Materialistic vs. Christian Morality




Taylor E. Terzek

Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

Lynchburg, VA


Over the past centuries, the battle for the human mind has largely consisted in the bout between atheistic materialism and Christian theism. The latter group found somewhat effective ammunition in natural theology, utilizing those arguments that built up a reasonable belief in the existence of God. The former group, however, continually bombarded such arguments with the charge of inconsistency, where the arguments would suddenly abandon their foundational premise once they arrived at their conclusion – e.g. everything must have a cause, but God does not have a cause.[1] All the more important, much like one’s labor to demonstrate Munch’s The Scream by proving oil pastels and cardboard, natural theology proved to be insufficient in regards to the most important truths of God’s existence – i.e. His character.[2] The Christian theist was, therefore, much distressed. Though the atheist’s manufactured weapons of atheological arguments were easily dodged and destroyed, it seemed that the Christian had no more stones left in his slingshot. Yet, there remained one argument that provided continual annoyance for the materialists, and that was the moral argument.[3]

Kant austerely dismissed almost all natural theology with the exception of his moral argument; and the modern Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, asserted that the moral argument was the most compelling argument for the existence of God.[4] Surely, there is something to be said about the moral argument. Objective morality is the inevitable concession of every reasonable human being, and it is such a realization where the theist can mark out his pestering questions of ‘why’ and ‘how.’ Historically, one can rarely find an atheist attempting to answer such questions of justification, but in the few case studies available, the typical conclusion was that of throwing out justification altogether in a prideful march towards nihilism – one hand covering their eyes, and the other a fist held high. The choices were cast: one could either (1) hold to theism or (2) hold to moral relativism. Such a choice made the theist feel contented about his chances, for moral relativism was hardly tenable for long; but Sam Harris labored to demonstrate an alternative in his book The Moral Landscape (2010).[5]

Harris, one of the claimed ‘four horsemen’ of the new atheists, asserted objective morality, but adamantly denied the need for the existence of God to justify his claim. His ambition instigated nothing short of a popularized frenzy as social media, newspapers, and the ‘blogosphere’ exploded with philosophical discussion.[6] Reviews were published in several journals, notable bookseller’s websites, and Harris eventually responded to his critics.[7] The back and forth is a headache all on its own, but Harris stood his ground and barely flinched.

What, then, is the benefit of another documented analysis of Harris’ claim? Truly, the present study is not a dedicated critique of Harris, but more so a ‘review in passing.’ Harris happens to be the opposing voice one can utilize to engineer a dialogue, a dialogue that is paradigmatic for a relevant moral discussion between atheism and theism. The purpose of the current analysis is to display and meditate on the superiority of the Christian worldview’s understanding of moral truth as opposed to the materialistic alternative. If such a progression constitutes an apologetic argument, so be it; but the aim is to defend and commend the glory of Christian morality over and against materialistic imitations. The analysis will (1) summarize the specific materialistic morality of Sam Harris as found in his book The Moral Landscape, (2) critique it, and lastly (3) supply the superior Christian alternative.

The Moral Landscape: Summary

Sam Harris’ thesis is simple and spelled out repeatedly in his book: morality consists in a concern for the maximal well-being of conscious creatures, and as such, science can inform mankind of values of morality, meaning, etc.[8] The progression of hiswork can be summarized with three essential claims: there is (1) an objective morality, (2) which is determined by science, because (3) the distinction between facts and values is illusory.[9]

Definition of Well-Being

How does one define the ambiguous concept of ‘well-being?’ For Harris, it is similar to the definition of physical health, which does not have an exact definition, but remains important. Further, “the meanings of both terms [health and well-being] seem likely to remain perpetually open to revision as we make progress in science.”[10] The concept of health’s openness to revision does not nullify it as a thing to be pursued or currently recognized. For example, “the difference between a healthy person and a dead one is about as clear and consequential a distinction as we ever make in science.”[11] Similarly, the lack of precision in defining ‘well-being’ does not discount the ability to distinguish between “the heights of human fulfillment and the depths of human misery.”[12] If one can easily distinguish between a healthy person and a dead person (the absolute negative of a healthy person), then health is principally a spectrum that moves from ‘not-dead’ to an unidentified maxim of ‘aliveness.’

Harris thus defined ‘good’ as “that which supports well-being.”[13] How does this definition transform one’s understanding of morality? He claimed, “Defining goodness in this way does not resolve all questions of value; it merely directs our attention to what values actually are – the set of attitudes, choices, and behaviors that potentially affect our well-being.” But, Harris asserted, simply because the concept of well-being is ‘open’ does not necessarily entail that it has an infinite range of answers. In this sense, ‘open’ seemingly implies epistemological ignorance, not moral relativity. Just as a ‘healthy’ person was defined differently a century ago, yet health was still important and valuable, by the same principle, well-being is susceptible to advancements while retaining its objectivity. Therefore, the moral landscape is a finite space.

Objective Morality

The assertion of an objective morality (more developed and explicated throughout chapter one) is the most agreed upon premise between Harris and the Christian theist.[14] The ‘moral landscape’ from which Harris’ drew his title is “a space of real and potential outcomes whose peaks correspond to the heights of potential well-being and whose valleys represent the deepest possible suffering.”[15] Such a picture emphasized the possibility of “multiple peaks,” where multiple answers to moral questions are possible, retaining moral objectivity. Harris utilized the example of healthy food: “no one would argue that there be one right food to eat…yet there is still an objective difference between healthy food and poison.”[16] The multiple answers of well-being do not necessitate moral relativism. Harris is not merely combating faith-based moral claims, but also those within the scientific community who claim moral relativism – who think “notions of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ must be the products of evolutionary pressure and cultural invention.”[17] He is arguing against moral relativism and the claim that science is morally neutral, as well as arguing for an objective morality determined by science. For Harris, one’s atheism need not lead to moral indifference or moral relativism.[18]

Science’s Determination of Values as Facts

Science’s ability to determine or demonstrate morality without a transcendent source, however, is the essential disputation between Harris and the Christian theist; and Harris sought to argue this claim from his third point – i.e. the distinction between facts and values, science and morality, is illusory. This development, the proof of science’s ability to determine morality by demonstrating the non-distinction between facts and values, was the most important assertion of Harris’ book, and therefore, must be the primary area of analysis.

Harris proceeded to combat the drawn distinction between facts and values. Essentially, he believed that values are a type of fact, and the divide between facts and values is illusory in at least three senses:

1) whatever can be known about maximizing the well-being of conscious creatures…must at some point translate into facts about brains and their interaction with the world at large; (2) the very idea of ‘objective’ knowledge…has values built into it, as every effort we make to discuss facts depends upon principles that we must first value (e.g., logical consistency, reliance on evidence, parsimony, etc.); (3) beliefs about facts and beliefs about values seem to arise from similar processes at the level of the brain.[19]

This paragraph was perhaps the most important paragraph of Harris’ book. These three ‘senses’ constitute the major premises that Harris elucidated throughout, seeking to prove his essential claim. Premise (1) emphasized that all knowledge is eventually seen and measured in the human brain. Therefore, beliefs about morality can be seen and measured in the human brain. Premise (2) claimed an axiomatic foundation of built-in values for all objective knowledge – i.e. valued principles (axioms) preface any factual assertion. Premise (3) asserted that neuroscience documents similar brain processes for beliefs about facts (e.g. mathematics) and beliefs about values (e.g. morality).

The Moral Landscape: Criticism

 As a concluding summation, Harris asserted an (1) objective morality, which was (2) determined by science because (3) values are a type of fact, and are thus measurable and informative for the concern of the maximal well-being of conscious creatures. The first premise is uncontested by Christian theism and adamantly affirmed; but the second premise is the source of disagreement, and as the third premise is utilized to prove the second premise, the third premise must be the focus of analysis.

