Atheist Richard Carrier on Morality

Posted: August 7, 2012 by Amy Hall in Do the Right Thing

Both Alan and Brett are away this week speaking in various parts of the country, so we’re going to take a summer break from the challenges. (We’ll return to the regularly scheduled challenges next week.)

So instead, for your viewing pleasure, please enjoy this lecture by atheist Richard Carrier on his view on objective moral truths, given to Christian high school students on a Berkeley mission trip with Brett earlier this year. (And of course, you’re welcome to debate it in the comments below!)

  1. chrisvanallsburg22 says:

    Besides begging the question and offering straw man arguments concerning Christian belief regarding the origin of diseases and their cures (along with agricultural abundance or lack thereof), etc., Carrier wants to ground ethics in human desire, based upon study from the various hard and soft sciences through verification and falsification? He sounds like either a crude empiricist like Bart Erhman, or a logical positivist, which has been discarded in the philosophical trash heap of the mid-20th century.

    He finds existential factors of real-life situations that affect human happiness, but offers no justification for them. Ethics need a ground, not in the finite of human desire or experience, but in the transcendent; everything else is relative. Nothing solved here.

  2. chrisvanallsburg22 says:

    For example, when Dr. Carrier says we shouldn’t do drugs because they have established (objective) long-term, negative effects on the body and life in general, he’s only saying the same thing as “it’s established that cancer kills.” Ok, and?

    His is the classic is/ought fallacy of ethics. Just because we see what destroys, doesn’t give us a moral command /not/ to destroy (others or ourselves).

    He assumes that life and happiness are good, but doesn’t answer /why/ they are good, other than saying that they /just are/. But it doesn’t follow that they /just are/ good. Further, happiness, in order to be universal means humans need to obey a whole host of rules concerning behavior toward other and their environs. But what is happiness? Does it have an ontological status? Is it an abstract idea somewhere “out there”?

    Only a Person can give persons a moral command. Happiness does not exist in a vacuum in a universe where Person hood is not at the back of it all. On the atheist worldview, happiness can only be relative to the individual.

    • Ben Schuldt says:

      You say, “He assumes that life and happiness are good, but doesn’t answer /why/ they are good, other than saying that they /just are/. But it doesn’t follow that they /just are/ good.”

      Let’s try that again:

      “[chrisvanallsburg22] assumes that [the Christian god is] good, but doesn’t answer /why/ [he is] good, other than saying that [he] /just [is]/. But it doesn’t follow that [he] /just [is]/ good.”

      Why does something being “transcendent” or “infinite” make it “good?” And isn’t the Christian god an individual? So why wouldn’t your morality be “relative” to that arbitrary standard and this god’s arbitrary desires and experiences? I don’t think you’ve thought very carefully about what Carrier presented.

  3. Kent says:

    Some audio editing with the inclusion of a laugh trak would be suitable for this lecture.

    Thank you for posting the lecture. The Q&A is starting and the students are asking good questions.

    • Amy Hall says:

      Kent, Richard Carrier is a friend of Brett’s who regularly meets with the students Brett brings up there–he praises STR and has endorsed Brett on our website. He might even see this and read your comment, and I don’t think you intended for that to be the case. It’s easy to forget online that we’re talking about real people in our comments, so I understand where you’re coming from–we all fall into that, but we didn’t intend to mock him by posting this video.

      • Ben Schuldt says:


        Did Carrier happen to address chrisvanallsburg22’s question on abstract entities just before the video starts? We briefly see him finish laying the basic foundation for naturalism, and that’s where it would be.

        If not, Carrier addresses the issue in his book “Sense and Goodness without God” on pages 124-129.

      • Ben Schuldt says:

        Oh I see, Carrier does somewhat touch on the topic later in the video about 40 minutes in. I wish he had not tried to keep the term “immaterial” in the discussion since he was using it metaphorically, but his audience wasn’t.

        Anyway, Carrier’s best online treatment of the topic of abstract entities is his review (which can be found here: of Victor Reppert’s argument from reason.