Atheists and Pedophilia
One of the claims of Atheism is that meaning is manufactured. With no external source for meaning, humans can either live meaningless lives or we can create our own meaning. Sam Harris tries to correct this by applying science to apply the meanings of “Good” and “Bad” to various actions. However, in a world where we construct meaning, science and only give us temporary meaning and not absolute meanings. In other words, the moral landscape shifts with meanings created by each generation.
One prime example of this is homosexual pedophilia. The ancient Greeks saw this as normal, healthy behavior. To them it would cause about as much damage as a child using a cell phone or weeding a garden. No one applied the meaning that it was bad, so people didn’t feel bad about it, therefore science wouldn’t determine it to have large negative effects. This is an argument sociologists sometimes make today in regards to homosexuality (but not pedophilia): the higher rate of suicide in the homosexual community is a result of the stigma of being gay. If people didn’t have a problem with homosexuality then the rate would drop because people wouldn’t feel bad about having those tendencies. The moral landscape changes.
For understanding Dawkin’s comment about how for some people in some generations pedophilia doesn’t cause harm, we must recall that the decades of his formative years had many pro-pedophile roll models. For an atheist who constructs meaning, it would be easy to see how he could construct the horrible abuse of his youth as no big deal. After all, famous adults said it wasn’t a big deal, so why should it be bad?
And herein lies the dangers of shifting moral landscapes. Without absolute morality, the values we hold in one generation could be the trash of the next. Even the value of science, which we hold so dearly today, could be seen as an abomination in the next generation. If meaning is constructed, nothing holds that meaning in place for future generations.
This contrasts with the great continuity offered by the Christian faith, wherein each generation is seen as part of the whole Church. When looking at what the Church believes, we look to both the Church across the globe and to the Church across time, because we are all one Church. This is why in the past, now, and in the future I can trust that pedophilia really is bad. It’s not my meaning that I construct that tells me it is bad for people, but rather a universal truth that it is bad for people. The truth of morality is not determined by a majority vote.
This doesn’t guarantee that there will be no pedophiles in the Church. The Church made up of people, and people have tendencies towards sin. Rather this guarantees with certainty that pedophilia is wrong not just for us in America in 2013, but for all people and in all places. That certainty lets me be appalled at what happened the the boy Dawkins, even if the man Dawkins isn’t.