Sunday, 24 June 2012

Absolute Morality? Absolute Bullshit!

One of the things that I see with some regularity on Facebook is that morals are absolute and that subjective or relativistic morals lead to immorality. So I thought I'd try a little thought experiment.

BTW, just because we're going into Nazi Germany circa 1940 this isn't a 'Godwin' okay?

Picture the scene, it's the height of the Second World War and thousands are being killed in London as the Blitz nears its peak with German bombs raining down almost nightly and increasing rumours of an invasion. So the Allies devise a plan in hopes of expediting a conclusion to the conflict.

They will send a man undercover into Germany to spy upon the Nazi's and send back plans, giving the Allies that important advantage. He must succeed, otherwise thousands more will die.

Our spy, let's call him Tommy, is dropped behind enemy lines in France. Dressed as an SS Officer as cover he manages to make his way to the German border but is stopped by a superior officer. Asked where he is going, Tommy explains he's been recalled to HQ and presents the forged papers he has been supplied with. Remember this bit.

Getting into Germany, Tommy is travelling along the road when he is confronted by another superior officer. This officer is more suspicious of the paperwork, something doesn't seem right and, before the officer can raise the alarm, Tommy draws his dagger and slits his throat, killing him. Remember this bit, too.

Hiding out, Tommy runs low on rations, he had to drop his supplies to make a faster getaway having killed the officer. Hungry and without money, Tommy notices some food through an open window and, seeing nobody is around, grabs it all and takes off. Remember this.

Tired and in need of sleep, Tommy takes refuge in a church where the priest is sympathetic to our spy's mission, the church also has several Jewish refugees hidden in the crypt. The next day the Nazi's storm the church en masse to search it and Tommy, thinking on his feet, quickly merges himself into the soldiers to avoid detection.

At this point let's play the Christian game of claiming the Nazis were atheists, contrary to historic evidence. You'll see why in a moment. The Nazis find the priest and the Jews hiding in the crypt and drag them outside to the nearby field. Here, the commanding officer orders the soldiers, which include Tommy, to deface the church, write anti-Christian and anti-God graffiti and to mock and jeer the priest and his beliefs. Remember this bit.

Tommy's mission is too important to jeopardize by attempting to escape so what is he to do when the commanding officer orders the troops to draw their weapons and shoot all of the prisoners? He raises his rifle, takes aim and, closing his eyes, pulls the trigger. A prisoner, a young boy, falls dead. Remember this bit.

Tommy later manages to get away from the troops, making his way to the Berlin Resistance where he can liaise with his contact. Gathering the necessary intelligence he is able to feed back the details for the Axis invasion plan, allowing the Allies time to prepare and eventually turning the tide of the war and bringing it to a faster end. Mission accomplished.

Now let's just recap.

Tommy lies to the officer at the border.
Tommy kills the second officer, albeit in self defence.
Tommy steals food.
Tommy blasphemes Christ and God, including desecrating a church.
Tommy murders an innocent, unarmed child.

Now most people would hopefully argue that these events, although at times tragic, are a necessary evil given the importance of Tommy's mission and the aim of saving countless other innocent lives. This means that the lies, theft, blasphemy and murders committed are not immoral because they were done for the greater good.

If one were to claim that morals are absolute one would have to argue that Tommy should have admitted he was a spy to the border guard, admit the papers were forgeries and subsequently either got shot as a spy or spent the rest of a protracted war in a concentration camp whilst unnecessary innocent people died. Because that was the moral thing to do.

Not quite so easy to argue for moral absolutism when it's actually put into practise, is it! 


  1. Very crisp and well articulated. I've had more arguments with alleged sophisticated theists on this issue than any other. They often parrot that I have no objective standard by which to judge whether an action be moral or not.

  2. Very nice peice, I fully agree.

    And as a partial response to what Rob said, I have often been told the same thing. My question is always "How do you know the absolute morals you ascribe to are actually moral? How can you judge morality if you have no moral standard of your own?"


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