The Good Life vs. The Bad Life

The route to viewing the relationship between facts and values must be prefaced by one of Harris’ introductory claims:

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.[20]

The first point is the assumption of an objective well-being, which Harris equates to an objective morality. Objectivity gives the possibility of such measurements of ‘better’ and ‘worse.’ The second point is the assumption that the objective can then be measured by science, because well-being is related to states of the human brain and its environment. Where is the contention? Truly, it is not with either of these premises, because the Christian theist does not deny that there are ‘better’ and ‘worse’ conditions of human well-being, or that science can measure and inform how human beings can better flourish. In the examples of the ‘bad life’ and the ‘good life,’ there is hardly anyone who deny that the ‘good life’ is better than the ‘bad life.’ [21]

The problem is, however, that the examples paint the picture of circumstances of human flourishing, and the talk of the main character’s morality, especially in regards to his or her moral agency, is wholly absent. The question remains how human well-being (flourishing) concerns morality; and the simple equivocation of the two by Harris does not solve the reconciliation. Of course, mostly all conscious creatures strive for the Good Life as opposed to the Bad Life, but how does the pursuit of morality relate to the pursuit of well-being? The Christian theist asserts that the pursuit of the non-moral ‘good’ – i.e. a thing’s fitness to achieve the end for which it was designed – is within and subsumed by the pursuit of the moral good. In other words, the pursuit of human flourishing is a component of the pursuit of human morality. Thus, there is a relationship between the two, but there is also an apparent distinction. Harris, however, building off the recognized relationship between human flourishing and human morality, simply nullifies the distinction and equivocates the pursuits – i.e. the pursuit of human flourishing is the pursuit of human morality. In a profound sense, this maneuver by Harris allowed him to note the obvious – the relation between human flourishing and human morality – and appeal to the common agreement, but moreover (rather sneakily) expel any distinction between the two. Austerely, he allowed the agreed upon relation to abolish the distinction. Harris continually utilized such a tactic throughout his book, and it provided some significant confusion. His blurred line between moral ‘good’ and non-moral ‘good’ (human flourishing) allowed him to speak of the latter under the guise of the former, which supplied the ability to speak of science as determining the moral ‘good’ when it truly is restricted to determining non-moral ‘good.’

Facts and Values

As previously noted, Harris put forth his three senses to demonstrate that the division between values and facts are illusory. The Christian theist may find it difficult to combat such claims, because, truly, each of the three senses is a correct assessment of the relationship between values and facts. There is indeed a relationship between values and facts, a relationship defined by translation (premise 1), causation (premise 2), and measurement in the human brain (premise 3). Notice, however, that the agreed upon relation between facts and values is not the same as agreeing that there is no distinction between ‘facts’ and ‘values.’ Values certainly and necessarily relate to facts at some level, but this in no way necessitates the marked distinction between ‘values’ and ‘facts’ as illusory. Relationship, even a derivative relationship, expresses distinction. Although values may be derived from facts, the substance of the transference is not purely and exclusively the substance of the fact, the antecedent. The fact does not intrinsically produce the value. There is a process that transforms the fact into a value, and this transformation is conducted through human agency, which differs in its interpretive value contrived from the fact. It is apparent why Harris differed so much from his fellow atheist scientists and philosophers in regards to the relationship between facts and values – i.e. he allowed the agreed upon relation to abolish the distinction. Nevertheless, how does the relationship between facts and values reconcile ‘is’ and ‘ought’?

Harris referenced Hume in his notorious ‘is/ought distinction,’ where he “argued that no description of the way the world is (facts) can tell us how we ought to behave (morality).”[22] The philosopher G. E. Moore agreed with Hume’s observation and produced the ‘open question argument,’ which Harris unraveled:

Moore argued that goodness could not be equated with any property of human experience (e.g., pleasure, happiness, evolutionary fitness) because it would always be appropriate to ask whether the property on offer was itself good.[23]

In regards to Harris’ morality, implementing this ‘open question argument,’ one may ask, ‘Is the property well-being itself good?’ It is a question of justification, not of disagreement. Rarely would one find someone who posed this question because they disagreed with Harris’ premise; and as such, an objective morality is agreed upon.[24] First, one must analyze Harris’ treatment of Hume.

Does the claim that values are a type of fact disarm Hume’s ‘is/ought distinction?’ Is the resolution as plain and simple as recognizing that all values are built from facts? How could these philosophers be so blind? Obviously, it is because one cannot see what one is not looking at – i.e. Hume’s ‘ought’ is not the same as Harris’ ‘values,’ but Hume’s ‘is’ is equivalent to Harris’ ‘facts.’ Harris’ claim demonstrated the non-distinction between ‘is’ and ‘is,’ because he shows that values are types of facts; but he does nothing to demonstrate a non-distinction between ‘ought’ and ‘is.’ For example, ‘ought’ is not necessarily removed from valuations. If one were to claim that they value the act of giving to charity, both in their life and in the lives of others, does such a claim nullify another person’s questioning as to why they ‘ought’ to give to charity? Harris would then point the questioner to the fact that charitable-giving maximizes the well-being of conscious creatures. And it appears that the cycle would continue on in its normal fashion, because values are types of facts, and facts have no ‘ought.’ Harris’ merely noted that values are extended facts, thus expanding Hume’s ‘is,’ and then concluded that there is no division between ‘is’ and ‘another type of is.’

There appears to be a missing premise: (A) Values are a type of fact. (B) … (C) Therefore, the ‘is/ought’ distinction is illusory. Though (C) was not explicitly espoused by Harris, he appeared to mean to lead the reader to such a conclusion. Adding ‘values’ to the discussion, and then marking them as facts, merely placed the ‘ought’ question further along. Harris apparently attempted to supplement ‘ought’ for ‘values’ and then, in the act of demonstrating values were a type of fact, attempted to lead his readers to believe that ‘ought’ is a type of ‘is.’ One cannot prove that there is no distinction between a cat and a turtle by placing another turtle in the room, calling it a cat, and then demonstrating its similarities to the other turtle. In doing so, one has made all cats to be turtles (and vice versa), and thus there is no distinction between the cat and the turtle. A turtle is not a cat whether you call it one or not. And how has the third turtle called cat now affected the overall deliberation? It has only prolonged the real distinction of concern. Once the turtles were proven akin, the cat still remained in the room, remaining to be dealt with. Harris’ ‘values’ is simply an ‘is’ calling itself an ‘ought,’ while the ‘ought’ still remains in the room, remaining to be dealt with. The question remains: why ought one be concerned with the maximal well-being of conscious creatures? Why should human flourishing be an objective moral good? And stating that maximizing well-being ought to be ‘good’ because ‘good’ is defined by that which maximizes well-being can hardly be called an answer, let alone a satisfactory answer.

