Relative Thinking—A Life Without Moorings and Meaning

by Calvin Smith on July 6, 2020
Featured in Calvin Smith

Living life equals making decisions, some more important than others. From “What should you eat for breakfast? What college should I go to?” to “Whom should I marry? What is the difference between right and wrong?” etc. And ultimately, those decisions that affect others are the most important, as society is based on the moral and ethical standards they are founded upon. The question is then, how should we decide these things as an interactive group of separate individuals living with and relying upon one another? What standard should modern society adhere to?

Opposite Ends of the Moral Compass

The Bible then becomes like a compass, a way of navigating through life.

Let’s explore a range of options by looking at two worldviews that are polar opposites at their core: Christianity and atheism. Christians base their faith on the Bible. The Bible claims to be the word of a holy and righteous God, so it makes sense that Christians should look to it for guidance in all areas of their life. Starting from that belief, the Bible then becomes like a compass, a way of navigating through life by giving them a way of thinking.

God has allowed everyone to be a unique individual, each with hopes, dreams, ambitions, and personalities different to one another. Although there are some areas and decisions that may be unclear to us immediately because they are not dealt with specifically in the Bible, God has revealed certain rules that apply to all people throughout time (do not murder; do not steal; do not commit adultery [sex outside of marriage]; etc.). These are referred to as absolutes.

Absolutes provide a standard from which a person can then gauge whether a thought or action is closer to, or further, from correct. As an analogy, if morals were mathematic, if we understand that 2+2=4, we can understand that a student giving the answer “5” is still closer to the truth than a student who gives the answer “4,672,” even though both are incorrect.

A consistent atheist is forced to believe that there are no moral absolutes.

Now consider atheism. A consistent atheist is forced to believe that there are no moral absolutes. Why? Because they believe there is no God, they must believe in some type of self “creation” (evolution), which means everything was generated randomly with no intelligence behind it. If there is no God, then each person has the right to decide for themselves about right and wrong. This means there can be no moral absolutes. Logically, if each person’s mind is the result of random chance processes over time, there isn’t even a reason to trust logic, reason, or anyone’s opinion anyway!

Absolutes or No Absolutes: This Is the Question . . . 

If there are absolutes, then there must be lawgiver.

So, are there absolutes or aren’t there? This is a big question because if there are absolutes then there must be lawgiver, a creator of them. If there isn’t a creator, then we are not bound to absolutes.

Let’s examine whether the concept of “no absolutes” is true by using an extreme test. For example, is abusing and murdering a child wrong? Most would say yes, but that would mean there are absolutes (it’s absolutely true that this is always wrong); however, a consistent atheist would be forced to say something like either “No, it’s not wrong” or “I personally believe it’s wrong.” But logically they would have to admit that the murderer has a right to believe whatever they want. This would mean it could be considered “right” for the murderer, so they can’t be “wrong.”

Some atheists say that you can believe whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt someone else. But is that true? Is it “absolutely” true? If it’s true then there are absolutes (it’s absolutely true that no one should ever hurt someone else), which means this statement actually argues against a belief in “no absolutes.” So where would that absolute moral law have come from?

Sawing Off the Branch You’re Standing On

When someone says something that if true must be false, it’s called a self-refuting statement. It can’t possibly be true. This type of argument literally self-destructs.

  • “You can’t know anything for certain.” (How do you know that for certain?)
  • “Talking about God is meaningless.” (Then your statement is meaningless.)
  • “There is no such thing as truth.” (Is that a true statement?)
  • “There are no absolutes.” (Are you absolutely sure?)
  • “No one can know any truth about religion.” (Then how do you know the truth about religion?)
  • “Science is the only sure method of finding truth.” (What specific science experiment taught you that truth?)
  • “You can only know truth through experience.” (What specific experience taught you that?)


Some people like to avoid the concept of absolutes because they believe it leads to intolerance and makes people judgmental. But people judge others all the time! If someone murders someone in cold blood “just for fun,” most people would say it’s wrong. But that’s a judgment. Of course people will consider the actions of others wrong and judge them: it’s practically impossible not to!

Disagreeing with someone doesn’t make you intolerant, it just means you have a different opinion.

“My teacher’s so unfair! My mom and dad are wrong not to let me go out after 10 o’clock! That person’s so mean!” Judgment . . . judgment . . . judgment: disagreeing with someone doesn’t make you intolerant, it just means you have a different opinion than the other person. The question is, whose opinion is correct?

If You Can Do It, Then So Can I

Many times, people will be offended when a Christian states their views on certain subjects, based on what the Bible teaches. For example, someone might take offense if a Christian disagrees with homosexuality. “God does not agree with it,” the Christian might say.

A typical response might be; “That’s the problem with Christians! They’re always judging other people’s morals and values!” But in doing so they’ve just judged the Christian’s morals and values. Why is it right for one person to judge and not the other?

Some might say “Well it’s OK to judge as long as you don’t try to force your morality and opinions on other people.” But it’s easy to point out that if that is their morality and opinions, why are they trying to force it on other people? There is virtually no way to be a consistent moral relativist.

In another form of literary analogy, this would be like handing someone the last half of a mystery novel and expecting them to understand the whole plot of the story. It would be confusing and out of context.

God made rules in the world he created.

It’s interesting to note that many people passionately argue that there is no clear-cut right and wrong one minute, then say that it’s unfair when such-and-such person at work got a raise and they didn’t, the next! How do they suddenly know that that’s wrong? Because God made rules in the world he created, and everyone recognizes it when they are being treated unfairly. Remember, a consistent atheist saying that there’s no God and no rules shouldn’t say that anyone else’s opinions are wrong, including Christians whose opinions they disagree with!

A Right Conclusion

As a Christian debater, a friend of mine states at the beginning of his debates with atheists: “I would like to thank my opponent for coming out tonight, because in doing so he has proven my entire point: God exists, his Word is true, and there are absolutes.” Why does he say this? Because when people are debating, they are trying to determine truth from non-truth, fact from fiction, and wrong from right. In an atheistic worldview there is no right answer, no concrete 2+2=4 moral scenario. If there is no correct answer, then there is no way to determine which answer is better or more correct than any other. So why are they showing up to debate that their worldview is a better, more correct or “right,” and that the Christian view is wrong? Their entire premise self-destructs by them merely participating in the debate.

Without starting from an absolute source of truth and knowledge, man is forever lost in a sea of relativity with no compass, marker, or guideline from which to navigate. Their knowledge, I.Q., or capacity to learn more and more is futile without the correct starting point of God and his Word. As the Bible says, they will be “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). Christians should never feel intellectually inadequate in their faith, and they can trust in the Creator of the heavens and the earth. It is only through the revelation from his Word that we can know things for certain.

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