A Critique Of Sam Harris' Morality

Over the years, many attempts at justifying objective morality have been made by atheists. See, denying the objectivity of morality – which appears to be the natural thing to do if atheism is true – leads to a bit of a problem: you cannot take the moral high-ground over theists without contradicting yourself. But claiming to be morally superior is one of the hallmarks of New Atheism. Richard Dawkins famously accused God of being immoral. Here’s what he said:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. [1]

In like fashion, Christopher Hitchens accused religion of some nasty things.

Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience. [2]


Here’s the thing: both Dawkins and Hitchens assume an objective moral standard by which to measure the actions of God and religion. If there’s no objective morality it doesn’t really matter what God (or anybody) did. Without God, we’re just a bunch of arrogant clumps of stardust. Does it really make sense to call it “murder” when stardust bumps into stardust?

Since there is no God [in atheism], there is no absolute moral standard, and nothing is wrong. The torture of little children is not wrong in an atheist’s universe. It may be painful, but it is not wrong. [3]

The problem atheists face is that their worldview doesn’t allow for the existence of objective morality. But, nevertheless, atheists cannot shake the feeling that morality simply isn’t subjective. Some things cannot be moral. Some things are evil regardless of time and culture.

Take Ted Bundy, for instance. He raped and killed many women and girls. Now, while an atheist can subjectively believe what Ted did to be wrong, his worldview doesn't allow for the condemnation of Ted's actions. The fact that I don’t like Ted’s actions isn’t any more significant than the fact that I don’t like English tea. I may strongly feel that Ted was wrong to rape and murder, but ultimately the universe doesn't care. And Ted certainly doesn’t agree: he experiences immense pleasure from his evil deeds. Now think about this: why does my feeling that he’s wrong trump his feeling that he’s right?

We ought to ask whether we can call what Ted did ‘wrong’. I see no reason to suggest we can, at least, if atheism is true. Think about it: if all we are is arrogant clumps of stardust, how can anything be right or wrong? What sense does it make to say that, matter touching matter in this way is right, but matter touching matter in that way is wrong?

This leads to the following question: can a jury rightfully sentence Ted? I don’t think so. By whose standard would the jury sentence Ted? What makes our personal moral standards better than Ted’s? Sure, we can say that since he’s living in a certain society he should play by the rules. But we must ask: does society determine right and wrong? In that case, would Ted be right to rape in a society that commends rape? Surely rape is wrong regardless of societal acceptance!

Do you see the problem? Atheism leads to moral subjectivism, anarchism, and ultimately, nihilism. But no one wants society to be governed by nihilism. So, in order to avoid this dark alternative to Christianity, atheists have made many attempts at justifying objective morality without reference to God. This seems like the ultimate Mission Impossible: justifying morality in a meaningless universe. But never fear! The free-thinkers of our age are on it. They’re going to prove this mission possible! They’re going to justify objective morality in a universe governed by grim indifference.

This is what atheist Sam Harris attempts to do in The Moral Landscape. If you haven’t read it, the basic thesis is that science not only tells us what humans do value but also what they should value. According to Harris, science can justify objective morality.

The Moral Landscape came out in 2010. Since then, many scholars have rejected Harris’ attempts at justifying objective morality in an atheistic worldview [i]. Nonetheless, Harris’ moral system is still popular among many New Atheists, including Matt Dillahunty, YouTuber CosmicSkeptic, and YouTuber Rationality Rules. The purpose of this article is to critique Sam Harris’ attempt at justifying objective morality.

Why this article is so important.

Though Harris’ moral system has been renounced by many scholars (on very good grounds, as we’ll see), a lot of atheists still view it as a viable justification for moral values and duties in a world without God. Some Christians mistakenly believe that atheists can (at least to an extent) justifiably make moral claims as if there’s some degree of objectivity to them.

However, the moral problem remains unsolved by any model put forth by atheists to this day. I’d argue that it cannot be solved, because it’s philosophically necessary to ground morals in a mind and the most basic contention of atheism is that there are no minds (just brains) [4]. Hence, morality cannot be anything more than a mere illusion evolved to protect our species.

