Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Can you be an Atheist and a Moral Objectivist?

According to Frank Turek:

·       In his book The Moral Landscape , [atheist Sam] Harris takes the position that objective moral values really do exist, and they can be explained without invoking God. He claims that if we just use our reason, we’ll see that “human flourishing” is the standard by which we determine something is good or bad. Anything that helps humans flourish is good. Since reason and science can tell us what helps humans flourish, there is no need for God to ground objective moral values. If Harris is correct, it seems that he has successfully shot down the moral argument for God.

How does Harris obtain this principle of “human flourishing?” He claims that he derives it from reason. However, atheistic “reason” tells us that we are just another animal. If this is so, why do we assume that humans are special and it’s all about “human flourishing?” Why not “cat flourishing” or “cow flourishing?”

Reason or science alone cannot answer this question. Science can observe phenomena but not values. It can see what is but not what should be. Likewise, reason can only function once it has been given a value. It is like conducting science without the laws of science. It cannot say that murder is wrong until it is informed that life is good. By itself, reason cannot tell us, “be good to one another.” Why not instead, “look out for number 1?” Reason cannot mediate between these two.

I had thought that living authentically as a nihilist was the most rational way to live. Before Christ entered my life, it seemed to me that living rationally was a matter of living authentically, according to my feelings. I had been doing “good” because it made me feel good about myself. However, this made me feel like a hypocrite. I was acting altruistically, but I couldn’t find any reason to believe in altruism or other-centeredness. I was just doing it for me, and it didn’t feel right, so I ceased doing “good.”

Of course, Harris will invoke the concept of “human flourishing.” But why should humans flourish? There is absolutely no rational answer for this question. Instead, Harris has secretly imported a moral absolute that only God can support.

Well, isn’t this concept of “human flourishing” supported by the vast majority of humanity? Probably, but this is irrelevant! The mass of humanity had believed that the sun revolved around the earth. Did this make it true? Of course, not! Our opinions do not create physical laws or even moral laws or absolutes, even if everyone agrees.

Well, can’t pragmatism – that which gives the maximum benefit to the maximum number of people – suffice as a basis for moral absolutes? For the same reasons that reason and science cannot suffice, pragmatism also cannot suffice. All three first require a moral absolute. You can have the greatest recipe to bake bread, but it will do you no good with the constituent products.

After all, why should we seek to give maximum benefit to the maximum number of people? There are no scientific or logical reasons to support this idea. However, once we have a God-given, immutable, and transcendent basis for this idea, reason, science, and pragmatism can then begin to amass data to help us understand how to give maximum benefit.

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