Bible, Teaching
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Ethics without God?


Dartmouth College on a rainy day. f2point8/Foter/CC BY-NC-ND

Dartmouth College on a rainy day. f2point8/Foter/CC BY-NC-ND

[by Dean Smith] The Boston Globe is reporting that 64 students at Dartmouth College, based in Hanover, New Hampshire, were disciplined, ironically, for cheating on a sports ethics class.

Dartmouth, founded in 1769 by a Christian minister, is an Ivy league school. Over 70% of the 280 students in the class were part of Dartmouth’s athletic programs.

During exams, students use electronic devices to click the right answer. In this particular class, some students, who didn’t show up for the exam, had given their devices to other students to answer the questions for them.

The problem surfaced when Professor Randall Balmer noticed he was getting more clicks to answers than there were students in the classroom.

The students involved were not flunked, but did have their grade level reduced. Some were additionally kicked out of school for a semester.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Professor Randall Balmer said:

‘I think honour no longer is something that has a lot of resonance in society, and I suppose in some ways it’s not surprising that students would want to trade the nebulous notion of honour with what they perceive as some sort of advantage in professional advancement.’

Many see the irony of cheating on an ethics exam. Here is the problem, an ethics class and honour can not beat the age-old problem of sin.

In Romans 7, Paul said, “ For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (v 18 NIV).

Paul understood that though he wanted to do good, there was a force within him fighting against those desires. 

Undoubtedly, many of those students in that ethics class felt guilty about what they were doing, particularly since the class was on ethics. In fact, half the students have since approached Balmer to apologize for what they had done. (There were also a handful who complained the punishment was too hard.)

But Paul adds this interesting thought. He says when we try to focus on stopping a sinful action, this in fact strengthens it.

“For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting.” (Romans 7: 7b-8a NIV).

Coveting becomes more powerful because of the commandment “you shall not covet.” The same principle applies to an ethics class. Teaching ethics would similarly strengthen desires to make us unethical.

As Christians, we are not exempt from temptation and sin. However, to stop sin we cannot focus on it, but rather on Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.

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