Rejection of the Need for Justification

In regards to Moore’s ‘open question argument,’ Harris asserted, “If we define ‘good’ as that which supports well-being, as I will argue we must, the regress initiated by Moore’s ‘open question argument’ really does stop.”[25] Perhaps Harris does not fully understand the type of argument Moore is employing, but his response is remarkably short-winded. He continued, “While I agree with Moore that it is reasonable to wonder whether maximizing pleasure in any given instance is ‘good,’ it makes no sense at all to ask whether maximizing well-being is ‘good.’[26] He continued, “It seems clear that what we are really asking when we wonder whether a certain state of pleasure is ‘good,’ is whether it is conducive to, or obstructive of, some deeper form of well-being.”[27] How is the philosophical problem of intrinsic ‘good’ resolved by adding a broader value? Harris does nothing to combat the argument and merely appeals to the ridiculousness of the question. The question is only nonsense on the basis of Harris’ drawn definition. Once Harris defined ‘good’ as that which maximizes well-being, the question became equivalent to asking why one eats food, which is answered without exception, ‘Why would one ask such a thing?’ Furthermore, it seems to be a nonsense question because everyone already knows it to be true. No one sincerely questions whether well-being is good; but the question concerns whether something is good because it maximizes well-being. The argument against Harris regards his justification for objective moral claims, and seemingly Harris has none, and therefore considers it a question better left unhandled.[28]

Harris admitted that he functioned from axiomatic foundations, but for anyone to question these axioms is utterly ridiculous. As Leff did pester, “[All together now:] Sez who?”[29] Notice how this defense completely disarms the apologetic discussion. The Christian’s argument essentially consists in the materialist’s inability to justify moral objectivity, and yet, Harris claims that this discussion is completely fallacious and self-destructive – i.e. it would nullify all disciplines of scientific study. A reply of this sorts hardly constitutes a rebuttal, for he admits the very claim of the Christian. Yes, without such axioms, all knowledge would be near impossible to attain; but in the materialistic worldview, these axioms are unjustifiable, whereas, in the Christian worldview, they are justified by the existence of the ontological Trinity. The mere rebuttal of ‘they need not be justified’ is not a sufficient reply to the Christian’s ‘they are justified in the ontological Trinity.’ One may suppose that Harris rejects such a justification because he would rather have unanswered questions than the answer of God; and unlike his concession of hope for science’s ability to one day determine morality, it is outside of science’s ability to one day justify its foundational axioms since the only route to justification would presuppose the conclusion – i.e. function from the very axioms that it sought to prove.

Approaches to Ought: Mechanical vs. Transcendent

Nevertheless, more than a sentence of negligence explained Harris’ position later in his book, where he noted:

The most common objection to my argument is some version of the following: But you haven’t said why the well-being of conscious beings ought to matter to us. If someone wants to torture all conscious beings to the point of madness, what is to say that he isn’t just as ‘moral’ as you are?[30]

He correctly responded that no one truly and sincerely holds such a position; but continued, “I think we can know, through reason alone, that consciousness is the only intelligible domain of value.”[31] Though he continued to elucidate from the foundation of human consciousness, the root of his answer is solidified – i.e. one need not a transcendent source of value because consciousness is the only intelligible source for value. How can values exist without some conscious mind to express the value? The confusion is apparent. Harris seemingly misunderstood the argument, reinterpreted it from within his materialistic worldview, and as such, he provided a solution that maneuvers the problem further in. To demonstrate the inconsistence: from where did human consciousness come from? Harris resolved human consciousness as a product of the human brain, and therefore the transcendent element is unnecessary. As to how evolutionary activity and natural selection cyclically produced human consciousness, it is an enigma; but the materialistic enigma is better suited for Harris than the moral enigma, because the former supposedly can do away with the latter.

Conclusively, this is the length of Harris’ claimed justification for his moral scheme: values must stem from consciousness, values are a type of fact, thus being measurable and determined by science, well-being captures all expressions of value, and therefore, all morality is concerned with the well-being of conscious creatures. Importantly, the question of justification is not one of mechanics, consisting in tracing out the way this objective morality works and functions in the life of conscious creatures – i.e. Harris’ tracing as far back as scientifically possible to the source (consciousness), then marking how the source works towards values through the human brain. Such a mechanical explication never ascends (or perhaps descends) the ladder to justification. The mechanics of morality remains exclusive to human consciousness routed through the human brain, because morality is an anthropological discipline; but the elucidated mechanics does little to justify the source of why the particulars are designed to move in such a direction. Just as the mobility of an automobile can be explained by the interworking of its engine, axels, and wheels, along with its environment consisting in natural laws, such an explanation only resolves the source of the automobile’s existence if one refuses to ask the question of who or what designed it, for what purpose, what powers the engine, and from where its fuel is sourced. The question of ‘source’ is only satisfied by such a presuppositional limitation conducted by the inquirer, and in the ontological consideration of the source of the vehicle itself, mechanical explanations hardly scratch the surface. Therefore, the mechanical explanation of morality, noting that it functions from human consciousness through the human brain, offers no source of morality itself. One cannot satisfy the question of why a thing exists by explaining how it functions within its existence.

With the noted analogy, however, is it necessary to know the source of the automobile in order to measure its effectiveness and function? Does one’s knowledge of the mechanical source (particularly observed) render the knowledge of its source of existence (generally observed) obsolete in regards to proper use? The mechanic may have sufficient knowledge for the proper workings of the automobile, but without the ‘transcendent knowledge’ concerning the automobile’s purpose in design, which is identified by one route of identifying the source, the mechanical ‘is’ provides no justifiable ‘ought’ for function. Is the mechanic permitted to tell the driver to obey traffic laws? Certainly, one can say that it is best for the longevity of vehicle’s brake pads and engine performance to not crash into other cars, run red lights, drive at careless speeds, take turns too quickly, or drive while intoxicated; but does the remarked ‘is’ of automobile maintenance obligate the driver to care for such things? A caring driver, one that is currently concerned with his automobile, will certainly value the mechanical ‘is,’ but this is an extremely important distinction. The ‘value’ of a maintained automobile for the specified purpose of the driver preceded his adherence to such mechanical indicatives regarding the ‘good’ use of his automobile. The value was not caused by the fact, but the fact was coupled to the valuation of the driver as to better inform his means of accomplishing the end for which he has determined for his automobile.[32] And where might one find the obligatory ‘ought’ in this progression?[33]

The obvious follow-up question is ‘But what driver does not value his car?’ Transferring the analogy, ‘But what conscious creature does not value his well-being?’ Truly, it would only be those that Harris correctly noted as psychopaths and sociopaths. What obligatory ought does Harris, or anyone for that matter, supply to the psychopath’s lack of valuation concerning others’ well-being? For one, the facts of how to maximize well-being will not generate a concern for the maximization of well-being in the psychopath ipso facto. Similarly, explaining how to maximize the performance of one’s automobile does not generate a concern for doing so in the reckless driver ipso facto. But how else might the psychopath or reckless driver be persuaded? This is where the transcendent approach provides an obligation for which the mechanical approach significantly lacks. The mechanic approaches the reckless driver, and he informs him that in order to maximize his automobile’s performance, he ought to drive the car in such and such a way. The reckless driver responds, stating that he does not desire to maximize his automobile’s performance, but he desires to utilize it as car bomb. The mechanical approach would instigate a reply from the mechanic that simply reverts back to his initial statement. The transcendent approach, however, has the ability to appeal to a greater fact, where the mechanic could reply, ‘But that is not the purpose of the automobile.’ Such an assertion assumes transcendent knowledge of the source of the automobile’s existence. Yes, the mechanical approach could produce a similar statement, but as soon as one noted the purpose of the automobile’s very existence, there is an obligatory ‘ought’ that is contrived outside of the mechanics of the automobile. The question of ‘why’ answered with transcendent knowledge supplies an obligation that the answer of the mechanical ‘how’ could not within itself supply. Surely, the mechanical approach could recite the fact and call it an ‘ought,’ but the distinction is in the transcendent method’s superior explanatory power. Notice, however, that the noted source of the automobile’s mobility (mechanical) is not thrown out with the noted source of the automobile’s existence (transcendent); rather the former is placed within the latter and, in fact, justifies the proper aim of its mechanics. Also, notice that the transcendent approach answered with a fact – i.e. the source of the automobile’s existence. The point to be made: facts certainly relate to human values and moral obligations, for all information is provided to the human brain as facts; but the valuation of those facts, which in turn result in moral obligations, necessitate a type of fact that is beyond a mechanical fact. The noted transcendent source of morality, elucidating its design and ultimate purpose, provides a greater obligatory force (ought) to moral objectivity.