It’s important that both Christians and atheists realize this: atheism leads to moral nihilism. As Christians, we should press this point always in arguments. Our secular contemporaries have no foundation for their moral judgments. When atheists denounce Christianity because of the supposed immorality of religion, be sure to press them on a justification for their moral claim.

A brief summary of Harris’ moral system.

The basic premise of The Moral Landscape is very simple: if we can agree on a goal for morality, science can determine objectively “good” and “bad” attempts at realizing this goal. For example, if your goal is to be happy, science can determine that it is objectively “better” for you (in terms of reaching happiness) to not eat poison. Eating poison is an objectively bad attempt at realizing your goal. In this way, though the goal is subjective, there are objective distinctions to be made between different ways of reaching the goal.

This first point is uncontroversial. It is reasonable to say that science can help determine means to an end. For example, if we can establish that it’s morally good for parents to value their children's health, it naturally follows that eating your baby is immoral.

So science can establish objective means to reach an end. But the end would still be subjective, right?

This is where Harris makes his second point: morality can only be about one thing: well-being.

For my argument about the moral landscape to hold, I think one need only grant two points: (1) some people have better lives than others, and (2) these differences relate, in some lawful and not entirely arbitrary way, to states of the human brain and to states of the world. [5]

Harris illustrates this point by describing two very different lives: the Bad Life and the Good Life.

The Bad Life:

You are a young widow who has lived her entire life in the midst of civil war. Today, your seven-year-old daughter was raped and dismembered before your eyes. Worse still, the perpetrator was your fourteen-year-old son, who was goaded to this evil at the point of a machete by a press gang of drug-addled soldiers. You are now running barefoot through the jungle with killers in pursuit. While this is the worst day of your life, it is not entirely out of character with the other days of your life: since the moment you were born, your world has been a theater of cruelty and violence. You have never learned to read, taken a hot shower, or traveled beyond the green hell of the jungle. Even the luckiest people you have known have experienced little more than an occasional respite from chronic hunger, fear, apathy, and confusion. Unfortunately, you’ve been very unlucky, even by these bleak standards. Your life has been one long emergency, and now it is nearly over. [6]

The Good Life:

You are married to the most loving, intelligent, and charismatic person you have ever met. Both of you have careers that are intellectually stimulating and financially rewarding. For decades, your wealth and social connections have allowed you to devote yourself to activities that bring you immense personal satisfaction. One of your greatest sources of happiness has been to find creative ways to help people who have not had your good fortune in life. In fact, you have just won a billion-dollar grant to benefit children in the developing world. If asked, you would say that you could not imagine how your time on earth could be better spent. Due to a combination of good genes and optimal circumstances, you and your closest friends and family will live very long, healthy lives, untouched by crime, sudden bereavements, and other misfortunes. [7]

Harris then states that “it is indisputable that most of what we do with our lives is predicated on there being nothing more important, at least for ourselves and for those closest to us, than the difference between the Bad Life and the Good Life.” [8]

Harris is arguing that to reach the Good Life is the ultimate goal of all of humanity’s subjective morality. If he’s right, we’ll be able to objectively distinguish between good and bad decisions as they relate to this goal of reaching the Good Life. But how does he justify well-being as the universal goal of morality?

He explains:

Ask yourself, if the difference between the Bad Life and the Good Life doesn’t matter to a person, what could possibly matter to him? Is it conceivable that something might matter more than this difference, expressed on the widest possible scale? What would we think of a person who said, ‘Well, I could have delivered all seven billion of us into the Good Life, but I had other priorities.’ Would it be possible to have other priorities? Wouldn’t any real priority be best served amid the freedom and opportunity afforded by the Good Life? Even if you happen to be a masochist who fancies an occasional taunting with a machete, wouldn’t this desire be best satisfied in the context of the Good Life? [9]

Harris is arguing that everyone shares a desire for well-being (a desire to reach the Good Life). It’s altogether absurd that anyone would not have his own well-being and the well-being of his close friends and family as his subjective goal of morality. Hence, we can say that the goal of morality is, according to Harris, universal. It’s not objective, because it doesn’t exist independent of human minds, but it’s not subjective either, because all humans share it (according to Harris). He takes the universal intuition to admit that the Good Life is better than the Bad Life as evidence for a shared goal for morality.

