Society Is Absolute

Back on Friday, April 24th, 2009, I made a post, A Moral Atheist, which detailed my view that an atheist, while perfectly capable of being ethical, cannot be moral since an atheist inherently lacks an absolute sense of- or source for morality. The post generated – and continues to generate – some discussion and debate.

One of the prevailing arguments that atheists could, in fact, be moral was that morality can stem from a culture and/or society instead of from a Divine source. This is certainly a seductive argument; who, after all, doesn’t think their society is source of what is Right and Good?

There is a serious problem with that belief though as the philosopher and theologian, Francis A. Schaeffer so very eloquently pointed out:

Here is one simple but profound rule: If there is no absolute by which to judge society, society is absolute.

— Francis A. Schaeffer
How Should We Then Live? p. 224

Think on that for a moment for it is certainly true. In the absence of an absolute – inherently external – source for- and code of morality, a society is absolute in and of itself and the morality of its doctrines, policies, and actions could not be judged.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that this argument of morality stemming from society is a fantasy with no grounding in reality and it never could have any grounding in reality as long as mankind is made up of separate and heterogeneous cultures and societies.

What is sad and more than a little dangerous is that there are apparently a sizable number who either believe this or, at least, are willing to use the idea to rationalize their positions on morality.

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9 Responses to “Society Is Absolute”

  1. zhann Says:

    I hate to throw a monkey wrench into your theory, but a counterpoint to your argument is that God was created in Man’s image, and not the other way around. Each society formed a God that appeased that specific culture’s needs, and the rules that followed were made to appease the people at hand. Claiming a set of Morals derived from a fabricated God begs the question … Which God are you referring to? The vast majority of rules picked by an arbitrary God can be countered by a different God. One God claims murder is wrong, while another claims it is right. One claims thievery is wrong, while another it is right. I get the feeling I made this statement, or something similar, last time, but it doesn’t take away from its truth.

    Basing morals on some random God makes about as much sense as following a random street preacher … their basis of truth is virtually equal.

    Right and wrong are taught based on the society, or religion, at hand. The similarities between various moral foundations exist for a number of reasons, not least of which is self preservation.

  2. Boz Says:

    op said: “One of the prevailing arguments that atheists could, in fact, be moral was that morality can stem from a culture and/or society instead of from a Divine source.”

    morality does not come from a divine source.

    The burden of evidence is on the person who makes the positive claim that it does.

    jonolan, are you claiming that morality comes from a divine souce? If so, how do you know?

  3. jonolan Says:


    No burden of proof exists. The simple fact that Right and Wrong must stem from something other than Man himself is self-evident.

    Certainly it must stem from outside culture and/or societies, unless one is willing to say that there was nothing morally repugnant about: the Turks’ genocide of the Armenians, Australia’s pogrom vs. the Aborigines, Nazi Germany et al, Mao’s Cultural Revolution and later Great Leap Forward, the “Gangsta Culture” among the Blacks in America, the Taliban…

  4. zhann Says:

    Ah, but the Taliban, for example, use their God to justify their moral rights. They feel completely justified in their action and they, like you, are claiming God to be the originator of their moral values. Using God is a slippery slope.
    Moral atheists are moral for the sake of being moral and not because they are scared of the consequences by their God for being immoral.

  5. jonolan Says:


    Please do not mistake me; the world’s religions – it’s churches if you will – are made of brick, mortar, and very fallible men. I have no qualms about saying that those religions and their adherents often get things wrong.

    [sic]…I do, however, admit that Mankind probably get the details of both “truth” and “morality” wrong a great deal of the time due to our own individual cognitive biases which prevents us from observing something objectively with our own senses, and our notational biases which will apply to whatever we can supposedly measure without the direct use of our senses.

    But the fact that we often get things wrong, or just put aside our belief in Right and Wrong for the sake of personal, material gain, does not detract from the underlying point that morality cannot be thought to stem from society unless one is willing to accept that society is absolute and that it’s actions cannot be judged on moral grounds.

  6. Boz Says:

    jonolan said: “No burden of proof exists. The simple fact that Right and Wrong must stem from something other than Man himself is self-evident. ”

    That’s an interesting point.

    humans must have received their moral intuitions from the Romulans.

  7. jonolan Says:

    And then where would these Romulans have recieved their moral sense from?

    But never mind; You don’t grasp the concept and probably can’t grasp it. By their very nature, the vast majority of atheists cannot see beyond themselves in these matters.

    I’ve no intention of wasting either one of our efforts and time trying to convert you or your way of thinking and looking at the world.

  8. Boz Says:

    That’s one of the Mysteries of the Romulan nature.

    We do not need to know where the Romulans got something to know that they gave it to us.

  9. danstan Says:

    needed sources of morality and how they can influence discipline

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