Absolute Truth versus Moral Relativism

Blogger Brett Keller recently posted a video of an interview of Richard Dawkins, the flagbearer of the New Atheism movement.  My comments prompted a small, decidedly civil debate not as much about atheism but instead about moral relativism versus moral absolutism, or absolute truth.

Most important, I think, to the debate was this exchange:

We have a right to life because we created it, acknowledged it, and enforced it. We are living creatures who are conscious of our own existences and cling to it, and in interacting with others realize that our fellow man shares such longings.

And in a very real sense, rights do evolve. Over time we have increased our rights beyond the mere right to life: to speak & express oneself freely, to protect oneself, and to be treated equally regardless of wealth, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Over time we may secure additional rights which are rooted in our common desires; to not freeze for lack of shelter, starve for lack of food, or suffer for lack of health care, all in the midst of plenty.

That’s Mr. Keller’s view on the origin of rights.  My view:

You say that we have a right to life because “we created it.” When did we create it? Are we like God; did we create the right to life in the beginning of the universe? Now, if we merely created the right to life at a certain point in time, doesn’t that mean that everyone who lived before 1776 did not have a right to life? No, we didn’t create the right to life. Only God can endow such unalienable features of mankind — we merely discovered after years of harsh living that God had given us the right to life from the very beginning. Your evolutionary view of the progress of man holds that we are in a continual state of creation, constantly creating new rights for ourselves (or taking them away, which we do just as much if not more), while my absolutist view of progress holds that we are constantly discovering God’s Truth.

This is summed up more concisely by my last sentence:

Again, it’s not absolute truth or rights that evolve — it’s [our] understanding of the rights and laws already given to us.

Following moral absolutes, we know that no matter where we are in history or in the future, it will always be wrong to steal, murder, adulterate, etc.  Following moral relativism, however, what was immoral hundreds of years ago, like adultery, isn’t immoral today since everyone’s doing it (no pun intended).

Published in: on October 29, 2006 at 3:31 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. The anger is derived from the fact that I was once a god fearing, pre-destination believing, Sinners-in-the-hands-of-an-Angry-god Calvinist. The constant attempts at pleasing god (while grace is sufficient), and constant failures at controlling my ‘sin’, grew frustrating. Humans tend to polarize extreme feelings, (ie. a loving couple breaking up and hating one another.)

    It is pretty easy to be pissed off at god.

    Hope Philly is treating you well.

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