Harris returned to Hume’s is/ought distinction, and continued to combat it by demonstrating that “this notion of ‘ought’ is an artificial and needlessly confusing way to think about moral choice.[34] The notion of ‘ought’ he referred to is that which supplied obligatory power to factual statements. It is artificial in the sense 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 it.[35] As it appears, all questions of justification in regards to ‘ought’ regard one’s concern for the maximal well-being of conscious creatures. This is a profoundly correct observation: there is an inseparable link between human morality and human well-being. However, the issue is not consequentialism particularly considered, but the problem arises when consequentialism is generally considered – i.e. when one looks beyond the mechanics of morality and unto the source of morality. Observing a necessary consequence of human morality does not thereby necessitate that human morality is comprehensively defined by the stated consequence.[36] Of course ‘ought’ is artificial within the limited examination of the mechanics of well-being, because ‘ought’ is only established and adhered to within the concession of a transcendent source of morality. Rather than admit this and necessarily hold to moral relativism, Harris seemingly marks the concept behind the term as man-made, and claims that there are obligations nonetheless. How can the notion of ‘ought’ be artificial, but so artificial as to be necessary for Harris to borrow it for his own obligatory force? Similar to his conduct with facts and values, where he allowed facts to consume values, he permits facts to consume ought, thereby leaving no remnant but facts.[37] Conveniently, such a remnant is now accessible for science.

Implementing the Moral Landscape

Morality is not merely a theory to be espoused and explained, but also, and more so, an attainable practice for actual moral actions. How, then, does Harris’ moral landscape work itself into the life of its believers?

Since morality is the concern for the maximal well-being of conscious creatures, then it follows that everyone must pursue the maximal well-being of conscious creatures. ‘Good’ is that which maximizes well-being. There is thus a goal for conscious creature’s moral exertions, whether it is justifiable or not is simply unimportant, but the means of attaining that end is the follow-up consideration. Since values are a type of fact, and facts can be measured by science, then science can inform conscious creatures of how to maximize the well-being of conscious creatures. Conscious creatures, therefore, rely on the ability of science to measure a given action’s influence on the well-being of conscious creatures. Simple examples are countless: murder, rape, and torture do not maximize the well-being of conscious creatures, and therefore, are immoral actions. Despite these clear-cut examples, Harris recognized the need for moral exceptions within an objective morality. For example, the pursuit of physical health often requires temporary suffering – e.g. surgery, physical therapy, disabling medicines, etc. One of the more interesting analogies supplied by Harris concerned the game of chess. He noted that ‘losing your queen’ in chess is often discouraged, but there are certain scenarios where ‘losing your queen’ is a strategically good move.

Decisions and moves have consequences, where the player is ultimately seeking to win the game. Moreover, concerning the ultimate goal of the game, a decision or move is weighed beyond its apparent, immediate, and isolated consequence within the player’s mind. Good chess players are those that can foresee the immediate consequences of their moves in hopes of better paving the way for the ultimate end, which is victory. Certainly, this is the great difficulty – i.e. determining the consequences is subject to the analysis of several outcomes, and those outcomes are in the present game contingent upon the other player’s decision. The study of all the probabilities is a gargantuan task that is, nonetheless, possible in principle and perhaps already accomplished by some super-computer in practice. But what happens when the chessboard and its pieces are increased into what seems like infinity? Such a happening would look very much like the current situation of human existence and the constant call for decision-making. Human beings are called to make moral decisions (which presumably subsumes all decisions) on an infinite chessboard with infinite pieces. Nevertheless, science has been equipped with the ability to inform human beings that ‘such and such’ move increases well-being for ‘such and such’ conscious creatures in ‘such and such’ a situation. The information is certainly valuable, but it does little to inform the player of the consequences of his or her decision in relation to the universality of things. How can one determine if ‘losing his queen’ at this point in the match will ever advance him to a position of victory? How can one determine whether the moral exception will truly maximize the well-being of conscious creatures? This problem of measurement can render even the most noble and well-motivated actions as moot and utterly pointless.[38]

As a matter of correlation, Harris claimed that the ultimate aim of morality consists in the concern for the maximal well-being of conscious creatures – this is the victory. The issue appears in that the typical advancement towards accomplishing an ultimate end is often constituted by subsequent ends that in fact operate with exceptions to the precepts of achieving the ultimate, chief end. More specifically, well-being is often sacrificed as a subsequent end in hopes of attaining the ultimate end. Sacrifices of these sorts are necessary (as noted by Harris); but the sacrificial exceptions must be necessarily informed by the ultimate (universal), since only the ultimate (universal) can exercise authority over the subsequent (particular). Now, the only means for exercising an exception to moral precepts is by route of knowledge concerning the universal well-being. However, the mere knowledge of the ultimate end is insufficient, just as it is insufficient reason to sacrifice one’s queen merely because the player knows that victory is the ultimate end. The knowledge of the ultimate end must be supplied with a connection in regards to the subsequent end’s ability to advance towards the ultimate end. The player must know that ‘losing one’s queen’ in this particular decision will ultimately result in victory. Furthermore, this is typically not a simplified identification of one connection, but a tracing out of a series of connections, each one being as contingent as the former in regards to reaching the ultimate goal. Once again, without a transcendent knowledge, a knowledge of the ultimate end and its connection to a particular action, the imperatives of science will consist solely in mechanical demonstrations for seemingly similar situations.

The assumption that particular well-being necessarily results in universal well-being is simply that – an assumption – and is difficult to couple with the concession of necessary moral exceptions. Further, from within the Christian worldview, a teleological suspension of particular well-being now resides as the paradigmatic center of universal well-being, where the most hideous, heinous, and unjust act – the crucifixion of the perfect Son of God – ultimately resulted in the most beautiful, delightful, and gracious maximization of well-being. This isolated, irreproducible event of the utmost misery was scientifically untouchable in regards to warranting an exception, but the exception has made all the difference.

Concluding Analysis

Sam Harris has adequately demonstrated the inconsistency of claiming an objective morality within a materialistic worldview by conducting circular conversations on the sidelines, intermixed with the truth of neuroscience, the confusion of terms, appealing to the obvious, answering moral questions with non-moral answers, and supplying red herrings with his misinformed understanding of the Christian ethic. It appears that all of the frenzy could have been avoided if Harris had simply resolved to leave the term ‘moral’ out of his discussion, supplying an agreed upon scheme of maximizing human flourishing with scientific advancements. Nonetheless, the frenzy was intentional, not formed out of Harris’ ignorance, where he sincerely attempted to include morality in the discussion because morality supplied the ‘ought’ for his imperatives. Without ‘the well-being landscape’ functioning under the title of ‘the moral landscape,’ there is no ‘ought’ for Harris to appeal to in the occasion of needed correction. His effort is enthralling, but it will require more than the mere semantic performance of redefinition to transfer ‘is’ into an objective ‘ought.’

Christian Morality

If history has consistently taught the Christian one thing, then it is the importance of unified commendation. The post-Chalcedon Eastern Church provided a paradigm that ought to be heeded by all believers: where they continued to grumble about the niceties of the hypostatic union, they became weak and (along with other factors) “prepared the way for the triumph of Islam.”[39] Internal theological quarreling weakens the brethren. Therefore, if Christians wish to stand firm against the tides of materialistic morality, the church must unite under the authoritative Christian morality revealed in Scripture. The destruction of the opposition is only a means to an apologetic end, where the rubbish is cleared and the path becomes navigable unto the destination of revelatory affirmations. And even if some minor debris remains, the destination often belittles the wager of the speed bumps. Accordingly, one must affirm the truth of morality as it has been given to mankind in Scripture.[40]

The Metanarrative of Redemptive History

There are several ways and methods one could employ for the task. One could, for example, venture into the discussion with gaudy terms like ‘deontology’ or ‘utilitarianism,’ and these terms would be highly profitable for any student of philosophy. However, in the information age, where it is everywhere accessible but rarely revered, the common folk of moral discussion have no use for these terms. Neither would they be too accustomed to a recited list of pick-pocketed Bible verses. Rather, given the specific audience and the apologist’s personal understanding, Christian morality ought to be apologized through the metanarrative of biblical revelation, centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ. This progression consists in the elucidation of (1) God as the good designer, creator, and ruler, (2) the prelapsarian man and God’s stated purpose, (3) the postlapsarian man and his corrupted fitness, (4) the law and the covenants, (5) Jesus Christ as the image of God in the flesh, resorting the fitness of postlapsarian man, and (6) the call to hope, which is the vision of God’s future glory in the redemption of all things, faith, which is the substance of the things hoped for as seen in the triumph of Jesus Christ, and love, which is the expression of faith.

