Is There Absolute Truth?
(Pondering Timothy Keller’s “Reason for God” – Part 1)
In the song “Nevermind” by Foster the People (the band that wrote that smash-hit single “Pumped Up Kicks”), they sing this about relativism:
Yeah it’s hard to know the truth
In this post-modernist view
Where absolutes are seen as relics
And laughed out of the room
Discussing religious truth with a moral relativist can be about as fun as working on a group math problem for two hours, and then being told that you’re not allowed to offer your solution to anyone. “Keep your one-correct-answer-only dogma to yourself!” They say.
Or it’s a little like this: Joe says 2+2=5; Billy says 2+2=6; and Susan says 2+2=4. Each person presents their answers to the moral relativist, who then says: “All of these answers are equally correct and equally wrong. Well done, everyone, well done. Now, please, by all means, go use my logic to build a commercial airliner.”
(I would not want to fly on that plane.)
Here’s another common scenario:
A moral relativist, who is floating in circles in the air because gravity doesn’t apply to him, hovers over to someone who believes in absolute truth.
Relativist: There is no absolute truth.
Absolutist: But isn’t the statement “there is no absolute truth” an absolute statement claiming an absolute truth? How can you use the very thing you’re denying to support your claim?
Relativist: Psshh. Whatever.
The relativist floats away to return his orbit of circular logic.
Some moral relativist skeptics (not all, I’m sure) really love raising their nostrils of superiority at you when you make the audacious claim that, yes, it’s quite possible that one religion makes more accurate claims about spiritual reality than another religion.
Timothy Keller — God love him — makes a fascinating observation about what is really happening when a skeptic lambasts you and says that “any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be true.” Or usually a skeptic will make arguments along these lines: “There is no one way to God. God probably doesn’t exist, therefore there is no absolute truth that points to Him. Even if God did exist, He would not exclude anyone. He accepts all religions because all religions are saying the same thing. So stop making an exclusive claim of truth about religion. That’s not possible.”
The problem with the relativist’s statement is this: they are making an exclusive claim to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality in order to say that you cannot make an exclusive claim to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality.
(That Circular Logic Ride at the state fair is so fun! Let’s go on it again! And again!)
In The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Keller explains it beautifully:
By now the fatal flaw in this approach to religion in general and to Christianity in particular should be obvious. Skeptics believe that any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be true. But this objection is itself a religious belief. It assumes God is unknowable, or that God is loving but not wrathful, or that God is an impersonal force rather than a person who speaks in Scripture. All of these are unprovable faith assumptions. In addition, their proponents believe they have a superior way to view things. They believe the world would be a better place if everyone dropped the traditional religions’ views of God and truth and adopted theirs. Therefore, their view is also an “exclusive” claim about the nature of spiritual reality. If all such views are to be discouraged, this one should be as well. If it is not narrow to hold this view, then there is nothing inherently narrow about holding to traditional religious beliefs.*
The bottom-line? Many moral relativists do not believe in God, and some of them attack Christians because of our belief that absolute truth exists. Well then, I do not believe in moral relativists. Moral relativists do not exist.
They are absolutists in disguise.
*Keller, Timothy (2008-02-14). The Reason for God (p. 10). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.