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Uncertainty the Only Absolute Moral Value?

I’ve been chewing on this for a long time but a recent comment on one of my posts inspired me to finally post on it.  The post was discussing some ‘scholarly’ debate on “Gabriel’s Revelation.”

In the midst of the long comment, the gent said:

“ALL believe (sic) systems must be debunked when they claim their beliefs as fact”

There are several sentences like this, including one where he says there are “inherent frailties involved in trying to “prove the truth” of Christianity.” and adds, “It really applies to all belief systems. An honest search, perhaps lasting years as mine has (decades) will tend to inform that “Truth” is based on what a person’s convictions inform.” (emphasis mine)

Naturally, the commenter exempts himself from his own criticism.  There is just one thing that he hopes that people (religionists) have: ” some humility when they preach and so we no longer have the fate of the world in the hands of true believing fanatics of any brand.”

From my experience dealing with secularists, ‘true believing fanatics’ is really a redundancy to them.  A fanatic is, virtually by definition, someone who truly believes what they say they believe.  Likewise, a ‘fundamentalist’ is anyone who believes what he reads in the Bible.   ‘Humility’ in practice means, someone who doesn’t act on what they believe.

My response to the gent was brief:

Is your belief system a fact?

Clearly, if your belief is that all beliefs that claim to be fact must be debunked, then it is also true that this very belief that all beliefs must be debunked must be debunked.

‘Marcus Laruius’ is just the latest in a long series of examples.  One of my favorites is an atheist friend I know- and I truly count him as a friend- who has basically come out and said in explicit terms that reason why he bothers to persuade people (like me) to his position, is not so much because of his supreme confidence in its correctness (morally and factually) but because someone with his views is not likely to go out and blow themselves up in a diner.

Unfortunately, the same logical contradiction present in ‘Marcus Laruius’s’ argument is present in my friend’s view, too.  His greatest concern is those with supreme certainty, hence he values uncertainty and aims to cultivate it.  Certainty is Dangerous, Uncertainty is Good;  this they are certain of.

This type of fallacy is present in several places in the atheistic worldview, and emerges just as often among secular humanists and liberals.

For example, perhaps you’ve heard:  “There is no absolute truth.”

Is this true, absolutely?  It is a self-refuting statement.

Whenever ‘absolutes’ are challenged, the danger of self-refutation emerges.  There are just three possibilities:

  1. Everything is absolute.
  2. Everything is relative.
  3. Some things are absolute and other things are relative.

Number #2 must be eliminated out of hand as logically incoherent, as already discussed.  If ‘everything is relative’ this must apply also to the belief ‘everything is relative.’  #1 is not logically self-defeating, but it is known empirically that it simply is not the case.  The only real contender is #3, and it is a continuing irony that various forms of #2 continue to emerge.  The ‘humility’ of ‘uncertainty’ is one such example.

But having shifted our preferences to #3, something monumental has occurred.

Consider.  Say for example that all morality is relative.  This prompts you to behave as though the only moral absolute is that we must be ‘humble.’  You have in fact pulled the rug from out beneath you.  Having granted that in fact there is one moral absolute, you may as well consider if there might be others and abandon your premise.

This leads to the conclusion (my belief) that some things are absolute and some things are relative.  There are variations on the theme.  For example, an absolute may appear different relative to your perspective on it.  It does not itself cease to be an absolute.  Epistemologically speaking, this is pretty much our perpetual condition.  It is because we all look at things from our own frame of reference that some conclude ‘everything is relative.’  It is an untenable position.

This conversation opens up a very important door.  So many atheists are out there looking for some sort of reasonable basis for investigating the question of God’s existence.  I don’t mean believing that God exists.  I mean they’re looking simply for a reasonable basis for investigating.  Well, here you have it.  If in fact some things are absolute, we are reasonable to search out what those things are.  ‘God’ is often put forward as a contender, and is even sometimes described as the ‘Absolute.’

There can be little doubt that we should like that our Islamic suicide bomber was a bit more uncertain about his own belief system, but it doesn’t follow that the answer is to be uncertain about all belief systems.  It is nonsense to believe, certainly, that we should all be uncertain.  The more proper course is to be certain about the right things, ie, the things that are true, and real.

One supposes that one of those real things is what most of us firmly believe:  it is madness and wildly immoral to strap a bomb to your chest and blow up diners.  And yet to combat such as these the solution is not to cultivate uncertainty, but resist them and fight them knowing with certainty that they are quite wrong.

For there is a dangerous philosophy lurking behind the notion that uncertainty must be valued more than certainty.  Namely, it renders the ‘uncertain’ impotent when engaging the ‘certain.’  If in fact a person who is certain is also a fanatic, your only way to stand in their way is to decide at some point, with certainty, that you ought to stand in their way.

Which brings us back to making sure, as well as we can, that we are certain about the right things, not nothing at all.



  1. Hello Anthony, You are your usual brilliant self here. The hypocrisy of those who believe absolutely in the relativit of all things is maddening. Our best recourse is to pray for them and to hope we get the chance to dialogue with them. Of course, that is easier said than done because most of those Relativist Absolutists also believe that all dialogue with dissenters must be shut down. They would throw us all in jail if they could.

    • Anthony on September 10, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    Thanks, Don.

    Hey, I just saw this on my Facebook page… smells of the same kind of attitude. I have emphasized the relevant part…

    [blockquote]X is hoping that everyone takes a moment today to be thankful for something. Thousands of men and women died today because of narrow-minded people. Let that be a lesson to be learned. The firefighters and all those who risked their lives especially are in my prayers.[/blockquote]

    This is what people think the problem is: that the 9-11 folks were ‘narrow minded.’ Not that they were ‘wrong-minded,’ mind you, but ‘narrow minded.’

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