On Thursday, February 27th, David Robertson and Ted Ammon debated the question of whether or not someone can be morally good without God. From the Christian perspective, it was a treat to see Robertson, a fellow believer, using the opportunity to major on man’s sin, which ultimately pointed those of us in the room to the need for a gracious God to provide a Savior.
Dr. Ammon was the first to give an opening statement, and he spent his first few minutes arguing that humanity decides the value of everything in the world around them, and concluded his time by saying that we also decide what is morally good or bad, right or wrong. Robertson responded to this logic by concluding that if morality is up for grabs, there is no way to know whether or not we are moving in a good or bad direction because people have different definitions. The Reverend added that if we are just chemicals how dare we say that anything is good at all!
Whereas Ammon views morality as a social construct, Robertson sees evil as evidence of the depravity of man resulting from his decision to disobey God. During a brief Q & A, Robertson said, “The problem is not with the standard of good or evil, the problem is with us.” He argued that throughout history one cannot help but see the consistent thread of man’s dark heart. Therefore, he stated, he always starts any debate on morality with the idea that man is evil.
At one point in the debate, Robertson referred to the Apostle Paul’s “spiritual schizophrenia” to show that even a man of God struggles against the darkness inside him. He admitted to his opponent and the crowd that he is a hypocrite and said he is the biggest sinner he knows. From the mouth of the man who pastors a thriving church in Scotland, has written several books on the existence of God, and was speaking at the First Presbyterian Church Mission Conference the following weekend, these words were the humble confession of a sinner saved by grace and an encouragement to the Christians in the audience.
The two men shared many laughs during the course of the night, and their dialogue was never taken over by anger or disrespect. After the Q & A time, Robertson commended Ammon for several of his statements, stating that they give all the more reason for Ammon to see and feel a need for God’s grace. When Ammon responded that he feels no need at all, no gaping hole that only God can fill, Robertson told him that he will pray that Ammon will feel the hole so that he can be drawn to faith by God.
At the end of the night, Ammon made his closing argument and ended with broad statements about the ever-improving future of humanity. As Ammon concluded, the Scottish pastor said that a faith that humanity is inherently good simply does not fit the facts of history or society. He handed the Atheist a copy of his new book Magnificent Obsession: Why Jesus is Great, and as him to read it and gave Robertson his feedback.
He ended the debate, with a quote from his book, The Dawkins Letters:
The Christian view of morality is not, as most people suppose, that the Bible gives us a set of laws to live by. Real Christians are not moralists – thinking that if only we offer a reward here, a bit of punishment there, then ‘decent’ human beings will behave better and somehow earn their own stairway to heaven. We know that we can neither legislate nor use religion to make us good. Real Christians realise that the Bible’s teaching is that there is an absolute morality – from which we all fall short. And no amount of religion, good works or pious acts will ever be able to make us right. That is where grace, salvation, the cross and all the wonderful truths of the acts of God in Christ come into their own. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. That is why the Gospel is Good News. Not because it gives us a set of laws to live by, or religious rites to perform, but because it deals with the biggest problem in the world – the problem of the human heart. It is for that reason that every year I religiously watch Schindler’s List to remind me of why I am a minister of the Christian Gospel. I don’t just want to explain the Darkness. I want to defeat it. (Robertson, David The Dawkins Letters: Revised Edition – Challenging Atheist Myths Christian Focus, 2010. 100)