Beyond the absolute/relative truth binary wrt postmodernism


This was a difficult exchange to unravel. I am well aware of how the things one person says trigger thoughts that we are not entirely clear ourselves how they relate. When this happens and I think there is something from the vague connection we are making, I preface by saying some thing like “this reminds me of…” or “this makes me think of…”

One thing to notice is that Bucky_Wood’s first post was responding to SkovandOfMitaze rather than Christy. Though this still didn’t clear up very much. I struggled with understanding the meaning of Bucky’s response from the very first sentence. He seems to be treating “Modernism” and “postmodernism” as eras of history and I had not thought that is what they were. I wanted to see what Wikipedia has to say… but it quickly became obvious that the word is used in a great many different ways…

Modernism is both a philosophical movement and an art movement that arose from broad transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement reflected a desire for the creation of new forms of art, philosophy, and social organization which reflected the newly emerging industrial world, including features such as urbanization, new technologies, and war. Artists attempted to depart from traditional forms of art, which they considered outdated or obsolete. The poet Ezra Pound’s 1934 injunction to “Make it New” was the touchstone of the movement’s approach.

Following the connection to Ezra Pound, I found… from here

‘Make It New’ refers to Ezra Pound’s (1885–1972) modernist imperative and his 1934 collection of essays of the same name.

The first thing I notice is that this is not from the renaissance, enlightenment or even post-enlightenment eras at all and thus making it out to be so looks very revisionist to me. So modernism has followed post-enlightenment, to be followed by post-modernism. Considering the timing it makes me think of the roaring twenties. It was an interesting time following not only the women’s vote but also a de facto-woman president after Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke. How sobering it was when this was followed by the stock market crash, the great depression, and the horrors of WW II. Perhaps it is an era more than anything else… the thinking of people from that era and I suppose people are linking it up with that of the renaissance and enlightenment.

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I remember being so impressed with Mere Christianity, when I read it back in early college. Reread it a few years ago for a Sunday school class and was really disappointed. Anymore, I just don’t see that kind of linear, step by step reasoning working outside of the perameters established by the protagonist in a conversation. Once one leaves those constrains and sees innumerable vectors of thought and experience and activity outside the artifical construct, the logic in the protagonist seems to disolve.

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Hi Bucky_Wood,
This discussion revolves around critical theory, that is not typical table conversation in most households. There is a fair amount of background knowledge needed to really understand the topics. You might find a few free online encyclopedias of philosophy helpful, but people who talk fluently about these areas have done a lot of background reading and thinking. Here are some tools you might find helpful: .

Take your time to read and think over the articles in the encyclopedias (or others you may like better), and to absorb the discussion here. If the themes in this discussion are new to you, give yourself a chance to chew on them.
I suspect this discussion will be going on for a while. You have time to absorb.

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In response to a google search on “post modernism outside academic philosophy, particularly religion” I came up with these answers to following questions:

To the question (my #1): How does the philosophy of post modernism differ from modernism?

Postmodernist thinkers believe that there is no universal truth, abstract or otherwise. Modernism attempts to construct a coherent world- view. Postmodernism attempts to remove the difference between high and low . Modernist thinking asserts that mankind progresses by using science and reason.

To the question (my #2): What does post modernism say about religion?

In a postmodern world there are no universal religious or ethical laws, everything is shaped by the cultural context of a particular time and place and community .

Regarding (my) first question it should be remembered that @Christy pecifically stated that she wasn’t especially interested in these philosophies in an academic philosophy sense. As regards the last sentence of what I’ve quoted “Modernist thinking asserts that mankind progresses by using science and reason”, I think ‘modernist thinking’ comes very close in meaning to ‘scientism’ which could be described as the belief that there is no knowledge you cannot attain by way of science and reason alone. Obviously EC as it is promoted here on BioLogos only asserts the compatibility of science and theology, and does not promote the idea that either one alone is sufficient without the other.

Regarding (my) second question, “In a postmodern world there are no universal religious or ethical laws, everything is shaped by the cultural context of a particular time and place and community”, as I understand what @Christy has said, if there is any universal truths they are beyond our human minds to express which are independent of some cultural context or anotherr. So there isn’t the implication that all religious truths are contextually dependent and therefore somewhat arbitrary. But when we examine writings from earlier cultures we have to realize we are doing so through their human lens which is likely different culturally than ours. Don’t mean to be putting words in your mouth, Christy, but I’d appreciate any correction to my understanding of your position.