Bill Meacham comments:

Which is the better life? We would all no doubt say [the Good Life]. Harris takes this as evidence that there is an objective way to determine what is morally good and bad. In fact, as the subtitle of the book indicates, he claims that scientific inquiry can tell us what we should and should not value. Harris feels he can say this because he thinks that the proper meaning of ‘value’ with respect to human life – that is to say, the proper meaning of morality – is that which leads to human flourishing, which means, living a satisfying life. Once he has made that move, the rest of his argument is straightforward and cogent: careful observation of what in fact fulfills people is not a matter of philosophical or religious debate, it is a matter of scientific inquiry. We can tell, objectively, what leads to happiness and what leads to misery. Facilitating good lives is what morality is about, says Harris, and that’s why science can tell us what we should value and what we should not. [10]

There are many problems with Harris’ attempt at solving the crisis of moral subjectivism that comes with atheism. Many of them have been pointed out by both Christians and atheists alike [11]. However, since it’s still a very prevalent view among New Atheists (and so-called Internet Atheists), here are 6 of the biggest problems with Sam Harris’ attempt at justifying universal morality.

Problem #1: redefining morality in amoral terms.

In principle, the only thing Harris does is redefining what he means when he talks about goodness in a non-moral way. He defines goodness as “that which supports well-being.” [12] He explains: “questions about values—about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose—are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures.” [13]

In Harris’ view, it doesn’t make sense to ask “why is the well-being of conscious creatures good?” because the well-being of conscious creatures is really the only thing we can mean when we talk about goodness. Hence, to ask, “why is the well-being of conscious creatures good?” is akin to asking “why is the well-being of conscious creatures the well-being of conscious creatures?” or “why is good good?”

But does he actually solve the problem by redefining moral goodness in an amoral way?


Unfortunately, no.

Here’s why: in redefining his terms Harris ends up solving a problem that doesn’t exist. He ends up solving the problem of human flourishing. But no one denies that there are certain things that are conducive to human flourishing. And yes! Science can (and should) tell us what these things are. But by simply equating goodness with well-being Harris isn’t solving the problem of a moral distinction between goodness and evilness. He solves the problem of a scientific distinction between well-being and misery, but he’s not making any contribution to the field of morality.

Problem #2: well-being isn’t identical to moral goodness.

This problem is about the obvious difference between well-being and moral goodness: being well isn’t the same as being good. Harris’ system requires moral goodness to be identical to well-being. If it isn’t, the first point is clearly illustrated: all he did is play with words – he didn’t solve the problem of moral subjectivism in atheism.

Unfortunately for Harris, well-being is distinctly different from goodness.

Let me explain: for well-being to be identical to moral goodness, it needs to be identical in all possible worlds. If we can conceive of a world in which an individual (or group) experiences the Good Life, yet, is obviously immoral, well-being wouldn’t be identical to goodness in that world. But if well-being isn’t identical to goodness in one world, it’s not identical to goodness in any world. Being identical means being identical in all possible worlds.

This means that, if we can conceive of a world in which murderers, rapists, thieves, and people who eat their babies are experiencing immense well-being (the Good Life), moral goodness isn’t identical to well-being. And we can easily conceive of a world in which bad people have good lives. Perhaps it is not likely that our world will come to such an end, but there’s nothing to show that psychopaths cannot be perfectly happy all the while committing the cruelest of crimes. Harris more or less admits this near the end of his book. He remarks that “perhaps there is no connection between being good and feeling good … In this case, rapists, liars, and thieves would experience the same depth of happiness as the saints.” [14]

I cannot stress too much how important this point is: if it’s possible for immoral people to experience the Good Life, Harris’ argument fails because goodness cannot be identical to well-being if bad people are well. If moral goodness doesn’t equate to well-being, all he does is provide us with a guide to living “happily ever after.” Harris partially admits this:


If evil turned out to be as reliable a path to happiness as goodness is, my argument about the moral landscape would still stand, as would the likely utility of neuroscience for investigating it. It would no longer be an especially ‘moral’ landscape; rather it would be a continuum of well-being, upon which saints and sinners would occupy equivalent peaks. [15]

Problem #3: scientific morality shares the problems of utilitarianism. [16]

Does Harris’ scientific morality sound familiar? Maybe that’s because it’s been around for some time: it’s actually known as utilitarianism.