Further explained, Scripture noted the creation of man primarily consisting in his distinctive design in the imago dei (cf. Gen. 1:26-27). Therefore, as the basic intimation of the designation of ‘image’ entails, man was vocationally designed to ‘point’ to God – to image him, to glorify him (cf. Isa. 43:6-7). All of creation was purposed with this function, but man was given the unique fitness to accomplish this end by his ability to reflect the nature of God’s goodness as expressed in man’s moral character. With the prideful disobedience of the fall, however, man rejected his essential fitness to accomplish the end for which he was designed, rejected the freedom of reflecting the goodness of God within a perfect relationship with him, and exchanged the glory of God (cf. Psa. 106:20; Jer. 2:11; Rom. 1:23).[41] Importantly noted, the fall in Genesis 3 described the sinfulness of man coming with his attained ‘knowledge of good evil,’ the intimation being that prelapsarian man was not in need of such knowledge since he was in perfect communion with God, who was the source and fountain of ‘good’ (cf. Gen. 2:9; 3:22). Therefore, the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ – moral knowledge – was an unnecessary compensation for man’s sinfulness, which resulted in his spoiled relationship with God who cannot be united with sin. Sparing an elongated review of the function of the law within a covenantal context (cf. Gal. 3:23-24), in the fullness of time, the Father sent Jesus Christ in the form of a man (cf. Rom. 1:1-5; 8:3; Gal. 4:4-5; Phil. 2:5-8). The New Testament writers referred to Jesus to as ‘the image of God’ (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3) and ‘the second Adam’ (1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45; cf. Rom. 5), and in light of his perfect life, consisting in perfect communion with the Father (cf. John 16:32), submission to his will (cf. John 6:38), and complete sinlessness (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 7:26; 1 John 3:5), the intimation was thus a restoration of man created in the imago dei, where Jesus executed the fitness of man to point to the goodness of God. Rather than boast in this perfection, however, the Father ordained for Jesus to die for the ungodly (cf. Acts 2:23; Rom. 5:6; Gal. 3:13-14; Eph. 2:5). It was by the unjust death of the perfect Son of God that imperfect man’s exchange of God’s glory for creation (cf. Rom. 1:22-23), for which the penalty was death (cf. Rom. 6:23), was atoned for in full (cf. Isa. 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 2:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). In an expression of ultimate vindication, the Father resurrected the Son of God in glory (cf. Rom. 4:25; 8:34; 1 Cor. 15:3; Phil 2:9-11; Eph. 1:19-20), whereby his eternal righteousness could now stand in the face of the Father, between his righteousness and man’s sinfulness (cf. Rom. 8:34; Gal. 2:20; 3:27; Heb. 9:12). The means of transference for Jesus’ righteousness unto sinful man was allotted by the grace of God through man’s faith (cf. Rom. 3:28; 4:16; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; 3:13-14; Eph. 2:8-9; 3:17). Faith united the person of Jesus with man (1 Cor. 15:48-49; Gal. 2:20-21; Eph. 3:24), marking the greatest action of man as the act of faith, which applies the work of Jesus Christ to the man. Therefore, the New Testament speaks of exclusively pleasing God and acting morally through faith (Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6), which acts to restore perfect communion with God, once again, through the mediatory role of Jesus Christ. The progression works to restore the conditions of prelapsarian man, where the knowledge of good and evil is resolved in one’s restored relationship with God, often expressed as living by the Spirit (Rom. 8:4-5, 10-11, 13; Gal. 5:16, 25). Man’s righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6), but through faith, the glorious righteousness of Jesus Christ is reckoned to man’s account. Christian morality, then, primarily consists in a restoration of man’s true identity through the accomplished identity of Jesus Christ, which acts to reinstate the fitness of man (transformational) to accomplish the end for which he was designed – to glorify God.

The obligation of man, therefore, Christian morality, essentially consists in faith; and faith has two complementary elements: hope and love. Faith, hope, and love are the interworking of Christian morality. With the accomplished work of Jesus Christ, the precedent was set for the eschatological restoration of all things (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23-28; Rom. 8:22-23; Eph. 1:20-23). In view of this coming renovation, man is called to hope (Rom. 8:24-25; Gal. 5:5). This hope, moreover, is substantive in the present by faith (cf. Heb. 11:1; hypostasis), because faith is the actual of the potential, the certain of the uncertain, and the substance of the thing hoped for.[42] In the action of bringing the hope into the present by faith, faith then is essentially expressed in love (cf. Gal 5:6, 14; Eph. 3:17). We are called to imitate God and walk in love (cf. Eph. 5:1-2), because love is the expression of faith, and faith imitates God by living in Christ, where man’s imitation is applied by Christ living through him. More explicitly stated, Christian morality is understood and implemented with three motions centralized by faith: (1) in regards to perspective, man is brought to the truth of the work of Jesus Christ, supplying the hope of making all things new (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 1:9-10; Rev. 21:5); (2) faith actualizes the understanding by subjectively engaging in this truth with trust; and (3) this trusted truth is thus transformational, where one lives with a supreme love for God and a love for others (cf. Deut. 6:5; Matt. 22:37-40; Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14). Importantly, though justification is sola fide, faith is never alone; it is intrinsically dependent upon its object (hope) and necessarily expressed in love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:2; Jam. 2:17).

The above elucidation is a biblical summation of Christian morality, consisting in hope, faith, and love; but the necessary landscape of God’s ultimate design, aim, and purpose in creation ought to preface its explanation. For, when one speaks of ‘goodness,’ they are often referring to a thing’s fitness to achieve the end for which it was designed; and thus in the deliberation of what makes a man a ‘good man,’ man’s design, purpose, goal, and fitness to achieve these things need to be predetermined. The caveat of speaking of ‘good’ in this way, however, is that it is often used in a non-moral sense – similar to the ‘good’ of Harris’ human flourishing. For the sake of clarity, the moral discussion ought to identify the essence of a term like ‘virtue’ or ‘love,’ which is not too high-minded for the non-scholar, but is not too broad to be misunderstood with a proper connotation.

Apologetically, the Christian’s perspective must be discussed from the standpoint of Scriptural truth. However, a blatant use of Scripture, including citations and recited wording, perhaps postpones the listener’s attention. The discussion may be stunted by the listener’s questionable view of Scripture itself. Therefore, a conceptual translation may be in order, consisting not in a philosophical ascension but a scriptural explication. A preferred mode of apologetic translation consists in (1) elucidating the scriptural metanarrative, and then (2) proceeding into an explanation of Christian morality. The following exposition by Jonathan Edwards constitutes just that – a scriptural elucidation of the essential expression of Christian morality: love God and love others.

Jonathan Edwards and True Virtue

Jonathan Edwards noted that when people speak of virtue, they usually mean “some kind of beauty or excellency…belonging to beings that have perception and will,” which “has its original seat in the mind.”[43] Thus, Edwards proposed that “virtue is the beauty of those qualities and acts of the mind that are of a moral nature, i.e. such as are attended with desert or worthiness of praise or blame.”[44] ‘Disposition and will’ may be archaic to some, so it is best to think of these things as the ‘heart’ of a person.[45] Thus, when one asks what the nature of true virtue is, they are simply asking what makes an action of one’s heart beautiful.

