Does evil need God?

Sam Harris

Sam Harris


“questions about values—about meaning, morality, and life’s larger purpose—are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures.” – Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape





The moral argument for God’s existence is pretty strong, I think, but many atheists seem confident that God is unnecessary to ground objective moral values and duties. I recently took a few hours to revisit a debate between philosopher William Lane Craig and well-known arch-atheist Sam Harris about whether objective morality has any grounding in an atheistic worldview. And I would like some input from my atheist readers on something (yes, I am actually asking for it). I have some friendly atheist readers, not to be confused with this guy, the Friendly Atheist, and I welcome their input. I also have some not so friendly atheist readers occasionally. They will not be responded to.

I am going to present a possible “world” or society with the intent to demonstrate that well-being or “human flourishing” is not an adequate reference standard or foundation for objective morality, contrary to what Harris and others maintain. I think my scenario succeeds in exposing the deficiencies of the human flourishing argument, but maybe I’m missing something. So I am asking the atheist who buys (and sells) the argument to assess my fictitious world for flaws or omissions in reasoning.

As I understand it, this argument for objective morality asserts that it can be grounded in whatever accounts to the greatest human flourishing or well-being. That seems at face value to be a wholly reasonable standard, but when one begins fleshing it out, I believe it shows itself to be wholly unreliable.

So imagine a completely self-contained, isolated society somewhere ruled by a despot and his cadre of underlings. They have decreed the right to choose any young girl in the despotdom, anytime they want, to sexually molest individually and as a group for their pleasure. They have also decreed that if she or her family refuses them, everyone in the society will suffer…food, supplies, medical care etc. will be withheld and every resident, young or old, gets forty lashes.

I think it’s obvious that on the scale of well-being the society is much better off if the rulers are allowed to have their way with one or more young girls. They actually don’t take advantage of this right very often and when they do they always select from a particular tribe. So the great majority of members in this society benefit when these girls are raped and otherwise sexually abused.

So is rape morally wrong here, and if so, on what basis?