Puritan Gems

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Knowledge Of God Part VI

Relativism - Truth in the mind of the beholder
“There are no eternal facts, as there are no absolute truths.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
"...Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”" (John 18:38)
Many secularists, particularly post-moderns, have all but given up on the idea of justifying absolute truth, and thus find a home in Relativism. Like other epistemologies, Relativism takes many forms, but all share a common belief that there are no absolute truths. Everyone believes what is the case. Relativism is the ultimate result of other secular theories of knowledge like Empiricism, which cannot objectively experience the sense experiences of other people; Idealism, which cannot objectively ascertain the perception in the minds of other people; and Realism, which holds that knowledge is simply the result of impersonal material laws. Protagoras epitomizes the Relativistic worldview when he asserts that:
"Man is the measure of all things: of things which are, that they are, and of things which are not, that they are not". (Protagoras in Plato's Theaetetus, 152a)
Socrates countered Protagoras with what has been dubbed the “recoil arguments”, which shows the following problems with relativism.

1.) Relativism is self-defeating: The statement "there are no objective truths" cannot possibly be true.

2.) A relativist must acknowledge the equal validity of those who deny relativism. In other words, if everyone believes what is the case, then those who deny that everyone believes what is the case also believe what is the case. Clearly this violates the logical law of non-contradiction.

3.) Truth becomes meaningless, subject to the whims of each individual. Any truth claim becomes tantamount to shooting an arrow into a barn door and then painting the bull's eye around it. Such actions do not make one a skilled archer, but rather makes the shot meaningless.

Ultimately, no one truly lives according to the ideals of relativism. Relativism reduces all truth claims to mere belief, and really satisfies no one, including relativists. We all live our lives as if there were absolute truths, though secular worldviews either deny such truths, or show themselves unable to justify such truths.


Anonymous said...

It is absurd to declare that there is "absolute truth"-- the next thing you religious nuts say is that you have it, and no one else. If you finally found this absolute truth, why haven't you won the Nobel Prize already, after you have been peer reviewed by skeptics and scientists? And by the way, I don't need "God" or any ground for morality-- especially the Bible God with all his atrocities-- to use my mind and figure out what is right or wrong. When I do that, my actions are more authentic anyway, not like yours, where you are doing good things just to kiss god's ass.

Puritan Lad said...

Anonymous: "It is absurd to declare that there is "absolute truth"

Response: "That sounds like an absolute truth claim to me, thus, but your own standard, this statement is absurd."

Anonymous: "-- the next thing you religious nuts say is that you have it, and no one else. If you finally found this absolute truth, why haven't you won the Nobel Prize already, after you have been peer reviewed by skeptics and scientists?"

Response: "Argumentum ad Verecundiam. A logical fallacy of appealing to authority. Since science has no basis for truth (the subject of my very next series), and since skeptics are caught in the logical bind having to know that they are skeptics, the authority is questionable at best.

Anonymous: "And by the way, I don't need "God" or any ground for morality-- especially the Bible God with all his atrocities--"

Response: "On what authority will you refer to God's standards as "atrocities" ?

Anonymous: "to use my mind and figure out what is right or wrong. When I do that, my actions are more authentic anyway, not like yours,"

Response: "Since when is your mind the standard for right and wrong, and why should my mind consider your mind as "authentic" (whatever that means), especially since, according to your worldview, your mind is the result of billions of years of natural processes acting upon stardust. Seems like a questionable standard at best.

As for the last comment, I would like for you to respect the fact that this is a Christian board. I welcome criticism, dialog, and debate. But blasphemy won't be tolerated.

Anonymous said...

All I meant when refering to absolute truth is that I am very skeptical of any fallable human being's claim to be the spokeman for it-- It's funny that they call it the "word of God" but it's the humans that are always doing the talking.

Peer reviewing is not a fallacy of an appeal to authority-- in fact, it is the exact opposite. The whole point of a peer review is that you open an idea to a whole set of various perspectives, instead of one know-it-all. It isn't perfect, but it is better than having to rely on one perspective. It is a common practice in science, but I suppose you are limited in your knowledge of reason, observation, etc.

I don't mean to insult you, but you seem to be very ignorant of the arguments against your position. This idea that God is necessary for morality is just another variant of the divine command theory, which is filled with holes.

If you don't know what "authentic" means, I suggest you use a dictonary. It means real and sincere. I believe that atheists are more authentic when they practice morality, because they are not looking for ulterior rewards, like God patting them on the back someday. It is a much more nobel and heroic stance.

And of course, ethics is a field always filled with problems, but I see no reason what I should therefore refer to a book that was written in the bronze age, and filled with contractions and absurdities.

I am sorry if I used strident language that caused you to recoil and accuse me of "blasphemy". However, I do find it ironic coming from folks like you in the past who were quick to burn at the stake free-thinking individuals. To me, that is a form of blasphemy.

Puritan Lad said...


Welcome back. Your first post sounded a little bitter. I was wondering if you were the typical "drive-by" commenter who wanted to get his pound of flesh and leave rather than have a real discussion. Let me help you get started.