First, there must be an important distinction. Since beauty is a product of perception, two categories present themselves: (1) particular and (2) general. There are some actions of the heart that are truly virtuous, while others only seem to be virtuous – i.e. “some actions and dispositions appear beautiful, if considered partially and superficially,” yet if they were viewed more comprehensively, seen to “the extent of their connections in the universality of things,” these actions would not appear virtuous.[46] A particular beauty appears beautiful in regards to its immediate circumstance, limited perspective, and private sphere; and a general beauty appears beautiful when viewed universally, perfectly, and comprehensively with all its connections. A thing that is particularly beautiful may be without and against that which is generally beautiful. For example: one instrument may be in tune with itself and play a beautiful piece of music; nevertheless, if you place it within an orchestra with ‘misplaced connections,’ it could become a horrible and ugly sound. General beauty is what Edwards means by true virtue, “which, belonging to the heart of an intelligent being…is beautiful in a comprehensive view, as it is in itself, and as related to everything with which it stands connected.”[47] This observation leads to Edwards’ next deliberation:

True virtue most essentially consists in benevolence to being in general. Or perhaps, to speak more accurately, it is that consent, propensity and union of heart to being in general, which is immediately exercised in a general good will.[48]

In regards to the phrase “being in general,” if true virtue consists in the beautiful exercises of the heart, and this is in regards to general beauty, not merely particular beauty, the benevolence of virtue must be directed towards ‘being in general.’ As every being is a member of the universal system of existence, then virtue consists in the union and consent of beings to the great whole. Benevolence towards a particular group or private circle of beings that does not imply a tendency to a union with the great whole of being in general is not of the nature of true virtue. Nevertheless, from one’s benevolence to being in general, exercises of benevolence towards particular beings may arise. In fact, the more one has a genuine affection to exercise benevolence to being in general, the more he will have the disposition to exercise benevolence to particular persons. The essential point to be made: if one exercises benevolence to someone particularly without that exercise stemming from the general disposition to exercise benevolence to ‘being in general,’ that someone is not acting in the nature of true virtue. In regards to the word “benevolence,”Edwards made his first reference to his Christian foundation, as he references the “holy scriptures,” where it is made abundantly plain that “virtue most essentially consists in love.”[49] Thus, the word “benevolence” can be substituted for the word “love.” Benevolence to being in general can also be called “love to being in general.”[50]

The primary object of virtuous love must be ‘being in general,’ which would necessarily include a benevolence to particular beings. Nevertheless, the particular being must be one who is not in disagreement to ‘being in general.’ The emphasis is needed as to permit the opposition of particular beings, where virtue does consist in opposition to enemies of the highest good. From this conclusion, one can assert that the object who has ‘most of being’ – “the greatest share of existence” – ought to have the greatest share of our benevolence.[51]

Pure benevolence in its first exercise [primary object] is nothing else but being’s uniting consent, or propensity to being…and inclining to the general highest good, and to each being, whose welfare is consistent with the highest general good, in proportion to the degree of existence.[52]

The second and subsequent object of virtuous benevolence is ‘benevolent being.’ When one (X) is inclined to love being in general – i.e. when X acts towards the first object of virtuous benevolence – and then sees another (Y) who is inclined to the same thing, X is unavoidably drawn to have greater affections towards Y. Now, as to the reasoning behind this ‘drawing,’ Edwards becomes a bit mystical (which is why he later gives six “particulars” concerning this secondary object); but Edwards’ explanation will culminate into a very tangible and understandable position. Regarding the reasoning: X is drawn to Y because X has had his own existence “enlarged” by his consent to Y; and thus his inclination to love being is increased as his being is increased.

When any one under the influence of general benevolence, sees another being possessed of the like general benevolence, this attaches his heart to him, and draws forth greater love to him than merely his having existence; because…his own being is, as it were, enlarged.[53]

As one loves being in general, he becomes greater united with being in general, concordant with being – i.e. more beautiful – and thus his beauty exceeds his own existence.

All of Edwards’ premises culminated into this profound claim: “From what has been said, it is evident that true virtue must chiefly consist in love to God; the Being of beings, infinitely the greatest and best.”[54] Since the primary object of virtuous benevolence must be ‘being in general,’ then the greatest being must be the chief object of virtuous benevolence; and since God by definition is the greatest and best of beings, all true virtue must essentially consist in love to God. The same conclusion is drawn in regards to the second object of virtuous benevolence, benevolent being. Since God is also the most benevolent of beings, he is worthy of all love directed to the secondary object of virtuous benevolence.

It is easy to identify that this is not the way modern culture views true virtue (love to God), yet it is unavoidable given the logical deduction from Edwards’ premises. It resolves back to the essential claim of the primary object of virtuous benevolence. Since the essence of virtue cannot primarily consist in love to those who are virtuous, because this would conclude virtue to be both the cause and effect of itself (circular reasoning), then ‘being in general’ is left to be the primary object of true virtue – i.e. to act virtuously, one must love the being as being, and not simply love the being for its acting virtuously. Therefore, since ‘being’ is the primary object of love, love to the greatest of beings must be the chief exercise of virtue, and without it, there can be no true virtue.

He that has true virtue, consisting in benevolence to being in general, and in benevolence to virtuous being, must necessarily have a supreme love to God…all true virtue must radically and essentially, and as it were summarily consist in this.[55]

One can see how Edwards has truly paved the way for his conclusion. If one rejects this claim of ‘true virtue chiefly consisting in love to God,’ he must debunk Edwards at his foundation unconditional expressions of love to being in general as the essence of true virtue.

God is not only the greatest and most benevolent being, but also He is the source, fountain, head, and foundation of all being and beauty. Every good and perfect thing is from God, from the very emanation of His own goodness and perfection. God is the one “on whom all is most absolutely and perfectly dependent; of whom, and through whom, and to whom is all being and all perfection.”[56] If one be inclined to love a being for its being, how can it be truly virtuous not to love God, the source and fountain of all being? If one subsequently is inclined to love those who share their love of being, thus being beautiful themselves, how can it be truly virtuous not to love God, the source and fountain of all that is beautiful?


Christian morality is not some deontological weight of suffering impressed upon hedonic creatures, but rather a means of expressing the true design and purpose God has for all things in the ultimate redemptive plan of history. Christian morality is a paintbrush for which God has equipped his creatures created in the imago dei to utilize for the purpose of painting the very nature of God’s goodness – to emanate the glory of their creator. Despite the thwarted fitness of postlapsarian man, Jesus Christ, the second Adam, restored the imago dei in man by coming in the form of a man, living a perfect life, and dying an unjust death; but the Father raised him up in glory, whereby he could eternally advocate fallen man with his righteousness by being united to them in faith. As such, morality is primarily expressed in one’s love to God, from which one delights in his glory by loving his creatures; and it is only in the recognition of this transcendent source from which the well-being of conscious creatures can be confidently and objectively secured and ascribed within the actions of moral agents. Once again, materialism proved itself to be a few steps behind of revelatory truth, and it has only come this far because it skipped a few steps in the name of axiomatic necessities, which are only justifiable within the Christian worldview.


Craig, William Lane. On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010.

Dennett, Daniel C. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. London: Penguin, 1996.

Edwards, Jonathan. The Nature of True Virtue (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960.

Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. New York: Free Press, 2010.

Leff, Arthur Allen. “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law.” Duke Law Journal 1979, no. 6.

Noll, Mark. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012.

Plantiga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977.

Popper, Karl. Conjectures and Refutations, The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, Routledge Classics. London: Routledge, 2002.

Russell, Betrand. Why I Am Not a Christian. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957.

Van Til, Cornelius. The Defense of Faith, 4th ed., ed. K. Scott Oliphint. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub, 2008.

