Moral Relativism: A Self-Contradictory Absolutist Position

Objective morality is under attack in modern society. Largely driven by what the author observes to be a desire to escape personal and communal accountability, moral relativism contests the very existence of right and wrong. However, reason dictates that such a worldview is invalid. This essay will demonstrate that moral relativism is illogical and even contradictory. As Socrates put it in ages past, “A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.”[1]

What is Moral Relativism?

Before arguing that moral relativism is an invalid worldview, we must first define what it is. Quite simply, moral relativism is the belief that no absolute values exist, rather, they are based on personal and/or societal preferences that have developed through natural and social evolution. Beckwith and Koukl discuss three types of moral relativism:

  • Cultural/descriptive relativism claims that various societies have different morals, effectively rendering specific values applicable only to a particular culture.
  • Conventionalism asserts that morality is defined by the society in which one lives.
  • Individual ethical subjectivism lets the individual define his or her own morality.[2]

Regardless the flavor of relativism one believes, the underlying view is the same—objective morals do not exist, they are simply preference. However, as humans we instinctively know this to be false. Who of us approves of rape? Which of us would not feel aggrieved were our car stolen? If morality is not absolute, is it even reasonable to take a position on these issues? And is not the assertion that all morality is relative actually an objective one? As we unpack these three categories, we will uncover the truth that moral relativism is an illogical position, regardless of race, gender, culture, or religious view. We start by considering the macro level—societal values.

Society Does Relativism—Or Does It?

Cultural/descriptive relativism—what Beckwith and Koukl have termed as “Society Does Relativism,”—focuses on the idea that morals are different for each culture and civilization and therefore cannot be objective. However, there are two issues with this worldview. First, just because values differ among diverse groups of people does not mean a correct moral foundation fails to exist. Is it not plausible that a society is just wrong in some of its ethics? What about the Jewish Holocaust committed by Nazi Germany? Or the slaughter of citizens by the Stalinist Soviet Union? Not to mention the execution of non-Muslims in fundamentalist Islamic countries. To be consistent, the honest cultural relativist would have to agree that although the preference of much of the world is against these acts, no outsider could objectively refute their practice.

Second, the claim that societies have widely varying moral values is not necessarily true. One must analyze the situation. For example, although euthanasia is illegal in many countries, some nations—such as the Netherlands—allow it in certain cases. This would seem to be a conflict in underlying moral principles. However, at stake is not the valuation of human life, rather, a difference in opinion regarding euthanasia as a valid and merciful tool to end suffering. The belief that people are precious is maintained, while the facts of how it plays out vary.

Society Says Relativism—So It Must be True!

Conventionalism (normative ethical relativism or “Society Says Relativism”[3]) says that what one’s society accepts as moral (or immoral) is the defining standard. Society—by definition—is perfectly moral. For example, if the speed limit is fifty-five miles per hour, the moral person will not drive fifty-six. More seriously, if the government tortures and executes homosexuals, then it is immoral to dispute such an action. In fact, one supporting the “Society Says Relativism” position must label any social reformer depraved since such people oppose specific societal norms. Even one protesting a perceived injustice lacks decency because she is going against society. To further illustrate the absurdity of this concept, a consistent conventional relativist would have to admit that emancipation of slaves in the United States was an immoral act because it went against the standards of American society in the nineteenth century. While societal relative morality is clearly mistaken, sadly there exists a prevalent third category.

I Say Relativism—And I’m Right!

Finally, we reach “I Say Relativism,” i.e., individual ethical relativism/subjectivism.[4] This category is at the personal level, and according to Koukl may be the most rooted form in modern society.[5] Subjectivism is the position that morality can only be defined by the individual based his or her preferences. Not being a new idea, a great illustration of this philosophy comes from antiquity, where Socrates and Protagoras are debating the nature of truth:

Protagoras: Truth is relative, it is only a matter of opinion.

Socrates: You mean that truth is mere subjective opinion?

Protagoras: Exactly. What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me. Truth is subjective.[6]

There are several issues with this position. An obvious implication is that evil does not exist. Kidnapping children to be sell them as sex slaves is no less ethical than feeding homeless refugees. One may prefer the former over the latter, but that does not make him a more moral person, except in his own mind. Another issue is the concept of fairness. If all moral truth is relative, is it really unfair if the government favors certain classes or races of people over others? If morality is truly only a personal preference, then each individual gets to determine right and wrong without obligation to consider others. This is characteristic of sociopathic behavior.


Although not exhaustively, relative morality is shown herein to be illogical and contradictory. At the heart of this worldview is refusal to accept as self-evident truths of right and wrong. The implications of following such a philosophy on a large scale would be chaos. Fortunately, morality is firmly grounded, and for the most part people innately adhere to an objective code of ethics, whether or not they intellectually admit it. This speaks volumes to the truth of objective morality.

Works Cited

Beckwith, Francis J. and Gregory Koukl. 1998. Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Koukl, Gregory. “Responding to Relativism.” Defending the Faith I—CSAP 601. Biola University, Los Angeles. 2019.

Plato. 1961. The Collected Dialogues, Including the Letters. Edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Sahakian, William S. and Mabel L. Sahakian. 1966. Ideas of the Great Philosophers. New York: Barnes and Noble Books.

[1] Plato, Page 52

[2] Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books), 36-39.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Gregory Koukl, “Responding to Relativism,” Defending the Faith I—CSAP 601, Biola University, 4.

[6] William S. Sahakian and Mabel L. Sahakian. Ideas of the Great Philosophers (New York: Barnes and Noble Books), 28.

