Secular Ethics and Moral Relativism

QUESTION: Secular Ethics and Moral Relativism

ANSWER:

By rejecting the existence of purpose behind the evolutionary basis for a code of ethics, we necessarily reject any code that exists outside ourselves. This done, all ethics are relative to our interpretation of right and wrong in any given situation. Moral relativism consists of little more than experimenting with ethics in every new scenario. Mason Olds says, “Of course, humanism has no single ethical theory, therefore ethical theory and moral subject must be chosen, examined, and even debated.”1

Secular Ethics – Ethical Relativism is Generally Accepted Morality
These ideas about Humanist ethics are not just the radical ideas of a few Humanists on the fringe. Rather, ethical relativism is the generally accepted morality for Humanists. “The morality or immorality of any behavior,” says Dr. Arthur E. Gravatt, “including sexual behavior, has been put in the context of ‘situation ethics.’ In this approach moral behavior may differ from situation to situation. Behavior might be moral for one person and not another or moral at one time and not another.”2

Joseph Fletcher says that “rights and wrongs are determined by objective facts or circumstances, that is, by the situations in which moral agents have to decide for the most beneficial course open to choice.”3 Herbert W. Schneider calls morality “an experimental art,” saying it is the “basic art of living well together. Moral right and wrong must therefore be conceived in terms of moral standards generated in a particular society.”4 Kurtz says “moral principles should be treated as hypotheses,” tested by their practical worth and judged by what they cause to happen.5

Notes:

Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 Mason Olds, “Ethics and Literature,” The Humanist (Sept./Oct. 1985): 36.

2 Arthur E. Gravatt, quoted in William H. Genne, “Our Moral Responsibility,” Journal of the American College Health Association vol. 15 (May 1967): 63.

3 Joseph Fletcher, “Humanist Ethics: the Groundwork,” quoted in Storer, Humanist Ethics, 255.

4 Morris B. Storer, ed., Humanist Ethics (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1980), 99–100.

5 Paul Kurtz, ed., The Humanist Alternative (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1973), 55.

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