Tag Archives: Relativism

Absolutism (What You Need to Know–and Why)

**Guest post by Rob Powell. Part of a series on truth.**

True or False: Sean Connery was the best James Bond ever?

Of course the answer is true…

And as long as I keep this statement limited to my experience and preference it remains valid.

But, as soon as I try to put my preferences into a broader context and say “Sean Connery was THE best James Bond ever” I’m no longer stating my subjective preferences but claiming an objective truth and people will disagree with me (even though the rest of them couldn’t tote Connery’s martini glass).

Absolutism’s Enemy

It would be foolish of me to say that my personal tastes and preferences are true for everyone but somehow this idea has morphed into the consensus that everything is relative and we can’t really know anything as objectively true.

Blame it on the  and , political correctness, or El Nino but in some circles if you try to say that something is objectively or absolutely true you will hear “Well that may be true for you but it’s certainly not true for me,” regardless of the subject.

Does that mean that all knowledge is slave to personal bias and our own cultural baggage?

Is anything objectively true regardless of whether someone observes it and interprets it or not?

Relativism would have us think that the answer is an emphatic “no.”

Where Relativism Doesn’t Work

But do any of us actually live like that? Do people drive in a way that suits their biases and cultural milieu…or do they follow the rules of the road?

When figuring out how much Tylenol your toddler needs for a fever are you going to follow the dogmatic and restrictive instructions put on the bottle by “The Man” or will you play it like Ol’ Blue Eyes and say you did it your way?

What if engineers put structural supports where they “feel good” instead of where they will support the weight of the building?

Bottom line: Relativism really hasn’t made headway into areas where wrong beliefs have immediate consequences.

So where do we see it most prevalently? We see it in areas where there is a layer of ambiguity between the belief and its out-workings.

Absolutism Versus Relativism

Couple that with not wanting to offend other people [or have other people telling us what to do] and we get an “I’m okay, you’re okay” sentimental load of horse puckey.

But relativism doesn’t stop there. If you make a claim to objective truth today you can be labeled a bigot, close minded or intolerant.

Absolutism has come to be seen as close minded fundamentalism.

But in reality Absolutism is merely having a belief. It’s picking a team instead of rooting for the referees so you’re not disappointed when your team loses.

In the strictest sense absolutism isn’t that any one particular viewpoint is correct. Absolutism just says that there is an objective truth that matches what really is.

But if there is absolute truth why is it okay for my wife to say the car is too cold while I’m cracking the window because I think it’s too hot?

Because subjectively we are interpreting the temperature as hot or cold.

Objectively the car is 71 F . It would be incorrect for one of us to say it’s 71 F and the other say it’s 95 F.

Both of us can’t be right.

How Absolutism Defeats Relativism

Believe it or not, but within absolutism you can be tolerant of other beliefs. Yet tolerance used to mean we could agree to disagree–not that every idea was legitimately true.

The easy defeater to Relativism’s claim that all truth is culturally biased and only true for the believer is to simply say this:

“Then your belief that truth is culturally biased and only true for the believer is also culturally biased and only true for you?”

Relativism has no ground to stand on to say how truth is to be handled and interpreted on a scale grander than n=1.

I guess I can see the appeal of relativism. It takes the onus off the believer of having to provide evidence for their beliefs. It just has to feel right or pass whatever smell test they want to put on it. Or not.

You know, whatever.

We’ll get to how this plays itself out in greater detail with regards to the pluralist and the atheist another day but what does believing in an absolute truth mean when it comes to the professing Christian?

It means that Jesus’ exclusionary claims as the Messiah are not bigoted and intolerant. They are either true or they are not.

It means Jesus was either the Son of God or He wasn’t–but He can’t be both at the same time.

Once we know there is truth to be found we can study the evidence and come to a conclusion one way or another. It is a call to be like the  who though open minded still studied the Scriptures to make sure Paul and Silas were speaking the truth.

So the next time you hear a relativist say “There’s no such thing as absolute truth”, ask them if they’re absolutely sure about that.

Now, discuss…