Yes, I agree. Oddly enough, it was Pascal’s Pensees that helped me out of that apologetics rut. Here he says much the same as you:

The metaphysical proofs of God are so remote from the reasoning of men, and so complicated, that they make little impression; and if they should be of service to some, it would be only during the moment that they see such demonstration; but an hour afterwards they fear they have been mistaken.


I think this is an oversimplification of the idea of perspectivalism. People tend to conflate “no universal laws” or “no absolute standards of morality” with “Postmodernity says nothing can be called moral or true.” Which is false.

My position is that “absolute truth” as an abstraction is not a super useful construct, because we only access truth relative to our experiences. Morality is applied truth, and the situations in which we apply our culturally influenced understandings of truth are not all the same, so in many ways morality is “relative” to our context. In that it’s related to actual embodied existence in a time and place, not some abstraction.


I agree with that. Truth is first and foremost about what we can say about the world, what we can say is limited by our experience and what we can communicate to another is limited still more by the amount of overlap in our experience.


I do not agree, because it is using a meaning of “relative” which too all encompassing. Of course, you render the word “absolute” meaningless when you contrast it with a meaning of relative which describes everything. But clearly that is not what people are talking about when they contrast relative and absolute morality – where “relative” refers to the aspects of morality which are purely a matter of cultural convention – things like table manners and dress codes and such which obviously are highly dependent on the culture. So that overarching relativity is not the same as what is meant when you claim that morality is not just relative in the sense of being such a fabrication of culture.

Why else does anyone even think that some aspects of morality can be selected by an evolutionary adaptation to living in community? It is because some of those rules have VERY good reasons for them. THAT is what people are getting at with the distinction between absolute and relative truths! And it is the reasons why they are better for the community and species which give an absolute character to them, remaining true regardless of the culture.

Yeah, but that’s kind of the point. My former church uses “absolute morality/truth” to mean “our opinion of what the Bible says” and “relative morality/truth” to mean “other people’s opinions about what the Bible says or what is generally right and wrong.” It’s stupid. They aren’t using “absolute truth/morality” to talk about actual human universals.


YES! Just as I said in my first post of the thread. The problem isn’t that the relative-absolute distinction isn’t real or has nothing to it, but that they are just using it in an incoherent manner.

That said…

I do avoid talking about any “absolute truths,” and instead just say that there an absolute aspect to some things like morality. Extracting the absolute element devoid of any relative elements is a difficult thing to do – and maybe that is the point you are trying make.

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Why does Truth have to exist at all, either as absolute or experiential?

If truth is just about correspondence between what is asserted and how things actually stand in the world, shouldn’t truth be at least possible?

But then I don’t know what should separate simple truth from the absolute variety.

For example…

Take murder. Clearly there are excellent reasons why this must be prohibited because so many aspects of society depend on some degree of trust and safety. How can we contribute in an exchange of goods and services without some assurance that people will not resort to taking what we have from our corpse? Otherwise, there is little reason for people to create anything or provide any services.

But then there are all kinds of issues in defining murder apart from self-defense and upholding social order, with questions when, how, and who these are done, which very much involve all sorts of social convention. What makes one a police officer and when is it taking the law into our own hands… etc… etc…

…and what separates absolutely from actually? I do not see much daylight between those adjectives with respect to Truth.

I presume that my senses inform me of some approximation of reality, but there is nothing I can do to step outside and prove this. I am not sure if that makes me modern or post-modern, but I need neither the label nor the framework.

And I don’t think you need anything better than your senses to make an assertion about the world. The basis of our truth may be different from that of a bat but, whatever the sensory array, we are justified in assuming it is the physical world that they assess. Doesn’t mean we can’t be mistaken. One must sometimes take into account unusual circumstances such as the distorting effect of looking from above at objects below the surface of the water. But of course we assume it is ultimately the physical world giving rise to our sensory experience regardless of how well or poorly we interpret that.

More interesting in a religious context is what gives rise to the experiences some interpret as supporting belief in God. Possibly it is all mistakes in interpretation but I find that an unsatisfying response.

How about the empirical evidence of winning multiple lotteries giving us more than a hint that something is rigged?

I remain unmoved by that sort of testimony. Even the unusual is expected to come up some of the time. If you need that sort of support, enjoy.

I’m not just talking about Maggie but Rich Sterns, George Müller, myself and multiple others. I can understand your desire to dismiss such evidence, but that does not make it justifiable.

I absolutely do.

Here is a good example of my enjoyment: Cabela’s.

Also recall the several providential timings involved in my nephrectomy. It would not be false to say that that was enjoyable (not necessarily fun, however :slightly_smiling_face:) because I knew I was safe in my Father’s hands, whether I lived or died.

Because I assume it is possible to communicate about reality.

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