Good Without God?

by Ashley Cabeceiras
assistant arts & life editor

On February 27, 2014, Minister David Robertson visited our campus to participate in a debate against Dr. Ammon on the topic of goodness/ethics without God.  The debate was entitled “Good Without God?” and the main question these men fought to answer was “can we derive a moral code without the existence or assistance of a higher power?”  Dr. Ammon argued yes, but Minister Robertson said no.

      It is difficult to attend a debate with an open mind, because in order to understand the debate, one must be knowledgeable on the topic. Naturally, I did a little research and decided: yes, humans can reason to morality on their own. However, I entered the debate ready for a rousing discussion and open to the idea that I could be horribly wrong. While I had philosophers such as Hobbes (theory of social contract based mostly on the Golden Rule) and Hume (steadfast agnostic who is still able to derive a solid moral code) on my side, I knew that Robertson could easily call upon Plato (theorizes that all good comes from God) and St. Thomas Aquinas (nothing can exist without an ultimate i.e. Good).

Dr. Ammon spoke for the first part of the debate.  He mentioned that while God has not changed over time, the morality of the world has.  He focused on the United States for the sake of convenience and mentioned that women once could not vote, and African-Americans were once enslaved.  He also brought up the fact that human beings are now broadening our moral compasses to include animals and plants, which is evident in the growing numbers of vegetarians and environmental activists.  If we cannot reason to morality, then our morality would stay the same.  It would not grow, and yet it has.  Another point that he made was that even atheists have a sense of morality and people of all different faiths agree on many moral issues.  If people with differing religious views can agree on a moral code, then the moral code mustn’t be based on just religious views, but something more universal.

Minister Robertson responded with a powerful point. He stated that it isn’t our religious views that designed our moral compass, but instead the fact that we, as human beings, were all created in the image of God. God works inside of us whether we believe in Him or not, and it is for this reason that we have a sense of good and evil.

Robertson  then chose to act in a way that one could  find very off-putting. It began with his response to Ammon’s claim that we are now starting to consider plants and animals in our moral decisions; His exact words were, “Well I’m glad the atheists are catching up”.

One could call Robertson’s initial statement a contradiction not because it negated another thing that he said, but because it went directly against his system of beliefs. Christians are supposed to love their neighbors and be humble people. Robertson implied that atheists are intellectually and morally inferior by saying that he is “glad they are catching up.” That is no way to treat a neighbor.

Robertson continued on his path of contradictions by stating that Kant supports his side of the debate because he believes that humans are not fundamentally moral.  This is not necessarily false, but Robertson should have probably finished his philosophy homework because Kant goes on to state that even though we are not fundamentally moral, we can achieve morality through the use of reason.  Kant’s mission in his work was actually to further the work of Hume and prove that the questions of Metaphysics (the branch of philosophy concerned with the fundamental questions of being) are not actually questions that we can answer.  Essentially, Robertson quoted a philosopher whom supports the other side of the debate.

Seeing this, I asked the minister why we do not hold toddlers to the same degree of morality that we hold adults, but instead we teach them morality until they are capable of using their reasoning, in the same way that we teach our dogs pee-peeing inside is bad. Instead of providing an answer as to why children are not expected to be moral until after the development of reasoning skills, he harped on my suggestion that dogs may understand morality. He said that animals couldn’t be moral, even though we seem to think that they are. He then went on to say how immoral it is that we spend the amount of money we do on our pets while people are starving in Africa.

The last major contradiction that Robertson made involved the defense of his initial argument. An audience member asked him why we do bad things, if we are indeed made in God’s image.  Robertson came forth saying that we as people are horribly messed up and bad.  He said that the Jackson churches are filled with hypocrites, as is his own congregation.  He concluded by saying that he himself is the biggest hypocrite in the church, when he had just mentioned the story of a man in his church that was a criminal, a felon, and a drug addict.  Obviously the minister cannot be the biggest hypocrite in a church; that is why he is a minister.  At this point Ammon turned to Robertson and said what I would like to believe we were all thinking, “You are a liar”.  He then turned to the audience member who Robertson was speaking to when he said that all humans were fundamentally bad and messed up and told him “You are not fundamentally bad”.  Ammon went on to say that he believes that people are good in nature and pointed out to Robertson that if we are made in the image of God then we can’t be fundamentally bad.  Robertson’s reply was that we weren’t.

What do you think?