Is the Concept of God Rational?

Ernest Hemingway famously wrote “All thinking men are atheists.”[1] This is often the position of those who claim the concept of a supreme being—commonly known as God—should simply be dismissed as a delusional fairy tale of the simple-minded and uneducated. But is this assertion valid? In contrast with such an attitude, numerous men and women of great intellect throughout history and into the present age have held the view that belief in an ageless, powerful, and creative intelligence is not only beneficial but rational.  If this proposition is indeed a sensible one, even in theory, the ramifications are important enough to merit further enquiry. To stimulate this quest, two logical positions—the cosmological and moral arguments—are introduced to show that the existence of God is indeed a rational proposition worthy of further study.

Before we explore the validity of belief in a supreme being, note the following: (1) although the author is a born-again Christian, the arguments proposed in this essay in no way demonstrate supremacy of faith in the God of the Old and New Testaments. (2) As with most truths, the evidences are not presented as final proof of the existence of God. Rather, they show such a belief is rational and are intended to generate curiosity for further exploration of the topic.

To commence our investigation, we start at the beginning of all things.

The Cosmological Argument for God

To establish the idea of God as a rational worldview, we first consider the origin of the universe. As presented by Copan, the kalam cosmological argument posits the following:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause of its beginning.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause of its beginning.[2]

The first assertion follows the conventional understanding of modern science. For example, Hawking writes, “All the evidence seems to indicate, that the universe has not existed forever, but that it had a beginning, about 15 billion years ago.”[3] Much research by world-class physicists, mathematicians, and astronomers has gone into development of this consensus view. A primary supporting proof for this theory is the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, which states that heat always moves from hot to cold toward equilibrium. At some point far into the future, all heat in existence will have dissipated. This provides a sound basis for the temporality of the universe since, as Copan observes, “If the universe were eternal, why has this heat death not already occurred?”[4]

The second claim—that the universe began to exist—is evident through the concept of an actual infinity. If the universe has always existed, then it has existed from eternity, and is therefore infinitely old. Since part of an actual infinity is another actual infinity, the universe would have had to have already passed through an eternity to reach its present state. But according to Geisler and Brooks, this is logically infeasible because the cosmos cannot, in fact, have passed through infinity to reach today.[5] To exist as it is and for us to be observers, it must have had a beginning. Again, we agree with Hawking.

The third claim is where we encounter God. If we accept that the physical universe had a beginning, then it was certainly caused. The question is, did that which produced the universe itself have an origin? Has this causality been going on endlessly with one caused thing begetting another? As with the argument for the universe not having an origin, we are faced with the issue of infinite regress. If everything with a cause were itself caused, we are stuck with no beginning. The rational choice, then is that the ultimate cause of everything is itself beginningless.

If this is true, then what is this ultimate cause? If the originator has no origin, then logically it is eternal, existing outside the confines of space and time. Since the universe is massive and full of energy, the origin must be extremely powerful. Also, inexplicable order that exists within the universe—crystalline structures, seasonal cycles, and life itself—strongly implies that this first cause has intelligence and what Moreland calls “spontaneous choice.”[6] Thus, we argue that it is reasonable for an uncaused origin to have always existed and possess tremendous power and intelligence. Does this not fundamentally describe the concept of God?

We have contended that cosmology logically points to the existence of a God. But the investigation does not end here—our evidence also includes ethics.

The Moral Argument for God

Another strong evidence for the rationality of belief in God is the existence of objective moral truth. The reality of objective morality may be clear to most people (granted, not all—we will not get into that here), but how does it provide evidence to the existence of God? This is where we must look at the nature of values themselves. Moral truths are not simply fact claims—they tell us what ought to be. They act as imperative.  One should not steal. One should not torture.  One should not murder. Violation of such ethics brings with it a sense of personal guilt that goes beyond societal shame.[7] Essentially, as imperatives, moral laws have a sense of force behind them. Where does this force come from? Natural evolution over time? Does it not make more sense that an uncaused cause of everything created these laws and upholds them? And if something caused these morals to exist, would that entity not have to have the same characteristics of power and intelligence some ascribe to God?


We have argued that belief in an ultimate deity is a rational worldview worth considering. That claim is shown to be supported by both the cosmological and moral arguments. The evidence discussed herein only scratches the surface of logical and natural proofs developed over years of honest study and research by the cited experts and others. It is the hope of this author to plant a seed of interest for the reader to pursue further study of this important topic.

Works Cited

Copan, Paul and William Lane Craig. 2018. The Kalam Cosmological Argument: Volume I. New York New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Geisler, Norman L. and Ronald M. Brooks. 2013. When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Hawking, Stephen. “The Beginning of Time.” (Accessed 28 July 2019)

Hemmingway, Ernest. 1929. A Farewell to Arms. United States: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Moreland, J. P. “Arguments for the Existence of God.” Defending the Faith I—CSAP 601. Biola University, Los Angeles. 2019.

[1] Ernest Hemmingway, A Farewell to Arms, (United States: Charles Scribner’s Sons) 8.

[2] Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument: Volume I (New York, Bloomsbury Academic), 4.

[3] Stephen Hawking, “The Beginning of Time,” accessed on 28 July 2019,

[4] Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument: Volume I, New York, Bloomsbury Academic, 7.

[5] Norman Geisler and Ronald Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 11.

[6] J. P. Moreland, “Arguments for the Existence of God,” Defending the Faith I—CSAP 601, Biola University, 3.

[7] Ibid, 5.