Absolute Truth/Morality?

Here’s another one we’ve touched on in some threads, but I don’t think I’ve started a thread with it. Do you guys believe in an absolute moral standard?

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16 Responses to Absolute Truth/Morality?

  1. Jon Wright says:

    C.L. Lewis once said something to the effect of “I didn’t know what a crooked line was until saw a straight one.” The very fact that we discuss right and wrong is evidence that there is such a thing.

  2. Scott says:

    Although I am a believer in absolute moral truth, I don’t agree with your argument. Anselm tried something similar with his proof of the existense of God. There are many things we discuss, but that does not make them real by virtue of our doing so. Lewis makes the point that the crooked can only be judged crooked by the straight, and I agree. I think we could make a better case for absolute truth by the observation that relative truth is simply untenable as a belief system or world view. Challenge any one to try it and see if they have a job, wife or friends by the end of the day. There is also the issue of fairness which I’m sure will come up. Relative truth is simply an excuse to do what one feels apart from accountability to authority.

  3. Jeremy says:

    There is no absolute truth…. uhmmm… darn.

    How about… I’ll take whatever view on that is neccesary to keep my worldview consistent, keep me from seriously questioning the choices I’ve made in my life, and keep me from feeling out of step with my friends, family and church.

    OK, OK. I’m a little cynical 🙂


    I’m pretty sure this isn’t going to be as well thought out or organized as I’d like it to be since I’m at work and whipping this out, but here goes…

    I agree that talking about right and wrong doesn’t necesarily mean that those things can be univerally defined. We can talk about flying pigs but it doesn’t follow that they exist.

    But flying pigs and morality aren’t in the same category. We talk about morality all the and I think I’m the only one talking about flying pigs. I think that we can talk about morality, but how you talk about it is determined by where you’re standing.

    I’m going to argue for the existence of many absolute moralities by using a very loose metaphor (so don’t start talking physics on me) and say that it’s like talking about time. We know that time is relative, yet we talk about it in absolute terms because it’s not very useful to say, “it took me 30 minutes to wash my car… as long as you’re not measuring that time span from a rocket ship going the speed of light.” Or, “Yes, I have the time – it’s 3 o’clock, as long as you’re not in London, in which case it’s 8 o’clock.”

    I would argue that, like time, morality is a concept we’ve invented to usefully talk about and and organize observable cause and effect. And, like time, it’s a concept that has evolved in complexity as society has evolved. They’re useful concepts and we talk about them in absolute terms, but the rules that govern them are only absolute for those who agree to live by them.

    Morality and truth are concepts we can talk about because as social creatures we need some way to talk about the consequences of our actions. Typically, we say something is “wrong” when it has negative effect upon either ourselves or society (But, of course, then we have to decide what negative means… do the ends justify the means, blah, blah, blah.).

    The problem is that you may not be in the same morality zone as me. I realize that’s problematic; if it were easy we’d all get along a lot better. But we observe people using relative moral truth all the time – being in different morality zones. Most people hold to an absolute moral truth but it’s not consistent with other people’s absolute truth. It’s absolute truth – for them. It’s how their society (and I don’t think “society” can be restricted to country lines) measures morality.

    Muslims believe in absolute truth and function within the framework of that concept, as do Christians. But many specifics of what are right and wrong are different between those two systems.

    The act of taking another human life – do it in one context and you’re a murderer; do it in another and your’re a hero. From another viewpoint, like that of a pacifist, you’re always a murderer.

    Observe relative morality by looking at shifting morals throughout history – slavery, treatment of women, cruel and unusual punishment, etc.

    It’s much more complex than how we typically talk about it. But that’s the nature of language. Before talking about a topic like this one should first hammer out some liguistic philosophy, I think.

    I think that trying to tell someone they should have your absolute truth is like telling someone in Texas they should set their watch forward and hour to match Eastern Standard Time. It’s fine to talk about absolute morality with those who have agreed to live within your morality zone, but step outside of that box and it’s a bit hairy.

    Unfortunately, morality zones aren’t as neat as time zones. Although, looking at a map of blues and reds from the last election they might be more difinable than I think 🙂

  4. Jon Wright says:

    I think we need to define our terms. Truth, morality and absolute are good ones to start with. Anyone have any definitions they would like to propose?

  5. Jeremy says:

    good luck

  6. Derek Lidbom says:

    You do get 3 credits towards graduation at Lidbom University.

    For those of you who didn’t follow my personal site in 2000, click on my name.

  7. Josh Creason says:

    Do I believe in an absolute moral standard? Yes. Do I believe I can fully know what that standard is? No. Do I believe I can come to know in some real way some aspects of it? Yes. Will the aspects that I feel I know in some real way line up with what another conservative evangelical Christian may see as aspects they know? Not necisarily, but I would expect a good bit of overlap. Could the aspects that I feel I know in some real way be in line with folks who have a non-conservative-evangelical-Christian worldview? I think there could be some overlap and I have no problem with that.

  8. Scott says:

    Lidbom University! Hope the link works – click my name.

  9. Jon says:


    Help me think through this one.

    “No finite point has any meaning unless it has an infinite reference point.”

    Sarte was consistent with this fact which led him to realize that even the above finite point has no meaning (since he denied the infinite referendum). I’m not intending to pursue the fallacy of “Either A or B. Not B, then A”, but I think the task of using “there is no absolute truth” as a self-defeating statement does not intend (or should not be used) to state that everything is absolute, but rather that absolutes do exist. Which begs the question of whether or not they are inherently existent as products of adaptation and survival within societal structures or if there exists an infinite reference point to give these finite points ultimate meaning.