Britannica.com defines utilitarianism as follows:

Utilitarianism, in normative ethics, is a tradition stemming from the late 18th- and 19th-century English philosophers and economists Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill according to which an action is right if it tends to promote happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse of happiness—not just the happiness of the performer of the action but also that of everyone affected by it. [17]

Replace “happiness” with “well-being” and you’ve got scientific morality. I guess there’s nothing new under the sun after all…

Utilitarianism has been here for some time now. It was first introduced by Jeremy Bentham (1748—1832). You can read more about him here. [18]

But why is utilitarianism not employed by countries as a moral system – seeing that it’s been around for some time? Well, there are some problems with it. And seeing how Harris’ scientific morality is basically a reboot of utilitarianism, the same problems apply to his moral system.

First, utilitarianism is incompatible with human rights. This is because the most basic goal of utilitarianism is causing happiness to as many people as possible. In this case, if it leads to a significant increase in happiness for others, the killing of an innocent person can be justified.

Second, if all that matters is the sum total of happiness, a billion people barely getting by is better than a hundred people with extraordinarily happy lives. This seems to be very counterintuitive: surely, a world with only one-hundred extremely happy people seems better than a world with a billion people who experience next to no happiness.

Third, our intuitions about morality don’t support utilitarianism: we don’t think about right and wrong in terms of consequences. We return the trolley because it’s the right thing to do.

Fourth, utilitarianism cannot judge between virtuous and unethical pleasures. For example, is it good to inject someone with heroin? If you simply denounce it because of the inevitable hangover, consider this: would it be ethical to forcibly connect someone to a Matrix-like machine that stimulates their brains?

To be fair, Harris mentions some of these problems. But he fails to see their significance in showing that our intuitions don’t support his moral philosophy. He also fails to provide any solutions worth mentioning to what are clearly major problems for his view.

Problem #4: why choose for long-term well-being over short-term well-being?

Why do people do immoral things? Is it not because they experience short-term pleasure from immorality? Would the rapist rape if it were unpleasurable? Would the thief steal if it were unprofitable? Would the murderer murder if he desired it not?

Well-being is a very vague term. Harris uses this to his advantage by including anything under the term “well-being” that’s usually known as “good.” Unfortunately, he fails to explain why long-term well-being should outweigh short-term well-being. Why ought the teenager not smoke pot? Because, though temporarily pleasurable, it won’t bring him any long-term satisfaction? Right, but why ought he to seek long-term satisfaction over short-term pleasure? This is the question Harris fails to answer.

Harris' fails to address the issue of someone wanting short-term pleasure more than long-term satisfaction. Let me illustrate this with a little fable.


The Chronicles of Jack the psychopath.


Meet Jack. He's a psychopath. He's in his mid-forties, and he experiences immense pleasure from raping teenage girls. Jack feels no sympathy towards his victims and no remorse for his obvious immorality. I mean this very literally: the only thing that provides pleasure to Jack is the brutal raping of helpless teenage girls. He couldn't care less about leading a moral life, or the damage he does to societal well-being.


Recently, a happy little family of four moved into the home next to Jack's. The eldest daughter (Kate), turned sixteen two weeks ago. After some careful planning, Jack has decided to kidnap Kate tonight, when she goes jogging as usual at 7 p.m (she's running cross country state championships next month). What he plans to do with her I'll leave to your imagination...


If you're not an absolute moral relativist (pun intended), you're probably convinced that it's morally wrong for Jack to rape Kate. The question is: what metaethical grounding can atheism provide for this conviction that Jack would be wrong and shouldn't rape Kate?


Why shouldn't Jack rape?


Because he might face repercussions? Surely rape isn’t merely wrong because it comes with repercussions!

Why then is it wrong for Jack to rape? As a Christian, I can say that rape is wrong in and of itself. Even unbelievers know this because they're made in God's image and live in God's world. This is why everyone (even atheists) intuitively know that some things are objectively wrong. But what grounds does their worldview provide for the condemnation of such a horrible act?


