What is Wrong with Relativism?


by Rob Lundberg

In my post on How to Recognize and Dismantle Self Defeating Statements, I mentioned there in some other posts that each of the self defeating statements can warrant their own blog post.  This one is no different.

In this posting I want to give a short answer to the barrier of relativism coming from those who say that “truth is relative.” Like the previous post on how to answer someone that states we need to doubt everything, this one is very easy to turn around and give a clear response to affirming the absolute nature of truth.
Let me remind you again that this is a series of postings and if you have any questions or make any comments, please feel free to do so. Again, my purpose for these postings is not to be exhaustive. First let me share what we mean by “relativism.”

What is Relativism?

Relativism, simply stated, is the “perspective” that denies that truth is absolute and that truth applies to all people, in all places and at all times.”[1]  Relativism is very popular in our culture, but in particular our college and university campuses today; and it comes in many “flavors.” To give you a quick idea of those flavors, here they are,

1. Truth that is relative to time, in that what was true in the past may not be true for our time today.

2. Truth that is relative to persons, which says that whatever is true for you may not be true for me.

3. Truth that depends on location. In other words what may be true in China or the Orient, may not be true here in the United States.

Relativism is probably the most common barrier among many high school and college students. Christians who believe that truth is absolute are often assaulted with being “narrow-minded,” bigoted, exclusive, and even intolerant. If we were to look at each of these charges against absolute truth, we could also say that they are narrow minded, exclusive, intolerant, and even bigoted. That is because they absolutely believe  that truth is relative. Relativism is riddled with problems, and any relativistic objection is easy to refute by turning the claim on itself. But let’s look at a few practical reasons why we should reject relativism.

What are the Problems with Relativism?

A first problem is that relativism is impossible to live by because it violates cardinal rules in logic. Let me explain it this way. If someone were to affirm relativism, and say that “all truth is relative,”  they would be making an absolute claim in order to make such a self defeating claim. It would be like saying, “my parents did not have any children that lived.”

If we were to respond to that we could ask the person if the statement they just made was absolutely true. They would have to respond either with an absolute “yes” or an absolutely “no.”

A second problem is that some might think that truth is a matter of one’s perspective. That makes sense right? Well no, it doesn’t. Here’s why.

What about if truth were a matter of one’s perspective? We could ask the person if they believed that their claim was matter of a person’s perspective.  Then we could follow up with asking them if it was true for every person no matter, where they lived on the globe, and no matter what period of history they lived in.  You a problem developing here?

There are a few perspectives here. If truth were a matter of perspectives, then their perspectival truth claim has just become subject another person’s perspective. This creates an infinitely vicious circle of perspectives with no object framework to land on. It is a just a matter of one’s perspective, and another’s perspective and on and on.

The problem with relative statements is that if all truth is relative, then whatever truth claim is made becomes relative to something else. If this is the case, what is truth relative to? Perspectives? Opinions? Cultural standards? This is where the problem for relativism resides, there is not objective or absolute landing pad. This is why those of us holding to absolute truth get called the names whenever we point out that truth is absolute.

To believe something absolutely, one must that they should have absolute reasons that have some fixed standard that corresponds to the real world (reality). If there is nothing in the real world for a person’s view of relativism to correspond to, there is no true test to determine whether or not it is true.

Conclusion

We make absolute statements all the time, and probably have not even given it second thought. To say something is true, is to make an absolute statement. Even saying things, like “yes,” “no,” “right,” “wrong,” “must,” “ought,” “right,” “left” etc. are absolute statements. Why do we use words like this, particularly when such response are unavoidable? That is because truth is absolute, absolutely. We need to be gracious and show those holding to relativism why it is a faulty starting point for making a truth claim.

Truth is absolute, because God is the author of truth. An attribute of God is that He is truth, and Jesus said that He is the way and the TRUTH, and the life. . .” (John 14:6). Start with God as the source of truth and bring in things like the laws of logic and we will see that the truth sets us free.
Notes

[1] Norman Geisler and Joseph Holden, TruthQuest Living Out Loud: Defending Your Faith (Nashville: Broadman Holman Publishers, 2002), 33.

Be sure to ask about our Apologetics Boot Camps where we address these objections and a whole lot more to equip students and young adults to share the unchanging gospel in a rapidly changing culture in a confident and articulate manner. For more information email us at realissueapologetics@yahoo.com

One comment

  1. Great article. Love Greg Koukl’s Tactics. Christians should exercise grace with these “I got ya” moments when defeating self-defeating claims made by your average non-Christian. Try to gently talk it through why they don’t work. If the person you are talking to feels like you are being mean spirited about it then pride kicks into overdrive and closes them off to hearing the gospel. Always speak the truth in love. Also, I love Greg Koukl’s “what do you mean by that?” to get more information or to clarify a point. A lot of silly simplistic objections to Christianity really have to do with something that is not liked about the faith or something that the church has done wrong in the past. Try to get at what their real beef is by getting more specific than these glittering generalities of “there is no truth” etc.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.