Ethics in Edinburgh!

We’ve had a long association with Edinburgh Theological Seminary (ETS) and it’s always really enjoyable to be able to teach on their apologetics programme. I was back there recently because they invited me to contribute to their ethics module. Of course in the contemporary cultural climate, Christian ethics are at the centre of apologetic debates, and some hostile critiques of our faith; so it’s important to address some ethical topics from an apologetic perspective.

The first topic we looked at was, “Can We Be Good Without God?” That’s a significant subject to work through because there is often some push-back from the atheist community around this question. They frequently misunderstand the Christian perspective here. What they sometime hear us saying is that atheists can’t live good lives, because they don’t have God. That is terribly unfair, and Christians should expect some abuse if they go around suggesting that they are better than other people… because that is not the argument we should be making!

In the class with the ETS students, we looked rather at the question, “is there such a thing as “good” if God doesn’t exist?” If we are just atoms and particles in motion, then all we have ultimately is preferences. So, I might like things arranged one way, someone else might like them arranged another way, but we don’t really get to attach labels like “good” and “evil” to them without grounding those ideas.

So, with the students we walked through some of the ways in which atheists have attempted to construct some kind of foundation for morality, appealing to things like evolution. But evolution doesn’t select for morality, (it might occasionally), but equally it might select for things we consider to be totally amoral.

We landed on the idea that we instinctively feel that we do live in a moral universe – and that if that is the case, then that is a very powerful existential argument for God. It’s actually something we’ve looked at a few times on the Solas website. It came up in The Beginner’s Guide to Apologetics, here and here, in our Short Answers video series and in a stand-alone article.

One of the reasons that we teach in Bible Colleges like GLO and ETS is that we are passionate about seeing the next generation of pastors and ministers graduating well-equipped to talk to their congregations about how to share their faith well with their friends. So, getting the next cohort of ministers apologetically equipped is very important and not all Bible colleges are doing that yet.

We had about twenty students in the ethics module at ETS, most of whom were trainee ministers in the Free Church of Scotland. But ETS trains more widely than that these days, pastors for places like the FIEC, and training people for other roles within the church other than the pastorate. It’s important work, and so it’s great to be in partnershp with ETS in it.

Bob Ackroyd, Systematic Theology leader at ETS commented:

“‘Can we be good without God?'” Many in contemporary Scotland would clearly answer question, ‘Yes, of course!’ Final year students at ETS are exploring ethical issues in their Practical Theology course. We were delighted to have as our guest lecturer, Andy Bannister from Solas. Andy engaged us with philosophy, comparative religion, and contemporary culture to consider how we might address and answer that question from a biblical standpoint. Andy has worked with ETS for many years and is a valued friend and colleague. Andy is great at getting us to listen well, think deeply and speak wisely.”