On the Objectivity of Morality

By Scott Rae

We are moving in our culture toward a view of morality that renders moral values and virtues as no more than simply matters of opinion with no force or application beyond the individual who holds such a view. The contrasts sharply with the notion of morality from a Christian worldview that insists that moral assessments are not only objective but also matters of truth and knowledge. As we come to the celebration of MLK day next week, we should be reminded that King himself held that the moral values on which the civil rights movement was based, were objective and knowable by the average person in the streets. He held that they were objective truths of morality, not subjective matters of individual preference.

My friend and colleague Sean McDowell uses a creative exercise to make this subjective-objective distinction clear to his students. He puts several statements up on the screen and asks the students to shout out either “ice cream” or “insulin” at the statement. The “ice cream” designation indicates a subjective statement, which resembles someone’s preference for flavors of ice cream. By contrast, the “insulin” label suggests an objective statement, which is akin to the statement that insulin is necessary for the body to process sugars.

Take the following statements and categorize them “ice cream” or “insulin”:

1. Coke tastes better than Pepsi.

2. Diet Coke has fewer calories than regular Coke.

3. Hawaii is the most beautiful vacation spot on the earth.

4. George Washington was the first president of the United States.

5. I can bench-press 250 pounds.

6. Action movies are more enjoyable than romances.

7. The earth is the center of the solar system.

8. Abortion, unless the mother’s life is threatened, is wrong.

9. Racial discrimination is wrong.

Let’s think about these statements a bit more. Statements 1, 3, and 6 are all subjective claims that are nothing more than someone’s preferences. They are true for that person, but could be false for someone else. My believing it makes it true subjectively. Or, to put it another way, these three statements are all matters of opinion or taste. To say that it is true for that person means only that it is a reflection of his or her likings. By contrast, statements 2, 4, 5, and 7 are all objective claims…

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