Ethos Education

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: How do we decide what we believe?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand some of the reasons for believing (or not believing) in the existence of God.
  • Knowledge of the ways in which, according to believers, God can be known.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on the difficulty of determining truth when there is no evidence.
  • Reflect on how people decide what to believe.
  • Reflect on what evidence they would require to come to a decision about whether or not to believe in the existence of God.
  • Evaluate the roles of evidence and experience in understanding the truth.
  • Analyse the basis for Christian claims for the existence of God.
  • Synthesise learning by compiling lists of reasons to believe or disbelieve Christian arguments for the existence of God, and then by writing a short statement based on those lists.

STARTER:

Play ‘No-clue Cluedo’. Display a list of the Cluedo suspects, weapons and rooms at the front. This game is based on the original version of the classic board game, not the recently revamped one. In case any students have never played the original form of the game, explain that in it, players gather clues to solve a murder, attempting to identify the murderer, the murder weapon and the place where the murder took place. No-clue Cluedo works in exactly the same way, but there are no clues – simply a list of possible suspects, weapons and places. For your references, here is the full list of official Cluedo clues:

Suspects:

  • Colonel Mustard
  • Miss Scarlet
  • Professor Plum
  • Reverend Green
  • Mrs. White
  • Mrs. Peacock

Weapons:

  • Dagger
  • Revolver
  • Lead Piping
  • Candlestick
  • Rope
  • Spanner

Rooms:

  • Hall
  • Lounge
  • Dining Room
  • Kitchen
  • Ballroom
  • Conservatory
  • Billiard Room
  • Library
  • Study

In advance of the lesson, prepare an envelope with the correct solution (one suspect, one weapon, one location) inside it. Ask the students to write down which cards they think are inside the envelope, then swap their answers with another student. You could offer a prize for the correct answer if you wanted to (the chances are that you won’t have to give it out to anyone, but only offer something that you are prepared to give away, just in case). Reveal the solution and find out whether anyone has won. Point out that it is impossible to work out the right answer without any clues (if anyone did happen to get the right answer, make the point that they didn’t work it out, they just got lucky and had no more insight than anyone else in the class). Ask the students what kind of evidence would have helped them to guess the solution more accurately.

Explain that in this lesson you will be considering how we know what is true and what helps us decide whether to believe in something.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the first clip from the film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Warner Bros, 2012, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that in this clip young Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) is remembering the things he used to do with his Dad, Thomas (Tom Hanks), who died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. In particular, he remembers his Dad’s insistence that there used to be a Sixth Borough in New York, before it mysteriously disappeared. Ask the students to pay particular attention to Thomas’ statements about the evidence in support of the Sixth Borough’s existence.

  • Start time: 0.02.48 (in chapter 1 of the DVD)
  • End time: 0.08.58
  • Clip length: 6 minutes and 10 seconds

The clip begins with Thomas saying, ‘Okay, you think you’re so smart…’ It ends with Oskar’s voice over saying, ‘That was the last conversation we ever had.’

Remind the students of Thomas’ claim that ‘if you really want to believe, you can find reasons to.’ Do they agree that it is possible to make yourself believe anything if you have reason to want to do so? Earlier in the clip, when Oskar asks how he can ever know that he’s right if his Dad doesn’t answer his questions, Thomas replies that it is just as valid to ask how he can ever know that he’s wrong. Do the students think that uncertainty is worrying or comforting? What are the implications of all this in terms of the link between believing something and it actually being true?

Ask the students how Oskar might convince someone that the Sixth Borough really did exist. What level of evidence would be compelling enough to convince someone with no prior reason to believe?

Get the students to discuss in small groups what kind of evidence might be required to convince them one way or the other about the existence of God.

If it wasn’t suggested in the previous discussion activity, point out that some people might say that they would believe in God if he actually made himself known to them, rather than being an unseen, unfelt presence (or, depending on your point of view, absence). Explain that many Christians would argue that their claims about the existence of God are based, at least in part, on personal experience. For the rest of this lesson you are going to help the students to explore those claims.

Get the students to read John 1:14 and 18. Explain that ‘the Word’ is Jesus, who Christians believe is God come to earth as a human. Discuss what implications these verses have for what Christians understand to be true about God.

Hand out the worksheet and ask the students to consider why Dr William Lane Craig decided to believe in God. (Dr William Lane Craig is a respected philosopher and Christian speaker whose work is part of the WJEC Philosophy and Ethics ‘A’ level syllabus. The story on this worksheet is taken from www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-curley08.html where it is part of a larger debate between Dr Craig and Dr Edwin Curley on the existence (or otherwise) of God. You could refer more able students to the full transcript of the debate to provide differentiation within this lesson.) Ask the students to write down the main reasons why experience might prompt people to believe something is true, as well as writing down any objections they can think of to these arguments.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to prepare a list of reasons for trusting the evidence cited by Christians for believing in the existence of God, and a parallel list of reasons to not trust that evidence. Students should use their lists to write a short statement about the merits of believing (or not believing) in God. They can choose to let this statement reflect their own personal point of view, or to generally address the issue of weighing evidence and coming to a decision without nailing their own colours to the mast. You might want to remind them that they won’t be marked for coming to the ‘right’ conclusion (whatever you deem that to be), only for demonstrating their understanding of the relevant issues.

YOU WILL NEED:

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