I’ve been quiet on UD for a while, but after seeing the (however qualified) praise VJ Torley has handed Myers for his limp-wristed opposition to a moralizing Richard Dawkins, I feel the need to offer another view.
Myers deserves no praise for his opposition to Dawkins on the issue of the morality of (mandatory) aborting children with Down Syndrome, and people who are pro-life do themselves a disservice by choosing to offer him even an ounce of respect on this issue. In this case, the enemy of your enemy is still your enemy.
I’ll keep this succinct. First, Myers is not rushing to the defense of children with Down Syndrome.
Ask him if he thinks a woman who aborts a child with Down Syndrome is immoral. All evidence indicates he would say no, it is not.
Ask him, for that matter, whether it’s immoral for a woman to abort a child who is perfectly healthy. Again, the evidence indicates he would say no.
In fact, you may want to ask him if there are any situations in which a woman’s decision to have an abortion is immoral. My guess is he would say no, because a woman’s choice on this matter is sacrosanct, and she is the highest and exclusive authority when it comes to deciding when, whether and how to end the life of her child, so long as it meets the arbitrary distinction of still being inside of her at the time. Or maybe he at least follows Singer in allowing for some time after birth as well.
To put this in perspective: on the one hand we have Richard Dawkins, who apparently defends the morality of abortion whenever a woman damn well pleases, but who sometimes thinks abortion is in fact morally obligatory. On the other hand we have PZ Myers, who instead believes that a woman can do whatever she wants in this case, ‘humanity’ be damned. There is little to cheer here.
Now, one may point out that, at the very least, Myers would apparently argue that children with Down Syndrome are – if their mothers, in their mercy, decide not to obliterate them – still ‘human’, and possibly owed some moral consideration after their birth and in light of that fact. In response to that, I’d like to quote William J Murray:
PZ makes the exact same mistake Dawkins makes; he exhorts an objective moral value even while he denies they exist:
To claim that an act is in itself immoral necessarily refers to some form of objective morality. You cannot say what is moral or immoral for others to do if morality is indeed subjective; only the individual can say what is moral for themselves.
No one can argue or act as if morality is subjective. To insist that it is subjective is the height of foolishness.
I think Murray is right about this. And I likewise think it follows that if Murray is right, then we can ill afford to give either Dawkins or Myers praise for (at best) mistakenly fumbling their way towards the most meager example of a good moral choice that may be in line with an objective morality. Instead, we should remind both of them – they gave up moral language worth caring about in their embrace of not just atheism, but a materialistic atheism, for which (despite Sam Harris’ cries to the contrary) room does not exist for a meaningful morality.
Myers is not on the side of angels. Myers, at absolute best, is on the side of Myers, or whatever subjectively pleases Myers at this moment. Let’s not, even for a moment, pretend it can be otherwise. A materialist atheism does not allow for anything more than that.