Notes from Greg Bahnsen’s lecture, Answering the Relativist.
What we believe is very much a reflection of our environment. The relativist is pointing out the importance of social environment in determining our beliefs of what is and what ought to be the case. Societies tend to differ from one another. This suggests that what we believe about what is the case and what ought to be the case is determined by our society. People will go beyond this and say that there is no objective reality or truth. To deny that there is an objective truth is to deny that there is something that is true for all people. Instead, truth becomes subjective-personal relative. The relativist might also that that there is no absolute right and wrong. Something is absolute when it is unqualified without exceptions. They say all values are relative to the society believing it.
Ask them for clarification
-Are you simply saying that I believe in Jesus, God, salvation etc., but you don’t believe in Jesus etc., or are you saying more than this? There is a difference between saying truth being relative and belief being relative. Yes, people’s beliefs do differ.
-It does not make sense to say truth is person relative, but it does make sense to say beliefs are person relative. To say it is true for me that the car is parked outside but not true for you that the car outside does not make sense. Ask them whether they are affirming relativism of belief or truth. Beliefs are relative but truth is not.
-What if someone says truth is relative?
Relativist: when it comes to objective material things, I don’t believe in relativism, but anything beyond that is relativistic.
Christian: You said that as long as it pertains to the outward physical world, then it is not relativistic. Why not? Why are you not relative about everything? Perceptions are relative. We tend to think that because I see the book on the table is blue, then everyone else does too. For me to take it as beyond dispute that there is a blue book on that table I must assume that I know how you are perceiving things and conclude that all of our perceptions are the same. If I am colorblind, then perceptions are relative. The way I see things are not the way you see things.
What if they are forced to say that everything is relative- truth about empirical and non-empirical truth is relative?
Then they have just contradicted themselves. For them, everything is relative. Is the statement, “everything is relative, relative?” Maybe for you everything is relative, but for me nothing is relative. If you’re a relativist, then you must grant this. If he does, then he is saying that no one knows anything for sure. If so, then why would he say no one knows anything for sure.
To be a relativist about fact is to maintain that there is no such thing as objective knowledge. However, the relativist thesis is an object of knowledge. The relativist is relative about everything except the claim that everything is relative, which according to them is universally and absolutely true. They then cannot even believe that relativism is true. You cannot carry out relativism consistently.
Societies having different morals just shows that people make mistakes in their moral theories. They need to listen to God through his Word for their morals.
To effectively answer the relativist, the quality of your life must be godly. Your life must testify to your belief in moral absolutes.