The Dichotomy Between Religion and Moral Relativism

May 1, 2011

Early in his book _The Reason for God_, Timothy Keller seems to set up a dichotomy between religion (including Christianity) on the one hand, and moral relativism on the other. I have seen this dichotomy before in Christian apologetics, and it seems to me that it’s a false dichotomy. I’ll try to explain why.

Let’s consider a third point of view: There is objective truth about morality, which is potentially discoverable through science and reason, because moral values can actually be reduced to facts about the well-being or suffering of conscious beings, including humans. This is *not* the same as saying that evolution dictates morality, and that the best system of morality is therefore “survival of the fittest”. The theory of evolution can help us understand why we are the way we are — it can even help us understand our deeply ingrained moral intuitions — but it is not enough to tell us how we *ought* to behave. However, other sciences, such as sociology, psychology, and neuroscience, can give us more information about the interactions between humans and the workings of the human brain. And from that information we can derive principles about how we should behave, and possibly even moral absolutes in some cases.

Keller’s dichotomy between religion and relativism comes up again and again in _The Reason for God_, so it will likely be a recurring theme in my posts here. I believe this is a false dichotomy, but I’m willing to be corrected. Is there a reason why relativism is necessarily the only alternative to religion?

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