Moral Absolutes and Materialism

Moral Absolutes

     The second realm of law that the materialistic universe cannot justify falls into the area of moral absolutes. Like logical laws/absolutes, moral absolutes are the universal, abstract and invariant standard that undergirds objective ethical claims. They are absolute in the sense that they are universally binding, they are immaterial in nature and thus abstract and they are invariant in that the moral obligations of these laws does not change with culture. These laws of morality address and answer the question of “ought,” or, why “ought” I not murder my neighbor; as opposed to, why “will” I not murder my neighbor. Hence, they assume a moral obligation in the realm of human experience. As Norman Geisler proclaims, “Absolute moral duties . . . are binding on all people at all times”[1] and in noting this, the question becomes, how in a materialistic view of the universe, there could be anything that resembles moral obligation, transcendent moral law or “oughtness”?

First, as noted, moral absolutes are immaterial and hence, cannot be seen, tasted or touched; all of which are requirements in a materialistic universe. Next, given the presupposition that man in a naturalistic, materialistic universe is simply advanced proto-plasm, why would one assume or how could one arrive at objective moral standards?[2] Put another way, if there is no transcendent form of morality which is effectual in one’s experience and all of humanity’s experience universally, then moral claims are reduced to subjective preferences of the individual or culture, subject to the whims of public opinion and political influence. Finally, the basic assumption of cause and effect in the universe actually precludes punishment for moral failures, given the fact that in a purely materialistic universe, individuals react via the internal and external stimuli which they are subject to. Hence, moral failure is unavoidable, and all the while, objective moral standards cannot be asserted or even accounted for.[3]


[1] Norman Geisler, Christian Ethics: Contemporary Issues and Options, 2nd (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 16.

[2] On this point, Erich Fromm states, “Humanistic religion . . . is centered around man and his strength. Man must develop his power of reason in order to understand himself, his relationship to his fellow man and his position in the universe.” Erich Fromm, Approaches to the Philosophy of Religion, (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1954), 100.

[3] Thus, in a purely materialistic view of the universe, all moral claims are ethically irrelevant, given the foundational presuppositions that make up the materialistic worldview.