Morality: Universal & Objective, or Cultural & Relative?

In Dinesh D’Souza’s book What’s So Great About Christianity? he pokes a few large holes in the common arguments that people level against the Christian faith, and specifically shows how the Christian view of morality holds up, while the secular view of the foundations of morality fail. As an example, D’Souza describes the flaws of the famous atheist, Carl Sagan:

By their very nature, moral laws are both universal and objective. This may not seem obvious upon first consideration. Don’t the moral practices of the different cultures of the world vary widely? Isn’t there moral diversity within our own socieity? It seems there is no universl, objective morality. Such a conclusion, however, arises from an error of fact an an error of logic. It is certainly true that the moral behavior of the world’s cultures shows enourmous variation. Carl Sagan writes that thre are cultures like the Ik of Uganda, “where all the Ten Commandments seem to be systematically, institutionally ignored.” .  .  . What does this show? That the Ik are radically different from us? But we too live in a culture where the Ten Commandments are systematically and institutionally ignored. Sagan’s example seems to establish not diversity but unity of practice.
But even better examples fail to establish Sgan’s point. Let’s say that anthropological investigation reveals that the Ik routinely beat their wives. Would this prove that beating your wife is the right thing to do? Of course not. The presence of moral disagreement does not indicate the absence of universal morality. How can the fact of behavior, however eccentric and diverse, invalidate the norm of what is right?

Sagan and many other secularists who view morality as a cultural norm are at best inconsistent, for none of them truly believe that every act is acceptable inside a particular culture merely because the people of that culture practice it. Allan Bloom’s example in his book Closing of the American Mind shows that the Western mind will not accept the idea that Hindus should be allowed to burn healthy widows to death on the funeral pyres of their newly deceased husbands. Such an act is held to be universally wrong, and sitting idly by and allowing it to happen is morally wrong.

Let’s say that we accept that the Ik reject the Ten Commandments and we hold them as morally right. Let’s call this system of describing us and the Ik “The Way The World’s Morality Works” and it were fleshed out in tremendous detail that shows how all cultures can get along. Would it not be true that this system would be a universal, worldwide system of how morality works, a system that would apply to all people? If you say no, then are you not saying that one system of morality would then apply to all people? Either way, we have a universal moral system that applies to all people.

But the problem is much deeper. The mere fact that something exists can never bring us to a sense of “ought.” That the Ik, or anyone else, may perform some act, sheds no light whatsoever on the fact that all cultures have a sense of ought, of moral wrongness. If all that existed were matter and energy, no one would have ever gotten the idea of ought in the first place. If there were no idea of right and wrong that transcended matter and energy, we would never have gotten into the discussion of morality at all, for what exists would simply exist, and no sense of morality would have ever arisen.

The truth is that the Ik, and every other culture in the world, hold that it is wrong for me to steal their stuff. If you deny this, get them to send me their address and let me know when they are not at home. That all people feel it is wrong for me to steal their stuff is enough to show universal morality.

The fact that a universal moral law exists is adequate to demonstrate that there is a universal moral law giver.


About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Culture, Morality. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Morality: Universal & Objective, or Cultural & Relative?

  1. Pingback: Does The Mere Existence of Morality Demonstrate God Exists? | Thomistic Bent

  2. Pingback: “Morality: Universal & Objective, or Cultural & Relative?” | Glory to God Alone

  3. Pingback: Another Atheist Converts to Christianity | Thomistic Bent

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