Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why Should He Care?

Atheist blogger P.Z. Myers says he's been handed a hand grenade with a pulled pin. A major figure in the atheist community has been accused of repeated sexual misconduct and Myers debates with himself the right way to handle the information:
So I’ve been given this rather…explosive…information. It’s a direct report of unethical behavior by a big name in the skeptical community (yeah, like that hasn’t been happening a lot lately), and it’s straight from the victim’s mouth. And it’s bad. Really bad.

She’s torn up about it. It’s been a few years, so no law agency is going to do anything about it now; she reported it to an organization at the time, and it was dismissed. Swept under the rug. Ignored. I can imagine her sense of futility. She’s also afraid that the person who assaulted her before could try to hurt her again.

But at the same time, she doesn’t want this to happen to anyone else, so she’d like to get the word out there. So she hands the information to me. Oh, thanks.

Now I’ve been sitting here trying to resolve my dilemma — to reveal it or not — and ... what’s dominating my head isn’t the consequences, but the question of what is the right thing to do. Do I stand up for the one who has no recourse, no way out, no other option to help others, or do I shelter the powerful big name guy from an accusation I can’t personally vouch for, except to say that I know the author, and that she’s not trying to acquire notoriety (she wants her name kept out of it)?
You'll have to go to the link to learn the identity of the alleged cad, and no it's not someone named Filner, Spitzer, Weiner, Clinton, Kennedy, Gore, or Menendez (Quick quiz: What do the aforementioned all have in common?). It is, however, someone who's very well known for his advocacy of atheism.

What interests me about this, though, is Myers' moral wrestling match with his conscience. If the allegations of sexual misconduct are true, and they're certainly well-corroborated, what's the problem? Why should atheists be in a moral swivet about what the gentleman did, or, for that matter, whether to make it public. Given atheism, there's no morally right or wrong action, only actions that people don't like. Morally speaking what this prominent atheist did has no more moral significance than might be assigned to bad manners and neither does Myers' decision to publicize the behavior.

To assert that X is morally wrong is to assume that there's some standard of moral behavior that we have a duty to obey, but where does that standard come from and what imposes the duty to obey it? On atheism, there's no moral authority qualified to impose such a standard and no authority which can impose such a duty. Only a personal, transcendent moral authority could establish a non-subjective standard and obligate us to adhere to it. Since atheists deny the existence of such a being, the last thing an atheist can do is make a moral judgment of someone else's behavior.

This is a serious problem with atheism, of course. Most atheists simply can't live consistently with their conviction that there's nothing more to reality than atoms and energy. They know that atoms and energy can't confer moral value, but they insist on living as if they can.

Put another way, when a Christian behaves as this prominent atheist author is accused of behaving the Christian has betrayed his calling, violated an objective moral standard, and deeply disappointed his God. When an atheist behaves like this he has betrayed nothing, violated nothing more than society's arbitrary norms, and disappointed no one except other human beings.

Why should he care about any of that?