Ethos Education

God’s Not Dead: Is it credible to believe in the existence of God?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understand some of the reasons for believing (or not believing) in the existence of God.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect on how they determine whether statements are true or false.
  • Reflect upon different reasons for believing or not believing in God.
  • Analyse six different arguments to determine whether each makes belief in God more or less.
  • Assert their own belief regarding the existence (or non-existence) of God.

STARTER:

Play a game of ‘Truth and Lies’. Tell the class four things about yourself, three of which are true and one of which is a lie. Ask students to try to work out which one is the lie. Then give the class the opportunity to play the game in pairs. When both students in each pair have had a turn, ask them to discuss these questions:

  • Were you able to identify the lie?
  • Whether or not you guessed correctly, how did you go about working out which statement was the lie?

Elicit feedback on the second question. For example, a student may have chosen ‘I ran a three minute mile before school this morning’ as the lie. They may have identified it as the lie because of some or all of the following considerations:

  • Personality – my friend hates running, so it was unlikely to be true.
  • Plausibility – top athletes would struggle to do this, and my friend isn’t a top athlete.
  • Practicalities – my friend arrived at school looking half asleep, and not as if they had just taken vigorous exercise.

Point out that as students have been playing ‘Truth and Lies’ they have (subconsciously) been examining reasons for believing or not believing what their partner has told them. In this lesson they are going to examine reasons for believing or not believing in the existence of God.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the first clip from the film God’s Not Dead (Signature Entertainment, 2014, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online. Explain that in the film, a Philosophy Professor required his class to start the course by signing a statement that ‘God is Dead’, in order to save the wasted time of going through all the arguments against the existence of God. One student, a Christian, refused to sign and the Professor offered him the chance to make the case for God in three twenty minute sessions at the end of three lectures. This clip shows the first of Josh’s (Shane Harper) presentations. Ask the students to pay particular attention to Josh’s line of argument, and to ignore the brief interruption when the scene cuts to a local pastor trying to hire a rental car, a scene with no relevance to this lesson – if you want to avoid it, you could fast forward from 0.35.43 to 0.36.55.

  • Start time:       0.32.40
  • End time:         0.38.09
  • Clip length:      5 minutes and 29 seconds

The clip starts with Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) in mid-sentence, saying, ‘But there are some flat-earthers out there…’. The clip ends at the end of Josh’s presentation. The last line is Josh saying, ‘…any credible alternative explanation for how things came to be.’ You could continue the clip to 0.40.02, to include Professor Radisson responding to Josh’s presentation, and Josh failing to respond to Professor Radisson’s objections. This longer version ends at 0.40.02 with Radisson saying, ‘Class is dismissed.’ If you use the longer version, you might also want to include the following additional clip – Josh’s second presentation – where he responds to Radisson’s objection.

  • Start time:       1.00.38
  • End time:         1.06.24
  • Clip length:      5 minutes and 46 seconds

The clip starts with Josh saying, ‘In our last class, I was asked a question that I couldn’t answer.’ It ends with Josh saying, ‘…divinely controlled from start to finish.’ Again, the scene cuts away midway through. You could fast forward from 1.02.50 (last line: ‘… no need for this class’ to 1.04.24 (first line: ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, for the last 150 years…’

Whether you use one clip or two, ask the students if they think that Josh presented a convincing argument. You might need to clarify that this isn’t necessarily the same as saying that they agree with it. Is Josh’s position plausible? What was the strongest part of his argument? What was the weakest?

Give out the Arguments concerning God’s existence factsheet and go through it with the class. Ask the students which of the six models listed on the factsheet are recognisable in Josh’s presentation.

Arguments concerning God’s existence:

The argument from first cause
Everything in the universe is caused, i.e. brought into existence, by something else. These causes in turn have something that caused them, and so on back up the chain of causes. Eventually there must be something that started off the chain and which is dependent on nothing else as its cause. This thing is the ‘first cause’, and the first cause is God.

The argument from design
This argument states that the world is so complex and intricately fitted together that it could only be the result of design, rather than random chance. If this is the case, it is logical that there is a designer, and this designer is God. The examples of the complexity of the human eye and the intricate workings of a clockwork watch have been famously used to illustrate this argument in the past.

The argument from experience
There are different types of religious experience, which may persuade those who experience them that God exists. These range from seeing God’s hand in the blooming of a flower or the beauty of a sunset, to witnessing a breach in the laws of nature (a miracle) or experiencing a direct encounter with God, such as the one claimed by Saul on the road to Damascus.

The problem of evil
The argument goes that if God cannot stop evil, he is not all-powerful. If he can stop evil but chooses not to, then he is not good. If he could stop evil and chose to do so, then there would be no evil in the world…but there is, therefore he does not exist. A possible Christian defence against this argument is that it assumes that there are no good reasons why God might choose to delay dealing with evil. Christians believe that one day Jesus will return to judge the world and put everything right. However, once he does this, it will not only mean the end of evil, but also the passing of the last chance for people to put their faith in Jesus and be saved.

The argument from morality and conscience
If there is no God and we are the product of blind chance, then there can be no such thing as morality. The fact that we instinctively have a sense of right and wrong is incompatible with a random origin to human life. Our moral sensitivity points towards the existence of some external basis for determining morality, and the source of our sense of right and wrong is God.

Pascal’s Wager
This takes as its starting point the assumption that logical reasoning is incapable of determining whether or not God exists. If this is the case, we are left with an uncertain wager. If you place your bet on God existing, and you are wrong you lose nothing (whether you believed in him or not, you still cease to exist). If you place your bet on God not existing, you gain nothing for being right, but stand to lose everything – heaven, eternal life – if you are wrong. Pascal concluded that to bet on the side of God was to stand to win everything and risk losing nothing, but to bet against him was to win nothing and risk losing everything. Pascal’s wager cannot be used to force belief, but is often cited as an incentive to seek God out.

Draw out that Josh’s presentation falls into the first two categories, but doesn’t provide any example of the other categories of argument.

Introduce another clip from God’s Not Dead. Explain that this is Josh’s third and final presentation to the class. Ask the students to see which of the arguments from the worksheet are recognisable in this clip.

  • Start time:       1.17.10
  • End time:         1.21.50
  • Clip length:      4 minutes and 40 seconds

The clip starts with Josh saying, ‘Evil. It’s been said that evil is atheism’s most potent weapon against the Christian faith.’ The clip ends with Josh asking, ‘How can you hate someone if they don’t exist?’

Draw out from the students the elements of this presentation which represent the problem of evil and the argument from morality and conscience from the worksheet. Ask which aspects of Josh’s presentation were the most convincing, and which were the least convincing.

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.)

Discuss the questions on the worksheets with the students.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

As a final exercise, ask the students to write a summary of each of the six arguments from the worksheet, putting the case both for and against the existence of God according to that particular argument. They should also explain whether or not they are persuaded one way or the other by each argument (and why). Students should also add a final paragraph (or more) where they state their own view on whether or not God’s existence can be proved either way, and also stating their own view on whether or not there is a God.

YOU WILL NEED:

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