Can Atheists Have Morals?

Posted: 10/10/2010 in Church
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Below is a  link to a video of an interview with Sam Harris on the Daily Show.  Sam Harris is a renowned atheist who recently came out with a new book claiming that a shared morality is a possibility without religion.  I thought he made some rather bold claims against Christianity and faith in the process of engaging in an interesting topic.  I have my own reactions after watching this, but I would really like some feedback from others first.


  1. Just watched this on The Daily Show’s website. Interesting point of view. I think I am confused specifically what is meant by saying that you can “quantify” morality. I have heard the argument, however, that you can explain morality through the evolutionary processes and natural selection. Though I do not agree with that explanation, it at least makes a little bit more of sense. Basically, you can explain our moral system based on the fact that things like altruism evolved out of the necessity that we as humans help each other instead of relying on our own strengths to survive. However, I’m not sure that this is what he was talking about. Was his point that morality is something that you can calculate and predict and put a numerical value on or was that just Jon Stewart’s misinterpretation of his points?

    • jemisz says:

      J-Mo, thanks for your insights. From what I’ve been gathering of his position, it seems like he believes that morality can be quantified and calculated by the body’s response to performing “moralistic” deeds. Morals, in his perception, seem to be those acts or deeds which lead to real happiness. These deeds trigger certain nerves and chemicals in the brain which respond in happiness. Therefore, the deeds which lead to triggering these chemicals long-term are the ones we can consider to be moral. Those which don’t are either amoral or immoral. It seems to me like some sort of scientific hedonism.

      In some ways, it makes sense. For example, if I do a “moral” deed (like spending time in a center teaching children who can’t read good) out of obligation, either to avoid hell or boost myself up, then is that really a moral deed??? And if I do the same deed because I genuinely believe it is good, then is that more moral??? If so, then morality IS quantified by feelings or emotions, which could somewhat be measured in the brain’s reaction. Also, it is a good reminder to check our motivations at the door.

      However, although I admit that I’m no expert scientist, how in the world could those results come back with any consistent and valuable data?? And even if they did, could that really prove that morality is a part of the evolutionary process?

      I understand Mr. Harris’ desire to amend the need for atheism to define a moral code. That is a major gap in atheistic theology, for every atheist I’ve ever met seems to have some moral code. Any person without a moral code would be considered insane and a hazard to society. And if morality is not divine, where does it come from?

      J-Mo, I think I liked your explanation of morality evolving out of a need to work together better than the one Harris is proposing. Though I’m with you and don’t really agree with either explanation, I feel as though Harris’ claims take a bit too much faith for me to believe.

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