[1] Betrand Russell claimed, “The arguments that are used for the existence of God change their character as time goes on,” Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 9. Although the atheist’s critique is guilty of a categorical fallacy, John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell, and their imitative followers found the criticism completely debilitating to the theist’s argument. As is the case, the theist ought to recognize that the categorical fallacy is necessitated by the opposition’s committed worldview, and therefore press deeper.

[2] Considered particularly, the cosmological and teleological arguments reasonably conclude only so far as deism or polytheism. The ontological argument perhaps better paints the divine picture, but the soundness of the argument does little to prove the ontological Trinity. As Plantiga asserted, “An argument for God’s existence may be sound, after all, without in any useful sense proving God’s existence,” Alvin Plantiga, God, Freedom, and Evil, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1977), 112.

[3] Dr. William Lane Craig’s moral argument serves as a sufficient example, consisting in three premises: “(1) If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. (2) Objective moral values and duties do exist. (3) Therefore, God exists,” On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010), 129.

[4]According to Russell, Immanuel Kant quickly disposed of the typical arguments for God’s existence that ruled his era, but responded and “invented a new one, a moral argument, and that quite convinced him,” Why I Am Not a Christian, 11. Craig, an experienced Christian apologist, claimed “In my experience, the moral argument is the most effective of all the arguments for the existence of God,” On Guard, 144.

[5]Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (New York: Free Press, 2010).

[6] The Moral Landscape climbedto number nine in the New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover nonfiction in October of 2010,

[7] Harris responded to those most notable popular reviewers – e.g. Thomas Nagel, Troy Jollimore, Russell Blackford, Marilynne Robinson, Deepak Chopra, John Horgan, Colin McGinn, Kwame Anthony Appiah – in an article “A Response to Critics” for the Huffington Post, Most of the major advocates for The Moral Landscape were those that serve on the Advisory Board of Harris’ “Project Reason,”

[8]“I will argue, however, that questions about values – about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose – are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures. Values, therefore, translate into facts that can be scientifically understood,” Harris, The Moral Landscape, 1. Harris argued, “Morality should be considered an undeveloped branch of science,” ibid., 4.

[9] Much of the proceeding citations stem from Harris’ introduction. Truly, the essential premises were conveniently summarized in the first twenty pages. Those chapters that followed merely expanded and provided more elucidation to the primary claims supplied in the introduction. As such, one should not wrongfully assume that this student did not allow Harris the opportunity to clarify his positions further along in the work since the citations are almost exclusively contrived from the earlier pages.

[10] Ibid., 12.

[11] Ibid., 12. Is such a distinction consequential? For one, ‘dead person’ is not on the negative end of the spectrum in regards to health; rather ‘dead person’ is the absolute negative of ‘alive person.’ Health is a category that can only apply to the living; and since the dead are not included in the living, the distinction between a healthy person and a dead person is easily marked by the absence of life, not (merely) the absence of health. (A ‘dead person’ in a materialistic worldview is seemingly one who has no brain activity, since a ‘person’ requires consciousness, and the brain creates consciousness. It would seem that an ‘alive person’ has a relatively precise definition within a materialistic worldview – i.e. conscious existence. As Harris would likely concede, such a definition is easily measured by analyzing a person’s brain activity. If the brain is not active, being that he believes consciousness to be created by the brain, then this person is no longer consciously existing and thus no longer alive. If such is the case, the two extremes are precisely defined in regards to the ‘life spectrum’ [if it be correct to now call it a spectrum], and it is this definitiveness on both ends that seemingly lends to the possibility of measurement in all situations.) Harris’ categorical mistake cripples a valuable analogy used throughout his work. If one were to arrive at a funeral and remark that the corpse looked unhealthy, most people would recognize the ridiculousness of that statement. Why? It is because ‘deadness’ is not on the same spectrum as health; it is necessarily outside of the discussion. For example, in Harris’ negative end of well-being, he asserted that it was ‘the worst possible misery for everyone.’ He essentially flipped well-being on its head and extended its opposite to the maximal qualitative and quantitative possibility; but the same process would render the negative end of the spectrum of health as ‘the worst possible physical condition for everyone.’ It is apparent that ‘the worst possible physical condition for everyone’ is not the same as a ‘dead person,’ because the latter is no longer a person within a materialistic worldview. Therefore, Harris’ claim that “the difference between a healthy person and a dead one is about as clear and consequential a distinction as we ever make in science” is quite a sorrowful story. In fact, to call out the distinction between a dead person and a healthy person is too clear to be consequential; the distinction is as clear as the difference between the amount of letters in the number 7 and the word ‘giraffe.’

[12] Ibid., 12.

[13] Ibid., 12.

[14] After the lengthy introduction, which conveniently summarized the thesis and supporting arguments for the entire book, chapter one began with what seemed like a few pages out a Christian apologetics textbook, strongly distinguishing between ontological and epistemological, objective and subjective truth, etc. (ibid., 27-32).

[15] Ibid., 7.

[16] Ibid., 7. Again, is it profitable to show the distinction between food and poison? Are the two really in the same category?

[17] Ibid., 2.

[18]Moreover, “a scientific account of human values…is not the same as an evolutionary account,” ibid., 13. The evolutionary instinctual values of conscious creatures are not sufficient to produce proper valuations for the modern situation. Such conformity to evolutionary instincts would beckon “no higher calling in life than to make daily contributions to their local sperm bank” – i.e. it only generates the value for continued survival, ibid., 13. These evolutionary instincts, which were at one time helpful, are now “frankly incompatible with our finding happiness in today’s world,” ibid., 13. For Harris, morality cannot be reduced to evolutionary instincts, and Christian theism would happily agree. Quite remarkably, the human brain has extended beyond its evolutionary origins – i.e. “flown the perch built by evolution” – in regards to morality just as it has done with “mathematics, science, art, and almost everything else that interests us,” ibid., 14.

[19] Ibid.,11.

[20] Ibid., 15.

[21] Even in the religious concern for the afterlife, there is a pursuit of the good life over the bad life. Harris, however, rather than leave religion be, claimed that such an extension renders a pursuit of the ‘bad life’ on earth. Harris provided the possible exception that people in the Bad Life would achieve some greater happiness in an afterlife; but rightfully noted, this extension does not challenge his “basic claim around the connection between facts and values” (Ibid., 18). Therefore, in such a scenario, Harris’ essential claim would remain true, but it would be radically altered given the universality of things – i.e. the particular assessment of human well-being would become subordinate to the universal assessment of well-being. However, if the particular Bad Life could lead to an ultimate Good Life, what would this do to the designation of the Bad Life? Harris recognized, as a kind of misnomer, “then the Bad Life would surely be better than the Good Life” (Ibid., 18). As it logically follows, if this were the case, “we would be morally obliged to engineer an appropriately pious Bad Life for as many people as possible” (Ibid., 18.) However, why does the idea of an afterlife render the Good Life as the Bad Life? Harris marked the Bad Life as the Good Life in regards to the ultimate life – afterlife added to earthly life – but continued to mark the absurdity of the Bad Life as the Good Life in regards to particular life (earthly life). Yet the Bad Life as the Good Life is not absurd given the universality of life considered. He extends the possible limitations of life, which thus extends the determined valuation of life, and then retracts the limitations and renders the life with extended limitations as absurd. His resulting obligation of engineering maximal Bad Life is not a necessary obligation given the extended limitations of life into the idea of an afterlife. Simply because it is possible for the earthly Bad Life to be considered the Good Life when considered ultimately, such a possibility does not, therefore, necessitate that the earthly Bad Life is the Good Life when considered ultimately. Surely, it is just as possible for the earthly Good Life to be within the ultimate Good Life. The essential difference is that the idea of the afterlife extends one’s valuation of life as good or bad beyond temporal and earthly circumstances, and that such earthly and temporal circumstances do not determine one’s value of life. Therefore, just as the earthly Good Life does not determine the ultimate Good Life, the earthly Bad Life does not determine the ultimate Good Life. The proposition can be expressed as such: (A) The idea of the afterlife extends one’s valuation of life as good or bad beyond temporal and earthly circumstances. (B) Therefore, the earthly Good Life does not determine the ultimate Good Life. (C) Therefore, the earthly Bad Life does not determine the ultimate Good Life. Harris failed to recognize that the idea of the afterlife (A) equally supports both B and C, whereby pursuing an earthly Bad Life is as inconsequential in determining the ultimate Good Life as pursuing an earthly Good Life. Therefore, Harris’ claim that the idea of an afterlife morally obligates mankind “to engineer an appropriately pious Bad Life for as many people as possible” is misleading and utterly incorrect.

