Moral Relativism and the Death of Philosophy

Philosophy is dead, long live philosophy.

That is to say philosophy is dying, having been wandering haplessly between the fronts in the thought wars between science and religion and been shot by both sides it now lays unnoticed and bleeding to death.

I say philosophy is dead, long live philosophy because humans are, by their nature, first and foremost philosophers. We will continue to be so long after the disciplines of science and theology “move on” past what they perceive as the discipline’s dead corpse.

The battle between science and religion has become so contentious of late that one feels as if sides must be chosen (wrong). The language of a hot war like this becomes increasingly inflexible to the point that there is no subtlety or nuance to either discipline any more and you are left feeling as if you must chose between one or the other.

Now, as it happens, both science and theology are branches of the mother of all knowledge – philosophy (literally meaning Love of Words/Knowledge). As such and like any good parent philosophy often tries to intervene between its angry brat children Science and Theology as they attempt to poke each other’s eyes out in fits of increasing rage and, like so many parents have discovered, both children turn their anger on gentle mother and tear her to shreds in highly emotional, illogical tantrums before turning back to one another.

The consequences of this battle are only now being felt in culture but the long term implications are profound and frightening. There is a fantastic opinion piece exploring these implications in the New York Times here:

As science fixes its gaze on developing the “winning strategy” over theology it has begun to downplay and even discard anything that is (or even perceived as) relative in favour of the measurable and observable fact that is impossible to disprove. Truth is only what is measurable and observable. While the individual scientist may agree that there are true things out there science has not found – the culture of science in the ongoing thought wars leaves the audience feeling the former – that if it has not been observed and/or measured it does not exist.

Theology is relative according to this culture inasmuch as god is neither measurable or observable in a measurable way.

Unfortunately all sorts of other areas that philosophy once comfortably asserted as being reasonable but immeasurable absolute truths have also fallen into the pit of relativism – caught up in the gravitational pull of a demanding and inflexible argument.

Ethics and morality are now all relative and this has translated simplistically into – “I am the measure of what is good or bad, moral or immoral, ethical or unethical…and my power to assert my determination further determines my truth.”

When ethics and morality become relative there rises the need for people and people groups to accumulate power so as to implement and ensure the survival of their ethic. This leads to conflict. Conflict leads to war. War leads to death.

Is murder wrong? It depends. Is theft wrong? It depends? Is lying, cheating, raping, eugenics etc. wrong…it depends because there is no way according to the scientific method to determine and measure the ethic itself – only the consequences as they impact me.

On the flip side some theologians, or perhaps moreso – the average conservative person of faith, have become suspicious of the absolutism of science (which is ironic given their own absolute claims to the counter) and have begun to deny philosophy’s free thinking nature to investigate and ask dangerous questions.

Do not ask questions…questions lead to answers and we already have answers, why do we need new answers?

This leads to a head in the sand sort of posture that stagnates growth and in many instances leads to regression. The very attitude is counter to the great Protestant Reformer’s creed of “always reforming” – that is to say – we always rethink what we understand to be truth so that we might be open to truth we have yet to recognize.

I am not sure of the way back because unlike many of the generals dictating the strategy of this conflict philosophy is inherently non-aggressive in terms of asserting itself. We will see how things unfold but I for one hope for a truce and a reunion of science and theology under the guiding wisdom of philosophy.