In this scenario, Jack couldn't care less about societal well-being or his own long-term well-being. The only thing Jack really wants is Kate. Since he doesn't desire long-term satisfaction and doesn't care about anyone but himself, his fantasy of the Good Life is one where he gets to have every pretty girl unfortunate enough to cross paths with him. Harris admits that such people exist in Chapter 2 of his book, yet he never addresses why people like Jack shouldn't follow their desires.


See, Harris' morality is dependent on people desiring the Good Life. But only the Good Life Harris defines for them. What happens when Jack's version of the Good Life differs from Harris'? What happens when Jack's version of the Good Life includes a few young maidens ready-and-waiting to be sexually assaulted whenever he feels like it?

Problem #5: Harris’ morality is dependent on knowledge.

This problem is a biggie. In defining moral acts as that which contributes to well-being, Harris makes morality dependent on knowledge.

Allow me to explain. If science is to tell us what’s constructive to society, a certain extent of knowledge is required in order to be moral. Is it immoral to be racist? The secular says “yes,” the Christian says “yes,” but our intuition says “no.” It’s a very natural thing to fear that which is (at first glance) so different from you. Imagine the first black-to-white meeting taking place: how both parties must have been petrified out of their skins by what would appear to be the most eccentric of phenomena: a human with different skin color.

If science is to tell us that it’s immoral to kill each other because we look different, it follows that those killed in the wars of the races before science was up to date on the immorality of racism were not killed in immorality. It is perfectly plausible that the eradication of a different race could’ve been seen as a necessary step to take in order to secure the well-being of one’s own race. In this case, in the absence of scientific enlightenment, racism wouldn’t be immoral. Either the ferocious killing of someone because of his skin color isn’t wrong (because the killer doesn’t know it’s for the best of well-being if he refrains from killing his different-colored contemporary), or ignorance is immoral. Because if racism is wrong when the ignorant are racist then knowledge is required to be moral.

Problem #6: Harris almost completely disregards the is-ought problem and Moore’s open question argument.

This is perhaps the biggest problem of all: Harris nearly completely ignores Hume’s is-ought problem. Seeing as the is-ought problem is perhaps the biggest obstacle in forming an authoritative theory for objective moral truth, you’d expect Harris to address it if he thinks that “morality should be considered an undeveloped branch of science.” [19]

Unfortunately, Harris spends no more than 6 paragraphs (approximately 680 words) discussing one of the hardest problems of metaethics. His big solution? Hume’s is-ought problem is “an artificial and needlessly confusing way to think about moral choice. In fact, it seems to be another dismal product of Abrahamic religion—which, strangely enough, now constrains the thinking of even atheists.” [20]

There you have it, folks! Hume’s is-ought problem is a needlessly confusing way to think about moral choice, and it’s probably the product of religion. Can you believe this? The is-ought problem – the legacy of one of the most noted atheist-philosophers of all time – is supposedly the product of religion. What makes this all the more baffling is that no explanation is presented for why Abrahamic religion is responsible for Hume’s is-ought problem. Are we just supposed to take Harris’ word for it?

Harris’ contempt for philosophy doesn’t end there. Elsewhere he calls Moore’s open question argument [21] a “verbal trap.” Moore presented his open question argument against what’s known as “the naturalistic fallacy.” This is the fallacy “of treating the term ‘good’ (or any equivalent term) as if it were the name of a natural property.” [22] In plain English: the naturalistic fallacy is what Sam Harris is committing in The Moral Landscape! He’s defining “good” by equating it with a natural property (well-being). Since the open question argument has been around for some time, and it directly addresses Harris’ thesis in The Moral Landscape, it’s insufficient, to say the least, for Harris to dismiss it merely on the grounds of being a “verbal trap.”

Bertrand Russel, reviewing Moore’s Principia Ethica (the book in which he presents his open question argument), writes:

On the title-page there is a motto from Bishop Butler: ‘Everything is what it is, and not another thing.’ This simple truism is shown to have been violated by the vast majority of ethical writers, who have been unable to believe that good is really good, but have thought that it must be something else – pleasure, or the life according to nature, or self-realization. They have thought that in so defining good they were giving the actual meaning of the word, and have failed to perceive that, if they were right, it would be an empty tautology to say that the things in question were good … Mr Moore reinforces this position by many interesting and convincing arguments, and is able, by means of it, to demolish most of the reasons which philosophers have given in support of their beliefs. [23

According to Harris, this argument is “easily avoided when we focus on human well-being.” [24] No further refutation provided. Apparently Moore’s open question argument doesn’t warrant a more in-depth response.

