Atheism has always faced a certain question of morals. Specifically, the question it has faced is this: Absent a revealed moral code handed down from a higher intelligence, how can any one moral system be proven objectively correct? How can any one man’s idea of what is right and wrong be shown to be objectively better than any other man’s? And if one can not be so established, then by what right can any man impose his idea of it upon another man who does not agree with it? How can we have any laws, or any social norms? (Do not, by the way, be so weak-minded as to buy the old argument that “You can’t legislate morality.” That’s what laws are – impositions of a codified morality onto others. There is no law that does not “legislate morality”.)
Recently there have been a spate of books, including prominent ones by Sam Harris, Stefan Molyneux, and Tara Smith, which attempt to answer that question by proving that a set of objective, scientifically-knowable moral laws can and do exist outside of any deity. These are all, of course, demonstrable nonsense. I shall make that demonstration now.
Let us take something that we understand is in fact objective and scientifically-knowable, such as basic arithmetic. It is an objective, scientifically-knowable fact that 2+2=4. This is the only correct answer; any other answer is wrong. Thus, if you ask 100 reasonably-intelligent, reasonably-informed people what 2+2 might equal, you should get the answer 4 every single time, because reasonably-intelligent, reasonably-informed people who all use the same objective, scientifically-knowable method to come up with an answer to the same question should all arrive at the same answer. If, however, you asked that 100 reasonably-intelligent, reasonably-informed people what 2+2 equals, and you find that twenty-five of them said that it equaled 11, twenty-five of them said that it equaled 46, twenty-five of them said that it equaled 3, and twenty-five of them said that it equaled -57, something would obviously be wrong with that picture.
Similarly, let us take basic physics as an example. If, while standing on the surface of the Earth, you release an object with any mass to it, it will fall in only one direction – down. If you ask 100 reasonably-intelligent, reasonably-informed people which direction such an object will fall, you should get the answer “down” every single time. If, however, twenty-five of them say “up”, twenty-five of them say “sideways”, twenty-five of them say “forward”, and twenty-five of them say “backward”, something would, again, obviously be wrong with that picture.
And so we come to morality. If indeed there is an objective, scientifically-knowable method of determining a quantifiable morality absent a deity, then why do atheists disagree on what it might be? Why are there some atheists who are secular humanist liberals, others who are convinced Marxists, others who are libertarians, others who are “Dark Enlightenment” conservatives, and others who are Randian Objectivists? It isn’t even as though there are an overwhelming majority who are of one position, and the rest are statistically insignificant outliers – very large numbers of atheists fall all over this spectrum. And it isn’t as if these are essentially similar moral codes with a few minor points of disagreement, either – they are as fundamentally different in their moral and ethical approach as it is possible to be. How could a large number of ostensibly reasonably-intelligent, reasonably-informed people have applied what we are assured is an objective, scientifically-knowable answer to the same problem and have come up with such a huge variety of drastically different answers?
Something, obviously, is wrong with this picture.
There are really only two possible explanations for this. One is that the allegedly reasonably-intelligent, reasonably-informed people are in fact not as reasonably-intelligent or reasonably-informed as they make themselves out to be – in which case, why listen to anything they have to say at all? The other is that the objective, scientifically-knowable method they advocate is not as objective or scientifically-knowable as they claim.
Either way, demonstrable nonsense.