I know what "authentic" means, I just reject your attempt to monopolize it and saddle it onto your white horse. You may or may not agree with my ethical motives, but that doesn't make mine less "authentic". You would do well to be more specific in your arguments against my position. Referring to me as a "know-it-all", "ignorant" who refuses to listen to various perspectives, being "limited in my knowledge", while wanting to burn you at the stake may give you a sense of moral or intellectual superiority, but does nothing in terms of debating the issue at hand. (Besides, if that were true, you wouldn't be posting here). You also may want to start justifying your assertions. For example, just claiming that the Divine Command theory is full of holes and that the Bible is "filled with contractions and absurdities" doesn't make it so.

I have no problem with "peer-reviewing", only the idea that it must be done by scientists and skeptics in order to establish absolute truth. Let's not pretend that I'm some rogue Christian in a sea of skeptics who refuses to listen to their "absolute truth" claims (and yes, they do have them. They are unavoidable). There are approximate 2 billion people on planet earth who profess the Christian faith (though I would suggest that the actual number of Christians is a minute percentage of that). Why is their opinion not considered valuable as "peer reviewing"?

Since I'm having a hard time getting any specifics out of your assertions, allow me to dig a little. My posts so far have been in the area of Epistemology, and I would suggest that I'm quite knowledgeable in the area of reason and observation. Are you a Skeptic or an Empiricist? You say that you are "skeptical", but you sound more like an empiricist (perhaps "skeptical" of anything outside of Empiricism). You keep bringing up science (which I have yet to address) as if science has some authority on truth. I'm sure you realize that science has fallen away from the blind mechanism of the early 20th century toward "logical positivism", which is full of it's own holes. A related question, why should I accept scientific "reason and observation" as having validity when it comes to truth claims?

I'm afraid that your skepticism is a one way street. I must point out that there is no "neutral" position when it comes to the Word of God. The problem that you will eventually run into, if you are consistent, is that you will be totally unable to justify anything from your position, including your own skepticism. You are not a "free-thinker" as you claim. That will be exposed as we move forward, but I would suggest that you are likely imprisoned in a metaphysical worldview of strict materialism, and thus cannot consider anything as valid which does not fit that worldview. In any case, you have a metaphysical position.

Puritan Lad said...

You also being up the area of ethics, which will be the final in my "knowledge of God" series. You assert that the "divine command theory... is filled with holes". If this is the case, you would do well to expose these holes (other than the fact that the Divine Commandments may not suit your fancies). I would suggest that the Divine Command theory is the only theory that establishes a rational, objective ethical standard. I'm hardly "ignorant of the arguments against" my position. I have studied various ethical theories, from subjectivism, altruism, egoism, utilitarianism, etc. Those are full of holes, not the least of which being that they cannot establish why one should be obligated to obey any of these systems. In a strictly materialistic universe, there are no "ethics", only genetic and epistemological determinism (we are what are genes say we are, and we think and act the way are neurons tells us the think and act).

In any case, I haven't dug much into science and ethics on this blog yet, and you haven't dealt with the epistemological argument that I have made so far. Since your consider yourself a skeptic, I welcome your "peer review". I promise not to burn you at the stake. Too much work. :)

DannyM said...

Anon -

1. Truth implies exclusivity, so given our epistemic claims, which you have failed to actually engage, why *would* everyone have truth?

2. Atheism is a world-view. Atheism claims that it alone is the true representation of reality, and all other religions are wrong. Atheism is no less exclusive than Christianity. So much for relativism.

3. On what moral basis would you presume to judge God? What standard are you appealing to here?

4. Can you explain how science goes about determining truth?

DannyM said...


You talk of 'right' and 'wrong', and you talk of your 'authentic' brand of 'morality', which means you are utterly ignorant of the issue at hand. You are talking in absolutes while denying we can have knowledge of absolute truth. You are not employing the language your world-view dictates you employ. You are the product of primordial goo, a random collection of atoms. What is it that makes your brand of 'moral good' any more authoritative than 6
billion other subjective definitions of 'moral good'?

What is a 'free thinker' when it's at home? Are you a Dawkins Cadet?
Does 'free thinker' mean your 'mind' is free from all and any presupposed or biased outlook on life and the nature of reality?

We Christians hold that God has morally sufficient reason for alowing and decreeing the evil He allows and decrees. But by what standard of 'moral good' do you appeal to in order to attempt to judge God? What is your consistent foundation and definition of morality? You're a random collection of atoms (on your assumptions? who is railing against a fictional God (on your assumptions)committing fictional acts (on your assumptions). Can your position get any more incoherent?

Anonymous said...


First, let me apologize. You certainly have done your research regarding philosophy, and you are hardly "ignorant". It is, after all, a Christian blog, and I shouldn't say things just to be a wise guy.

As for "authentic," I wasn't trying to monoplize the meaning-- in the dictionary it does describe it as "real" or "sincere"-- this is part of its standard meaning. (I know, by the way, you know what it means). Again, I am only saying that good deeds done without expectation of reward or another ulterior motive are usually more "real" than ones done based on commands or the lure of an reward, or the fear of a punishment.

