As I have said before, Myers and his ilk are what Friedrich Nietzsche called "Englishmen": like the Victorians themselves, they cling all the more to their own moral positions despite having a philosophy of the world which undercuts any moral judgment whatsoever. The frequency and fervor with which Myers, Jerry Coyne, and Ed Brayton issue moral condemnations of their detractors is a wonder to behold--party on account of the sheer energy that animates them and partly because of the audacity with which they pursue them despite their own stated beliefs.
Nietzsche, while an atheist himself, had this at least over his modern counterparts: he had the intellectual courage to accept the logical conclusions of his beliefs.
Myers says first:
... science as science takes no sides on matters relevant to a particular species, and would not say that an ape is more important than a mouse is more important than a rock.Presumably this judgment includes humans, since, according to Myers, they are simply another species closely related to apes. And wouldn't it be fun drawing out the logical implications (as I have done elsewhere) for human rights from that position? But, of course, that men are no different from animals doesn't stop Myers and his atheist friends from complaining about men being treated like animals (particularly if the offenders are religious people).
Exactly how do you get a morality in which human beings have an obligation to treat each other humanely in a system of belief in which human humans are not different qualitatively from animals? In fact, this theme figures prominently in atheistic ethics:
What science is, is a policeman of the truth. What it's very good at is telling you when a moral decision is being made badly, in opposition to the facts. If you try to claim that homosexuality is wrong because it is unnatural, science can provide you a long list of animals that practice homosexuality freely, naturally, and with no ill consequences.
Let's see if we've got this straight:
It is natural for animals to engage in homosexualityIf this logic is acceptable for homosexuality, then why isn't it acceptable for other common animal practices, such as, say, cannibalism (see here for a broader discussion of this point)?
Humans are animals
Therefore, it is natural for humans to engage in homosexuality
It is natural for animals to engage in cannibalismNow I'm not saying that atheists are cannibals; I'm just saying that I wouldn't turn my back on them.
Humans are animals
Therefore, it is natural for humans to engage in cannibalism
To Myers, there is no grand overarching morality:
"Science", if we're imagining it as some institutional entity in the world, really doesn't care -- there is no grand objective morality, no goal or purpose to life other than survival over multiple generations, and it could dispassionately conclude that many cultures with moral rules that we might personally consider abhorrent can be viable.So if there is not "grand objective morality," what kind of morality can there be? Well, after basically pulling the rug out from anything that could possibly exercise an authoritative hold over human action, Myers attempts to come up with one:
However, I would suggest that science would also concede that we as a species ought to support a particular moral philosophy, not because it is objectively superior, but because it is subjectively the proper emphasis of humanity...and that philosophy is humanism. In the same way, of course, we'd also suggest that cephalopods would ideally follow the precepts of cephalopodism.
So don't look to science for a moral philosophy: look to humanism. Humanism says that we should strive to maximize the long-term welfare and happiness of humans; that we should look to ourselves, not to imaginary beings in the sky or to the imperatives written down in old books, to aspire to something better, something more coherent and successful at promoting our existence on the planet.
It causes visions of hand-holding atheists singing whatever it is they sing in place of Kumbayah, doesn't it? What relationship does humanism have to science? What is humanism? Why does humanism have any moral authority over humans? Myers doesn't say.
How can the Myers of the world consider any "particular moral philosophy" as superior to another without a "grand objective morality" to adjudicate between the two? Myers doesn't say. He just takes a leap of faith of the same kind he customarily condemns in others.
Since man is inherently religious, once he dispenses with one religion, he has to replace it with another, which is precisely what humanism is: a religion for people who claim not to have one.
Myers, by simply invoking the name of "humanism," then turns around and starts recounting what humanism "says." Humanism "says" something? Was this, like, handed down from some atheist Sinai? Where is the body of humanist "sayings"? Are they in a book? Who wrote it? Some human? Some group of humans? Where do they derive their moral authority?
Where does humanism "say" we should "strive to maximize the long-term welfare and happiness of humans"? How do we know humanism doesn't command us to eat each other? Where would we go to settle these questions?
Myers remarks would be laughed out of any serious academic philosophical discussion of ethics, but he seems somehow to consider it some kind of significant contribution to ethics. He should just come out and admit that he doesn't know what he's talking about.