They claim that we can figure out for ourselves how to make wise, good and ethical decisions. One suggestion would be to ask ourselves the simple question: what will bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people? What choice will result in the greatest total amount of happiness?
The major problem with this alternative ethical standard is that there is no way of measuring the greatest total amount of happiness. An atheist will define ‘happiness’ in terms of his naturalist worldview and the values that flow from it. A Christian will define happiness in terms of his theistic worldview and the values that flow from it. For example, an atheist might argue for smaller families on the grounds that each child will have better clothing and toys therefore more happiness. A Catholic might argue for a large family on the grounds that each child will have more love, more sharing and more memories, and therefore more happiness since happiness does not come from having lots of material possessions.
Our worldview determines our values and our ideas of where happiness is to be found. Happiness is not some measurable commodity that can be weighed objectively as a basis for making ethical decisions.
Another serious problem with the ‘happiness’ method of doing ethics is that once the happiness of the individual is subordinate to the happiness of the group, nearly anything can be justified. If what is important in moral reasoning is the ‘total amount of happiness’ then the happiness of the individual becomes secondary. The individual is no longer an end in himself but has become a means to the happiness of the group. Virtually any behavior can be justified on the grounds that it will result in the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people.
Another problem for the naturalist who subscribes to the ‘happiness’ method of doing ethics is that it is actually inconsistent with the naturalist worldview. If there is no God as the naturalist asserts, no moral law and if humans are mere products of natural processes, accidents of chance and time; then why should we care about what results in the greatest total amount of happiness? Why should we choose to allow this arbitrary standard to bind us in our freedom? Why shouldn’t we do what we want? Why shouldn’t we pick our own arbitrary standard, such as “right will be whatever makes me happy”?
From “The Godless Delusion” by Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley.