Morality: Universal & Objective, or Cultural & Relative?

by Glenn Smith

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 society? It seems there is no universal, 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 enormous variation. Carl Sagan writes that there 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 Sagan’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…

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