    Could it be reasonably stated that although our opinions/perspectives related to moral absolutes exist (slavery, womens rights, cruel and unusual punishment, etc) the absolute itself does not waver?

  10. Jon Welborn says:

    Truth-That which corresponds to reality

    morality- A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct

    absolutes- Something regarded as the ultimate basis of all thought and being

    There are two kinds of people in the world.
    Those who think there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.

    (Actually, there are three kinds of people in the world, those who know how to count and those who don’t.)

  11. Jon Wright says:

    I take it that the lack of response to Johns definitions means that everyone agrees with him. Let me list some truths about truth that I really like, though I cannot claim them…I got them out of one of Norman Geisler’s books:
    ” Truth is discovered, not invented. It exists independent of anyones knowledge of it. (Gravity existed prior to Newton)
    ” Truth is transcultural; if something is true, it is true for all people, in all places, at all times (2+2=4 for everyone, everywhere at every time).
    ” Truth is unchanging even though our beliefs about truth change. (When we began to believe the earth was round instead of flat, the truth about the earth didn’t change, only our belief about the earth changed.)
    ” Beliefs cannot change a fact, no matter how sincerely they are held. (Someone can sincerely believe the world is flat, but that only makes that person sincerely mistaken.)
    ” Truth is not affected by the attitude of the one professing it. (An arrogant person does not make the truth he professes false. A humble person does not make the error he professes true.)
    ” All truths are absolute truths. Even truths that appear to be relative are really absolute. (For example, I, Frank Turek feel warm on November 20, 2003 may appear to be a relative truth but it is actually absolutely true for everyone, everywhere that Frank Turek had the sensation of warmth on that day.)

    Contrary beliefs are possible, but contrary truths are not possible. We can believe everything is true, but we cannot make everything true.

  12. Meredith says:

    I think one of the major problems with most evangelical apologists today is that they only know how to defend their faith with those who agree with them&or with those who disagree but dont know why. After eight years of Christian school and four years of Bible college, I cant say that I could do better than Geisler, much less Sproul or Schaeffer. We can philosophize all day long, but isnt our view ultimately based on faith?

    I had to take what Jeremy wrote and read it little by little rather than at one sitting why? Because it felt like knives cutting at my exposed heart. My job is to teach 14-16 year olds the truth of Gods Word as absolute in its authority because it is from God Himself&why? Because we approach the Bible with the presupposition that it is inerrant, inspired and therefore authoritative. Perhaps we should know what each others presuppositions are in order to understand why we view moral absolutes with the lenses we do. I understand the issue at stake is moral absolutes not Biblical authority, but my view of moral absolutes is based on Biblical evidence.

    Ive always hated the statement that whats right for you may not be right for me. Theres no such thing as moral zones (like time zones)&you may think that what youre doing is morally right for you and hypothesize that most people agree&but is it really right when it affects so many other people and brings so much dissention, strife and pain? Is that morally right? Perhaps some people chose to disagree with moral absolutes because they are looking for a way to justify their actions.

  13. Jeremy says:

    Yowsa! I’m sorry I’ve been so busy at work. You people have some things to say!

  14. Josh says:

    Something that traditional Crhsitian philosophy doesn’t get is the concept of knowability – particularly with regards to truth. I love Geisler, but he is particularly weak on this score. The belief that moral truth is knowable is dependent on knowing the mind of God. The great hubris of the traditional/modern church was the belief that everything could be reasoned through – killing any sense of mystery completely and ignoring the fact that God points out repeatedly his uknowability!

  15. Jon says:

    I like your ideas Josh, and with this at the forefront I think you tap a vein not many “Christians” enjoy poking.

    The relationship between faith and reason is an integral issue in understanding the “knowability of moral truth”. An initial definition of terms requires that we separate the act of faith from the object of faith (all things believed), and the act of reason from the object of reason(all that reason can know). Without full consideration of these ideas, I think it is viable that we ask the question regarding the relationship between them. The question is not related to the psychological relationship between the act of faith and the act of reason, but rather the logical relation between the object of faith and the object of reason.

    I read an interesting syllogism once that proposed five possible answers to the relation between any two classes or sets of things:
    – All A’s are B’s, but not all B’s are A’s
    – All B’s are A’s but not all A’s are B’s
    – All A’s are B’s and all B’s are A’s
    – No A’s are B’s and no B’s are A’s
    – Some but not all A’s are B’s and some but not all B’s are A’s

    Applied to the faith-reason question we see five similar possibilities:

    – All that is known by faith is also known by reason, but not all that is known by reason is known by faith. Faith is a subclass of reason.
    – All that is known by reason is also known by faith, but not all that is known by faith is known by reason. Reason is a subclass of faith.
    – All that is known by faith is known by reason too, and all that is known by reason is known by faith. Faith and reason are interchangeable.
    – Nothing that is known by faith is known by reason, and nothing that is known by reason is known by faith. Faith and reason are mutually exclusive.
    – Some but not all that is known by faith is also known by reason, and some but not all that is known by reason is also known by faith. Faith and reason partly overlap.

    I would by curious to read some thoughts on which paradigm our posters would claim.

  16. Ben says:

    Can we use these discussion boards as credit towards a philosophy degree? 😛

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