[22] Ibid., 10. In his footnotes, Harris cited Dennett’s response to Hume: “If ‘ought’ cannot be derived from ‘is,’ just what can it be derived from?…ethics must be somehow based on an appreciation of human nature – on a sense of what a human being is or might be, and on what a human being might want to have or want to be. If that is naturalism, then naturalism is no fallacy,” Daniel C. Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (London: Penguin, 1996), 468. Similar to Hume, G. E. Moore noted “that any attempt to locate moral truths in the natural world was to commit a ‘naturalistic fallacy’ (Moore, Principia Ethica [1903], 13; cited in Harris, 10.)

[23] Harris, Moral Landscape, 10.

[24] Harris agreeably noted, “I do think anyone sincerely believes that this kind of moral skepticism makes sense,” ibid., 32.

[25] Ibid., 12. Craig asserts that this humanist morality, equating human flourishing to ‘good,’ is an arbitrary and implausible “stopping point,” On Guard, 138. It is not that human flourishing is a wrong way of seeing morality, but the issue is that the analysis cannot end there. Once again, any inquiry that does not sufficiently address the foundational question is one that will ultimately lead back to the foundational question; and there will inevitably be unanswered questions – questions of essential importance.

[26] Harris, Moral Landscape 12, emphasis added. Notice that Harris isolated ‘pleasure’ in Moore’s argument and agreed with his point ‘in any given instance.’ The wording possibly implies that Harris isolated Moore’s argument as an argument against hedonistic morality (pleasure); and Harris rejects such hedonistic understandings of morality: “The problem with using a strict hedonic measure of the ‘good’ grows more obvious once we consider some of the promises and perils of a maturing neuroscience…It might be good to make compassion more rewarding than sexual lust, but would it be good to make hatred the most pleasurable emotion of all? One can’t appeal to pleasure as the measure of goodness in such cases, because pleasure is what we would be choosing to reassign” (fn. 20, pg. 196).

[27] Ibid., 12.

[28] This is similar to Karl Popper’s redirection of Hume’s problem of induction: “I propose to replace … the question of the sources of our knowledge by the entirely different question: ‘How can we hope to detect and eliminate error?'” Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, Routledge Classics (London: Routledge, 2002), 25.

[29] Arthur Allen Leff, “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law,” Duke Law Journal 1979, no. 6: 1249

[30] Harris, Moral Landscape, 32.

[31] Ibid., 32. This recognition allows Harris to answer a popular argument offered by Craig, which states, “Why think that what is conducive to human flourishing is any more valuable than what is conducive to the flourishing of ants or mice?,” On Guard, 138. In hopes that this student understands Harris’ position and points correctly, Harris would seemingly reply that ‘consciousness’ is what separates humans from animals. Since he determines human morality to have its roots in human consciousness, Craig’s argument may have a quick rebuttal from Harris.

[32]Harris cited one of his critics, who stated, “If you do not already accept well-being as a value, then there seems to be no argument for why one should promote well-being,” Moral Landscape, 36. Harris combated the contention by arguing that everyone desires well-being (even the Taliban), and science could correct how “they simply do not understand how much better life would be for them if they had different priorities,” ibid., 37.

[33] This objection to Harris was categorized by Harris himself as the ‘persuasion problem’ in his response to his critics. Also, there was the ‘valuation problem,’ perhaps the causative problem of the persuasion problem, which concerned science’s inability to produce a scientific basis for the value of well-being. Most of the present critique belabors the valuation problem, and this student has continued the assault due to Harris’ unsatisfactory response to his critics. He noted in the Huffington Post, “all of these challenges are the product of philosophical confusion,” and he ‘proves’ this claim by demonstrating how the analogy of health suffers the same challenges, but no one raises the same objections to the practice of medicine ( The only reason such an analogy transfers is because of Harris’ drawn definition – his equivocation of human morality and human well-being (human flourishing).

[34] Harris, Moral Landscape, 38.

[35] Ibid., 38. In Harris’ response to Ryan Born on his blog, he remarked, “In my view, moralizing notions like ‘should’ and ‘ought’ are just ways of indicating that certain experiences and states of being are better than others.”

[36] There are books and books over centuries of ethical examination that continually note the insufficiency of consequentialism and utilitarianism. It is simply not the purpose of this analysis, nor is there sufficient space to document the discussion. Nonetheless, one wonders what Harris glazed over in the historical criticism of the view he came to assert.

[37] In Harris’ response to Ryan Born on his blog, he remarked, “There is only what IS (which includes all that is possible). If you can’t find your oughts here, I can’t see any other place to look for them.”

[38] The ‘problem of measurement’ was another categorized argument that Harris noted in his response to his critics. Ryan Born also labored in addressing the inability of science to determine the intentions of human actions, but Harris answered, “As our minds are, so our lives (largely) become.” He is intimating that the mental state of a person with bad intentions will inevitably produce bad actions and bad consequences, thus inevitably placing him within the mercy of science’s ability to render his actions as ‘immoral.’

[39] Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 71. By contrast, the West suffered little dispute and almost immediate satisfaction with Chalcedon, and therefore “charted a course for fruitful theological reflection on that life-giving mystery,” ibid., 71.

[40] Cornelius Van Til correctly noted, “…It is Scripture, and Scripture alone, in the light of which all moral questions must be answered,” The Defense of Faith, 4th ed., ed. K. Scott Oliphint (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub, 2008), 77.

[41] This is an extremely crucial elucidation in regards to the essence of what sin is – i.e. an exchange of God’s glory for that which is unworthy, which defies the very design and purpose of man.

[42] Hebrews 11:1 reads, Ἔστιν δὲ πίστις ἐλπιζομένων ὑπόστασις, πραγμάτων ἔλεγχος οὐ βλεπομένων (estin de pistis elpizomenon hypostasis, faith is the substance of things hoped). The emphasis is on ὑπόστασις (hypostasis), which is the same Greek word used in Hebrews 1:3 (ὃς ὢν ἀπαύγασμα τῆς δόξης καὶ χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ, os on apaugasma tes doxes kai character tes hypostaseos, He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature)describing the incarnaiton of Jesus Christ.

[43]Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtue (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1960), 1.

[44] Ibid., 1.

[45]Thus, the definition of virtue can be rephrased as “the beauty of the qualities and exercises of the heart, or those actions which proceed from them.” Now the question concerning the nature of true virtue can be restated as such: what is that which “renders any habit, disposition, or exercise of the heart truly beautiful?” Ibid., 2.

[46] Ibid., 2.

[47] Ibid., 2-3.

[48] Ibid., 3.

[49] Ibid., 4.

[50] Edwards continued to make a important distinction between love of benevolence and love of complacence, ibid., 6-7.

[51] Ibid., 9. This is an important point as Edwards goes on to say that virtue consists primarily in loving God, as He is the one who has the ‘most being.’

[52] Ibid., 9.

[53] Ibid., 10.

[54] Ibid., 14.

[55] Ibid., 15.

[56] Ibid., 15.

One thought on “Materialistic vs. Christian Morality

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