As for science, you may be right that there are different perspectives on its value for finding truth. I don't have your brains or patience to delve deeply into epistemology, so I have no great thoughts on this. But I still would trust science over lots of things, and I still would rather go to a doctor than a faith healer.

The age old mind body problem, to me, is really at a dead heat. I used to use this argument myself-- that, without God, man is in a state of "nothingbutness"-- nothing but an animal, an bunch of atoms, or, as you elequently called me, "slime" or "promorial goo" (lol-- I'll get over it!). But, at the same time, the religious person also has a lot of problems with this-- what is a disembodied mind or soul like? does it have eyes to see anymore, or ears, or emotions? All I do know for sure is-- no brain, no mind. So I think there are problems either way. I'm not an expert, but it seems a little like the argument form ignorance to say that there must be a soul simply because we cannot explain this complex issue.

As for the thought that I cannot moralize because I am just "slime" or "primoridal goo", I simply just don't think it follows that I can at least perfer some lifestyles over others. If we could prove once and for all (and I know that we can't) that there is no God, I really dont think that would nullify all the good that ever has been done. Lincoln freeing the slaves, Churchill saving the world from Hitler, etc.-- all that and more would still be worthwhile. I and I know that some say, "well, your just an atheist, everything is absurd to you, etc." but I really dont see what difference that makes. Freud wrote a short essay, "On Transience" where he argues that the value of something beautiful does not go away just because it has a temporal limitation. There might not be a "cosmic" meaning to life, but why can't there be a "terristeral" meaning, here and now, or earth?

Finally, I do have to say that I think it astonishing that I have been criticized as having no moral sense, when I read on this blog that you have a belief that God "allows and decrees evil". I found this blog after I googled "the problem of evil" after Sandy Hook. I heard many religious people mumble about "free will" and so on, which I do find tasteless, and I grew tired of hearing it. But on this blog, I am very puzzled by the statement above. God allows evil? If I were to say, that this God is not worship-worthy, then the response might be, "God cant be judged by human standards of morality"-- but these human standards are the ones we use to establish God's goodness in the first place! I don't understand how you can condemn evil acts, when you believe God is decreeing it, and is supremely good.

By the way, I know you might assume I am an atheist, but I am still just searching.

Puritan Lad said...

Thanks Anonymous,

I learned a while back that often how one argues a point is as important, if not more important, then what one argues.

I'm preparing a series on science (doing a little reading and research to prepare for it). I would value your input/criticism as I get these posted. Without going into too much depth at this point, have you ever considered the metaphysical requirements for science to have any value? I would suggest that science requires a Christian worldview on a variety of levels. Science is a valuable tool, but it is not truth. (The scientific method itself is based on the logical fallacy of asserting the consequence, ie. if p than q, q therefore p). I'll get more into this in the next few weeks. Methinks that you have been exposed to some really bad theology. I, too, have little use for "faith healers" and other snake oil salesmen. I would suggest some good Puritan and Dutch Reformed literature and stay away from TBN, except for some comic relief.

Also, I am not suggesting that non-believers have no moral sense. On the contrary, they do have moral sense in spite of their worldview. Rather, I suggest that non-believers cannot justify their moral sense. Some have gone so far as to suggest that morality is subjective, though no one lives that way. Our moral sense is proof that we all know God on some level, because we live in His universe and cannot function apart from acknowledging him in some way. (I plan an in depth series on ethics after I finish the science series.)

Also, though God does decree evil, that does not remove man's responsibility for evil acts. God does not "force" man to commit these acts. These come from man's own wicked heart, doing what he wants to do.

Hopefully, this blog can be of value in helping you with your search. If nothing else, may it bring you clarity.


DannyM said...

Hi anon,

First off, I'm sorry if you do not like the 'primordial goo' tag; on atheistic assumptions that is what you are. I do not say it in order to cause offence.

1. Why are 'good deeds' done free of any authority more 'real' than good deeds done under an authority? Surely the reverse is true. On atheism, there is no God; we are simply matter in motion. The neurons in your brain fire no more authoritatively than than the neurons in my brain. There's nothing 'real' or 'meaningful' in an atheistic universe. What is the source of the morality you are invoking and the judgements you are making on those who do not conform to your idea of morality or who do not perform 'good deeds' for the same reasons you do?

In contrast, with God there is substance to the concept of good. With God it is all oh-so real; it is meaningful. On atheism it is just one random blob of protoplasm's preference over 6 bvillion other random blobs of protoplasm. So you have it the wrong way round, anon.

2. Regarding dualism, you say 'No brain, no mind.'

That sort of statement does not negate the concept of duality. If the brain is a platform for the mind to perform, then removing or damaging the platform will affect the performance of the mind. If a critical component in a computer's hardware is damaged, then the software will not function to its full expectations. The concept of duality is not negated by one or the other's malfunctioning.

3. Regarding evil, I'd appreciate it if you took a look into and aquainted yourself with Compatibalism before we dive into this.

4. Look out for PL's upcoming series on science, and we can chat some more about this if you wish.