This should cause us some concern. Seeing that Harris is proposing an entirely new foundation for moral thought (human well-being) you’d expect he’d at least address the most important issues raised by relevant philosophers. It’s especially concerning that he doesn’t solve the is-ought problem.

The crux of the is-ought problem is that mere facts don’t infer moral duty. To say “you should do this!” is completely different from “this is how things are.” Indeed, it’s so different that we must ask whether it’s possible to derive moral duty (how we should live) from non-moral facts.

To put it more plainly, there’s a gap between “torture hurts people” and “you shouldn’t torture.” This is the is-ought gap: you cannot jump from an is to an ought without justification. You see, the argument, “torture hurts people, therefore, you shouldn’t torture” has a hidden premise: we shouldn’t do that which hurts people. Without justifying this premise the conclusion doesn’t follow. The thing is, this premise can never be justified by rational argument or empirical fact because the premise is non-rational and non-empirical: it’s moral in nature. Think about it: is there some logical rule that dictates we don’t hurt people? Of course not. Is there an empirical fact that forbids us from eating our babies? No – that’s absurd. Empirical facts don’t prescribe, they describe.

This is a massive problem for atheism. According to Hume’s is-ought problem, any worldview with an epistemology of empiricism (like atheism) cannot possibly provide an authoritative basis for moral truth.

Unfortunately, Harris’ Moral Landscape does nothing to solve Hume’s is-ought problem. He merely mentions that “if this notion of ‘ought’ means anything we can possibly care about, it must translate into a concern about the actual or potential experience of conscious beings (either in this life or in some other)” [25] He then observes that “to say that we ought to treat children with kindness seems identical to saying that everyone will tend to be better off if we do.” [26]

Harris’ solution, while it may seem pragmatic, is far from sound. He’s mismatching a categorical normative statement with a hypothetical normative justification. Let me explain: a categorical norm is a norm that is unconditional. For example, saying “you shouldn’t hurt children” is a categorical normative statement, because it’s unconditional. The statement doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hurt children if you want everyone to be better off, it means you shouldn’t hurt children because you shouldn’t hurt children: it’s an unconditional statement. All moral statements are unconditional in nature. They’re not dependent on you desiring anything for you to have a duty to obey them. This is the very essence of morality: unconditionality.

Hypothetical norms are about the best way of realizing your desires. For example, if you want to go to Rome, you should get on a plane. If you want to make friends, you should go out. These are hypothetical norms. You don't have to go to Rome if you don't want to: hypothetical norms are all about desire. They’re also about what you should do, but only in reference to what you want to do. If you don’t want to make friends, you shouldn’t go out. These “oughts” are amoral: they’re hypothetical.

What Harris is doing is providing us with a categorical normative statement (we should treat children with kindness) and offering a hypothetical norm as justification (everyone will be better off if we do).


UseOfReason comments:

Hypothetical norms can’t justify categorical norms though, because the former require you to have a particular desire, whereas categorical norms are independent of what you desire; hypothetical norms only apply to you if you have a certain desire, but categorical norms apply to you regardless of whether you do. [27]

Summary.

In this article, I highlighted 6 of the biggest problems with Sam Harris’ attempt at justifying objective morality. As we’ve seen throughout this article, his “scientific morality” is flawed in many areas. Here’s a brief summary of the points I raised.

  1. Instead of solving the metaethical problem of morality not having an objective reference point (in atheism), Harris merely redefines morality so as to present something it’s not: the well-being of humans.

  2. Though Harris mentions near the end of his book that well-being is different from moral goodness in some conceivable worlds, he fails to take into account the significance this has on his main thesis. If moral goodness isn’t identical to well-being in every world, it’s not identical in any world.

  3. What Harris is proposing in his book is merely a scientific spin-off of Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism. In addition, though he mentions them, he solves none of the problems traditional utilitarianism encounters (e.g being incompatible with human rights).

