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Student-Endorsed Relativism Inconsistent with Morality

Column by Marc Carlin
Guest Columnist

An opinion poll entitled "What is Truth?" conducted on Registration Day, Jan. 28, by Christian Impact affirms the increasingly prevalent view that the concept of universal "morality" is anachronistic and irrational. Less than one third of the student body said that there is absolute truth, despite the fact that over two thirds of MIT students believe in God.

Our society has been steadily moving towards a state of moral relativism, where each individual is granted the freedom to make his own choice about what is right and wrong. This is, above all, a comfortable position to take -- we "live and let live," and are free to do whatever we want because others cannot hold us accountable for our actions. It's trendy, but does it make sense?

If we observe science, an area that we are all familiar with, we find that absolute truth is essential. If what we study is not a closer approximation of the real plan of life than what we knew before, then our toil is in vain. The key factor in the development of Newtonian physics was the belief that the universe has a logical plan. Regardless of what we personally think of the law of gravity, nothing we can do can cause us to fall upward into the sky -- the laws of nature are not negotiable!

Why then, do most of us fail to apply a set of rights and wrongs to human behavior? Many simply claim that there are not, and should not be, any universal rights and wrongs -- but stop and think for a second. If I asked to see your most difficult problem set a half hour before it was due, then took a lighter to it and burned it up, wouldn't that be just plain wrong? Or how about if I planted a crib sheet under your chair during a final, and you were caught? Would you be ready to forgive me if I said, "Hey, by my standards I didn't do anything wrong," or would you be ready to rearrange my face because what I did was wrong -- by your standards?

This idea of absolute truth is also the basis for the establishment of civil rights. Jefferson's Declaration of Independence that said: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." More recent laws about child labor, desegregation, and spousal abuse hold that certain actions are wrong, regardless of the personal morality of the parties involved. Here on campus, we've heard the phrase, "Sexual harassment is wrong and will not be tolerated" enough times to realize this.

With this said, it is all the more surprising that most MIT students reject absolute truth and in particular on the issue of abortion. 58 percent of respondents said that the decision whether abortion is right or wrong is "your choice." 16 percent responded that abortion was "a right" (i.e., it's not wrong and therefore should not be prohibited), and 26 percent thought that abortion was "wrong."

With what reasoning do 58 percent of us say that abortion and other issues are a matter of personal morality, while all of us would agree that discrimination, for example, is absolutely wrong? Reasoning that, like a rotten apple, appears genuine on the surface but at its core is flawed. Abortion, then, is either right -- for the good of the mother and the fetus, or it is wrong -- murder and a violation of the rights of the fetus.

Let's stop kidding ourselves -- we all believe in some sort of absolute truth, whether it be the Law of Universal Gravitation, Ten Commandments, dialectical materialism, or whatever. We cannot declare simultaneously that some things are wrong and will not be tolerated, while other things are a matter of personal choice. Let's stop hiding behind the facade of moral relativism, stand up for what is right, and not be afraid to say it.