In the final of naturalism’s answers for the reality of moral truths, we turn to human biology. Its goal: A happy end.
In realizing the problems of moral relativism and its inability to ground transcendent moral truths, philosophers such as atheist Sam Harris (definitely one in the anti-theist camp) believe “questions about values-about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose-are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures.” Since human biology transcends all culture, moral truths (if they’re rooted in our biology) would also transcend all. Human well-being is the transcendent goal of us all. We’ve used the phrase “well-being” (or in other terms “human flourishing”) quite a bit throughout this series, but we must ask the question, what do Harris and other atheists mean when they talk about well-being?
This Theory Begins with Morality to Achieve Morality
If Sam Harris is correct with this view, good actions could be determined by their ability to achieve human well-being, bad actions would diminish it. Seems simple enough, that is until we begin to ask questions. Think of a game of Battleship, each move that sinks the opponent’s ship (as that is the goal) is a good move and every move that doesn’t is a bad move. Good and bad can be determined by the objective. But this begs the question, is Harris’ “well-being” simply biological survival, or something more. Even philosophers who hold to this theory admit that certain behaviors that can aid in the survival of a culture (such as slavery, thievery, and other disturbing behaviors such as rape) also say these behaviors are detrimental to a group’s well-being. Cultures today take resources from and destroy other cultures in order to aid in their own survival and well-being. But someone like Harris would be the first to say, “No, that’s not the way to survive, we don’t do that here.” So it follows that there is a right way and a wrong way to survive and flourish. See that?
This theory from the onset falls into a logical inconsistency. It begins with a definition of well-being already infused with moral truth….to achieve moral truth. This theory wants more than just biological survival, it asks for moral survival before it has explained the ontology of moral truths.
This Theory Produces An Uncertain Moral Compass
Let’s go back to our game of Battleship. There’s a reason I choose that game, because when making moves, the player is completely blind. They don’t know where the opponent’s ships are, they simply hope for the best. If morality is based on the goal of well-being, what happens if a move we think is good produces unfavorable consequences? Does that action become wrong? For example, what if a soldier chose to save the life of a toddler running across the road during a war? That’s a good move and we’d all agree. It would certainly aid in that child’s well-being. But what if I said that child grew to be Hiter? Would the act committed by the soldier now be an immoral act? The well-being of one cost the lives of millions.
If the value of every action is determined by its end result, it produces a terrifying and absurd moral compass. It’s almost impossible to make these decisions with complete certainty, and it follows that nothing has a moral status until we know it’s end result. How can we know the consequences of any action years down the road, and if there happens to appear multiple consequences, both good and bad, does its moral value constantly waver?
This Theory Fails to Tell Us Who’s Well-Being is Most Important
Another question to ask is, why should anyone consider the well-being of stranger’s prior to the well-being of ourselves and our own cultures? History certainly points to a selfish race, committing acts that may aid in the well-being of one culture at the expense of many others. Who gets to decide the definition of well-being and flourishing when and if cultures and individuals disagree about notions of happiness, love, compassion, empathy, and physical and mental health? When there’s a collision of ideals, whose definition of well-being deserves our consideration above another if there is no objective moral standard with which we can measure?
Even more disturbing, if we obtain moral values from the impact of actions on the well-being of our species, why should we care about the poor and disabled who cannot contribute to society’s well-being? The other day I read quite a saddening comment by a disabled person (I’ll refrain from giving away the name out of respect) about this very issue:
“….Things like disabilities are so rare and, when they are addressed, are fixable or give benefits + don’t interfere with the disabled person’s ability to keep up with the able-bodied.
“I have chronic health issues. They interfere with my life to the point that I’d probably be among the first dead in a zombie apocalypse…..Knowing how to purify water does me little good since I’m literally allergic to grasses and much of the outdoors. Add my food allergies, and then there are even more problems.
“From an evolutionary or atheistic standpoint, I could be considered a resource drain. People like me don’t show up in those atheistic universes.”
In Conclusion to Naturalism’s Answers
If we assess an action’s moral value only on the basis of its contribution or detriment to society’s well-being, it leads to disturbing discrimination, as anything that doesn’t aid in society’s overall well-being and survival would be seen as useless at best, immoral at worst. In this theory, shouldn’t we help the more wealthy, better educated, or more intelligent contributors to our society instead of those who are sadly labeled as “Resource drains”? Unless, of course, placed into our conscious is a reflection of the character of an all-powerful, loving, transcendent personal being who’s pivotal act in history revolves around a bloodied cross.
If we try to explain the existence of morality apart from God, we either have to call its existence an illusion of DNA, argue they’re just facts of the universe or attribute them to individuals, cultures, or biology. Each one fails for a fair number of reasons. We possess moral obligation between persons, but what makes us worthy of such obligation if, on a naturalistic worldview, we are simply the product of blind, impersonal physical and chemical laws? There is no reason to believe we are anything more than an accidental product of evolution. There’s nothing special between us and other forms of life in the universe.
We don’t hold other species morally obligated, yet we treat ourselves as worthy of such obligation. If an animal kills, we don’t say it committed murder, rather we simply say it killed. But if we’re no different, why do we consider our own actions differently? World renown Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, said this, “To think human beings are special is to be guilty of speciesism, an unjustified bias towards one’s own species.” Is that all we are? Biased? What if there had of evolved a species more advanced than us? Would we be able to complain if they saw us the same way we see other animals?
Philosophers David Baggett and Jerry Walls once observed, “Persons with intrinsic values and dignity seem much less likely to emerge from valueless, impersonal stuff than from the intentional hand of a personal Creator.” I couldn’t agree more. If moral obligation exists between persons, it’s reasonable for us to look for the transcendent person to whom we are obligated. Transcendent moral laws require a transcendent moral source, and an all-powerful, eternal, personal, intimate, nonmaterial, nonspatial moral law giver would certainly be the most reasonable explanation. If a moral law exists, it’d be based, not on this being’s personal opinion, but on this being’s character, a reflection of His nature as perfection. This person is our ultimate authority.
With all this said, it isn’t surprising naturalists and anti-theists have devised their own theories against the theistic answer in attempts to disregard it from serious consideration. So it’s time to defend the theistic answer….next time.