  4. Harris never discusses the difference between short-term and long-term well-being, and he never explains why we ought to choose for long-term satisfaction over short-term pleasure.

  5. Harris’ morality is dependent on knowledge. This should be discomforting: if ethics requires knowledge, being ignorant becomes immoral. This seems absurd: ignorance isn’t immoral. But if this isn’t the case, a horrific deed done in ignorance (killing someone of different skin-color without realizing that he’s human as well) isn’t really immoral. This seems as dangerous as the alternative is absurd.

  6. Harris fails to solve Hume’s is-ought problem and Moore’s open question argument. Both of these present major problems for his scientific model of morality. He seems either ignorant of, or indifferent towards, the metaethical problems of his supposed universally valid moral system


But… Moral law assumes a Moral Law Giver.

Atheists, then, are still without any foundation on which to build an objective moral framework. This may be fun at first (living in immorality). But, as we all know, immorality is only fun when you don’t have to suffer because of it. When you’re the one being robbed, objective moral laws sounds like a good idea.

But morality can only be objective if God exists. This is because moral law assumes a Moral Law Giver. But because of their sin, atheists don’t like this because they don’t like God’s law. Sure, some of the things they find profitable. Like not murdering, not stealing, and perhaps not lying. But they don’t like the stuff that comes with it. They don’t want to give up their idolatry. They don’t want to stop living adulterous lives. They don’t want to stop chasing Bacchus, and Venus, and embrace Jesus. They live in a narcissistic delusion, ever seeking more pleasure, more money, more pride, and less need for spiritual salvation.

But worldviews are package deals – no one likes this, but it’s true. Either Christianity is true, in which case we have to accept all of God’s commands. Or atheism is true, in which case morality is subjective, nihilism is the future, and the only issue left to consider is suicide. We need to accept either Christianity with all its implications or atheism with all its implications.

But no one likes this. Because of sin, we’d rather live a contradictory life, than face the consequences of either Christianity or atheism. Because of sin, everyone tries to justify a life in-between. A life where, somehow, we get the pros of both Christianity and atheism and the cons of neither. A life where we live with the safety, meaning, and certainty of Christianity, without any of the accountability.

Fortunately, God provided a solution. He sent his Son into the world. And his Son said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John. 14:6).

If you’re an atheist reading this, know that Jesus died so that our sins would no longer separate us from Him. He died so that we may embrace the Father and as a result live a life of meaning. He gave his life so that we may know love, holiness, sacrifice, forgiveness beauty, and goodness. Embrace Him, and you can know these things. You can know Him.

A life without the God of Scripture is ultimately meaningless. You can be a generally good fellow, or you can be the next Ted Bundy. You can live a life of compassion, love, kindness, virtue, and faithfulness. Or you can live a life where you get meaning from the maniacal torture of prepubescent children. On atheism, there’s no moral distinction between these two lives. And there’s no moral reason why you should choose one over the other. Stardust bumping into stardust – that’s all we are whether we give to the poor or eat the poor.

But you don’t really believe this is the case. You don’t really believe that life is without meaning. You don’t really believe that torture is simply painful. You believe that torture is wrong. You believe that rape is wrong. Every fiber of your body shrieks at the thought of watching a 6-foot guy with a balaclava kick a pregnant woman in the belly. Every part of your soul mourns when a loved one is hurt.

This is because you’re made in God’s image, and you’re living in his world. In Him, moral values and duties can be grounded. In Him, we can live objectively meaningful lives. Because in Him, our lives don’t end when we die. Through Him, we’ll be raised at the end of the world. And with Him, we’ll live on the new earth forever!


References


[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion.

[2] Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

[3] Greg Bahnsen, The Great Debate: Does God Exist?

[4] Some will argue, no doubt, that atheists do believe in the human mind (the brain). Even if this premise is granted (that moral can be grounded in the human brain vs the human mind), no objective basis for morality can exist, because no transcendent mind exists (in atheism).

[5] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Introduction.

[6] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Introduction.

[7] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Introduction.

[8] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Introduction.

[9] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Introduction.

