven to be immoral by human reason without using religious revelation or tradition at all.


Now it should be noted that Scripture itself mentions natural law theory, that human beings not knowing the true God or His Holy Word can know something about what is right and wrong:


Rom. 2:14-15


Numbers 27:1-8 


Daughters of this man were able to discern morally what was correct in this situation without being called prophetesses, etc., so far as the record reveals.


But suppose you end up in a debate with a liberal at school or at work who claims you can’t prove anything immoral without using the Bible to do so.  What would you say to him?  Even if you can’t persuade him most likely, it’s still best to defend God’s truth to him, but using arguments based on human reason that could make him think some.


1. First of all, statements like, “There are no absolutes,” or “All is relative” are self-refuting.  They contradict themselves.  In the same sentence in which you say, “There are no absolutes,” you are proclaiming a statement that is true in all places at all times.  Therefore, to say, “There are no absolutes,” is to state an absolute truth!  Therefore, the statement contradicts itself.  “All is relative” states an absolute truth also, which shows it can’t be true either.



Also, various physical laws of nature have been found to be true by science.  Einstein may have believed in the theory of relativity, but the speed of light was an absolute limit in his system.  Nothing could go faster than that.  E = MC2 was always true for Einstein.  Foolish to extrapolate from this theory to society.   Mathematical statements like 2 + 2 = 4.  The first and second laws of thermodynamics.  Why then couldn’t there be absolute moral laws also, such as “Thou shalt not murder”?


2. Does anybody REALLY believe in moral relativism?  The solution here when dealing with liberals is to find some moral belief of their own they believe in that is true in all places at all times.  What is something they would never dream of denying?


“Racism is immoral in all places at all times.”  What liberal, especially if he is black, would deny this one publicly?


“Genocide is immoral in all places at all times.”  Could you get a liberal Jew to deny this one?  Suppose Hitler said, “Killing 6 million Jews is moral,” and proceeded to implement the Final Solution.  Would his merely saying that make the Holocaust OK?  Suppose Stalin said, “Starving to death and collectivizing the land of 12 million Ukrainian peasants is moral,” and proceeded to do this?  Do I have any takers?


3.  What all cultures do isn’t equally morally correct even according to liberals.  Objective:  Try to find some moral belief of theirs that traditional cultures violate.  Show that they are inconsistent.  Own Sociology book example:  Used a tribe or tribes in New Guinea that practiced sex before marriage, and said concern about virginity (an intact hymen in women) a characteristic of the monotheistic religions from the Middle East (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).


“Foot binding young girls so they grow up with small feet is immoral in all places at all times.”  Chinese cultural practice of the past.  Crippled adult women so they couldn’t hardly stand, do any work even inside the home.

Would feminists say this cultural practice and tradition was equally good as any other?


Let’s pick on the Chinese some more:  “Killing first-born baby girls soon after birth is moral.” 


Now, let’s pick on a particularly barbaric African practice, which is known as female genital mutilation (FGM).  I’ll avoid the clinical details here, but let’s say the point of this surgical operation is to cut out with a knife a certain part of a woman’s body so that she can’t ever feel any sexual pleasure.  Notice how the liberal feminist columnist Ellen Goodman squirms:  “One culture’s tradition may be another’s cruelty. . . . [Can we be] recognizing other values, but upholding our own?”


Would feminists, or any women of any belief, admit that rape is sometimes moral?


Therefore, if what all cultures do is to be respected as their heritage, and the Chinese (say) engage in foot binding, it would be perfectly OK for us to do that as well?  If the Chinese kill first-born baby girls, can we do that also?  If a number of Africans do female genital mutilation, could we do that also?  If South Africa had Apartheid (legal segregation of the races), does that mean we could bring back Jim Crow?  If Nazi Germany had the Holocaust, does that authorize what Milosvec and others did in Bosnia to various Muslim villages? 


4. Is ANYBODY really a cultural relativist?

As C.S Lewis observed, The Abolition of Man, p. 41, about two liberal authors:  “Their skepticism about values is on the surface:  it is for use on other people’s values:  about the values in their own set they are not nearly skeptical enough.”


Both liberal skeptics and conservative Christians really believe in moral absolutes:  Christians just have a longer list of requirements!  They merely add (say) “Sex before marriage is immoral in all places at all times” to the list which has “Racism is immoral in all places at all times.”   Liberals just as morally judgmental as conservative Christians, but allowed by rhetoric against moral absolutes to sound open-minded, tolerant, blah-blah-blah.


The Victorian/modern liberal switch on sexual immorality and racism:  Moral progress?


Conclusion:  Today I’ve shown that everybody really believes in moral absolutes, even though they may deny it.  Everyone will morally judge and condemn some things, including liberals.  Everyone will say certain practices, such as racism, are immoral in all places at all times, including liberals.  It’s easy to get the opposition to admit that moral absolutes do exist when questioned, as opposed to the broad general rhetoric they’ll throw out against them when left alone.  Even the broad statements, “There are no absolutes” and “All is relative,” are self-contradictory since they proclaim absolute truths.  So if you ever hear a liberal say, “There are no absolutes,” ask him, “Are you absolutely certain of that?”