Can Atheism Explain Moral “Oughtness”?

by Tim Stratton

Are there objective moral truths? This question has major ramifications depending on how you answer it, because it ultimately asks, “DOES GOD EXIST?” We can see the connection through examining the Moral Argument:[1]

1 – If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2 – Objective moral values and duties exist.

3 – Therefore, God exists.

To avoid this theistic conclusion, atheists must refute at least one of the premises. Many wind up stating that objective moral values and duties do not exist. By making this move, however, atheists affirm that there is nothing really wrong with Hitler’s Holocaust or the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Since rejecting premise (2) tacitly affirms the atrocities of these obvious evils, committed atheists feel the pressure to find another way to ground objective morality. Some atheists, such as Sam Harris, have attempted to find a logical way to ground objective morality in the “science of human flourishing,”[2] stating: “Whatever advances the flourishing of humanity is objectively good and whatever hinders human flourishing is objectively bad.”

Does Human Flourishing Ground Morality?

Harris has failed on several accounts. For instance, even if moral values could be grounded via this “science of human flourishing,” it would be powerless to explain why the flourishing of humans is objectively good. After all, in the movie, The Matrix, Agent Smith referred to the flourishing of humanity as a “virus,” and a “cancer of the planet.”[3] Is Agent Smith objectively wrong, or do we simply have differing subjective opinions? It would be circular reasoning to argue that the flourishing of humanity is objectively good because one assumes it is objectively good when humanity flourishes…


Can Atheism Explain Moral “Oughtness”?