[10] Bill Meacham, Philosophy Now, https://philosophynow.org/issues/90/The_Moral_Landscape_How_Science_Can_Determine_Human_Values_by_Sam_Harris

[11] See: Richard Dawkins (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H2mXZzjcJQ), UseOfReason (https://useofreason.wordpress.com/2018/07/23/sam-harris-not-getting-an-ought-from-an-is/), Troy Jillimore (https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/the-moral-landscape), William Lane Craig (https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/existence-nature-of-god/navigating-sam-harris-the-moral-landscape/)

[12] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Introduction.

[13] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Introduction.

[14] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: The Future Of Happiness.

[15] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: The Future Of Happiness.

[16] Give credit where it’s due. For the bits about the shortcomings of utilitarianism, I relied heavily on Cuck Philosophy (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSkzHxIcfoEr69MWBdo0ppg).

[17] Britannica.com, https://www.britannica.com/topic/utilitarianism-philosophy

[18] https://iep.utm.edu/bentham/

[19] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Introduction.

[20] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Moral Truth.

[21] Check this out for more on Moore’s open question argument: https://peped.org/philosophicalinvestigations/summary-moores-open-question-argument/

[22] Britannica.com, https://www.britannica.com/topic/naturalistic-fallacy

[23] Bertrand Russel, https://users.drew.edu/~jlenz/br-moore-review1.html

[24] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Introduction.

[25] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Moral Truth.

[26] Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: Moral Truth.

[27] UseOfReason, https://useofreason.wordpress.com/2018/07/23/sam-harris-not-getting-an-ought-from-an-is/

[i] ‘The Moral Landscape has some good, reasonable, and at times persuasive things to say to such people. But as it turns out, it has little to say to those people who actually do know what the arguments are, and it will not help others become much better informed. Harris might be right that the best way to reach a “wider audience” is to sidestep difficult philosophical issues. But just how helpful to that wider audience can a book be that hides from the complexities of its subject, and misrepresents what it alleges to discuss by making genuinely difficult questions look straightforward and simple?’ (Troy Jillimore, https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/the-moral-landscape) ‘...what [Harris] ends up endorsing is something very like utilitarianism, a philosophical position that is now more than two centuries old, and that faces a battery of familiar problems. Even if you accept the basic premise, how do you compare the well-being of different people? Should we aim to increase average well-being (which would mean that a world consisting of one bliss case is better than one with a billion just slightly less blissful people)? Or should we go for a cumulative total of well-being (which might favor a world with zillions of people whose lives are just barely worth living)? If the mental states of conscious beings are what matter, what’s wrong with killing someone in his sleep? How should we weigh present well-being against future well-being?’ (Kwame Anthony Appiah, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/03/books/review/Appiah-t.html) ‘Imagine a sociologist who wrote about evolutionary theory without discussing the work of Darwin, Fisher, Mayr, Hamilton, Trivers or Dawkins on the grounds that he did not come to his conclusions by reading about biology and because discussing concepts such as “adaptation”, “speciation”, “homology”, “phylogenetics” or “kin selection” would “increase the amount of boredom in the universe”. How seriously would we, and should we, take his argument? It is one thing to want to “start a conversation that a wider audience can engage with and can find helpful”, something that many of us, including many of those boring moral philosophers, seek to do. It is quite another to imagine that you can engage in any kind of conversation, with any kind of audience, by wilfully ignoring the relevant scholarship because it is “boring”.’ (Kenan Malik, https://newhumanist.org.uk/2538/test-tube-truths) ‘[The claim that morality is an undeveloped branch of science is a] most extraordinarily overweening claim and evidently flawed. Science does not generate its own moral values; it can be used for good or ill and has been. Harris cannot stand outside culture, and the "better future" he prophesies is itself a cultural projection.’ (David Sexton, https://web.archive.org/web/20110430172150/http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/lifestyle/article-23938503-the-king-james-bible-bashers.do) ‘Striving to maximise the sum of human wellbeing is making oneself a servant of the world, and it cannot be science that tells me to do that, nor how to solve the conflict, which was central, for instance, to the utilitarian thinking of Henry Sidgwick. Harris considers none of all this, and thereby joins the prodigious ranks of those whose claim to have transcended philosophy is just an instance of their doing it very badly.’ (Simon Blackburn, https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/blackburn-ethics-without-god-secularism-religion-sam-harris)

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